The original teal-laden version of the summer 2018 MSU alumni magazine, aiming to “build a path to a better future,” was stripped down and changed to Spartan green.
The State News obtained the original special issue of the MSU alumni magazine from someone close to the administration of Interim President John Engler. This version, solely focused on ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse and issues surrounding it, was not distributed to alumni.
Engler scrapped the three potential covers, according the Detroit Free Press, of a woman donning teal lipstick, a single teal ribbon and a wall of 60 teal ribbons all bearing the title “Finding Our Way” from a special issue of the MSU alumni magazine.
A Spartan green background, with a quote from Engler praising the university for having emerged from its “most difficult challenge in its history,” replaced these covers.
The goal of the magazine is to help survivors of Nassar’s abuse and the Spartan community heal and prevent such abuse from happening again at MSU, Magazine editor Paula M. Davenport said in her original editor’s note.
However, the editor’s note for the magazine distributed this summer sets a completely different tone.
The original magazine’s essays chronicle the history of Nassar’s abuse, gender inequality, the psychological effect of sexual abuse and a culture of silence. The narratives tell stories of the impact these topics have had on alumni and their ability to look back fondly on the school.
Contributors to the special issue tell stories ranging from being sexually harassed by medical professionals as young adults, to unpacking how the issues MSU faces with Title IX, as an investigation report claimed a patient merely misunderstood Nassar’s procedure.
As the names and faces of hundreds of survivors of Nassar’s abuse were revealed, the university faced greater trauma than it had ever endured in its 163-year history, according to the “A Time to Listen and Learn” section.
"Rightfully, our faculty and students protested. And you expressed your disgust in countless phone calls, emails, social media posts, and letters. Broken, former President Lou Anna K. Simon resigned. Athletic Director Mark Hollis retired. A beleaguered Board of Trustees, an elected body, backpedaled," the section said. "To be certain, this is only a beginning, not a conclusion. We believe that, with decisive action and open dialogue, MSU can emerge from this tragedy as a leader and a model for safer campuses and workplaces across the country.
“In this special issue of Spartan magazine, we embrace this opportunity to reflect as a community. You will find personal essays from alumni, faculty, and our students. Their words offer perspective. They provide insight into what happened.”
The special issue features images of the MSU community rallying for survivors and demanding better from those in authority at MSU. Images of solemnly marching students are replaced in the new magazine with smiling, MSU flag-bearing student clubs and volunteers.
The new magazine paints a golden year for Spartans building up their community and bettering the academic world. It cites work creating housing for families in Michigan, expanding the College of Music building, a medical mission to Iraq and the hope that MSU’s Facility for Rare Isotope Beams becomes “the world’s most-powerful rare isotope beams facility when it becomes fully operational in 2022.”
In the shadow of these accomplishments, until survivors of Nassar’s abuse get answers as to why their reports and stories were ignored for decades, these achievements “feel tarnished,” Louise Knott Ahern said in the original magazine.
“Nassar’s survivors deserve to have alumni stand with them and demand answers. How could university officials not know that what he was doing was wrong? Why was Nassar allowed to continue seeing patients while under investigation? Why did that investigation include interviews with his own friends and colleagues? When the full, horrifying scope of his crimes was revealed, why didn’t university leaders realize that normal operations needed to stop immediately?” Ahern said. “No more solicitation calls. No more cheerful Facebook posts. No more business as usual at Board of Trustees meetings. On behalf of survivors, we must demand to know: How did MSU get this so, so wrong?”
For many alumni, symbols representative of the university such as Spartan helmets can be painful, Ahern said. The pride of being a member of Spartan Nation is worn down. She said alumni are angry, sad and ashamed of the failures of the university that used to feel like home.
The new magazine features a Q & A with Interim President John Engler where he opens up about leading MSU during the aftermath of the Nassar scandal. He cites the two most significant accomplishments to happen during his time at MSU as mediating over 300 lawsuits faced by the university and the approval of the operating budget by the Board of Trustees back in June.
Despite rallys for transparency from Engler and the board, petitions for the resignation and firing of university leaders, eruptive screaming matches in trustee meetings, Engler said when he meets with students, faculty and alumni, it’s positive.
“They’re very proud of Michigan State University. They’re proud to be here,” Engler said in the published magazine.
The combination of being a Spartan and also an advocate for a culture change surrounding sexual abuse is confusing, said Stephanie McCann, an MSU alumna and faculty member. She talks about “Being a Spartan Now” in the original magazine issue and poses the question, now commonplace to current students, faculty and staff: Are you still proud to be a Spartan?
"How do we reconcile being a Spartan with the harm caused to so many people at the hands of another fellow Spartan? How do we put on our Green and not feel embarrassment, anger, or shame?" McCann wrote. "I am reclaiming what it means to be a Spartan. Being a Spartan means having deep empathy, it means speaking our truth, it means believing one another, and it means showing up when we feel most vulnerable. No one gets to push me out of MSU, including Nassar.”
Emily Guerrant, vice president and university spokesperson gave this statement in response to the changing of the magazine.
"Michigan State supports robust discussion of important issues such as sexual assault and its own place in this national conversation. The material being presented, as it is described to us, would represent content not included in the most recent issue of our alumni magazine. As such, it would be material solicited and accepted by Spartan magazine, so in our opinion has a valuable place in the ongoing public conversation.
"Our concern, then as now, is one of context as the university moves with due haste and concern not only to address past issues, but to take action to ensure the health, safety and well-being of the campus community and to ensure that our alumni and the public are duly provided with that information.
"As we have said before, the magazine is intended to communicate and promote university programs, highlighting staffing, alumni and student success stories and important issues to MSU alumni. Given its three-month production process, it has been difficult for the Spartan Magazine team to stay ahead of the news cycle.
"During the course of development, the team was continuously evaluating many possible options for content and for feature stories. In the end, the editorial team took an approach that concentrated on the most important changes and improvements at MSU that have been made over the past six months related to campus safety and sexual assault prevention and education, as well as where the university is headed in the future.
Alumni consistently communicate to the magazine team that they want to know what is happening on campus, so striking a balance between addressing the problems of the past but also showing the positive impact Spartans are having across a variety of fields was the desired outcome."
Read the full magazine here.