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CW: Sexual assault
More than one hundred protesters gathered outside the Postma Family Clubhouse at the University of Michigan Golf Course Thursday, where the Board of Regents were meeting in person for the first time since March 2020. The crowd protested the University’s handling of allegations of sexual abuse against late University athletic doctor Robert Anderson and demanded stronger accountability from the administration on behalf of survivors.
The protest, which was organized by the student organization Michigan Students Against Sexual Assault, took place an hour before the Board of Regents meeting started. The general protest session was followed by speeches from some survivors of Anderson’s abuse. Later, the attendees protested on the sidewalk as the Regents entered the building.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, LSA junior Porter Hughes, press secretary for MSASA, said one of the goals of the protest was to raise awareness about sexual misconduct at the University to try to prevent other people from having to experience what the Anderson victims went through.
“We hope to bring awareness to the greater public about this issue — it really has not gotten the press coverage it deserves,” Hughes said. “Also to pressure for more reforms and push for more action and more community dialogue on what changes are necessary to make sure something like this never happens again.”
In May, hundreds of survivors of Anderson’s abuse filed a class action lawsuit against the University, calling on the University to rethink how it approaches sexual misconduct and abuse. The complaint, led by LSA senior Josephine Graham, says the University’s lack of action against Anderson allowed his behavior to continue for decades. The University filed a response to the suit in August, where it argued to dismiss the case on the grounds that Graham needed “to wait until she has experienced sexual violence before bringing her injunctive relief claims.”
Eastern Michigan University freshman Lynn Green, member of the EMU chapter of Sexual Assault and Rape Awareness, said she attended the protest to stand in solidarity with the victims. Green also said she wanted to support members of the U-M community who stood in solidarity with EMU community members earlier this month, when students were protesting against fraternities accused of sexual misconduct.
Green said the issues surrounding sexual misconduct are not unique to the University and EMU and that students across the country do feel safe on college campuses.
“I worked too hard to have to continuously worry about my safety when the only thing I should be worried about is my education,” Green said.
The crowd then gathered in front of the Postma Clubhouse with signs that read, “No students can learn in an environment where they are unsafe” and “Are students safe at the U of M? 900 victims say no.”
Hughes led the crowd in chants such as “hey hey, ho ho, abusive actions have got to go,” and “say it loud, say it clear, no one on campus should have to fear.”
Earlier Thursday, the University announced a new sexual and gender-based misconduct policy, finalized after two years of revisions. The new policy includes more concrete definitions of misconduct, clarifies ways to report misconduct and outlines procedures for addressing sexual and gender-based misconduct allegations. It goes into effect Oct. 1 on all three University campuses and Michigan Medicine.
The protest then shifted to hearing from some of Anderson’s victims.
Former Michigan football player Jon Vaughn told the crowd that Anderson abused him regularly when he was a football player at the University in the early 1990s. Vaughn said the apologies given on the behalf of the University by University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald and the Office of Public Affairs avoided taking responsibility for Anderson’s actions and have not done anything to fix the damage they have caused.
“Your apologies aren’t apologies,” Vaughn said. “You can apologize all you want … but you have never taken responsibility for what the University was complicit with, what it enabled, and what it’s been covering up for the last five decades.”
Vaughn called for accountability on the part of the University and said the University-commissioned WilmerHale report failed to properly investigate all of the allegations against Anderson. Instead, Vaughn said, the report worked to undermine Anderson’s actions.
“We keep talking about institutional change, (but) how can you have institutional change when you pay $5 million for a report that doesn’t cover the entire truth, that doesn’t talk to all the victims?” Vaughn asked.
Vaughn credited former Michigan wrestler Tad Deluca, who was kicked off of the Michigan Wrestling team in 1975 after writing a letter to his coach at the time, Bill Johanssan, about Anderson’s abuse. Vaughn wrote a letter to current Athletic Director Warde Manuel in 2018 again detailing Anderson’s abuse, beginning the investigation into Anderson’s misconduct.
Chuck Christain, former Michigan tight-end in the late 1970s, spoke afterVaughn. Christain said the victims of Anderson outnumber the nearly 900 who have currently signed the class action lawsuit against the University.
“There are so many victims, and I see them here today and it’s not just athletes,” Christain said. “These are neighbors of Anderson, these are friends of Anderson, (these) are all kinds of things. These aren’t just athletes. This man was a monster. And we say that it was probably 1,000 — no, it was probably closer to 2,000 or 3,000 victims of this man.”
Christain also spoke directly to head football coach Jim Harbaugh’s claim defending former head coach Bo Schembechler. Former athletes alleged in the May WilmerHale report that Schembechler was informed of Anderson’s abuse but failed to act.
“If I could say something to Jim Harbaugh, I’d say, ‘Jim, what would you do if you found out that your team doctor raped your entire team,’” Christain said. “Not only that, what if he raped your team now, and he raped your team last year, and your team the year before that, for every year that you’ve been at Michigan. What would you do, Jim Harbaugh? Would you just sweep it under the rug and hope it doesn’t come out for 20 or 30 or 40 years, like your predecessor did, or would you fire the predator and have him arrested?”
Hughes encouraged everyone at the protest to advocate on behalf of victims of sexual misconduct and to create a future where abuse can no longer be ignored.
“Right now we have the power, the ability, the movement behind us to advocate for real change and real justice here at the University of Michigan,” Hughes said. “The survivors of evil Dr. Anderson, and their survivors of all other forms of sexual misconduct at the University of Michigan, shall no longer be silenced or ignored.”
In an interview with The Daily, LSA junior Erin Wade said she hoped the University would take the protest and the powerful words spoken by the victims as a sign to make amends with the victims.
“Dr. Anderson and the University’s cover-up of his crimes and refusal to act is disgusting,” Wade said. “I’m really hoping that the very powerful words spoken by the survivors today and us showing up here in support will make the regents finally do something and make the University finally make amends (to the victims).”
The protestors continued to line to sidewalks in protest as the regents entered the Postma Clubhouse for the 4pm meeting.
Daily Staff Reporter George Weykamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.