ON MONDAY evening, February 13, 43-year-old Anthony Dwayne McRae shot and killed three students and critically injured five others in Berkey Hall and the Student Union on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.
As chronicled by the Gun Violence Archive, the horrific rampage at MSU was just the latest in what has literally become a daily occurrence of mass shootings in America: Less than 90 hours later, there were five more with one person killed and 20 injured.
The murders at Michigan State University struck close to home for me as a father, protective of his children; as a college president, who cares deeply about students; and as a proud alum of MSU.
The day after the killings, Atlantic magazine staff writer Tim Alberta, himself a graduate of Michigan State, wrote “Requiem for the Spartans,” in which he described the campus he had grown to love so much: “Every dream that came to my child’s mind when conceiving of college—the stately buildings and the sprawling green spaces, the roaring football stadium and the whispering river, the camaraderie and the conviviality and the bottomless school spirit—was a reality at Michigan State.”
Like Alberta, I have incredibly fond memories of my time at Michigan State University, and still enjoy the community of fellow grads everywhere, so instantly recognizable and interconnected.
I travel a lot, and anywhere I have visited around the globe, from Australia to Qatar to Tanzania, I am bound to pass someone in the street wearing a green t-shirt or ball cap with that big, blocky, white Spartan letter “S” who shouts a peppy, “Go, Green!” to which I always reply with an equally cheerful, “Go, White!”
Even in New England, where pro-sports are revered and college games an afterthought, I spend autumn Saturday afternoons listening to George Blaha, the “Voice of the Spartans,” announcing Big Ten football games on WJR radio out of Detroit.
I once had a dog named Sparty.
The sites of Monday’s killings at Michigan State University were just across Grand River Avenue from my off-campus house on Ann Street in East Lansing.
I taught a “United States and the World” history class in Berkey Hall, steps away from Room 114, where Assistant Professor Marco Díaz-Muñoz was teaching a seminar on Cuban cultural identity when McRae stepped into the room and opened fire on his students.
My degree from MSU, my lifetime membership in “Spartan Nation,” my memories of that magnificent campus, my classroom in Berkey Hall, and the countless Saturdays I have spent singing the “Michigan State Fight Song” and cheering my team are still a few degrees distant from Monday’s horrific murders.
I was nearly a 1,000 miles and almost 30 years away.
But my heart aches for my fellow Spartans Arielle Anderson, Brian Fraser, and Alexandria Verner, for their families, for the injured students, and for all of the survivors at MSU whose lives are forever changed by one more act of senseless killing.
This is not the first time I have written about horrible mass shootings.
More than a decade ago, when my own daughters were still quite young, I held them closer and wept with parents everywhere after a gunman murdered 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Back then, I somewhat naively wrote, “In the individual and collective soul-searching that is taking place in the wake of Sandy Hook, important questions are being asked, and some bold statements made, about individual rights and responsibilities, mental health treatment, and gun ownership in America. Whatever your position on any of these issues—and particularly if you are not sure of it—now is certainly the time for reflection and, perhaps this time, action.”
Just last May, 10 years, 3,448 days, and more than 3,500 American mass shootings later, I found myself pleading after a gunman murdered 19 children and two adults at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. “We need a new generation of thinkers to solve this problem, because this generation has clearly failed,” I said.
It took me five days to write this, in part, because I was just numb, and the words wouldn’t come to me.
Six degrees of separation theory is the notion that every person on the planet is connected to every other person with no more than six relationships between them. The six degrees of separation we all now have to gun violence in America seem to be getting closer, scarier, and sadder.
Unless we throw out the tired, ineffective, old playbook, move beyond today’s intensely polarized politics, discover the common ground in our common humanity and take real action to end mass shootings like the one at Michigan State, I wonder how long it will be before six degrees become only two or one, or none, for all of us?
Lane Glenn is the president of Northern Essex Community College and a member of the MassINC board.