As Durham gun violence creeps closer to campus, students demand resources to cope with trauma

Joel Brown Image
Monday, April 3, 2023
In wake of shootings, Durham students demand mental health resources
A group of Durham high school students fed up with the rising gun violence is now fighting for more mental health resources to cope with the toll.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- A group of Durham high school students fed up with the rising gun violence is fighting for more mental health resources to cope with the toll. They're taking their demands to the school board -- but first, they spoke to ABC11 about the gun violence crisis hitting way too close to campus.

"Just before your TV crew got here there was another shooting, and we were on temporary lockdown," said Andres Rivera-Rosario, a senior at Durham School of Technology (DST).

Drained mentally and emotionally by the constancy of nearby gunfire and the campus lockdowns that follow, these juniors and seniors at DST are fighting back.

"We're fighting to get our point across and not be silent," said junior Iyhana McKiver.

"I just felt like a lot of people were sweeping it under the rug. And I just wanted to talk about it," said Isaiah Palmer.

It's been less than two weeks since the triple shooting near Brogden Middle School. Two 16-year-olds were killed. One of them was a ninth grader at Durham's Riverside High.

In February, two Hillside High students were shot in the woods off campus. A 17-year-old student was killed. DST shares its campus with Hillside.

"Normal, everyday students that go to our school are getting shot up. That's something really deep. And it gives you that fear. I used to talk to this person. That could've been me," said Matthew Barahona.

The deadly violence has become disturbingly familiar.

"Yes, very normal. And that's a big problem," Rivera-Rosario said. "It's taken a toll on students' mental health."

Each of them is a student in Davis Harper's "Social Issues" class. Harper is helping them turn their feelings of fear and anxiety into action.

"What I got from students was: we need a break; we need relief; we need access to people that really know how to help us," Harper said.

The students named themselves Durham Students for Mental Health. They sent a digital survey to students and neighbors.

"When we sent it out, we only thought it would be our school. We had the whole district touching base with us," McKiver said.

Ninety-five percent of the 650 respondents said students needed more mental health days and more mental health resources.

"We've had responses all the way from California; all the way to schools nearby signing the petition and seeing how much we're in need of help," said Barahona.

Now, they've set a goal to get more than 3,900 signatures on a petition to demand better access to tools to cope with the trauma of gun violence: more counselors, social workers, and school psychologists.

"In terms of mental health resources, we want them to be more robust," Harper said. "We want them to be more available to us, more visible."

"We really wanted to get everyone to realize that we have to do something about this. We can't just let it sit. Because this isn't right," said Palmer.

A new $1 billion school behavioral health initiative is part of Gov. Roy Cooper's budget proposal. Time will tell what if any, funding state lawmakers give to that.

Meanwhile, these students at DST are planning to deliver their petition to the Durham School Board on April 20, along with their demands for at least five designated mental health days and better access to resources on campus.