Thursday, July 2, 2020

'You abandoned them': Survivors call for MSU to restart healing fund

December 14, 2018

Survivors of ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar's sexual abuse, their families and other members of the community addressed the MSU Board of Trustees during their final meeting of the semester. In response to their calls to reopen the recently closed Healing Assistance Fund, Interim President John Engler and members of the board took no action on the fund at the meeting. 

“I’ve been thinking a lot about the young women who depended on the Healing Fund for life-saving treatment," Nassar survivor Morgan McCaul said. "And how you abandoned them." 

Calling for the fund to be reopened 

Following MSU making the payment on a $500 million settlement with more than 300 women who sued the university after being assaulted by Nassar, the Healing Assistance Fund — which was established to provide Nassar survivors with resources needed for counseling services — was closed

"By cutting the Healing Fund, you have neglected the much needed therapy for hundreds of individuals that are not included in the settlement," Adam Boyce, the husband of Nassar survivor Larissa Boyce, said. "Think of the survivors who have recently come to terms with abuse they suffered." 

Engler went forward with the decision to discontinue the Healing Assistance fund — which has been suspended since July due to an investigation into fraudulent claims  — despite being advised not to by a sexual misconduct expert advisory workgroup he created.

"Your actions make you look like this really isn't a big deal for you, but it's a big deal for me," Emma Ann Miller, a 16-year-old Nassar survivor who missed her class to address the board, said. "And it's a big deal for my sister survivors." 

Standing alongside her was Miller's mother, Leslie Miller. Both, along with other survivors and their families, addressed the board about reopening the Healing Assistance Fund during the public comment portion of the Board of Trustees meeting. 

"Either reinstate the healing fund, or accept the reality of what you are," McCaul said. "Traitorous figureheads, emblems of a toxic culture that we need to leave in the past." 

Board response

After the public comment portion of the Board of Trustees meeting concluded, Engler discussed the settlement. 

"I would like to point out that it's 49 times the amount of the Healing Fund and that money would be available for whatever purposes the survivors wish," Engler said. 

Engler said in the negotiations with 11 different law firms representing Nassar survivors the terms and agreements have been "complied with now fully and that did not include any negotiations on behalf of the survivors to continue any additional payments outside the settlement."

"On campus, the investment has been, at this point, $16.6 million in terms of increased staff at Counseling and Psychiatric Services, ten new positions because we do have significant demand on campus," Engler said. 

Friday's meeting came after members of the Board of Trustees — Trustees Brian Mosallam, Dianne Byrum and incoming Trustees Scott and Tebay — publicly disagreed with Interim President John Engler's decision to discontinue the Healing Assistance Fund last week.

During the public comment portion, Colin Wiebrecht, a social relations and policy senior representing Reclaim MSU, said it was never made clear in any statement or board meeting minutes that the fund was being used as a transition into the settlement.

"In the back, there were a lot of discussions about how long (the fund) would last… but there wasn’t a set direction, there wasn’t a set policy, and I think the way we set it up was it was just a statement," Mosallam, who reaffirmed during the meeting that he was against the decision to close the fund, said. "We didn’t publicly declare it would close at a time, so I thought that was a short-sided approach to close it.”

Kaylee Lorincz, a Nassar survivor who accused Engler of trying to coerce her into settling her civil suit against the university without her attorney present, and her mother also addressed the board during the meeting. Along with calling for the reopening of the fund, Lorincz expressed concern with Engler's treatment of survivors. 

"Mr. Engler, I was sexually assaulted on this very campus over a period of five years," Lorincz said. "I have addressed this board and have listened to you tell me to be careful and 'Kaylee, your time's up.' But what has been one of the most difficult days of my life was listening to you call me a liar not just once, but 12 times in front of the United States Senate. I remember feeling so small that I couldn't speak or look at anyone, I cried." 

Engler was asked to react to the statements that he’s still not listening to survivors.

“We think the $425 million transferred to the survivors is a big statement,” he responded.

“Standing next to survivors and their families, I’ve been impressed by their force and, frankly, endurance to keep on pushing for (change) in this institution," James Madison professor Andaluna Borcila said. 

Borcila said she was disappointed that Engler and the board didn’t acknowledge their presence at the meeting.

"Survivors who were not healthy enough to undergo the labor of civil litigation were supposed to have access to life sustaining treatment," McCaul said. "And you took it away." 

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