About 60 students gathered Friday night outside University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel’s house to demonstrate their solidarity with victims of former athletic doctor Robert Anderson as part of a rally organized by Black UMich. Black UMich, a student-run organization on campus dedicated to amplifying the voices of Black people at the University, called on the University to address the demands of victims and have a formal conversation about the culture of sexual assault on campus.
The event consisted of speakers, chants expressing solidarity with the victims and a demonstration of “Black joy,” an act of resistance and expression of Black culture. Music by Black artists played, and protestors danced and sang together. Students chanted, “No justice, no peace. Let John speak,” “Black students won’t be silenced,” “Hail to the victims” and “Black students are under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
Jon Vaughn and other survivors of Anderson have been camping outside of Schlissel’s house since Oct. 8 in protest against the University’s handling of the nearly 1,000 sexual assault allegations against Anderson.
Vaughn spoke at the event, telling his story in addition to the history of sexual abuse at the University. When Vaughn was recruited to play football for the Wolverines, he said he was told that the University would prioritize his health and wellbeing.
“I think back to how these men came into my living room when my mother was dying, and (they) promised her that (they) were protecting me and I’d have the best medical care,” Vaughn said. “Obviously, that was all a lie.”
Vaughn explained the actions taken by the University immediately after Tad DeLuca, a former U-M wrestler, filed a formal complaint about Anderson in 1975. DeLuca, who is the first person known to have reported Anderson to the University, had his scholarship and financial aid revoked and was removed from the wrestling team after reporting Anderson’s abuse.
After DeLuca reported Anderson’s abuse to the University, the Division of Public Safety and Security began an investigation. The University later hired the law firm Steptoe & Johnson to do a formal investigation, but switched to WilmerHale in March 2020 due to Steptoe & Johnson’s previous defense of Jeffrey Epstein and director Roman Polanski.
“At that point, I knew that we would never be treated as human beings, let alone respected as former student athletes,” Vaughn said. “When I was recruited here, you celebrated me, but now I’m a villain, and that’s how they’ve been treating us ever since.”
The University has denied knowingly hiring attorneys from the same law firm that represented Epstein and Polanski.
Vaughn said conversations with current U-M students, who he said continue to experience a culture of sexual violence on campus on a daily basis, have been powerful.
“On the second day I was here, a young lady said to me, ‘you know, I think about when’s the next time I’m going to be raped or sexually assaulted on this campus more than I do what is going to be my major,’” Vaughn said. “And at that point … I realized this is worse than I thought. It’s not only that they treat us inhumanely, they’re treating the students inhumanely. Students’ safety is not a priority here.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Business senior and student athlete Job Mayhue said he wants the public to know about what happened to survivors of Anderson and hopes transparency will prevent abuse in the future.
“I want this event to lead to open and transparent conversations and culture to have difficult conversations about sexual violence,” Mayhue said. “I also want the University to do more about creating a safer campus and create a system where action is being taken every single time somebody reports and it’s not just swept under the rug.”
Mayhue also said the University’s lack of cooperation with the survivors, as well as their reluctance to talk directly to survivors and provide any sort of compensation for them, further disincentives students from sharing their stories.
“They keep asking him (Jon Vaughn), ‘What can we do to get you off of our space?” Mayhue said. “It’s not, ‘What can we do to help?” It’s not, ‘What can we do to make a safer campus?’ It’s, ‘What can we do to hush you up and get you going on your way?’”
LSA junior Zach Briggs also said the lack of action and accountability from the University regarding the current U-M assistant athletic director, Paul Schmidt, who was allegedly aware of Anderson’s behavior, has been disappointing.
“Across every college campus in America, there’s massive sexual assault scandals or mishandling of sexual assault reporting,” Briggs said. “I definitely think there should be some form of justice with the firing of Dr. Schmidt, and I feel as though anyone who has covered it up needs to be reprimanded.”
In mid-November, Vaughn announced his plan to run for the Board of Regents in 2022. During the rally, Vaughn said he was running because of the stories he hears from students about safety and sexual assault on campus. He also called out Schlissel directly.
“I watch a man go to work almost every day, and I’ve never seen him interact with any student or professor, in now 42 days, and I just find that that’s an atrocity,” Vaughn said. “It really shows where the focus of the leadership is in this University. It’s all on money, sponsors, donors, even donors who let young men into school that have Title IX rapes in their history.”
Mayhue said during the rally that Black representation in the Board of Regents is essential to making progress.
“I’m so thankful that you are going for the Board of Regents, because putting a Black man in a position of leadership is the first step in making tangible change for the Black community and making it a safe space on campus,” Mayhue said to Vaughn.
Regent Katherine White (D) is currently the only Black regent on the eight-member board. Vaughn said that the marginalization of Black people at U-M and the ways in which the University has suppressed the voices of the Black community has been a historic problem.
“I might be a student athlete and I might be a victim of Dr. Anderson, but I’m a Black man, and that’s something I can never not be,” Vaughn said. “I’m ready to fight for not only the University, but I’m also here to fight for my people.”
Following the speakers, Rackham student Byron Brooks recited a poem he wrote in light of the University’s handling of the allegations.
“How can an institution of higher education hire, protect, and admit known rapists?” Brooks read. “I bet if Anderson was Black, he would have been thrown into prison and the story would’ve been known throughout the nation. Hail to the victims, yet as their voices were silenced, checks were still cleared and retirement was granted. The President right now won’t even come out of his house as if he’s on a vacation. That should be enough to let you know that the rapist at hand was a privileged Caucasian. Hail to the victims.”
In an interview with The Daily, Brooks said he stood in solidarity with the survivors.
“For this issue to have gone on for decades and generations is truly saddening,” Brooks said. “Although I was not a victim, I feel like it is my duty to stand with the victims, because it takes that solidarity to make something happen.”
Brooks said he is disheartened by the lack of action taken by the University and hopes that they will be more focused on the wellbeing of the survivors and all students moving forward.
“Honestly, I’m tired,” Brooks said. “I feel like the school is looking at it from a marketing and PR (public relations) perspective. I’m looking for actual equitable actions. And not only that, but a true apology, authentic apology, and extra steps that will help. We are at an institution of learning. We are here to learn. A lot of these athletes, they put their bodies on the line for this institution, so they deserve some form of equitable reparations.”
Daily News Reporter Kate Weiland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.