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'Crying, lying crocodile tears': Nassar survivors skewer MSU trustees over decision to withhold documents

September 8, 2023
Sister Survivor speaking at the Board of Trustees Meeting at the Hannah Administration Meeting on Sep. 8, 2023.
Sister Survivor speaking at the Board of Trustees Meeting at the Hannah Administration Meeting on Sep. 8, 2023.

Survivors of sexual abuse by disgraced ex-Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar addressed the university’s board at their meeting Friday, individually condemning each of the eight trustees and serving them with copies of an updated lawsuit.

The survivors criticized the board’s April decision to continue withholding thousands of documents relating to MSU’s handling of Nassar’s abuse.

They announced that they would not release the documents without taking a public vote on the matter, prompting criticism from survivors and protests from students

“If you want to vote to keep the documents secret, then vote, take a vote,” the survivors’ lawyer, Azzam Elder, said in public comments to the board. “They have a right to know where you all stand.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has been seeking the documents for years in hopes of investigating how the university failed to stop Nassar’s abuse for over two decades. Repeated denials from the board have stonewalled her investigation.

In April, hope for release was renewed after MSU board chair Rema Vassar told Nessel's staff she would release them if they sent an updated letter asking for the documents.

But a week later at an MSU board meeting, Vassar announced that they would continue to withhold the documents.

Nessel told The State News she had “literally no idea” why Vassar changed her mind.

“They requested this letter and said they needed it in order to be able to conduct a vote,” Nessel said in April. “Then at the meeting there’s not even a vote. It's bizarre. It's perplexing. I think it does a disservice to the survivor community as well as to the student body at Michigan State that, like us, has long awaited answers.”

The mysterious reversal prompted survivors of Nassar’s abuse to file a lawsuit against the board.

Their complaint argues that whatever secret discussions took place between Vassar’s meetings with the attorney general’s office and the board meeting violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act, which mandates that public bodies like the MSU board conduct discussions and votes in public.

A version of the lawsuit was first filed in July in Ingham County Court. But that case has since been closed and moved to Michigan's Court of Claims. It's unclear if the complaint was modified before the new filling.

Survivors speaking at the meeting Friday condemned the board for secrecy and hypocrisy.

They focused on trustees Vassar, Brianna Scott, Dennis Denno and Kelly Tebay, who promised to release the documents while campaigning for the board.

Speaking to Scott, who frequently prays and references her Christian faith during board meetings, survivor Angelika Martinez-Mcghee said “one day we’re all gonna meet god, and I want you to take a moment to think about what you’re gonna say to him.”

“We are sitting here looking at you, and you are the kind of person you campaigned against,” Martinez-Mchgeee said.

Addressing Tebay, who frequently cries during comments at board meetings, survivor Kristen Nagle recounted her campaign-trail promise to fight for the release of the documents before saying “six years later, we can say you’re nothing like us … all we’ve seen from you is crying, lying, crocodile tears.”

“We’re not just crying, but taking real action towards truth and justice,” Nagle said.

Speaking to Vassar, who ascended to the board’s chair earlier this year promising change and increased transparency, survivor Melissa Hudecz said she has since lost the “high hopes that a new chair would bring about change.”

Quoting author Brene Brown, Hudecz said she now believes “complicity is part of the culture here.”

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They also addressed Trustee Renee Knake Jefferson, the only member of the board who has read all of the documents.

After her 2020 review of the documents, Jefferson said that release was unnecessary because they didn’t contain any new information about the administration's handling of Nassar.

During the public comments Friday, survivor Alexis Hazen asked Jefferson “with all due respect, what reason do we have to believe you?”

Student and faculty liaisons to the board also condemned the decision to withhold the documents in their comments to the board.

All the trustees gave comments during the meeting, but only Vassar addressed the survivors' criticism.

She said while it’s “heartbreaking” to hear their stories, she's “doing my best, I hear you and I’m doing my best.”

At a press conference in April, Vassar explained the decision to withhold the documents by saying she worried that releasing them and re-opening the investigation could “retraumatize survivors.”

When asked if she had heard that concern from any survivors, Vassar said she had not.

Previous denials under former-board chair Dianne Byrum were tied to then-ongoing legal disagreements with 12 of the university’s insurers regarding a $500 million settlement to Nassar survivors.

The insurers have argued that MSU’s failure to act on reports of Nassar’s abuse leave the university outside its policies and on the hook for the settlement, according to court filings.

At a press conference after the meeting, Vassar told reporters that the last of those disputes has recently been resolved.

Asked whether that resolution changes things for the board, Vassar said they will have a discussion about it but she's "not sure what will happen."

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