Survivors and parents value the integrity of trustee candidates

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Parents of Sister Survivors Engage, or POSSE, released a letter outlining their hour-long interviews with each of MSU’s four trustee nominees.

POSSE was created after former MSU doctor Larry Nassar was convicted of sexually assaulting more than 500 girls and women. The group is made up of relatives of Nassar survivors and is dedicated to advocating for survivors of sexual violence.

The Board of Directors has two seats to fill in November. Members of POSSE, along with a group of Nassar survivors, spent an hour talking to each director candidate. POSSE member Valerie von Frank said the group was looking for answers that showed a willingness to learn.

“We need people with integrity, who give public answers, who respond to students and the community,” von Frank said. “They have to be lifelong learners. They have to be able to listen to new voices and take all of that into account and be able to make better decisions because they’re listening to people beyond normal people.

Von Frank said she and other POSSE members were concerned about contestant Travis Menge’s responses to questions about sexual assault allegations on the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team, with which he traveled as a as a sports physician. POSSE’s letter says Menge “closed follow-up questions without expressing empathy or concern for the athletes he was caring for.”

“We don’t need another board member who doesn’t understand what survivors are going through,” von Frank said. “MSU simply cannot afford to be wrong again.”

Candidate and current administrator Renee Knake Jefferson was unable to answer many questions from POSSE due to her current position as administrator, the letter states. The letter said she mentioned several major changes she had made during her three years on the board, including the enactment of a board code of ethics and the removal of the “emeritus” designation from professors involved in sexual misconduct.

POSSE member Mary Schulz said the best discussion with candidates is when a candidate is able to progress through a conversation and change their thinking as they absorb new information.

“It was nice to see him … progress in his understanding in that short amount of time,” Schulz said. “And actually see the reasoning and purpose behind our questioning.”

The letter said Michael Balow and Dennis Denno had asked to speak to a survivor and specifically answered questions. Balow “offered specific suggestions for improving accountability, suggesting that the council have an independent reporting chain outside of administration for reporting instances of sexual misconduct.”

Denno, who is a resident of East Lansing, said he was concerned about culture at MSU. According to the letter, Denno said “students need a greater voice in campus decisions.”

The letter stated that POSSE values ​​board member accountability and transparency. Many student and faculty organizations have also called for more transparency from the board after a month of controversy leading up to President Samuel L. Stanley Jr.’s resignation notice.

Von Frank said the lack of communication about Stanley’s contract discussions and Title IX investigations has created a culture of uncertainty on campus.

“By not being open and adding to student stress in this way, it adds to a sense of secrecy and potential lies,” von Frank said.

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