Three students at Michigan State University are dead. Five more students have been shot. Fifty thousand more students are now victims of trauma, only the latest to occur at a place of American education.
How many more? Students have already painted the question onto our famous campus rock, across the street from my office at the MSU College of Education. Normally, it’s a place to celebrate an event or mark a social or political moment. Today, the words “how many more” also mean: “It happened here.”
The shootings occurred at Berkey Hall and the MSU Student Union. These are spaces of community. Before the shootings started, after 8 p.m., these were places of education and fellowship. Life building and enriching. Young people were there working. Grabbing coffee or snacks. Maybe a study session with friends or a study date with someone who might be more.
That’s a university. We’re aspirational in these communities. We’re looking for more. If in our younger elementary and secondary classrooms, education is about development, universities are about experience. The start of living — not in the sense of heartbeats and breaths, but in the sense of making one’s life one’s own.
And that’s what the alleged shooter targeted. Current reporting holds that he has no known ties to MSU. Which means he had to make a point of being here. For those unfamiliar with campus, it is self-contained. To its north, Grand River Avenue divides the local bars and restaurants from MSU buildings — including Berkey and the Union. If it were strictly carnage the shooter was seeking, he could have more easily found victims at places like Raising Cane’s or Starbucks. They’re only across the street from where he did choose, and at that time of night may have been more crowded.
Instead, he made a point of murdering at MSU itself. That little word, “at,” makes the distinction for reporting and jurisdiction. And also intent. Not near, at. In. There. And here.
Speaking to the press, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said, “We should not, we cannot, accept living like this.” For a person who is also a parent of college-age students, and whose own life was threatened with a particularly ugly and invasive violence, that refusal means more than the nonsensical thoughts and prayers usually offered by public officials with little interest in creating a solution. The governor knows, perhaps not literally but certainly in a human sense, what it means to run for her life. Now, so do our students.
So, how many more?
I walked by a cluster of residence halls the morning after the shooting, not far from the shootings themselves. I saw a number of students packing luggage into cars with what appeared to be parents who’d come to get them. A handful more crying and walking alone. What these shootings do when they target young people is also a target possibility.
The 50,000 different stories on campus on Feb. 13 converged into one shared, terrifying detour. And for them, what was going to be is no longer. For the five students who are in the hospital, that shattering is literal, and it is too soon to talk of anything but healing. Too soon but to pray.
And then there are those three young people who died. What were their possibilities, ending with the age they will always now be? What of their parents, wherever they are, who woke with a right to see their children alive at the end of the day?
How many more, yes, but how much has already been lost? We had the answer on that Monday with those who began their day, on their way to learn and engage and experience, with only a few hours left to live.
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