Sister survivors gave some color to a dark and dreary day during a dedication ceremony honoring them with teal flags at Ann Street Plaza Thursday.
The project raised teal flags, signed by at least 4,000 students, throughout the city beginning in September 2018. The Parents of Sister Survivors Engage (POSSE) partnered with the City of East Lansing to install the Tibetan prayer flags.
POSSE collaborated with student organizations at MSU, including the Residential College of Arts and Humanities, or RCAH, Council, the MSU College Democrats, MSU Fraternity and Sorority Life, and Reclaim MSU. East Lansing’s Country Stitches offered quilters and sewers, and It’s Yours Signs in Mason donated supplies.
"At the time when we got to sit down and actually work on the project, I was dealing with working through my own experiences with sexual assault,” RCAH Council President Jaylynn Buckley said. “It wasn’t something I was fully comfortable with talking about yet, and it was the first time I was able to open up to people around me about my experiences and start to begin that healing process."
A total of 505 survivors have come forward to tell their stories of sexual assault by Larry Nassar, so 505 flags were raised throughout the city. There are teal flags at four locations on Grand River Avenue, including near Abbot Road, on M.A.C. Avenue, between Charles Street and Division Street and between Bailey Street and Collingwood Drive. They are also raised at Ann Street Plaza on the corner of Albert Avenue and M.A.C. Avenue.
“As a survivor but also a student at MSU, walking around campus was difficult at first,” neuroscience junior Katie Black said. “I can see (the flags) basically everyday when i walk to my classes, or just to stores around the corner. Seeing them every time is like a hug from every single person that has written on them.”
Founder and chair of POSSE Valerie van Frank, mother to one of the survivors, helped organize the flag-signing effort. The idea to hang them throughout East Lansing came when MSU took down teal ribbons wrapped around trees.
“It felt as though our voices had once again been silenced, and without closure we were going to be brushed aside,” van Frank said. “We envisioned instead that each sister survivor would be recognized by a cloth prayer flag.
“Institutional accountability is about transparency, and openness and justice,” she said. “We cannot have justice without accountability, and we cannot have accountability without transparency.”
The flags were blessed by Rev. Betsy Aho, a pastor at The Peoples Church of East Lansing, closing out the ceremony.