The Rhetorical Infrastructure of Sexual Misconduct in Michigan State University’s Abuse Scandal

Main Article Content

Amy Koerber


According to a December 21, 2018, Michigan Attorney General report, at least 105 Michigan State University employees, between 1997 and 2015, had received complaints from women about Dr. Larry Nassar’s inappropriate touching during medical treatment. In 2014, one of these complaints was finally reported to MSU’s Title IX office, triggering an investigation that led to a report that concluded Dr. Larry Nassar’s methods of treatment were “medically appropriate” and cleared him of any wrongdoing. Rhetorical analysis of this report exposes how Nassar benefitted from a rhetorical infrastructure that was designed to offer him institutional protection as an expert in medical techniques that require extensive touching of patients. Such analysis also exposes the specific discursive practices that sustain the rhetorical infrastructures that enable this institutional protection.  

Article Details

Research Articles
Author Biography

Amy Koerber, Texas Tech University

Professor in Communication Studies

Associate Dean of Administration & Finance

College of Media & Communication

Texas Tech University



Alcoff, Linda, & Gray, Laura. (1993). Survivor discourse: Transgression or recuperation? Signs, 18(2), 260-290.

Amin, Ash. (2014). Lively infrastructure. Theory, Culture & Society, 31(7-8), 137-161.

Berger, Peter L. & Luckmann, Thomas. (1966). The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Penguin Books.

Bridge, Gavin, Özkaynak, Begüm, & Turhan, Ethemcan. (2018). Energy infrastructure and the fate of the nation: Introduction to special issue. Energy Research & Social Science, 41, 1-11.

Britt, Elizabeth C. (2006). The rhetorical work of institutions. In J. Blake Scott, Bernadette Longo, & Katherine V. Wills (Eds.), Critical power tools: Technical communication and cultural studies, (pp. 133-150). State University of New York Press

Cortina, Lilia M., & Magley, Vicki J. (2003). Raising voice, risking retaliation: Events following interpersonal mistreatment in the workplace. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 8(4), 247-265.

Davis, Sara & Dubisar, Abby M. (2019). Communicating elective sterilization: A feminist perspective. Rhetoric of Health & Medicine, 2(1), 88-113. 10.5744/rhm.2019.1004

Doyle, Jennifer. (2019). Harassment and the privilege of unknowing: The case of Larry Nassar. differences, 30(1), 157-188.

Forsyth, William. (2018, Dec. 21). Status of the independent special counsel’s investigation into Michigan State University’s handling of the Larry Nassar matter. State of Michigan Department of Attorney General.

Foucault, Michel. (1983). Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia. Six Lectures Given at the University of California Berkeley, October–November.

Garrido, Francisco. (2016). Rethinking imperial infrastructure: A bottom-up perspective on the Inca Road. Journal of anthropological archaeology, 43, 94-109.

Golden, Theodore A. (2019). Letter: Time for Kristine Moore to resign or be terminated from MSU. The State News.

Hensley Owens, Kim. (2020). Distributed feminist rhetorical agency after a rape accusation. Rhetoric of Health & Medicine, 3(4), 371-407.

Koerber, Amy, Booher, Amanda K., & Rickly, Rebecca J. (2012). The concept of choice as phallusy: A few reasons why we could not agree more. Present Tense, 2(2).

Larson, Stephanie R. (2018). “Everything inside me was silenced”: (Re)defining rape through visceral counterpublicity. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 104(2), 123-144.

Merriman, Peter & Jones, Rhys. (2017). Nations, materialities and affects. Progress in Human Geography, 41(5), 600-617.

Miller, Carolyn R. (1994). Rhetorical community: The cultural basis of genre. In A. Freedman & P. Medway (Eds.) Genre and the New Rhetoric, (pp. 57-66). Taylor & Francis.

Moore, Kristine M. (July 18, 2014). Report on investigations into sexual harassment. Michigan State University Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives.

Mountjoy, Margo. (2019). ‘Only by speaking out can we create lasting change’: What can we learn from the Dr Larry Nassar tragedy? British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53, 57-60.

Nite, Calvin, and Nauright, John. (2019). Examining institutional work that perpetuates abuse in sport organizations, Sport Management Review, 23(1), 117-129.

Phipps, Alison. (2018). Reckoning up: sexual harassment and violence in the neoliberal university. Gender and Education, 32(2), 227-243.

Porter, James E., Sullivan, Patricia, Blythe, Stuart, Grabill, Jeffrey T., & Miles, Libby. (2000). Institutional critique: A rhetorical methodology for change. College Composition and Communication, 51(4), 610-642.

Ratcliffe, Krista. (2005). Rhetorical listening: Identification, gender, whiteness. Southern Illinois University Press.

Rude, Carolyn D. (1995). The report for decision making: Genre and inquiry. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 9(2), 170-205.

Schuster, Mary. (2019). The Victim’s Voice in the Sexual Misconduct Crisis: Identity, Credibility, and Proof. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Seigel, Marika. (2013). The Rhetoric of Pregnancy. University of Chicago Press.

Slack, Jennifer D., Miller, David J., & Doak, Jeffrey. (1993). The technical communicator as author: Meaning, power, authority. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 7, 12–36.

Smith, Lindsey & Wells, Kate. (Hosts). (2018a, Oct. 22). The Good Guy. (Season 1, Episode 1) [Audio podcast episode]. In Believed: A Podcast. National Public Radio.

Smith, Lindsey & Wells, Kate. (Hosts). (2018b, Nov. 19). How He Got Caught. (Season 1, Episode 5) [Audio podcast episode]. In Believed: A Podcast. National Public Radio.

Smith, Lindsey & Wells, Kate. (Hosts). (2018c, Dec. 10). Larry Nassar’s Survivors Speak, And Finally the World Listens—and Believes. (Season 1, Episode 8) [Audio podcast episode]. In Believed: A Podcast. National Public Radio.

Stabile, Bonnie, Grant, Aubrey, Purohit, Hemant, & Rama, Mohammad. (2019). “She lied”: Social construction, rape myth prevalence in social media, and sexual assault policy. Sexuality, Gender & Policy, 2(2), 80-96.

Sulfaro, Valerie A., & Gill, Rebecca. (2019). Title IX: Help or hindrance?. Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, 40, 204-227.

Vandekerckhove, Wim, & Langenberg, Suzan. (2012). Can we organize courage? Implications of Foucault’s parrhesia. Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organization Studies, 17, 35-44.

Wilson, Ara. (2016). The infrastructure of intimacy. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 41, 247-280.

Wise, Beck. (2018). Fetal positions: Fetal visualization, public art, and abortion politics. Rhetoric of Health & Medicine, 1(3), 296-322. 10.5744/rhm.2018.1015