PSU Students React to Sandusky Scandal

Plus: What Graham Spanier thinks is the biggest problem facing the university right now

Here in Happy Valley, Penn State football is like a religion. And Joe Paterno is God. Now my and my fellow students’ allegiance to a man who helped define our university’s definition of integrity, character and honesty is being tested.

Paterno might not have been charged in connection with the horrific allegations surrounding former defensive coach Jerry Sandusky, but in the court of student opinion, the response has revolved around one question: Could he have done more?

The student-run blog OnwardState temporarily crashed because it had so much traffic, said the site’s co-founder, student Davis Shaver. Students took to the Internet and social media to find out details about the Sandusky indictment.

“To find out that Spanier, or worse Paterno, [knew] but did not do [absolutely] everything in their legal power to ensure that it did not happen again—if it did in the first place—would be a mortal blow to the very core of Penn State,” Shaver says.

It’s a blow that some Nittany Lion fans are trying to ignore ahead of Saturday’s home game against Nebraska. After all, Penn State is ranked #12 in the country and a win this week keeps Big Ten championship hopes alive.

Hundreds of students have already begun camping outside of Beaver Stadium as part of Paternoville, a student-run organization that camps out before each home game, said John Tecce, a Paternoville leader and student.

“It’s been hard to focus,” says Tecce. “But these players are kids we have class with. We’re here to support them.”

Unlike our university president, Graham Spanier, who declared in a statement his “unconditional support” of Tim Curley and Gary Schwartz, most students are sickened and saddened, not only by what these administrators allegedly did, but what they didn’t do.

My fraternity brother TJ Bard, who’s the student government president, spent Monday afternoon inside our fraternity house carefully crafting a statement about the administration’s response to the incident.

Ironic, too, since Sunday morning—well after the story broke—Spanier told student government leaders at a conference that the largest issue facing the university was alcohol abuse.

For once, it’s students who have to answer for administrators’ actions, or lack thereof.

Later Sunday night, Spanier would attend a meeting at Old Main, while outside a handful of students from Occupy Penn State shouted for more answers, and online a Facebook group with more than 100 members demanded for him to step down.

“Students are horrified and looking for answers into these dark, heinous allegations,” Bard tells me. “It’s just a difficult day to be a Penn State student.”

I attended a Main Line Catholic prep school on scholarship during the height of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s child-abuse scandal. The anger many Catholics, myself included, directed at the Vatican for the alleged cover-up largely dissipated when Pope John Paul II died. He was canonized, made a saint.

As many of the Penn State faithful direct their anger at Old Main, I can’t help but think that we won’t fully be able to appreciate Paterno’s legacy until his departure.

We students learned an important lesson this week: Paterno isn’t God.

Joe Paterno is all too human.

Kevin Cirilli is a Penn State student who will graduate early this semester. More of his work and credentials can be found online here.