SETTLEMENT REACHED IN STUDENT SUIT AGAINST UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN Includes Formation of New Committee to Protect Community From Sexual Abuse
ABOUT OUR SURVIVORSHIP SERIES This is the first post in our new Survivorship Series, which amplifies the voices of abuse survivors who are now working to protect other children from abuse. The National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (NAASCA) estimates 50-60 million American adults were sexually abused as children. We honor those adults who are stepping up and sharing their abuse stories in order to change flawed systems, institutions, and laws.
The University of Michigan, after facing lawsuits due to ongoing sexual abuse over decades, has recently settled in a case brought by students to “force changes in how the school protects the campus from sexual misconduct,” NPR reported recently. The school will pay for a committee designed to protect the university community from sexual abuse. The new Coordinated Community Response Team (CCRT) will include 30 members, including Title IX and campus sexual misconduct experts, community members select members of the administration and faculty—and most importantly, current students and survivors.
Multiple news outlets (The New York Times,USA Today) reported earlier this year that a $490M settlement had been reached in a lawsuit filed by 1050 athletes and other students against U-M over the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of the late Dr. Robert Anderson. Other instances of abuse and misconduct by the university president and provost have also come to light. "We know that there is broken trust at this school," said Josephine Graham, a senior who brought the recently-settled student suit.
The Anderson suit indicated a decades-long culture of abuse while leadership looked the other way, despite knowledge of the assaults. Anderson worked at U-M for over 30 years from 1968-2003. Despite numerous reports from students to administration at the time, nothing was done—and some students faced retaliation from the school for speaking up. The defendants' law firm WilmerHale wrote that “a senior university administrator was told about Dr. Anderson’s misconduct several times between 1978 or 1979 and 1981 but did not take appropriate action.” Who could have helped these athletes and students? The football coach Bo Schembechler, who had apparently been told of the abuse by numerous victims. Second, the Athletic Director Don Canham and wrestling coach Bill Johannesen.
“We know that there is broken trust at this school.” —Josephine Graham, University of Michigan Senior
The injustice suffered by these victims is nothing new, and we are grateful that they have finally received a measure of justice through the settlement. However, nothing can erase the trauma that they had to go through at the time and its impact on the rest of their lives.
Bo Schembachler, the late famed football coach who employed Anderson, was told about the abuse but did nothing. His statue was targeted by protesters in support of Anderson's victim.
We are hopeful that this new CCRT committee might make a difference in the way abuse and sexual violence are handled at U-M in the future. But that will only happen if administration listens carefully and follows the committee's guidance. Mandated reporters—and adults in general—have a responsibility to pay attention for signs of abuse and to act decisively and report if abuse is suspected.