Penn State Right And Wrong: A Student View


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Joe Paterno

When word got out that the Penn State University Board of Trustees would be holding a press conference Wednesday night, my a cappella group rehearsal was let out early and nearly all 17 of us sprinted to the nearest commons to get around a television. We were far from alone as people were frantically gathering around the television in the lobby of Waring Commons in West Halls.

Ten minutes later the word was official. Spanier, gone. JoePa, gone. In light of the recent child sex scandal revolving around former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky, the Board of Trustees voted to fire Penn State President Graham Spanier and Head Coach Joe Paterno.

Students at Penn State have been infuriated with the lack of answers given to the student body throughout the past few days and last night, the Board left students with even more questions than before:

  • What did Joe know and when did he know it?
  • Why hasn’t Receivers Coach Mike McQueary, the eyewitness, said anything yet?
  • Why didn’t the university want Joe to speak?
  • And most importantly, how could anybody with knowledge of Sandusky’s actions let acts as heinous and disgusting as what unfolded happen?

Let me attempt to clarify for anyone who is unfamiliar with Penn State culture, because for anyone who is not an alumnus, student or very loyal fan otherwise, this concept may have been lost:  The primary reason much of Penn State is upset about Joe Paterno’s retirement has nothing to do with the fact that our football program will take a hit.

Paterno has been a presence at Penn State for five decades and has essentially built the university into what it is today. He has donated so much to this school that one of the two major libraries on campus is named after him. He is regarded as a philanthropist and a coach who strives for his players and the rest of the university to succeed academically (his player graduation rates speak for themselves). He is respected by coaches across the nation for his actions off the field, as well as on, and is seen by many students in the same way they view their grandfather.

It is an accepted fact that, according to the grand jury report, Paterno is legally clear, having told the Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz (who also served as Head of University Police) what he knew. Whether or not he fulfilled his moral obligations is the question at hand, and Paterno has said publicly that he wishes he had done more.

Paterno’s name has been mentioned on TV arguably more times than Sanduksy’s, Schultz’s, Curley’s, Spanier’s and McQueary’s combined in the past few days, and therein lies a major source of the student body’s unrest: Penn State students are mad at the fact that Joe Paterno has become the scapegoat in the story.

So when the news broke that JoePa was fired and the Board would not give any further answers, it was as if the flames were not only fanned; it was as if the Board had just poured a tank of gasoline onto an already dangerously intense fire.

What you may have seen on the news Wednesday night was a combination of a lot of things. It was the result of disgust over the crime that was committed. It was a result of confusion over the university’s lack of response, a result of frustration over the media’s attempt to make the story all about JoePa and not Sandusky, and a result of anger and heartbreak over the pain of the victims.

At the conclusion of the Board’s press conference I grabbed my phone (the only camera I had on hand) and went down to Old Main. I was there essentially from the beginning, recording hundreds, soon to be thousands of students, chanting damnation of Jerry Sandusky, chanting in support of JoePa, chanting against the administration, but above all else, chanting “WE ARE PENN STATE!” in light of everything.

People continued to flock to Old Main with vuvuzelas, air horns, cowbells and life-size Joe Paterno cutouts. After about half an hour, the crowds moved to downtown State College. Within the hour Beaver Avenue was flooded. The sounds of students chanting in support of Paterno and against Sandusky and the media could be heard blocks away.

Fireworks occasionally lit up the sky from amidst the ocean of students and camera crews were booed as a result of many students’ disappointment with the media’s coverage of the story. When police began to clear Beaver Avenue, the crowds moved to College Avenue where similar activity ensued.

The actions of some Penn State students last night were uncalled for, drastic and extreme. It is important to remember that a very, very small minority of the more than 44,000 students at Penn State had to be subdued by tear gas last night and that the overwhelming majority of students are appalled at every aspect of this story, from the first alleged incident of Sandusky abusing a child to the events of last night.

This Saturday’s football game will be a student Blue Out, in which all students are urged to wear blue in support of child abuse victims across the world. Official Blue Out shirts are on sale on campus and proceeds go to Prevent Child Abuse PA. Additionally, a Facebook event for a candlelight vigil for the victims has been created for tomorrow night and has over 10,000 RSVPd to attend.

So please don’t think that what you saw on the news last night is our reaction to a football program taking a hit. We are human beings and can obviously place what has happened to these innocent children over the good of our football team. Please don’t think that what you saw on the news last night was an accurate representation of what Penn State truly is. What you saw on the news last night was the result of confusion, frustration and heartbreak, and while it may seem hard to believe, time can heal all three of those afflictions.

On behalf of Penn State University students, please keep the victims in your thoughts and prayers.

Alex Eliasof is a 2010 graduate of Verona High School who currently attends Penn State University. Home page photo of Joe Paterno statue outside Penn State Library by enviziondotnet via Flickr

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  1. In the state of NJ, as in most states, an anonymous report to the state agency should be given when any knowledge of sexual or physical abuse is known, or suspected.
    Joe Pa is not a scapegoat. He knew of the action(s) of his staff, and did not follow through as any educator in the town of Verona would.
    A 10 year old would be a 4th grader in Verona public schools. Would it be OK that an adult witnessed abuse, but never did anything in their power to stop it?
    No. that would be unacceptable, and criminal.


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