For an interracial couple, a trip to Happy Valley turned into a Beaver Stadium nightmare.
Linda Baker, a white woman, and her husband, a black male from Michigan, traveled to State College to attend the October 30th Penn State game against Michigan. One would expect these two Wolverine fans to receive some booing or jokes about Ann Arbor’s promiscuity, but the comments became less about the blue and yellow colors on Mr. Baker’s Michigan gear and more about the color of his skin.
In a letter to the Centre Daily Times, Mrs. Baker wrote about the racially driven harassment the couple endured before and during the game. Fans threw drinks, physically hit and used derogatory words to make the two Michigan fans feel unwelcome. Fed up with the abuse, the Baker’s left the game early and vowed to “never return to State College.” The letter detailing their experience was published by the CDT and resulted in a fire storm of comments.
Some reactions were from disgusted residents who offered apologies to the Baker family. “Sadly, your comments will be dismissed as those of an overly sensitive or emotional person. In the PSU football world everything is always rosy and Happy Valley is Paradise. However, having lived here for many years, I can say that I’m not surprised to hear of your experiences. Come back and visit when the Happy Valley crowd isn’t in town.”
Others, however, doubted the legitimacy of the article’s contents: “Just wondering if there’s more to it than she’s letting on here …. like maybe she was doing something to engender the hostility? There’s more than one side to every story, and personally, I’m not going to believe it just because she says it. You have to admit this is a very unusual experience for someone at a Penn State game.”
Some comments even teetered on the edge of blatant bigotry: “IT is open season on the WHITE and blue of PSU…no wonder this country is on its way to its demise.”
Criticism has not been contained to the November 14th article. Mr. and Mrs. Baker’s negative experience has elicited responses from President Spanier and Coach Paterno. Both sent letters to the Baker family as a way to informally apologize for the actions of a select number of fans.
Terrel Jones of the Vice Provost of Education Equity, said that the Penn State faculty is working on “pro-active” ways to address the belligerent behavior that is becoming increasingly common at Beaver Stadium.
“We want our fans to be good fans, and to treat other fans as guest,” he said in a phone interview.
Making it easier to report incidents is one way officials plan to reduce negative spectator experiences. A number will be posted throughout the stadium (even on the jumbo-tron) that will connect a disturbed fan to stadium security with as little as a text message. Even though this system has been around in the past, Jones hopes that with more publicity this system will be taken advantage of in situations such as this.
Despite Mrs. Baker’s allegations that part of the harassment came from students, Jones didn’t feel the need to take action on campus. Although students form over 15% of the crowd, Jones commented, “this is a stadium issue, not a campus issue.”
That isn’t stopping students from speaking up about the harrasment allegations brought up by the Bakers. In pacticular, Sergio Rodríguez Ávila wrote an opinion article for The Daily Collegian about his personal experiences with racism at Penn State. According to the international student from El Salvador, “racism is not a thing of the past, but quite apparent in the present.”
Ávila states that on several occasions he was harassed for his language and race. He found it “interesting” that most of these instances occured during sporting events, saying that when a team is losing, “race and country of origin is the first insult to come to their mind.”
Penn State is a university that avidly promotes diversity and a No. 1 student section. Are these examples of racism tolerable when pride (and 8 hours of tailgating) is involved? At what point does the alleged harassment cross the line from being merely the actions of die-hard fan to acts of blatant racism?