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Holly Swanson: National Media Stereotypes are Getting Annoying

by on June 06, 2012 6:00 AM

The national media has had a field day with State College during the past few months and, I'm sure, it's only going to get worse as the Jerry Sandusky trial begins.

At least two national magazines, Newsweek and Esquire, published articles this week that have a lot to say about Centre County but not much about the case.

Since November, many publications and online outlets have made sweeping generalizations about Centre County and its residents. In several cases, these oft-repeated biases are both wrong and silly.

Here are a few of the most common and ridiculous statements that I'm hoping to not read again.

We are isolated by the mountains.

Sports Illustrated described State College as "remarkably isolated, nestled in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania" while CBS says "there are few major college campuses anywhere that are more isolated than State College ... in the snowy Allegheny Mountains."

Media outlets often go on to imply that this isolation contributes to a certain narrow-mindedness and backwoods mentality among residents.

But those mountains? Not so big. It doesn't take much effort to get over them. This is 2012, not 1812, and we have access to plenty of good roads that lead both in and out of State College. We have cars, bus service and even an airport.

In fact, most of the State College residents I know came here from someplace else. We are transplants from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia or even New York City. Despite a Newsweek quote that "the mountains just kept everything inside," we are not isolated or trapped by our geography.

Everyone at Penn State is part of a cover-up.

It's true that Penn State is by far the largest employer in Centre County. With more than 23,000 employees, most of us have worked there ourselves or have a family member or neighbor who works there.

But to imagine that many of us would protect an alleged pedophile just because we have the same employer is nonsense. The size and diversity of Penn State's staff makes that a ridiculous proposition.

Someone who stacks books in the library or teaches a course on physics probably doesn't have much loyalty to a football coach who retired in the 1999.

Joe Paterno was the moral compass of State College.

By most reports, Paterno was a standup guy who played by the rules and expected others to do the same. While admirable, this did not elevate him to some saint-like status. Just because he was a good guy, there are no "what would Joe do?" bracelets.

He was flawed, just like the rest of us.

There's nothing to do here except watch football.

Like any other town, State College is what you make it. There are people whose favorite activities are based around football and tailgating, but there are plenty of others for whom football is simply something that generates a lot of traffic on the weekends.

We have arts festivals, science exhibits, children's events, cultural groups, hiking, farmers markets...pretty much whatever your niche, you can find an outlet for it in State College. Life goes on here year-round, not just on certain Saturdays in the fall.

Like any town that gets put under the spotlight, State College has revealed its own problems and quirks. But placing so much attention on fabricated issues does a disservice to the community that is trying to heal.

Recent columns:

Holly Swanson is a State College-based freelance writer. She is on Twitter @statecollegemom and can be reached via email at
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