North Carolina representatives do not often get the chance to hear directly from their constituents, but the goal of this event was just that: to amplify student voices from within the walls of our classrooms to the chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly.
The Institute of Politics provided a unique opportunity for students to be heard during a Reverse Town Hall on Gun Violence in the Sonja Haynes Stone Center on Sunday evening. The “reverse” aspect of the event refers to the style of the conversation — rather than the typical dynamic of policymakers fielding questions from audience members, this discussion gave legislators the opportunity to ask questions to their youngest constituents. It was a time for these politicians to listen, not speak.
“I think it is important to have a civil, fact-based, policy-based discussion with student leaders and organizers with actual members of the General Assembly and being able to hopefully find common ground, but also work through differences when necessary,” said Austin Hahn, member of UNC’s Young Democrats. “I think everyone has the same goal to end gun violence, and I also think talking through that and seeing our different options moving forward is really important.”
Student organizations represented on the panel included: Ravenscroft School Youth and Government Chapter, UNC Black Student Movement, Tar Heel Rifle and Pistol Club, Lake Norman Charter School, NC Teen Democrats, Triangle People Power, UNC College Republicans, Richlands High School and more.
"Listening to the eloquent students from across the state gave everyone in the audience hope about the direction of our state," said sophomore and IOP member Lucy Russell. "The students embraced tough topics with eloquence and passion, yet still found areas of common ground."
They were questioned by Rep. John Faircloth (R-Guilford), Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston), Rep. Cynthia Ball (D-Wake) and Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) about both banning and permitting firearms on high school and college campuses.
“Civil discourse is my business. I've been studying those who see the world differently for over a decade, and I want to start by saying two quick things. The first is that it is amazing if you reach common ground, but ultimately what’s more important is that each of you leave today feeling as though you heard a perspective and understand a perspective that you didn’t before,” said Anita Brown-Graham, professor of Public Law and Government at UNC and moderator of the event.
With the purpose of creating a respectful space for students to share their thoughts, the goal of this nonpartisan discussion was to shed light on a wide variety of student perspectives across the state to find areas of common ground for the sake of North Carolina's future.
“I have been incredibly inspired by the conversations I’ve had with student leaders since the Parkland shooting. Whether it’s speaking with high school students in Wake County or listening to the dialogue here tonight, I’m telling you that the voices I’ve witnessed from your generation are truly incredible,” Chaudhuri said. “I think that tackling those harder issues, in many ways, will carry the legacy we saw in the students of Parkland who, in just three weeks after the shooting, were able to persuade and convince a Republican governor and a Republican General Assembly to pass the most significant gun reform in that state’s history.”
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