While walking home from a friend’s house in early September, I had a bounce in my step, even though a heavy laptop was weighing down my messenger bag. I had just read the news – the police finally had a suspect in the string of murders happening in Lansing. I finally felt safe walking home. I knew the killer was in downtown Lansing and not on campus, but walking home in the dark was a scary prospect. Now that the suspected killer was caught, a 10 p.m. trek across Grand River back to the dorm did not seem so bad. However, that familiar warning – “Wait! You can’t walk alone!” – still rang in my ears as I reached for the doorknob. [EL1]
“It’s okay,” I replied. “They caught the serial killer.” Much to my surprise, for I tend to fall into the rut of thinking everyone knows what I know, my friend asked, “What serial killer?” For a journalism major that is forced to keep up on the news or fail many, many quizzes, the fact that someone could not know about the crimes so close to home was nearly unthinkable. As I sought to find out why I sometimes feel as if I’m the only one paying attention, however, I soon realized that oblivion seems to be the norm.
In the month of August and into early September, five women were attacked (four of them killed) in downtown Lansing. Many students were unaware that a murderer was roaming so close to their homes, even though it had the potential to directly affect their safety. While Lansing residents were keeping to themselves and convincing their children it was more fun to play indoors, many MSU students were happily ignorant, and kept up habits of walking alone at night or leaving doors unlocked. A good portion of students were unaware of the situation until Aug. 31, when The State News reported Lansing police had released the name of a suspect. Tony Nettleton, a nuclear physics graduate student, commented that information about a serial killer is “a useful thing to know,” but he, like many of his fellow Spartans, was largely unaware of the details. MSU, East Lansing and Lansing are all closely related, so why is it that to so many students, they feel like completely different worlds?
[nadis]Some students don’t find it necessary to be in tune with a world outside of MSU. They question the advantages of being aware of local issues. “Not knowing (about the murders) kept me from freaking out,” psychology sophomore Emily Nadis said. As far as current events go, Nadis stated, “I try to read the State News and sometimes watch news on TV.” But like most other MSU students, she does not go out of her way to keep up-to-date on local Lansing and East Lansing events.
Perhaps MSU students feel detached from Lansing and East Lansing news because it is not always readily accessible to them and results in many students being uninformed. While Erick Martinez does not buy local newspapers, he does try to keep up on current events via the Internet, but even that can be difficult for students. “I don’t read the newspapers much, it’s mostly computer,” Martinez, a packaging junior, said. “To find out what newspapers’ Web sites are, you (first) have to buy the paper to find the site. The information (online) is mostly hidden and hard to find.” Martinez expressed wishes for newspapers to advertise their Web sites more around campus so students would be able to easily find a cheap alternative to buying a print version, especially since many students prefer to get their news online. Some popular news web sites for students include the following: The Lansing State Journal, The Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News and The New York Times.
Other students know the information is available, but they don’t have the desire to look for it. “The information is out there; I just don’t have time,” biosystems engineering graduate student Edith Torres said. Torres looks to The State News for information about what is going on around campus, not the East Lansing and Lansing communities. Because Torres is an international student, her main source of news is a Mexico-based Web site, where she can get information about what is going on in her home country. For Torres, news from Mexico takes precedence over local events.
Beyond news, there also seems to be a divide between Lansing and the MSU community when it comes to local politics. Even though MSU is a short distance from the state capitol, few students are informed of local and state political initiatives. Secondary education junior Liz Trexler hasn’t been to the Capitol Building in her time as a student. Instead of actually traveling to Lansing to attend board meetings or participate in a political rally, Trexler finds it much more convenient to use Web resources. And still, that is more than most students do to find out about local political happenings. Nadis is not sure that being more aware of local issues would benefit students at all. “I don’t think they are disadvantaged by not knowing,” she said.
While apathy seems to be the standard for most students when it comes to local news and politics, there are student groups on campus that take special interest in the decisions made in the capitol. Among these groups are the MSU College Democrats and the MSU College Republicans. These students are typically more aware of the politics affecting their everyday lives than the average Spartan. In addition to lobbying for support for their respective parties, both groups seek to get more students to become active in current affairs. They work to encourage more political awareness among MSU students. Both the MSU Democrats and College Republicans hold meetings that are open to the public. Each group has a spot on the Facebook, as well as a Web site that can be found through the university Web site.
