EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Speaking to a room full of reporters, Michigan State senior Bailey Kowalski said she wanted other sexual assault survivors to "know that they matter" and that she wants all people to be treated with dignity and respect, "regardless of their status and the revenue they bring to the university."
Kowalski, 22, revealed her identity this week, four years after she said she was raped by three now-former Spartans basketball players, and about a year after she filed a Title IX lawsuit against Michigan State alleging that the school did not respond properly to her complaint.
"I'm about to graduate in May, and for most of my college career, this has been a heavy burden on me and my family. ... I am no longer afraid. I'm empowered to do this," she said Thursday. "I know that there are others who exist and they too are afraid. I want to be an example for them. The silent survivors matter and are worth fighting for."
Kowalski did not recount her reported attack, but she talked about how, in the days after, she turned to the Michigan State Counseling Center, where she thought she would find support.
"Instead, I was intimidated and told I was swimming with some pretty big fish," she said, reading most of her statement through tears. "I'll never forget that phrase and the immediate feeling of despair and isolation."
Kowalski was an 18-year-old freshman journalism major when, on the night of April 11, 2015, she was drugged and gang-raped by three Michigan State basketball players after meeting them at a bar in East Lansing, according to her lawsuit.
She said that night turned her from being "confident, joyful and trusting" to "anxious, depressed and closed." She said she suffered for years, living a "double life" on campus, where she had to lie about why she changed her major. The experience killed her lifelong dream of being a sports journalist.
"I've had to learn how to essentially go from a 'Bleed Green' Spartan fan to, 'Why don't you care about the fact we're making it to the Final Four this year?'" she said.
She did not name the players in the lawsuit, nor did she name them Thursday. She has not filed a police report, although her attorney, Karen Truszkowski, said that is still an option.
In its response to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court Western District of Michigan, Michigan State has denied being responsible for the alleged assault and has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. A ruling on that is pending. The university also has an ongoing Title IX investigation into Kowalski's claims; a Michigan State spokeswoman did not respond to an email requesting information about the status of that investigation.
Also siting near the front of the room were a handful of women who were responsible for reporting the sexual abuse crimes of former Michigan State physician Larry Nassar. One of those was Amanda Thomashow, who filed the first Title IX complaint against Nassar. She hugged Kowalski afterward.
"I don't even know how you did it," Thomashow told her. "You are just so brave."
Shortly before the news conference, Kowalski wiped her eyes as she was comforted by her advocate Lauren Allswede, a former Michigan State sexual assault counselor who has previously spoken out about a university system she said she believed provided special treatment to cases involving student-athletes.
Kowalski filed her lawsuit in April 2018, at a time when Michigan State's athletic department and the university as a whole was under scrutiny, in part because of an Outside the Lines investigation published on Jan. 26, 2018. The investigation found a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression of sexual assault, violence and gender discrimination complaints by officials ranging from campus police to the Michigan State athletic department.
MSU's Title IX investigation into Kowalski's report against the three players was one of 35 sexual violence and related misconduct complaints filed against Michigan State athletes since fall 2012, according to an Outside the Lines report in February. In five of the completed cases, athletes were found to be at fault for violating the school's policies on sexual misconduct and relationship violence.
Kowalski is the only complainant of those known to have come forward publicly to reveal her identity. When asked Thursday why she thought that was, she responded, "because they'd be swimming with some really big fish."
Kowalski and her attorney said they wanted to make clear that speaking out about what happened was not meant to be an attack on the basketball team, and was a message that the university needed to change its ways. But when a reporter asked if any of the alleged perpetrators or anyone from the team had reached out to Kowalski to apologize, her attorney fielded the question by saying, "That is an unequivocal 'no.'"
"There's obviously a problem here that needs to be addressed. ... We need to start putting pressure on people," Truszkowski said, adding that the Michigan State community needs to "do some deep digging."
Kowalski said she has been trying to heal and has received only support and encouragement since coming forward and publicly revealing her name Wednesday in a story in The New York Times.
Her father, David Kowalski, answering questions from reporters after the news conference, said that when she graduates in May, "Ironically, she's going to be walking across the stage at the Breslin Center," referring to the Michigan State venue where the basketball team plays.
"Maybe it will be her last, 'I did it. You didn't stop me,''' he said.