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A former student reacts to criminal charges against ex-MSU Dean Strampel

Dean Strampel harrassed Dr. Breanna O'Keefe when she asked for help.
Michigan State University
Dean Strampel harrassed Dr. Breanna O'Keefe when she asked for help.

Stateside's conversation with Breanna O'Keefe, a 2012 graduate of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine who stepped forward with allegations about Strampel's behavior towards her.

The scandal surrounding Michigan State University deepened last week with the arrest of the former dean of its College of Osteopathic Medicine, William Strampel.

Strampel was arraigned last week on charges of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, counts of misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty related to his failure to supervise sports doctor Larry Nassar, and accusations by four women of sexual harassment.

The Detroit News this week reported that Strampel's performance review indicated he had a history of talking about sexual matters, and commenting on the appearance of personal students. And that was a 2010 review.

Dr. Breanna O'Keefe, a 2012 graduate of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine who stepped forward with allegations about Strampel's behavior towards her, joined Stateside Monday.

Listen to the full conversation above, or read highlights below.

“Initially, I was always very intimidated by him,” O’Keefe said. “He had a very harsh, gruff personality.”

According to O’Keefe, he was unapproachable. She began personally interacting with Strampel in 2009, after finding out she was pregnant. She learned of her pregnancy after the deadline to apply for special consideration to stay in the Lansing area for work had already passed. She asked if she could meet with Strampel to discuss her situation because her then-husband was based in the Lansing area.

“I knew it wasn’t going to really be practical to have a newborn baby away on clinicals when I’m in the ER at 3 a.m.” O’Keefe said.

So, she requested to meet with Strampel via email.

“I received an email back from him stating that he would meet with me, but if I wanted to get what I want I better wear a low-cut shirt,” she said. Shortly after, Strampel’s assistant emailed her asking to schedule an appointment with him.

O’Keefe says Strampel’s email wasn’t necessarily surprising to her because he had a history of telling crude jokes in public, but it nonetheless made her nervous.

“I had no intention of wearing a low-cut shirt,” she said. “Even if I really needed something for me, that’s not something that I was ever willing to do. But I definitely was scared that, here I’m going into a meeting with somebody that already makes me nervous without having an expectation of something that I’m going to wear, and then I’m going to show up not wearing it and asking him for help.”

In the meeting, O’Keefe said Strampel was hostile toward her and berated her for asking for help, even commenting that she should have known as a medical student how pregnancy works, and that she should have taken precautions to prevent it.

She says he refused to help her and told her she would have to go through the general lottery, which is the process for selecting which hospitals the students go to. He told her if it didn’t work out, she might be able to contact him again for help.

O'Keefe says the meeting lasted 10 to 15 minutes because O’Keefe was hesitant to push back. She was afraid it might adversely affect her medical career, especially because she said Strampel had a lot of respect in the community, the same community she grew up in and wanted to work in.

“If I reported him or if I spoke out against him, no one’s going to listen to me. I’m a lowly second-year medical student versus Dean Strampel.”

At a mandatory meeting with students and administrators, Strampel began talking about how one of his administrative assistants told him he couldn’t call the students “kids” because they aren’t, in fact, his kids.

“He said: ‘Well, everybody but Breanna’s baby. That’s my baby.”

O’Keefe said she was shocked, and recalls the moment as one of the most humiliating in her life.

“I turned beet red and it was all I could do not to just burst out in tears in front of everybody,” she said.

As soon as she had a break, O’Keefe ran to the bathroom and cried. She then faced nasty comments from her peers, who called her high grades into question as a result.

“For me, not only was it humiliating to be accused of having an affair, cheating on my husband and getting pregnant by somebody else. Anybody else, but then our dean of our medical school in that moment he undermined years of hard work that I had put in towards getting good grades, studying hard, working hard to build a reputation of being somebody who was always going to work hard and do their best. It basically just put out there that I’d slept my way through medical school.”

The Detroit News got a hold of portions of a 2010 performance review of William Strampel and reported there were multiple comments in the file from other faculty, students and staff that document a similar behavior and attitude toward women O’Keefe described.

“It’s devastating,” O’Keefe says.

“They could have stopped it at any point. And they never did,” she added.

We reached out to MSU and Strampel's attorney and they did not immediately respond to our request for comment.(Subscribe to the Stateside podcast on iTunesGoogle Play, or with this RSS link

Copyright 2021 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Read more about the Stateside.
Originally from New Jersey, Lara is a senior at the University of Michigan studying English and Spanish. She's an Online News and Investigative Intern at Michigan Radio and a recent alum of The Michigan Daily, where she's served as managing editor of The Statement Magazine and summer editor in chief. When she's not at Michigan Radio, she can be found listening to Bruce Springsteen or exploring a national park.