Scott Hendrickson, the president of the MSU Democrats, joined the organization during his sophomore year. A friend invited him to a meeting, and he quickly started becoming an active participant. After helping voters register for the 2006 election, Hendrickson was hooked. “I can’t get enough of it,” he said. “I love (being involved).”
[bi]Hendrickson, a third-year student with majors in international relations, French, and economics, finds it disturbing so many of his peers are apathetic toward politics, especially things that directly affect them. “Most people don’t realize that most of the laws that affect them are on a local and state level,” he said. “Parking tickets, noise violations – most of the legislation is local and state governments.”
Although they are not involved with the MSU Democrats or College Republicans, some students believe paying attention to happenings outside of MSU borders will benefit them in the future. Physics and astrophysics senior Bill Martinez thinks being involved in Lansing and East Lansing affairs is all a matter of knowing where to look. “(Newspapers) publish the facts very well,” Martinez said. “You just have to read the papers and know where to look. If you want to find out about something, it’s nearly impossible not to.”
The ability to change this stinted relationship between MSU and its surrounding communities lies largely in the hands of students. The process of uniting MSU, East Lansing and Lansing is a difficult one, but steps are being taken to bridge the gap. Most of the resources students need to get informed are already in place – they are simply waiting to be discovered.
Through the MSU Readership Program, many buildings on campus offer free newspapers to students. Spartans can pick up copies of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Lansing State Journal (LSJ) as they attend class in various places. Through these resources, students can be made aware of world, national and local news and events. By teaming up with the LSJ to offer free copies to students, both the university and a city-based operation are helping to close the distance between MSU and the Lansing community.
The city of East Lansing also does its part to get students involved and interested. As the election draws near, many students will begin to seek more information about current events and will look to the university for candidate stances on certain issues and voter registration help. The city of East Lansing and MSU work together to sponsor YouVote, an initiative to fill students in on the electoral process. Many of the state’s major decisions are made in Lansing, and YouVote draws attention to not only presidential elections, but to legislation on the local and state levels as well. East Lansing Mayor Sam Singh believes since students are usually here for four to five years, getting involved is very important. “We have worked with the university and student groups to create a Web site. It helps students get a better sense of what the issues are in the community, how to register, where the precinct is – all the rules,” Singh said.
East Lansing officials and campus authorities often cooperate to create many programs geared towards uniting the students of MSU and the full-time residents. One program most students have heard of is One Book, One Community. This is a program that requires all incoming freshmen to read the same book. The community is offered the opportunity to read the book as well, and many events, including book groups, author visits and theme dinners, are held in cooperation with the program. These events help create a relatable platform for students and full-time residents.
[enos8]Patricia Enos, who serves as the Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs and Services and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Educational Administration, thinks the One Book effort is wonderful. “One of my own experiences is that students have a hard time seeing themselves as more than just a resident of MSU,” Enos said. She expressed appreciation for programs like One Book, because it encourages students and residents to engage with one another.
And it seems as though community engagement is the most important step in uniting the Lansing, East Lansing and MSU communities. Many students do not know these surrounding communities enough on a personal level to care about the political issues and current events occurring there. Perhaps when students begin to feel more connected to Lansing and East Lansing as places to entertain, they will in turn care more about the area’s crime and politics. The cities are beginning to offer more entertainment to students, as a way to help bridge the divides. Events such as the Old Town Oktoberfest on Oct. 6 in Lansing entice MSU students to venture away from the campus borders.
Students may feel disconnected from the world around them, and therefore, they rely heavily on the university to give them all the information they need. In response to these cries for help, the university and the city of East Lansing are both making strides to better connect students to the community surrounding MSU. It doesn’t matter that city and university officials have honorable intentions when it comes to being informed; college students should be past the point of expecting information and knowledge to just land in their laps. Spartans looking to be better informed and become involved are often only a phone call or a Web site away from helping themselves.

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