The Story Of Julia Cipparulo & Her Motives For Allegedly Vandalizing Penn State
During the Class of 2022’s graduation weekend in May, Penn State’s Lion Shrine was vandalized and closed off to the public. Many members of the community were left with one question: who did this, and why?
Why would someone force the university to close one of campus’ most iconic landmarks during a time when thousands of students are lining up to take pictures? Nearly two months later, our questions have answers.
In an email sent to Onward State Friday, Penn State alum Julia Cipparulo claimed responsibility for the campus vandalisms that occurred on May 8. She faces four felony charges for an incident that took place on Curtin Road, which is where the Lion Shrine is located.
Cipparulo provided and published a wealth of primary sources that include reasoning for her alleged crimes. There was the email of confession sent to Onward State, a 32-page essay detailing “repeated rape and sexual coercion” at Penn State, a document she calls “An Outline of Negligence and Discrimination at Penn State University,” and her public TikTok account, among other messages and documents.
She alleges that negligence, hazing, sexual assault, and more took place during her time at Penn State. She revealed a previously unknown suspension on the Lion Ambassadors organization, which she claims was mishandled by the university and nearly led to her death. Lion Ambassadors is best known for giving tours of Penn State’s campus, but the organization also hosts events in partnership with the Alumni Association.
To help tell Cipparulo’s story best, we broke down her main motives for the alleged vandalism and the key points of her Penn State experience.
To get a full grasp of Cipparulo’s experiences with sexual assault and coercion at Penn State, we recommend reading her full essay. We will include the relevant portions for this story, but attempting to summarize the 32-page document would be a disservice to her experiences.
Disclaimer: The following story contains descriptions of sexual assault, hazing, suicide, and other heavy matters.
On May 8, Penn State was targeted by a string of vandalism to at least Old Main, the Lion Shrine, and the Hintz Family Alumni Center. The Lion Shrine’s ear was broken off and soaked in red paint. Old Main was graffitied with text that read “TIME IS UP,” “DEATH BY COP,” “DEATH BY HAZING,” “DEATH BY SUICIDE,” and “DEATH BY PSU CULTURE.” The letters “FTG,” meaning “for the glory,” were painted onto the Alumni Center.
Cipparulo experienced what she called “repeated rape and sexual coercion” at Penn State, which is detailed in her essay. She wrote that she also sent a six-page letter to the Penn State administration addressing sanctions imposed on the Lion Ambassadors in the spring of 2021. She claims she received no response.
Onward State obtained a June 2021 email revealing that the Lion Ambassadors advisor told Cipparulo her letter was sent to Penn State administrators and the Alumni Association leadership team. The advisor, who was a mandated reporter, also informed Cipparulo that they filed a Title IX report.
A university spokesperson confirmed that accusations of inappropriate conduct within Lion Ambassadors were investigated from late April to mid-August of 2021. During the investigation, “all internal events and social events within the program were suspended.”
The spokesperson also wrote that “several organizational reforms were put into place” following the investigation. The Alumni Association removed students from the program. Onward State obtained internal emails that confirmed three students were removed in April following three “Conduct Unbecomings.”
Cipparulo claims that she did not hear back from the university after sending her letter, and a Penn State spokesperson could not specifically confirm that a response was sent. However, the spokesperson wrote that the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response “responded directly” to those affected by the Lion Ambassadors suspension. It’s not clear if this response was to Cipparulo or those affected by allegations that led to the suspension.
Neither the advisor nor other Lion Ambassadors leaders at the time could be reached for an interview. Cipparulo wrote that she was in and out of psychiatric hospitals at the time, and it “goes to show how mental health crises form barriers to communication of traumatic events.”
She also wrote a 17-page amendment to the organization’s constitution with suggestions for “mandatory sexual violence and bystander intervention training” and a “victim-based approached to sexual assault report.” She claimed that none of her changes were implemented and that she did not receive a response from three unnamed news outlets when attempting to amplify her complaints.
Cipparulo also has a TikTok playlist titled “Hold PSU Accountable,” which has videos dating back to December 2020. She published the aforementioned essay titled “Defining My Story” on April 1, 2022. After going fully public with her story, Cipparulo began receiving comments from students and alums who share a similar distaste for Penn State.
