After almost two months, the Michigan State University Student Union reopened its doors to the public on April 3. The Union, along with Berkey Hall, had been closed since the shooting on MSU’s campus Feb. 13. While Berkey Hall will remain closed until the fall 2023 semester, students and community alike rallied to make the Union reopening as comfortable as possible for those who chose to return.
Camera crews flanked the main entrances of the Union, eventually making their way inside to interview the minimal number of students on the first floor. Upon entering, the air felt as normal as could be expected – The Sparty’s Mini Mart was restocking, the Spirit Shop was up and running, and there were trinkets sitting on the counter at the information desk. The biggest change was the drywall in place of the doorways into the food court. The Sparty’s counter and the food court entrance counter previously backed up to one another, but the latter has been replaced with a gray wall. There are no current plans for the food court’s reopening, it is unknown if it will open at all.
“It feels a bit weird,” MSU graduate student and Sparty’s employee Kevin Patel said about the drywall. “The simple answer…is that it feels a bit suffocating.”
To assist in welcoming those who were ready to face the Union again, multiple organizations contributed therapy dogs and their accompanying guides from Monday to Friday. Canines for Change, a local nonprofit, contributed multiple dogs through the week. Merry Rosenberg, whose niece founded Canines for Change, visited the Union accompanied by her own canine: Oscar, the nine-year-old Old English bulldog. He was a hit with the students, barreling over them as they sat on the floor to greet him.
“Some people are disinterested completely or really just focusing on their studying,” Rosenberg said. “Otherwise, we’ve been swarmed… I think that it has been a really positive element to get us over this…or just to make people feel better through finals and midterms.”
On the third floor, the Lake Huron room featured letters from various schools and universities as well as local companies, community members and students. The notes ranged from calls to action for gun control to sympathy cards for those lost. Sophomore Sarah Feret visited the Union on reopening day, but chose to keep to the first floor, citing that she was not ready to see the contributions to the Lake Huron room.
“I felt, somehow, both comfortable and as if there was a cloud hanging over the building,” Feret said. “It’s weird because it’s a place that’s meant for the students to gather together, and something tragic happened the last time everyone was here. You could feel an aura, if you will, of unease and almost awkwardness of being there.”
Opinion among students has varied in terms of if they feel ready to return to the Union. As time has gone on, more and more students have been seen there, an indication that the healing process has begun.
“There is no perfect time for reopening a space,” the MSU Union webpage reads. “What we can do, however, is make certain students, faculty and staff have choice in this process. We’ve looked at this through a trauma-informed lens and feel the reopening gives individuals the options and flexibility needed for the healing process to continue.”