Wednesday, September 30, 2020

'We do not love thy shadows': March for Survivors brings out anger, unity

January 27, 2018
Mechanical engineering major Ally Austin holds her sign with every name of the survivor's with the middle stating "I'm With Her" during the March for Survivors and Change on Jan. 26, 2018, at Michigan State University's campus. (C.J. Weiss | The State News)
Mechanical engineering major Ally Austin holds her sign with every name of the survivor's with the middle stating "I'm With Her" during the March for Survivors and Change on Jan. 26, 2018, at Michigan State University's campus. (C.J. Weiss | The State News) —

The March for Survivors and Change — initially named Students for the Resignation of Lou Anna K. Simon, before a certain event rendered that title obsolete — started with a tension reflected of the many emotions brewing across campus for the last week.

When ASMSU President Lorenzo Santavicca began the night with a "Go Green," the crowd's somewhat-tepid response of "Go White" indicated Spartan spirit might be flagging.

In many cases, it was. English education sophomore Greg McClure said he had always held men's basketball coach Tom Izzo and football coach Mark Dantonio in high esteem. After becoming aware of the ESPN report that claimed both men mishandled accusations of sexual assault against their players, however, he said that was no longer the case.

McClure said he was likely speaking for many Spartan fans when he said the report left him disappointed and unsure how to feel.

"I don't think a lot of people really know how to react," McClure said.

The report, combined with the fallout from the scandal regarding ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar, left many on campus believing MSU is in dire need of institutional change. This was an idea reflected in nearly every speech at the march, and in the name of the march itself. 

Anna Pegler-Gordon, a professor with James Madison College, called for the removal of "coaches and senior administrators" that had a hand in covering up sexual assault yet remain on the MSU payroll.

Apryl Pooley, who gave a speech and is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, said institutional change goes beyond removals and resignations. She said those responsible for enabling a culture of sexual assault "must be held accountable, and that doesn't mean retiring with a lifetime of perks."

Pooley was referencing provisions in Simon's contract that allows her to, among other parts, return to the faculty, receive complimentary VIP football tickets and receive free court-side season tickets to MSU women's volleyball.

Attendee Greg Briggs echoed Pooley's remarks, saying while the resignations of Simon and Hollis were a step in the right direction, they should not be viewed as an endgame.

"It's important to make sure that this ongoing issue of overlooking sexual assaults — that goes way beyond just these Nassar incidents — not just be swept away because one or two people have resigned," Briggs said. "There needs to be systemic change."

Emily Holmes, a Spartan alumna and East Lansing High School teacher, held hands with Briggs during the march, surrounded by students smiling as they chanted "women's rights are human rights."

Holmes said the driving force for that change was being witnessed as she marched down Farm Lane. Without actions like the March for Survivors, she said it would be easier for those in power at MSU to wait out the storm.

"If the voices end — I think that if we stop talking about it, then (the university) will take it as complacency," Holmes said. "We are also responsible for holding them accountable, and that can't fade. We can't let it fade, because they want it to fade."

Those voices don't appear to be fading, at least not according to international relations senior Siaira Milroy. Milroy, who along with junior Mackenzie Mrla, organized the march, said the students will continue taking action if the university does not address the culture of sexual assault on campus.

“I can definitely say that students will not stand for anything less than what they’re expecting, and that is change,” she said. “The students are expecting the board to change, the administration to change and the whole focus on sexual assault to change.”

Social relations and policy senior Colin Wiebrecht, who gave a speech at the march, said he would be in it for the long run as well. 

While he said it did get frustrating that women are being taught how to avoid sexual assault more often than men are taught not to commit it, he held out hope the discussions and ideas that would come out of the march could change the culture at MSU.

"We have a long way to go, but that's what happens when you have any social movement," Wiebrecht said. "It takes a long time, and you've just got to keep fighting for it."

Among faculty who remain employed by the university, the loudest calls for change were reserved for the Board of Trustees. A few of the chants distributed on a small paper square included "New nominees to the Board of Trustees" and "Board of Trustees, step down please."

One chant included coarse language against Trustee Joel Ferguson, who appeared on Lansing radio show "Staudt on Sports" and indicated the university had more to worry about than "just this Nassar thing." Ferguson later apologized for his comments.

Psychology freshman Emily Saxon put the full extent of "this Nassar thing," as Ferguson put it, into a sobering perspective. She was born in 1998, while the first accusation were allegedly reported to gymnastics coach Kathie Klages in 1997.

Saxon stated the obvious: if the allegations about Klages are true, Nassar was "enabled to perpetrate" on campus since before she was even born.

Saxon, who attended the march to honor the survivors of abuse she personally knows, attributed the 71-year-old Simon's inaction to her upbringing at a time where people were often expected to keep quiet about sexual assault. For Saxon, that didn't let Simon off the hook, however.

"You have to keep progressing as the times change," Saxon said. "Anyone in that high of a position, such as Lou Anna K. Simon, of such importance and significance — she has to change too."

The Spartan spirit was flagging, and with the recent events, understandably so.

Yes, MSU has lost its president and its athletic director in the span of three days, and the futures of a Hall of Fame basketball coach and a 100-win football coach are up in the air.

Yet in the face of all that turbulence, the spirit wasn't gone. Milroy said the turnout from her fellow Spartans, hoping to see a better university — their better university — was everything she expected it to be, and more.

“I didn’t know that it could ever be this big, that there could be this much of an impact,” Milroy said. “But you could see from all the signs that people made, all the attendants who came and the reactions from all the speakers, that it was just extremely powerful.”

Saxon said a culture of enabling sexual assault did not reflect the reasons she chose to attend MSU. She said her university, while deeply flawed, should be noticed for more than the mistakes made by its leaders.

"I believe that MSU is more than this," Saxon said. "This is not the only thing that defines us. There is so much more about being a Spartan than this."


Kaitlyn Kelley contributed to this report.

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