EAST LANSING, Mich. —Michigan State University temporarily suspended classes in the week following the mass shooting that took place on campus on Feb. 13, which killed three students and critically injured five more. As the community continues to mourn, students and staff are adjusting back into their classrooms.
Seven days after the shooting, and after much opposition, classes were back in session as of Feb. 21.
Kameron Cone is among the many MSU students who felt the return to campus was too soon. Cone created a petition hoping the university would provide a hybrid or online option for the Spring 2023 semester. The petition continues to grow in support, with over 25,000 signatures.
Cone’s primary focus for the petition concerns students’ safety; another is that he feels the university has not given enough time to process and grieve.
“I got a haircut, and my barber [asked], ‘When are you guys going back to school?’ I said, ‘On Monday.’ He almost dropped his razor,” MSU junior Antonio Evans said. “He [said], ‘Kids haven’t even been buried yet. People haven’t even had time to deal with anything.” I didn’t even know what to say.”
Evans was upset with the university’s initial response and concerned about how professors would proceed with coursework. Although, Evans said he’s always separated administrative decisions from the spirit of the university itself.
The university administration decided to offer students the option to take classes for credit or no credit instead of a grade for the spring semester. But professors across campus, including in the journalism department, have made their own accommodations in how they will continue in their classrooms.
Richard Epps is a visual journalism professor in the College of Communications Arts and Sciences. He now offers a temporary zoom option in his classroom, no longer grades attendance, extended due dates and has made certain assignments on the original syllabus optional– circumstantial.
In making these changes, Epps hopes students can continue to learn at their own pace.
“How do I know if student A is ready just because it’s March 13 instead of March 12?” Epps said. “If I’m taking an empathetic approach to how I’m changing my class, [I need to remember that grief] is not a linear approach.”
Elizabeth Nass, a sophomore journalism student, said not all of her professors have been understanding. Some are continuing to schedule in-person classes, and others are not addressing the event in class at all. As a student journalist, she felt being with the community overruled being in a classroom.
With The State News, Nass continues to cover stories on those impacted and making change. Since the shooting, many students are expressing their grief and frustration through protests and vigils.
“Why would I go back? All we’re going to do is … not do normal schoolwork, and [now] it feels even less normal than … before,” Nass said. “I’d much rather go and cover a protest where voices are going to be heard than go to class and have it be ignored.”
Judith Walgren, School of Journalism Associate Director, teaches photojournalism at MSU.
Like Epps and many other professors, she has readjusted students’ workload but stresses the importance of continuing to learn during these times.
“Getting back into a … routine does not mean that one is moving on and forgetting what happened. It means that they are taking care of themselves and honoring [their commitment] to their education,” Walgren said.
Some students feel like they want to be back in the classroom along with the professors. Freshman Julia Inge said she appreciates how her professors are attempting to handle the situation.
“I was worried that I would be bombarded with schoolwork. [But], I was pleasantly surprised,” Inge said. “A lot of professors included links to all of the resources on campus … There’s so many, and I feel like we should be so grateful for … [them] showing their support for us.”
However, even some students who want to be back in the classroom are asking professors to remember that grief is not a one-size-fits-all process.
“I am grieving and hurting just like they are. … But, I’m not going to let that horrible person take away what my students and my class choose to learn,” Epps said.
For students, staff, alumni and family looking for supportive resources visit: https://msu.edu/emergency/resources.