Nicole Eastman was a primary witness in the trial of William Strampel, ex-dean of Michigan State's College of Osteopathic Medicine. The jury found Strampel guilty of misconduct in office and two counts of willful neglect of duty as a result of his mishandling of a 2014 Title IX investigation into disgraced former MSU doctor Larry Nassar.
The State News recently spoke with Eastman about her experiences and decision to testify.
Eastman said, after talking to her victim advocate, she was told that her testimony was critical in charging Strampel with the misconduct in office charge and that it may have been more challenging to come to that conclusion if she hadn't testified.
“Strampel had to listen in court to each of us women. He had to listen to how his behavior affected us, and I feel that having your voice heard, regardless of the outcome of the trial, I feel like that feeling is justice in itself,” Eastman said. “In testifying with Strampel, I didn’t go into it, technically by law he victimized me, but I didn’t go into that seeing myself as a victim. I saw myself more as a warrior. I’d gone through so much. I went in to speak truth. I went there in the pursuit of justice and I went there with the intention of aiding in positive cultural change.”
Eastman said she never imagined she would have the opportunity to testify against Strampel. Throughout her experiences with Strampel, she said she was told that "nothing changes," and she didn’t know who to tell.
“Just getting to the point where I broke my silence was a process,” she said.
After seeing an article in The Detroit News about Strampel stepping down in the midst of the Nassar scandal, she said she thought that the timing was “interesting.”
She said she felt compelled to make a comment about his behavior, but with Nassar’s victims in the national spotlight she didn’t feel comfortable doing it at that time.
After Eastman saw the victim impact statements in Nassar’s trial, she was led to Rachael Denhollander’s Facebook page, where she found an open letter to Strampel in which Denhollander said Strampel mocked her.
Eastman said Denhollander had conviction in seeking justice and being a voice for others, and that Denhollander helped aid her in getting her information to the right people.
She thought that others were staying silent out of fear, and that some of those women couldn’t come forward and testify in court.
“I knew that my voice was also representing other people who weren’t at the same place as I was and am in my journey," she said. "I’ve gone through so much already that prepared me for testifying but at the same time I don’t think anything can prepare you for that situation.”
She said allowing herself to be more vulnerable and go public with her experience launched her into “a team that made history to help improve the culture for future generations,” she recalls Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark saying.
After Provost June Youatt testified in Strampel’s trial, Eastman said she believes it would be appropriate for Youatt to step down from her position. She believes that Youatt chose to minimize Strampel’s actions.
“So, who do you tell when you’ve already been told that everyone knows about his behavior, and they did, because documentation shows that MSU knew from at least 2005, and I didn’t start medical school until 2006,” she said.
Eastman said she believes that it’s more important than ever to speak out about the abuse.
“It just goes to show that, top down from the leadership, they enabled this. There was a culture of silence at MSU and it enabled abuse. It’s very sad as an alumna. I want to feel pride for my university. I’m very grateful for my education but at the same time, it is wrong to not speak out against abuse, especially abuse of this magnitude.”
Eastman said her message to students is that they deserve to be treated with respect and not abused while getting an education.
"When I started medical school, I didn’t sign up for sexual harassment. I didn’t sign up for sexual assault. That’s not what I applied for. The fact that an institution would tolerate that behavior for a senior leader, that’s very disappointing to me," she said. "I encourage those who are abused to speak up if they feel led to, and at the same time I empathize with those who choose not to speak up. It’s a personal choice."
Eastman described a near fatal accident she was in at the start of her medical career. She was hit by a semi-truck going 65 miles per hour.
“To be able to use my voice to hopefully bring good and to bring healing, that makes the second chance at life for me that much more meaningful," she said.
She said people tell her how resilient she is, and that resilience helped mold her into who she is today.
“I think it’s important for students to know that you can experience events in life that are not the most positive, but you can also choose to use those experiences to help grow into somebody who you’re proud of," Eastman said.
She said her advice for women going into their careers, whether that be medical or not, is that it’s important to stand up for yourself.
“You teach people how you’re going to be treated," she said.
She said there are many avenues to teach these lessons, such as workshops and mentoring. She said she was willing to speak publicly at MSU to better aid students.
Eastman said she wants to see “transparency, obviously, and leadership that doesn’t tolerate that type of behavior that affects student safety, student mental health.”
When asked about her thoughts on the incoming MSU president wanting to meet with Nassar survivors, she said, “If he follows through with that I think that’s a starting point. I’d be willing to speak with him given that opportunity.”
She said she doesn’t want to get her hopes up in regards to the effects he’ll have as president, but that she wants to see changes happening at MSU that other universities can learn from.
Eastman said she sincerely hopes to see change at MSU, and was never bitter toward the university, despite her experiences. She believes following through with change is an important step in healing.
“I think that that would show that the university is serious and that they’re listening and that they truly do want to move forward in the right direction. I think that that would give the Nassar survivors further validation for the pain that they experienced," Eastman said.