MSU reopens Berkey Hall to classes after 2023 shooting, but many students say it’s still too soon ⋆

As the spring semester began Monday for students and faculty at Michigan State University, a group of students protested against the reopening of Berkey Hall, where two students were killed in a deadly mass shooting in February 2023.

“They are not hearing us when we try to be the change,” said 19-year-old sophomore Cassidy Howard, who organized the protest. “They promise change in the same way that strangers believe thoughts and prayers will wipe the blood from our memory. The same way as they think that putting plaster and drywall over the class, over the place where my classmates were murdered is going to make it magically better and make that magically an okay building to be in. Somehow, we are still hurting. We are still struggling.”

MSU administration in October said it planned to reopen Berkey, which had been closed for classes since Feb. 13, 2023, when a gunman walked onto the East Lansing campus, killing three students and injuring five more between Berkey Hall and the MSU Union Building. Those killed were Arielle Anderson, 19, Alexandria Verner, 20, and Brian Fraser, 20.

When they made the announcement, university officials said none of the classrooms “directly impacted by the violence of the shooting” would hold classes, adding that students who were concerned about taking courses in Berkey could speak with their academic advisor to consider an alternate class.

“We want to ensure faculty and students have access to the resources they need for a successful spring semester. We are communicating these resources and tools to impacted colleges, and we will offer increased support, such as the availability of counselors in Berkey Hall during the first week of in-person classes,” said the Oct. 27 statement.

However, that has been unacceptable for many students, some of whom attended December’s meeting of the MSU Board of Trustees and requested Berkey Hall remain closed for the time being, noting that it hasn’t even been a year since the shooting and many in the university community continue to live with the trauma of losing friends and classmates, as well as a sense of safety while on campus.

That sentiment was reinforced at Monday’s protest in the biting cold outside the Hannah Administration building.

“No matter how often you walk past Berkey Hall with your head turned away so you don’t have to recall the events that took place on Feb. 13, the memory never truly dies,” said sophomore Emily Moore. “The ghost will always still be there. People don’t consider how difficult it is to bury the memories of trauma.”

Moore said that students expressed on numerous occasions that they were not ready to have the campus return to normal operations. 

“We need you to recognize that we are not ready to go back into Berkey Hall,” said Moore. “We need you to recognize us, our student body, and see that our ghosts will continue to haunt us for years to come.”

In response to the protest, MSU spokesperson Mark Bullion sent a statement to the saying that the “university unequivocally supports the free speech rights of students, faculty, staff, visitors and community members. Engaging in meaningful, respectful and civil discourse Is a cornerstone of American democracy.”

MSU students gather to protest reopening of Berkey Hall, Jan. 8, 2023 | Jon King

MSU Sophomore Cassidy Howard speaking at student protest, Jan. 8, 2023 | Jon King

MSU freshmen (L to R) Tekera Farmer, Katrina Brown and Katy Winkler attending student protest, Jan. 8, 2023 | Jon King

Berkey Hall, one of the sites of the mass shooting on Michigan State University’s campus, Feb. 15, 2023 | Susan J. Demas

Berkey Hall, one of the sites of the mass shooting on Michigan State University’s campus, Feb. 15, 2023 | Susan J. Demas

 

However, Bullion said the decision to open Berkey Hall to academic classes was made following collaborative conversations involving students, faculty, staff and trauma experts since the shooting. 

“Collectively, the group expressed a desire to reopen Berkey Hall using a phased approach, starting with the fall 2023 semester when the hall reopened to faculty, staff and graduate students with office space in the building,” he said.

But Howard told the Advance it was “laughable” to say that student input was gathered in any meaningful way.

“I know so many more stories of people who are struggling to get out of classes,” she said. “If you have three classes left before you graduate and all three are only offered in Berkey, you don’t have any other choices. I would say probably at least 70 to 80% of the people I’ve spoken to are not ready to return to Berkey [and] have even expressed feeling nauseous at the thought. And it’s just really hard to see so many people struggling and to see the university not giving us the support that we need.”

Howard said it was obvious to most students that monetary considerations were driving the decision to reopen Berkey, but questioned why.

“The Tom Izzo Football Building is an incredible amount of money,” she said. “And so the university [and] the trustees have no shortage of money. We’ve looked at what their budget is. They will not hurt to protect us by closing this building down. They’re not hurting for money.”

Bullion says while Berkey Hall is open, the wing where the shootings occurred will remain closed through the summer, when the university plans to do renovations. But even once those are completed, academic classes will never again take place in that wing. 

Still, freshman Katy Winkler said she can’t understand why the university wouldn’t go for the easy fix of offering hybrid classes for those students not ready to be back in that building.

“I understand that they need to use the space as it’s a big university with a lot of students,” she said. “But I think it’s just unfortunate that they’re not giving the hybrid option [for classes].”

Tekera Farmer, also a freshman, said she understands the building has to reopen, but is puzzled why affected students can’t be accommodated, too.

“It’s really important that they listen to students and it doesn’t really feel like they’re listening,” she said. “The actual opening of the hall we get, but it’s just like the options for those who are still highly affected by the incidents that took place last spring semester and they’re not really hearing out those other voices.”

“I think it shows in a way a lack of inclusivity,” added freshman Katrina Brown. “Perhaps there are people who weren’t super affected by the building themselves, but there are people who are, and so to ignore the minority that may feel that way ignores inclusivity.”

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

SUBSCRIBE



authored by Jon King
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2024%2F01%2F08%2Fmsu-reopens-berkey-hall-to-classes-after-2023-shooting-but-many-students-say-its-still-too-soon%2F

Comments are closed.