Walking to class at Michigan State University feels the same as it always has; headphones in, coat turned up against the cold March wind, backpack heavy with books. But something is different. Crossing the bridge over the Red Cedar River, I pass teal ribbons rippling in the breeze. These same ribbons, which wrap around trees in front of the Hannah Administration Building and are pinned to backpacks and shirts of students and faculty, represent solidarity with the hundreds of survivors sexually assaulted by former MSU doctor and USA gymnastics coach Larry Nassar.
Students have become a voice for change—confronting corruption at and demanding accountability from one of the largest universities in the country. In big ways and small, Spartans are working to make their voices heard.
Two days after President Simon’s resignation, students Mackenzie Mrla and Siaira Milroy partnered with MSU College Democrats to organize the March for Survivors and Change. It started out as a small Facebook group and grew quickly, with more than 2,000 attendees, including Michigan gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer. Mrla was surprised at the turnout. “It was not anything close to what I was expecting,” she told Ms. “We had senators turn out, professors, community members. I think a lot of people want to change the rape culture that surrounds our society, so it was really heartening to see all of that.”
Frustrated by the Board of Trustee’s lack of transparency around how the administration handled sexual assault reports, Lily Powell, a junior majoring in social relations and policy and president of MSU’s chapter of Girl Up, created a petition asking Governor Rick Snyder to remove the Board of Trustees. “I thought it was a very clear, focused action that we could take,” Powell explained. “I hoped it would gain enough clout to give MSU bad press. MSU responds to bad press. Really nothing else motivates that top echelon.”
Other students are working to foster open communication between students and faculty. Natalie Rogers, a sophomore majoring in Comparative Culture and Politics, organized a commission a designed to bring students, faculty and staff together to talk about how best to move forward. “So many people want to see things change around here,” Rogers observed, “and the only way that is going to happen is if we are all working together.” The commission was a starting point for what would later become the movement Reclaim MSU, which she defines as “an alliance of students, faculty, staff and alumni working towards broad cultural and institutional change here at MSU.” The group has a concrete list of demands for the administration—including an amendment to the Board of Trustee bylaws and the creation of a “University Board” that gives students, faculty and staff a say in MSU governance and the search for a new president.
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