Can the Students at Penn State Read? Did They Read What I Read? By Paula McGee

The following is a guest post written by Paula McGee, dynamic preacher, writer, and inspirational speaker.  She earned a Master of Divinity from the Interdenominational Theological Center and a Master of Arts in Religion from Vanderbilt University. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Women’s Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University.  Her personal mission is “to inspire others to recognize, accept, and fulfill their call to greatness.”

“As the graduate assistant put the sneakers in his locker, he looked into the shower. He saw a naked boy, Victim 2, whose age he estimated to be ten years old, with his hands against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky.”

Can the students at Penn State read? I saw thousands of students rioting in the streets after the Board of Trustees announced the termination of football coaching legend Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier. I wondered if the students had read page 6 of the 23 page Grand Jury report. The report provides detailed information on 8 victims. So I can’t imagine any student that would question the university’s decision to fire Joe Paterno, if they had read any portion of the report from the Grand Jury’s investigation. The details on page six have caused the most controversy. In 2002, a 28 year old graduate assistant walks in on Jerry Sandusky raping a ten year old boy. Sandusky is now telling people that he only showered with boys. 

Sandusky played at Penn State and was the defensive coordinator under Joe Paterno for 23 years. He was so integral to the Penn State football program that he was being groomed to take over Paterno’s head coaching position. The university allowed Sandusky to retire and after finding out about more than one incident, they contacted his charity and banned him from campus facilities. However, they never reported him to the police, which is a crime in the state of Pennsylvania.   Sandusky founded Second Mile, a charitable organization for children to entice his victims. Ironically, the name of the charity is from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:41): “Whoever compels you to go one mile, then go with them two.” The president of the charity has resigned, but at the time like the leadership at Penn State, he did not feel compelled to go the second mile for children that were victimized by Sandusky. The report says that on more than one occasion, he was taking showers with boys at the facilities on the campus. The rape of victim 2, however as witnessed by the graduate assistant was the most credible and incriminating evidence against both Sandusky and Penn State. The graduate assistant is also a former player at Penn State. In 2002 he was just a grad assistant, but now he is the coach for the wide receivers and in charge of recruiting. Mike McQueary did tell Joe Paterno about the incident. But, no one contacted the police and McQueary left a ten year old boy in the shower with Sandusky.

The current abuses are by far the most outrageous, but this is not the first time that Penn State has been accused of covering up abuse from high profile coaches. Several years ago the university settled a lawsuit for discrimination and abusive treatment by another coach. Rene Portland, the women’s basketball coach was accused of abusing her power and discriminating against the players on her team that were lesbians. Portland was eventually forced to resign. Her story is chronicled in a documentary entitled Training Rules. This abuse also happened with the same athletic director and leadership team.

The firing of Joe Paterno and whatever other decisions that the Board of Trustees might make in the coming weeks, will not be enough justice for the violence and inhumanity Sandusky was allowed to inflict on the most vulnerable. Fortunately, instead of marching in the streets and rioting some students have decided to pray for the victims. I suggest that they might also want to include an exorcism for all those campus locker rooms and showers where Sandusky violated children. They should also coordinate several fundraisers for the many victims that are sure to surface in the coming weeks. These victims are well within their rights to file civil suits against everyone involved.  Forgive me, if I am not upset with the firing of Joe Paterno or that the Board of Trustees fired him by phone and not in-person. Paterno will survive! Penn State will survive! The athletic program will survive! I think that now all of us should be focused on the many victims and their survival. The victims deserve our outrage and all children deserve our protection from predators that use their power and position to prey on them.

Categories: Children, Sexual Violence, Social Justice

Tags: , , , , , ,

26 replies

  1. Thank you Paula for speaking truth. The student response, and response in general, has been beyond disappointing. This is just another example of the rape culture that Gina has often referred to on this blo, as do many other feminists. A culture that continues to make rape and violence against women and victim blaming the norm.

    Eve Ensler recently wrote a piece about being “over it” with rape and rape culture, and calling for a stand against it. It should be required reading at Penn State and all other schools as well. It’s really powerful:


  2. I would just like to make a clarification that Penn State is not the Ivy League you are referring to. UPenn is the private university that is an Ivy League. Penn State is a different state university. I agree with the message of your post (obviously…I was shocked by the rioting and the abuse has had me sick to my stomach) but your opening line makes it seem like the “elite” should know better. No….everyone should know better–including the the state school Penn State.


  3. Also..this is not to offend those who went to state schools in any way. I went to Florida State University. I am saying I expect the same from Penn State that I would expect from any other school–an appropriate response.


  4. The Ivy League was an earlier version of the blog. We corrected it. I was trying to make a play on students being able to read, since Ivy league schools often imply that their students are smarter than the students at state schools. Today, after seeing the latest news, I think that the Board of Trustees and the Athletic Director should self-sanction and end the season. If players can be suspended from games for selling rings and taking money, then the entire Penn State program can be suspended for the silence of its leadership. Instead of having more football games, Penn State students and players should show up at the stadium for a FUNDRAISER AND PRAYER VIGIL for the victims!


