A pedestrian passes by the Old Main administration building on Penn State’s University Park campus Nov. 18.
Every morning this week I’ve woken up, logged on to Twitter and news sites and prepared myself for the tidal wave of headlines, columns, commentary, blog posts and reader comments about Penn State.
Last week former FBI detective Louis Freeh’s probe revealed that former Penn State president Graham Spanier, head football coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president for business and finance Gary Schultz, failed since 1998 to stop former defensive football coach Jerry Sandusky from sexually abusing young boys.
Since then, everyone across the country seems to be shouting louder and louder over one another about what should have happened, could have happened and must be done next in the aftermath of this unthinkable tragedy.
As a Penn State student, I want to scream too. I’d like to say, “Enough already!” and chuck my computer and TV out the window.
It’s not that I’m some football-worshipping, ignorant idiot with my fingers in my ears and a blindfold over my eyes — as some pundits want you to believe.
My ties to Penn State athletics do not run deep. I didn’t know who Paterno was until about a month into my freshman year. I haven’t gone to a football game since September of my sophomore year, after realizing that no one was going to shun me if I admitted that repetitively shouting “WE ARE” in a crowd of 100,000 people just wasn’t my thing.
I want to stop reading all the Penn State commentary, but I keep hoping that someone, somewhere will be able to make sense of everything for me. Someone will be able to make me feel less like vomiting every time I think about the multiple boys who were sexually abused on my campus for multiple years, whose lives are now ruined. Someone must have the answers.
It’s an empty hope. Because the more I read, the fewer answers I get, and the more desensitized I become to the whole situation.
It’s an isolating feeling — having strangers telling me what to feel and how to think about a tragedy that is so achingly incomprehensible.
Instead of coming together as a community and having real, sobering conversations, and trying to find ways that this never, ever happens again, we’re being told to take sides.
It’s not that these aren’t important, necessary questions. I think it’s important to keep talking, and to continue to be informed. After all, it was silence that caused this tragedy in the first place.
But people seem more eager to talk at people instead of talking with them. And the more I’m talked at, the farther I feel from feeling anything at all. I feel bombarded by opinion, drowned in chatter.
I finally had the chance to talk my feelings over with my friend Erika Spicer.
“Honestly, I don’t even know what to think anymore,” Spicer, also a Penn State student, told me. “Who or what the hell do we trust?”
“It’s like the whole world is spinning out of control,” I said.
“That’s what it feels like,” she agreed.
As the world of Penn State students spins faster and faster, it can be easy to pick sides and choose a screaming match over an honest conversation. Or, you could be so fed up with all of the conversation that you choose to look the other way and fail to find any lesson in this whole mess at all.
So all I have to tell you, Penn Staters, is that it’s all right if you can’t find answers. Don’t be so quick to see the Sandusky scandal in black or white, because if I’ve learned anything, it is that the world is painted in a murky shade of gray. Even if everyone is telling you what’s right and wrong, it’s OK if you don’t know what to think or how to feel. Let everything soak in. Give it time. Shut off your computer and talk with your friends — the people you trust.
Maybe this is too idealistic, but eventually, I think the world will stop spinning so fast and you’ll be able to find a moment of clarity. Then hopefully you’ll be a better person than you were last fall. Not because you have something to prove to the haters, or because you did anything wrong, but because in the midst of tragedy there is always a lesson to be learned. Once you learn that lesson, you’ll have a greater understanding of something good you didn’t know before, and you’ll be able to share that goodness with the world.
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