Spartan community rallies for victims, change

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Hundreds from the Michigan State University community rallied Friday to support the army of women who bared their souls in a courtroom to ensure serial pedophile Larry Nassar never gets out of prison.

The rally, known as the “March for Survivors and Change at MSU,” brought out students, faculty and a few politicians. They gathered around MSU’s rock, painted to include the names of the 156 women who spoke out against Nassar — the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor who sexually assaulted women for two decades, until he was sentenced this week to 40-175 years in prison.

Among the first to speak was Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah, a vice president in the Associated Students of MSU.

She said as the university community come to grips with the horrors that occurred for far too long under the leadership of MSU, the pain, anger and frustration is not new. MSU, she said, has publicly grappled with sexual assault issues since she has been a student.

“At times, we as students have felt hopeless, resigned to the fact that this abuse will continue,” said Appiagyei-Dankah, a senior. “People have grown somewhat battle weary and I can’t say I blame them. It’s hard to remain resilient when it feels like the climate you exist in seems to perpetuate sexual violence. But if there is one thing we can take away from the survivors of Larry Nassar and their bravery, it’s that sexual violence flourishes in silence.

“For many survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse, the silence came to an end this week when he was sentenced,” she continued. “I hope the silence ends tonight at Michigan State University.”

Many attendees Friday spoke of how the culture that failed to respond to the survivors and allowed Nassar to continue is just as evil as Nassar.

“It’s not just that MSU leadership enabled Nassar or that they were complicit in his abuse ... but it’s that their response and lack of remorse, is an abuse in itself,” said Apryl Pooley, a post-doctoral student in MSU’s neuroscience department. “This isn’t just about Larry Nassar or (former President) Lou Anna Simon. This isn’t about bad apples and lone wolves and recluse monsters. This is woven into the entire fabric of our society and we are about to tear it all down and create something new.”

The first place to start, she added, is at MSU, which allowed Nassar to see patients and abuse them.

“These are not Larry Nassar’s failings,” Pooley said. “These are MSU’s failings and those responsible must be held accountable.”

Many people were carrying signs in the crowd, with messages such as #timesupMSU, “MSU has blood on its hands” and the now famous quote by survivor Kyle Stephens, “Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”

A few politicians came out, including Gretchen Whitmer, a candidate for governor. She spoke of how she had been raped on MSU’s campus by an acquaintance when she was a freshman.

“I feel more hopeful than ever because what I see,” she said.

Among the crowd was Lindsey Lemke, one of the survivors who spoke at Nassar’s sentencing hearing. She and her fellow survivors said they were pleased to see the MSU community rallying behind them.

“The support from students and MSU community members is invaluable to us as survivors,” said victim Sterling Riethman, reached at home in Kalamazoo. “The outpouring of support and encouragement over the past several days has reminded us that the MSU community has the potential to be true leaders in the fight against sexual abuse. Words cannot express how much we appreciate this display of solidarity.”

Added Alexis Alvarado of Lansing: “Honestly, because of them speaking out and supporting, it is helping me get through every day.”