In the aftermath of the violence on our campus and the deaths of three of our students, Arielle Anderson, Alexandria Verner, and Brian Fraser, I don’t feel Spartan Strong. I have felt sad, angry, frustrated, tired, numb, sad, disgusted, guilty, and many others, but not strong. In class yesterday, students shared their feelings and experiences. After class, I felt hopeful and loved, but exhausted. Definitely not strong.
To me, “strong” implies I should hold two feelings: the first is something like togetherness and the second is more like resilience. I deeply feel the first. Michigan State has been my home for ten years. I am deeply devoted to our mission, our state, and our students. I love MSU, East Lansing, Lansing, and the intersecting and associated communities that we share. There is no other place I want to be right now.
But I don’t feel resilient. And I don’t want to feel resilient. There is no place for gun violence on our campus, on any campus, or in anywhere in this country for that matter. But our recent history indicates that we have traded the safety and well-being of our students, friends, and family members for the wishes of a small, vocal, wealthy, and unreasonable few. The NRA, conservative legislators, and the billionaires that donate to their efforts are more interested in dividing us than keeping us safe. We have seen Spartan Strong many times before: Oxford Strong, Uvalde Strong, Douglas Strong. It’s become such a common term that we associate it with t-shirts, stickers, and tattoos.
I support every person who feels Spartan Strong or who feels it represents them. No one can tell you how to grieve the loss of our friends. I love you and want you to find solace eventually. This is not a critique of you or how you feel.
But Spartan Strong doesn’t represent me. I’ve experienced gun violence as a teen – the killing and paralysis of friends of mine and a separate attempted burglary. Last week’s events brought a wash of emotions and memories over me. I suspect this makes me a bit unique among my faculty colleagues. Violence and guns intersected with my life for a time; it’s not a good time nor one I want to remember.
My point here is not that we shouldn’t create and embrace symbols that drive us forward and lift us up. That’s not the issue. But we should be intentional about those symbols and what they mean and how they affect us in the short and long term. Resilience suggests we are going to move forward in the face of adversity, but it doesn’t deal with the root cause of adversity – we have a gun problem in the US and no legislation is taking it seriously.
My point is we shouldn’t have to be resilient. We shouldn’t have to trade our safety and well-being to go to work or to school or to the grocery store. So, I don’t feel Spartan Strong. Spartans can root out that adversity, and destroy it. But, we have to do it together.
Spartans Together is how I feel. It’s how I felt at the rally on Wednesday. It’s how I felt at the vigil on Friday. And it’s how I felt at the protest yesterday. Spartans Together is my symbol.
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