A couple weeks ago, some of us might have overlooked a university email about MSU’s efforts to improve awareness of student safety, especially focusing on sexual violence. It’s easy to quickly click through what might have seemed to be a routine email about a service or event on campus.
But at the bottom of the letter was a crucial detail it is important for students to recognize: the Department of Education is investigating how MSU handles sexual assault cases. In the original letter, the investigation was described as the university “collaborating” with the Department of Education. It later was announced the collaboration was in fact an investigation of the university.
Comments from university spokesperson Jason Cody confirmed the case in question took place in August 2010 in Wonders Hall . It was around this time that two MSU basketball players allegedly sexually assaulted a female student in their dorm room, although then-Ingham County prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III and his office later decided not to move forward with the case and press charges .
Ian Kullgren, Editor in chief
Rebecca Ryan, Opinion editor
Omari Sankofa II, Minority representative
Emily Jenks, Reporter
Shortly after the Department of Education’s visit, the university sent a follow-up email to students encouraging them to contact the Office of Civil Rights at MSUinput@ed.gov if they did not have the chance to attend office hours before spring break. The email explained the OCR’s presence was meant to “assess the campus climate with respect to sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual violence.” MSU’s brief letter to students got right to the point - students can share their experiences with the OCR. But that information could have been more clearly shared with students prior to the OCR’s visit.
MSU originally was not forthcoming about the fact that U.S. Department of Education hosted Office of Civil Rights members on campus the Thursday before spring break, introducing department as “collaborating” to “give members of the campus community an opportunity to meet with OCR representatives to provide information on the effectiveness of our ongoing training and programs and on-campus climate.”
It is disappointing MSU was not more forthcoming with the investigation, especially because sexual assault is such a difficult topic for people to talk about. This was a chance for the university to set an example and be open with the investigation from the beginning.
Although it did acknowledge in the letter sent on Feb. 21 that the university has been “engaging in efforts to heighten awareness about student safety, with special emphasis on sexual violence,” the university failed to acknowledge the real reason for the feds’ visit. That is unless you think “collaborating” and “investigating” are synonymous, which they aren’t.
Once the news of the investigation broke, the university did acknowledge it, both through a statement from MSU spokesman Kent Cassella who said “MSU responded fully and appropriately to the incident under investigation,” and through comments from MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon who said MSU is under “review.”
But MSU could have taken a more proactive approach to informing students of the investigation. Why didn’t MSU originally address federal efforts to improve the way sexual assault cases are handled on campuses? MSU is not the only university being investigated for its compliance with Title IX. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has 41 pending investigations of universities for Title IX sexual assault and violence complaints, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The university’s original introduction of the U.S. Department of Education sessions lacks transparency in an instance when it is crucial to promote the opportunity for MSU students to have their voices heard.
After MSU’s loss to Illinois on March 1 , head coach Tom Izzo cited dealing with distractions as a factor in the players’ performance on the court, though he would not further elaborate on what the distractions were.
“This team has been through so much, and I’ve had a couple things happen to me this week that I don’t know, and that’s so ridiculous and I’m sick of it,” Izzo said after the game.
When pressed about what, exactly, he was referring to, the coach said “Don’t screw me on that right now.”
Izzo’s main concern is to protect his players and focus on their game performance. Understandable.
However, students and fans alike have raised legitimate questions regarding the allegations against the MSU basketball players, and whether the university and the justice system should have done more.
It is the university’s responsibility to monitor the behavior of all students. State News stories published about the allegations have received a large amount of comments, many of which speculate whether or not the athletes in question have been put on a pedestal.
At the end of January, President Barack Obama established a task force at the federal level to ensure universities prevent and further investigate sexual assaults on campuses, which he sees as a major problem affecting students. Obama cited statistics marking one and five college women being victims of sexual assault.
At MSU, only approximately one in five sexual assaults that occur on campus even reach university officials, Shari Murgittroyd, program coordinator for the Counseling Center’s Sexual Assault Program, previously told the State News.
Until the investigation is complete, students likely will continue to speculate about the allegations in question. As the investigation continues, it is important to recognize the focus is on how the university handles sexual assault cases as a whole. If we want these crimes to stop, we need to openly and honestly talk about them.
Editor’s note: State News staff representative Matt Sheehan did not contribute to this editorial because he reports on men’s basketball.