Vander Graaff: Students should learn from Michigan State’s Nassar Scandal

Abby Vander

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

In the midst of a presidential search, there is a story that Colorado State University students should consider.

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It is a story about a man who sexually assaulted 332 women and got away with it for over 20 years. It is a story of outrage, shock and most of all, pain. It is a story I witnessed as a student at Michigan State University before transferring. It happened at a university just like ours. 

In May 2018, according to the Chicago Tribune, Michigan State University announced its $500 million dollar settlement to hundreds of women who survived sexual assault by Larry Nassar, a former athletic trainer at the Michigan State and at USA Gymnastics.

This revealed a broken community that was further shattered by gross lack of compassion from the administration who was supposed to keep students safe.

Former MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, as well as others at the university, ignored complaints about Nassar for years. They only acted once the scandal was thrust into the national media spotlight.

MSU students responded furiously. There was a student protest. Members of an organization called The Roosevelt Institute began calling for structural changes to the Board of Trustees, the University’s governing body.

Students began a coalition with the goal of supporting survivors and increasing student representation on campus. The school newspaper, The State News, published an issue with the words, “President Simon, Resign” plastered on the front page. Eventually she did.

It is clear that all the pain Nassar caused was worsened by the school’s leadership.

According to The State News, MSU’s subsequent interim president, John Engler, also resigned last week. This is after a long stretch of failed leadership in which he did more to hinder survivors than to help them.

Although Tony Frank hasn’t disappointed us, the political systems in place at CSU are very similar to those at MSU. This means our university could potentially be vulnerable to the same type of corruption if students don’t pay attention.

“It’s important to maintain a certain degree of skepticism and recognition that the interests of students are not always aligned with administrators,” said Walter Hanley, senior at Michigan State and co-chapter head of its division of The Roosevelt Institute.

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One issue with our Board of Governors at CSU, the same problem as MSU’s Board of Trustees, is the lack of representation for the population that matters most: the students.

This is true of our current presidential search processes as well.

The search begins with a 16-member advisory committee that will create a pool of applicants from which the BOG will elect a new president. Nancy R. Tuor, the vice chair to the BOG, is also the main chair of the committee.

While two separate groups are in charge of the selection process, the groups consist of the same people. Including Tuor, four voting BOG members and one non-voting member are on the committee. This retracts from the checks and balances employed in the search process by using the dual committee system. 

There is only one student on the Advisory Committee with voting powers: Associated Students of CSU President Tristan Syron.

Syron is also the only CSU-Fort Collins student representative on the BOG, meaning he alone is the voice for over 33,000 students.

During the Nassar scandal, while the administration reacted detrimentally, it was the students that went out of their way to remedy the situation.

Their voices emerged powerfully through the media, in ways similar to that of former editors of the CSU publication, The Collegian.

In 2007, Collegian editors sprawled the words, “F*CK BUSH” across a page in the opinion section. The decision was controversial, and ultimately led to the formation of Rocky Mountain Student Media, which allowed The Collegian to operate as an associated but separate entity from the University.

The students of CSU were able to gain a platform to share their voices without feeling strong pressure from the administration.

This outcry against the administration is similar to that of MSU’s The State News. When the story broke, they leaked the issue of the Alumni Magazine covering the Nassar scandal after the administration had forced editors to revise it in their defense, taking out the stories of survivors. 

In a community that was broken, the students of MSU acted. They did something to try and make their campus a safer and honest place to be.

The takeaway from all of this is that students have power. We just need to use it. Especially to monitor our own administration and the interest of the University vs. the students.

“Students are one of the most powerful lobbying voices on administration,” Hanley said. “They need to be willing to be a pain in the ass to folks who know that they can wait them out.”

Let’s take the same level of passion these MSU students have and apply to to our own campus, and to our own unique issues.

Let’s make it known that we stand with them in demanding that our welfare be the first order of business for our administrators. As students, we have an overwhelming influence. Let’s use it.

Send feedback  to the CSU Advisory Committee here

Email CSU board members at csus_board@mail.colostate.edu

Sign a petition to increase representation in MSU’s government here

Resources surrounding sexual violence here

Abby Vander Graaff can be reached at letters@collegain.com or on Twitter at @abbym_vg