It doesn’t take much digging to understand why top officials at Michigan State University seem to be so willfully ignorant of the sexual violence being perpetrated against its students. All you have to do is look at the rhetoric coming from its Board of Trustees and a major donor.
Joel Ferguson, the Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees made it clear that he thinks MSU is doing things just fine. After all, “we have a waiting list of students who want to come,” he recently said on a radio show where he referred to actions of the most notorious serial rapist in American history – an MSU faculty member Larry Nassar – as “this Nassar thing”.
Peter Secchia, a huge donor to MSU, went on record this week making it very clear that (a) students who are afraid of being sexually assaulted on MSU’s campus can take their business elsewhere and (b) it’s the parents’ fault their daughters were raped.
Here he is on WZZM-TV:
“I would say to them that if you don’t feel comfortable with your children at Michigan State, take them somewhere else because we’ve got a long list of people that want to go to Michigan State and there are some wonderful people left,” he said.
And here’s Secchia talking to FOX 17:
[Larry Nassar] was a rock star. Everybody in the world wanted him to be on their staff … The recommendations were unbelievable from the US Gymnastics Association, from the various gymnasts clubs, from the Olympic Committee … It was a point of pride, because the guy was known as a wonderful, wonderful person to help these young ladies who had serious pelvic pain. […]
“Well you know, if you had a really darling young daughter that you were really proud of that had the talent to be an Olympic star, you loved her and she was a poster child in your community, were you gonna go public with this? Probably not. If you wanted a gold medal, would you go public with this? Well, maybe not.”
He says he’s skeptical that some parents didn’t recognize there was something wrong with Nassar’s practices. “You don’t have to be a genius to recognize when someone’s working on your daughter whether they’re wearing gloves or not. The arguments I read in the paper, ‘Well, nobody could see, nobody could tell what he was doing.’ That’s true, but if you read the protocol that he had to wear gloves, I don’t think I have to be an expert in medicine to recognize that he didn’t have gloves on.”
With “leadership” making comments like, the message is clear: Everything is fine. This is not our fault. And if you don’t like it, go somewhere else because there are three kids waiting for their chance to take your place.
But MSU DOES have a problem. During the 2015-2016 academic year alone there were 461 sexual assault complaints filed at MSU. And, while MSU claims they’re doing what they can to help sexual assault victims, the reality appears to be different:
It was a call nothing prepares you for — your daughter, a Michigan State University student, thousands of miles from home, telling you she has been raped. […]
The MSU student and her mom went looking for help.
They said they called MSU’s rape hotline, but were told it was too busy to help. They called MSU’s counseling center, only to be told the next available appointment was months away.
“We got no help. We got no support,” the mom said. “My hope was when I called them they would say, ‘here’s someone to talk to. Here’s some support groups. Here’s someone to check in on my daughter every day.’ I wanted them to say that someone cared.”
It’s not just the lack of services for victims, though. It’s the lack of holding rapists accountable. This statistic from a report to the NCAA in 2010 is jaw-dropping:
[D]espite recent reports of sexual violence involving two Michigan State University (MSU) basketball players, one of which admitted to raping the victim, neither man was charged criminally or even disciplined by the school. An earlier report of similar violence involving two other MSU basketball players also went un-redressed. In the past two years alone, 37 reports of sexual assault by MSU athletes have been reported, but not one disciplinary sanction was imposed by school officials against any of the men involved.
Despite this, it took until last week, eight years later, for the NCAA to open an investigation into just exactly what the hell is going on at MSU.
MSU President Lou Anna Simon has resigned. Mark Hollis, MSU’s Athletic Director has resigned. Others have resigned, as well. But others need to. Consider this:
Denise Maybank, the university’s vice president for student affairs and services, overturned the expulsion of a graduate student with a criminal history who was accused twice by women at MSU of sexual misconduct and harassment, records show.
In another case, a male student who had previously been placed on university probation for groping a woman in 2011 was accused of rape in 2014. He was expelled, appealed to a hearing board without success and then to Maybank, who overturned the expulsion after MSU hired a law firm to reinvestigate the case, according to a federal lawsuit filed against the university.
