Four floors below a heated MSU Board of Trustees meeting — where survivors of ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse Morgan McCaul and Kaylee Lorincz were scheduled to speak — something was missing. The signs from all those who came to protest stood on the front steps, and several parents of survivors stood in the lobby.
Vice President and University Spokesperson Emily Guerrant said Interim President John Engler made the decision to not allow signs at the meeting. She said usually state policy doesn't allow signs at public meetings because they pose a safety hazard.
As seats opened up one at a time, the parents waited until they could all go up together in what Valerie von Frank, a mother of a survivor of Nassar's sexual abuse, called "a united front."
The fire marshal did not allow the entire group to come up together like they wished, because they said the room was at capacity.
Bryan Tarrant, the father of a survivor of Nassar’s sexual abuse who waited until the tail end of the meeting for seats to become available, said he wanted board members to have a visual of the victims. He and a group of other parents of survivors carried printed out pictures of their children to show the board.
No one was permitted to bring signs to this Board of Trustees meeting, a rule that members of the public were not made aware of prior to the meeting. This rule had not been enacted in previous meetings.
Beth Esch, mother of survivor Amanda Cormier, was not allowed to bring a picture of her daughter from when she was 15 years old into the meeting. The photos of the survivors from the ages they were sexually abused were counted as signs, despite pleas from multiple parents.
Esch said members of the Board of Trustees are not doing what they said they are going to do and wanted them to see who they are failing.
"They say they’re going to make the campus better, you know, with sexual assault, but they’re not doing anything towards that,” Esch said. “The students aren’t being heard, the survivors aren't being heard. Their apologies don’t sound heartfelt.”
Andaluna Borcila, an associate professor in the James Madison College and active participant in the dialogue critiquing the administration, attended the meeting. She has said her colleague informed her that the parents were downstairs. She said she was outraged and talked to the fire marshal to get them seats.
“I didn’t think it was fair for them to be downstairs while there are people here in this room, and I don’t think it’s fair for them to not be allowed to bring pictures of their daughters as well as any signs that they might like to bring,” Borcila said. “This is a public meeting and they deserve the utmost respect from this institution, which they haven’t gotten yet.”
After waiting in the lobby through the entire meeting until the public comments at the end, the parents were escorted into the meeting.
Parents, protesters and survivors instead held up their phones and tablets in place of posters.
Dan Martel from Reclaim MSU, an organiztion seeking institutional and cultural change for MSU, said the new sign rule violated the First Amendment and wouldn’t have been enforced if the signs had not called out the board.
“The university is so out of touch that they thought it would be a good idea to prevent the parents of the survivors from coming with pictures of the affected victims that were the topic of I would say at least half of the board meeting,” Martel said. “That is is insane."