MSU project documents community experiences following campus shooting
It’s been exactly one month since a gunman at Michigan State University killed three students and injured five others. Since the shooting, a group of students and faculty have been using an MSU project to document the campus community’s stories related to the incident.
MI Diaries is a project being run by the Sociolinguistics Lab at MSU. The program began collecting short audio recordings from people in Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Betsy Sneller, lead of the MI Diaries project and an assistant professor of linguistics at MSU, said they first launched the project to help document how Michiganders were talking about changes taking place in their own lives during the pandemic.
“The goal of the project is to document everyday changes to people's lives and their language and so since April of 2020, we've had participants all across the state of Michigan sending in weekly diary entries to us,” she said.
Sneller said the submissions act as audio diary entries and help provide a space for people to process and feel heard.
“Whenever something big happens, like the violence that happened on February 13, our project is in a position to collect a range of stories about that event and share those stories out,” she said.
Individuals can use a phone application to submit an audio recording of their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Those submitting an entry can choose to publish their story anonymously or keep it private.
One MSU student submission describes the grief they felt returning to campus after the shooting.
“I don't know when, I don't know how long I'm going to feel like this campus is no longer a place where I feel connected and comfortable and happy,” the student said. "I didn’t really realize that it was so related to this space until we drove back here, and I just immediately felt this wave of sadness, and it’s like, that’s about being here."
In the weeks since the shooting, MSU student Anabelle McClanahan has been encouraging her peers to submit entries. She's a junior studying linguistics.
McClanahan said it’s been reassuring to hear the entries from other students like her who were also on campus during the shooting.
“If you want to, like ever just vent or whatever, that's kind of the beauty of it," McClanahan said. "I mean, for me, also, I am horrible at writing a diary. So like being able to speak and record my feelings, super important."
Today, MI Diaries has collected more than a dozen entries of individuals processing their experiences connected to last month’s shooting. These stories are now a part of what the team calls “The Spartan Strong” collection.
MSU graduate student Jack Rechsteiner started as a diarist for the project and now works to catalog the stories of other diarists. Rechsteiner said being a part of the project has helped them parse through their own feelings about the shooting.
“It’s been very cathartic...seeing just the range of people and the range of emotions,” they said. “Also the amount of support, the amount of empathy people have been feeling over this event.”
After hearing most of the submissions, Rechsteiner said it's been fulfilling to see the sense of shared community that has come out of the tragedy.
“Just to see all of these different very human connections, these shared experiences and how they all branch out and affect so many people in so many different ways has just been a very rewarding thing to work on for me,” they added.
The MI Diaries team is still collecting stories from members of the MSU community affected by the shooting. Entries can be submitted at the project website.