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about 3 years ago
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On Thanksgiving, Some Time to Reflect

Signs of Spring Outside of Old Main -- Photo by Eric Weiss

Most of us have taken the week to return to our families outside of the isolated enclave we call State College. Leaving our hyper-Penn State-centric home, concentrated at about 40,000:1, certainly has given me some perspective about what has happened both in the football program and to us as a university community.

On Tuesday, Adam Smeltz of StateCollege.com published an excellent column of his reflections in a State College vacated by almost all of those tens of thousands of students. Just being away from a place where Penn State isn’t the news 24/7, even before the scandal broke, but even more so now, has been helpful. But since I’ve returned, especially now since I’m a Penn State student, the scandal hasn’t died down that much in the news. Maybe it’s just because I’ve still been involved with looking at all the news that comes out of it for Onward State. But the fact remains, this is going to follow us wherever we go, at least for the near future.

But on Thanksgiving, you’re with your family. And what I’m most thankful for on this Thanksgiving is for family and friends who don’t see me as an extension of a tarnished university; they see me as they always have. And that’s what the national spotlight, the court of public opinion doesn’t see; we, the students, define what Penn State is, not the other way around. Regardless of how much dirt gets dug up about Sandusky or Paterno or Spanier or anyone else in the future, what Penn State is at its very core is us, the students. We are Penn State, and we are good people.

The people that matter will see you through this, unlike other whispers and murmurs that every Penn State student is going down with the ship. Guilt by association is all too prevalent today in the court of public opinion. But the people who see that association and cast us off as hopelessly guilty, or complicit, are mostly set in their ways and only believe what they want to believe. The same is true in the other direction, of people who don’t want to believe that anything bad happened at Penn State.

The fact is, that though the victims are, and should, be the primary focus of our sympathy, everyone who has some connection to Penn State has suffered a blow as well. Our hero of a coach has been deposed, and it seems that the world is looking for any excuse to think the worst of each of us. In a matter of days, our university is a skeleton of how we knew it before, when we chose to go to this great school.

But, at least, I notice that my family has stood behind me, picking me up when I’m down. They understand what I’m going through, they understand that I had nothing to do with any of this mess, and I’m sure the same goes for all of you. You will definitely have to hear some questions and you may get into a few arguments, but at least you’re not going to lose any family members because of it; they know you better than that.

It’s been good to be out of Happy Valley this week, and to not have every single news story, 24/7, be some other blow to Penn State. It’s been a positive time to recover and rally, and though I wish it’d come sooner, it’s still been a lot of help. I think most of us took off from State College as soon as we could, but the fact remains that we still have to go back on Monday.

So take that positive energy this week, channel it when you get back to campus. Though CNN and NBC and all the other news stations may still be there, and though Anderson Cooper might want you to go all-out Jerry Springer, they’re not interested in your well-being, only in more outrage that they can continue to squeeze news out of. Keep that rallying, positive energy alive, and realize that those who don’t bother to think beyond the simple thought that everything Penn State is bad, including the students, aren’t worth your time and effort. Any decent person will take a minute to think, and realize that guilt by association just doesn’t make sense. They’ll evaluate you for what you are.

Our most revered symbols and figureheads may be gone from Penn State, but that skeleton I mentioned is the core of the university: us. It’s up to us to go back to campus, pick ourselves up, and build a better Penn State. I know we can do it.

9 Responses to “On Thanksgiving, Some Time to Reflect”

Sickened says:

I’m so tired of the complaints about the media and Joe Paterno.  I’m bored with the ‘ we are’ and everyone feeling sorry for themselves.  Current students, alum and parents need to hold the administration and BOT accountable.  Demand transparency, demand FOIA compliance, demand real change.  Say it with words, petitions, signs, and MONEY.  Stop donating, stop buying tickets.  Penn State isnt going to change unless they know they have to.  You want your pride back?  Let the administration know hiring a PR firm isnt going to be enough.  They need to clean house, not just dust.

psudad says:

Right again Mr. McCool.  We are all (including alumni) affected by what happened, the University’s reactions and decisions and the unceremonious removal of the wool over everyone’s eyes. 

The University is more than just football.  But not so much as we would like to believe.  The first thought anyone has when Penn State is mentioned is football and Joe Paterno.  We did that to ourselves both through branding and also focus of alumni and fans reaction to the team, and hence suffer the results now that the program has fallen from grace.

Sickened’s comment is endemic of the feeling that many people have, and our personal efforts to move on from this crisis irritate those people who feel self righteous anger and want to direct it at everyone. 

The fact is, people do bad things.  We all of us are inclined to look the other way, especially when not doing so is hard and would have adverse personal consequences. I think most of the moral outrage comes from inside those of us who deep down realize that we let this kind of thing happen every day everywhere and we do nothing about it.  So now we can feel better about ourselves by directing anger towards a University which did what every organization does-look out for itself first rather than doing what everyone knows should have been done instead.

