Letter to the editor

This was letter was written by Rosa A. Eberly, an associate professor of rhetoric in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences and the Department of English at Penn State. She was a Daily Collegian news editor from 1982-83 and president of the board of directors of The Daily Collegian, Inc. from 1989-1992.

"This news is both unspeakably sad and deeply shocking, as it took place only steps from our campus. On behalf of the entire Columbia community, I send my deepest condolences to Davide’s family.”

These words of Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger published on Dec. 3 in The New York Times — in response to the Dec. 3 stabbing death of Columbia graduate student Davide Giri — finally jarred me out of my unwillingness to write the following words and to seek their publication: The death of a student should be important enough to provoke comment from a university president.

The death of a student should be important enough to be discussed carefully and remembered by anyone fancying themselves a part of a "Penn State community."

There may well be good reasons that The Daily Collegian does not routinely publish obituaries of community members who have died. At the same time, in the wake of the lonesome November death of Penn State sophomore Justine Gross — down a trash chute, into a dumpster, hauled to the transfer station at Dale Summit, where her body was found — the community silence has been stunning. 

A professor who was told more than once by a former superior that I "pay too much attention to students," I find the silence alarming.

As reported on Nov. 19 in the Collegian, "Penn State spokesperson Lisa Powers said in a statement Penn State is 'heartbroken for the family and friends' of Gross and said the university offers its 'condolences to all who knew and loved her.'”

"Powers encouraged anyone who may need assistance 'dealing with this tragic incident,'" the Collegian report continued "'to contact Penn State Counseling and Psychological Services.'"

And with that, the sound of a closing door — a door that has been too often closed before.

Perhaps the Barron administration is doing better through its near silence than former Penn State President Graham Spanier did when he reassured anyone listening to the Dec. 18, 2009 episode of "This American Life" that the following year's first-year students would not know the name of the student who had died the previous year, falling from the top of an Earth and Mineral Sciences Building after drinking during pledge week at a nearby fraternity. 

Former "This American Life" producer Sarah Koenig paraphrases Spanier in the "This American Life" episode, and I am quoting Koenig here: "Joe Dado's death, he said, won't have any meaning for next year's freshmen." 

But I remember that student's name. I remember him and his family every time I walk from Sparks Building a few seconds southwest toward Burrowes Street. And I teach his name every semester in my Foundations of Civic and Community Engagement class: Joey Dado.

His name was Joey Dado. He was drinking and then walking alone. And he fell. And he died. And his death has meaning. 

Since February 2017, there is another name of another dead student, one that current Penn Staters are perhaps likelier to know: Timothy Piazza.

As chronicled by Caitlin Flanagan in her November 2017 article, "Death at a Penn State Fraternity" in The Atlantic magazine, the story of Piazza's hazing death at the hands of his so-called brothers is revolting in every detail.

Piazza was abused and left to die in 2017, a few hundred feet south and across Burrowes Street from where Dado fell and died in 2009.

According to Flanagan's article, when Timothy's father "met with Penn State President Eric Barron a week after Tim’s death, he slid the program from his son’s funeral across the desk: 'Since no one had the time to come,' he said."

Because I listen closely to students, I know that there have been at least two negative consequences of the university's lack of care for students in the wake of Gross's death.

First, some students seem to think another death of another student is only a rumor. Surely, they say, if this had really happened, they would be hearing more from the university.

Second, several students spoke in our class discussion of the realization that it could be them. And if it were them, they would want Penn State to do better. They'd want to be remembered for who they were — not just another vigil or another town hall.

Because memory can prompt change. Memory is the material of future inventions. 

We need to remember Gross. We need to celebrate her life.

We need to talk about how and why — and where — she died.

And we need to talk about what it says about our community that almost no one wants to talk about it.

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