Michigan State University administrators have finalized decisions on two sites of a mass shooting on campus last month.
Berkey, an academic building where the gunman killed two students in classrooms, will remain closed through the fall semester. The MSU Union, where a third student was killed, will begin reopening April 3. Both buildings have been closed to the public and their staff since the shooting on Feb. 13.
The reopened Union will include the Sparty’s and Spartan Spirit Shop retail stores, as well as thousands of square feet of study areas and reservable rooms available to students.
Vice President of Student Life and Engagement Vennie Gore, the administrator who oversees non-academic spaces like dormitories and dining halls, said there is a great demand for the Union — over 330 student organizations are already attempting to book rooms for April. The Union has generated between $250,000 and $550,000 for the university in recent years, according to Student Life and Engagement.
Kinesiology junior Julia Krantz, who was studying in the MSU Union when the gunman opened fire inside, said despite that traumatic experience, she’s excited it’s reopening. She said the Union was her “home” on campus where she studied or socialized nearly every day. She's determined to go back and not let the shooting take it from her.
“It will take time to just get used to the space again,” Krantz said. “But, I just like the Union a lot better than the library … I was really upset when it closed, because how can we just ‘go back to normal’ when my normal is going to the Union.”
April 3 will be “more of a soft opening,” according to Gore. University tours will remain at the Kellogg Center and much of MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services will continue to operate offsite.
The Union food court will remain closed for the foreseeable future. The dining area housed much of the violence and given the physical damage caused by the panic and the presumed association between that space and traumatic events, university administrators said they hope to remodel the food court before opening it to students.
Similar cosmetic changes are being discussed for Berkey Hall, according to Interim-Provost Thomas Jeitschko.
“What would the new appearance be? What is the functionality of the different spaces? Those are exactly the type of conversations that are ongoing right now,” Jeitschko said. “The committee is also reaching out for student input on some of these as we're going through this process.”
Jeitschko and Gore said both renovations are in early stages, and that more details will be provided when contractors are secured and designs are finalized.
Staff of the Union food court, as well as the Sparty’s and Spartan Spirit Shop stores, will be offered relocation if they want to continue their employment but don’t want to return to work in the MSU Union. Gore said his department is lucky to be large enough that students and full-time staff can maintain their employment while working somewhere else on campus.
Jeitschko said on the academic side, his staff has been working to ensure similar flexibility for professors, researchers, and graduate students who previously worked out of office space in Berkey.
Berkey’s classes will once again be moved to various buildings for the fall 2023 semester. Jeitschko cautioned students currently building their schedules to account for travel time when scheduling courses that would have been in Berkey. The location of those courses currently appears blank in the Student Information System.
Jeitschko also said it’s possible that some course times may shift to accommodate this change, but that option is “not the first plan.”
“We’re trying to reduce the uncertainty as quickly as possible, but it’s a large block of classrooms, and we don’t have a large block just vacant at this point,” Jeitschko said.
Jeitschko said the administration is still in conversation with experts about how and when classes could occur in Berkey in a manner that is “trauma-informed and mindful of others.” He said a decision will be made by spring 2024 enrollment time.
The reopened MSU Union will feature a collaborative exhibit where students can share their experiences with the shooting. MSU’s Presidential Advisor for Relationship Violence & Sexual Misconduct Rebecca Campbell was tapped to ensure this exhibit and the greater reopening would be trauma-informed.
She said the exhibit was brought about by the many notes and tributes the university received from the "extended Spartan community" following the shooting. While students will have a chance to view the gallery and contribute as they enter the Union, Campbell was clear that students can also opt out if they don't feel comfortable.
"The idea of that is that people who want that connection have a choice to opt in, but people who don't can still use the space without stumbling upon something that could be really triggering for them," Campbell said.
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Administration reporter Vivian Barrett contributed to the contents of this article.
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