Vigil, rally held at GV following shooting at MSU


GVL / Elizabeth Schanz

Audrey Whitaker, Associate Editor

Following a shooting at Michigan State University that killed three students and left five in critical condition, students across the state have responded with displays of support for MSU students and calls for gun reform.

As Grand Valley State University president Philomena Mantella said in a statement, many in the GVSU community were impacted by the “horrific violence” at MSU as “terror was inflicted upon” friends, loved ones and relatives.

In the week following the tragedy, GVSU students organized both a vigil in honor of the victims and a rally for legislative action against gun violence.

The vigil, organized by the GVSU Student Senate, took place on Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. 

Emily Bucon, Student Senate vice president of public relations, said the senate immediately felt the need to show support for students at MSU and GVSU following the tragedy. 

“Even though we’re at a different campus, it’s undoubtedly students who are also affected by these tragedies,” Bucon said. “Whether they know students or not, it’s still just a horrifying experience.” 

Jackson Hicks, who attended the vigil, said it was important for both MSU and GVSU students to honor victims and have a moment of reflection as a community.

“For students at MSU, it shows that we are with them, that we are here in support of them, that we have friends, we have family that go there,” Hicks said. “For Grand Valley students, it’s a good reminder that even when things happen off campus, we can still come together and have a moment of respect and peace with each other.”

Hicks said he’s aware that some of his hopes for gun reform in the US are lofty, and likely will never become reality. However, he still feels that it’s something worth fighting for.

“So long as there are people out there who are willing to fight for it and fight for a change where, one day, we don’t have to look around our shoulders when we go to class, then we have to continue fighting that fight because it is good and it is right,” Hicks said. 

Political science major and rally co-organizer Nancy Hoogwerf said she reached out to GVSU College Democrats’ President Jacob Welch the day following the shooting at MSU, hoping to dispel the feeling of hopelessness. 

The rally was held at the Cook Carillion Tower at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18. Organizers encouraged GVSU students and community members to bring signs and speak in support of MSU students and gun reform. In addition to students, several Michigan legislators spoke, including Congresswoman Hillary Scholten and state representatives John Fitzgerald and Carol Glanville.

“It means a lot to see state legislators come out and speak on how they hear us and they support us,” Hoogwerf said. “It feels like I’m not screaming into an empty box anymore, it feels like I’m actually being listened to.”

Scholten, Glanville and Fitzgerald all spoke about the changes newly elected democrats would bring to the state regarding gun reform. 

“We made a huge difference in who we send to represent us in Lansing and in Washington, DC and we’re seeing the impact of that difference every single day,” Scholten said in her speech. “We have so much more that we can do. I take my responsibility to keep you safe.” 

Hoogwerf said in addition to showing up for vigils and protests, it’s important that students – and all voters – keep tabs on decisions their representatives make in office. 

Many who spoke at the rally talked about the worry they felt for friends at MSU, their safety on their own college campus and referenced the shooting at Oxford High School, near Detroit, Michigan, in November of 2021.

Jackie Adema, a freshman at GVSU, was a senior at Oxford High School when the shooting took place. Adema said it was upsetting to think of her friends who had to experience a school shooting twice in their lives in such a short period of time. 

“Having another experience like this, just throws them off their course,” Adema said. “You’re already doing something so hard. It’s really upsetting to me.”

While Adema said the news is deeply upsetting and disheartening, she hopes students across the state will learn how to talk to survivors about their experiences and support them as they begin to heal. 

“Going through something like this is really hard and a lot of people don’t know what to say to try and make it better, or try and make it easier,” Adema said. “I think they need to know it’s safe to come to you to talk about it if they want to.”

Adema said as someone who experienced a school shooting, seeing support from people both in and outside of her community had a powerful impact on her. She hopes that in addition to posting on social media, people will support organizations fighting for gun reform. 

In addition to supporting students, Bucon said the Student Senate is dedicated to working with GVSU administration regarding safety on campus.

In her statement to the GVSU community, Mantella said GVSU’s Critical Incident Response Team is evaluating the university’s current protocols and has offered support to MSU’s Student Affairs Division in the wake of the tragedy. GVSU’s University Counseling center and employee assistance program were also highlighted by Mantella as resources for those struggling with their mental health in the wake of the tragedy.