Letter: Don’t let this be the end
By Jason Porter and Tyler Silvestri
Jason Porter is 1L at Michigan State University College of Law. He is the former VPIA of ASMSU and is a 2016 Homecoming Court Member.
T. A. Silvestri is a 1L at Michigan State University College of Law. He is the former Assistant Director of ASMSU’s Student Rights Advocates.
Former MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon is gone, but the problem is not. The sexual assault crisis at MSU did not begin with Larry Nassar’s despicable acts, and it won’t end with them either. The brave women who came forward in this case have brought national attention to the administration’s inability to effectively curb sexual misconduct; now that Nassar has been sentenced, Spartans must not lose sight of the change at MSU that his victims are calling for.
Students across campus remain terrified to report their assaults because of the incompetence shown by the administration. Will their case be dismissed as a mere “thing” by people in power like Trustee Joel Ferguson? Will they be subjected to a seemingly never-ending process,which the federal government found to be out of compliance with Title IX, that ultimately invalidates their experience? Even if their accuser is found responsible, will that finding be because the survivor was actually listened to, or because OIE rushed to conclusions to make their end-of-the-year statistics look better? The fact is that Spartans cannot be confident that investigations will be conducted with integrity.
Can you blame us? This kind of pervasive sexual misconduct is not normal for universities. John Madden, Curtis Blackwell, Nicole Rovig, and, of course, Larry Nassar remind us that sexual misconduct was deeply entrenched in the Simon administration. But this problem was not Simon’s alone, or even primarily. Even though Simon herself is gone, the conditions that allowed such heinous conduct to occur still exist.
When survivors call out administrators in Student Affairs, the Athletic Department, and the Office of Institutional Equity for failing to handle their cases appropriately, Spartans have to listen. The administration’s failure to properly address Nassar was only brought to light because people started listening to survivors; survivors of other cases are speaking, and we must start taking them seriously before it is too late.
Put simply, we cannot forget about sexual misconduct just because Simon has resigned. If the system can fail in the Nassar case, it has certainly failed in others, and will likely fail again. Any members of the university community who are aware of sexual misconduct or the concealment of it have a moral obligation to come forward.
Spartans who care about the university must be able to criticize it effectively, and that involves paying more attention to the topic of sexual misconduct on campus than we have. Attend meetings of student governance, the Board of Trustees, and University Council. Get to know the policies that govern sexual misconduct, and seek answers beyond the elementary ones that mandatory trainings give. Know the names of people like Vice President for Student Affairs and Services Denise Maybank and Title IX Coordinator Jessica Norris in order to hold them accountable as they continue to play significant roles in how the university addresses sexual assault.
The words of Nassar’s survivors should echo in students’ minds when we demand more of the administration in addressing future incidents.
It would be easy to let Nassar’s sentencing and Simon’s resignation feel like the end of a saga. But if we do it right, it should only be the beginning. Every single member of the Board of Trustees should be held accountable for the way they handle sexual assault on campus, be it the flip-flopping of Trustees (Dianne) Byrum and (Mitch) Lyons on their support of Simon, or Trustee Ferguson’s prioritizing financial considerations over our campus climate.
Nassar and Simon may have gotten what they deserved, but the rest of the administration who have played a significant role in this type of unacceptable response to sexaul assault victims have not. University brass may think that Nassar’s sentencing and Simon’s resignation are enough, and may think that by waiting, our dissent will die down.
To the Spartan family, don’t let it die down. Speak up.