I want to begin this letter by introducing myself. My name is Caitlin Gailey, I am a junior studying public relations with a strong passion for sports — especially Penn State football. As far as I can remember I have been a Penn State football fan. Thanks to my family I was practically born bleeding blue and white. I grew up in the shadows of Beaver Stadium and dreamed of the day I would stand in the best student section in the world.
That day has come, and throughout my three years here I have cherished that privilege. I’m a loyal student ticket holder and have rarely missed a home game. I’m not writing to you today to pledge my love for the football team or our athletics program. I’m writing because there I’ve noticed an alarming trend in game day safety that needs to be addressed.
The student entrance process at Beaver Stadium has reached a level where it is physically unsafe for students to enter. This has been a recurring problem all semester, but I’ll give you an example of just how horrific it is. Let’s rewind a couple of weeks to the last home game against Iowa.
I arrived at Gate A a little less than an hour and a half prior to kickoff. When I saw the usual swell of students I braced myself for impact and entered the crowd. What followed shortly thereafter was a nightmare. I was immediately consumed by those around me to the point where I couldn’t move my arms from my side. I was smashed up against the strangers standing in front of me and unable to move in any direction due to a man’s elbow lodged in my back. I looked around and realized everyone was in the same predicament. However, I was optimistic and hoped as time passed the crowd would subside.
I was wrong. The longer we waited the more desperate and panicked the crowd became. The gates and stadium staff were unequipped to handle the crowd and the students essentially began to dog pile on top of one another. I looked to my right to see a girl in the process of having a panic attack, clutching a friend who was attempting to calm her. A group of students to my left began fighting over the pushing that was out of their control, and at one point a student punched another, who fell onto the students behind him.
I’m not a claustrophobic person, but the longer we waited the more I began to feel panic rise inside me. At only 5’2, I was completely subject to the crowd’s pushing. A girl next to me screamed, “You’re crushing me, I can’t breathe,” but no one was able to give her any room. The crowd behind us just kept moving and there was no way to communicate that she needed space.
It was at this point that I realized there was a realistic probability of someone being trampled. The longer we waited, the more panicked the students got and the worse the pushing became. There was no way to communicate with the stadium staff or security as they were still yards away, even after waiting for more than an hour. If something were to happen we were entirely on our own.
After more than an hour and half I finally reached the gate where security checked me and I was given a ticket to the game. Even though I finally had room to breathe I was still considerably shaken by the experience, as were the students around me.
I know it’s difficult to base the experience of all students off of my own personal account, so here are accounts from four other students about their similar game day experiences:
“I need Penn State to figure out a new system for this. Students should not be packed like sardines waiting to get into a game. They shove and push and I have no doubt they would trample over people. Everyone becomes so aggressive and rude in an attempt to ‘stay with their friends.’ I was holding onto my friend’s arm when an intoxicated girl started screaming in my face, unleashing a slew of curse words and threatening to ‘punch me in the face if I didn’t move.’ The whole experience left me pretty sour for the majority of the game. There has to be a better way to funnel students into these games.” – Alex Couch
“It was terrible, at points my feet were actually above the ground and I thought there was going to be in at least three different fights.” – Christine Sibley
“I really think Penn State needs to implement a new security system. People were having panic attacks and no one addressed why the issue was happening. The fact that people were about to get into fights because we were all trying to go watch the same team and lines weren’t moving was disgusting.” – Hailey Chassey
“Going into the Iowa game was truly horrifying. That was something I had never experienced. I had absolutely no control of my body, I was pressed up against from every side of me by huge guys. I ended up waking up the next morning with bruising on my ribs and back from being elbowed that lasted the entire week. I was waiting to be trampled on the ground and genuinely scared about the guys around me. I felt uncomfortable and worried that one of them would touch me inappropriately and I could do nothing about it, had nowhere to go, and no one to call since everyone was shouting. I had to look to the sky to breath, to see, and to stop myself from having a panic attack.” – Julianne Arcamone
The Iowa game is not an isolated incident. At the Ohio State game there were various reports about unsafe entrance practices and mass chaos. Upon entering the game I learned that several students had entered without swiping their IDs, meaning they didn’t even have a ticket for the game.
This is something the university promised to fix the first time it was noted as an issue. “To our knowledge, a similar event has never happened before and we are taking corrective action to help ensure that an event like this never happens again,” associate athletic director Jeff Nelson said after the Ohio State game of the chaos at Gate A.
Unfortunately, it seems nothing has changed. Not only did this happen again but it’s only gotten worse.
I am fortunate that during my three years at this university I have rarely felt unsafe, especially when it comes to football games. However, with the new security procedures and increased success of the team, just getting into the game has become a traumatic experience for students. I have personally never felt so concerned for my safety, and if something doesn’t change I don’t see this fear going away.
With the Michigan State game quickly approaching, I ask you, Sandy and other university administrators to please reconsider the student entrance process. It is not feasible to assume all students will enter the game at varying times prior to kickoff — knocking a couple bucks off snacks in the stadium is hardly an incentive for students who have access to practically unlimited food and drinks at either the dining halls or tailgates prior to entering the game.
The system is outdated and outright unsafe. I’m worried that if something doesn’t change it’s only a matter of time before students are seriously injured. As someone who loves this university and its football team, I want nothing more than to cheer on our successes, but I want to be there to witness them. With a team doing so well, we should be encouraging students to go to games, not putting their safety and comfort in jeopardy by just trying to get inside the stadium. To continuously ignore this issue and hope it corrects itself as the “kinks” are worked out would be irresponsible. Someone needs to stand up for the students and their safety and make a change.