Thursday, October 22, 2020

Marches, protests, town halls activate engagement in MSU community

February 15, 2018
Protestors begin their trek to the Hannah Administration Building during the March for Transparency on Feb. 2, 2018, at Michigan State University's campus. (C.J. Weiss | The State News)
Protestors begin their trek to the Hannah Administration Building during the March for Transparency on Feb. 2, 2018, at Michigan State University's campus. (C.J. Weiss | The State News) —

Since the resignation of former MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, students, faculty, staff and the MSU community have engaged in several events in order to bring awareness to the survivors of ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse, the Board of Trustees’ lack of transparency, MSU’s newly appointed interim president and more.

March for survivors and change at MSU 

The day after Simon’s resignation, Jan. 25, students painted the Rock on Farm Lane in support of the hundreds of survivors of Nassar’s sexual abuse. 

The Rock on Farm Lane, which is the oldest symbolic monument on MSU’s campus, has not been painted over since students painted the words "THANK YOU" in the color teal, accompanied by a list of all of the survivors' names.

The day after the Rock on Farm Lane was painted, more than 500 students gathered there for the March for Survivors and Change at MSU.

There, several people gave speeches to the crowd.

Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah, vice president for academic affairs with the Associated Students of Michigan State University, said the students are the heart of MSU.

“No words will ever be enough to erase the pain and suffering endured by every survivor of Larry Nassar’s abuse,” she said to the crowd. “No words can encapsulate the frustration and anger felt by the Spartan community and the entire world."' 

Anna Pegler-Gordon, an associate professor in the James Madison College, referred to “MSU Shadows,” MSU’s alma mater song.

“We do not love thy shadows,” she said to the crowd. “When MSU conducts an internal investigation into Larry Nassar, clears him of assault charges and does not even issue a report, we do not love thy shadows.”

From the Rock on Farm Lane, the protesters marched down Grand River Avenue to the Hannah Administration Building, chanting phrases like “Time’s up, MSU,” “We shall listen to survivors” and “Silence is violence.”

At the Hannah Administration Building, Michael Kuhn of the MSU College Democrats and Siaira Milroy, one of the student organizers of the march, spoke to the crowd.

“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.”

MSU women’s rowing team meets with Board of Trustees 

On Jan. 29, about 50 members of the MSU women’s rowing team met at the Jenison Field House and marched to the Hannah Administration Building to hold a meeting with the Board of Trustees.

According to the team’s press release, Nassar was the team’s doctor from 1998 until 2016.

“We have victims of his abuse on our current team and in every class along the way,” according to the release. “We are questioning Michigan State University’s approach to Nassar; his criminal actions, the women he has abused, and the response of the University and the athletic department.”

In their statement, the rowing team outlined five expectations they have, which they also discussed with the board at the meeting.

Among their list of expectations, they demanded that MSU employees under criminal investigation should have no contact with students and that their employment should be suspended until the investigation is complete.

They also demanded that all parties involved in a university investigation should be properly informed of their rights and resources, that MSU needs to establish a better method of reporting sexual assault cases and that a zero tolerance policy is equally enforced for all members of the MSU community.

The team also stated that MSU needs to improve and put in place proper protocols and patient rights to ensure the safety of all students and student-athletes, and staff members in the room with patients need to be aware, enforce protocols and follow a reporting system to ensure that the doctor is following protocol. 

The trustees who attended the meeting told the team they did not have the power to take immediate action. Both the trustees and the team discussed the ways to begin enacting change on campus.

Student sit-in at the Board of Trustees meeting 

On Jan. 31, students held a sit-in at the Hannah Administration Building after the Board of Trustees appointed former Michigan governor John Engler as MSU’s interim president.

The MSU College Democrats initially organized a “Flash Flood the Board” event on Facebook to stand for survivors of Nassar’s abuse and to promote change at the Board of Trustees meeting. 

Dan Martel, president of the MSU College Democrats, gave a statement to the Board of Trustees. When Martel asked Engler to hold a Town Hall meeting with members of the board so students could voice their opinions, Engler refused.

That’s when Martel called for the sit-in.

MSU senior Connor Berdy climbed onto the table during the meeting and gave a speech to the board after he and other students sitting in felt their concerns were not being considered.

