Michigan State Deserves More Than Thoughts and Prayers

After the mass shooting at my alma mater, I don’t need trauma bonding. I’m furious.

A photo of a gloved hand holding flowers and a piece of paper that reads, "Spartan strong"
Scott Olson / Getty

I can’t bring myself to use the hashtags #SpartansWill or #SpartanStrong. I can’t bring myself to post the green Spartan emblem on Instagram. I can’t bring myself to participate in this normalized routine that we’ve created to cope with America’s gun-violence epidemic.

Of course, I emphatically support my alma mater and am touched by the widespread empathy that has been extended to Michigan State. But right now, the rage I feel serves me better. With each mass shooting that occurs in this country, I become more convinced that we’d rather perform the routine than make actual change.

Monday’s mass shooting at Michigan State is the most violent act that’s ever occurred on that campus, and it’s broken the sanctity of the university that is so deeply embedded in the fabric of who I am. Given the regularity of mass shootings in the United States, perhaps I was naive to think that this type of violence would never intrude on a campus that accommodates 50,000 students yet still feels as intimate as a community a quarter of its size.

I graduated from Michigan State in 1997. I covered Michigan State football and basketball while working at the Detroit Free Press from 1999 to 2005. I met some of my best friends in college, was influenced by some of the greatest educators there, and grew into my own as a journalist while working for the campus newspaper, The State News. As an alum, I met my husband, also a Michigan State grad, at a tailgate when I returned to campus to be grand marshal of the homecoming parade in 2014. Michigan State is my family.

I don’t doubt that Spartans will, because we always have. I don’t doubt our strength, because what makes being Spartans so special is that we seem to be able to summon an endless supply of toughness and resolve. It defines us.

But what happened there defies toughness and resilience. This is not something that a community should ever have to fight through or withstand. Reducing this unfathomable act of violence—which claimed three bright students’ lives and injured five others—to a hashtag or an Instagram post feels wrong, hollow, and wildly insufficient.

The night of the mass shooting, I spent hours texting friends who still work at Michigan State, and friends whose children now attend the university. Thankfully, everyone in my extended circle was safe. But a friend who works on campus was on lockdown with 60 students and had to use a bungee cord to barricade the door. Another friend wrote on Facebook about how his daughter had huddled for hours in her dorm room. Any one of the texts I read or the social-media statuses I saw could have delivered information that I wasn’t prepared to handle.

My own distress was obviously nothing compared with that of the families that lost a cherished relative, or of the people who are hoping that an injured loved one makes a full recovery. What happened at Michigan State is a reminder that the regularity of these acts is bringing violence even closer to all of us. Some of the students whom Americans saw struggling to process what happened had already lived through another mass shooting—in Oxford, Michigan, or Newtown, Connecticut. Many of the students who fled certain buildings on campus the night of the shooting were just following the protocols they’d been taught prior to coming to Michigan State, because teaching children and young adults how not to be killed in mass shootings is now a staple of America’s egregious routine.

Mass shootings and gun violence have become so interwoven into American life that how we process the violence in real time has become as conventional as how we mourn it afterward.

However, the standard playbook isn’t going to save us. What we need now is long-lasting rage. I’m sick of thoughts and prayers. I’m tired of political promises that never pan out. I’m not moved by the hashtags, the T-shirts, the anniversary vigils, or other commemorations.

This is not meant to denigrate outward displays of solidarity. A sense of togetherness, community, and shared purpose helps us grasp the gravity of what has taken place. There is beauty in seeing how we’ve all rallied together under a common cause and a belief that we all deserve so much more than just to live with an epidemic that is largely preventable.

But if we’re intent on using this awful tragedy to fulfill a greater purpose, then even how we grieve has to be different. I was proud to see Michigan State students filling the steps at the state capitol in Lansing because rage had driven them there. Maya Manuel, a junior majoring in psychology, told The State News that anger had inspired her to organize the event. She made the politicians who attended the event face the students who were on campus during the shooting.

Manuel told her audience, “Before you act like you understand us, please take a moment to sit with us, and to listen to us and to be with us, because you won’t be us, you haven’t been us, and hopefully soon you’ll never be us.”

I don’t need more hashtags and social-media posts. I don’t need more trauma bonding. I need animosity, discomfort, impatience, and fury, because that feels like the only way we’ll stop this terrible routine.

This article is a collaboration between The Atlantic and the Detroit Free Press.