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Survivor Jon Vaughn on U. of Michigan's sexual assault settlement

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Former Michigan football player Jon Vaughn and fellow survivors of sexual assault have been staging a sit-in protest outside the university president's home for more than a hundred days.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JON VAUGHN: It's been half a century that this university has been mired in sexual assault, abuse and cover-up. And we say, no more.

CHANG: Jon Vaughn, former teammates and supporters have been calling for the university to address the decades of sexual assault accusations, including allegations about rape levied at the former sports doctor Robert Anderson. He died in 2008. Well, yesterday the University of Michigan reached a $490 million settlement with more than 1,000 people who have accused Anderson. But Vaughn says he's not going to end his sit-in anytime soon.

Jon Vaughn joins us now. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

VAUGHN: Yes. Thank you.

CHANG: We should note that this $490 million settlement has yet to be approved by the university regents and the survivors who are involved. But I just want to ask you, what do you personally make of this settlement?

VAUGHN: I think it's a step in the right direction. For many of us - we talked over the last couple of days, and there's still work to be done. There's still cover-ups that span wider and deeper than what the settlement, you know, fits into. And there's still a problem for us that are out here protesting of student safety, particularly with, you know, sexual assault, rape and the reporting process at the university. So we see this as a good victory for the battle, but the war is not over.

CHANG: So after the settlement got announced, I'm just curious - what have the conversations been like between you and other survivors about their feelings towards this settlement?

VAUGHN: I wouldn't say that there was any celebration because I think, for the majority of us, we realized that we still want answers, and those answers haven't been given. And we still want conversations that haven't been had.

CHANG: Well, despite the settlement getting announced, I understand that you and fellow survivors are not planning to stop your sit-in protests anytime soon. Can you tell me why that is? What else do you want to see now from the University of Michigan?

VAUGHN: Well, there's several reasons why. One, I have not spoken with anyone from the university except for the university police for the last hundred days. One of the conditions of my protest was we, as survivors, wanted to have a dialogue, which included being face to face with the board of regents and the office of the president.

That has not happened, as well as - our mission grew into a human issue. Student safety and as it pertains to sexual assault, sexual violence, rape on campus and the reporting process, which - the university has unanimously failed so many students that we knew we couldn't change what happened to us but that we could stand in solidarity with the current students and hopefully make that campus a safer place now and in the future. And we're currently in that process, so our job is not done. We weren't going to leave, as we told so many students and professors, until the job is done, until we help effect change as it pertains to student safety.

CHANG: Right. This is far from resolved at this point. Well, you know, the last time that you and I spoke back last October, I learned since that you've been diagnosed with cancer. First of all, I'm so sorry. Can you just tell me, how are you doing right now?

VAUGHN: You know what? I'm doing well. It's just in my thyroid. I'm going into surgery tomorrow for them to remove my thyroid. And my doctor felt like the best course of action is surgery. And then we will do a more thorough biopsy to see the extent and what type of cancer that is in my thyroid.

CHANG: OK. Well, I hope tomorrow goes smoothly. But, you know, I bring up your diagnosis because last month, your former teammate and fellow survivor, Chuck Christian, spoke at a regents meeting about how he blames his own stage four terminal cancer diagnosis on a fear that he developed of doctors after his experience with Robert Anderson. He said that he knows many other survivors who have been diagnosed with preventable diseases because they also grew to fear doctors. Is that a feeling that you share?

VAUGHN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if not for a conversation a couple days after I noticed swelling in my neck with Chuck, I probably wouldn't have gone to the doctor again. You know, I would have, you know, upped my immune vitamins and things of that nature. And we had a very candid conversation. He said, like, Jon, don't be me. He said, go to the doctor. Let's check this out. And that then was, like, a reality check 'cause I realized I hadn't gone to the doctor in years, never really trusted doctors just in general and, I think in a subconscious way, just wanted to stay as far away from the controlling medical exams that I was subjected to at Michigan.

But it's taken me many, many years of therapy to realize that. And then this acute situation happened. And, you know, you start counting back the years and realize, man, I truly did avoid doctors when I had access to them.

CHANG: Wow. Well, while you are recovering from this surgery that you'll be having tomorrow, will other former teammates be continuing the sit-in during your recovery?

VAUGHN: Yes, absolutely. We've created a relay system so that there will be a survivor manning the camp and the frontlines, as we call it. There will always be someone at the camp until - you know, till this war is over.

CHANG: You have told us that you want to see wholesale changes at the university, including personnel changes. And I understand that you're taking that matter into your own hands now, and you are running for the university's board of regents. Is that correct?

VAUGHN: Yes, yes. I've put my name in to begin my campaign to run for the board of regents. I think the vote's in November of this year for the 2023 term.

CHANG: Why did you feel you didn't want to turn your back on the university that did you so much grave wrong?

VAUGHN: One, because I'm a forgiving individual and, two, because the University of Michigan has provided me with the vision that I could actually obtain the things in life that my mother always had for me. And I have some relationships and - that go back 30 some odd years that are some of my closest friends and family actually, as well as, you know, I learned how to become a man at the University of Michigan.

I still take some of those same principles that Bo Schembechler taught me, and I've applied it to my daily life. And I just want to be a part of the change. One thing we talk about with the students as well as different survivors - like, we're here to change the world.

CHANG: Well, I wish you the best of luck with that. That is former NFL player Jon Vaughn. Thank you so much for being with us again. And I hope everything goes smoothly with your surgery tomorrow.

VAUGHN: Thank you guys so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAMBERT'S "MANDAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.