January 26, 2018
Dear Academic and Field Faculty, Staff, and Students,
The criminal acts of a man who called himself a physician – a doctor who should have helped vulnerable children and young adults heal from their pain – directly and deliberately caused the most personal pain we can fathom. The effects of his crimes and distortions of truth and trust are immeasurable, and our hearts are open to survivors of his assaults, and to their families and friends. We respect and revere their courage and willingness to tell their stories to the world. We are moved by the bravery of these women, the depths of their pain, and the wisdom of their calls for organizational accountability and culture change.
Sexual assault is a systemic problem. It is individual and personal; it is familial and relational; it is organizational and institutional; and it is national and international. While any single person may be unaware of a particular act of assault, we share a common responsibility to create a culture that exposes it and addresses it.
Although the dynamics and patterns of sexual assault are clearly identifiable to many of us with related experience, this base of knowledge, and our institution, failed to protect girls and women on our campus for decades. Over one-hundred fifty courageous women have made public statements regarding impacts of their experiences of assaults in this single case. In relation to this terrifyingly pervasive problem, this is only the tip of a massively destructive iceberg.
Each of us, as faculty, staff, and students in the School of Social Work at Michigan State University – as human beings – have our own reactions to crimes like this, and these reactions can be immensely complicated when the events that provoke them occur in a place we think of as ‘ours’, a place that many think of as ‘safe’. We hold collective responsibility to build a culture that shines bright lights in dark places; that encourages silenced voices to speak; and that churns the wheels of justice to apportion accountability and consequences. We have a responsibility to fight this evil in all ways at all times.
We also need to recognize that our own actions and words have impact. We need to encourage dialog, prevention, intervention, and advocacy. We need to share what we know, how we work for change, and what we believe and feel.
Resignations and replacements demonstrate some measure of organizational responsibility, but in themselves may carry little impact. Change requires a commitment to social justice through sustained efforts by people who are willing to acknowledge the conditions that allowed sexual abuse to occur in the first place, and to continue even after victims came forward to tell what happened to them. Change requires listening to these accounts, believing what survivors say, honoring the trust of vulnerable people, and acting to prevent additional abuses.
In our classes and conversations, I hope we are able to express compassion for the experiences of survivors and admiration for their resilience, and condemnation of the acts of perpetrators. I hope we recognize the personal and individual effects of predatory behaviors, and the structures that enable them, and that we use opportunities to educate and learn, to assist and intervene, and to change systems.
Moral outrage is better than complacency, but it doesn’t often accomplish anything by itself. Energy that is channeled into action is usually much more effective.
Let’s think together about what we can do, and do those things. Marches and demonstrations and painting the rock increase awareness and show support; research, information briefs, and public presentations and conversations increase knowledge; fundraising and development expand resources; advocacy and activism change policies and structures. Any one of us can’t do everything, but each one of us can do something. We know that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and we know that our individual and collective contributions can combat the insulation and isolation that allow sexual assault to fester. You certainly don’t need to tell me what you want to do, but I welcome your ideas if there is something the School can support. As one step, we will organize a forum for students, staff, and faculty to share reactions, questions, and ideas for initiatives. Information and scheduling are forthcoming.
If nothing else, regardless of your confidence in organizational effectiveness, I urge you to tell someone if you experience a violation of your human rights, especially the most basic right to your own body. If you are a student, tell a faculty member or a staff member if someone has hurt you. If you are an MSU employee, tell your supervisor. You can also always tell me directly. I promise that you will be heard and that action will be taken.
All MSU employees are required to comply with the University’s Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct Policy. This policy outlines a reporting protocol, and I urge you to read it so you know the ways in which your rights and your personal agency will be protected. You should also become familiar with the Office of Institutional Equity and the Title IX office and their roles in addressing sexual violence and misconduct affecting members of the MSU community.
If recent events and disclosures cause you distress, I hope you exercise self-care, and consider engaging assistive resources, including MSU programs such as CAPS, the Sexual Assault Program, and SafePlace. Community resources include EVE and the Firecracker Foundation. An extensive list of campus and community resources can be found on the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention Program website.
The sentencing of one sexual predator and the resignation of one or more administrators are not ends in themselves. We must continue to co-construct a system that listens, believes, responds, increases transparency, and evolves. We must embody and enact our professional values through determined action. May our ongoing efforts bring sustainable results.
John Mooradian, PhD, LMSW, LMFT
Interim Director and Associate Professor
School of Social Work
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824