East Lansing — Many students at Michigan State University are welcoming the news of the university president’s resignation but say it’s only a first step in taking accountability for decades of sexual assault by its former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
In the brisk campus air or in the Student Union between classes, many students say they think MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon’s resignation this week is deserved. But they also say more should be done to make the campus a safe and welcoming place.
Students who spoke with The Detroit News say it’s worrisome to know that university staff were aware of Nassar’s sexual abuse over two decades and did nothing to prevent it.
A Detroit News investigation found that at least 14 MSU staff over two decades before Nassar’s arrest knew about reports of Nassar’s sexual misconduct, with at least eight women having reported it. The university’s president also was informed in 2014 that a Title IX complaint and a police report had been filed against an unnamed physician, she told The News last week.
Some students say that makes them wonder if university officials tried to hide Nassar’s abuse to prevent it from developing into the nationwide scandal it became. On Wednesday, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting more than 100 young girls over two decades.
“I just don’t think that everyone took it seriously until it hit the news, when everyone really focused in on it and tried to get answers,” said Shantanique Jackson, a 21-year-old MSU psychology senior from Detroit.
Meggie Roach, 22, another senior psychology major, said in between classes that she does not feel safe on campus. She wondered aloud if the university is somehow fostering a culture in which staff would not report sexual assault.
“No one wants to walk around a university where they feel like they could be attacked like that,” Roach said. “Clearly, people who may have had some power may have decided not to do anything about it.”
Lorenzo Santavicca, student body president for the Associated Students of Michigan State University, criticized the way the administration has handled campus sexual assault but said: “I don’t think we should lose sight of the leadership the president has offered to our campus over the last 14 years.”
Matt Busch, a 22-year-old accounting senior from Plymouth, agreed that Simon was a good president and said he’s sad to see her go.
“But the last 20 years, something pretty horrible has been going on, and I feel like somebody needs to be held accountable at the university. So I understand it. I think it’s a good idea to have a new president.”
On Wednesday, a few hours after Nassar was sentenced, a state House resolution was adopted calling on Simon to resign. Several hours later she announced that she would.
“I was really happy with the decision,” said Alexandra Stano, a 21-year-old senior from Birmingham studying comparative cultures and politics and Spanish. “And by changing the leadership the way that we have and bringing awareness — students, faculty, Michigan politicians speaking out against the leadership at Michigan State was an important step for that.”
But Stano said the college has long struggled with handling sexual assault effectively, pointing to 2014 Title IX violations and another sexual assault scandal involving MSU football players.
Katherine Draghi, 21, of Fairfax, Virginia, a kinesiology senior, said she feels conflicted about the issue and has been debating her father on whether Simon should be held accountable.
“I really don’t know if that was her job,” Draghi said. “But I assume, I’d like to hope, that the president of my university would be responsible for protecting me as a student, and if she were to hear about any of this that it would immediately be reported.
“All I really see our campus doing is making us take these yearly surveys, the sexual assault training.”
Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed.