Penn State has been garnering a lot of attention recently, but none of it wanted. On November 5, former Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky, was arrested for inappropriate behaviors with as many as eight young boys in the last fifteen years. During his tenor at Penn State Sandusky founded The Second Mile, an organization for at-risk children. He retired from his position in 1999, but was given emeritus status which entitled him access to the football team and its facilities. Prosecution is now arguing that this charitable organization provided a cover for Sandusky to access children for sexual recreation. Sandusky was arraigned then released on $100,000 bail after being charged with 40 counts connected to sexual abuse of young boys. He denies all charges.
Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz are both implicated in the case, for reportedly knowing about the abuse and failing to report it. Both have resigned from their posts. University President Graham Spanier as well as Penn State head coach and football legend, Joe Paterno, have been fired for supposedly being aware of the abuse and not acting.
At the crux of the scandal is Assistant Coach Mike McQueary who, in 2002, (when still a graduate assistant) walked in on Sandusky with a young boy in the shower. McQueary claims to have reported what he saw to Coach Paterno and then met with Curley and Schultz to discuss the matter. In a recent report released just yesterday, McQueary apparently told a friend via email that he stopped the alleged rape and talked to police. McQueary was placed on administrative leave last Friday.
Each person involved gives a slightly different story, but what seems to be true of all accounts, is that everyone knew that something wasn’t right but settled for inaction. There were some discussions, but no action. Note: None at least until yesterday’s email surfaced (interestingly after days worth of condemnation for inaction by all parties). And, until the public backlash, everyone seemed content with that. They did “something” (reporting to the police, telling a supervisor) and that was enough.
There are problematic power dynamics involved in this particular situation namely, that of Sandusky and the children he spent time with (“children identified as needing extra support” and “children who live in the most difficult circumstances, having experienced the greatest trauma”) as well as the power hierarchy between a graduate assistant and Penn State officials and perhaps even Penn State and the town of State College, PA itself. The question that arises from looking at power dynamics is the responsibility of a person, when the higher authority in which they reported to fails to act. When this happens, what is there to do? Meaning, ultimately, is the issue over? Likely the trauma, stress, anxiety, pain, etc. isn’t over for the victim even if the “incident” is over.
Doing “your part” must be more than a one-time act to alleviate inner feelings of guilt or privilege. It should become a mindset instead of an obligation. We must all speak up and act for those that are least advantaged. While it can be a complicated situation when those higher than yourself fail to act, if the situation continues to feel wrong to you, pursue the issue. Asking questions might not be popular but not asking it could lead to a number of problems later on, as we have seen in the time since Sandusky’s arrest, with five university staff either resigning or being fired from their positions.
The allegations in this case, while still under investigation, are very disturbing. But, let’s use this unfolding tragedy as an opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to being active bystanders. An active bystander is someone who makes an conscious decision to make a bad situation better. This can involve simple acts such as asking if a person is okay, getting an authority figure involved, or if it feels safe, personally intervening especially if the person being harmed is unable to defend themselves or disadvantaged in another way.
Some suggestions for being an active bystander include:
- Speak up! If something is not quite right, than you are probably not the only one who notices. Say something and you might be joined by others. But even if not, your voice is important.
- Listen to your gut instinct. If you think something is wrong, investigate it. Think about what you can do to improve the situation and then determine how to act without compromising your personal safety.
- Don’t be content to pass the buck. If you think something is suspicious, don’t just tell one person and leave it alone. Check back in. See what happened and if anything was done. If the issue was dropped, pick it back up and find someone else to discuss the issue with.
Active bystanders don’t just let things drop and hope for the best. They do everything they can to help improve things for others, knowing that someday that might need help too.
If you are a student or faculty member on UNC’s campus and have not been One Act trained do it! One Act is a bystander intervention one time training session that empowers individuals to be active bystanders.
Another great way to be an active bystander is by signing up for volunteer training at FVPC. Our volunteers are trained to know how to help and what to do in tough situations.
Or find your own path. But whatever it is, DO something. Don’t wait for someone else to do it.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Ghandi