As the fallout from the scandal at Penn State continues, we asked contributors with personal connections to the university to weigh in on what this means for the students, the perpetrators, and the victims in the not-so-Happy Valley. You can read Vishal Kumar’s essay here.
by Ian Weissman
Trying to describe what the past week or so has been like at Penn State is like trying to describe the summit of Mt. Everest to someone who has never been there. To outsiders, Penn State is something that can never be understood. This place is magical. It’s more than a university.
To many around the world, the Pennsylvania State University is a model university. Rarely, if ever, do you hear of any sort of scandal coming out of Happy Valley. The biggest scandal to hit in my four years as a student was probably the introduction of a weekly sex advice column in the campus newspaper. Penn State students, faculty, and alumni are an extremely proud and tight-knit family. Every day we live the words of our Alma Mater, which includes lines such as “may no act of ours bring shame” and “may our lives but swell they fame” (both referring to the University). We are proud of our world-class faculty and the fact that every year, students participate in THON, the world’s largest entirely student-run philanthropy, which has raised over $78 million for pediatric cancer since it’s founding.
No man represented the pride of the Penn State community more than legendary football coach, Joe Paterno. JoePa, as he is affectionately known, is more than a football coach to those inside the Penn State family. He is an almost God-like figure who helped make Penn State what it is today. Every day, students study in the Paterno Library, for which Paterno and his wife, Sue, donated over $10 million to build. Catholic students will soon be able to pray at the Paterno Catholic Student Center, which is currently being built thanks to another hefty donation by the Paternos. I personally have friends who are a part of the Paterno Fellows program, which encourages students to meet their highest academic potential. Students often eat a Joegies, a sandwich shop on campus named after JoePa and can be seen wearing shirts that bear such slogans as “Joe Knows Football” and “Roll Up Your Pant Legs, This is JoePa’s House”. As far as we’re concerned, JoePa built Penn State and all that it stands for.
So as you could imagine, the Penn State community was shocked to learn about the seemingly systematic cover-up of a massive child sex abuse scandal by administrators at the university this past week. Never in a million years did we think this could happen anywhere, let alone at Penn State. We are shocked and we are confused. We are angry and most of all, we are betrayed by those who preached “Success With Honor” to everyone in the Penn State community.
All of these emotions came to national attention when a relatively small group of students took to the streets to protest the firing of coach Paterno over some questionable, at best, involvement in the scandal. These students tore down streetlamps, overturned a local media truck, broke windows, lit fires, and even struck a local reporter in the head with a rock. The students who did these inexcusable acts may be students who attend Penn State, but they are not Penn State students.
The true Penn State students are the ones who came out to Friday’s candlelight vigil to show solidarity with the victims. As I stood in the middle of a seemingly endless sea of candles held high in the air and listened to the many touching speeches, I could not help but shed a few tears. I cried for the victims and what they had gone through at the hands of a truly evil person. I cried for the millions of others who have nobody to save them from similar abuse. And I cried for Penn State, a place that has truly made me the person I am today that was now being entirely victimized for the actions of one man. Not once during the ceremony were the words Paterno or football mentioned.
The vigil attracted little national attention and seemed to be overshadowed by the events of the previous night’s “riot”, as it was billed by the national media outlets. The actions of those few students continue to detract attention from the fact that nearly $100,000 in donations to child abuse related charities was collected by students alone this week. And yet, students (some of whom I know personally) continue to lose interviews and job offers without ever being a part of the “riot”.
If there’s one thing we want people to know, it’s that Penn State students care. We care for the victims, we care for the reputation of our university, and most of all, we care that this will never happen again to anyone, anywhere.
As I attended my last home football game as a student against Nebraska this past weekend, a normally bittersweet event for most students, I could not be happier. Besides getting to sit in the S-Zone (a giant “S” spelled out in t-shirts) and getting to help pass the mascot as he crowd surfed to the top of the student section, I was prouder than ever to be a part of the so-called #1 student section on the country. We stood together in our blue shirts (the color of child abuse awareness), screamed the words of the Alma Mater together, and did probably the loudest and most emotional “WE ARE…PENN STATE” stadium cheer I have ever heard. As the players and coaches from both Penn State and Nebraska met at mid-field to offer a prayer for the victims, I could not help but feel that I was part of something bigger than football, or even Penn State.
As I saw the media trucks begin to leave campus this morning, most likely for good, I want the world to know that this isn’t over for us students. We are too proud to give up on something like this. We are Penn State.