TW: Article includes references to sexual assault.
While Michigan State University students are away for winter break, the Board of Trustees will be hosting a private ceremony to unveil a portrait of Lou Anna K. Simon, MSU’s former president who resigned during the height of the ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar scandal.
Although the portrait itself was included in Simon’s 2019 retirement agreement, there wasn’t a promise of a ceremony.
The ceremony was supposed to take place at Cowles House on campus. Once invitations were sent out and the RSVPs returned, the event had to be moved to a larger venue to accommodate capacity limits. University spokesperson Emily Guerrant confirmed that the ceremony will now occur at the Breslin Center at noon on Dec. 19.
Interim president Teresa Woodruff confirmed after the Dec. 16 Board of Trustees meeting that she would be attending the ceremony but also addressing possible protestors outside of the Breslin.
“It is not that the singularity of walking across a threshold between two groups with opposing views does anything to help the harm that people hear and feel, or to dampen the enthusiasm with which some others feel this leader is due,” Woodruff said. “But it is, I feel, as an institutionalist, the role to be present.”
Along with Byrum and Woodruff, Simon herself will be at the ceremony. Trustee Melanie Foster also confirmed her attendance. Trustees Renee Knake Jefferson, Rema Vassar and Brianna Scott told The State News they would not be in attendance.
At the board meeting on Dec. 16, Scott told listeners she was unaware that the Board of Trustees was hosting this event.
“It was a surprise to me and I personally do not support it,” Scott said.
A controversial history
Simon was charged in November 2018 with two counts of lying to a peace officer in a violent crime investigation and two counts of lying to a peace officer in a four-year or more crime investigation. However, all four of those charges were dismissed in May 2020.
With Simon’s controversial history came pushback from student groups and survivors who became aware of this ceremony to honor her.
Woodruff said she’s expecting to split her time between the ceremony and people outside the Breslin who may be “demonstrating their pain and hurt.”
Survivor Nicole Casady, former MSU gymnast and Nassar patient, said the news about Simon’s ceremony brings up emotions she’s worked through in counseling for the past four years.
“I wish that I didn’t have the visceral emotional response that I do,” Casady said. “This is the time of year where we are supposed to enjoy things with our families and come together and be joyful … and for the last five years, it has been nothing but overcast by Larry (Nassar).”
ReclaimMSU member Anna Pegler-Gordon spoke to the board at the Dec. 16 meeting. She encouraged Woodruff to not attend the event. She also called out the time and location of the ceremony, calling it impossible for MSU community members to protest while they’re on break.
“Time and time again, MSU has broken trust with survivors, with the MSU community and with the public,” Pegler-Gordon said. “This culture of abuse, lack of accountability, lack of transparency is continuing today. It has to stop.”
Casady said it would be impactful for survivors to hear board members say they will not be in attendance at this event.
“I wish that the board could evaluate what this means to all of us, the survivors, and have a little bit of empathy or integrity or some kind of emotional understanding of where us survivors are at with all of this,” Casady said. “Having a ceremonial type of thing should be in celebration of, and I’m not so sure why we’re celebrating something that, for many of us, was such a hurtful time.”
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Reporters Vivian Barrett, Alex Walters and Ashley Zhou contributed to the contents of this article.
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