Letter to the Editor: A serious epidemic is taking place on campus
By Jason Porter
Editor's Note: Jason Porter is a former ASMSU Vice President for Internal Administration. Porter resigned in October 2016. Minor structural and stylistic changes were made.
As lawsuits continue, trials underway and campus stories make national news, it is time to address something no one seems to want to talk about on this campus: sexual assault and the university’s handling of such cases.
This crisis traumatizes one in four females on campus, one in 16 men and has left many survivors of sexual assault feeling alone, depressed and abandoned by our university. The overwhelming number of students who do not report due to a lack of trust in the university, fear of retaliation by a perpetrator or the horrific thought of not being believed, are all realities our community has been silent on for too long.
It is important to delve into how our university responds to this crisis, and how we are improving our culture. The short answer is, we are not improving it at all. Beginning with Dr. Nassar, it has been noted that several females reported their sexual assaults to university officials in the past; however, MSU cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Also, for those that follow sexual assault on campus, you are aware that football staffer Curtis Blackwell was put on a paid, multiple month leave even though he interfered with the Office of Institutional Equity’s, or OIE, investigation, and it has been reported that Marching Band Director John Madden was put on a one-week unpaid suspension for his sexual harassment toward a student.
For a university that consistently emphasizes they take these allegations and the crisis of sexual assault seriously, their actions speak otherwise.
Let us not forget the severity of this crisis that is hardly uttered on campus unless it involves athletics. The sexual assault crisis stems much further than just Dr. Nassar and the football program, and we must remember a majority of cases are non-athletic based. Media attention and shedding light on this crisis through these stories is a positive step forward; however, our community cannot lose sight of the fact this is bigger than athletics.
Simply put, the widespread sexual assault crisis on this campus and our university’s handling of such cases is the real story here. If the system can fail in these cases, the system can fail in other cases, too.
It is safe to say stories involving athletics and top university officials have taken hold of the sexual assault discussion on campus, and I fear for this. I fear because it is changing the narrative of sexual assault and instead, the story is becoming more about athletics.
We must not elevate some cases because it involves a significant person on campus, and diminish other cases because it does not. Sexual assault is sexual assault, and it is happening far too often on this campus with little remorse shown. Each case must be handled equally, and with the upmost dignity and integrity, which brings me to my next thought.
Many survivors have lost faith in our university, and rather than report their assaults, survivors are left trying to live with the nightmare in silence. I have spoken with several of these survivors here on campus, and each story is emotional and unfathomable. Why are survivors struggling to trust our university you may ask? A perfect example recently happened when an MSU Board of Trustee member openly and publicly discussed an OIE investigation, when these members are not listed in the OIE process at all.
I sat on the Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct, or RVSM, Sanction Panel, and OIE reports are extremely sensitive and disturbing and should never be discussed publicly. Mistrust and fear to report will never be overcome when instances such as this occur.
We must discuss this crisis transparently. Hiding behind Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, laws does not fix the crisis. A resignation in a sexual harassment case does not fix the crisis. An unpaid, and in some cases paid, suspension does not fix the crisis. Simply stating the university takes sexual assault and sexual harassment claims seriously, but then rely on a broken system, does not fix the crisis.
Real action must be taken, starting with a complete overhaul of the OIE process and admitting there is a problem. We must recognize that the recent media attention is an opportunity to discuss this dire situation, something many of us have tried to do for several years, and turning a blind eye to survivors is no longer an option I will accept from our university. As a community, we must do better.
We cannot continue to acknowledge sexual assault has no place at MSU, but then contradict ourselves through our actions. We must hold each other accountable, and that starts with acknowledging we have an extreme crisis on our campus, a crisis that has turned into an epidemic.