I first learned about cognitive dissonance in an undergrad psych class. It’s the feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs. The concept resonated so strongly with my musical background that I could almost hear it, as if it was a dissonant interval on the piano.It’s a lot like simultaneously loving and hating Penn State, a discomfort I have been feeling for years now.
From the time I was a toddler, my parents took our family camping for vacation. Year after year we’d make the drive, set up our cabin, and enjoy the hiking trails, the lake, the nature center, and the wildlife together. We’d also take a day trip to University Park: Creamery ice cream, Highway pizza, and PSU school supplies at the bookstore. I was in love with it all, from the ice cream at the top of the hill to the town at the bottom. My dad used to joke that he thought he was taking a cheap vacation, but he ended up with two daughters at Penn State so how cheap was it after all.
A Penn State education is among the best in the world. I learned from world class professors. I met JoePa. I danced in Thon. I enjoyed endless opportunities for athletics, creativity, community service, and friendship. I appreciate the core values that Penn State embodies: loyalty, integrity, strength of character, honesty, belief in myself, and so, so many more. I love Penn State and everything it stands for.
But now my love for Penn State has an asterisk after it.
November 2011. Sandusky’s hidden evil revealed. The media’s endless untruths. The smug, smirking faces of those who announced the firing of Joe Paterno. An asinine town hall meeting in which President Erickson answered zero questions of substance. The piling on from the NCAA. Sanctions. Lawsuits. Misconceptions. I can feel the scowl on my face as I type.
I still love Penn State*
*There are pieces of Penn State that I hate: chiefly, the corrupt and cowardly leadership. They are Penn State, too. They are out there in the world, visibly carrying the Penn State name and making a mockery of the values we all hold dear.
And, the fact that Joe is gone but still not honored by Penn State, despite Sandusky prosecutor, Frank Fina, stating that Joe Paterno did not witness, commit, or cover up a crime.
And, the fact that Spanier, Curley and Shultz are still awaiting trial, despite former Second Mile board chairman, Bruce Heim, stating that these three administrators notified Sandusky’s employer (The Second Mile) and Heim chose not to tell the rest of the board.
And, the fact that the majority of the appointed old guard Board of Trustees still sits in power, or their cronies sit in their place, despite dedicated alumni voting to replace all nine alumni seats. There are, of course, only nine out of thirty-two board members who are alumni elected.
And, the fact that our alumni association has a CEO who is not a Penn State alum. With hundreds of thousands of living alumni, I have a hard time believing not one of them was interested in and qualified for the position. We just got an expensive, new official logo, which was designed by an outside firm. Did it need to be changed? Could we not have paid Penn Staters to design it? Are you getting the feeling that Penn State wants to distance itself from Penn Staters? What is with that?
It’s cognitive dissonance. The relief to my ears as the piano notes resolve is the same relief I’ve been longing for these last four years. But I can’t find it.
I absolute hate feeling like I’m complaining about all of this. I hate that it even exists. Yet it has been FOUR YEARS and we are still trying to reverse the false narrative set in motion by our own trustees. We are still fighting to be recognized as more than a “vocal minority” or “JoeBots” or “apathetic alumni.”
Where is the tipping point? Something’s gotta give here. I can’t imagine how we’re going to get there, but I know there are those of you working daily to see us through. We can’t accept this as our new reality.
The only place I’m finding hope is in a call to action. Can we all please do something? Will you write a letter to the editor to any PA newspaper? Will you call Dr. Barron and inquire as to why he has not fulfilled his year old promise to review the Freeh report? Will you join the Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship’s email list and stay informed on the latest news? Will you apply to speak at a board meeting? Will you refuse to move on?
I cannot say it any better than Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship did on the anniversary of Paterno’s unjust firing, “we won't rest until the university's cowardly leadership is held fully accountable for a stampede to judgement that unfairly tarnished a community, a university, its football program, and its most loyal and generous employee.”
Dr. Seuss wrote in The Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.” Penn State family, we must take back our university.