MSU students protest reopening of Berkey Hall
About a dozen Michigan State University students gathered on campus, urging school officials to stop holding classes inside Berkey Hall. The building had been closed for nearly a year after a gunman entered a classroom inside the building last February, and fatally shot two students and injured several others. A third student was killed outside the MSU Union.
University officials sealed off the rooms where the shooting took place as Berkey Hall welcomes students for the semester. But MSU students like Lucas Trainor said it's too soon to return.
“I think that opening it now is also a little bit insensitive,” Trainor said. “I think maybe even waiting another semester would have been a little bit better because we are going to hit the one-year anniversary this semester.”
Some like Trainor are asking MSU to offer students taking classes inside Berkey Hall the opportunity to take courses online and to offer more mental health support.
A survey of about 600 MSU students found most respondents opposed classes returning to Berkey Hall during the spring semester.
Protest organizer Cassidy Howard said MSU therapists are not able to adequately assist students who need care.
“We have been told time and time again by our mental health services that they don't have the resources to provide help for trauma that involves the shooting,” Howard said. “They are unable to deal with the workload of that many students as well as a lot of counselors are saying: ‘We're not trained in trauma like that.’”
In a statement, university officials said the decision comes after extensive conversations with students, faculty and trauma experts. During the first week of classes, MSU is providing counselors and therapy dogs on site for students taking classes in the building. About 270 classes are being held at Berkey Hall this semester.
WKAR’s Michelle Jokisch Polo was at the Hannah Administration Building Monday afternoon and spoke with WKAR’s All Things Considered host Sophia Saliby about the student response.
On why people are protesting
Students are sharing how they feel like their voices have not been considering in the administrations decisions to open the building. They want more mental health resources and an option to attend classes at Berkey Hall hybrid or remotely.
On MSU’s response to student demands
University officials told me in a statement, they are supportive of students’ right to protest and to free speech. The decision to open Berkey happened after having many conversations with students, faculty and staff and they were in favor of opening the building fully and in phases.
Sophia Saliby: Today, Michigan State University held classes at Berkey Hall for the first time since a mass shooting last February. Three students were killed and five others injured. MSU has blocked off the two classrooms where the shooting took place. But some students say it's not yet appropriate to hold classes in the building. WKAR’s Michelle Jokisch Polo is at the Hannah Administration Building where some students are protesting the move by the university. Michelle, can you tell us what's happening right now?
Michelle Jokisch Polo: About a dozen MSU students are gathering in the courtyard here. And they're sharing how they feel like their voices have not been considered in the administration's decision to open the building. They want more mental health resources and they want the option to attend classes at Berkey Hall hybrid or remotely. Many of them don't necessarily want Berkey Hall to close permanently, but they think that now it's just too soon.
Cassidy Howard is a sophomore at MSU and she organized the protest and has a class at Berkey.
Cassidy Howard: It's hard to focus and to learn when every small noise in that building is still so scary. Even though you know lightning doesn't strike the same place twice. It's always in the back of your mind.
Jokisch Polo: She told me she's hoping to change her schedule to avoid taking that class.
Saliby: Can you talk about how the university has responded to these demands and this type of protest?
Jokisch Polo: University officials told me in a statement, they are supportive of students’ right to protest and to free speech. The decision to open Berkey happened after having many conversations with students, faculty and staff and they were in favor of opening the building fully and in phases.
Today, the building was open. They had a welcome table inside and they're providing counselors and support dogs and directing students to mental health resources on campus. But it is worth mentioning that the students that I spoke with today told me that when they reached out to mental health support on campus, they were told that they're at capacity, and that the counselors there don't have the training to support them.
Saliby: There are about 270 classes being held within Berkey Hall this semester. So, both graduate and undergraduate courses within the College of Social Science and the College of Arts and Letters.
Michelle Jokisch Polo is WKAR’s Latinx Stories reporter thank you for joining me.
Jokisch Polo: Thank you.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.