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Notre Dame be strong

| Monday, April 3, 2023

For as long as I can remember I have always been a sorter.

I used to sort my Thomas the Tank Engine trains by color and my college mail by geographical location. Similarly, with my laundry, I make sure that all of my T-shirts are organized by theme. I am always shocked by the number of T-shirts that seem to come out of the woodwork of my closet, which has led to the creation of many new themes to arrange them. Over spring break, I began to sort my shirts by category with the college tour shirts sitting next to the high school shirts and the travel shirts sitting next to the athletic shirts. However, as I folded and sorted, a new theme emerged in the piles of my shirts.

The three T-shirts that I had set aside were in support of communities ravaged by mass shootings.

Unconsciously to me, I had gathered a small collection of shirts all bearing the same saying with different iterations, “[insert location] strong.” One T-shirt from the 2017 Las Vegas shooting read “Vegas Strong.”  Another from my first year of college acclaimed “Oxford Strong” in honor of the shooting at Oxford High School in southeast Michigan. My newest shirt, still with the factory creases on it, came from the shooting at the first school I ever loved and said “Spartan Strong.”

Staring down at these folded shirts all bearing the same phrase filled me with rage and prompted me to ask myself the question, “How much stronger do we have to be?” Why is it that communities must bear the brunt of this trauma that brings them together to grieve? When will these mass shootings stop? Why have these tragedies become so commonplace?   

This is a uniquely American problem that plagues this country in a way that is foreign to the rest of the world. Here in the United States, the land of the free and home of the brave, the war waged on our soil pulls the American flag down to half-mast in a way that has become all too standard. Mass shootings have become far more deadly and far more frequent in the last twenty years. The coincidence of this increase with the perception of those who are currently college undergraduates results in a cohort of students who have never known a world without rampant mass shootings.   

Holding my shirts in the yellow light of my childhood bedroom, I shuddered to imagine the fear and helplessness that my peers must have felt in these instances across the country. While I am blessed enough to have never experienced gun violence in my life, these T-shirts made me have a morbid thought.

What would the shirt designed after a school shooting at Notre Dame look like?

Would it say Notre Dame strong or Irish strong? Which one of Our Lady’s University colors would be selected to unite the Notre Dame family?

What is to stop Notre Dame from being the next school to be ravaged by violence? Where would the shooter go? Would I be safe in my dorm? Would it make international news and cause a political firestorm? Would the attack on the University of Notre Dame with its representation of America’s values be the last straw for a change to happen? Would it prompt more than a two-sentence response from other university presidents, more than Father Jenkins released after the Michigan State shooting? What would happen if the unthinkable came to pass here in our pristine little corner of the world?     

Pulling myself away from this rabbit hole, I knew well that these were thoughts that no one should have to think about. No student or individual should fear entering large public spaces, checking to make certain of their nearest exit. Elementary school students should not have to worry about lugging their bulletproof backpacks around during school shooting drills. These thoughts and fears that so many Americans are faced with every day have not been and should not be normal.     

Many students who lived through that haunting night on the campus of Michigan State University had seen violence like that before. The mass shooting on campus on the night of Feb. 13 marked the second school shooting for many students in the span of only a few years. Hiding in the dorms and buildings at Michigan State, were the survivors of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and Oxford High School, who once more feared for their lives at the hands of gun violence. Notre Dame students should not have to hope and pray in the candlelight of the Grotto with the uncertainty of whether or not their friends would survive the night. Moreover, no one should have to survive a school shooting only to be met with their worst fears relived a few years later.  

Rather than waiting for the day when violence penetrates this campus and the shirts read “Notre Dame Strong,” now is the time for Notre Dame to be strong.

This university is in a fortuitous situation, poised as a top Catholic institution to lead the change in America that prevents this plague of grief and terror from spreading. The time for “prayers and support” has come and gone, but rather it is in the spirit of honoring those who have been struck down by this violence that Notre Dame must demand change.

The University and all of the individuals that make up the Notre Dame family must demand change from legislators and those who would resist protecting Americans in the besmirched name of freedom. There is a litany of policy solutions that have repeatedly been scientifically proven to be effective in stopping gun violence. Many lawmakers have given up on preventing school shootings or are actively fighting the for needlessly lethal weapons in communities across America.

I urge the University to advocate for progressive changes to combat gun violence and protect its students. In addition, it is also important for the average student to call your lawmakers and demand a change for your protection and that of the American people.   

I hope for the day when we will not have to light candles at the grotto or fold T-shirts to mourn the loss of innocent people killed by gun violence. More importantly, I invite you to challenge the status quo and fight for this necessary change, no matter what it takes and know that you are not alone.

Jack Sirianni is a sophomore studying political science, journalism and public policy. He is a proud Michigander who appreciates jamming to Pete Seeger, scouring eBay for vintage Notre Dame paraphernalia and collecting stickers from everywhere he goes. On campus, Jack can often be seen by the Founder’s Monument or in the line for Southwest Salad. For your favorite tidbits of knowledge or any other musings, his inbox is always open at [email protected].

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Jack Sirianni

Jack Sirianni is a member of the Class of 2025 pursuing a major in Political Science with minors in Journalism and Public Policy. He is a proud resident of Fisher Hall and as a Michigan native, he can often be found enjoying the South Bend wilderness. Jack has also written for every Observer department on topics ranging from social justice to campus signage.

Contact Jack