Earlier this week, in my column The World Joe Paterno Made, I referenced a 2006 incident where the former Penn State coach joked about the suspected rape of a female-student at Florida State. I quoted the Pennsylvania President of the National Organization for Women, Joanne Tosti-Vasey, who spoke with what I called “chilling unintentional prescience,” given the alleged child-rapes and cover-ups involcing former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Tosti-Vasey said, “Allegations of sexual assault should never be taken lightly. Making light of sexual assault sends the message that rape is something to be expected and accepted."
The Penn State alumnus is still President of Pennsylvania NOW and still fighting to change the culture on campus. After reading my column, Tosti-Vasey wrote to me and explained her current campaign to make sure that the current scandal enveloping the school actually leads to concrete change. As you”ll read, the institutional gears of obfuscation and indifference are already in motion. Check out how, in her own words, she and others are fighting back.
I truly wish that I hadn’t been “prescient” as you stated in your article when you referred to my call in 2006 for Penn State to address campus violence. Due to these newest allegations of child sexual assault and the possible cover-up that may have occurred, I have once again referred to this climate of indifference and minimization of abuse towards others, particularly in the Athletics Department.
On Monday, November 7, I contacted the Penn State Board of Trustees and asked them to expand the focus of their “independent” review to include all forms of violence. On Friday, November 12, the press release on the PSU website from the Board that announced that, “The complete committee membership will be determined and announced in the near future and is expected to be composed of a majority of Board of Trustee members with representatives from each of the board’s constituencies as well as representatives of the Penn State community including faculty, students and alumni.”
A committee that is made up solely of members of the Penn State Community is NOT an independent review board. Community members by themselves often have a vested interest in down-playing an issue in an attempt to put the best light on bad situations. We believe that as corporate stewards of this world-class public university, PSU would want to take immediate and far-reaching actions to ensure that the Penn State students, staff, and the families in the surrounding community never have to see this kind of behavior and resulting exposé ever again. Appointing outside people to the committee will help do this.
This review must also be expanded to include all forms of campus violence. PSU, like many other universities, has a long history of minimizing sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking of mostly women. The alleged child sexual assaults occurred due to a general climate that minimizes and ignores campus violence in general.
For almost 20 years, we have challenged Penn State’s dismissive attitude toward violence against women, particularly within the Athletics department. It is time to stop this insular focus. It is time to make sure that NO form of campus violence – sexual assault, relationship violence, or stalking – is ever again tolerated. Against any child. Against any adult. Against any member of the PSU community or a visitor to any of our campuses (yes, I am alum).
Pennsylvania NOW and National NOW have therefore called on the Board of Trustees to make the investigative committee transparent and independent by including experts in relationship violence, survivors and people not associated with the University. And we are also urging the committee to broaden its investigation to include all forms of campus violence, which should include but not be limited to — sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. The panel should review policies and reporting methods across the board at Penn State and specifically within the Athletic Department.
So far we have not heard anything from either the Chair and Vice-Chair of the investigative committee or from the PSU Board of Trustees. We are still awaiting a response to our concerns.
As with all grassroots activism, we have created a petition at to help pressure the Board to expand their investigation and make their committee more transparent and independent. We have, in less than two days, gathered almost 500 signatures. We hope that this pressure, in addition to our direct communications with the University administration and the Board of Trustees, will help make sure that policies campus-wide are reviewed, revised, created (where necessary), and enforced AND that the wall of indifference is torn down so that we no longer have to endure such maltreatment of another human being ever again.
Pennsylvania NOW, Inc.