Community heals together on Spartan Sunday

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On Sunday, February 19, 2023, thousands of Spartans returned to Michigan State University’s campus six days after tragedy shook the MSU community. The event, called Spartan Sunday, was the brainchild of Emily Damman, a grad student in the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, organized with the help of a group of fellow graduate students. After promoting the event on their social media channels, Spartan nation responded in full force — with the backing of the Provost’s Office, faculty, staff and community, nearly 1,500 volunteers signed on to help welcome students back to the campus we all call home.

Emily Damman shares how an event of this magnitude and significance to the Spartan community came to life in just a few short days.

I was driving home one day. I was just passing campus and I was thinking, I don’t even want to drive on campus right now because it’s sad. It’s empty. It’s just a place that no one wants to be right now, and Michigan State has always been a place that everyone wants to be at.  

Even though I went to Central for my undergrad, I still was a Spartan fan. I have cousins in undergrad too, who just didn’t want to come to campus — and that was heartbreaking to me, to know that they were just scared to come back.  

I was thinking, if they came back on Sunday, what would make their day a little brighter and what would make that transition a little easier?  

I sent a text out to some of my girlfriends in the Graduate School program. “Hey, would you guys want to come back to East Lansing on Sunday and maybe just make some cards, pass out some flowers, gift cards, whatever we can do — and just hang out on campus to make it a little friendlier?”  

They immediately jumped on it, immediately supported me through and through. And from there it exploded. 

We thought about it as a group — this is an amazing opportunity for not only the students to heal, but we are doing this to heal ourselves. And we were sure there were a lot of other people who would benefit from doing something like this, and just getting back on the campus that they love so much.  

One of my friends, Meredith, put together a flyer and we all posted it on our Instagram stories. I threw it on my Facebook page, and there was just an immediate uptake of positive reaction. We were like, we think we got something here. We think this could be a really cool day. 

I don’t have any event planning experience and I don’t plan to continue having events. So, we turned it into … let’s make a Venmo, we can go buy things; if you can’t make it, we’ll do something for you … We were all just so busy trying to plan this event. I threw my phone number out there, and I’m glad I did because I got to talk to so many amazing people.  

I got a text from someone who works in the Provost’s Office, who wanted to put me in touch with the provost. That was step one; that’s when we knew, okay, this is really cool.  

And then I got a call from [Playfly Sports Properties General Manager] Otis Wiley; what an amazing human being. He was like, “Meijer just called and they want to donate 50,000 or 60,000 items. And they want to donate 48,000 recyclable bags.” That was when we knew, too — this is really going to turn into something; and if it does, we need to get some more volunteers here quickly.  

After that, Pepsi jumped on it and donated a ton of Gatorades. A ton of local businesses were like, “What can we do, to make, to bring to help …?” People wanted to come cater. Someone from Saginaw came with 2,000 doughnuts. Grosse Pointe Moms came and handed out thousands of hot dogs. Things just really fell into place because of how badly people wanted to do something to help the students and the university. 

I was on so many Zoom meetings with some amazing faculty. I knew that I loved my professors, and I knew that I loved the university … but these strangers, this was thrusted upon them and they just took it under their wing. People from the Campus Events Office and IPF, and the Michigan State Police, the East Lansing Police. They were like, “Okay, we’re doing this. It’s going to be big. We got this.” 

What was amazing is the provost, and every single faculty member, they just jumped in. They did things without even having to be asked, and they always made sure that everyone knew that it was still a student-led event. Because it wasn’t about who gets credit, and it wasn’t about who was even involved in planning. Truthfully, it was just an honoring feeling that they wanted to make sure that us girls were able to make the “head honcho” decisions. 

It was a cool thing for the faculty and staff to tell not only us how proud they were of us for the event — but just seeing the other professors and faculty going up to students and giving them a hug, and saying, “We’re so proud of you for just being here.”

That was the best part. 

— Emily Damman