The shocking and tragic events of Feb. 13 will have a long-lasting impact on us all. The mass shooting on the campus of Michigan State University left three students dead, five more wounded and a community reeling. There is no magic solution for the pain, but there are some steps MSU administration, students and the community are taking and more they can take toward healing and preventing such an atrocity from happening again.
First, the immediate response merits recognition. This includes the well-deserved salutation for Ingham County dispatcher Aimee Barajas, whose calm and attentiveness guided police and emergency personnel across campus in the most turbulent environment possible. Anyone who listened in to the police scanner that night knows just how chaotic it sounded and how critical her professionalism was in those moments.
Next, Marlon Lynch, MSU’s police chief and vice president for public safety, was exemplary in coordinating the emergency response to the shootings. His leadership in ensuring a swift reaction to the chaos at Berkey Hall and the MSU Union that included first responders from multiple agencies across several counties is commendable. So was the humanity he displayed in the early press conferences as he clearly fought back emotions while providing updates. MSU was the fifth university in the country to achieve emergency management accreditation in 2017 and received a second term of accreditation in January, under Lynch’s leadership, for its resiliency planning and simulation of responses to multiple hazards. Michigan State took the necessary steps to prepare to counter this heinous act, and many more lives were saved because of it.
Similarly, MSU Interim President Teresa Woodruff has shown strong and compassionate leadership, encouraging attendees at a vigil at the foot of the Spartan statue to “lift our eyes” in the face of fear, sorrow and bewilderment to honor the victims. Her appeal in the days since has been to “continue to find hope and strength in our community of Spartans” in the effort to reclaim the campus from the aftereffects of that horrendous night.
MSU is being called upon to enact changes in the ways students learn for those too impacted by their experiences two weeks ago to attend classes in person. Campus vivacity is but a shell of itself prior to Feb. 13, with many students, faculty and staff unready to return to “normal” in tangible ways. On Feb. 20, the day classes were to resume in person, hundreds of students were absent, choosing to take part in a protest at the state Capitol. Students are urging a change to gun laws to tighten restrictions on who can purchase them and when, while demanding stronger on-campus security measures.
With that, it must be noted how the university community — students, faculty, administration, alumni, fans — have pulled together in the last couple of weeks to support students as they attempt to reclaim any semblance of campus activity. Donations to the victims’ families and the student body have poured in from Spartan Nation and beyond. Volunteers provided warm meals, snacks, Spartan gear, yard signs and even much-needed hugs.
That resolve and coming togetherness will continue to be necessary if meaningful change is to occur in state and federal legislative bodies. Gun rights’ advocates are organized and powerful, but public opinion seems to be shifting toward ensuring public safety over individual freedoms, particularly for assault weapons. Many are also asking for stricter access to buildings, classrooms and offices on campus. Key card access is a possible solution, as Lansing Community College has done. MSU will need to allocate the necessary resources to make the university feel safer.
It is human nature to think that mass shootings are something that only happens elsewhere — a sense of invulnerability while all the evidence points to the inevitability that speaks to the collective guilt we should be feeling. The mass shooting at Oxford High School was a mere 15 months earlier and an hour and a half drive from MSU’s campus. That nothing has changed in policy since the Oxford shootings should surprise no one. As a society, we deserve better from one another, especially for our youngest and brightest.
How is it that our community now has a shared sense of trauma with Blacksburg, Virginia (Virginia Tech); Las Vegas (Harvest Music Fest); Uvalde, Texas; and Columbine, Colorado, to name a very few? We now have a personal connection to their pain and grief, their anger and frustration. That one student who survived the mass shooting on campus was also a survivor of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012 should be alarming on multiple levels. Prayers and thoughts truly need to give way to changes in policies and protocols, even as the healing continues.
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