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Jonathan Vaughn, a former University of Michigan running back, has been camping in a tent outside of University President Mark Schlissel’s residence on South University Avenue for more than six days.
Vaughn, a survivor of late athletic doctor Robert Anderson, said he’ll stay there rain or shine until Schlissel and the regents commit to meet with him and other Anderson survivors.
He is also spreading awareness of the now 2,000 known accusations of abuse by Anderson and calling on the University to support other survivors. A crowd of more than 100 joined Vaughn Wednesday evening in front of the President’s house to protest the University’s handling of the allegations against Anderson and demand greater transparency and support for sexual misconduct victims.
The vigil was organized in response to a Sept. 23 Board of Regents meeting, in which no University official verbally acknowledged the attendance of hundreds of former student-athletes who were survivors of Anderson.
Survivors of both Anderson and former Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar have been expressing their support for Vaughn around South University Avenue since Friday. When they gathered, many chanted phrases such as “We are not ashamed anymore,” “We are all victorious” and “Wake up Mark.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Vaughn said despite sleeping outside Schlissel’s house since Friday night and seeing him come and go from work every day, he hasn’t heard from the University’s administration. Vaughn said he hoped the protest helps bring awareness to sexual misconduct and fosters a safer on-campus community.
“The goal of tonight is freeing, is empowering, is showing solidarity for the Dr. Robert Anderson victims as well as all the students who feel like this University doesn’t properly treat … sexual assault and sexual abuse cases,” Vaughn said. “Although (the University) might be the number one public university in the world, it also has students, young ladies and young men who say it’s not a safe place for them to go to college.”
In an email to The Daily, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote that, while the University was appreciative of the survivors’ bravery for stepping out, they are unable to comment on ongoing litigation. Fitzgerald also wrote that the University remains committed to providing fair compensation for the survivors.
“We hear all of the survivors of the late Dr. Robert Anderson’s abuse and we thank them for their bravery in coming forward,” Fitzgerald wrote. “We also are working toward fair compensation for the Anderson survivors through the confidential, court-supervised mediation process that is continuing.”
The University has been involved in ongoing mediation with 850 Anderson victims since October 2020. In May, LSA senior Josephine Graham filed a class-action lawsuit to demand the University implement stronger policies to prevent sexual abuse and support victims.
Tad DeLuca, former University wrestler and whistleblower for the Anderson case back in 2018, said he was kicked off the wrestling team in 1975 after writing a letter to his coach Bill Johansson detailing Anderson’s abuse. In an interview with The Daily, DeLuca said had the University taken him seriously then, countless abuses could have been prevented.
“I told (Johansson) in a letter that what was happening, he wrote me a letter and (said) ‘Sorry, your scholarship’s gone,’ and I was (paying) out of state tuition,” DeLuca said. “They hammered me for telling them in 1975 … Most of the people you’ll see tonight shouldn’t be here today because they’re younger than me.”
DeLuca’s account has been corroborated by the law firm WilmerHale’s report, commissioned by the University, which found hundreds of allegations of Anderson’s sexual abuse and concluded that dozens of University officials knew of the abuse over Anderson’s tenure from the late 1960s to early 2000s.
A recent report released by the University’s Division of Public Safety and Security showed that, there were over 1,212 instances of rape and 947 cases of fondling reported in 2020, a drastic increase from prior years. 1,194 and 916 of these, respectively, were attributable to investigations related to Anderson.
Over the last month, the University announced a revised sexual misconduct policy, which includes more concrete definitions of misconduct, clarifies ways to report misconduct and outlines procedures for addressing sexual and gender-based misconduct allegations. The University also rebranded its Office of Institutional Equity into the Equity, Civil Rights & Title IX Office over the summer, stressing an emphasis on sexual misconduct prevention and survivor support.
The protest began with a speech by Vaughn, who said he was willing to sit in rain and cold weather, if it forces the University to act.
Chuck Christian, former University football player in the late 1970s, also spoke at the vigil and said his experience being sexually assaulted by Anderson led him to temporarily stop going to the doctor.
“At the time I didn’t know what was a legitimate physical … When I got older, I would not go to the doctor, I avoided the doctors at all costs,” Christian said. “10 years later I began to have more problems. Again, when I went in, I found out I had prostate cancer. And the doctor said, ‘Why don’t you come in sooner Chuck;’ I said because I couldn’t do it.”
Christian said he came to protest outside Schlissel’s house after witnessing Vaughn’s bravery and commitment to the cause.
“I remember on Friday, I was talking to Jon and he told me what he was doing and I said, ‘Why don’t you just wait till Monday because Friday, it’s going to rain,’” Christian said. “He said, ‘Chuck, don’t you realize that I was built this way. I played football in the rain, so I can (sit in the rain).’ … And I said, ‘Jon, I’m coming to join you.’”
LSA junior Porter Hughes, press secretary of Michigan Students Against Sexual Assault, said mishandling of sexual misconduct at the University is ongoing. He shared with the crowd his experience being sexually harassed by an employee at the University and said the University did not take action against the individual responsible for the sexual harassment.
“(The administration basically said), ‘Yeah, it happened, but we’re not gonna do anything about it’, which is exactly what they did to these survivors,” Hughes said. “There are people still on this campus today, they’re having this same exact fight.”
Former Michigan wrestler Bill Evashevski told the other protesters his brother and father were both athletes at the University. Evashevski said he knew of Anderson’s abuses before attending the University, but still felt wrestling at the University was his destiny. Ultimately, he said he quit after Anderson abused him too.
“It was my destiny to go to Michigan and prove myself to my family to live up to my name,” Evashevski said. “I labeled myself as a quitter. It has felt like that ever since. It really was the help of these guys behind me who helped find that wound deep down, my body will start to heal.”
Trinea Gonczar, former Michigan State gymnast and survivor of Nassar, spoke to the crowd and said she attended the event to show solidarity with the victims.
“I showed up here with Jon because no survivor should stand alone, ever, and being in want to give somebody else a voice,” Gonczar said. “This is a moment for all of us to stand together against the institutions that are silencing because they are silencing us but as a unit, we’re so much stronger.”
Rackham student Matt Dargay said in an interview with The Daily that he attended the event because he was worried that if action isn’t taken now, abuse similar to that perpetrated by Anderson could happen again.
“I decided to come because I worry that unless some sort of action is taken, or at least the people who are responsible for this will receive some consequences, then something like this will happen again,” Dargay said. “And we can’t let something like this happen again.”
Rackham student Timberlee Whiteus told The Daily there needed to be accountability for people who perpetuated and protected Anderson’s abuse and the University needed to improve sexual assault prevention efforts to ensure student safety.
“I think we have a history of privileging persons in higher power and also covering up things that really need to be revealed,” Whiteus said. “So I want to show support, I want to stand and show why I agree that the University has a history of doing bad things. And I don’t think we’re reacting enough. We’re not being proactive enough about it..”
Vaughn told the crowd he would stay outside Schlissel’s house until the University commits to supporting victims of sexual misconduct.
“I will be here, then I will recruit others to sit with me to stay with me,” Vaughn said “We will be here, I guarantee you, until this is over. Until every male or female, feel safe at this University.”
Daily Staff Reporters George Weykamp and Nirali Patel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.