Defense of Penn State's Reputation Misguided

As alums support the university, remember the alleged victims, too.


As I started and stopped my way through 23 of the most shocking pages I've ever read, my thoughts were set on eight children—Victims 1 through 8—whose horrifying tales of childhood tragedy were laid out so starkly in black and white.

They are what the allegations against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, if true, are all about: the young children whose lives have been forever tainted at and around Penn State University by a man long revered as a community hero.

But as the situation unfolds, I'm saddened by the outcry from some of my peers. Instead of an outpouring of sympathy, I'm often hearing the quick defenses of a college experience that graduates knew, loved, and still want to love; support for the value of a degree they worked so hard to obtain and a reputation they want to maintain.

"Don't forget about the hundreds of student athletes that will still fight with pride," I've read. "Don't allow irresponsible oversight to destroy our reputation."

When did this become about us?

Our support should continue to be with the alleged victims in the grand jury report, the little children who cowered in a basement, who shuddered in a shower, who lost trust in someone they likely hoped would save them from lives that were already far too hard.

The plight of the tortured victims triggered everyone's anger, of course, and I'm sure their alleged ordeals are still on the minds of most. But before we move on to rhetoric about what the scandal means for us, we must remember what it means for them.

[Paterno, Cain Are Not the Victims in Their Scandals]

People deal with trying times differently, and I can't claim to know the most mature way to handle allegations as shattering as these. It's hard to accept that bad things happened at a place we know to be good. But it's not the time for the Facebook status updates reminding us all to be mindful of the athletes, the comments blustering to demonstrate school worth, the rebuttals that—no matter what—this scandal will never make graduates forget how Penn State shaped them.

As an alumna myself, I am Penn State proud. I've bragged about our beautiful campus to prospective students; I've cheered in crowds of thousands when the Dance MaraTHON raises millions of dollars for pediatric cancer research year after year. That's the Penn State I know, the Penn State we all love.

And we should continue to love a school that has meant so much to so many. But our memories are not really what is at stake.

Just as our college memories will live on, so will the memories that the alleged victims, those at the heart of this scandal, have been forced to carry for the rest of their lives.

As we stand up for our school and ourselves, let's continue to voice support for them. If the allegations are true, no amount of support is enough.