Consider this a reminder. A reminder that what “we are” is a community, and that no one segment of that community exists without the others.
We are not Penn State without the faculty and staff who turn on the lights, teach the classes, serve the food, do the research, and mow the Old Main lawn.
We are not Penn State without the alumni who build the traditions, hire the recent graduates, start families of future Penn Staters, and give generously to ensure their alma mater can continue to thrive.
We are not Penn State without the students whose hard work, idealism, and ambition are the reason the rest of us have a university to work for and support.
Consider this also a plea.
To alumni, and to those who never attended a class but are invested as life-long Penn State football fans: Remember why this place exists. Remember the thousands of faculty members whose teaching and research improves lives. These brilliant, motivated people came to Penn State—and remain here—because Penn State remains a place they can do great, important work.
Remember, too, the tens of thousands of students planning and preparing for the rest of their lives. Remember that they’re living the life-defining moments you’ve already experienced, and that their experience these past two years has been among the most challenging in Penn State’s history. Remember that many of these students are working their way through college, balancing jobs and full class loads, or working toward a degree that may take years to pay off. These students, their needs and their perspective, deserve your respect, even when they might differ from yours.
And to students, particularly those in campus leadership roles, and those with a public profile and media platform that allows their voices to be heard among the din: Try not to add to the noise. Try to appreciate the emotional roots of dissatisfaction among some members of this shared community. Try, especially, not to generalize—to avoid the tone of us-vs.-them that seems increasingly to define our interaction. From State Patty’s Day to empty seats in the student section, you’ve felt victimized in the past by broad and sometimes unfair accusations; turning that broad brush against a huge alumni body you’ll soon be a part of helps no one.
The past two years have provided a harsh lesson on how easy it is for others to hold the actions of a few against an entire community. We’ve all heard countless references to “Penn State’s guilt,” as if an institution can do anything, and as if such careless language doesn’t have repercussions for everyone affiliated with it. We know this; we’ve lived it.
Too often now, such generalizations are directed at fellow members of this community. Alumni think this; students don’t understand that. Our internal discourse has taken on the worst aspects of our national political discourse: so much shouting, so little listening. No matter what side you’re on, you can see where that’s gotten us. If it continues, we only hurt Penn State. Which is to say, we only hurt ourselves.
Ryan Jones, senior editor, Penn State Online Magazine