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Loyola Stands Against Gun Violence readies for 5th Annual Community Advocacy and Violence Prevention Summit

By: Daniel P. Smith

Today’s college-aged students have grown up in a world wounded by gun violence, so much so the brutality has been normalized. Consider these headlines:

Sixty killed and more than 850 injured at a Las Vegas music festival in October 2017.

In June 2016, 49 casualties and 53 injuries at the Pulse night club in Orlando.

In August 2019, 23 killed and 26 injured at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.

Gun violence has infiltrated schools and churches, recreation centers and restaurants, ending lives, forever impacting futures, and leaving a trail of despair in its wake. In 2023 alone, U.S. firearm deaths approached 19,000, excluding suicides, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Closer to home, the Chicago Police Department reported 617 homicides and 2,450 shootings across the city in 2023.

With an annual gathering designed to promote advocacy and antidotes to gun violence and a motivated group of student fellows taking leadership roles, Loyola Stands Against Gun Violence continues working to educate, empower, and inspire action against a disease the country must shake.

“We hope to inspire youth to understand that gun violence doesn’t have to be their reality,” says Lucia Garcia MPH ’20, director of student affairs and registration at Loyola University Chicago’s Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health and a member of the Loyola Stands committee since 2019. “Through education and advocacy, we want students to feel empowered to influence decisions being made around them and push gun violence prevention in a positive direction.”

Origins and evolution of the Summit

The Loyola Stands committee originated in 2017 after members of the Loyola Medicine Emergency Department and chaplains in the Spiritual Care and Education Department began collaborating to support those impacted by gun violence. The group launched its hallmark event, the Community Advocacy and Violence Prevention Summit, in February 2020 at the University’s Health Sciences Campus in Maywood.

The inaugural Summit spotlighted violence prevention efforts taking place at and around Loyola and included a keynote talk from Eddie Bocanegra of Heartland Alliance, a Chicago-based human rights organization. In 2021, the group hosted Cook County States Attorney Kim Foxx as the Summit’s keynote speaker.

Over the last four years, the Summit has blossomed to feature national speakers such as activist Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jamie, was murdered in the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, and Kris Brown, president of Brady.

On April 3, Loyola Stands will host its 5th Annual Summit on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus featuring keynote speaker X Gonzalez, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting and a co-founder of March For Our Lives, a youth-led movement to end the gun violence epidemic.

The 2024 Summit will highlight advocacy strategies to reduce gun violence as well as approaches to rally voices and drive collective action. The Summit will include an advocacy workshop, presentations from local Chicago muralist Milton Coronado and Healthy Hood, and an exhibitor hall spotlighting local organizations working to combat gun violence.

“We know gun violence can happen anywhere and at any time,” Garcia says. “Understanding the complexities of the problem is crucial to finding ways to contribute to thoughtful solutions.”

Fellows take a prominent role as the Summitt has evolved over recent years, so, too, has Loyola Stands. The committee has built and solidified relationships with external agencies as well as internal partners, such as Loyola’s Center for Criminal Justice. It also introduced a fellows program powered by a grant from Loyola’s Center for Health Outcomes and Informatics Research (CHOIR).

Over the last academic year, five fellows – MPH graduate students Idiake Irumundomon, Zach Wilder, Tijana Nikolic, and Elizabeth DeLoreto as well as MD/MPH student Gabriela Fuentes – have worked to elevate Loyola Stands’s efforts. The fellows have refreshed the Loyola Stands website, strengthened partnerships with local organizations and violence prevention stakeholders, promoted Loyola Stands at public events, increased student engagement on the Lake Shore Campus, and revised the organization’s mission statement to encompass the group’s growing focus on education, advocacy, and capacity building.

“It’s been inspiring to work alongside other passionate people with the shared goal to address gun violence,” says Wilder, a fifth-year student in Loyola University’s accelerated bachelor’s to master’s program in public health.

The fellows also instituted a series of “Community Conversations” featuring expert insights into gun safety practices, community-centered initiatives, and gun violence policy. Fellows have organized and planned their own community conversation, centering each event around a specific topic, such as red flag laws or the work of violence interrupters.

“The conversations have been an informal and interactive way for us to create connections with different communities and explore relevant topics,” says Irumundomon, also a fifth-year student in the accelerated public health program.

And, of course, the fellows have helped with planning and preparation for the annual Summit, which is being held at Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus for the first time in 2024. Loyola Stands leadership shifted the location to bolster student participation.

“We certainly hope the Summit is an energizing moment for students and an event that helps them understand the power they wield to impact change,” Irumundomon says.


Loyola Stands Against Gun Violence


Register for the 5th Annual Community Advocacy and Violence Summit on April 3rd.