MSU returns to class with unease, determination and more empty seats
- Michigan State University held classes Monday for the first time since a mass shooting one week ago
- Many students chose to attend classes while others said they weren’t yet ready
- The university will offer a credit/no credit class option for students this semester, and some professors are adjusting their syllabi
EAST LANSING — Michigan State University business student Mohammed Al-Shidhani said that on a normal day, he would see a lot more students smiling.
But Monday was not a normal day.
It had been one week since a gunman shot and killed three students and critically injured five others on the MSU campus, and this marked the first day of classes since the tragedy.
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“Today seems kind of depressing to me. Nobody is on campus, everybody is scared,” Al-Shidhani, 18, said as he stood in Wells hall waiting to be picked up for his next class.
Similar sentiments were offered across campus, as students noted the surreal nature of the day and a sizable number of empty seats.
Al-Shidhani said his microeconomics professor went over adjustments to the syllabus that included canceling homework for two weeks and rescheduling the midterm for a later date.
“I feel like staying at home is depressing and I feel isolated so I decided to go out,” said Al-Shidhani, a freshman.
Other professors appeared to take a different approach, teaching their course as it was scheduled.
“Some of my other professors are treating this like normal and having no accommodations,” Rylen Pierce, a first-year human biology student said. “Tomorrow I have a quiz in math” and professors just keep on moving.
Michaela Salisbury, a sophomore studying animal science, attended her morning math class, which was moved from the MSU Union, where one of the students was killed last week, to Wells Hall on Monday. The campus looked like a “ghost town.”
“The world has to keep going, you know?” she said. Referencing the man who terrorized the campus last week, Salisbury added: “It can’t stop and if it stops he wins. That’s not something any of us want.”
Marco Díaz-Muñoz, the assistant professor of language and humanities whose class was interrupted by gunfire last week, told Bridge on Monday afternoon that he would be leading his classes Monday.
He planned to teach Spanish in the afternoon, and then later convene his undergraduate humanities class for the first time since a gunman opened fire in the Berkey Hall room where the class met last Monday evening. The attacker killed two of his students — Arielle Diamond Anderson and Alexandria Verner — and injured several others before continuing his rampage at the student union.
Díaz-Muñoz said he hoped that sharing his story would inspire voters and politicians to support gun safety legislation and mental health funding.
Díaz-Muñoz and his students will meet in-person, he said, but not in Berkey Hall, which MSU closed for the remainder of the semester and where the doors now have flower stems in the handles. He doesn’t know how many will show up. Some have already told him they can’t do it, which Díaz-Muñoz said he understands.
Personally, he said, returning to campus is an act of healing and defiance: Reclaiming a space, a routine, a sense of safety that was stolen.
“We’re not going to get over it,” he said. “But to at least lose some of the fear of taking that first step, of walking to a place and being in a space that you now associate with danger — it’s what I’m doing for myself and for them.”
Some aspects of Monday felt normal: the buses were running, there were at least a few people riding their bikes, there was a line at Starbucks in Wells Hall.
But other aspects showed what the campus has just endured: encouraging signs and chalk sidewalk messages, people laying flowers at a makeshift memorial by Berkey Hall, and a line by the Rock where students could receive free mom, sister, “bro” and grandma hugs along with snacks.
Mikel Sinishtaj, a first-year finance student, said his microeconomics class typically has between 300-400 students. He estimates that on Monday there were 20-30 students there in-person and another 120 students on Zoom.
He said the class was laid back and homework was canceled for the next two weeks. The class was “really quiet and somber and not really lively as normal.”
Sinishtaj said he appreciated returning to campus on Sunday and seeing all the signs with positive messages and the availability of dogs to pet on social media.
“One situation is not really going to define us,” he said.
The university has given undergraduate students the option to take any of their classes credit/no credit grade for the remainder of the semester. Despite this, some students said they remain worried about passing their classes.
“I just don’t want to fail chemistry,” said Abby Weder, a first year student studying animal science. She said her professor has adjusted the class to accommodate students' needs, like removing the in person attendance requirement, but feels that chemistry is an important class for her to pass because she is a STEM student.
MSU biomedical laboratory sciences students Mayona Sanders and Maiya Patrick, both seniors, had a hematology class Monday morning.
“We’re not going to get over it. But to at least lose some of the fear of taking that first step, of walking to a place and being in a space that you now associate with danger — it’s what I’m doing for myself and for them.” — Marco Díaz-Muñoz, MSU professor whose classroom was shattered by gunfire on holding the same class again on Monday
The professor handed out snacks and talked about adjustments to the class: students will receive full points for the quiz they were supposed to take last week. The students will also now have multiple attempts for another quiz. There were also just adjustments made to the lab component of the class.
Sanders said she was feeling “extremely loved’ after getting a grocery bag of cookies, candy and other snacks given out by volunteers at the Rock on Monday morning. She said she thinks getting back to her normal routine would be helpful to process anxiety around the shooting.
For some students, processing the news of the shooting also meant attending a rally held on the Capitol lawn in nearby Lansing early Monday afternoon, where several students shared their experience of living through the mass shooting.
Jane Swartz, a first-year student studying comparative politics, told Bridge it felt important to be at the rally to hear about other students’ experiences. She skipped her two classes.
Her friend, Emma Ayers, said it would have felt “empty” to attend their 12:40 political leadership class when they could be advocating for change Monday afternoon instead. She does not want people to become “complacent.”
“We didn’t lock doors and we didn’t enact change until people died,” Ayers said.
Swartz, who has a course in the same Berkey classroom where students were shot, said she is still processing a “strange sense of guilt.”
She would like to see a university-wide policy to not count attendance at least through spring break or through the end of the school year. Additionally, she would like to see the school continue to invest in counseling and therapy resources.
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