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Finding strength through connections

February 24, 2023 - Caitlin Finerty (SRP '23) and Beth Brauer

What is endemic in the United States has hit Spartans profoundly following the February 13 tragedy on Michigan State’s campus. 
On Monday, Feb. 20th, classes resumed for the campus community. While individual faculty members and students managed sessions in various formats throughout the week, what became clear for many was a desire to find opportunities to connect and process grief as a community. 
In addition to a variety of listening sessions, counseling services, protests and vigils, individual colleges hosted events designed to provide space for students, faculty and staff to engage and find comfort.
Carolyn Payson (RCAH ’17), an alumnus of the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities working for the Michigan non-profit Paws With A Cause, reached out to RCAH Dean Dylan Miner to offer support to students as they returned to campus. From there, MSU’s three residential colleges — RCAH, Lyman Briggs College (LBC) and James Madison College (JMC) coordinated individual events for Feb. 20 to bring therapy dogs to each residential college building.

dog leaning on person's shoulder
Throughout Monday afternoon and into the evening, each college hosted a pack of five trained therapy dogs along with staff members and volunteers from Paws With A Cause. The various breeds and sizes were a source of comfort as the event was hugely popular to students living in Case Hall and off campus. 
The event gave Emily Hoyumpa (SRP ‘24) and her friends from around campus a reason to get together on a difficult day.
“The therapy dog event at Case was important to have this week because it not only provided a sense of community amongst our JMC peers after returning to campus, but it also provided students with the comfort of dogs in this difficult time,” said Hoyumpa.
The event wasn’t only beneficial for students, as faculty and staff dropped in between classes and meetings. JMC Finance Assistant Stephanie Meyer said, “The therapy dogs were a big hit. I loved sitting in a big circle with students while we talked and received love from some adorable dogs.” 

Students engaging with a dog
Additional college-sponsored events included a breakfast on Feb. 22 and a lunch on Feb. 23. All JMC students, faculty and staff were invited to Case Hall for food and conversation. The opportunity to openly express feelings was a very positive experience for many, including Associate Professor Susan Stein-Roggenbuck who said of the Wednesday morning session, “I sat at a table with faculty, staff, students and the kids of faculty and staff. The students loved hearing about fourth-grade adventures, and Professor Cash had breakfast with his students before going to class. Students stopped in on their way to class, and some came by in their pajamas. It was wonderful to see everyone.”
Assistant Director to the Career Services Network Karissa Chabot-Purchase (PTCD ‘06) had a unique perspective on the chats because of her time as a student in Case Hall. “Twenty years ago this fall, I moved into Case Hall and became a member of the Madison community,” she reflected. “It’s a community that has offered me so much in the decades I’ve engaged with it as a student, as a proud alumna, and most recently as an employee. 
We’ve faced unprecedented challenges these last few years and, now, these last several weeks. Sitting down together without an agenda has been such a lovely way to reconnect and remind ourselves that we’re all in this together.”

People seated together eating
The next such event is scheduled for 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., Thursday, March 2. All are encouraged to drop in or stay as long as they wish.
For students, faculty and staff, check JMC channels and email for support services and events following spring break.
And for those wishing to support JMC programming and JMC students’ immediate needs, please consider making donations to Paws With A Cause and supporting the JMC Emergency Scholarship Fund. Additional ideas are welcome; email Rocky Beckett and Beth Brauer.