In the days following Monday's mass shooting at Michigan State University, the campus streets and walkways fell cold and empty.
The tragedy took the lives of three Spartans, hospitalized five others and pushed countless students back home — fleeing after a four-hour shelter-in-place and the loss of their classmates. Those who stayed kept to their dorms and apartments. However, something Sunday afternoon pulled students and community members back onto campus.
“Free mom hugs! Free mom hugs!” Vicki Harris, a professor at Albion College whose husband works for MSU, announced to students that arrived on campus as part of "Spartan Sunday." The event aimed to brighten up campus before classes began again Monday. Trash cleanup, sign-making and crafts were all available to students and community members who chose to take part.
Harris and dozens of other moms lined the sidewalks, waiting to comfort students in need.
“I wanted to be here to make sure that they knew they were supported and loved,” Harris said. “And that I was here to give out a mom hug and do whatever I could to help them try to manage this tragedy the best that they could."
Vicki wasn’t the only Harris wanting to help. Harris' children, McKenna, 9, and Henley, 8, were alongside her, hoping to do what they could to cheer students up. They passed out hand-drawn notes of encouragement as students walked down rows of tables filled with snacks and other necessities.
“It makes me feel good to help the students to feel comfortable to come back to school,” McKenna said.
Meanwhile, alumna Jenni Dickins wrote words of affirmation on "healing stones" for people to take.
“My husband and I are alumni. We actually met here at State and this is a very special place and home for us, just like it is for so many others,” Dickins said. “It was an important opportunity to be with this community as part of the community ... but also support a little bit in ways that we can.”
MSU students and staff also made an effort to bring more color to campus. Fisheries and wildlife senior Maggie Haite, financial aid assistant Armani Poindexter and their friends took the opportunity to draw on the windows of the Main Library.
“We were just walking through the library and saw other students doing this, so we thought it’d be fun to write a message to let the students know that we’re community,” Poindexter said.
“It’s so unfortunate this is the reason why everyone wants to be here," Haite said. "But, at the same time, it’s really nice to have that camaraderie and togetherness as a campus."
The effort didn’t go unnoticed. Medical laboratory science senior Josephine Bonczynski said that the campus' transformation through Spartan Sunday gave her hope for the future.
“It's nice to see a community come together after something so tragic,” Bonczynski said. “To know that there is this presence here — good times, bad times, anytime — it's encouraging and it does provide a lot of hope that we can heal in the future.”