After D.C. March confrontation, some ask: What’s in a smile?

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People have been having conversations about the deeper meaning behind a teenager’s smile.

The viral Jan. 18 video of an encounter between Native American Elder Nathan Phillips and Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann after the anti-abortion March for Life in Washington, D.C. has created divided opinions about the true intentions behind Sandmann’s facial expression.

Sandmann provided a statement to CNN on Jan. 23 in an attempt to clarify what transpired in the video. Sandmann said Phillips approached him, though Sandmann was not sure why.

Sandmann also said that by remaining “motionless and calm” he believed he could diffuse the situation. He said though he wasn’t making faces at Phillips, he did smile as a way to let Phillips know he would not become angry.

Some people said Sandmann appeared to be smirking instead of smiling.

KAYA TAITANO | INSTAGRAM
Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann, left, and Native American activist Nathan Phillips confront each other after the March for Life on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Friday, Jan. 18. After video of the incident went viral, Covington Catholic temporarily shut its doors Tuesday.

Sharon Davila, a licensed clinical social worker at Purposeful Living in the Horner Park neighborhood, said that while there is no universal facial expression to indicate stress, each person does have a unique facial expression when facing overwhelming situations.

Psychological scientists Tara Kra and Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas conducted a 2012 study called “Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expression on the Stress Response.” It found there are benefits to maintaining positive facial expressions, such as smiling, when under stress. The researchers found their subjects had lower heart rates once they recovered from stress-inducing activities.

Germinal Van, a conservative political writer, said Sandmann is a young high school Trump supporter who does not understand the current political climate. He believes the political le has used the incident to portray the right as evil.

“Nick Sandmann didn’t do anything wrong,” Van said. “He was standing there; he didn’t use physical force. He was just standing there. It’s just playing on people’s emotions, which is sad. We’re not heading to the right directions right now.”

Van said Sandmann was probably smirking when facing Phillips. He said high school kids’ actions are based on emotions, and they do not think rationally.

“Maybe he found that it was funny at the moment, but I don’t think his intent was to undervalue the culture of Nathan Phillips,” Van said.

College student Mark Lester said Sandmann was, in fact, smirking and vocalized that Sandmann’s explanation did not convince him.

“I didn’t see anything in that kid’s face that looked like he was scared or trying to di use the situation or saying a silent prayer,” Lester said. “He looked like he was being egged on by his peers. If he thought he was in danger, he didn’t have to stand right in that guy’s face.”

Lester said he does not believe the students were being bullied, but he does believe they were misbehaving. He said the smirk says a lot about the problems society is trying to address.

“There’s a culture that the smirk belies,” Lester said. “That smirk symbolizes something we are trying to get to the heart of. There was no dialogue between the two. We can’t really know what they were thinking.”