Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Students sit down at 'Skip Class, Stand Up' protest

February 20, 2023
<p>MSU students listen to ASMSU vice president for Internal Administration at the sit-in protest at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing on Feb. 20, 2023.</p>

MSU students listen to ASMSU vice president for Internal Administration at the sit-in protest at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing on Feb. 20, 2023.

Photo by Sonya Barlow | The State News

Psychology junior Maya Manuel took a step up to a podium outside of the Capitol building on a cold February day.

"Who need a moment to breathe?" Manuel asked.

Then, she, along with hundreds of other students in the crowd watching her took a deep breath in. And then out.

This was the beginning of the protest that took place the afternoon of Monday, Feb. 20. The third protest in a week about gun violence and the third protest since the mass shooting that happened on MSU's campus which left three dead and five hospitalized.

Thousands of students gathered for the rally, called "Skip Class, Stand Up." During the protest, attendees sat in a commonly taught formation used during lock-down drills in schools. Together, the students introduce themselves to each other and mourned together.

Across the lawn, people handed out bracelets which read, "Spartan Strong" while others allowed for students to pet their dog, some even having heartfelt conversations between strangers during it. Signs filled the spaces in the crowd and when the organizers called for the attendees to hug and talk to one another, they did. 

“When I say that if you guys don't show up to every event, anything you see is advocacy of what is happening right now,” Manuel said. “We are part of our own silencing. We can't continue to do that to ourselves because we are the future. We are the voices that will be put out there.”

March for Our Lives founder and Parkland survivor David Hogg came to the protest to talk to the students from an understanding point of view, but also to inspire them to want to create change by going out and voting, running for state legislature and addressing gun violence head on.

Hogg said as a generation, the students need to cut through religious and racial lines to come together and make progress. He also addressed those who use their constitutional rights as an excuse to not address gun control.

“I don't know what constitution many other of these people who seem to think that (gun violence) is impossible to address read, but the one that I read talks about the domestic tranquility and ensuring it for every single American,” Hogg said in his speech. “Do we feel like we have that right now? No, absolutely not.”

Hogg said he studied American history for the past four years. He said he knows now every time other generations have faced challenges such as peace and security, it has allowed for a whole generation to stand up to make sure the next one doesn’t have to live through their pain.

Vice President of Internal Administration for the Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU, Carl Austin Miller Grondin talked to the student body about the story of his sister who was locked on campus throughout the events. He recited a play by play of the night with timestamps, depicting how long it seemed everything took to calm down on Monday night.

Grondin said he hasn’t slept since Monday, angry that he could not be there for his sister when he was supposed to be her protector. He said while he’s tired and frustrated, he knows that the Spartans will get through it together.

“At the end of the day, the questions of how we're doing, the statements that are saying how strong we are, and that we're all resilient is too much to bare,” Grondin said. “I'm so sorry to all of us. I am so sorry to each and every one of you because we should not have to go through this because it was preventable. Our pain seems like a spectacle for the nation, and we have to do all of this under a microscope, but we will make it through on the other side and create change so that this never happens again.”

Social relations and policy sophomore Rani Assava said she was a victim to the thought that it could never happen to her, and she has been stripped of that opportunity, calling herself a “statistic.” She said her school will be known for its tragedy and students will be terrified to return for a long time.

“How are we supposed to go back to normal as though nothing happened?" Assava asked. "Of course the world is soon going to forget. But I won't and neither will the 39,000 other students or anyone else with any affiliation with MSU. We are expected to sleep in the same beds we hid under. We are expected to grieve with all those other families who've been victims of gun violence and you will soon forget us like you forgot them.”

In between countless speeches, social science education sophomore Jacinta Henry performed a song on her ukulele with the lyrics, “we’ve been fighting since we could talk, been protesting since we could walk.”

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After speeches were over, the protest allowed for an open mic, which let attendees to address the crowd. Interdisciplinary humanities senior Clay Griffith talked about the university administration to recognize mental health.

“I think it's not only important to have our voice heard, but also act as a voice for those who can’t be heard, who aren't able to be here because their lives have been taken or because they don't feel safe and protected enough to come out today,” Griffith said. “It’s hopefully not just my voice but the voice of those I stand with.”

Lansing area resident Avelino Ortiz also stood in line to speak to the crowd. He said he didn’t know how many more lives need to be lost to enact gun control laws.

“I think it's important that everybody is heard,” Ortiz said. “Gun violence does not affect just MSU students, it affects everybody nationwide. This is me doing my part by helping and saying, ‘What can I do to help the situation?’”

Environmental studies and sustainability junior McKenzee Kositzke took the week away to put distance between her and school, helping her grief from afar. She said that coming back already on Monday was too soon.

“I came to be with Spartans who didn't think class was appropriate,” Kositzke said. “Putting a timeline on someone's grief isn't appropriate at all. I think that being here for them, and for myself will just help everyone.”

Many attendees left the Capitol, embracing one another in hugs of "I'll See you soon," signifying the spirit of the Spartans: standing with one another in a time of grief. 

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