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Sandusky Scandal Generates Different Views but Community Should Agree on Ultimate Goal

by on October 02, 2013 9:20 AM

There has been a lot of tension in the Penn State community recently, much of it stemming from nearly two years of anger over the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

I think that during the first year, many Penn Staters were simply shocked and saddened by the events. New allegations surfaced over several months, followed by Sandusky's trial.

Many of us thought that the guilty verdict would start to bring closure to the community, but the release of the Freeh Report, the NCAA sanctions, and the emergence of more victims added to the continuing frustrations.

After the shock of the first year, a lot of community members expected things to get better. Different interest groups organized themselves behind specific causes, all focused on making Penn State a better place and preventing this type of tragedy from happening again. Small bits of progress have been made, but we are starting to get a better understanding of how Penn State's reputation has been damaged, perhaps permanently.

Now, almost two years into this fiasco, things have settled down and the smoke has started to clear, but many of the community members who are still paying attention are left with one common feeling — anger. Unfortunately, some of this anger turned inward, with Penn Staters blaming each other for not doing enough, or in some cases too much, to publicly defend the University.

A lot of this spilled over after the recent March 4 Truth rally. At least on social media, it sounds like the March dissolved into a confrontation between current students and alumni. The students were stereotyped as wanting to move on without fully understanding the scandal. The alumni were seen as holding on to the past and not allowing the University to continue to make progress.

It's ironic that this far removed from the events of November 2011, there is so much rush to judgment and finger-pointing that occurs within the community. False assumptions, made by and about the university leadership, is what caused this to become a Penn State scandal rather than just a Sandusky scandal in the first place.

I was at the March 4 Truth, although I wasn't present during the so-called confrontation between alumni and students. But what I can tell you for certain is that no matter what was said during that discussion or between individuals who attended the March, none of the participants were chosen to speak on behalf of their group. In other words, although the students present are part of the student government, they were not there in an official capacity representing the majority opinion of students. The same can be said about the alumni who were present.

The only difference between the March and a private dinner table discussion between alumni and students is that other people saw it and used it to imply that there is a great rift between the two groups. No matter where you stand on the matter, this serves as a reminder of how fast rumors and assumptions can be turned to fact.

I suspect that any real divide between alumni and students stems from frustration over the current negative perception of Penn State and how to fix it. I completely understand the desire to stop talking about the Sandusky scandal. The people who live here, work here, and study here already know what it means to be a Penn Stater. We understand that the Sandusky scandal was one part of an otherwise storied history.

But the rest of the world hasn't been paying close enough attention. They only see the headlines and those headlines have been damning. Social media and the 24-hours news cycle makes it that much harder to change the perception that's been so often repeated for two years. But figuring out how to change that perception is what's causing tension within the community.

Imagine if you were accidentally named as being arrested for a DUI in an online news article. Maybe the person who was really arrested had a similar name or gave a false ID upon their arrest. But now, when anyone, from future employers to family members, Google your name this DUI article keeps coming up because it's been republished and linked elsewhere.

Although you and your inner circle of family and friends know that the article is false, it still changes the way you are perceived by others. You could, rightfully, say that the mistake doesn't change who you are — you are still a hard-working, ethical person who never drinks and drives. You could, rightfully, say that you don't deserve to be judged on false information and that anyone who does so isn't worth your time.

You have two options — write letters to all the websites requesting that they remove the false information or continue to be a good person so that your reputation speaks for itself. Contacting all of the websites could be time consuming and might generate more unwanted publicity depending on how it's handled. Waiting for your reputation to fix itself could take years.

The best approach, as always, is somewhere in the middle, which is why it's important that we continue to value input and efforts from all sides.

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