With move-in for the upcoming school year underway at Michigan State University, Interim President Teresa Woodruff assured students and families that the university is committed to ensuring student safety and emotional wellbeing.
This has been a key focus for the university since Feb. 13, the day a gunman killed three students and injured five others on campus. Over the past few months, the university has been working on hardening infrastructure and understanding safety measures, Woodruff said. The changes include violence training videos, installing locks on classroom doors and adding more security cameras to campus.
There are approximately 16,000 students living on campus this year and 11,000 new students — 9,000 of which are part of the incoming freshman class. In accordance with a policy implemented after the shooting, all students will have to use their MSU ID to enter campus buildings between 6 p.m. and 7:30 a.m.
“We’ve done a full review of what we do at Michigan State, and all of that is going into a safer environment,” Woodruff said at a press conference Tuesday. “Making this both a safe and welcoming environment is … a priority for our students. As we talk with parents and students, we’re hearing a lot of positives about the way in which they’re feeling about the entrance into this new school.”
In addition to campus infrastructure, Woodruff and Senior Vice President for Student Life & Engagement Vennie Gore encouraged students to get the SafeMSU app. The app’s features include alerts, emergency calls and virtual friends to assist students walking alone at night.
For further assistance in emergency situations, members of the MSU community will now be required to complete active violence and intruder training online. Like the existing courses on Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the course will consist of informational modules, MSU deputy spokesperson Dan Olsen said.
Following national trends, the modules will move away from the “Run, Hide, Fight” protocol, instead opting for the “Avoid, Barricade, Confront,” or ABC, method. Olsen said the modules will also show people how to use the new door locks on campus. The course will be ready in a couple weeks, Woodruff said.
Student emotional well-being is also a priority for the university, Woodruff said. She said by talking to students, she has learned that not only are people at different stages of healing, but that people are experiencing completely different types of healing. For example, new students and returning students have different experiences with the shooting. Because of this, Woodruff said the university is trying to accommodate differing needs.
“There’s not one uniform emotional way in which people are engaging with this new school year, so we’re really thinking about it in that broad way,” Woodruff said. “Michigan State is a big place, but we think about individuals. We think about what the individual needs, and so we don’t think in broad brushstrokes. We really think about grace, and empathy, and excellence with achievement. To be able to say those four words together is something that’s really unique to Michigan State, and that’s how we’ll continue to work.”
Students also find healing through different outlets, which is why finding community through student organizations and friendships can be so vital, Gore said. According to Gore, this is one aspect of healing that the University Health and Wellbeing team is considering. The university will also continue provide mental health resources like group therapy and therapy dogs, as well as more extensive training for resident hall assistants, Gore said.
“We recognize that we need to give everyone their space, and so I think that’s what you’re going to see over the next week — that’s the start of creating that sense of community,” Gore said.
Upcoming MSU campus changes to know about
Heightened security and mental health resources are not the only changes at MSU, as university leadership and policies are also changing.
The presidential search committee, which was created last spring semester, is still expected to select a new president around Thanksgiving, Olsen said. Woodruff, who has been serving as interim president, announced this week that she will not seek a permanent presidential appointment.
“I came to the decision talking with my family … It was important to make a decision that was in the best interest of the institution,” Woodruff said. “That’s the way I’ve always tried to make decisions, to be thoughtful about what MSU needs. What does MSU need at this time? What can I do to enable MSU’s goals? And that’s really what went into the thought experiment.”
Moving forward, Olsen said the university hopes to provide updates on the search soon. Additionally, students who want to learn more about the committee and its process can do so by visiting the presidential search website, where they can also share their input with the committee, Olsen said.
One reason MSU has had several presidents in recent years is complications complying with Title IX policies and the certification process. Because of this, the university has made improvements to the certification process, including centralizing document review, Olsen said.
Operations within the Title IX Office are also progressing, Olsen said, as they are working to make cases proceed quicker. However, certain aspects that affect timeliness, like extension requests, can cause the process to take more time, Olsen said.
“We are working as diligently as we can to improve and strengthen that timeline so that they are more timely and making sure that the when there are issues of timeliness, it’s not the institution, but rather it’s requests of extension that may drag out the the investigation a little bit longer than anticipated,” Olsen said.
The university itself also looks different from last year. Construction on the Farm Lane bridge is complete and construction on the multicultural center is underway.
Lastly, people may soon be able to purchase alcohol at MSU venues. Following the recent board decision approving alcohol sales in certain venues across campus, the university is currently in the process of applying to the state’s Liquor Control Commission for a license to begin sales.
If the university’s application is accepted, the university will train venue staff to sell alcohol. Olsen said the training process aims to ensure that staff members are serving safely and not over-serving individuals. They will also be trained in spotting and checking fake IDs, Olsen said.
“We want to make sure that we’re doing this in a safe and efficient way, and making sure that the staff are trained so that we are ensuring the safety and the best fan experience for those who are joining us,” Olsen said. “Whether they’re Spartan fans or guests of our institution, we want to make sure that it’s a safe and enjoyable atmosphere for all individuals.”
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