“Penn State is really toxic both admin and student body,” one person commented on a TikTok video. “That is the exact reason I left. They handled my case like a joke,” another commenter said under a video where Cipparulo claimed Penn State mishandled her sexual assault and hazing reports. “My drink was drugged at a party as a freshman and i ended up in the [emergency room.] It got reported, and i got cited bc i said i had been drinking!” another commenter wrote under the same video.
But, not all of the comments on her videos voiced support. In fact, one account with the username “ilovepennstate” commented that they will “always protect psu” after the university properly handled their sexual assault case.
“That’s not fucking normal. I’m glad you had a good experience. So many others didn’t,” Cipparulo responded to the positive comment.
To Cipparulo, Penn State’s response to her outcries — which included at least the essay, amendment, and letter to the administration — was not adequate. So, she decided to take more drastic action, she wrote.
“They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and for the most part I don’t disagree. But when the people in power refuse to acknowledge your writing, and when your community is blinded by adoration of a corrupt institution, a pen will take you only so far,” she wrote to Onward State. “No, I would not pick up a sword, as I believe in non-violence against humankind. So when the pen failed, I picked up a sledgehammer and took to the Lion Shrine.”
Cipparulo added that she was not having a bipolar disorder-induced manic episode when allegedly vandalizing campus. She wrote that she was “fully aware of the consequences” and that this instance was a result of post-traumatic stress disorder, which “was a graduation gift from [her] alma mater.”
Cipparulo also cited previous stories of tragedy at Penn State, including the death of Osaze Osagie, a Black State College resident who was fatally shot three years ago by State College police while completing a mental health check, and Timothy Piazza, who died in 2017 after a hazing incident at Beta Theta Pi fraternity.
She also wrote that “Justine” was among a list of names painted behind the Lion Shrine in the vandalism, in reference to Justine Gross, who died after an 11-story fall down a Beaver Terrace Apartments trash chute in November 2021. Cipparulo added that Gross was the reasoning for the “Death by PSU culture” message painted onto Old Main, and that “details of why she crawled into a trash chute are unknown or undisclosed, but video footage shows her acting frightened.”
Cipparulo wrote to Onward State that Gross’s sister, Jasmine, reached out to “express her support for [Cipparulo] and for the fight for justice for Justine and the other students.”
“This was my peaceful protest,” she told police in her affidavit of probable cause. “The back of the lion [shrine] is red, because to the front it looks like everything is ok. Just like Penn State. Everything is ok. From the back, it’s all bloody and broken.”
She also wrote in her essay that she struggled with suicidal ideation in the summer of 2021.
She wrote to Onward State that she was hospitalized three times between May and June 2021, which was “directly” caused by the Lion Ambassadors shutdown. She also attempted suicide her sophomore year at Penn State.
“The community would tell themselves that it’s not their fault, and my loved ones would ask themselves everyday what they could have done differently…” Cipparulo wrote. “Everyone would have mourned my death, wiped their hands and said that there is nothing that could be done. I am telling you that there is so much to be done.”
Instead of turning to violence or suicide, Cipparulo chose vandalism to help spread her story. She wrote that she has “no doubt” that she would permanently be in treatment centers if not for vandalizing campus.
“I can rest knowing that I have done everything I could to break the cycle of death and trauma. It’s not enough on my part,” Cipparulo wrote. “But that broken ear is a permanent reminder of the dark side of Penn State University, the lives lost, and a warning. A warning that the deaths will continue unless massive change is enacted. And that won’t happen without the voices of the community. Your voices, if you so choose.”
Cipparulo wrote that she can handle the consequences of allegedly committing these crimes, but she has “no intention” of causing future legal trouble for herself. She added that she has “no regrets” and would “do it again every single time.”
“Social change has never been achieved without protests, and importantly, protests that have broken the law. It is the very foundation of our country,” Cipparulo wrote. “But the biggest consequence? Penn State University cannot handle it: our friends, family, and community are finally talking about these deaths and what cause them. We will not suffer in silence any longer. At least, I won’t.”