“Not even the president of ASMSU was allowed to speak, give input at this meeting,” Berdy said during the meeting. “I’ve heard numerous faculty and students continue to let me know that this was not a democratic process. This meeting was put in a room, specifically so there wouldn’t be a lot of people out here and this is something that we do not believe, as students, as members of this university and this community, that reflects what we believe as Michigan State students.”

March for Transparency

On Feb. 2, a crowd gathered at the Rock on Farm Lane to protest the MSU administration’s lack of transparency in handling Nassar’s sexual abuse and the Board of Trustees’ appointment of John Engler as interim president.

At the Rock on Farm Lane, there were several speeches held by groups and other members of the MSU community, including the LBGT Resource Center and a representative from the College of Music.

The crowd marched to the Hannah Administration Building, where students, faculty and MSU alumni voiced their concerns.

Board of Trustees’ town hall meeting 

Hundreds of MSU students, faculty and other members of the community attended a town hall meeting arranged by Trustee Brian Mosallam on Feb. 1. 

Event organizers turned some attendees away and said the event was at capacity. They announced 3,000 to 5,000 individuals were waiting outside to be let in. 

At the meeting, many voiced concerns they had with the Board of Trustees. 

Several people called for Engler to resign and many students said they were upset with his past and don’t believe that he will enact change at MSU. 

March on Hannah 

More than 100 people delivered a list of demands to the Hannah Administration Building on Feb. 6. 

Beginning at 10 a.m., MSU faculty, staff, students and other members of the community gathered in Erickson Hall to walk to the Hannah Administration Building after members of the College of Education felt inspired by recent action taken by students and faculty, according to the event's Facebook page.

Terah Venzant Chambers, an associate professor in the College of Education, began the march by talking to the crowd gathered in Erickson Hall. She was accompanied by Alyssa Dunn, a faculty member in teacher education.

Dunn contributed to organizing the protest and was part of the group of faculty who wrote the letter delivered to the Hannah Administration Building at the end of the march.

“We want to make sure that the survivors and our students know that faculty care about them and we admire their bravery, and they are speaking out and we want to speak out alongside them,” Dunn said.

Dunn said she hopes the vote of no confidence from MSU's faculty, which passed 61-4 Tuesday, will let the board know that a number of MSU faculty support their resignation. 

Dee Church, an advocate on the Sexual Assault Crisis Intervention Team at MSU, spoke to the crowd on the steps of the Hannah Administration Building.

“When institutions fail us, we don’t need them to be sorry, we need them to be better,” Church said. “One Board of Trustee member last week, who showed up at the town hall meeting, said that he made his vote for the unity of the board, but by doing so, he made a greater divide between the board and the MSU community.”

Church said the MSU community needs a board that can be trusted because, otherwise, survivors will not feel confident enough to come forward and progress won’t be made.

Near the end of the march, Chambers read the letter that was written by the College of Education community at MSU before they formally delivered it inside the Hannah Administration Building.

“We write today, first and foremost, to express our resolute support to all of the survivors who have held Nassar and Michigan State University to account,” the letter read. “We are deeply sorry for your pain and that so many did not believe you and that this organization tragically and repeatedly failed you.”

The letter went on to say the College of Education’s primary focus is on its students and that they are “inspired and heartened by their efforts.”

“Our students are leading the way in resistance and we aim to show them that we are listening and we are standing up, too,” the letter reads.

The letter called for a “more engaged process for supporting the survivors and choosing an interim president” and that the College of Education supports the MSU faculty’s endorsement of a vote of no confidence in the Board of Trustees.

Also included in the letter are a list of demands: First, MSU administration, as well as counseling and sexual assault professionals, must create a restorative process to support all patients of Nassar's while he was employed at MSU.

Next, they demand that MSU student governing bodies, Faculty Senate and MSU administration create a process for appointing an interim president. They said Engler must resign in order for a more collaborative process to take place.

They also demanded MSU's Board of Trustees should, with faculty consultation, hire an experienced academic as its president. They also demand that MSU administration commits to working with faculty and student governance bodies in all future university official hires.

Once the faculty entered the Hannah Administration Building to deliver the letter, marchers taped teal cards that said “I march for” to the front of the building.

“I march for justice and transparency,” “I march for a voice” and “I march for survivors” were among the hundreds of cards taped to the Hannah Administration Building.

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