Engler initiative seeks input on sexual assaults

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

For the first time since taking office this month, Michigan State University interim President John Engler has announced an initiative that directly addresses MSU’s culture around sexual assaults in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal.

Friday, Engler announced the formation of the Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Expert Advisory Workgroup, which will formalize recommendations by sexual assault survivors, students, faculty and staff from MSU.

The recommendations will help shape a comprehensive university response to immediate and longer-range issues around relationship violence and sexual misconduct.

“I’ve met with many MSU community members and groups in the three weeks since I arrived, and they’ve given me feedback on weaknesses in our current approach, as well as very constructive suggestions to improve our response to someone who has been the victim of a sexual assault,” Engler said in a statement. “We’re ready now to act on the advice we’ve been given.”

Engler added that the workgroup will continue to ask for suggestions from campus organizations and individuals for change so that diverse viewpoints are being considered and all are heard.

Input can be given through a new interactive feature on the president’s website, president.msu.edu.

Engler has announced many initiatives to cope with the scandal, whose scope became especially clear when more than 200 women testified recently in two courtrooms over nine days about Nassar’s abuse how it affected them.

Engler announced he was trying to fire William Strampel, Nassar’s boss and former dean of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. He also announced an initiative to realign MSU’s health care and medical programs and brought in a firm to help speed up Title IX investigations at the university.

“From the beginning, a primary goal has been to foster a safer campus environment based on principles of respect and accountability, while recognizing that among us are survivors of sexual abuse who have raised serious concerns about how they were treated, how our community responded, and what is being done to prevent future assaults,” Engler said in a letter to the MSU community announcing the latest initiative.

“Certainly, Michigan State is not alone in the national reckoning stemming from the growing awareness of relationship abuse and sexual violence. Repugnant stories in the news about how powerful men treated women, the rising societal intolerance of relationship abuse and sexual violence stemming from that greater awareness, and the social media coverage, shocking #MeToo testimonials, and even revelations involving news organizations, including ESPN, FOX, and NBC, have made it clear to all that behaviors must change. This is a long overdue national conversation, and MSU is very much part of it.”

“We have to respond,” Engler continued, “and we have to lead.”

In his letter, he noted that several positions were authorized to add to the university’s sexual assault response resources, including a new Sexual Assault Program staff member, two staffers for the Employee Assistance Program and several counseling and psychiatric services vacancies.

“The workgroup will begin work in the days ahead. The pace will be brisk,” Engler said. “Special attention also is being paid to the issue of prevention. We could use everyone’s help on this. While the workgroup will be expected to consider long-term issues associated with relationship violence and sexual assault, it also will move swiftly to formulate consensus on actions that can or need to be taken now.”

The workgroup includes leaders from the MSU community with expertise in sexual misconduct. It will be chaired by MSU psychology Professor Rebecca Campbell, who has conducted community-based research for 25 years on violence against women and children, with an emphasis on sexual assault.

She also conducts training for law enforcement and multidisciplinary practitioners in civilian, military and campus community settings on the neurobiology of trauma.

Campbell will be joined by School of Social Work Assistant Professor Carrie Moylan and Department of Psychology Professor Cris Sullivan, the director of MSU’s Research Consortium on Gender-Based Violence.

“I am committed to helping Michigan State improve necessary programs and policies that will support survivors and create a model we can be proud of,” Campbell said. “This workgroup brings together experts on campus who have dedicated their careers to helping survivors and to preventing sexual assault and relationship violence. We’re looking forward to listening to the Spartan community and leveraging our knowledge to help drive much needed change.”

Other serving on the sexual misconduct advisory workgroup include:

—Jessica Norris, Title IX coordinator.

—Tana Fedewa, director of the MSU Sexual Assault Program.

—Detective Lt. Andrea Munford, MSU Police Special Victims Unit.

—Holly Rosen, MSU Safe Place director.

—Jayne Schuiteman, Ph.D., interim deputy Title IX coordinator for investigations.

—Kelly Schweda, Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention Program coordinator

Nassar sexually assaulted at least 265 women over two decades while an MSU physician. Many in the community have demanded that the university understand why he was able to hurt so many for so long, and make changes.

Kaylee Lorincz, one of the first of Nassar’s victims to shed her Jane Doe identity, said she was pleased but wants to see more action from Engler.

“I support anything that will make positive change,” said Lorincz, 18, of Shelby Township, “but I would love to see him personally invite the survivors to meet with him privately to be part of the solution moving forward.”