Penn State child sex abuse roils campus

Question of Joe Paterno involvement divides students

I also read the grand jury report, which recounted a horrific incident in 2000, where a janitor witnessed Sandusky giving oral sex to Victim 8 in the Penn State locker room showers. The janitor was so upset by what he saw, his co-workers thought he might have a heart attack. Still, the police were not called in that incident either. Then I read about the 28-year-old who witnessed Sandusky raping a boy in 2002, and that he did nothing to stop it, but left, upset and confused by what he'd witnessed. I read about the wrestling coach at a local elementary school who stumbled into the gym to find Sandusky lying on top of a young boy, and again, he didn't beat Sandusky within an inch of his life or call 911 right away. He left and contacted the principal later on. Of course, these men weren't being called out in the press. That is because they were not gods—they were not in positions of power. Their failure to act was somehow justified because they were not mythical creatures held to higher standards.

My first instinct was to consider what I would have done in these situations—if I had witnessed a grown man raping a small boy. I would have killed him! I would have pulled that young boy to me, wrapped him in a towel, and called 911 from my car, where the boy would be sitting shotgun, me trying to tell him that it would all be okay. In my fantasy, I painted myself a hero. But I had to acknowledge that I wasn't sure I would have behaved any differently in the face of such an atrocity. I'd likely have gone into shock, too. I'd likely have gone to someone else—someone I found trustworthy to tell me what to do. And I'm sure that person would have been at a loss as well, because, how does your mind process something so horrible? I tried to actually understand what happened here, rather than cast stones, because I live in a giant glass house that I am constantly aware of.

What that grand jury report suggested to me was not a full-scale cover-up to protect the name of Penn State football, even if that might be the case or the most exciting of stories to consider. Only a proper investigation will prove that to be true or not. What I read and learned was how we all, as human beings, fail our greater ideals about how we should behave in the face of real atrocity. I thought that this situation might be an excellent time to consider how we think we'd behave, how we might not behave that way, and what we can do to stop the systemic denial of pedophilia that plagues various institutions in our world—the church, education, athletics, etc. Now was the time to figure out a real course of action—a methodology for dealing with atrocity, if we could do that, even. To consider what was at stake for the psychology of men faced with inhumane atrocity. Would it be possible to act accordingly? I hoped so, but I wasn't sure.

But the press would not allow us this conversation. Instead, looking to increase unique hits or sell papers, it clung to the image of our school's icon, our celebrity, and twisted this story: It never allowed our school to engage in a real conversation about what went wrong and how we could use this as a chance to learn, to be better individuals, to truly engage the reason why we are all at Penn State. It all spun out of control into a bad game of telephone, where events were being miscast and misrepresented. When I talked to my father on the phone, I asked him if he'd heard about our scandal and he said, "What? About the boy who was raped in the shower while 20 people watched?" He wasn't joking, and I was disgusted by how things had spun so badly out of control.

In such a short time, I watched the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and message boards light up with hatred and outrage, with accusations that Penn State was little more than collection of pedophile enablers, that we were all implicated in this crime, that we were a bunch of blind meatheads, members of some weird football cult. I read my own colleagues write as much, even. Sandusky and the administration disappeared from our conversation; child abuse and its perpetuation disappeared from the conversation. Instead, Penn Staters felt like they were under attack and rightly so. In class, one of my students, in trying to engage the world in a conversation over what happened, was called a pedophile herself by friends of hers that are not at Penn State. The meaning of this moment got lost and the cause and rights of the real victims—those little boys—were occluded by the verbal victimization of our students and our school, placed in a position from which they decided to lash out. And though I am gravely disappointed and disheartened by Wednesday night's events, when students rioted after Paterno's firing, flipping over a news van, I know what it means to be defensive, to shoot from the hip. And again, I had to consider my own glass house before demonizing the very small percentage of our student body that headed into the streets Wednesday night.

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