Next Wednesday will mark the two year anniversary of the MSU women’s rowing team march from Jenison Fieldhouse to Hannah Administration Building and subsequent meeting with the Board of Trustees.
The team was the first student group to speak with the Board of Trustees in the wake of the sentencing of disgraced former MSU doctor Larry Nassar. According to a press release from the team, Nassar was the trainer for the team from 1998 to 2016.
Lindsey Klei, a senior at the time, said she remembers the march as an emotional time for the whole team. “It was a lot for everyone to process, but we used that as motivation to help in any way we could,” she said via Facebook Messenger. “We knew as student athletes that we could make a difference.”
Prior to the meeting, the team devised a list of five expectations focused on protecting student athletes' rights, implementing a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual misconduct and enforcing proper protocol. Klei said she was involved in making this plan.
“My teammates and I all got together and spent time discussing what we needed to address with the board members,” she said. “We had things we thought (we could change) and suggestions on how to change them.
“Our mission was to join together as a united front and do what we could do to make changes around campus. We needed to change policies and hold the university accountable for the future.”
In July 2019, the MSU athletic department fired rowing coach Matt Weise and hired Kim Chavers in his place. Klei said that Weise was supportive of the team’s efforts as they tried to make a difference.
“It was not an easy thing to do, but our coach (Matt Weise) was there to support us in any way we needed,” she said. “We wanted to show our respect and support for all the victims and make sure this never happens again.”
While unable to comment on procedures prior to the 2018 meeting, supply chain management junior Julia Hojnaski said that new coach Kim Chavers has “positively influenced” the program with a “new agenda.” Chavers was unavailable for comment.
Trustee Dianne Byrum was present at the meeting and said it was a valued first chance for the board to listen to a student group’s suggestions.
“We were very sensitive to their request,” she said. “It was a late afternoon meeting, and I remember it went for a little over an hour. It wasn’t a back-and-forth exchange. They wanted to express their feelings to the board, and we sat and listened to them.
“It was an emotional experience for everyone. People spoke from their heart. ... It was a solemn exchange and these were difficult conversations to hear.”
Byrum said she believes the expectations of the rowing team have been implemented and that their suggestions assisted change.
“We have restructured the health department,” she said. “We have added a real focus on students, particularly student athletes, health and wellness. ... It was very respectful. They were very thoughtful, helpful in terms of their comments, and I believe that it was a positive experience for everyone.”