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Doctoral student to boycott Engler, Board of Trustees at commencement

May 4, 2018
Integrative biology doctoral student Bonnie McGill, 34, stands near the site of an irrigated MSU corn field where she conducted research for her dissertation. Photo courtesy of Bonnie McGill.
Integrative biology doctoral student Bonnie McGill, 34, stands near the site of an irrigated MSU corn field where she conducted research for her dissertation. Photo courtesy of Bonnie McGill. —
Photo by C.J. Moore | The State News

On Friday, graduating MSU students will enter the Breslin Student Events Center, receive their respective diplomas and approach the university president for a congratulatory handshake.

However, one doctoral student plans to skip that last part of the graduation routine. 

Bonnie McGill, 34, will graduate this week with a doctorate from MSU’s Department of Integrative Biology. Earlier in the week, McGill sent a letter to interim President Engler and the MSU Board of Trustees as to why she will not follow along in the tradition of graduates shaking the university president’s hand.

“Even though this is a tremendous achievement for me I am boycotting commencement, and I’d like to tell you why,” McGill said in the letter. 



In the letter, McGill called out the members of the university’s administration for what she recognized as their lack of action in preventing the criminal exploits of ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar. For McGill, who herself has experienced sexual harassment in a workplace environment, said Engler and the Board of Trustees have constantly overlooked the concerns of the hundreds of people who survived Nassar’s abuse. 

“In the aftermath of the survivors’ testimony in Lansing this January, the Board ignored input from students and faculty, and secretly chose a former Michigan governor with a record of covering up sexual abuse of women prisoners to serve as our interim president,” McGill wrote. “Again, you did not listen.”

In a phone call with The State News, McGill talked about what motivated her to compose the letter and boycott her commencement. 

“I felt that I was kind of in a unique position, as being a member of the graduating class after the women’s testimonies in Lansing in January … I felt this really strong kind of conflict between I’m really proud to be from MSU and I’m not afraid to tell people that,” McGill said. 

She believes that Engler’s behavior in recent months has not been conducive to fostering a safer, more secure environment at MSU. McGill said that reports of Engler allegedly offering money to Nassar survivor Kaylee Lorincz in exchange for her to settle her civil suit with the university were particularly problematic.

“Speaking out is really hard, and can be kind of traumatic in itself,” McGill said. “For him to be like, ‘oh, I can shush you with money’ is sort of emblematic of his approach. It’s not the approach of listening and kindness and humility that I think we would expect at this point.”

In 2012, McGill started graduate school at MSU with a degree focus in agricultural ecosystem ecology. She, a Pennsylvania native, talked about the outcome of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal that rocked Penn State and how it affected her when MSU later experienced a similar scandal. 

“I followed that very closely,” McGill said. “It’s really disappointing that they (MSU) had this example to learn from and then they continued to mess up.”

McGill’s letter was shared widely via social media and garnered a large response from users. Rachael Denhollander, the first of many women to bring to light Nassar’s sexual abuse, thanked McGill for writing the letter.

McGill’s letter can be read in full here. 

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