One of the primary reasons I decided to go into social work was to find an outlet for my unwavering, sometimes inappropriate empathy. I have the ability to empathize with the “worst” of individuals—I won’t make a list of who, but there’s something about people doing terrible things that pulls at my heartstrings. How did they get to that point? How much hurt must they be experiencing to want to hurt others so badly?
But sometimes my empathy is tested. This tends to happen most often when you throw privilege into the mix. Enter Penn State and the protests against the firing of Joe Paterno. Deadspin posted aslideshow of the “bros” long faces, highlighting that these kids are taking this seriously. Try as I might, I cannot take them seriously in return. A quick look through of the slideshow features, as a friend pointed out, primarily cis gendered white men. I’m assuming, and this is certainly an assumption, most of them are heterosexual. This is the battle they choose to fight. Nevermind the fact that there is actual Occupy Penn State action being organized, these kids decided the best thing to do was to protest against the justified firing of someone who turned a blind eye to children being abused.
I’m not saying that Paterno is the worst human being alive. I think Paterno was, however, acting to his own self-interest and to the interest of the Penn State community (or at least, the reputation or what he considered the interest of the Penn State community). However, it is my belief that fighting against child abuse and potentially preventing more children from abuse is worth some tarnishment to your reputation—a tarnishment that would have been much lighter than what he has to face now.
It’s also important to consider how this scandal would affect the survivors of Sandusky. Survivors of sexual assault often turn blame inward. Seeing the media portrayal of a school so upset over the firing of Paterno could potentially negatively affect these survivors. I can only imagine what would be going through their head—if only I hadn’t been there for Sandusky to abuse me, perhaps this trouble wouldn’t be happening. I hope, rather, that they are able to see what is happening as an example of why they are not at fault. The exposure of Sandusky and Paterno’s tight knit hold on the Penn State administration and the fact that there are several survivors may help the survivors conceptualize the severity of the situation and how out of their own control it really was.
But I can only hope. And as angry as I am at the Penn State protestors, I think it’s taking attention away from who the real victims are in this situation. It’s not these bro dawgs who are sad about losing their football coach. It’s the people who were severely and maliciously abused by Sandusky. There's some reasonable students at Penn State, fortunately, as seen in videos posted by Colorlines. I hope that while I can’t find empathy for them, that those protestors can find empathy for the survivors.