EAST LANSING - Instead of sporting their typical green and white, hundreds of Michigan State students marched Friday night with teal ribbons pinned to their coats.
Two days after former MSU President Lou Anna Simon resigned amid the Larry Nassar scandal, students rallied in support of survivors of sexual assault. The group gathered near the campus' freshly-painted rock bearing the names of women and girls who spoke out against disgraced former sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar.
Nassar, 54, formerly of Holt, was sentenced Wednesday to 40 to 175 years in prison for multiple sexual assault charges, most related to assaults on his patients.
Earlier in the week, the march was planned as a call for Simon's resignation. Soon after, organizers decided to change the event to be a rally of support for sexual assault survivors. Police estimate 400 to 500 people participated.
Organizer and MSU junior Mackenzie Mrla said the rally was a chance for students to use the recent spotlight on MSU to speak out.
"We’re not going to chose what our university did and be silent," Mrla said. "We’re going to chose to use our words for change. We need change."
Simon resigned from her position Wednesday evening. The Board of Trustees decided Friday that Bill Beekman, the board's secretary and a university vice president, will temporarily take Simon's place while a search is conducted for an interim president.
Larry Nassar survivor and MSU student Lindsey Lemke was one of a handful of students, faculty members and politicians to speak at Wednesday night's gathering. Following the rally, she said felt overwhelmed by the support from her fellow students and the MSU community.
While Lemke said Simon's resignation earlier in the week was a step forward, more people at MSU need to be held accountable.
"Anybody who enabled (Larry Nassar) needs to go because clearly they have proved that sexual assault isn't important to them," she said. "And we're here to say that it's important to us and we're going to make it so it's important to you too."
She said the school needs to implement and stick with clear guidelines for reporting sexual assault.
Speakers and chants throughout the night expressed a deep anger and frustration toward MSU. Many called for members of the school's Board of Trustees to step down. Still, every call of "go green" was met with a strong "go white".
"I'm a Spartan. I bleed green. I grew up it Lansing," Lemke said. "When you see things like this it's hard not to say 'I'm proud to be a Spartan' because this is amazing."
Lorenzo Santavicca, president of the Associated Students of Michigan State University, told the crowd that — no matter the school's leadership — students are ultimately what defines the university.
"There is a new day at Michigan State University," he said. "And it's because all of us had the courage to listen and the ability to say that we're going to make a change on this campus."
Also on Friday evening, students in the student section of the Breslin Center were asked to wear teal in support of sexual assault survivors. Many students at the rally had teal ribbons pinned to their coats, just hours after Athletic Director Mark Hollis announced his retirement.
Organizer Siaira Milroy said many students feel disenfranchised and are upset and frustrated over the school's lack of transparency.
Simon's resignation is a positive change, Milroy said, but the school's problems weren't solely caused by her.
"There are many systemic issues, cultural norms and additional faculty that have also aided in this problem," she said. "We see this as the starting point."
Among other actions, student organizers said they want the school to host open meetings following the NCAA and attorney general investigations into the school. They also want the board to release a list of immediate changes they plan to implement at the school.
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Lansing State Journal