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Why Did We Need An Opportunity To Critique THON?

This weekend, I compiled a post about why Penn Staters don’t THON. About 25 people shared their stories with me, and I put them in one place for people to read.

I felt like it was really time to give people a chance to speak about THON in a way that wasn’t combative, and in a forum where they didn’t run the risk of being personally attacked or questioned.

My original post in no way is meant to encourage a Penn Stater to not participate in THON, and it was not meant to force students to “explain themselves” for not wanting to be involved in THON, either. It was meant to allow students who never felt they had a chance to express their discontent or discomfort with the organization a chance to. I think it worked.

I’m glad I wrote that post — I received about 10 emails from readers thanking me for writing it. Many of the emails told me to “hang in there,” or “keep my head up.” One wrote, “I am sure you have gotten a plethora of hate mail in the past 24 hours. I encourage you to keep your head up, because you did the right thing.”

Surprisingly, I didn’t get much hate mail. Most of the emails I received were positive — people were grateful for a chance to express what they’ve been thinking or feeling about THON, but felt unable to say.

“All I know is that when I was an undergrad, no one would have even dared to write an article like that or even express a contrary opinion about THON. I’m glad that people can actually share their real feelings.”

“I would like to applaud you for your article you wrote this past weekend on why students do not participate in THON. Your reporting brought an important element of the THON conversation to light, and one that needs to be heard more of on campus.”

“I recently read your article on reasons not to THON, and sincerely appreciated it…I’ve been feeling very alone and honestly ashamed of my lack of involvement in THON.”

“Stories do need to be told sometimes – even if they’re not popular with the masses.”

“It is such a relief to see this article.”

As important as it was to hear the stories of why Penn Staters choose not to THON, there is something about that post that interests me more: People felt they needed to thank me. I’m so happy that I was able to give people a way to tell their stories, and in some cases critique an organization that has become, to some, untouchable on campus.

But why did they feel that they needed to be given an opportunity to do that? What does this say about the conversations that this university is able to have about THON?

Allowing organizations to amass so much institutional power that they are unable to be spoken about negatively is detrimental to the entire campus ecosystem. It’s important to understand that every part, even the best parts, of our university are only small pieces of Penn State as a whole, and they should not be immune to criticism.

Why can we not say, “THON does great things, but it’s not perfect”?

There is no black and white. Things, people, organizations, even THON — everything exists in shades of gray.

Penn State is a lot of things. We are a university that produced 13 Fulbright Scholars this year. We are a football team that stayed together through tragedy. We are a university that welcomes prospective students with “We Are” chants across campus. We are a university that raised $13 million to fight pediatric cancer this year. We are a university that attracts hundreds of students to streak down Mifflin Street before finals week to blow off steam. We are a university that locks arms and sings the final verse of the Alma Mater just a little bit louder. I love that Penn State.

We are also a university that saw 21 sexual assaults reported to the police between Aug. 20th, 2014 and Feb. 9, 2015. We are a university that had to be asked to treat each other with civility twice this year. We are a university that has been featured on This American Life for our binge drinking habits. We are a university that has, somehow, gotten to a point where certain parts of our culture are unable to be criticized.

I want to be a part of a Penn State that is self-reflective, that is self-critical, and that realizes that although there are many things that make this university a beautiful place to grow and learn and thrive, there are aspects of it, of us, that are imperfect.

Penn State is an amazing place, an incredible place. But it’s also an imperfect place. And we all share a responsibility for fixing that. I hope this allows us a more critical perspective of Penn State and its many facets, and that we’re able to see and discuss a more complete picture of our University.

For the Glory, forever.

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About the Author

Melissa McCleery

Melissa is a senior majoring in Women’s Studies, Political Science, and Spanish. In the little free time she has, Melissa likes to cook, spend all her money at The Phyrst, and add to her collection of blue and white striped clothing. She can be reached via Twitter (@mkmccleery) or email ([email protected]).

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