Penn State Removes Paterno Statue

Earlier this morning, equipment and a construction crew arrived at Beaver Stadium to remove the statue of Joe Paterno. For the first time since it was put into place in 2001, the image of Joe Paterno leading the Nittany Lions onto the field is no longer there. Penn State president, Rodney Erickson, released the following statement describing the rationale for the statue’s removal and the continuation of Paterno’s name on the University Library.

“Since we learned of the Grand Jury presentment and the charges against Jerry Sandusky and University officials last November, members of the Penn State community and the public have been made much more acutely aware of the tragedy of child sexual abuse. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to those victims of Mr. Sandusky and all other victims of child abuse. I assure you that Penn State will take a national leadership role in the detection and prevention of child maltreatment in the months and years ahead.

With the release of Judge Freeh’s Report of the Special Investigative Counsel, we as a community have had to confront a failure of leadership at many levels. The statue of Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium has become a lightning rod of controversy and national debate, including the role of big time sports in university life. The Freeh Report has given us a great deal to reflect upon and to consider, including Coach Paterno’s legacy.

Throughout Penn State, the two most visible memorials to Coach Paterno are the statue at Beaver Stadium and the Paterno Library. The future of these two landmarks has been the topic of heated debate and many messages have been received in various University offices, including my own. We have heard from numerous segments of the Penn State community and others, many of whom have differing opinions. These are particularly important decisions when considering things that memorialize such a revered figure.

I now believe that, contrary to its original intention, Coach Paterno’s statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our University and beyond. For that reason, I have decided that it is in the best interest of our university and public safety to remove the statue and store it in a secure location. I believe that, were it to remain, the statue will be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse.

On the other hand, the Paterno Library symbolizes the substantial and lasting contributions to the academic life and educational excellence that the Paterno family has made to Penn State University. The library remains a tribute to Joe and Sue Paterno’s commitment to Penn State’s student body and academic success, and it highlights the positive impacts Coach Paterno had on the University. Thus I feel strongly that the library’s name should remain unchanged.

Coach Paterno’s positive impact over the years and everything he did for this University predate his statue. At the same time it is true that our institution’s excellence cannot be attributed to any one person or to athletics. Rather, Penn State is defined by our actions and accomplishments as a learning community. Penn State has long been an outstanding academic institution and we will continue to be.

The world will be watching how Penn State addresses its challenges in the days ahead. While some may take issue with the decisions I have made, I trust that everyone associated with our University will respond in a civil and respectful manner.

I fully realize that my decision will not be popular in some Penn State circles, but I am certain it is the right and principled decision. I believe we have chosen a course that both recognizes the many contributions that Joe Paterno made to the academic life of our University, while taking seriously the conclusions of the Freeh Report and the national issue of child sexual abuse. Today, as every day, our hearts go out to the victims.”

[box type=”shadow”]Photo credit, Kristin Camplese[/box]

Altering the Rhetoric

In Friday’s Press Enterprise is a letter to the editor that casts a very critical view on town and University leaders in the days following the Bloomsburg Flood. The letter, written by a Bloomsburg resident titled, “Town’s attitude angers West Ender,” works to explain how it feels to live in the western part of town — to be branded “west enders” perhaps.

“You think we are fools who only have ourselves to blame for getting flooded. We choose to live in the West End so we got exactly what we deserved, right? We are uneducated and obviously not as “intelligent” as you, or we wouldn’t be in this situation…I live here because my home, like others in the flood zone, was passed down through generations of families.”

When I first lived on the Bloomsburg side of the Susquehanna River, I lived at 245 East Street in a pre-civil war house that my Dad bought at a bank auction. It was in the middle of an ever-increasing press from student housing. I am sure at some point prior to moving there in 1977 (from Wonderview) the whole of East Street were families. I loved living there. There were young families along third and fourth streets where we rode our bikes late into the evening year around. I wasn’t aware that I was living a different life than kids on Market Street. My friends weren’t children of doctors, lawyers, or professors (although my parents were). They were children of the town, almost all Bloomsburg natives. It was the best place in the world to grow up. It made me tough, it made me incredulous, and it made me love Bloomsburg.

We moved to East 12th street when I started 10th grade, but I always look back on my days on East Street as the best of my youth. Socio-economics didn’t matter to me and to this day they don’t. When I was a child, I heard people talk about divides in town, but I was too young and oblivious to really understand. I see it now. I am now reading the wedge issues in the Press and it makes me sad. And the sadness deepens when I read this from that same letter:

“Sadly, we are the ones cast aside; they’ll give us a token or two, but in their eyes we’re just idiots who live too close to the water.”

With that said, I now know the same pain those do in the western part of town — that when the water comes, it takes everything with it as it leaves. And in this flood it leaves more questions to engage in for the longer term than any clean up effort ever will.

Can we climb out of our rage and frustration to build a new sense of empathy? One of the things I find interesting about the letter is that it feels like it has been published to further divide the town, instead of bind it. I can completely understand where the author is coming from and I know it is from a position of anger and frustration. I feel both of those. I’ve walked the devastation in Bloomsburg. I am outraged by much of what has gone on, but I would also urge us to work to feel a sense of change happening.

The free trash collection was ended early, but it was brought back with clear instructions on how it would proceed after residents voiced concerns. The Block Party is a disaster, but the way the University came to the aid of the town has been inspiring. This is a chance for positive and restorative messages, ones I would love to see published openly in the Press Enterprise and online so people in and outside of Bloomsburg can engage in a new form of conversation regarding a town that is about one community and not multiples. What will it take for us to alter the rhetoric that has dominated our community for so long? Engaging that question is critical to our relief effort.

Update: This letter also appeared in the Press Enterprise as a letter to the editor.