Thursday, February 29, 2024

MSU Museum preserves items from memorials created in wake of campus shooting

February 11, 2024
The memorial for Brian Fraser, Arielle Anderson and Alexandria Verner on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, at the Rock on Farm Lane. Memorials started across campus after the three were killed and five more were critically injured by a mass shooting in MSU’s north campus on Feb. 13.
The memorial for Brian Fraser, Arielle Anderson and Alexandria Verner on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, at the Rock on Farm Lane. Memorials started across campus after the three were killed and five more were critically injured by a mass shooting in MSU’s north campus on Feb. 13. —
Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

In the days and weeks following the Feb. 13, 2023 shooting on MSU’s campus, students, faculty and other members of the community gathered to mourn the collective loss they had suffered. At the Rock, the Spartan Statue and along the Red Cedar River, people left countless flowers, notes and stuffed animals to symbolize their grief. 

With each passing day, rain, snow and wind threatened to erase the displays. It was shortly before spring break, with inclement weather on the way, that the MSU Museum was approached with the task of removing these items before they were destroyed.

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A "Spartan Strong" sign is iced over after a winter storm came through the Michigan State University campus on Feb. 23, 2023. The sign is part of a memorial to students affected by a mass shooting that took place on Feb. 13, 2023.

Thus began the monumental effort to catalog, digitize and preserve the thousands of memorial items spread across campus. 

After volunteers organized to collect the memorial items and bring them to the museum’s collection facility, the most pressing task was to stabilize the materials to ensure they weren’t further damaged. Director of the MSU Museum Devon Akmon said the museum used various techniques, such as applying dry paper to soaked items, to prevent the spread of mold in items such as stuffed animals that had been left outside.

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MSU students, faculty and staff gather to help clean up the memorial sites at the Rock, Spartan Statue, the MSU Union and Berkey Hall on Mar. 2, 2023

Once materials were sufficiently stabilized, Akmon said, they were moved to long-term storage where temperature, humidity, and light are all controlled to ensure the integrity of the collected materials.

“(We’re) really just getting them from an organic setting outside into more of a controlled setting inside where we can get a handle to allow these things to stabilize,” Akmon said. “Of course, we’re an accredited museum so we follow the best standards of the field.”

Akmon estimates the entire process of preserving, digitizing and archiving the memorial items will take at least a year, although there is no hard deadline for the project. Additionally, Akmon mentioned the possibility of the collection growing as new materials might be found or submitted to the museum. 

“We’re allowing ourselves adequate time to do our due diligence for this work,” Akmon said. “But to also allow ourselves grace in case we need to step back and take a break given the magnitude and the gravity of that work.”

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MSU Museum director Devon Akmon poses for a photo in the ‘Food Fight!’ exhibition at the MSU Museum on Feb. 1, 2024. Akmon discussed the museum’s efforts to preserve memorial materials related to the Feb. 13, 2023 shooting, which includes a variety of student-made posters, notecards and drawings.

Currently, the materials being processed are under restricted access and are unavailable to the public.

However, Akmon was able to confirm that one group of materials, index cards containing students’ written experiences from Feb. 13, 2023 collected from a student-organized walkout last March, would be included in the museum’s Cultural Collection alongside the other items.

Psychology juniors Hannah Greenspan and Kirin Krafthefer, the two organizers of last year's walkout, said they were glad that students’ stories from that day would be kept alongside the other memorial items, emphasizing the importance of telling all stories from Feb. 13.

“There’s so many different things that can tell a story,” Greenspan said. “Of course, there are the literal stories that people put on index cards. But the posters people made and the things people left at the statue and at the Rock, those all tell just as much of a story and I don’t think you can get the complete story (without them.)” 

Additionally, Krafthefer said she plans to reopen spartanstronger.org — a website she created in the days following the shooting to capture student testimonials — for the one-year anniversary. Greenspan added that viewing Krafthefer’s website containing dozens of student’s experiences inspired her to reach out to Krafthefer and the museum to organize the walkout.

“I’ve reached out to everybody who had already submitted things to (the website to) give them an opportunity, a year later, to reflect on that and their healing journey,” Krafthefer said.

Once the collection and preservation effort is complete, these memorial items will remain in the museum’s collection in perpetuity, or at least for the foreseeable future.

When asked if there was any overarching philosophy behind the museum’s decision to preserve the items left at memorial sites, and therefore focus on the MSU community’s response to Feb. 13 rather than the violence of that day, Akmon said the museum isn’t in the business of making political statements. Instead, he said, the role of the museum is to collect the materials that “run the breadth of the experience.” 

“That’s exactly what museums and archives do,” Akmon said. “We collect these types of materials, we are stewards of those types of materials, and when the time is right and appropriate we look for ways to interpret and make those materials available.”

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