State College scandal evokes Cabrini response

By Ransom Cozzillio
November 16, 2011

Tragedy and scandal struck Penn State University last week amid allegations and a federal investigation of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was indicted on 40 counts of sexual abuse of young boys between 1994 and 2009 with at least 10 potential victims coming forward.

The indictments, which came after a three year grand jury investigation, brought to light a host of possible cover-ups within the athletic department and led to the firing of 46-year head football coach Joe Paterno and forced resignation of school president Graham B. Spanier.

The shadow of this molestation case that descended on Happy Valley last week precipitated student riots and a nation media onslaught the backlash of which is being heard and felt across the country.

Cabrini has seen the effects of this wide-reaching scandal hit both students and faculty alike, prompting a town hall forum in the Iadarola Center Lecture Hall on Thursday, Nov. 10th. Hosted by Dr. Paul Wright and Dr. Michelle Filling, assistant professors of English, the forum aimed to further inform students and to clear the air regarding the ongoing problems at Penn State University.

The hour-long meeting touched on the origins and timeline of the known allegations, the faculty and student responses at Penn State, the legal precedents in play and the current and possible future ramifications on the University.

Many in the Cabrini athletic department weighed in on the nature of the supposed crimes of Jerry Sandusky, the possible university cover up that took place, as well as on Penn State and its students’ handling of the situation.

“There are two words that come to mind for me: disturbing and unthinkable,” Jackie Neary, head coach of the women’s field hockey and lacrosse teams, said. “I really have a hard time wrapping my head around everything that’s going on there, it’s really frightening.”

Neary reflected on how these allegations are made worse by implicating coaches, like Sandusky and mentors like Paterno: “Because I know when you’re a coach, a teacher, you’re someone that kids look up to,” Neary said. “As a mother and as a coach that’s what I see, and it’s just unthinkable.”

“There’s a lot going on with all this. We’re dealing with heresay at this point unfortunately, but if what Sandusky allegedly did is even remotely true, that would be one of the most heinous crimes imaginable,” Joe Giunta, director of athletics and recreation, said.

On Nov. 8, 2011, Penn State, at the behest of its board of trustees, decided to fire Joe Paterno for his involvement in the scandal. It was speculated that while Paterno did report any allegations he received to his immediate superiors, as per his legal obligations, his lack of further action shone negatively on the university.

It’s a public relations move for Penn State. They knew that with everything happening there and all the bad press that they had to change something. Joe Paterno is an incredibly visible figure there and some of the blame was falling on him, so the board of trustees did a reasonable thing by firing him to look out for the overall image of the school, Steve Colfer, assistant athletic director and head coach of the men’s lacrosse team, said of Paterno’s ousting.

“How everything happened, if it all played out the way we are hearing it, he needed to be fired,” Giunta said. “Even if Paterno filled all of his legal obligations the moral aspect leaves something to be desired.”

After Paterno was fired late on Nov. 8, thousands of Penn State students rioted across the campus in protest and support of the coach. In the process, a news van was overturned and other property was damaged inciting a media backlash against these students for their actions.

“As far as the students rioting, when I saw that, it made me sick,” Giunta said. “I know it’s a small percentage of Penn State students who acted like that, but those that did should be ashamed. I think they have forgotten, they are not acting like they remember or respect what allegedly happened to these kids.”

“As for those students, they are just looking at something that they hold in high regard when it happened,” Neary said. “I don’t think anyone wants to think badly about someone they hold in such high regard. That’s why it can be really important to just sit back and think before you react like this.”

Looking back on how the scandal broke, many seem to look negatively on the way in which the national media handled a story this big and this delicate.

“The media has gotten out of control with 24/7 coverage of something like this,” Giunta said. “I think the media hangs people a little too soon and I think the public and society, that’s the only thing we have to go by…Unfortunately we don’t know these people to be able to say if we believe them or not.”

The investigation of both Jerry Sandusky and Penn State University’s handling of his case are ongoing. Sandusky was arrested and released on $100,00 bail on Nov. 5, 2011 and is waiting to stand trial.

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Ransom Cozzillio

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