We often tell people that, as sociologists, we think State Patty’s Day is “fascinating.” Although this community has a yearlong parade of celebrations for enjoyment and spectacle, a few students had the idea to add a mock holiday to this line-up a few years ago to commemorate what so many claim to love more than anything else — partying and creating memories with friends.
Think about it: One idea inspired thousands of people, including out-of-town friends and alumni, to create a social force that literally paints downtown State College green for an entire weekend, re-routing the lives of local families and community members in the process. How could any sociologist not be struck by the power of people acting in coordinated ways, motivated by similar goals, to create nothing less than a new Penn State institution? Pretty impressive.
But this is a new era. So we want to look at another side of this social force. Ever since the first news of the Sandusky Scandal, the rest of the world has been given a glimpse into how things operate in the Penn State community.
And what they think they have seen is a self-absorbed, selfish and self-indulgent people who care more about preserving their brand of fun than protecting the lives of children.
We are not saying this characterization is true.
But frankly, in the world of students we are not seeing a lot happen to discount that story or to recognize how we may have changed since November.
We know. We know. There was a moving candlelight vigil (we were there), a campus townhall meeting (we were there as well) and many other good-hearted individual acts of compassion and generosity offered sincerely in response to the horrifying, alleged accounts.
But we’re talking about now, post-crisis, post-media storm. We’re talking about the ways a community must re-shape itself in response to very dark allegations.
So, what are we actually choosing to do as a community to recognize how these events have changed us, humbled us, altered something deep? Even though the satellite trucks have pulled away and we have received assurances that applications to Penn State are steady and donors are still standing with us, we are not the same.
And there is a necessary process that we must undergo in order to acknowledge what we have become — not in spite of our baggage but because of it. And honestly, that kind of acknowledgement — that kind of transformation — usually doesn’t happen without giving something up. You give up your youth to step into adulthood. You give up your freedom for the intimacy of a committed relationship. You give up your independence for the privilege of becoming a parent.
Maybe you see where we’re going. But there’s one more thing that is often overlooked in all of this: Victims of sexual abuse and assault cannot just dust themselves off and go forward with their lives as if nothing happened.
They are forever changed by their experience. In fact, we have heard many say that they feel as though their abusers have murdered something in them.
So, even though none of us are directly responsible for the alleged abuse experienced, all of us are responsible for how we go forward with the knowledge that there are victims among us and the knowledge that the silence surrounding their alleged abuse might have been, in some part, a product of a system that has thrived on our collective feeling of entitlement to have fun.
As much as you might want to stop hearing about all of this, the fact is, it’s here, it’s with us, it can’t go away.
And as much as sociology leads us to see the grey areas of social life, mature people and critical thinkers know that all of us still have to make decisions at the end of the day — grey area or not.
We happen to think that State Patty’s Day provides one of those opportunities for making a decision. And we just happen to think that saying “no” to it — in honor of lives and communities that are forever changed by what has happened — pretty much rises to the level of a moral imperative at this time.
We are not talking about public relations. We are not saying this will “look good” for Penn State. We are saying that there are moments when we have to make choices that are not easy or fun, but choices that allow us to stand taller as human beings. This may be one of them.
Besides, a collective act of saying “no” to State Patty’s Day would be an even more impressive sociological phenomenon than its creation, and maybe even a new beginning for Penn State.
How could you not want to be a part of that?
Laurie Mulvey and Sam Richards are lecturers in the Penn State Department of Sociology and are the directors of the World in Conversation Project. Email Mulvey at email@example.com, and email Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org.