“We should be writing essays, not a will”: Students attempt to begin their healing while they demand for change at the Lansing Capitol during a peaceful protest

Delaney Rogers, Station Manager

There is a feeling of heaviness shadowing over Michigan State University following the mass shooting that took the lives of three students and injured five this past Monday. Students, parents and others from surrounding communities gathered for a peaceful protest this Wednesday on the front lawn of the Lansing Capitol. 

Capitol building on the day of the peaceful protest following the mass shooting on February 13. | Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

“We do not feel safe,” freshman Cassia Bennett said. “I cannot imagine going back to campus and it will never be the same. We will always be known as victims, that’s what we will be from now on. We should be able to go to school trusting the people that are there to protect us and they didn’t and they let us down. They terrorized us for hours…hours we were in fear of our lives and everyone we knew.” 

Bennett, like many other students, voiced the intense fear that students felt on Monday. Bennett said that they were locked in the MSU Library, barricaded in a study room, for four and a half hours. They said that they feared for their lives every time the police radar reported shots fired. 

“We were sitting in the room helpless,” Bennett said. “Police are all around the state doing what? Why was he allowed to get off campus?” 

Anger, fear, sorrow and a theme of healing were displayed as students approached the microphone to share their thoughts and testimonies. Individuals watched with tears in their eyes, hugging one another as students spoke about the emotions and fears that have become a familiar norm for MSU students.

Students lay flowers around the spartan statue. | Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

“I keep feeling this guilt of when it is going to be my turn,” alumnus Gigi Delisi, who graduated from Oxford High School in 2018, said. “I can’t go anywhere, I can’t do anything.”

She did not know where her cousin was at the start of the shooting. Delisi both called and texted countless times without receiving a response. Instinctually, she got in her car and began to drive to campus when she finally received a call. 

“He said, ‘I’m out. I’m at home’ and I just broke down crying,” Delisi said. “I was really scared for him…he’s my best friend and like my brother. I am so sad for those who are not okay. I’m not going to be okay. My cousin is not going to be okay.”

Delisi has a degree in emergency management and has taken classes on how to respond to mass shootings. 

People with signs outside the Capitol building in Lansing on February 15. | Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

“We are the only country that has to do this and it is devastating,” Delisi said. “All I feel is anger and rage at this point. I used to feel devastated and sad, but now I just feel a constant anger” 

Maya Manuel is the head organizer of the Spartan Sit Down. She was the primary speaker throughout the event. Manuel encouraged students to be vulnerable and open as they told their stories. 

“We are here to validate your experiences,” Manuel said. “As you are sitting out there in that crowd please step forward, please come sit with us, please come be with us. We want to hear from you. We want to be there with you.” 

Manuel addressed the media present at the protest as well, expressing the frustration that students are feeling when the media approaches students asking them to share their experiences from less than 48 hours ago. She said that students felt bombarded with reporter comments.

Students sat in front of the Capitol building listening to students tell their stories. | Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

“Ask us how we feel,” Manuel said. “Don’t ask us what we were going through because we don’t understand it yet.” 

Dana Nessel, Michigan’s Attorney General, spoke to students and promised changes are going to be made. 

“I felt terrible for everybody,” Nessel said. “This is the last thing you should be worried about when you go to college. More important than anything else is for the students that are here today to know that we are here on the verge of making meaningful change in this state.”

A Mother and daughter attending the protest in Lansing at the Capitol Building. | Photo Credit: Delaney Rogers/WDBM

Students had the opportunity to enter the House of Representatives session for a memorial. Brian Fraiser, Alexandria Verner and Arielle Anderson, the students who were shot, were honored in the meeting. The room had a moment of silence. First responders and phone operators were recognized with a round of applause. 

This is just the beginning of the healing process for students at Michigan State University. 

Two students comforting each other at the peaceful protest February 15. | Photo Credit: Delaney Rogers/WDBM

“I go between feeling a lot and feeling nothing,” senior Sky Stillwell said. “It didn’t really hit me till the next morning when my housemates and I all went to counseling together. I’m angry. When we were sheltered in place, the New York Times actually got in contact with us and asked us to take a picture of us sheltering and it felt really gross. I think a lot of the media right now is being predatory like interviewing people crying.”

Individuals brought posters and signs to reflect how they were feeling and demand for change. 

“It’s time,” Nessel said. “It’s time to make some progress and I know that progress is going to happen. I am excited for there to be progress and I am sorry it did not come in time to help the victims of this tragedy.”