Penn State University continues to be prominent in the press. This past week the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) levied significant punitive measures that will have wide-sweeping impact for years to come. These consequences will not only have impact to the football program but to a whole network of programs that are funded by the football program, as well as to the community of Penn State. How do these measures affect students?
NCAA makes a strong statement
It is clear the NCAA has rendered a strong statement about intolerance of the kind of child emotional and sexual abuse that was occurring on the campus. As an advocate of children and teenagers, I recognize the impact to the lives of the victims and their families. They will suffer painful legacies—a part of the fabric of their lives for decades to come. I do hope that some of the funding that will be allocated from the University will go to the care of these young men, specifically for their counseling and support.
Obviously, there are all kinds of opinions about how to reconcile what has happened. Some feel that not enough has been done. Some feel that it is unfair to punish so many who had nothing to do with the offenses. I am sure more information and new, unpleasant realizations will come to light. The pain associated with such abuse impacts us as a national community committed to our universities, teams and children.
I think the message is loud and clear that we cannot tolerate the physical and emotional abuse of children in any realm. Believe me, there is still so much of this occurring, and it is glaringly apparent that we all need to raise awareness and vigilance to protect and support these children and their families.
What do current students and alumni feel?
Living in Pennsylvania, I have been in contact with many Penn State alumni and students who are in our community. I know they have had to deal with painful emotions of loyalty, pride and disillusionment. And yet, there must be some kind of move-on position.
I had the pleasure of having lunch with Ryan, a current Penn State student, who is a member of the Penn State Blue Band. I always enjoy the zeal and enthusiasm of college students who are entering the adult phase of their lives. We talked about life issues, then I asked how he was doing with the whole scandal situation as he was returning to campus for the coming year.
Ryan said something very simple yet very compelling. He told me that Penn State is a family and that when things like this consume a family, it is a time to come together, deal with the issues and move forward in a way that overcomes the adversity. His compassion and enthusiasm were contagious! He even told me that he couldn’t wait to get back on campus. From our brief encounter, I know that Ryan will be the kind of individual to model hope, support those around him, and lead fellow students to a better place through these difficult days to come.
Opportunities come from dire circumstances
I truly believe that even the most dire of circumstances present opportunities for change. No child should ever be emotionally or sexually abused. No one should tolerate those kinds of offenses no matter what the consequences. We must stop sexual predators and develop a protective hedge around our children and teenagers. We must also learn to reach out compassionately to the victims, including the entire Penn State family.
Events such as this impact our whole country. In the midst, we need to show resilience: to become aware, understand, change, grow and recover. We need to have a nationwide vision for the young men, their families, the staff, the students, the alumni, the football players, the coaches and whomever may be impacted. There must be an outlet for healing and recovery.
I think Ryan is right! We must come together, learn what we need, and move forward no matter what the consequences. This is a statement we can embrace as we encounter horrid realities thrust upon us. We also need to pray for the entire community affected by this tragedy. We must learn how to transform our thinking, practices and values about tragic events to provide a healthy world for our kids, their families and our communities.
This is easier said than done, but it is yet another opportunity to take something intolerable and change it for better to preserve and protect the dignity of life. Go for it Ryan, and we will stand with you in the journey!
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network