So, as you may have heard, my alma mater of Penn State has been in the news a lot lately. I wish I could say it has been for something positive, but in a short week we’ve seen allegations of horrible sexual abuse, scandals that have led the Board of Trustees to fire both Joe Paterno, the school’s head football coach, and Graham Spanier, the school’s President, and rioting in the streets of downtown State College.
I’m a little tired of giving over mental real estate to this story, which I had to do all of last week, given the ugliness of the abuse, the many years in which those who should have acted didn’t, and the disgrace that it’s brought on to the school. But I do think it’s worth noting — which, especially in the news coverage of the protest/riot, it often hasn’t been — that this tragic and disgraceful moment does not define the school.
I’m an alum and also a one-time employee of the University. Graham Spanier became President the year I started as a freshman, and I’d always had genuine respect for both him and Joe Paterno, for how much they obviously cared about the school and what they had both done for the students and community. And yet I think the Board absolutely made the right decision. They — particularly Paterno, for whom the grand jury evidence in Sandusky’s case is more damning — should have acted, should have reported the child abuse to the police, should have followed up to protect the young boys in Sandusky’s “care,” and failed to do so. He and Spanier may have legally met their responsibilities, but they failed morally.
They’re not the only ones, and anyone ready to rally behind Paterno — as so many of those rioters the other night were, as even I wanted to in the beginning — would do well to read this timeline of events, which delves into the actual testimony, revealing not just the alleged abuse but where so many people failed to report it and hold Sandusky accountable for his reprehensible actions.
One would also do well to read John Scalzi’s piece, Omelas State University, which I think sums up a lot of the horror some of us have been feeling over this:
At Pennsylvania State University, a grown man found a blameless child being put through hell. Other grown men learned of it. Each of them had to make their choice, and decide, fundamentally, whether the continuation of their utopia — or at very least the illusion of their utopia — was worth the pain and suffering of that one child. Through their actions, and their inactions, we know the choice they made.
What Sandusky did is horrible; what those around him failed to do is, in a way, almost worse.
And yet, this does not define Penn State. This is a terrible time in the school’s history, which is still ongoing and from which it will have to heal, but I’ve taken heart in the vigils for the victims, the students and faculty and alum who have stood up to say no, Joe Paterno should have been fired — maybe even got off lightly just being fired — that it wasn’t the media but his own actions and inactions that caused this to happen. He is, in his way, culpable, and should be held to account. And I’ve been really pleased to see ProudPSUforRAINN, which in just a few short days has raised over $300,000 to support victims of rape and sexual abuse, like the young boys attacked by Sandusky. I’ve been pleased to see this glimmer of hope amid the ugliness of the case, the misplaced support for those who don’t deserve it, the quickness by some to cast Paterno or the school (and not those boys) as the victims. That some of us have been willing to stand up and say no, this won’t stand; despite the good they’ve done, these men need to be held accountable; but also, we won’t allow this, their horrible mistakes and these deplorable crimes, to define who we are.
If you’re at all able — and even if you’re not a Penn State alum — I hope you’ll consider donating even a little to RAINN, which is a great — and sadly much too needed — cause.