MSU’s Title IX office, independent of any police investigation, received 334 complaints of sexual misconduct or relationship violence in the four-year stretch that started in the fall of 2011. The Title IX office investigated 71 and took action in 30.
The hearing board that considers appeals didn’t change a single sanction imposed by a discipline board in four years.
Maybank, who is the final arbiter, changed eight.
Then there’s this case that doesn’t involve a student athlete:
In two short weeks, the man who attacked, assaulted and stalked me will be allowed back on campus at Michigan State University.
As in the case of Larry Nassar…Michigan State’s administration knew about the danger they had on campus and allowed him to come back anyway.
I reported to my supervisor what happened to me – the threats Ben had made, the police record, my restraining order – but Ben was allowed to continue teaching undergraduate courses in the English department anyway. […]
Meg and I met each other and became close friends when we both testified to MSU Title IX investigators about the physical, sexual and emotional violence Ben committed against us; I accompanied her to court as a witness for her restraining order against Ben.
Unfortunately, both of our restraining orders and a criminal conviction didn’t meet the level of evidence MSU required to expel him. […]
A disciplinary hearing administrator finally recommended that Ben be expelled, since he was already on probation for stalking Meg. Ben appealed, and this time a full panel upheld his expulsion. He appealed again, this time to MSU Vice President Denise Maybank.
She had a history of reversing sanctions against male students found responsible for gender-based violence; she had already done so in the two cases for which MSU was found guilty of violating federal Title IX requirements. As she had done before, she reversed his sanction. He was to be suspended for two years, and this sentence will be over in just a few weeks.
Perhaps the most tragic part of this entire situation is that women have so often been the ones shielding rapists from being held accountable for their assaults against young women at MSU. It’s worth reading this entire investigative reporting piece at the Lansing State Journal to get a sense for just how pervasive this problem is.
A blockbuster report by ESPN’s Outside the Lines shows that this problem goes far beyond Larry Nassar and goes as far up the athletic department food chain as the celebrity coaches of the football and men’s basketball teams, Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo:
[A]n Outside the Lines investigation has found a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression of such allegations by officials ranging from campus police to the Spartan athletic department, whose top leader, Mark Hollis, announced his retirement on Friday. The actions go well beyond the highly publicized case of former MSU athletic physician Larry Nassar.
Over the past three years, MSU has three times fought in court — unsuccessfully — to withhold names of athletes in campus police records. The school also has deleted so much information from some incident reports that they were nearly unreadable. In circumstances in which administrators have commissioned internal examinations to review how they have handled certain sexual violence complaints, officials have been selective in releasing information publicly. In one case, a university-hired outside investigator claimed to have not even generated a written report at the conclusion of his work. And attorneys who have represented accusers and the accused agree on this: University officials have not always been transparent, and often put the school’s reputation above the need to give fair treatment to those reporting sexual violence and to the alleged perpetrators.
Even MSU’s most-recognizable figures, football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo, have had incidents involving their programs, Outside the Lines has found.
This article, too, is worth reading through in its entirety. It’ll break your heart and give you second thoughts about the godlike status of Dantonio and Izzo, both of whom came out in support of Lou Anna Simon before she quit.
As an two-time MSU alumnus, I am disgusted by my alma mater. MSU has deep, systemic problems that make its campus unsafe for young women. It has a mindset and culture that is all geared toward protecting predators, protecting celebrity athletes, coaches, and faculty. It lacks the essential resources to help sexual assault victims. And, most shockingly, there seems to be no leadership prepared to admit that these problems exist, the essential first step toward fixing them once and for all.
Heads need to continue to roll at MSU until things change. Given the nationwide attention that is now focused upon it, I am hopeful that what MSU was not prepared to do for itself will now be forced upon it at a far greater cost in money and reputation than would have been otherwise.
One last thing: Simon and Hollis and many of the others who have left MSU due to Nassar’s two-decade serial rape spree all leave with their pensions and tidy golden parachutes. And THAT is yet another disgusting outcome of this entire tragic debacle.