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July 3, 2023

MSU unit receives honor for Town and Gown partnership

Community Relations team awarded for partnership with East Lansing community in aftermath of Feb. 13 violence

This story refers to the violence the Michigan State University community experienced in February. FAQs, important updates, messages from campus leaders as well as mental health and supportive resources are available.

Michigan State University’s Community Relations team received the International Town and Gown Association, or ITGA, Presidential Excellence Award for their partnership with the East Lansing community in the aftermath of the violence the Michigan State University community experienced Feb. 13. They received this award at this year’s 2023 ITGA City & University Relations Conference.

The ITGA is a global non-profit association dedicated to college campus and community interests. As stated on their website, ITGA “is the premier resource for addressing challenges, emerging issues and opportunities between and amongst institutions of higher education and the communities in which they reside.”

Suchitra Webster, director of Michigan State University’s Student and Community Relations unit, was present to accept the award and posted on social media shortly thereafter, “We were absolutely honored and humbled to accept this award in the aftermath of Feb. 13.”

By 8 a.m. the morning after the violence on campus on the night of Feb. 13, Michigan State University had partnered with the City of East Lansing’s Parks, Recreation and Arts Department to offer a Mental Health Support Facility for students, faculty, staff and family members at the Hannah Community Center.

Webster noted that setting up the facility and pulling the community together was an incredibly simple process due to the relationships that have been established between the community relations team and the City of East Lansing. She added Janet Lillie from MSU’s Government Relations and Cathy DeShambo of East Lansing were instrumental in the planning.

“It was a matter of text messages, and within hours we had all the space we needed,” Webster noted. “I did not hear words like 'we'll see,’ 'not sure' or 'no.' They were all in, all the time.”

The work at the Hannah Community Center lasted for roughly three weeks. Webster shared her gratitude to the staff at the center, as well as the many partners that came together to support the Spartan community.

“MSU’s University Health and Wellbeing staff were also key after the center was up and running,” Webster added. “And we must also acknowledge the tireless work of support animals, handlers, and all of the clinicians and mental health professionals who came from across the state to volunteer.”

The relationship between a university and the town in which it resides is a special one for Webster, particularly the strength that can be found in coming together as one community.

“Every member is an asset and brings something specific to the table. Getting people to the table, even in divisive times, is critical, as are the simple (or not so simple) acts of communication and compromise.”

This event highlighted the importance of consistently working together on safety, placemaking and big picture problems over the years.

“Feb. 13 was a crucible moment, and it made it clear that the mundane work of relationship and trust building is really lifted and illuminated when that moment of need and crisis emerges,” Webster said.

The Presidential Excellence Award was created as a way to highlight ITGA members who demonstrate exceptional performance leadership, educational achievement and/or volunteer service. The president reviews nominations and makes the final selection based on who best reflects the mission of the ITGA.

This year’s Presidential Excellence Award was an emotional one for the ITGA community. This long-standing partnership and mutually beneficial relationship played a crucial role in fostering prompt care and recovery following this tragedy.

This story originally appeared on the Student Life and Engagement website.

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