On Wednesday, November 9, artist Michael Pilato replaced former football coach Jerry Sandusky with a lone, blue ribbon in his mural "Inspiration: State College."
Sandusky was found guilty on 45 counts of sexual abuse seven months later.
On Sunday, June 24, two days after the verdict, Pilato replaced the ribbon with Penn State graduate and former faculty member Dora McQuaid. She is an activist and poet who raises awareness against domestic and sexual violence.
McQuaid said she couldn't stop crying when Pilato first told her he was going to paint her into the mural, located across from The Deli, 113 Heister St.
"I am so honored and humbled by Michael choosing to acknowledge my 14 years of work to address those issues by putting my image in Sandusky's chair," McQuaid said.
McQuaid has won numerous awards for her work including the Pennsylvania Governor's Pathfinder Award and a Vagina Warrior Award from the Penn State cast of Eve Ensler's play The Vagina Monologues. She will also be "honored as one of the Remarkable Women of Taos, New Mexico during the 2012 yearlong celebration of women whose lives and creative spirits have influenced the community," according to her website.
Pilato said he chose McQuaid to fill Sandusky's seat because he has been a supporter of her work for years and "she is really an incredible human being."
"Dora is one of those types of women who puts her whole heart and soul into what she does," Pilato said. "She is dedicated to making a difference in the world."
McQuaid said she met Pilato when they were undergraduate students at the university and have known each other for about 25 years.
She began her journey at Penn State as an undergraduate from 1986 to 1990 and then as a graduate student in speech communications from 1990 to 1994.
Because she is a survivor of both domestic and sexual violence herself, McQuaid became involved in sexual abuse activism. Those experiences are also what led her to start writing.
McQuaid said she never anticipated her poems becoming public, and first only released a couple of poems to a support group that the Centre County Women's Resource Center offered for survivors of violence.
That was until she talked to Dawn McKee, the special projects coordinator at the CCWRC, who wanted to use more of McQuaid's poems.
McQuaid said at first she was hesitant, but McKee told McQuaid that her poems could help a lot of people and bring awareness towards sexual abuse.
Once the CCWRC sent out a newsletter with McQuaid's poems, she said resource centers from all over Pennsylvania started contacting her.
McQuaid's signature poem "The One You Were Afraid I Would Write," is about a night she experienced abuse that involved a shotgun and lasted 16 hours. McQuaid said she could have easily been killed that night.
Counseling sessions, McQuaid said, helped with the emotional stress of releasing her poems to the public. She decided it was "OK" and that her poems spoke about the larger issue of sexual violence -- not just her own.
"When I decided to break my own silence, it broke quickly into public levels, that's when I decided to publish the book," McQuaid said.
"Scorched Earth" is McQuaid's first book. Published 10 years ago, she said it will soon be reissued with a CD companion. The CD is compiled with studio and live recordings of McQuaid reading her poems. Her second book, "SEVEN: Poems of The Interim," will be published in the near future.
From that point forward, McQuaid said she started working statewide in Pennsylvania with organizations against rape and violence. When all of this started to pick up, McQuaid returned to Penn State to teach. McQuaid was a faculty member in the department of communication arts and sciences from 1999 to 2006.
During that time, she was awarded with the Pennsylvania Governor's Pathfinder Award in 2003, which prompted Pilato to add her to his "Inspiration" mural. During talks about her addition to the mural, McQuaid was involved in a serious accident that eventually played a role in her leaving the university and moving to New Mexico.
Also during that time, Pilato was working on a mural in Williamsport, which McQuaid said took him seven years to complete. After that, plans were put on hold.
When news of the sexual abuse charges filed against Sandusky broke in November 2011, McQuaid said she couldn't wrap her head around it.
"I didn't even know how to respond, since I was working so hard to bring light to [sexual abuse] during the time he was assaulting these boys," McQuaid said.
On March 22, 2012, McQuaid returned home from an event celebrating her chosen to be one of the Remarkable Women of Taos, N.M.
McQuaid went on Facebook and found a notification from Pilato.
"Michael had posted on my wall that the decision had been made between him and the board of his public art academy to have my image replace Sandusky's in the chair," McQuaid said.
She didn't have words to explicitly define her feelings, but McQuaid said she put in a lot of work to try and help people and it came from her own experiences of being abused.
"You go through some experiences like that and I had to make the decision that those experiences weren't going to define me, and that my reactions to them were going to define me," McQuaid said.
Pilato said he considers McQuaid's work a "burden" to her in a way, because she is incredible at what she does and connects with so many people that she has to do it.
Since Pilato has added McQuaid to the mural, he said he thinks about 3,000 people have stopped to see it. Pilato said while he was adding the blue ribbon to McQuaid's hair on Tuesday, he met people who had driven three hours to come view her addition to the mural.
Pilato said a woman in her 70s had talked with him saying she was abused 40 years ago. The woman also said that McQuaid and Skye Pilato, Michael's daughter, were an inspiration to her.
Michael Pilato said when his daughter, Skye, was sexually abused, he contacted McQuaid to help her during the healing process. McQuaid and Skye will soon begin working together with other sexual abuse survivors on a poem that will be featured in the mural. Pilato said his daughter is excited and feels incredible to be a part of the workshop.
Pilato said he has been receiving an overwhelming amount of messages from people who were abused, saying how much they appreciate that McQuaid has taken the seat in the mural. Pilato said through those messages, he has been "hooking people up with Dora" to be part of the workshop that McQuaid will hold when she visits State College.
"It makes me feel good that she is seen by a huge audience like she's always deserved," Pilato said. "It's great when an artist has the opportunity to help someone in that way."
Pilato said when he added the blue ribbon to McQuaid, he wanted to make the attachment look "organic." The ribbon, representing child abuse, begins in McQuaid's hair and then wraps down around her arm.
McQuaid said that people don't ever know what their lives are going to ask of them, and that some go through dark and challenging periods, but she came out of the darkness and wanted to do the best she could to help others who have experienced the same.
"I'm so grateful my life has unfolded in this way, and I want other survivors to know they are not alone and there is always hope for more possibilities no matter how dark the experience has been," McQuaid said.