Later in this story, we will further explore Cipparulo’s specific gripes with Penn State’s handling of the Lion Ambassdors situation and the university’s policies on reporting hazing and sexual assault. This section was purely to illustrate and summarize her reasons for allegedly choosing vandalism as a form of protest.
The First Vandalism — June 2021
While Cipparulo’s alleged May 8 vandalism was the first to receive major attention, she said it was not the first time she took to defacing the Lion Shrine.
Cipparulo said on TikTok that she vandalized the shrine with teal paint on June 1, 2021, “in a manic episode to protest Penn State’s mishandling of [sexual assault/hazing] reports in [her] student org.” The National Sexual Violence Resource Center says teal is the color of sexual violence prevention. In 2022, the organization encouraged folks to wear teal on April 5, which was the Sexual Assault Awareness Month day of action.
Cipparulo said that police knew ahead of time that she was going to commit this first vandalism. She claims that rather than stopping her, police tailed her around campus and took pictures of her actions before arresting her.
“They took pictures of a severely ill student in the midst of a mental health crisis,” she also wrote to Onward State. “The cops followed and watched me as I wrote my pain with a sharpie, all over campus. Right on the door of Old-Main.”
Penn State Police confirmed that a vandalism incident at the Lion Shrine took place between 3:19 and 3:39 a.m. on June 1, 2021. Police said a “student reported concern for another person,” and the case is marked with an open disposition, which means it is still under investigation and no arrests were made. The charges were listed as “departmental information.”
Cipparulo said she used water-based paint for this first vandalism, which allowed it to easily wash off with a hose. She drew a comparison to Penn State’s “guard the Lion Shrine” tradition, which remembers when Sue Paterno covered the Lion Shrine in orange water-based paint before a football game against Syracuse to rile up the student body. Syracuse fans then used more permanent oil-based paint to vandalize the shrine themselves, spawning the tradition of “guarding” the shrine before Homecoming.
“A football game is an acceptable reason for vandalization. Sexual assault awareness is…not?,” Cipparulo wrote in her essay.
The first vandalism went largely unnoticed. This 2021 defacing of the Lion Shrine did not draw any attention from the community or media, which perhaps led her to allegedly take more drastic action in May of 2022.
“After Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children, and Timothy Piazza’s death in 2017, Penn State did not improve their culture or policies to encourage reporting and recovering,” she wrote. “Instead, they got better at cover ups, and instituted policies to discourage reporting. My ex-boyfriend got better at rape each time he did it. I took a page from their hand book, and I got better at vandalism.”
Penn State Administration’s Neglect
One of Cipparulo’s main gripes with the Penn State administration arises from the response to an incident within an organization that she calls “student organization #2.” Through a cross-referencing of instances between documents, this organization was determined to be Lion Ambassadors.
All internal and social events were suspended within the organization from late April to mid-August 2021, according to a Penn State spokesperson. Cipparulo claims it was due to one report of hazing and three reports of sexual assault.
“Penn State’s Administration and the Alumni Association handled that situation horrifically,” she wrote in her essay. “They should have acted with more tact, compassion, and grace…two of my friends were kicked out. Both of them had made me feel safe in situations where I felt uncomfortable and unsafe in sexually predatory situations.”
Cipparulo wrote the Lion Ambassadors Class of 2021’s Senior Send-Off was canceled due to this shutdown. She added that because of this cancellation, her entire class — including those who reported abuse in the first place — was punished for the actions of a few individuals.
She wrote that Penn State’s decision to shut down the organization and cancel the remaining social events set a bad precedent for reporting abuse and misconduct. Additionally, she wrote that the administration provided limited reasoning for the sanctions and did not provide mental health resources, sexual violence prevention/awareness training, or support for survivors. However, a Penn State spokesperson rebuked this claim by writing that “support services were provided” and that “several organizational reforms were put into place.”
“Punishment in isolation does not change abusive behaviors,” Cipparulo wrote. “Mostly, it discourages reporting, worsens the perpetrator’s behavior, and increases the likelihood of them hurting another person.”
Additionally, Cipparulo took issue with Lion Ambassadors still asking students to do work for the university during the shutdown, writing that Penn State “used these students for free labor, while the students received none of the benefits of the organization.” An email obtained by Onward State showed an advisor requesting work from students in May, well into the suspension period during the investigation.
