As part of our Being Penn State series on Speak Up, we are featuring voices from around the campuses addressing some of the significant ethical challenges we face as a community. We are also featuring stories about people who Stand Up, Speak Up, and demonstrate their willingness to take on leadership roles in actively addressing these ethical challenges. The following thoughts, contributed to us by Penn State student Matt Bodenschatz, provide an example of both. Matt brings a perspective to our current situation that many of us may not have considered at any length as as we have been coping in our own ways with all that has been happening here and how it has affected us. Whether you agree with everything he says or not, I hope you will take this opportunity to listen to Matt and that you will consider joining in the conversation he is inviting us to have.
WE ARE… Here Too!
by Matt Bodenschatz
For roughly two months, buildings lining the downtown streets of State College have been coated with signs declaring homes and businesses to be “Proud to Support Penn State Football.”
Clearly, Penn State football is widely regarded here as something needing and deserving our defense, advocacy, and strident, active support.
That support, in general, is fine, and is in keeping with proud traditions held dear in this community. But the crucial context of this poster campaign goes unremarked. The fuller set of facts it ignores goes unaddressed. This campaign of support is too specifically targeted toward one particular portion of our community, and it carelessly implies that their situation is the one most worthy of lament and sympathy. It’s too conveniently neglectful of an entire population of people, of what that population has endured, and of what it was publicly promised (but has yet to get) from those around it. And a great many of us who comprise that population, the recipients up to now of nothing more than lip service, broken promises, and empty, unfulfilled commitments, see, feel and absorb this campaign in a much different way.
There is in fact a sizable community of the abused here, numbering in the many thousands, bullied into a terrified silence and thus conveniently marginalized, and nearly never talked about except when being given vague, occasional, noncommittal and dismissive acknowledgement. Far too many of us in that community, when we walk the streets of State College, experience these inescapable signs as a taunting, as an onslaught, as a gauntlet we’re forced to walk and that says to us, “Our football program and our Penn State pride, these alone are the things worth taking action for and worth organizing and campaigning in defense of, these alone are the things and the people for whom it’s important to keep our promises. This, even despite what we now know regarding the too many who often live in pain and fear among us, is what matters most.”
Victims/survivors know as well as anyone that people can be supportive toward their teams and their school as well as toward victims/survivors. The community of the abused knows that you can support these two things equally and in tandem. That is not the issue. The issue is that Penn State hasn’t done so in the past and still doesn’t do so in the present.
With all of this constantly and inescapably in mind, roughly one month ago I walked past the University Health Services Pharmacy on campus, noticed this same one-sided, alienating sign in the window, in a place it had no right to be, and decided that I had seen enough, that bounds had been overstepped, and that some action in defense of my brothers and sisters in the victim/survivor community was warranted and was long overdue.
I wrote a strongly-worded email to the head pharmacist, expressing myself as an abuse survivor to whom the signage was upsetting, and let him know exactly why the placement of that sign was a problem for me and my community. I explained that because the pharmacy is located in the same building as CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) its placement ran the unnecessary risk of alienating and intimidating the abuse victims/survivors who might want to seek out CAPS for help. Frankly, I wanted him to understand the same thing that I constantly struggle to make this entire town and campus understand: That we, the abused, are here among you – by the thousands. That while some of us are able to hold onto something firmly enough to sustain our existence and be alright, many more of us are suffocating under the weight of the misguided attitudes and thoughtlessness that is all around us. And any sign, or anything at all that would run the risk of making my brothers and sisters fearfully turn away from the one building where they’re supposed to know that they are safe and that they matter more than football, is not alright.
To their credit, they responded to my email promptly, to voice regret and to let me know that the sign has been removed.