Letter to the Spartan community on sexual assault issues and actions, April 26, 2017

Dear MSU community member:

As we approach the end of the school year, you likely are continuing to see media stories or comments related to the issue of sexual assault at MSU, either surrounding former MSU doctor Larry Nassar or allegations made against members of the MSU football program. Following the announcement of several new initiatives at April’s Board of Trustees meeting, I want to provide an update on our response to this critical situation.

First, I want to once again acknowledge the courage of all victims of sexual violence who come forward to share their story with police or campus investigators. On behalf of Michigan State University, I recognize the pain sexual violence causes and express how deeply we regret any time someone in our community experiences it.

Sexual violence has no place at Michigan State University. For those who have experienced abuse, I want to ensure you have access to the resources available at MSU and in the community to support you. More information can be found on the Title IX website at http://titleix.msu.edu/find-resources/index.html.

Over the past few years, we have dedicated significant new resources to strengthen our approach to create a safe and supportive campus environment, including:

  • Introducing and revising our Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct policy
  • Creating the Office of Institutional Equity in 2015 to coordinate and direct MSU’s Title IX program and investigate reported incidents
  • Devoting more resources and personnel to our Sexual Assault Program
  • Requiring all students to complete an annual online training program
  • Requiring all employees to complete an online training program biennially

Today, the Association of American Universities, a group of 62 leading universities including MSU, published a report on the actions its members are taking to prevent and respond to sexual assault and sexual misconduct. Based on the results of a new survey, the report shows AAU universities, including MSU, are making significant improvements and devoting substantial resources to efforts that address the issue. More information can be found at https://www.aau.edu/aau-campus-activities-report-combating-sexual-assault-and-misconduct.   

Here on campus, many partners have stepped up and are making positive contributions. The Sexual Violence Advisory Committee, the Violence Free Communities committee, Faculty Senate and student leaders such as ASMSU and COGS are playing key roles, and we are grateful for their commitment. Our continuous effort to educate and inform is resulting in an increased number of reports; that is a positive thing, an indicator of a culture that encourages reporting.

While I take some comfort in the strong collective work of our community, we must do more. Sexual assault still plagues our campus and society at large. Creating change requires focused and meaningful work, a dedication to continuous learning and improvement, and the discipline to sustain our efforts. MSU is committed to taking steps now and over the long run.

When we began the process of revamping our Title IX program in 2014, we planned on assessing it once the program was running for a couple of years. Given all the issues surrounding sexual assault, I feel it is prudent to accelerate the timeline for this review. I will be engaging independent experts to conduct a top-to-bottom review of our Title IX program this fall. The review will allow us to assess our progress and identify opportunities to refine and build on this work for the future.

Sexual assault takes many forms, and as we have seen with the investigation into Nassar, it impacted the lives of his patients whose trust he abused. A review of MSU HealthTeam policies and practices begun in fall 2016 and completed in March 2017 has strengthened policies regarding informed consent and the role of exam-room chaperones. Those policies went into effect April 15. We are now reviewing national experts to conduct a third-party quality and safety assurance review as we continue our commitment to achieving the highest patient care and safety standards across all MSU clinics. We expect that review to begin this summer.  

Finally, while determined sexual predators and pedophiles—people who often exploit positions of personal and professional trust—are very difficult to detect and stop, we at MSU will do all we can not only to safeguard our patients but also to continue to protect youth who come to our campus in all capacities. Building on a programmatic effort that began in 2013, we are introducing a revised and enhanced youth protection policy and additional education. It is our moral obligation to protect all young people on our campus, in all circumstances.

I recognize sexual assault and child sexual abuse are societal issues; however, we cannot dismiss them as insurmountable. We are committed to continuing our work to improve our response, education, and prevention efforts at MSU. We are determined to be better tomorrow than we are today.

President Lou Anna K. Simon