MSU releases 5-year plan to address sexual assault, harassment after Nassar scandal

The Detroit News

Michigan State University has released a five-year plan to address sexual assault and harassment on campus.

The Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct initiative released Tuesday by MSU builds on efforts of an expert advisory workgroup formed at the East Lansing school in 2018 following the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal.

It aims to curb relationship violence and sexual misconduct through efforts including expanding services, toughening discipline and boosting prevention programs, university officials said in a statement Tuesday.

MSU's plan to combat sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus was developed in the last two years from prevention and response programs; a campus survey, listening sessions, forums; and campus experts and community members, the university said.

“We heard clearly from MSU students, faculty, staff and alumni that we need a significant culture change in our institutional approach to RVSM,” said Rebecca Campbell, a psychology professor who co-chaired the expert advisory workgroup. “We have worked on identifying policies, programs, training and initiatives that will transform services and prevention and increase accountability.”

The plan was developed in the last two years from prevention and response programs; a campus survey, listening sessions, forums; and campus experts and community members, the university said. Additionally, President Samuel Stanley, who asked the advisory workgroup to form the plan, hosted meetings with sexual assault survivors and their families. 

A survey by the university in 2019 found that sexual harassment was the most common type of victimization of students.

The survey also found that nearly two-thirds of undergraduate women, half of women graduate/professional students, 42.2% of undergraduate men and 32.4% of men graduate/professional students experienced sexual harassment in the 2018-19 academic year.

About 13% of undergraduate women, 3.5% of undergraduate men, 3.7% of women graduate/professional students and 1.5% of men graduate professional students experienced sexual assault in the 2018-19 academic year.

The survey found most faculty of all genders "experienced at least some workplace incivility," MSU said, and prevalence of work-related sexual harassment was 18.7% for women faculty, 9.3% for male faculty, 17.6% for female staff and 15.1% for male staff.

Among the goals outlined in an overview of the plan to combat sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus: 

  • The MSU Center for Survivors training volunteer advocates to respond to campus neighborhoods when someone reports issues to staff;
  • Reviewing investigations under the MSU Office for Civil Rights, Office for Institutional Equity, Resolution Office "to identify bottlenecks in the process and develop strategies to increase efficiency and improve communication with all parties involved in investigations";
  • A task force developing recommendations for creating educational programming and behavioral accountability interventions to address harmful conduct and reduce recidivism;
  • Launching a campus-wide educational campaign to "help all members of our community become trauma-informed first-responders and to provide them with skills and resources to respond to disclosures in an empathic manner an to connect survivors to available services";
  • Forming a group to identify new options for addressing incidents besides formal Title IX reporting

"We believe this is a comprehensive plan to respond to what we have been hearing from the campus community," said Andrea Munford, lieutenant and coordinator of the Center for Trauma-Informed Investigative Excellence at the MSU Police Department.

The plan also calls for a timeline to evaluate the university’s progress toward meeting the goals. The advisory workgroup is expected to oversee changes to policies, organizational structure and prevention programming with the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education and Compliance; the Prevention, Outreach and Education Department; the MSU Sexual Assault Health Care Program; and others.

“This plan represents a groundbreaking institutional approach to culture change that will serve as a model for other colleges and universities throughout the U.S.,” said Debi Cain, executive director, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Division of Victim Services was also involved in developing the plan.

The plan follows a tumultuous three years marked by the charges related to Nassar, the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor who pleaded guilty in 2017 to 10 counts of sexual assault in Ingham and Eaton counties for assaulting young women and girls under the guise of medical care over more than two decades. He was sentenced to to 40 to 75 years in prison for the state charges. He also received a 60 year sentence on federal charges for possession of 37,000 images and videos of child pornography.

MSU later reached an unprecedented $500 million settlement with more than 500 reported victims.