© 2022 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
WKAR News

Survivor Daughter and Curator Mother Give Tour of Sister Survivor Exhibit

9470BDEC-C4D2-472F-B45B-128714BAD88A.jpeg

The women known as sister survivors are making their voices heard.

The exhibition, “Finding our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak, opened Tuesday, April 16 at the MSU Museum.

It honors the more than 500 women and girls who say they were abused by convicted sexual predator and former MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar.

Two women instrumental in its creation gave WKAR a tour a few days before its opening. 

Grace French, a member of the Army of Survivors and her mother Valerie von Frank, a co-curator, showed us around the exhibition. 

One of the first things we see are 505 colored tiles filling an entire wall - each one representing a person who has come forward.

“It’s laying your story out there in the hopes it will make an impact and make change and we’ve seen some change, but there is definately change that we want to continue to push for in order to make sure this never happens again because you shouldn’t see 505 tiles on another wall somewhere on another institution. That's what we are hoping to change," said French. 

Sprinkled within those panels are many pictures of little girls. Valerie and Grace take in a picture of Grace at 12 years old.

“All of these pictures on this wall are at the time of the abuse," said von Frank. 

“So you can see how baby we were. It's ridiculous how young we all were," said French. 

We see different timelines of events related to Nassar’s employment.

“This is where it starts in 1986, when he joined the USAG medical staff as an athletic trainer and you can see throughout where people were told as well. So, that’s really powerful," said French. 

We come to a wall with dozens of words in large black letters. A sign below says the survivors experienced:

Valerie reads aloud.

"Low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, continual headaches, emotional numbness," she says. 

Until one phrase compels her to step away.

“Extraordinary fear of med...."

von Frank breaks down in tears, composes herself and starts again.

"Extraordinary fear of medical treatment," she said. 

Eventually we move into an adjacent room where the women begin to smile. Here, are Valerie’s teal ribbons – the ones she tied on trees across campus in the winter of 2018. The bows are what gave birth to the exhibition.

Grace reads a quote on the wall from her mom.

“The bows were meant to testify to the campus community, to provide a visual cue that the damage done was vast, in numbers too great to understand without somehow seeing it. And the work of tying them became a mediation of sorts. Penance, prayer and promise that we will not let any survivor go unacknowledged," said French. 

Those survivors are acknowledged a few feet over on a video screen that flashes different images of them in their best moments. Grace's University of Michigan graduation photo pops on the screen.

“That’s me, back when I had long hair," French said laughing. 

She says her mom chose the picture.

“Each women or mother chose a picture that represented them in the best way they knew how. So you can see women with their families and women with their babies and women all dressed up and women all dressed down. It really is a representation of where we are," said French. 

Because the curators say how far the survivors have come is engrained in their story too.

The exhibition will stay open until March of 2020.

News from WKAR will never be behind a paywall. Ever. We need your help to keep our coverage free for everyone. Please consider supporting the news you rely on with a donation today. You can support our journalism for as little as $5. Every contribution, no matter the size, propels our vital coverage. Thank you.