In the aftermath of ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse and an ongoing fallout between students, faculty and the administration, MSU welcomed another freshman class onto campus, as it has done for the past 163 years. Except this year’s class is exceptional in many ways.
Despite an ongoing crisis that has rocked nearly every corner of campus, this has been the university’s largest and most diverse freshman class, according to statistics released by the university. Which leaves many to wonder: Why would students still choose to attend a university in its darkest hour?
Spartan born and bred
Pre-nursing freshman Grace Murphy comes from a family that bleeds green and white: She grew up attending MSU football, basketball and hockey games, and has known since age three MSU was her dream school. Both of her parents are alumni who were extremely disappointed when they heard about Nassar.
“They were unhappy to hear about it. It made them sad it was happening to their university,” Murphy said.
She shared similar feelings.
“It’s a really bad thing and never should’ve happened,” she said. “There were so many steps along the way that people didn’t act as they should have.”
However, Murphy believes the scandal doesn’t define the university.
“For me, there’s so much more to Michigan State than just that,” Murphy said.
Despite their discontent for what happened, they didn’t let it influence her choice to apply. Even though her parents never once questioned her decision to attend, others wondered if she had made the right choice.
“That was something I got asked about. But, it was never a factor for me that had any influence on my decision. That’s not what I see Michigan State as,” Murphy said. “That’s a thing that happened at Michigan State.”
Nearly a month into her first year, Murphy doesn’t regret her decision and has been enjoying meeting new people around campus. She’s also gotten involved with the Nursing student association and through her involvement in the Honors College has had the chance to conduct research in microbiology and molecular genetics with the Dufour Lab.
She offered advice to prospective students and their families who are still on the fence about attending State.
“There were a lot of people involved, overall it was one bad person at the root of it, and a lot of people who let it happen. There are still so many people here that are here for your safety,” Murphy said. “There are a lot of different resources you can go to if you do feel unsafe.”
She believes this year’s freshman class is so large because many other students share a similar perspective to hers, she said.
“I think that a lot of people have been able to see past that instance; acknowledge that it’s bad, but see past it to realize Michigan State has so much to offer,” she said.
‘Not my first choice’
James Madison freshman and Okemos native Chloe Majzel wouldn’t have attended MSU if it were her choice. It was the easiest decision financially for her parents and she ended up being drawn to James Madison College. Despite it being a seemingly cut-and-dry decision, Nassar complicated things. The situation caused Majzel and her parents to be more concerned for her safety.
“When I go to club meetings, I don’t go alone. I always make sure I have someone to walk with, especially if it’s at night,” Majzel said.
This caution also expands into the classroom.
“When you’re talking to a professor or any adult it’s always good to have the door open,” Majzel said. “That’s what I learned in high school, I liked that idea. If there’s not a door closed, there’s witnesses.”
She finds some comfort in the fact MSU has mandatory programming such as the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention Program (SARV) for first-year students, and Bystander Network Workshop for second-year and transfer students.
“So far it seems like the programs that they make us do are good. But, it also feels like they’re just doing it because of Nassar,” Majzel said.
She also believes that there should be more initiatives to ensure students feel comfortable in one-on-one situations with faculty members and other adults on campus.
For this year’s prospective students, she suggested checking out MSU for themselves.
“I think if they really like the academic programs here, then they should take a tour and talk to current students, and see and ask about programs MSU has for sexual assault,” Majzel said.
Majzel also offered words of advice for fellow freshman who are in the same boat as her.
“I think they should try to make friends, and always use the buddy system and never be alone,” Majzel said.
‘It affected me differently’
Music freshman Kyle Sodman said Nassar impacted his decision a bit less because he is a man, but the abuse and the fallout is still on his mind and others’ as well.
“I wouldn’t say it was a big decision making point ... A little bit, but not a lot,” Sodman said. “Everyone’s talking about it, everyone’s thinking about it.”
He’s not sure how the university handled the situation, but believes that despite what’s going on, there’s still a very supportive environment here.
“All the other people are really helpful and supportive. It’s a safe place for most all students. Even now, because of that bad situation, they’re taking steps to improve its safety. I think now MSU is safer than ever,” Sodman said.
‘An uncommon will dedicated to change’
Julia Janssen, marketing and communications director for MSU Communications and Brand Strategy, or CABS, admitted that prospective freshman and transfer students did raise some concerns about attending MSU because of Nassar. But she believes the record-breaking freshman class speaks to the university’s strength.
“MSU remains one of the top 100 universities in the world and continues to provide an excellent education to students. True to our land-grant mission, we work towards the common good with an uncommon will,” Janssen said.
Janssen also commented on how MSU has changed following Nassar.
“We have a whole website dedicated to the ways we have already changed, and we’ll continue to listen and create change to make MSU a safer, healthier, and more respectful campus community,” Janssen said.
A home away from home
Physics and art freshman Rian Buckley applied to 14 different schools with one goal in mind: getting out of California. Now, 2,000 miles away, Buckley has fallen in love with the Midwest and the opportunities MSU has to offer.
“I think that the Midwest is gorgeous and that Michigan State is also beautiful, and that the opportunities here are just out of this world,” Buckley said.
Some of those opportunities include exploring outside interests through the Honors College.
“Through the Honors College I can pretty much take the classes that I need to for my major, in addition to anything else I’m interested in. Next semester, I’m taking genetics even though it has nothing to do with either of my majors,” Buckley said.
He “was disgusted to say the least” when news broke about Nassar and questioned if he had made the right decision to attend MSU. Ultimately, Buckley believes that what happened affected the university’s reputation, but not himself, or his education, in a negative way.
“Ultimately, it is not the university that did this — it is not the instructors here, it is not the students here — who did something wrong. It is a small fraction of the people here that messed up,” Buckley said.
For students and parents who are still unsure if MSU is the right choice for them, he offered these words of advice.
“Do what is best for them in their heart. It is a very wonderful community here who are very protective of each other,” Buckley said. “Despite this scandal, I’ve never felt more at home.”