Following the shutdown, she wrote a 17-page amendment to the Lion Ambassadors constitution that called for “mandatory sexual violence and bystander intervention training, as well as a victim-based approached to sexual assault reports.” She also wrote a letter to the administration titled “The Legacy of Joe Paterno,” which has been obtained by Onward State.
She wrote that, as a survivor of sexual assault, praise of Paterno felt “venomous” in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. She further explained her issues with how the university handles reports of abuse and misconduct and wrote that sexual assault is “deeply engrained in Penn State student culture.”
Cipparulo claims she received no response. Current Lion Ambassadors leaders did not respond to a request for comment. A university spokesperson wrote that “the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response responded directly to those affected in this matter to discuss allegations and provide support resources.” Again, it’s not clear if this response was to Cipparulo or those affected by allegations that led to the suspension.
“You didn’t report your abuse because you knew what it would do to your favorite club, and you couldn’t afford to lose it. For some students, our clubs are our lifelines. You speak out about your problems, yet your problems persist,” Cipparulo wrote to Penn State administrators. “You have two options: suffer quietly, or end your pain in suicide. You feel powerless. Still, you move along.”
Her issues with the administration boil down to two main gripes. First, she wrote that the administration lacks empathy when it comes to student conduct violations, as demonstrated by her experiences with Lion Ambassadors shutting down. Second, she wrote that the university creates an unsafe environment through its policies on hate speech and crime.
The theme of her letter likened the current issues that she perceives at Penn State today to the ones that existed a decade ago amid the Sandusky scandal.
“We are suffering. We have seen our friends die, from suicide and from overdose…When the public learns of what our heroes have done to others, we see them fall from grace,” she wrote. “We lose our support network when our friends are expelled, or demonized for their mistakes…a vicious cycle of sexual violence and rippling mental health crises, has caused Penn State to handle misconduct the same way Penn State handled the Sandusky Scandal.”
Issues With Police
Cipparulo’s gripes with Penn State carry over from the administration to the university’s police department as well. These issues date back to when she first filed a Title IX complaint in January 2020, which was later amended in July 2021, according to her essay.
The original Title IX report was based on a fabricated situation, which appears to be why her essay is titled “I Falsely Reported Sexual Assault (Before I Knew I Was Assaulted).” Cipparulo wrote that at a party at the Meridian apartment complex in January 2020, a brief sexual encounter caused her to have a “panic attack” and “breakdown” about a real rape that occurred six weeks earlier.
She wrote that, for a variety of reasons, she did not want anyone to report her rapist, who is referred to as [Student #1] throughout the essay. Instead, she “made up a story,” which led to purchasing Plan B and opening a Title IX investigation, which she wrote was dropped after the investigator asked for a name and offered to check security footage.
Cipparulo wrote that her relationship with [Student #1] became further strained in July 2021, which is when she claims she amended her Title IX complaint to name him as her assaulter. In a TikTok posted in April 2022, Cipparulo said she then specifically asked if police would do an investigation but was told they would take an “education-based approach.”
In the same TikTok, Cipparulo said Penn State Police reached back out to her in April 2022 after she went public with her essay. In the essay, she explained that she did not want to press charges against [Student #1] at that time. She showed text messages that appear to be from a Penn State Police detective in which they wrote that an investigation has been opened against [Student #1].
“Oh, so now that what happened to me is public, now they want to do a criminal investigation,” Cipparulo said. “And they opened up the investigation without my consent…Penn State was only taking action now that it was public, even though it was completely against my wishes.”
In the TikTok, she showed a text where she responded to an apparent police officer that she would have considered a criminal investigation in 2021 — when she amended her Title IX complaint and allegedly received the response about an “education-based approach.”
On May 8, the day the Lion Shrine was vandalized, Cipparulo posted another TikTok that showed a call from a contact titled “University Police.” The visible digits of the phone number are the same as the public number for Penn State Police. She said they called because “their rock is broken” and that they asked about her essay again.
“Leave me alone, I’m trying to heal,” she said.
