The anger and frustration on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus was palpable Wednesday as hundreds of students demanded during a rally that lawmakers address gun violence across North Carolina and the rest of the country.
Holding up a large banner that read, “This is our reality,” students from different groups, including March For Our Lives and Students Demand Action, took turns talking about the fear and panic they and their friends felt on Monday as the entire university went on lockdown while police searched for an armed man.
“In a matter of seconds, we went from taking notes, walking in the quad, being at home, to being forced to run, barricade the doors; there’s nothing normal about returning to school tomorrow,” said Kyle Lumsden, a volunteer with UNC Students Demand Action. “There’s nothing normal about hearing from people, ‘Thoughts and prayers,’ and the continuous idea that we cannot prevent these tragedies.”
The lockdown that students, faculty and staff were forced into Monday ended after authorities arrested Tailei Qi, a 34-year-old graduate student at UNC’s Department of Applied Physical Sciences, later charging him with shooting and killing his faculty adviser, Zijie Yan.
Just over 48 hours later, the university is preparing to return to normal operations. Classes are set to resume on Thursday. Before that, UNC will hold a vigil on Wednesday night for Yan, an associate professor who joined the faculty in 2019. Another vigil was held for Yan on Tuesday.
Outside UNC’s South Building on Wednesday, the large crowd that had gathered said Yan’s name to remember the professor, who has been described by colleagues as an enthusiastic scientist and an outgoing, kind friend.
Several students who spoke at the rally lamented the fact that for many of them, the fear of an active shooter situation was nothing new.
“Our entire lives, as a generation, we’ve been told to run, hide and fight,” said David Hogg, a survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that claimed 17 lives in 2018.
Hogg, who co-founded the group March For Our Lives in response to the Parkland shooting, asked those in the crowd to raise their hands if they had heard those instructions while growing up in school.
Several students raised their hands.
“We’ve asked for too long, and waited for too long to make this change, and we have to be that change,” Hogg said, adding that it was time for more young people that have grown up intimately aware of the danger of mass shootings and other gun violence to get involved in the political process and run for office themselves.
“If they won’t change the gun laws here in North Carolina, guess what, it’s time to change the government,” Hogg said.
“We need to refuse to hide from the responsibility that we have to protect future generations,” Hogg added. “We need to refuse to listen to the people that say to us, ‘Oh, you’re too emotional to be talking right now, what happened just happened one time,’ when this happens every single day in America.”