By Heidi Stevens
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Heidi Stevens takes sharp aim at Former Michigan State President John Engler’s remarks to the Detroit News. In the remarks, Engler said that Larry Nassar’s victims had been in the “spotlight” and are “still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition.”
John Engler, the embattled interim president of Michigan State University who said Larry Nassar’s victims were “enjoying” the spotlight, is gone.
Engler, the former governor of Michigan, resigned Wednesday, Jan. 16 with an 11-page letter, largely defending his tenure, to Dianne Byrum, chairwoman of Michigan State’s Board of Trustees.
“When I arrived I found a university in crisis,” he writes. “Cascading disclosures of sexual abuse by former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics sports doctor Larry Nassar by early 2018 had made MSU a troubled institution.”
Unfortunately, Engler added to both the university’s and Nassar’s victims’ anguish before stepping down 11 months after he was hired to replace President Lou Anna Simon, who resigned last year over the school’s handling of Nassar.
Shortly after Engler was hired, Michigan State agreed to a $500 million settlement with 332 women and girls who said they were sexually assaulted by Nassar. In April, Engler told a university official in an email that former gymnast Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault, was probably getting a “kickback” from her attorney.
Then, Engler told The Detroit News that Nassar’s victims had been in the “spotlight” and are “still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition.”
Awards and recognition.
These are words that don’t have any place in a discussion about the lifelong toll of a serial sexual predator who’s now serving decades-long prison sentences for sexually assaulting hundreds of patients and possessing child pornography.
These are words that paper over all that Nassar’s victims lost, by implying they went looking for something to gain.
These are words that fail to consider the emotional and physical strain of publicly outing yourself as the victim of sexual assault.
These are words that fail to grasp the gut-wrenching calculation of pros and cons, the deep desire to be heard and believed and able to effect change, weighed against the countless stories of victims who aren’t.
Young women, Nassar’s chosen prey, enjoy the sort of spotlight, awards and recognition that come from winning. Winning debate tournaments, winning scholarships, winning races, winning championships, winning medals, winning progress, winning seats at the table, winning new friends, winning against their fears, winning against the odds.
Michigan State University would do well to start fostering a climate that understands and loudly, clearly communicates that.
The university’s Board of Trustees appointed Satish Udpa, the school’s executive vice president for administration, as the new interim president.
A lot of eyes will be on Udpa, specifically, and Michigan State, more broadly. Partly because it was the home, for so long, of Nassar. Partly because it’s a metaphor for the way we’ve responded, culturally, to victims of sexual assault, too slowly, too reluctantly, too skeptically.
Here’s hoping we’re learning as we go.
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