ASUCC Vice President Joshua Friedlein recently met with U.S. Secretary of Education to discuss school violence. His tale from Oct. 1 came with him.
When Duncan retired at the end of 2015, after meeting with Josh and other student advisers, many of the points he mentioned in his farewell speech concerned the student’s session’s, indicating the impact the student discussions had upon him. Friedlein believes the discussions also perhaps influenced President Obama’s recent executive order for more stringent background checks on guns.
Friedlein says the trip helped him to finally start his own healing process. “I was still in shock,” Friedlein said. “Hearing about other students’ stories, where I didn’t experience them, but in hearing them . . . I knew what they were saying. Like hiding in a room, waiting for the police to come get them, I had that exact same experience. So, it forced me to confront what happened, and that’s been a rough process, but I’m glad that it’s started. It’s helped me heal.” Joshua Friedlein, the Vice President of ASUCC, UCC’s student government, used his experiences on campus Oct. 1 to advocate for safer schools with the U.S. Secretary of Education in his Washington, D.C. office in December.
Friedlein was among the many students on campus at the time of the Oct. 1 shooting. While every story from that day is singular, Friedlein hoped to use the students’ pain and his own experience to bring about change.
“During fall term we had that one week off, and then it was a frantic race,” Friedlein said. “If you had your school work you did that, if you had work you did that, and you didn’t really, at least for me, think of anything else. If that stuff popped up, I just pushed it back down.”
Despite going to counseling, Friedlein said the process did not confront the issue as he desired. Not knowing how to cope, he powered through what was the most difficult of terms he had ever faced.
Last fall was Friedlein’s fourth term at UCC, and his first as the ASUCC vice president, an honor he was voted into last spring. As Vice President, Friedlein deals with legislative processes affecting students.
Following Oct. 1, that role expanded as he was approached by the office of the Secretary of Education to come to Washington, D.C. in order to speak with Education Secretary Arne Duncan in his student voices session.
“What Secretary Duncan did when he was in office was every month he brought in students from across the country who had an experience within a topic he wanted to handle,” Friedlein said. Topics covered a wide range of current college campus problems such as tuition rates and drugs on campus.
“His last one [topic] was on gun violence on campus,” Friedlein said. As a former senator, Duncan was known as one of the longest tenured and most influential men to ever hold the position. Duncan has also served as the superintendent of the Chicago School District, a position that familiarized him with gun violence and allowed him to empathize with its victims.
“It was a topic near and dear to his heart,” Friedlein said. “And with our event being the most recent, he wanted to reach out to UCC and see if there was a student willing to sit in on the session. They asked me and paid for my travel.”
Friedlein spent two days in Washington, D.C. in the company of senators and advisors, telling to each his harrowing tale of Oct 1.
“In that time I was given a tour of the White House by Dr. Jill Biden’s staff; given a tour of Capitol Hill; met Secretary Duncan; met the man who is now the interim secretary, Dr. John King; met one of the president’s special advisors, Michael Smith; and met Senators Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley and Peter DeFazio.”
Through these meetings, and through his own tale, Friedlein hoped to convince some of America’s most powerful men to bring about change.
“[I wanted] to let them know what it was we experienced and influence them to make things like that more difficult to happen,” Friedlein said. Friedlein and other students were locked in the peer mentor offices for nearly three hours before police came to free them. Three months later, Friedlein still feels the weight of that day upon him.
“I asked them ‘What will we do’ and ‘What’s going to happen,’ and hearing that there’s been ninety-something bills introduced to the House since Oct. 1 on gun control, like background checks and better security on campuses, and that all of them were voted down . . . that was very hard to hear,” Friedlein said. “Hearing them say things like ‘I want to do something, but due to this Congress that is very unlikely’ . . . it’s hard.”
Despite this, Friedlein remains optimistic that he can help enact change on a subject that has already changed him. He has connections to Congress, and Biden even gave him an internship for this coming September, when he will work through a Portland office.
Although no gun safety legislation was passed, Friedlein does not feel his trip was wasted. “It reawakened in me a desire to go into politics,” Friedlein said. “Ever since I was little I wanted to do that in the future, but I’d convinced myself from high school, and even here, that I wouldn’t get anything done, that no one would vote for me, all the things people say in this scenario to discourage themselves.
“But being there, seeing how politicians care about their individual constituents from these tragedies that happen to people . . . [Senator Duncan], one of the most powerful men in the nation, was near tears telling me, personally, that his generation failed us. It reminded me that I can make a difference, so it nudged me back in.”
“I asked them ‘what will we do’ and ‘what’s going to happen,’ and hearing that there’s been 90-something bills introduced to the House since Oct. 1 on gun control, like background checks and better security on campuses, and that all of them were voted down . . . that was very hard to hear.”
– Joshua Friedlein
Friedlein’s meeting may have an eventual impact on UCC. “I met other survivors, including a student who survived the Virginia Tech shooting and a mother of one of the teachers at Sandy Hook. They are working to get me plugged in to a nationwide group of survivors, a support group, and we’re going to try to expand that out to the students of UCC.”
Later this year, Friedlein plans to transfer and begin work towards eventually obtaining a masters in history, in hopes of becoming a teacher at a community college or an employee at the National Parks Service. The trip to Washington, D.C. also has Friedlein considering one day running for the U.S. Senate.
Friedlein has also become a member of the Oregon Community College Students Association. In February, he and other community college representatives will visit Salem to meet with Gov. Kate Brown to discuss campus safety issues.
If you would like to read more about Friedlein’s trip to Washington, D.C. and the discussions he took part in, visit blog.ed.gov/2015/12/student-leaders-impacted-by-gun-violence-seek-to-make-a-positive-change.