An Open Letter from Survivors to MSU President Lou Anna Simon: It's time to step down
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An Open Letter to President Lou Anna Simon from Survivors at Michigan State
Dear President Simon,
We write to you as survivors of sexual and gender-based violence by members of the Michigan State community. We, too, are members of that community, or we once were. We were thrilled to open our acceptance letters to MSU, and proud to wear green and white. We have attended Spartan football and basketball games, and we can sing the fight song and the alma mater. We studied every subject imaginable.
But we have also been harassed, stalked, groped, and raped by fellow Spartans. We have had nightmares, anxiety, depression, PTSD. Some of us gained weight. Some of us lost it. Most of us had trouble sleeping. We faced gut-wrenching decisions about whether to report what happened to us; we feared being mocked or judged by friends, family, and strangers.
But we did it anyway. We filed complaints with the Title IX office on campus, aka the Office of Institutional Equity. We have spent hours, days, months of our lives in interviews and on pins and needles waiting for our official reports. We have revealed the most intimate details of our experiences to investigators and watched as they jotted them down on yellow pads without comment. We wondered what they were thinking about us, about our perpetrators - did they believe us? Did they think we were at fault because of what we were wearing, what we were drinking, where we had been?
We waited for those reports. And then many of us waited through the appeals. And through more appeals. For many of us, after months of waiting, we got a memo from Denise Maybank announcing that she had overturned or lessened the punishments against our perpetrators.
Some of us graduated. Some of us transferred. Some of us dropped out or quit our jobs.
We have also watched as scandal after scandal has hit the university over the past few years, watched as public officials have excused, ignored, or otherwise condoned these behaviors by their silence.
We have heard you, in particular, say remarkably tone-deaf things that show us that you still don’t get it. At a Board of Trustees meeting, you said, “There is no culture of tolerating sexual abuse or harassment on our campus.” But you also said, “There’s no way you can have this many human beings in a space and have people not make mistakes,” and that “If you’re thinking about them from the perspective of the perpetrator, you’re going to want them to be part of a learning environment where the property right of education has a pretty high bar for when you take it away.”
A Washington Post article laid out the following facts about Larry Nassar, the faculty member who has now had a hundred victims come forward and allege their abuse at his hands: “In 2014, Michigan State investigated Nassar and didn’t tell USA Gymnastics. In 2015, USA Gymnastics cut ties with Nassar and reported him to the FBI but didn’t tell Michigan State. And neither organization informed the high school and local gyms where Nassar continued to treat children until last fall.” You said, “I have been told it is virtually impossible to stop a determined sexual predator and pedophile.”
YOU could have stopped him, President Simon. But you chose silence instead.
In spite of everything, we survivors have also found each other - and that has more power than anything you or our perpetrators could ever do to us. We have shared our experiences and realized we are not alone, and we are not the only ones who have been betrayed twice, first by our perpetrators and then by our beloved MSU.
So we are sending you this letter, along with the following demands.
1. It’s time for you to step down. Steve Penny, the CEO of USA Gymnastics, has already done so, acknowledging that his resignation is best for the institution and the gymnasts. You have caused irreparable damage to dozens of members of the Spartan community, and the only way to heal and move forward is with someone else at the helm, someone who has a clearer understanding of the toll that abuse, rape, and harassment takes on our community every day.
2. Revise the appeals process so that no single individual - Denise Maybank or anyone else - has the power to single-handedly overturn decisions that have been reached and affirmed by committee. Dr. Maybank overturned 12 Title IX decisions in 5 years, allowing these perpetrators to remain within the MSU community. This is unacceptable - the process is broken and it must be remedied immediately.
3. Provide or increase funding to campus resources such as MSU Safe Place and the MSU Sexual Assault Program, as well as increase access counseling resources on campus for students, faculty, and staff who are victims of assault and abuse. Make sure these resources include support for victims who are LGBTQ+ and persons of color.
4. Provide funding for local resources such as the Firecracker Foundation, the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing, and EVE (End Violent Encounters)
5. Sit down with victims - who have been doubly victimized by their perpetrators and by the institution they loved and trusted - and apologize for what they have gone through under your leadership. Listen to what they have to say. Learn from them.
Elizabeth Pellerito, PhD (2012)
Elizabeth was stalked by her ex-boyfriend, who broke into her apartment and attacked her. After more than 200 days of investigation, he was found responsible and expelled, but the expulsion was overturned by Denise Maybank. He remains an MSU student at this time.
Meg was stalked, raped, and sexually harassed by her former instructor in the spring of 2014. Her attacker was the same as Elizabeth’s attacker. Meg was legally granted a PPO against him. After 219 days of investigation, and after being found guilty of sexual harassment, Meg’s attacker was only given probation by Denise Maybank, and is still a student at MSU and an instructor at a different university. Meg and family have accumulated thousands of dollars in debt between legal, medical, transportation, and moving expenses.
Apryl Pooley, PhD Candidate
Apryl was raped by two students at another institution and sought help from MSU’s counseling center in 2012 where she was sent away without even being told about the MSU Sexual Assault Program or other resources. She thought there were no resources for her on campus and sought counseling off-campus, incurring over $10,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses that she is still trying to pay off five years later.
I was raped by my boyfriend in my home when I was 18. It was non-violent and confusing. After suppressing troubling memories for years, I started to face my traumas a year ago. I lost a lot of people from my past that I cared for, but I am stronger and healthier now. From what I know, he still goes to Michigan State. He is permitted in most of the public places I frequent. I experience PTSD and nightmares. When the women's study lounge was closed I realized there was no place on campus I was safe from seeing my abuser. I haven't completed work on campus since. When I asked Lou Ana K Simon where I could go to feel safe on campus she replied with, "email my assistant to set up an apppointment." I did this. I still haven't heard back.
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