Cipparulo also wrote in her essay that she “lost touch with reality” following the Lion Ambassadors sanctions. Her “mental state unraveled with paranoia and delusions,” which caused Penn State to receive a slew of mental health checks on her behalf.
She claims that these mental health checks caused Penn State to send police officers to monitor her apartment.
“Once, a police car followed me into a neighborhood, slowly circling the parking lot, and didn’t leave until I traveled into the woods,” Cipparulo wrote. “A cop car sat in the parking lot directly facing my apartment almost every single day…their actions significantly worsened my mental state.”
She also wrote that this triggered a manic episode in which she intensely tried to evade the police. In this state of mania and avoidance, Cipparulo wrote that she almost died when walking in front of a car traveling 50 mph on College Avenue. After this anecdote in the essay, she referenced the story of Osaze Osagie and wrote that “Penn State and State College police have a history of mishandling mental health crises.”
Police deferred to the university’s public relations department for a comment. A spokesperson wrote that “the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response responded directly to those affected in this matter to discuss allegations and provide support resources.”
The final piece to Cipparulo’s story is the hazing she claims that she and others she knew experienced in Penn State organizations. “Death by Hazing,” in reference to Tim Piazza’s death at Beta Theta Pi, was painted on Old Main during the May 8 vandalism.
Cipparulo claims that her ex-boyfriend, who is [Student #1], was hazed by his fraternity freshman year. She wrote that after this event, there was “nothing good left inside of him,” which caused him to repeatedly rape her. She said in a TikTok video that he was locked into a coffin and thrown into the woods and that “whatever happened at Alpha Sig turned him into a fucking rapist.”
Cipparulo said she had issues with how Penn State handled this hazing incident, which caused the entire organization to be suspended due to the actions of a few individuals — a parallel to her gripes with the Lion Ambassadors sanctions. In December 2017, Alpha Sigma Pi fraternity was suspended by Penn State after an investigation found that it endangered members during the fall 2016 semester.
“The entire organization gets punished if you report hazing, so no one wants to report it,” she said. “It actually lowers rates of reporting. And lower rates of reporting increases rates of abuse…the real blame is on Penn State because Penn State does not culture an environment where people feel safe to get help for their friends…because they fear the repercussions.”
Following the death of Tim Piazza, investigation of wrongdoings within fraternities became Penn State’s responsibility rather than that of the inter-fraternity council, according to the Washington Post.
Cipparulo also wrote that she personally experienced hazing at [Student Organization #2], which is now known to be Lion Ambassadors. She claims that she participated in a “sexualized form of yoga” at a retreat in 2019. She claims the yoga was led by her rapist and included “simulated oral sex, humping, sex positions, etc.” She also wrote that organization members were forced to sleep on hardwood floors during the retreat, which caused harm due to her chronic pain.
Cipparulo reported that she has fibromyalgia and scoliosis, as well as connective tissue issues related to a familial history of Ehler-Danlos Syndrome. She raised issues with the Lion Ambassadors’ Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protocols, claiming that she initially was barred from wearing sneakers on tours and ignored when bringing up other ADA issues. Cipparulo added that her mother was not able to tour Penn State due to a lack of ADA accommodations.
She wrote that her class, as well as the one below, instituted an “Only If You Feel Comfortable” policy the next year following the yoga incident. She also claimed that members of the organization were suggested to sexual harassment, bullying, and intimidation through an “anonymous forum” that “is supposed to be filtered.”
An unsecured bail of $26,000 was set at Cipparulo’s preliminary arraignment on June 27. Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, July 6.
Cipparulo wrote to Onward State that she plans to sue Penn State for its mishandling of the Lion Ambassadors situation in 2021. She added that this potential legal case will help her pay restitution for allegedly damaging the Lion Shrine.
She also wrote that she’s in the planning stages of publishing a collection of essays and narratives about Penn State that will “provide interesting insight about how people respond to controversies about institutions they idolize.”
Penn State alumni Aubrey McElrath and Ayse Keskin, who were Cipparulo’s neighbors in 2020, put together a GoFundMe page to support her legal restitution. The goal is set at $26,000, and it raised more than $500 in its first five hours of posting.
We will continue to provide updates on Cipparulo’s legal case and story as they become available.
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