April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and this nationally recognized campaign is attempting to educate the nation on sexual violence, increase public awareness and prevent these acts from occurring across the United States, including college campuses such as Michigan State University.
One way that Michigan State has been spreading awareness is by hosting a large variety of events. Some of the past events included a 5k, yoga sessions, coffee hours and a special day to wear teal: the color of sexual assault awareness and prevention.
In addition to these events in East Lansing, on Tuesday, April 16, the MSU museum opened an exhibit called Finding our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak. The exhibit commemorates the sexual assault survivors of former Michigan State osteopathic physician Larry Nassar and draws attention to the pain that he has caused these women, while also creating a sense of hope and healing for the survivors.
A piece of art with the aim to create this sense of hope is a butterfly dress created by Nassar survivor Alexandra Bourque.
The dress is created out of over 300 tie-dye butterflies of bright and vibrant colors, spread out as if they are flying to become part of the dress.
Bourque, 28, said the dress started off as a display for her store, Brightlytwisted, in Corktown, Detroit. She picked butterflies as a symbol of breaking out of a dark place and turning into something beautiful.
“As I began cutting out butterflies, the amount of butterflies I needed, I realized, was sort of a perfect mirror image of what I’ve been through in the last year and how many of us it took to get someone to listen, how many of us it took to get the attention started with just one butterfly, starting with just a woman and it sort of snowballing to create a space of healing and brightness,” Bourque said.
Bourque said that she hopes that her sister survivors see the piece and recognize that during this process, there is a place that contains light and healing.
“No matter what, you’ll carry this with you through your whole life,” Bourque said. “But there is brightness, there is love, there is hope that still comes from it, and I hope they find that in the piece.”
Although Bourque has used art therapy to move on from her assault, survivor Emily Morales of Chelsea, Michigan, has gone through a different process of healing from her own assault.
Almost two years ago, Morales asked Nassar during her testimony against him for an apology, extracting one in the process.
“When you grow up and if someone has done something to you, you forgive them and move on,” said Morales, 19. “I definitely still hold a grudge, and I don’t think that I will ever move on, but I’m on my way.”
Morales said she has separated herself from almost everything regarding Nassar and his assault, which occurred while she was being treated for her injuries from her years in gymnastics.
“I’ve mostly just moved on. It happened, but I don’t know. I’ve gone to therapy. I’ve taken time off. I’m at the point in my life where I’m just moving on,” Morales said.
After high school, Morales moved to San Diego, California, to attend college at Point Loma Nazarene University, where she majored in nursing. She chose the major because it seemed like the best and most reasonable option to her, and she knew she wanted to go into a profession that helped people.
However, Morales changed her mind and decided to take off a semester in order to recharge and figure out what she wanted, a step that she had never taken the time to do in the midst of her busy life. She chose to attend Grand Valley State University in the fall in order to be closer to home, changing her major to sports medicine in order to pursue a career in coaching for the sport that she has always loved: gymnastics.
Morales and Bourque are just two out of 505 of Nassar’s known sexual assault victims. Because of the damage that the former sports doctor has caused, Michigan State has increased its spending on sexual assault awareness programs such as the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention Program, or otherwise known as SARV.
“SARV just recently was expanded this year into the prevention outreach and education department and that came out of the Larry Nassar case because we had increased funding based on policy changes because of what happened,” said Olivia Gundrum, a Michigan State sophomore and a member of SARV.
SARV members educate Michigan State students on sexual assault by starting conversations about what consent means and power dynamics in relationships. The university requires freshmen or first-year students to attend a meeting discussing relationship violence and sexual assault. Sophomores or second-year students also attend a mandatory meeting called the Bystander Network. Student-athletes, fraternities and sororities are also required to attend separate sessions.
Gundrum, a 20-year-old special education major, said that she joined SARV because she was passionate about supporting other women and being there for them.
“It’s important to make women and men both aware about sexual assault, but more importantly to inform them about the structures that create a society where sexual assault happens,” Gundrum said.
In addition to prevention programs like SARV, Michigan State offers programs to help the survivors of sexual assault in their healing process. The primary program on campus for this is the Sexual Assault Program.
The program offers therapy, advocacy and support groups to survivors who are students at Michigan State.
Samara Hough, a clinical supervisor for the Sexual Assault Program, said that the program offers many options for people who are going through the healing processes and are trying to cope with their trauma.
“We have therapists that work with students to cope with anxiety, manage depression, work on their relationships and do a lot of work to support the survivors,” said Hough.
Hough said that when a survivor comes to a family member or friend for help, asking too many questions is not very helpful.
“You really have to consider that a survivor’s choice was already taken away,” said Hough. “Knowing where the resources are and your limitations may be best as it relates to the support system. Be there, be open, listen and believe, but also have some knowledge yourself.”
Although Sexual Assault Awareness month is coming to a close, the Finding our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak exhibit at the MSU Museum will remain open until March 30, 2020. In addition, 505 teal prayer flags that represent each known survivor will continue to fly high on Grand River Avenue, the flags marked with messages of hope and understanding by over 4,000 Michigan State students.