Ultimately, while I do not agree with all of Sickened’s suggestions, I do urge everyone to look at everything and everyone critically.  Blind trust or hero worship are dangerous.  We should raise our voices in complaint when we see situations that appear to be wrong.  Put another way, we should all insist that our University do more than mouth platitudes, but instead actually act in accordance with the espoused ideals.  

Sickened says:

Self rightous, dad?  No.  The inaction of this University put my 13 year old son at risk every day.

If the status quo and platitudes work for you…great.  It seems to me there is a bigger voice here waiting to be heard.  The issue is where the blame is placed.

psudad says:

Um-no you miss my points entirely.  I never bought the platitudes or drank the cool aid.  PSU is exactly like every univeristy out there, and governments too.  Your concern about your 13 year old is understandable-logically you should keep him home and protected from anyone-volunteer athletic coaches, priests and high school teachers (men and women) as we have numerous examples of statutory rape from each of these types of persons.  Or perhaps you should be screaming to your congressman about the lack of any federal programs or consistent policies to combat child molestation, child slavery and similar violence against minors. 

Your reaction and everyone elses is very personal and understandable, but in the end, not consistent or justified. 

I don’t believe that the other coaches on the staff did not at least hear rumors of Sandusky’s behaviors.  But then it does not surprise me that none of them looked into it, because rocking the boat is not what people do. We would all like to tell ourselves that we would behave differently-but I don’t believe that.  If you were a coach on that team, you would have looked the other way too.  If you were a second mile volunteer (perhaps you were?) you would never have believed that this villian was capable of such behaviors.

I also don’t believe that our Trustees had no knowledge of the incident that has caused outrage among all and sundry-and no, again I am not surprised that they chose not to do anything.  It is simply easier to assume it is untrue or that others would take care of it. Human beings will nearly always act self interestedly. 

Ultimately though, we should recognize that Sandusky’s actions, and the subsequent inaction by others who might have helped, has hurt more than just the actual victims.  All current PSU students are affected by this, and less directly, so are we alumni.  I feel sad for Mr. McCool, my own son (a senior) and all of the current students who obviously were never in a position to do anything about this mess, and now will suffer for it in direct and indirect ways. 

Sickened says:

How dare you.  How dare you?  I have lived in this town for 16 years, and I have a 13 year old son.  How on earth do you think I have an opinion that is not justified? 

It is people like you that allowed this to happen.  How dare you.

Sickened says:

It is too bad your son is affected by the ineffectual actions of the administration of this University.  What exactly are you going to do about it?

GTWMA says:

I’m going to hold the University accountable to an independent investigation of the events.

I’m going to continue to speak to my students regularly about these events, trying to help them discern the truth about themselves, the individuals involved, their University, their community, and local and state government in the events.

I’m going to add RAINN or a similar organization to the groups that I regularly support through volunteer time or charitable donations, and ask my students, alumni, faculty, and staff to join me in that effort.

I’m going to talk with my children about protecting themselves and protecting others from people who prey on their trust.

I’m going to try to use what is learned through the criminal and other investigations to create a better Penn State and State College community, especially one that is more aware of these issues and more likely to prevent them, as well as one where asking questions about right and wrong is seen as one of the most valuable actions a member can take.

One other thing I’m going to do?  I’m going to restrain myself from launching into a wholesale condemnation of everyone and everything connected to the University and the community and rushing to make judgements and changes before the facts are known. 

I’m going to prevent myself from letting my concern about my own son, also a member of this community, overwhelm my effort to try to understand others’ points of view so that we can work together to build that better community. 

You’ve lived here 16 years.  Someone might point that finger at you and say “You must have known.  You should have known.  It is people like you who allowed this to happen.”  They might write, as one commenter did, that “The entire University and town was complicit in this man’s crimes.”  I would hope that you would join me in recognizing that these reactions, while understandable, are not justifiable.  You did not allow this to happen.  I did not allow this to happen.  Psudad did not allow this to happen. There are many, many people at Penn State and in State College who did not allow this to happen.

There may be some who did allow this to happen and time and the investigations will, we hope, reveal the facts and allow us to hold them accountable.  We should do everything we can to ensure that this justice is done.  But, we should not allow our understandable concern and anger cloud and color our thoughts and actions, and cause us to add to the tragedy by harming additional people who are innocent of any wrongdoing.

Sickened says:

You are right, and I did over-react to what I read as a condescending reply.

Your actions are appropriate.  It is frustrating to me to hear everyone complaining and whining when there is so much a dedicated group of people can do to affect positive change. 

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