Monday, March 4, 2024

Guest Essay: Run. Fight. Hide.

Hundreds of flowers surround the Rock on Farm Lane to commemorate the injured and lost Spartans on Feb. 14, 2023 following a mass shooting that took place on campus on Feb. 13, 2023.
Hundreds of flowers surround the Rock on Farm Lane to commemorate the injured and lost Spartans on Feb. 14, 2023 following a mass shooting that took place on campus on Feb. 13, 2023. —
Photo by Audrey Richardson | The State News

Guest essay by Lisa Parker, Senior Director of Alumni Relations, MSU Alumni Office

Run. Fight. Hide.

The robotic voice stoically announces our campus’ turn has arrived. Frantic texts, urgent scrolling of social media feeds and ears trained to police scanners, I pace my living room floor knowing students and colleagues I care about are deciding which of the three commands make the most sense in their situation.

Run. Fight. Hide.

My twin sister’s daughter, the grandchild of a special alumni connection, a student employee attending a campus meeting, long-admired student journalists –— all are out there somewhere. My stomach clenches. My mind assures me that it’s a mistake. Like the terrifying swatting of my kids’ high school the previous week, this would work out to be a less traumatic experience than an actual shooting.

Run. Fight. Hide.

My mind is wrong. This is real. The loss of life is confirmed. Fear consumes me. Texts begin to fly. “Where are you?” Delays with replies deepen the sense of dread. “I’m on the bus.” “I’m barricaded in my room.” “I’m in a car with a friend.” My nerves steady as I take inventory of my circle of Spartans. My phone is ringing. “Where are you?” I hear the same question I’m putting out into the universe. Someone is worrying about me, too. “I’m fine,” I report. But I’m not fine. Nothing is fine. I hang up, cry and return to my wellness checks and monitoring of the situation.

Run. Fight. Hide.

Alumni leaders from around the world are convening in our established digital alumni community. They, too, are checking on those they love. Devastation sets in, along with frustration over being far away when MSU is under attack — unable to defend her or help. I’m being measured with my updates for their benefit; trying to keep the panic I’m feeling at bay. Conveying misinformation or amplifying already frantic emotions serves no one.

Run. Fight. Hide.

Rumors begin to grow. Inaccurate information puts the shooter in the vicinity of my niece’s first floor dorm room. Her window overlooks a loading dock and dumpster. Might a shooter find the spot appealing to hide? She’s staying below the window line. I’m assuring her everything will be okay as I silently scold myself for making such a convincing pitch to become a Spartan. She could be at GVSU, or Kentucky or Western. What have I done?

Run. Fight. Hide.

Having checked on those I know on campus, my mind shifts to the mom of one of the students barricaded in a dorm. Like my niece, I played a role in convincing her daughter to become a Spartan. She’s in New York as her daughter sits in her dark dorm room not far from Berkey Hall. We text for hours. There are rumors the shooter has been caught. We exhale. The rumors are wrong. The tension returns. When will this end? Find him. Get HIM!

Run. Fight. Hide.

Law enforcement is battling two fronts — securing our campus as they search for the shooter, investigating and addressing misinformation contributing to the terror of the moment. They confirm shooting locations are limited to the Union and Berkey Hall. They release a photo of the suspect. A community makes finding the shooter the top priority. He is spotted and the final bullet of this tragedy is fired. It’s over.

Run. Fight. Hide.

Is it over, though? I pick up my niece at 2 a.m. and drive her to my house. The desire to overwhelm her with my appreciation she is in my car and safe is strong. The mood of our conversation is oddly like discussing an ordinary day. “So, what did you do today?” “Well, I hid below my window line, hoped the shooter wasn’t nearby and we peed in bags so we wouldn’t be seen going to the bathroom.” No biggie.

Run. Fight. Hide.

The sun arrives with mental clouds of disbelief. Did I have a nightmare? I head downstairs and find my niece on my couch. I haven’t had a nightmare; my Spartan family has lived one. Unlike the nightmares you wake up from, this one will become our lifelong companion. This nightmare has claimed and harmed real people.

Run. Fight. Hide.

What does this mean for our campus? For our students? For our alumni? The togetherness of our Spartan community is palpable. Our grief is deep, but our awareness of our collective strength is growing. Initial actions of support involve gestures and slogans. They comfort some. Others, not as much. What can we do? What will we do? The questions aren’t rhetorical or offered in hopelessness. Spartans are workers. They get things done.

It is my sincere and reasonable hope that, together, we make a meaningful contribution to a world where those who intend violence understand we will not run or hide from opportunities to fight for the safety and well being of our students and campus of the present and the future.

I will not RUN from the issue of gun violence. I will not HIDE from the appalling statistics. I will FIGHT for higher standards in terms of policy, accountability, mental health availability and civility.

These words are my own and are not intended to represent my employer or be a statement from my role.
Lisa Parker, '95
Senior Director of Alumni Relations, MSU Alumni Office

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