Last Saturday for me was almost like any other Penn State football Saturday over the past few years. I woke up, figured out where some friends of mine were tailgating, met up with them, then, lacking tickets, I came back home for the game.
What made this weekend different was two things. When I went out, I was wearing blue. Granted that’s not an unusual occurrence since about 80% of my shirts are blue, but this time there was a reason. It was for Penn State’s second Blue Out.
I think the Blue Out is a terrific new tradition for the Penn State community — it can raise awareness (and money if you bought the shirt) of child abuse and it can be seen as a sign by Penn Staters that we will do what we can to prevent child abuse in each of our various walks of life. The other difference was that when I posted on an Onward State article about the Blue Out voicing this support and reasoning, I was soon called an idiot for thinking the Blue Out was a good thing in other postings and Facebook messages.
I have to admit, until I read the Onward State article, I had no idea that this was even a controversy. To put it in the simplest terms possible, child abuse is a bad thing and the Blue Out is there to show that we as a community also think it is a bad thing. It was a mind boggling thing to me that people could associate something like the Blue Out as being synonymous with Penn Staters saying we did something wrong in all of this Sandusky mess. It is about supporting anti-child abuse efforts as far as I’m concerned, always will be, and that’s the end of it.
But this also got me to thinking though about something broader: what is with the level of discourse concerning all things Penn State these days online?
Now, I’m going to immediately stop and say I’m not talking about the professional trolls out there who post things online just to rile people up. They’re doing it for their own entertainment and a certain number of people who do that can be expected. What I am talking about are the Penn State students and graduates during all of this.
In a little over a month, it will be a year since there was the leak about the indictments. In that time, I’ve talked to friends, family, students, alumni, faculty, and others about all sorts of things Penn State related. I’ve seen different ideas thrown out there for what we should or shouldn’t be doing, who’s to blame for what, and changes that we as a community should be fighting for as a result. While I don’t always agree with some ideas being put out there or the approach that some people take, I can at least understand where it is coming from.
The people saying these things love Penn State. These ideas are being born out of that love, they want to see Penn State do well. Whether you support the Board of Trustees and think they were justified in what they did or think they did something terrible and should all be replaced immediately, the people active in these discussions are active because of that love (or at least I hope so). We are all on the same side here, we just have a difference of opinion on what we should be doing going forward.
It is truly a sad thing that in the past year, a difference of opinion between people can lead to individuals demonizing and attacking someone rather than debating the merits of one position or another. I fully believe we should be having an open debate about what steps to take going forward.
Students, alumni, faculty, administrators, we should all be talking about our ideas, figuring out what is best for the long term health of Penn State, and then going forward with those. We all should be doing that by discussing ideas and not attacking the individual though. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and we should respect that even if we disagree with them. No one person will ever have all the answers about what we should be doing right now to improve Penn State.
Maybe through dialogue and civil conversations, we can figure out what could work and what doesn’t, combine ideas together into something new. Penn Staters working together have been able to accomplish amazing things, frankly, this could be no different if we approach each other and treat each other with respect as people rather than as enemies.
We all value our Penn State education. A big part of that is learning to think critically and discuss ideas and thoughts without resorting to assaulting the messenger of those thoughts because we disagree with them. So I ask all of you, regardless of what you think is best for Penn State in terms of the various governance issues, do you think we are putting our best side forward to the world by having what could be meaningful discussions between college educated adults on ideas devolve into name calling?
Personally, I think not.