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Sexual assault survivors at MSU speak out at emotional town hall

We don't feel safe. And we don't feel heard.That was the overwhelming message at a Michigan State University t...

Posted: Feb 2, 2018 12:42 PM
Updated: Feb 2, 2018 12:42 PM

We don't feel safe. And we don't feel heard.

That was the overwhelming message at a Michigan State University town hall of students, faculty and community members Thursday night.

More than 600 attendees filed into an on-campus conference center for the town hall -- some waiting in line for hours -- in hopes of getting to air concerns to MSU Board of Trustee member Brian Mosallam. He was the lone trustee in attendance, and CNN has reached out to each of the seven other trustees, asking why they were not there.

'I feel nothing from the trustees'

Of the dozens of students who took to the mic to speak out, was Kat Ebert, an MSU student and a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of former world-renowned sports doctor and MSU employee, Larry Nassar. She spoke at his sentencing hearing in Eaton County one day earlier, but on Thursday, she was there to speak to Mosallam.

"I am a survivor of Larry Nassar," Ebert said, to a standing ovation of support from the crowd. "I feel support from students and faculty, but I feel nothing from the trustees. What does it take for you to step down? I don't want apologies. I don't want your money. I want a change."

The town hall was moderated by Stephanie Nawyn, director of MSU's Center for Gender in Global Context, and was meant to be a discussion on campus climate. But it turned into a chorus of attendees yelling for Mosallam and other trustees to resign.

Mosallam told CNN that he would not be resigning, said he came to hear concerns about the university's handling of sexual assault cases -- but he had no idea just how many MSU survivors of sexual assault would come forward during the town hall that lasted two hours and 45 minutes.

"I came here tonight because I knew the community was angry," Mosallam said. "I came here out of respect for survivors, to begin a conversation about how to make change."

Speaker after speaker came forward, some in tears, recalling being sexually assaulted as students, and unable to find help.

Claire Fredin, 20, was still shaking an hour after she spoke to the crowd.

"As a sex assault survivor on this campus -- twice now -- I would never come forward to your Title IX office," Fredin said. "Yes, you need to revise your Title IX program. Because if you can't find a serial predator guilty, it's not working."

Anger about Engler

Just one day before the meeting, the board of trustees voted unanimously to select former Michigan Governor John Engler as the interim president of MSU. Former MSU President Lou Anna Simon announced her resignation on January 24, the day Nassar was sentenced in a nearby Ingham County Court.

The trustees said Wednesday that they believed, "it is in the university's best interest to appoint an interim president from outside the institution to provide strong leadership during this critical time."

But students and faculty felt blind sighted by the vote -- saying in the town hall that the board took no input from them before making its decision.

Mosallam told the crowd he did not agree with the board's decision to select Engler as interim president, but he voted for him "for the sake of unification, I agreed to vote with the majority."

To this, one attendee yelled, "You're a coward."

Fourth year, dual doctoral candidate Dee Jordan, was furious as she asked Mosallam, "What were you thinking?"

"Engler refused to allow investigators of sexual assault at women's prisons (as governor,)" Jordan said, in tears. "You had a choice on the matter. 'Yes,' 'no,' or 'abstain.' And you chose to vote 'yes.' I'll never look at you the same again."

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