Mending Community and Moving Forward: Working For a Greater Good
I’m just back from three days at Penn State, or State College, Pa., which are actually pretty much synonymous. That’s because the land-grant school came first, then the town grew up around it. Many businesses have something related to the university in their name or vision, and they all exist because of it.
While in the town of State College, I was brainstorming with and surrounded by Penn State grads, Penn State employees and faculty, and Penn State administrators. Even a PSU board member, Ryan McCombie, got thrown into the mix. The people who invited me, artist Michael Pilato and globe-trotting organizer Steve Garguilo, have been working on some pretty wonderful ideas to help survivors move past sexual abuse. Those ideas also include something sorely needed in State College and on campus: the ability to mend a community.
Poet and activist Dora McQuaid (who will forever be known as “The Woman Who Replaced Sandusky In Pilato’s Mural’) initially reached out to me after I interviewed her for my last Daily Beast piece, about the NCAA’s sanctions. I left her a voice mail, but she only called back after googling me—and finding my piece about La’Shanda Armstrong. Before long, she and Pilato reached out, inviting me to join their discussion. Then Garguilo did likewise. (And Pilato insisted he must paint my book cover into his mural, a truly unexpected honor.)
Which is how I ended up in State College for three days. And I’ve got to tell you, when you hear about Beaver Stadium, you have no idea just how big it is until you’ve seen it. (I’m pretty sure WVU’s Mountaineer Stadium would fit inside it.) Nor do you appreciate just how far removed it is from the rest of the world. So when the BBC interviewed me and some other folks after a guilty verdict was returned in the Sandusky trial, and one of them said the stadium sits in the middle of a field surrounded by acres and acres of farmland away from everything, you can’t fully grasp that until you see it for yourself.
That was my first thought upon arriving. My second thought was that the PSU campus is beautiful, and huge. We met in the Hetzel Union Building, where we continued discussing the initiatives Garguilo, Pilato and the others (among them Kate Wilson Branford, Herbert Reininger, Kristen Eisenbraun Houser, and Cory Trim) had begun working on. Since I’m not the brains behind the scenes, I don’t feel right discussing those initiatives here, other than to say they’re great ideas. (And no doubt, among the hundreds, if not thousands, that PSU officials are fielding these days.)
The wonderful thing is that many, many people are doing the same thing we are: They’re racking their brains to come up with ideas to help Penn State move away from Sandusky, a child molester—and toward being what PSU President Rodney Erickson said it’s determined to become: “a leader in the research, prevention and treatment of child abuse.”
Much remains to be done, and only time will tell if the powers that be put these ideas into action with the same level of determination and dedication as they do when choosing which plays to execute on the football field. From my perspective, that of an outsider and survivor of child sex abuse, I have to say there is a lot of pride on this campus, which I observed for myself, and which I heard about from people within the Penn State community.
While much of that is deserved, it’s important to remember that sometimes pride can get in the way. There’s no room or time for that here, as it will only impede progress toward the school’s goal, as stated by Erickson.
Laying aside that pride, for the time being, much as a player does his uniform after the lights go out on a football field, is the only way for Penn State to play this life-changing game.
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Daleen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (For photos of her trip to Penn State, please check out her Facebook page.)
Editor’s note: Daleen Berry will join a Sept. 16 discussion about the topic of child sex abuse at Webster’s Bookstore in State College, Pa. Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.
Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.