Why Michigan State Matters

Kevin Ssonko ’20, Guest Writer


In the passage of time it can often be a challenge for those who are living in a certainperiod to recognize its full weight. It is indeed in this current cultural moment that this is very much a reality. The #MeToo movement, as it is being called, represents a moment that is far larger than just people losing their jobs and a few social media posts. This is a movement that represents what may very well be the shifting of a culture. As I have tried to come to grips with all that has happened surrounding the revelations of the #MeToo movement, especially recognizing my identity as a man and my role in this poisonous culture, I have been particularly compelled by the events that have taken place at Michigan State and believe that indeed what has happened at Michigan State matters to our community and every community that seeks to be a part of forming a better world.

For those who have not been following the news closely, the events at Michigan State surrounded the case against Dr. Larry Nassar. The doctor was accused of assaulting over 150 underage girls going back as far as 1992. He has recently been sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison. The actions of the doctor are horrible and unspeakable, but what stands out even more about the whole situation is not just his actions, but the systems in place that allowed and enabled him to conduct such deplorable and destructive behavior for so long. This is what leads us to Michigan State. As it would be discovered, the actions of the doctor were not taking place unnoticed. Michigan State was fully aware of what was taking place, at least 14 Michigan State representatives were made aware in the two decades before his arrest.

In fact, a number of coaches, trainers and other officials were made aware of Nassar’s actions. In fact, by all accounts it appears that Nassar was allowed to flourish at Michigan State and become a renowned Doctor all while committing heinous actions that the university could have stopped. Indeed, it was the university itself that was facilitating the abuse of young girls and the success of the perpetrators, as is unfortunately so often been the case surrounding sexual assault.

The story does not stop here though, students at Michigan State had a response. Rather than tolerate the injustice that was taking place on their campus that facilitated such horrible crimes. The students of Michigan State rallied and called for people to step down. Protests were held, marches were organized, demands were made, and, as of now, both the president of the university, and the athletic director have agreed to step down. The students of Michigan State took action, changes were made, and the institution is now in a position where they must respond to better the conditions for their vulnerable students.

But why does Michigan State matter? I say in all humility and speaking only from my position and perspective in the world, Michigan State matters because it tells us that we have a voice. The times that we live in tell us that there are many cultural ills that we have quite a long way to go in correcting. But the actions of students at Michigan State tell us that if we take action we can take steps in the right direction. Too often the negativity of a situation causes those who would have been able to be legitimate allies to stand on the sidelines out of fear, or a sense of being overwhelmed, or a general sense that things will not actually get any better.

But the story of the students at Michigan State tells us that we as the people have the ability to stand up when we see something wrong and demand that it be made right. For too long victims of sexual assault have been pushed aside and silenced, and people have not been good allies because they deemed the situation too impossible to fix. For too long men in positions of power in high schools, and frat houses, and board rooms have turned their heads rather than act because they allowed themselves to believe that their action would mean nothing.

For those of us from privileged positions, a culture has been fostered of staying active with our words but neutral with our actions, but in the words of Howard Zinn “You can’t stay neutral on a moving train”. The times that we are living in are times of action and of conviction.

While the actions of the students at Michigan State are just a drop in the bucket for an issue that needs a lot of work, it stands forever as a response to anyone who deems a problem too big, or too challenging to tackle with the optimism of actually solving in our time. It is my hope that Michigan State will matter in the minds of college students across America. Let it serve as an example to us, that it is indeed on us to build the world we wish to live in, today.