  5. The Ivy League was an earlier version. I got the schools mixed up. We fixed it. I was making a play on the students being able to read, since Ivy league schools often present themselves as having smarter students than state schools. Today with the new information, I think that the Board of Trustees and the Athletic Director should self-sanction and end the season. If players can be suspended for selling rings and taking money, then the entire Penn State program can be suspended for the silence of its leadership. Instead of a football game, the players and the students should show up at the stadium for a FUNDRAISER AND PRAYER VIGIL!



  6. “The victims deserve our outrage and all children deserve our protection from predators that use their power and position to prey on them.”



  7. I do not know what Jerry Sandusky has or has not done with any of the boys who have made allegations against him. If he has done what has been alleged, then he should be punished in an appropriate fashion. If these accusations were made and those responsible for overseeing his employment did not take adequate steps to investigate and protect future victims, then they should also suffer the consequences. Anyone who has been abused, injured, or made to suffer unwanted pain should be met with empathy, understanding and the appropriate outrage.

    But, the question at the beginning of this blog is not answered by the blog itself. Part of reading, and reading well, is understanding the genre of the documents we read. A grand jury statement does not provide access to what happened, it only gives us a summary of witness testimony. Moreover, a grand jury report is a persuasive document; it is making the case that a criminal indictment is justified. It is produced solely by the prosecution, without any input from the defense. Grand jury testimony is offered under very different conditions than courtroom testimony: it is not subject to cross-examination, to contextualization by other witnesses, to rebuttal by the accused. (Sandusky had no right, for example, to present evidence at a grand jury hearing.) In other words, after reading this grand jury report, we do not know that whether the graduate assistant’s story is true or if Sandusky’s story is true. And, as we’ve learned in many other contexts, witnesses are not always reliable. The grand jury testimony of the graduate assistant contradicts Sandusky’s denials; it does not prove them false.

    Sexual violence is reprehensible. It should be taken seriously and stopped. The cultural, political, religious factors that foster and justify it should be identified, critiqued, repudiated, transformed. But aren’t there also good feminist reasons for supporting the notion of “innocent before proven guilty,” for thinking about media frenzy, for noting that accusations of sexual impropriety are incredibly charged and very difficult to respond to in a meaningful fashion? As a gay male feminist, I am mindful not only of the victims of sexual violence, but also the very long history of discourses about perversion, pedophilia, monstrous sexual appetities, voracious desire that have been lodged against people who look and act very much like me. Even if Sandusky is guilty of every single allegation against him, even if we want to stand with victims of violence, don’t we also have a responsibility–as feminists, as people who think carefully about the historical and social construction of gender and sexuality, as people who think carefully about the way that institutions, representational systems, the powers of discourse shape our world–to think carefully about how understanding gets shaped and misshaped in precisely these circumstances and situations?

    How can we read–and write, and talk–in more sophisticated and subtle ways? In ways that allow us to resist a culture that perpetuates sexual violence, but also perpetuates unhelpful and damages discourses of sex and sexuality that sweep up all kinds of “abnormality” under tthe umbrella of violation?


    • Thanks for your comments. We are feminists and scholars of religion. We read persuasive ideological documents all the time. We read the New Testament, the Qur’an, and the Hebrew Bible. We also read political documents like the Constitution (we the people) and The Declaration of Independence. All of which claim to speak for “we the people” and tell us that “all MEN are created equal.” Feminist, Womanist, Queer, and Postcolonial scholars (Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Ken Stone, Patricia Hill Collins, Gayatri Spivak, and bell hooks) teach us to “read against the grain.” Public documents usually favor the “powerful,” and the “winners,” not the other way around. Those who are labeled as the powerless, the other, and the losers of history (not herstory) usually get scripted into narratives that favor the powerful. James C. Scott in Domination and the Arts of Resistance talks about public transcripts and hidden transcripts. I carefully read the 23 page report. I also understand that the alleged victims are children without financial resources. Perhaps you haven’t followed all of the links. Maybe you didn’t read the section on Rene Portland and the abuses with the women’s basketball team. Maybe you missed the report about one of the investigators that is missing or that 10 more victims have surfaced. Yes, these are “alleged” crimes. However, a program that covers up an “alleged” rape of ten year old is probably covering up several other “alleged” crimes and abuses.

      The students are the best voices for the victims. So it would be great to see the 40,000 students with petitions and reminding the world that what we have seen does not represent Penn State. Rene Portland resigned because of the protest of students.

      Also, as scholars I understand that “a bog” is not my “dissertation.” But, I hope to finish this dissertation so that I can write a careful well-researched theoretical feminist essay on patriarchal institutional power and popular discourse. Maybe Gina and I will right an article on rape culture and I can bring my experience as a Division 1 athlete that played basketball at another school known for its great football team.

      However today I simply have to settle for a blog and a few comments. I need to finish my task, so that I might be that voice at a great academic institution with a great athletic program. I would love to be in a position that allows me to challenge everyone in leadership to use their individual and institutional power for those who are silenced. It would be wonderful if we really did “speak truth to power” and not be silent when we see the powerful using their power and status to hurt and victimize others.


