On November 2nd, I wrote a post entitled There Are 8,360 Virgins At Penn State, expressing my burden for the lack of a moral compass at Penn State University. I wrote: “…we rarely hear of high expectations for the students in State College, Pennsylvania. Instead, we most often turn a blind eye when students engage in promiscuity, considering it normal.” On November 5th, news broke of a sex scandal being billed as the largest in college football history. It’s horrific that a man applauded for charitable work is now alleged to be a pedophile, but what is more horrific to me is that key University leaders turned a blind eye, allowing that behavior to continue. Could anything else demonstrate so grotesquely just how deeply rooted is the tolerance for promiscuous behavior? On November 2nd—at the encouragement of many—I was soft in my approach and suggested Spanier must be a good guy and deserved a second chance to raise his grade in the department of cultivating a culture of decency and respect. I don’t believe that anymore. Here’s why.
Two years ago, I did a handful of case studies on the Penn State University campus. I wanted to be relevant as I constructed a sexual theology for college-aged women when I penned What Are You Waiting For: The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex. What I found broke my heart to the core. I expected to find a lot of sex. I didn’t expect for it to be so careless, casual and regretted. I didn’t expect to find a complete lack of tolerance for the choice to embrace self-control and chose abstinence. After much nudging, I chose a gentle approach in writing about Spanier in the book, but I see no need to be gentle now. First, hear this:
Another student I spoke with had been temporarily caught up in the party and sex scene, but felt the shallowness of it. When she pulled out, she experienced the same kind of ridicule from her friends. This prompted her to ask me: “Why is there tolerance for everything but sobriety and abstinence here? Aren’t those healthy choices worthy of respect?”
And here’s what I had the kindness to cut:
Frankly, I’ve wanted to ask Penn State President, Graham Spanier that same question on a number of occasions. But recently he’s been rather busy writing a non-committal, legally-vetted public non-apology for a student who died because he was so drunk he fell down stairwell and bled to death. The letter had to be written with a voice of “tolerance.” The local media tend to turn a blind eye to the illogical contradiction of tolerance, never taking time to build an atmosphere of approval for safer, healthier choices.
With my ears full of the pain and consequence of alcohol and too much sex, I really couldn’t believe that all the University offered to the memory of this poor student was a lame letter ending with: “We must do whatever we can to lose no more.” They were words that would never be followed by action.
And action is what we need now.
Here’s the why Graham Spanier should leave: I don’t believe that a better moral climate on campus would have stopped a pedophile, if that is what facts prove Jerry Sandusky to be. But I do believe that a healthier moral climate would have stopped Sandusky from collecting more victims because Coach Joe Paterno, Athletic Director Tim Curley, Vice President Gary Shultz, and President Graham Spanier would not have been able to turn a blind eye. If the climate provided an expectation for decent moral behavior, perhaps they’d have chosen to protect that poor nameless boy and those yet to be victimized.
Enough of looking the other way.
We need new leadership.
And they need to have good eyes that are the windows to good hearts.
How can we help? I’m not sure. Like you, I’m burdened all day long with thoughts of what my personal responsibility should be. I do know one thing. God’s word says, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.” It is those who are called by His name who should be in a posture of humility right now. Yes, we can speak truth in kindness and offer our opinions because that matters. But mostly, we should be on our knees, humbling ourselves, and praying. Then, God will hear us and bring healing to our land.
I for one pray that includes new leaders.
[i] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance: United States, 2005. Surveillance Summaries, 2006. MMWR 2006; 55 (No. ss-5).
[ii] Donna Freitas Sex & The Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America’s College Campuses (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008), page 162.