MSU announces policy changes, new positions to combat sexual assault

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A lot happened during Friday’s Michigan State University Board of Trustees meeting, but the main focus was on Interim MSU President John Engler following a series of controversial emails and growing calls for him to resign.

Several Nassar survivors, their families, and MSU faculty members showed up to the meeting, where they asked trustees to fire Engler. They said lack of leadership and support for survivors is getting in the way of real change in MSU’s culture.

Despite their pleas, that did not happen.

While the vote to keep Engler in office made headlines and caused many to grow even more frustrated, there were other developments talked about during the meeting that are of importance.

Many of them deal with the university’s reform on policies and procedures as it relates to issues such as sexual assault and relationship violence on campus.

This is a topic that MSU has promised to address as a result of the Larry Nassar scandal in an effort to make sure nothing like it happens again.

 For example: Since MSU has made changes to its reporting process for sexual assaults, there has been a sharp increase in reporting.

Here’s a breakdown of Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct (RVSM) reports by year, according to the university:

  • 2015 – 309 reports
  • 2016 –619 reports
  • 2017 – 758 reports
  • 2018 – 631 reports (through June 5th)

MSU is also implementing several new positions to combat sexual assault and violence on campus which includes the following:

  • 13 new title ix and related positions
  • 10 new positions in counseling and psych services
  •  4 new MSU police officers
  • 2 new FOIA office positions
  • 2 new office of enterprise risk management, ethics and compliance positions

Commit to Respect – Empowering and Educating Students

As part of MSU’s efforts to continue expanding education and prevention on campus, it’s implemented a new program that will be offered to both parents and students during the university’s Academic Orientation program.  

The program’s goal is to educate incoming students on MSU’s values before they arrive on campus. MSU officials say this will allow future Spartans to learn what it means to uphold the values and standards of the university.  

According to MSU, in addition to the in-person sessions at orientations, students also will receive a new resource guide related to RVSM and Title IX information. Students will also learn more about what they can expect when it comes to things like RVSM, alcohol, and diversity.

 Leah Short, a social worker and MSU alum, has been working on this new programming. She said it works to expand on the ways students engage in conversations related to things like sexual misconduct or relationship violence.

The goal is to create an open and honest dialogue always going.

“We’re talking about consent; we’re talking about bystander invention,” Short said. “We’re talking about just the scope of the problem of sexual assault and relationship violence so I feel like these workshops are more just about prevention, they’re really about changing the climate on campus, they’re about changing our culture.”

The conversations, according to Short, continue beyond the student’s freshman year through a new training program called “bystander intervention.”

This training will be offered to second, third, and fourth year students, beginning this fall, to keep the conversation going and ensure that sexual assault prevention is always on the students’ minds throughout their time on campus.

“Having those upper-classman workshops is crucial to continue that dialogue because they’re also going to graduate, they’re going to go out to the real world,” Short said. “And you want to make sure they have the tools that they need to be an active bystander, to be involved in their community, make it a safe place, and know about these issues.”

Rhys Sirna, an MSU senior and peer educator for the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention Program, has been working on new initiatives to help improve the way students talk about issues surrounding sexual assault or relationship violence through SARV.

“Getting overwhelmed with information is really easy and I think a lot of times people don’t report because they’re not really sure how to navigate that,” Sirna said.

However, Sirna said those issues are being addressed through the new programs offered at orientation and throughout the school year.

“I think that SARV expanding and becoming a prevention outreach program is very important,” Sirna said. “I think that covering more bases and having more people devoted to one specific area because in the past it was one person doing everything and when you have one person doing everything, things get missed.”

She said having a specific person dedicated to each group through programs such as SARV or Greek life outreach, will help get information to students thoroughly.

Sirna said she wants both students and parents to know that despite all the scrutiny the university has been facing, there are people on campus who acre and are working to ensue students are not only safe on campus but feel comfortable.

“Right now I think a lot of people feel divided and I think a lot of people are really unsure of where to go right now,” she said. “I think coming together and being able to have difficult conversations, even though they are difficult, is what’s going to help push us forward into making more positive changes on campus.”

Additional changes made to AOP for 2018:

  • Changed “The Spartan Six” to “The Spartan Seven” by adding a hexagon which will be used to begin conversations about MSU’s values and commitment to learning about RSVM issues and building a supportive community
  • Changes to the student AOP Schedule Booklet, explaining the online and in-person RVSM educational requirements. Booklet also now includes information reiterating MSU’s commitment to change and support students
  • Students will receive more resources as it relates to things like reporting, health care mental health, additional community resources, and national resources
  • Implemented a “work group” to ensure consistent messages are being sent to students as they transition on campus and throughout the academic year
  • Students will now have the opportunity to support the “Go Teal Campaign”
  • All students are expected to receive an information sheet from the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX Office to explain what roles they play, how students should report, what happens when they do, and services offered
  • The Michigan State  University Police Dept. is also expected to speak with parents and students about campus safety, security, and offer information about resources that exist to help with that

Orientation will be taking place on campus through the month of July.

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