Thesis:  Currently, Michigan State University reviews its sexual assault prevention and response policies without sufficient feedback from students, thus Michigan State should make the process more accessible to student concerns. This will allow policies to more actively reflect campus realities and changes.

Background & Analysis: In response to the well-publicized indictment of former Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar for criminal sexual conduct and federal child pornography charges, Michigan State held multiple town halls to address faculty and student concerns for Michigan State’s sexual assault prevention policies and programs.  Following the meetings, Michigan State published reports with multiple suggestions on how to address the concerns that attendees brought up. These concerns were translated into policy reforms for the  2018-19 academic years. Prior to the Nassar incident, Michigan State’s policies were only reviewed at the end of the year. Students were permitted to participate, but the review occurred after the end of the semester when few students were on campus—this, in addition to a lack of publicity or publicizing efforts, severely limited student input and accessibility to the review. Following the successful town halls, Michigan State’s revision process has reverted back to an annual post-semester review that limits student feedback. While MSU collects data and surveys from students following their Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence training, this data limit student voices to numerical values at the beginning of the school year, before many students will experience assault. According to the State News, reports of sexual assault and relationship violence increased between 2015 and 2017 indicating that prevention practices are not enough to improve the situation on campus. Overall, MSU’s sexual assault policy review process takes place outside of the day to day campus communities, reducing its transparency and ability to adapt to changes in the campus climate.

Talking Points:

  • The annual sexual assault and relationship violence policy review meeting is held at an unknown date and time despite being open to student involvement. The lack of advertisement and knowledge leads to a lack of student participant and feedback.
  • While the surveys following MSU’s sexual assault prevention training are a good way to accumulate mass data, it is not effective in letting students speak from personal experiences. It lowers the volume of each student’s voice and reduces them to an online poll.
  • Reoccuring town hall meetings give students a platform to speak about sexual assault and relationship violence during different parts of the year. After information is collected from these meetings, the review team will have student feedback going into the policy review process.

The Policy Idea: Michigan State University should incorporate campus-wide town halls throughout its Sexual Assault Awareness weeks in the Fall and Spring semesters to receive feedback on its sexual assault response and prevention policies and programs. These meetings should feature representatives of the student, administrative and faculty organizations as well as students themselves where concerns about Michigan State’s sexual assault prevention and response policies and programs may be raised for further consideration. These concerns should be recorded for deliberation during the yearly review of Michigan State’s policies.

Policy Analysis: In the 2017-2018 Academic year, Michigan State held town hall meetings in response to the campuswide discontent following the Nassar incident. These town halls included high attendance and participation, proving student interest and willingness to participate. A lot of students continue to have an opinion and/or experience with these kinds of issues and would like to have a voice in deciding how their University responds to problems like sexual assault. Semester meetings to review policy will make the connection between the campus community and the administration stronger and more transparent. It will also increase students’ abilities to participate in the policy review which currently occurs at a date and time which prevents student feedback. Furthermore, it will make the policies more malleable in changes to student life and society.

Because the University already has a week of each semester dedicated to sexual assault prevention, adding an event like a town hall meeting will not become an imposition to student life or the administration. Rather, it will increase the possibility of participation through the support of existing student organization participation, marketing, and planning on behalf of the student government, ASMSU, and the administration. Policies should be made by students and faculty and not just from the perspective of higher up administration to reflect the constant changes of campus life at MSU.