When I decided to attend Michigan State University in the spring of my Senior year, I was beyond excited. I was a first-gen college student, couldn’t wait to get out of my parents’ house, and was looking forward to everything MSU had to offer. Although I secretly felt pretty unprepared, I was confident enough in my academic abilities that I knew my time in college was going to be worthwhile. The four years I spent on campus in East Lansing was transformational. I earned a degree I am very proud of, I enjoyed some of the best college sports in the United States, I met incredible professors, and made friends that I care about to this day.
I left MSU with a great deal of pride in my school, in my experience, and in the worth of my degree. I have green and white swag on the walls of my office, wear a dirty old spartan hat all summer long, and keep tabs on the happenings with as many sports teams as I can. I have added to the $3.0+ billion endowments as many years as I have been financially able, and have done so without hesitation.
But, the past year and this week, in particular, have been a rough one for Michigan State, and rightly so. More than 150 women came forward this week to share their stories of being abused by former university doctor Larry Nassar. If you haven’t had the chance to hear some of these stories, please take a few minutes to listen to Rachael Denhollander’s testimony. It brought me to tears multiple times, is deeply riveting, and nearly unbelievable. The essence of the case is captured in Denhollander’s statement: “How much is a little girl worth?”
“How much is a little girl worth?” Click To Tweet
As I have sat and thought about Denhollander’s statement for most of today, I have become increasingly hurt by my alma mater’s (in)actions MSU. How can a top research university, and a model institution of higher education, not be more responsive to the calls of the young and vulnerable? More importantly, how could this lack of responsiveness happen for more than 20 years?
Equally important to these questions (and their lack of answers) has been the response by MSU’s President Lou Ann K. Simon, and its Board of Trustees. When I attended MSU, its President was M. Peter McPherson. He was not very popular amongst the students in my years on campus, so when Simon took over in 2004, I was promised by the change. Simon had worked at the university for 30+ years, had a great deal of respect for the school’s traditions, and had the confidence of the school’s faculty and alumni. Her actions as President to help the university grow in the past 10 years have been those of a model leader. Little did I know that her inaction is what she will be most known for.
Simon sat in on about a half of a day of the Nassar hearings. Her interview after this short time listening was awkward and inauthentic. She didn’t show up for the other 6.5 days of hearings, and hasn’t released any public statements of value about the testimonies or… really… anything.
Simon did work with the Board to establish a $10 million mental health fund that will be accessible to all of the victims and their families in perpetuity. But, this feels like chunk change, and I’m sure it will be after each of the victims finishes their rightful civil suits with the university.
In addition to my disappointment with Simon, Brian Breslin, chairman of MSU’s Board of Trustees did not attend any meetings. His response has been nothing.
When I began writing this piece, Simon was in the role of President of Michigan State University, and Breslin in his role as Chairman of the Board. By the end of my writing, Simon had officially resigned. Her resignation letter was similar to her leadership throughout- apologetic, but not enough. To maintain the integrity of the institution that had such a tremendous impact on my life, Simon needed to be out in front of this, not on the sideline. It’s indeed embarrassing that she was missing during the past week. Take a look at any of MSU’s campaign called #SpartansWill and you will see that Spartans don’t sit idly by as the world happens to them. They step up to tackle some of the most significant challenges the world has to offer. Simon, as does every other enabling employee, needed to take heed of this campaign and step up by stepping down much sooner. Breslin, whose response to Simon’s resignation letter was completely void of understanding the gravity of the situation, also needs to follow Simon’s lead and step down. Accountable leaders must begin to repair the future of Michigan State.
Accountable leaders must begin to repair the future of Michigan State. Click To Tweet
This winter, I will be stepping back into my school’s History department to teach a class in African History. My background for this class was built by courses I took in MSU’s African History Department — one of the top departments in this field in the United States. Over the past few weeks, I have been reviewing old readings and syllabi from my coursework at MSU. It’s been a nostalgic academic journey, wrought with hurt feelings: I was sitting in class in Berkey Hall when Larry Nassar was abusing young women in the offices of our Athletic Department, exactly 0.8 miles away — a 15-minute walk across campus. Not to mention that the some of the most revered young female athletes of my lifetime — Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, and McKayla Maroney — were likely to have been in those very offices.
My primary job is to help students find their best-fit college for postsecondary study. In the next few weeks, a student or parent will, inevitably, ask where I went to school, or if I know of good colleges in the midwest. Right now, I’m at a loss. How do I answer these questions? Can I legitimately recommend a school that spent 20 years covering up life-altering abuses committed by one of its employees? If one of my female student-athletes is contacted by an MSU coach looking to bring her on campus for a recruiting event, how do I help them navigate that situation?
That’s a lot to grapple with, and something that I will have to do quite quickly because my students all know that I have a degree in History from Michigan State University.
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