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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Students Host Vigil to Remember Gun Violence Victims During National Gun Violence Survivors Week

CW: This article references and discusses gun violence and intimate partner violence. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources. 

Georgetown University’s chapter of Students Demand Action (SDA), a gun violence awareness and advocacy group, hosted a vigil Jan. 24 in Red Square to honor victims of gun violence.

Students wore orange ribbons to symbolize gun violence awareness, held candles and read stories about gun violence victims that SDA had posted on the Red Square walls. The vigil took place during the sixth annual National Gun Violence Survivors Week — held from Jan. 22 to Jan. 26 this year — which aims to amplify the stories of gun violence survivors and victims.

Emma Vonder Haar (CAS ’26), one of Georgetown SDA’s leaders, said the group chose to host the vigil because gun violence is an issue that touches many college students.

Maren Fagan/The Hoya | During National Gun Violence Survivor’s Week, Georgetown’s Students Demand Action (SDA), a gun violence awareness and advocacy group, shared stories of those affected by gun violence and honored gun violence victims during a vigil on Jan. 24.

“This is an issue that’s really, really important,” Vonder Haar told The Hoya. “A lot of young people, a lot of people have stories or have some sort of connection. Then, also, we are in the nation’s capital. There are eyes on us.” 

Over 40,000 Americans — an average of almost 118 per day — died of gun violence in 2023. Everytown, a nonprofit that advocates for gun violence prevention, estimated in 2019 that approximately three million children witness a shooting annually.

At the vigil, Vonder Haar spoke briefly about these statistics before starting to read stories of Americans lost to gun violence, including the story of Jayden Mejia, who was shot accidentally at age 14.

“After intensive surgery, he lives today as a freshman in high school playing on the varsity football team at a local high school,” Vonder Haar said at the vigil. “However, his life is not the same. He has been diagnosed with TBI, or traumatic brain injuries, and has not been the same Jayden he was.”

Vonder Haar, SDA co-leader Madison Cheng (CAS ’26) and SDA advocacy director Alex Goodale (CAS ’26) then took turns reading the names and stories of Washington, D.C. area victims of gun violence before organizers and attendees held a minute of silence. 

Vonder Haar said the issue of gun violence prevention fits with the university’s Jesuit values because it emphasizes devotion to protecting others in a community.

“With Jesuit values like ‘men and women for others,’ this really resonates, honoring the lives of those people who have been killed by gun violence,” Vonder Haar said.

Goodale said the vigil was deeply personal for her because a friend of hers died by suicide due to gun violence. 

“I think we all know someone that has been impacted by gun violence, either has been present at a shooting or lost a family member,” Goodale told The Hoya. “I think it’s really important that we hold this space now to be able to honor those people.”

Full disclosure: Alex Goodale (CAS ’26) is a features writer for The Hoya.

The overall gun death rate in the United States is 13 times greater than that in peer nations like the United Kingdom and Spain.  

Besides the vigil, SDA also hosted a poster-making session and commemoration event for gun violence survivors Jan. 22. Cheng said commemorating Gun Violence Survivors Week is a particularly fundamental part of SDA’s work. 

“It’s really just a week to make sure we’re remembering survivors and centering survivors in all of our work that we do,” Cheng told the Hoya. 

Vonder Haar said the decision to discuss selected victims’ stories was intended to humanize these victims and give voices to their families.

“It would take 11 hours to read all their names,” Vonder Haar said. “Instead, we want to focus on some of the people and their personalities and their lives and their stories, as that’s more interesting.” 

Goodale said the stories were available through Moments that Survive, a website that allows gun violence survivors or victims’ families to share their narratives in their own words.

“It’s really impactful to go through and read the stories,” Goodale said. “Especially for those who have died, you’re hearing about the people that they were, beyond just that they died by gun violence.”

“It’s not just a statistic,” Goodale added. “It’s people that are dying.”

Cheng said the vigil aims to focus on survivors, rather than political action.

“Some people think that it’s very political, or a lot of it is sometimes action that we want to see and legislation, and that can get politicized,” Cheng said. “But I think what we want to remember in all our work is to center survivors.”

Cheng said she hopes the vigil and the posters up in Red Square will inspire students to honor survivors and think more about the impact of gun violence in the United States.

“Hopefully, Georgetown students will come up and read the stories or attend the vigil and just really resonate with aspects of their stories,” Cheng said. “Take just a moment in this week to remember survivors.” 

Resources: On-campus resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Services (202-687-6985). Additional off-campus resources include the Crisis Text Line (text 741741).

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