Graham Spanier was a relatively new face on campus at this point. And the students were not loving him. Why? He was cracking down on drinking. On campus and at fraternities. Really cramping the students' style. When I look back on this now, I want to say to him really? Open containers vs cans at frat houses was the biggest issue you could come up with in 1998? Once again, this thought makes me feel sick. I abhor Jerry Sandusky and this whole situation. There is no doubt in my mind that he deserves whatever he gets. I do not know another alum who disagrees with me on this. I also am not opposed to Penn State facing the penalties the NCAA is imposing. It is so important for the victims and for programs and coaches across the country that they act swiftly and strongly. They need to make it known that this type of situation will not be tolerated on any campus. My husband and I are in complete agreement on this. So why is it that when he posts something to this effect on his facebook wall that I want to jump down his throat and tell him to stop talking about it? I agree with him right? What's my problem?
I am going to try to explain to you why, even though this scandal has all but ruined the university's reputation at this point, students and alumni at Penn State are up and arms and defending their school. This situation is indefensible, we are not defending what happened by any stretch of the imagination, but we remain loyal to our alma mater and will always look back on our college years fondly. Well, what we remember of them....
Rewind about 18 years (holy crap!). I had just come to Penn State from South Jersey and was not as familiar with the PSU "legacy" as most other freshman. My family was Indiana University basketball all the way- both of my parents graduated from there as did both of my mother's parents (my grandma played basketball while she was there- such a dynamo!). If someone said Bobby Knight I would say "what did he throw and did they win?" in my sleep. So when I was at one of my first fraternity parties and someone mentioned Joepa, I said "who?" Oh man, ask my best friends from PSU, I NEVER lived that down! Never! A Joepa mask (yes they made those) mysteriously appeared around Halloween that year and guess who wore it? On campus this man was a god. Do I think it's appropriate for one man to achieve that kind of status for coaching a football team? Honestly, no. Was it all about football? For some maybe. Joepa had achieved almost a replacement father status for the student body. Whatever he said went (and apparently this held true for the administration as well sadly). I remember one year we had a huge snowstorm right before a big game (Univ of Michigan). Students shoveled out Beaver Stadium all week, and even so on Saturday we all had our feet on snowbanks while watching the game. At one point (all in good fun I am sure haha), fans started pelting the University of Michigan players with snowballs right before a play. All it took to completely stop this was Joepa getting on the mike and saying "cut it out". And we are talking drunk college kids. That's power. And yes, when I say this I realize even more that if he had knowledge of Sandusky's horrific acts, he did have the power to stop it. And yes it makes me sick.
The point of this story for me is that the Penn State students came together that week, when the campus was practically paralyzed, to shovel out that stadium, and to attend the game in the ridiculous weather. The sense of community that has revolved around the PSU football program is what so many of us are mourning right now. And while it started and revolved around football, it was and is much more about the student body. It is a feeling of belonging to something at a time in life when things are very uncertain for most of us. And always having a place to come back to. It is about being in a strange town somewhere, seeing a Penn State t-shirt on someone, and saying "hey, I went there too!". You have no idea how often this happens! My older sister waitressed while she was in college in Ohio. One day a guy came in wearing a Penn State tshirt and she said, "my sister went there". They talked for a few minutes and eventually realized that this guy and I knew each other, in fact had met during freshman testing and been acquaintances throughout the four years we were there. Craziness.
I loved the feeling of being a Penn Stater so much that I totally encouraged my baby sister to go there too. And I know that she had a similarly wonderful experience and feels just as devastated by these revelations as I do. So if you see a facebook post that says something like "Fight on State" or "We Are....", please don't criticize or make fun of it. While the scandal is definitely about football, these statements are really an affirmation for all Penn Staters that no matter what, our community will stay intact. It's a community that may have started because of the football program (oh ok, it really started with cows and manure, the smell of which will haunt me for the rest of my life), but I believe that it is too strong to be taken down with it.