Learning from Michigan State

-The first two links below contains multiple survivor accounts of sexual assault. –


This review of what MSU staff was told, when, by whom, regarding sexual abuse by former MSU physician Larry Nassar is a necessary read. The narratives shared by those Nassar abused are illustrative of the way institutional policy, organizational culture, and professional silos can create blind spots that perpetuate violence. In this case, for nearly 20 years.

My attention was drawn to the ways in which survivor narratives were quarantined and dismissed by seemingly well-meaning professionals. The language used to justify inaction is familiar to anyone who’s done advocacy work in higher education settings, and that’s what’s worth understanding. These were folks trying to do (and keep) their job, who suddenly and unexpectedly faced a significant ethical problem. Critically, this is not a pattern isolated to MSU. Crucial ethical decisions rarely always come neatly flagged as such. If minds and hearts aren’t versed in value and ethics through training, dialogue, and practice, there’s little hope for better choices than those detailed here.

Student housing professionals face ethical dilemmas regularly. As careers progress and scope and responsibility increase, we are asked to face an increasing number of intractable or difficult decisions that require resolution between desirable values. It’s why mission, values, and language matter so much. A well-defined mission, grounded in our community values, cultivates and encourages the challenge of actions that are contrary to the mission and values; Knowing who we are, what we’re doing, and how we’re prepared to achieve our goals is the foundation of any excellence we seek as a unit. For these reasons, I found the MSU article an important reminder of why it’s important for each of us, as leaders, to consistently make time to revisit and reaffirm mission and values with our staff. That dialogue will pay off in all the small decisions made every day, at every level.