Penn State Can Beat This Scandal

Students, professors and alumni keep the faith

There are 58 churches in State College, Pennsylvania—none bigger than the 106,572-seat cathedral with Saturday sermons where Joseph is known by a more familiar moniker. At that house of worship, dressy hats come with lion ears, people stand on the pews, and the clergy don headsets and clipboards. The choir has a brass section.

Beaver Stadium is not a typical temple, and State College is certainly not the prototype of an American town. It’s the kind of place where you’re surrounded by strangers but you can’t walk more than 10 feet without bumping into someone you know. And in the fall, every week is just a cluster of days leading up to State College becoming the third-largest city in Pennsylvania. Imagine Grover’s Corners hosting the Olympics eight times each autumn.

Arthur Miller couldn’t have conjured up the recent scene in State College, where football and white-picket fences have become afterthoughts—where the American dream is on sabbatical. This week, the world caught a glimpse of something far worse than hellfire and brimstone, an evil difficult to imagine and harder to stomach. News of Jerry Sandusky’s alleged sexual abuse of young boys granted outsiders the chance to peek behind the curtain and watch as the wizard of our Oz was toppled from his altar.

For people in the community, it sometimes feels like the world revolves around State College, Pennsylvania. Last week, it actually did. Helicopters circled and news crews rolled into town, cameras fixated on the remnants of an empire reluctant to relinquish its hold on the moral high ground of a college football landscape marred by recruiting scandals and cheating conspiracies.

Last week should have been a normal week in November. Instead, we heard accusations that a number of children were abused in heinous fashion. Then a man was fired, a van was tipped and some Mace was sprayed while the world watched, mortified.

Candles—some 10,000 of them—were lit outside of the apostolic center of a campus in turmoil. Old Main is a 148-year-old building with a bell-tower steeple. It stands as proof of tradition, emblematic of an institution larger and more historic than any one person, or faction of individuals, that may make up a part of the whole. Friday night’s vigil and Saturday’s football game epitomized the school’s scripture and embodied the community’s beliefs. Those events signified the honor that has been tainted by scandal and exemplified the resilience that has, for generations, been synonymous with Penn State pride.

Happy Valley earned its nickname when State College stood impervious to the dire economic circumstances of the Great Depression. While people in New York and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh frantically searched for work and erected shantytowns, a small settlement in central Pennsylvania withstood the economic woes plaguing the rest of the country—durable among America’s downtrodden.

And so, too, Happy Valley will weather these most recent crusades. What happened to those boys was a particularly devastating brand of evil. The inaction that followed sullied the names of the Pennsylvania State University and its most revered idols—false or otherwise. But, Penn State’s students, faculty, staff, alumni and fans—the entire congregation—have come together to protect their institution. They’ve come together to offer support for the victims and to show, with conviction, that these wicked events occurred in defiance of everything this community celebrates, insolent of their creed.

“May no act of ours bring shame … ” It’s right there, in verse—part of a mantra meant to illustrate the PSU dogma. Recent events—and horrible actions alleged to have taken place some years ago—may seem to give the world a reason to doubt the emphasis with which the community sings those words. Friday and Saturday serve as a rebuttal to that doubt.

In a video message to the Penn State community, the university’s interim president, Rodney Erickson, said, “Although we cannot go back to business as usual, our university must move forward.” He continued, “We are a community. Our work is as vital as ever. We remain committed to our core values, and we will rebuild the trust, honor and pride that have endured for generations. Please join me in this effort. We are … Penn State.”