Editorial: One victim is far too many

Herald Editorial Board

The Issue: Michigan State University, an institution with exceptional tradition both in academia and athletics, has made headlines recently for extreme malpractice in the face of sexual assault crimes. Larry Nassar, former doctor for MSU and USA Gymnastics, was sentenced up to 175 years in prison after over 150 women came forward with their testimonies about how they were abused and assaulted by Nassar while under his care.

Our Stance: If a university with as many resources as MSU can be brought to its knees by the testimonies of the brave survivors of sexual assault, it’s only a matter of time before WKU, an institution currently suing its own student newspaper to cover up sexual assault on campus under the guise of student privacy, will have to face some form of consequences. Whether it’s Michigan State covering up the actions of Nassar or WKU covering up Title IX records, the truth will eventually come to light with or without the cooperation of the administration. 

The idea of comparing the scope of what Michigan State was covering up in Larry Nassar’s despicable actions to what WKU is doing in refusing access to Title IX records is a foolish one.


It is equally foolish when the topic is sexual assault to argue numbers over actions. While over 150 women will hopefully not come forward to testify against WKU faculty as was the case with Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar, the actions committed by both institutions are eerily similar.

An investigation conducted by Outside the Lines, a division of ESPN, found in addition to the crimes committed by Nassar, “ … a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression of [sexual assault] allegations by [Michigan State] officials ranging from campus police to the [university] athletic department.”

The report goes on to read that “over the past three years, [Michigan State] has three times fought in court – unsuccessfully – to withhold names of athletes in campus police records. 

WKU, a university that still refuses to discuss or disclose any matters pertaining to Title IX or faculty and staff sexual misconduct, is essentially perpetuating this toxic culture of denial and information suppression.

If you haven’t heard, WKU is currently suing us, the College Heights Herald, after records requests were made for “all investigative records for all Title IX investigations into sexual misconduct allegations levied against university employees in the past five years.” This means that, unless the court rules in favor of the Herald, the administration retains the power to withhold documents that might incriminate current faculty or staff members or allow previous faculty or staff members that engaged in sexual misconduct while at WKU to continue to prey on students at other universities.

So why would the administration at this university allow the safety of their students to be put at such risk? If you ask them on the record, they would not hesitate to make the self-righteous claim that they are protecting the identities of victims of sexual assault. 

While this does paint the university in a positive light at first glance, it completely ignores the fact that the names of victims, as well as any other identifying information, are already redacted from Title IX records. In addition to requesting these records from WKU, we also requested them from other public universities in the state. The records we received from them were redacted so that victim privacy and justice could coexist. Only WKU and Kentucky State University have refused to release these records.

After the creation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in 1974,universities have intentionally misinterpreted the law to cover up information, the prevalence of sexual assault for instance, that could potentially make universities look bad.

Universities like Michigan State can continue to allow employees like Larry Nassar to continue to commit their heinous acts while pretending to take the high road of protecting victim privacy.

If victims are able to retain their privacy and allow justice to be served to sexual offenders, what does WKU have to gain by maintaining their lawsuit against the Herald?


The only gains to be made by WKU’s legal course of action is to maintain their power over information that could paint the university in a negative light. The gains seem to be minimal, but for the university being able to have power over this information and keep it in the dark evidently seems to be paramount.

How else could you explain that while the university faces a $40 million deficit they continue to drag their feet in the courts and rack up legal fees?

Need further evidence to dismantle the administration’s argument? The Houston Chronicle, a newspaper which requested Title IX records from some of the largest universities in Texas in 2016, was able to protect the identities of victims and serve justice to the offending faculty members.

While the university, specifically President Timothy Caboni, continues to conflate privacy with safety, it is important to keep in mind that privacy and safety are two separate issues. 

When asked about the university’s obligation to student safety in a meeting with the Herald editorial board members earlier this semester, Caboni emphasized the idea that the university was “not going to release information that could jeopardize the privacy of our students in the most painful experiences of their lives.”

Caboni continued to conflate privacy with safety when he emphatically stated: “We will fight tooth and nail to protect student privacy, particularly when it comes to the issues of sexual assault. I will not have a student’s name even possibly made public around one of the most damaging and painful experiences of that student’s life.”

To WKU, protecting student privacy means holding all the power in their hands as they continue to protect the identities of those who have violated the university’s sexual misconduct policy.

Privacy translates to maintaining good public image, not keeping students safe. 

It has been proven that privacy and safety can both be accomplished in cases of sexual assault. It’s clear that the administration is going to continue to resort to legal means in this particular case.

Despite our many battles and differing perspectives as to how this issue should be handled, there is one thing the Herald and the administration can agree on:

One case of sexual assault is far too many.

One case equates to not only a single life being drastically altered forever, but entire families and future generations can be subject to the ripple effect of sexual assault. 

The real, harrowing story in the midst of these legal battles is that sexual harassment and assault are still an issue, not just on college campuses, but in workplaces, homes and other environments where one should not have to beg for safety.

In the compelling words of Olivia Cowan, one of the survivors of Nassar’s sexual abuse, “If they would have taken action when it was first reported, they would have saved me.”

It’s time for WKU to take action in order to protect their students.