In the wake of the recent Penn State University scandal, I have been thinking about the nature of school loyalty and how students respond to terrible situations. I am from Pennsylvania and have many friends who attend Penn State. My Facebook newsfeed has been flooded with a wide range of status updates and comments regarding the incidents. It was interesting to me to witness the shifting trends of the sentiments, which were at first shock, then a rush of strong Penn State pride, then anger about fromer head football coach Joe Paterno’s treatment, and now a mix of confused thoughts and feelings about the entire situation. I find myself considering how students would react if something similar happened at the College of William and Mary.
I believe there is a very strong sense of Tribe pride in the College community. Alumni maintain solid ties to their alma mater and display their pride in their daily lives. The College is similar to Penn State in this way, since we also have a wonderful, family-like community, although much smaller than Penn State’s. That feeling you get when you take pride in simply being a part of your school and what your school stands for is a fantastic thing. I admire the intense bonds at Penn State between with the school, students, alumni and administrators. I am concerned that these feelings could cause a loyal and unified group of people to be blinded by their perceptions and not see that these of individuals are in fact flawed in their actions.
I fully support students’ declarations of their “We Are Penn State” pride. Such a scandal should in no way tarnish the reputations of students or even the merits of the school, since Penn State is a quality university with many distinguished alumni and faculty members. This does not mean that any one of them is perfect.
One cannot argue that Paterno has not done amazing, generous things for Penn State, but his previous good deeds can by no means exempt him from accepting partial responsibility for former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky going unchecked for so long. It is absolutely unacceptable that anyone knowing of the possibility of child abuse would not take stronger action, especially someone who held such power in the Penn State community. This is why I have a major problem with students adamantly defending Paterno to the point of rioting. I understand he was someone who so many looked up to and admired, but it gave me chills to read a status an acquaintance posted saying, “Joe Pa, you’ll always be my hero.” So many students ranted about the unfair treatment of Paterno, failing to mention or show compassion for the unspeakable pain the children involved have suffered. Here is where I feel, and truly hope, that students at the College would act differently.
Although we have a very strong sense of pride, at the College we have the advantage of not being dominated by one program on campus, such as Penn State’s football. We have myriad academic, sports and artistic organizations that instill great loyalty and commitment in students and alumni, but no single organization defines our community as a whole. Therefore, if something awful were to happen involving one, I believe our community would have the level-headedness to consider the situation objectively and recognize that the people directly involved can be at fault without all of us, or our College, being vilified. I am so thankful to be surrounded by a compassionate, questioning, intelligent student body. I hope we would consider the effects of our words and actions. It is entirely possible to be very justifiably proud of one’s school without blindly defending one of its leaders who isn’t perfect. Loyalty and pride have a rightful place in a university, but not at the expense of compassion and clear-mindedness.