Michigan State University’s interim president John Engler hasn’t handled the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal very well, often appearing insensitive and uncaring about the victims. And yet it’s even worse than you think.
After ordering that the cover and content of the summer 2018 issue of the alumni magazine be changed so it focused less on Nassar’s crimes and victims, a copy of the original issue has been leaked to The State News. And when you compare the original, unpublished issue to the issue that landed in alumni mailboxes, it makes Engler and Michigan State’s administration look somehow worse than they did before.
The original issue of “Spartan” focused on the victims
The State News obtained the original summer 2018 issue of “Spartan,” which was labeled as a “special issue.” There were three possible covers: a black and white photo of a victim wearing bright teal lipstick (teal is the color of sexual assault awareness), and two all-teal covers featuring teal ribbons. But each had the same words:
Finding Our Way
Sexual assault and harassment allegations have rocked our community to its core and changed how we thought of ourselves as Spartans. In our quest for answers, we will build a path to a better future.
A letter to readers from editor Paula Davenport explained why the staff of the magazine had decided to dedicate an entire issue to sexual abuse and harassment at Michigan State.
In this issue, we’ve done our best to share the diverse voices, insights, responses, and recommendations in hopes of helping Nassar’s survivors, the university, and our Spartan community to recover from harm and banish such abuse from ever again happening here. We expect to follow this story in the issues to come.
The issue included a timeline of the Nassar scandal called “Exposing a Predator,” and an examination of the gender inequalities that allow men like Nassar to abuse for so long without getting caught. There’s a section about the psychological impact of sexual abuse, and one that examines how alumni have reacted and how they can stand by the victims. Engler’s new policies are examined, and the issue closes with a six-step guide on how to support a suvivor of sexual abuse.
None of the articles shy away from holding Michigan State responsible where appropriate, and there’s an emphasis on the responsibility of alumni to demand better from their alma mater.
The published issue erases the victims
Comparing the two issues starkly shows how Michigan State wants alumni to think about the scandal. While the original covers emphasized the victims, the cover of the published issue is in spartan green, with a quote from Engler in large font.
It’s not about the scandal or the victims, but how Engler has seemingly tried to make things better. The letter from the editor is also very different. The original letter from Davenport recalled Penn State’s own devastating scandal and how its alumni magazine chose to deal with it, and explained to readers why they were choosing to focus on the victims and the scandal. The letter in the published issue is different in length, content, and tone.
“We’ve done our best in this issue to update you on significant changes to MSU policies, new building projects, and stories of Spartans doing good for the benefit of others. But first, you’ll find letters sent to us earlier this year when news of abuses by Larry Nassar went global.”
Nearly everything about the issue is different. Entire essays about the victims, the culture of silence, and other stories of sexual harassment and abuse at Michigan State were removed and replaced with articles about the university’s recent accomplishments.
Beyond the letters to the editor and a letter from the vice president of advancement, the only article that even touches on the scandal is a Q&A with Engler. In the interview, he doesn’t discuss the scandal or the victims, but focuses on the new policies he’s enacted, the budget, and where the university will get the money to pay out $500 million in victim settlements. The magazine completely erases the victims from their own story.
Engler forced the changes in the magazine
In June, the Detroit Free Press reported that interim president John Engler and his top advisers directed the staff of the alumni magazine to change pretty much everything about their sexual abuse-focused issue.
“…while the upcoming magazine will still talk about the crisis, it will showcase the positive moves Engler has made since taking over, like adding more counselors.”
According to sources who spoke to the Free Press, Engler made the changes because he wanted to “pivot toward positive news.” Positive news… about a decades-long sexual abuse scandal. And as it turned out, the magazine barely talked about the crisis. When it did, it focused entirely on Engler’s response to it.
If Engler’s sole responsibility is to protect the institution, he probably feels like he’s doing a great job. But his responsibility isn’t just to the institution, it’s also to the alumni. Engler’s desire to see “positive news” essentially erases the scandal and the victims and denies alumni the chance to examine how it affects them. And the alumni magazine should be allowed to play a role in examining how the scandal affects alumni — some of whom are survivors of Nassar’s abuse. But with John Engler around, it doesn’t look like any of that will be allowed happen.
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