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MSU women's swim and dive athletes file Title IX lawsuit against MSU

January 15, 2021
<p>Then-junior Aidan Farley participated in the 200m freestyle race. Michigan State hosted the swim and dive meet against Oakland on Jan. 18, 2020. </p>

Then-junior Aidan Farley participated in the 200m freestyle race. Michigan State hosted the swim and dive meet against Oakland on Jan. 18, 2020.

Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

Eleven members of the women’s swimming and diving team have filed a Title IX lawsuit against Michigan State University on behalf of the program Friday morning. 

According to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The State News, the members of the team are seeking to reverse MSU’s decision to cut the swimming and diving program, as well as a further investigation into MSU’s overall compliance to Title IX statutes. 

Michigan State announced on Oct. 22 that they would be cutting both the men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs following the 2020-21 season because of financial strains on the athletic department due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, the women’s team decided to fight back against the decision. Alumni and other supporters have been speaking frequently at MSU Board of Trustee meetings in support of the fight to bring back the programs.

“I think that, while our team has been throwing ourselves into what we can do to save our team and what we can do to move forward, including this lawsuit, it's definitely been a lot more empowering,” neuroscience and Spanish senior Elise Turke, who has been diving at MSU for four years, said. “And now that the lawsuit is filed, I at least feel more empowered, I feel like we're doing something concrete and we're officially moving forward with it.”

The lawsuit claims that Michigan State is in violation of the Title IX Educational Amendments Act of 1972, which states, “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

“I'm very encouraged with this lawsuit being pushed out because not only does this affect the women's team at Michigan State, but it affects women all over the country,” kinesiology junior and swimmer Madeline Reilly said. “Ultimately, we want this to stop. This trend of cutting women's sports at the collegiate level needs to stop. And I am very honored and blessed to be a part of this movement. And I hope that it carries on and really leaves an influence.”

The lawsuit alleges that Michigan State has a history of failed compliance with Title IX’s athletic participation opportunity requirements, stating that MSU does not offer athletic opportunities to females that are “substantially proportional” to the overall female undergraduate population. 

“It is a lawsuit asking them to correct the injustice, so cutting the team, and it’s also asking because MSU is out of compliance in the other areas of Title IX, not just participation,” Jill Zwagerman, the attorney representing the members of the team, said. “They are also out of compliance with scholarships and the benefits that are provided to female student-athletes. We are also asking the court to intervene there and order that MSU start treating all of its female student-athletes equitably.”

Michigan State isn’t new to dealing with Title IX lawsuits, including a case filed by three former MSU students that were appealed to the Supreme Court this summer over the handling of sexual assault reports by the MSU administration.  

“I think that over the past few years, it's become obvious that the administration at Michigan State has a pattern of devaluing or undervaluing their female athletes," Turke said.

Reilly and Turke said that they are both confident in the success of the lawsuit and hope it can bring the “necessary” change to MSU athletics.

The filing is considered a preliminary injunction, which asks the court to delay any actions by the defendants — which the lawsuit lists as MSU Athletic Director Bill Beekman, university President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. and the MSU Board of Trustees — until a hearing is held in court. Zwagerman said they want to have the case in front of a judge as soon as possible, with February being the goal for a hearing right now.

Michigan State declined to comment on the lawsuit. Zwagerman, who is an attorney working out of Des Moines, Iowa, said that she informed Michigan State of the lawsuit and sent a copy for the university to accept service.

Business sophomore Emma Inch, who is newer to the swim team at MSU, has a lot of confidence in her teammates and this lawsuit. She believes they have a chance at some sort of victory.

“We ultimately hope to reinstate Michigan State University swimming and diving, and while we are fighting for the women’s program because that is what’s under the law of Title IX, we do hope to — and are exploring other ways — to save the men’s program,” Inch said.

According to Inch, the women of MSU swim and dive are not backing down and most have zero plans of transferring away from Michigan State at this time.

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