The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This post is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists.
Teenagers in Iowa City sprang into action after the 2016 election, launching Students Against Hate and Discrimination (SAHD) to counter incidents of hate and discrimination in their community and across the nation. A year and a half later, when Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 students in Parkland, Florida, some of SAHD’s members responded immediately, organizing Students Against School Shootings (SASS), a group that focuses on pro-gun control and anti-gun violence legislation.
Lujayn Hamad, 17, is a founding member of both organizations—and her activism stems from personal experience. The Omani-American teen, who wears a hijab, was harassed days after the 2016 election by a classmate, with little response from her school at the time. Her experiences were paralleled by a national rise in hate crimes following the election, including a reported 1,094 “bias-related incidents” by the Southern Poverty Law Center in just the first month after Trump’s win.
Hamad, disturbed by her school’s lack of response to these incidents, mobilized 40 West High School students in a walkout on November 15. Later, she met with area teens who bonded over similar experiences—and SAHD was born. “In the beginning, we were looking for solutions and change within the next couple days,” she told Ms. “We wanted our school to be very clear that they would not tolerate this kind of discrimination, period. Now we’re looking more towards sustained change—solutions for change that will last the next 10 years, the next 15 years.”
In the year since its inception, SAHD members have successfully campaigned for significant pro-diversity changes in Iowa City. The group marched on the City Council building with a list of nine demands, including an increase in people of color on school faculties, student-led diversity workshops and a required diversity course at the high school level. In response, the local school district issued an anti-discrimination statement, instituted an ethnic- and diversity-studies class and now actively involves SAHD and other student groups in decision-making.
“Our main point [for creating the class] was moving away from the way that we teach minority histories in schools… about women, about people of color,” said Mariam Keita, a student at City High School. She said that most history classes in her district focus on oppression rather than empowerment. “We [were] hoping that this diversity course would kind of teach those histories that we don’t hear in those classes.”
Similarly, days after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, high school students in Iowa City formed a group chat where they planned a city-wide walkout. The group, which eventually turned into Students Against School Shootings, has upwards of 60 members with 20 core members leading it. “We knew that this could happen to any of us,” said Hamad. “I mean, we are the mass shooting generation, and we knew we owed it to the students that hadn’t made it to fight for gun control.”
The local school district has been supportive of SASS throughout its efforts so far. Currently, the group is organizing a local March for our Lives sibling event in Iowa City on March 24, registering voters and getting in contact with representatives. “We’re working on pushing a gun control agenda with the legislatures,” Hamad said. “We went to see Grassley, and this spring break might go to the Capitol in D.C. to meet with representatives.” said Hamad.
The fight won’t stop here for either group. “I see [the groups] going very far, possibly getting legislation passed or working with the students from Florida,” Hamad told Ms. “These movements are gaining momentum, and you can’t stop it.”
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