MSU to talk about 1 in 4 undergrads experiencing sexual assault

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

As Michigan State University continues to grapple with sexual misconduct, it unveiled a first-of-its-kind campus survey that shows 1 in 4 female undergraduates have been sexually assaulted — and officials have scheduled four meetings to talk about the findings.

The highlight of the 287-page report, released this week, showed that 5,096 of the university's 18,658 female undergraduates in the spring shared they have experienced sexual assault since enrolling at MSU. 

The report, Know More @MSU campuswide survey, showed that 25 percent of students who experienced sexual assault/battery reported to and sought resources from MSU authorities.

The data is in line with reports from other universities nationally, but it carries extra weight for many at MSU, where sexual predator Larry Nassar worked and abused hundreds of young women for decades.

MSU psychology professor Rebecca Campbell, who is among the leaders working on the university's response to sexual misconduct, said it's important to not only assess the problem but also to talk about it since many women who have experienced sexual assault find it hard to be on Michigan State's campus.

"It especially matters at MSU because we have had large scale institutional failures in our response to sexual assault," Campbell said. "If we are going to learn from that and make deep, real cultural change, then we need to talk about it."

Many universities conduct surveys around sexual assault including the University of Michigan, which has surveyed students since 2015 after the university was under federal investigation for its handling of a sexual misconduct case and victims were speaking out nationwide. 

MSU has participated in a national survey about sexual misconducted conducted by the Association of American Universities, which is headed by former UM President Mary Sue Coleman.

But MSU's report released this week is the first of its kind.

It comes after Nassar's crimes shook the university, and federal officials gave MSU a record $4.5 million fine for its mishandling of his abuse.

The data comes from an online survey conducted last spring where 15,000 students, faculty and staff participated to assess the culture, perceptions and policies associated with relationship violence and sexual violence. The responses were analyzed by RTI International, an independent, nonprofit research organization that contracted with MSU. 

The report, Know More @MSU campuswide survey, showed that 25 percent of students who experienced sexual assault/battery reported to and sought resources from MSU authorities.

It also showed that a "disproportionately high number of incidents took place for first-year undergraduate women in September and October," according to the report.

There is a lot of information to digest from the report, and many people have ideas for how MSU can change the culture on campus, Campbell said, and that's why there are discussion meetings, starting Dec. 5, with her and MSU Police Lt. Andrea Munford, who are advisers to President Samuel Stanley.

"We want to continue on with the approach of engagement and transparency and openness," Campbell said.

Stanley, who picked up the reigns of the university in August, has met privately with women abused by Nassar and might attend one of the sessions next year, said MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant.

"Many campus community members have experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault or other harm," Stanley said in an email sent to the MSU community after the report's unveiling.

"I’ve said before that my top priority is a safer, more respectful and more welcoming campus. During recent meetings with survivors, they presented essential feedback about their experiences along with suggestions to improve survivor support and overall culture change.

"This, along with the data from the survey, will guide us as we determine the resources and programs necessary to address these issues"