At the intersection of National Student Leadership Week and the anniversary of the National School Walkout, we want to highlight the ways that UDL debaters have shown leadership by fighting for change with this article from Spring 2018:

Minneapolis students march for safe schools. Photo credit to Solvejg Wastvedt | MPR News

Gun violence in the schools has devastated students and families, but the resulting student-led protests have given us hope. 

This year, the students of March For Our Lives are establishing their own place in history by refusing to accept gun violence in schools. We’re proud that Twin Cities students are showing solidarity with students across the nation calling for safer schools – including fellow debaters at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. 

Our students have kept up the momentum after leading gun reform protests in April. Meet Maya and Isabel, two Washburn High School debaters who stepped up to speak out for safe schools. Here’s what they learn from their experience with gun safety advocacy: 

Maya Sprenger-Otto: 

It’s Worth Every Ounce of Energy

“I was inspired to get involved in activism because I believe it is worth every ounce of energy to create a safe and equitable environment for all. My experience in debate relates to activism because not only are there many overlaps of people, but also because there are similarities in the discussion of what the best plan of action is!”


Push Past Barriers

“I became more committed to activism following a protest I co-founded with other debaters in February 2019. We marched to Minneapolis City Hall to support increased gun safety. As a result, the city council passed language in support of stricter statewide regulations. This protest brought together over four different schools and made national news. There was certainly some push back. The Minneapolis Public School District has a strict policy: once you leave the building without permission (which we were not granted), you can’t re-enter or make up assignments. This was handled by considering values: Is attending four class periods more important than speaking out against the repeated loss of life due to guns? I do not believe so.” 


Give The Audience What They Want

“From my experience in activism, I’ve learned that if you organize a valuable message and reach out to the correct people, you can make a difference.”

Isabel Kleckner


Activism Takes Many Forms

“A lot of times, especially for women, queer people, and students, people with power would rather we just not exist or contribute to conversations. It can often be an act of activism to simply stay informed, keep having opinions and share them. Activism doesn’t always have to be hundreds of students rallying at a government building- there are definitely small ways to fight for change in every aspect of your daily life.”


You Don’t Need to Be a “Natural”

“I wouldn’t consider myself a natural leader, but a lot of causes are really important to me, and opportunities I see for action to be taken. If I don’t see somebody else taking that opportunity, I will, because I know there is interest in participating from my school and community. It’s easy to be a leader when you know people will follow, which is what I was counting on when I was starting the February walkout.”


Transcend Your Critics 

“One of the biggest things I learned from the experience is that the community in Minneapolis is generally very supportive of us. We had a lot of adults come out to show their support. The majority of the pushback is from folks who say that we’re only doing it to get out of school. I just ignore them. I know firmly where my priorities lie, and that’s something we all get to decide for ourselves. Someone commenting on a news story to say that we shouldn’t miss class isn’t going to make me stop protesting injustices.”


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