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MSU gets 461 complaints of sexual assault in 2015-2016

MSU board
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
The bell tower on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing

Michigan State University received 461 reports of sexual misconduct and relationship violence in the 2015-2016 school year.

That’s way up from the previous year, when the school estimates it got about 200 complaints.

So what’s changed? Jessica Norris, MSU’s Title IX coordinator, says there’s just generally more awareness on campus.

“We made some pretty broad and dramatic changes in the last academic year, in terms of providing mandatory online training for all students, and all employees as well,” she says. “We also have a number of educational programs, awareness events, social media and other campaigns.”

And that increase generally fits with trends that other schools have seen, including the University of Michigan.

All university faculty and staff members are now required to report any incidents of sexual violence, even if those reports come from “essays, journals, and other materials submitted for…class.”

“Certainly the mandatory reporting polices are a driver of the reports we’ve received,” Norris says. “But we also have undertaken efforts to raise awareness with students and employees, that they can come Office of Institutional Equity and report [it themselves.] Our goal is to really build trust and confidence in the new office, so schools will really seek out the resource and report directly to the OIE, in addition to the mandatory reports that we received.”

Out of the 461 reports made last school year, nearly 300 didn’t move past the complaint stage, either because the victim didn’t want to pursue the issue, or just didn’t follow up with investigators.

Sixty-six reports were formally investigated, the school says, and 17 cases are still open. So far, there’ve been 38 sanctions, including 6 student expulsions and one faculty firing.

MSU has also added more staff investigators - and cut down the time it takes to investigate cases - after it got slammed by a federal report last year for mishandling sexual assault cases.

Still, it’s taking 153 days on average for staffers to complete an investigation. The federal government says schools should be aiming for closer to 60 days.

But the climate on campus is improving, says Holly Rosen, the director atMSU Safe Place, which helps domestic violence and stalking survivors.  

“What’s really changed is how the university responded, and the investigation process,” she says. “All that’s changed. The rate of violence for stalking, sexual assault and relationship violence hasn’t really changed, but the messages being sent [have changed.]

“And now there’s a mandatory reporting process. Residential advisors have to report it. Same with faculty. If a student discloses it to any staff, a janitor, cafeteria staff, everybody is required to report it.”

Rosen says they’ve also seen more students coming into MSU Safe Place seeking help, and they’ve watched the investigation process at the school evolve.  

“[There are] more people doing investigations so it moves quicker, and I feel like the investigators are well-trained. I feel like the students are trusting the process. There’s no guarantee, whether you go through the system at MSU or the judicial system, and we always tell victims that.” 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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