MSU opens ‘Sister Survivors’ exhibit with Whitmer, survivors in attendance

"Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak" exhibit at MSU, April 16, 2019 | Derek Robertson
Updated 10:07 p.m., 10:18 p.m.

The Michigan State University Museum opened an exhibit of art and artifacts related to the survivors of the Dr. Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal on Tuesday, in a ceremony that featured emotional testimony from public and MSU officials as well as the survivors themselves.

“Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak” exhibit at MSU, April 16, 2019 | Derek Robertson

“I wanted this horrible thing to have something good come out of it,” said Larissa Boyce, who along with other survivors was involved directly in the exhibit’s creation. “Otherwise, there would be nothing positive I could take from what happened.”

Boyce says she was the first student to inform the university about Nassar’s predation more than 20 years ago, in 1997.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, an MSU alum and sexual assault survivor herself, opened the ceremony for “Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak.”

“This exhibit is powerful, and when you go through it you will see why I am struggling to keep my composure,” Whitmer said, adding that the survivors are “sending a message to all the people in the state of Michigan that we need to create an environment where people can come forward and be treated with respect … We will do better.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, April 16, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Amanda Thomashow, another “sister survivor” and co-curator, called for greater accountability on the university’s part not just regarding the Nassar scandal, but with its alleged “culture of silence” around sexual assault.

She specifically acknowledged Bailey Kowalski, the MSU senior who came forward last week as the anonymous plaintiff in a Title IX lawsuit in which she claims to have been raped by members of the school’s basketball team and discouraged from reporting the incident.

Jordyn Fishman, a University of Michigan art student who painted the exhibit’s “Together We Roar Pt. 2,” echoed Thomashow, telling the Detroit News that there are “still a lot of enablers who have not been held accountable.”

Other officials who appeared at the event included Michigan’s Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, state Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing), MSU Board of Trustees Chair Dianne Byrum and U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) in a video statement.

Sharing remarks from Attorney General Dana Nessel, Hammoud said that the state needs to “condemn words and images that normalize gender-based violence,” “recognize the importance of education in raising awareness and assisting in prevention” of sexual assault, and “remind our families and friends, colleagues, teachers, and neighbors that we all play a crucial role in working to ensure that there are no more victims of sexual assault.”

Fadwa Hammoud

Hertel cited recent legislative efforts to prevent sexual assault, including a bill he introduced Tuesday that would mandate education on affirmative consent and “dating violence.” The senator told the Advance Tuesday evening that he is also planning to introduce legislation that would remove any statute of limitations from cases regarding sexual assault.*

Last year’s Senate Bill 872 extended the window in which survivors could sue for damages in civil cases from three years to 10 years, and another 2018 bill extended the statute of limitations in a similar fashion for criminal cases. Hertel said that some co-sponsors of those bills would be involved in the new legislation, but declined to name them.

“When those bills passed, I was frustrated with the final product, and I believed that we shouldn’t be limiting justice,” Hertel said.*

The exhibit itself features photos of Nassar survivors, original art, a timeline of the scandal, and preserved memorabilia from the following uproar on campus, including replicas of the trademark teal ribbons that were wrapped around campus trees in a show of solidarity with the survivors.

“Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak” exhibit at MSU, April 16, 2019 |Derek Robertson

The university’s need to improve education and prevention surrounding sexual assault moving forward was a common theme from the night’s speakers. Acting MSU President Satish Udpa called for “institutional accountability” in a statement delivered by video.

Former interim university President John Engler resigned in January after mounting criticism of his handling of the scandal, including allegedly telling MSU event planners to “get that teal shit out of here.”

The exhibit will be on display until March 2020.

This story has been updated with comments from state Sen. Curtis Hertel and to clarify the scope of his planned legislation.

Derek Robertson
Derek Robertson covers local government, education, health care and the social safety net, and LGBTQ issues. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington, and before that covered local politics in Chicago. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He enjoys film, the Detroit Pistons and his cat. He once competed in the National Spelling Bee, but was eliminated before any potential ESPN appearances.

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