      • Paula, Before responding to your post, I did read most of the links, including those related to Rene Portland (which added a dimension to this story I had not known before). I also read the entire grand jury report. I am probably not as well read on this story as you are because I’ve come to it late. A few months ago, I started a research project related to the Catholic sex abuse cases, particularly focused on discourses surrounding the gay/pedophile priest, and the complicated ways those discourses get bound up together. (Also, the complicated ways that transgressive and non-normative desires actually get lived.) So, lots of friends and colleagues have been asking about my reactions to this case, and I’ve had to play catch-up. Because I’m thinking with a slightly different set of questions in mind, and because I lack an experience in university sports culture, different things probably light up to me.

        I wonder how we can make sense of multiple frameworks of power intersecting in cases of sex abuse, for example. When we think access to various kinds of resources between a well-paid, well-respected university football coach and a ten-year-old summer-camp participant, the analysis goes one way. When we think about the criminal justice system and someone accused of a crime, the analysis goes another way. When we think of a child alleging sexual abuse and the person accused, the analysis goes still a different way. Because of vital, difficult, life-saving work done by feminists throughout the twentieth century and continuiing today, allegations of sexual abuse generally, and the sexual abuse of children specifically, are taken incredibly seriously. And that is as it should be. But when we think about speaking truth to power, it seems we have to think about all the ways in which different ideological systems generate power. There is a very real power in violating someone sexually; there is also a very real power in claiming that one has been sexually violated. I just wonder how we try to sort out those issues, and keep much wider histories and consequences in mind, while still championing justice for victims who have been injured and deserve our support, our compassion and our outrage.


      • Kent,

        You are exactly right. We can’t address all of these issues. That is the problem with a mass-mediated world. Even in a dissertation, we will privilege certain voices and perspectives. As a preacher, activist, and scholar I always try to start from the position of those who are positioned as the “powerless” or “bottom up,” not “top-down.” I might make the wrong choices, but I rather start there and make my mistakes on the side of those who are not in power. It is complicated (race, gender, class, institutional power). What if Sandusky had been an African American male and the janitor at Penn State? What if he was accused of raping and taking a shower with a rich white child—one with lawyers and access to media? I wonder how the story would have changed. I wonder if the black man would have been allowed to just retire. I wonder if they would have decided to not call the police and just call his charity. My hunch (no verifiable proof) is that he would have been fired and would still be in jail (guilty or innocent). It would not have taken a grand jury investigation for the University to make a decision.


  8. Hi Paula,
    Thank you for your comments. I have to agree with Martha. I was upset when I was following the commentary via Twitter. One person said: “And this is why these students go to Penn State and not UPenn. They don’t understand the “real” issues at hand.” The tweet, if you searched it, was then re-tweeted numerous times. I would love to discuss these issues more on this blog.

    I was outraged but more upset than anything else. I agree with Robert that the victims deserve out outrage but we also need to build communities of support more than anything.

    Thanks for your post Paula!


  9. I agree with John on this. That was my knee jerk reaction to the comment. I also think we have to be careful to understand that this is a huge school. 44,000 people are not represented by 200 rioters (or even 2000). Even joking that “they can not read” seems incredibly unfair. The other 43,800 probably have the same reactions that most people are having–or at least deserve the benefit of the doubt.

    We must obviously address the victims and can only hope for their healing (and ability to come forward). What also needs to be address though is the mirroring of a patriarchal structure that are created in football programs like this. The comparisons to the Catholic Church scandals can not be dismissed. Both were male-run structures that systematically covered up the abuse of children to protect their Empire. Both were defended by the educated and non educated. We need to be address the power of money and how a system can silence the voices of children and the innocent. Those who abused power are the ones that the lens needs to be turned on. Even the students rioting, to a certain extent, are victims of blind allegiance to a system that they have on a pedestal. That system almost becomes religious (my husband would tell me it is religious). It is hard to understand the crumbling of ones system of belief–even in something like football. To somehow make the students of a school (I am directing this as the non-rioters) who did not know what was happening victims of slander and discredit their intelligence seems unfair.

    I am not excusing the behavior of those who rioted. It was pathetic and there is plenty of room to discuss how problematic it is…but I also think it does not benefit the discussion at hand when discussing those who were abused and those who need to be brought to justice. It just creates a new victim. What about the other 43,800 students? What about the football players who didn’t know (and now probably have to go to counseling–I know many seminarians and laity who have ended up in therapy after they find out someone close to them was an abuser)? What about the cheerleaders? They did not know either. Neither did any of the tailgaters. Neither did the English majors, Religion majors, History majors and Pre-med students. None of those you mentioned that deserved sanctions were involved in these things. Whether or not the football team should bow out (I personally think it should), your turning of the lens on the students seems misdirected. Punishing them does not help the discourse. It does not bring healing to a community that is going to need community and healing.

    Penn State needs to address those who deserve the heat and pursue this entirely (regardless of who falls), offer healing (and retribution) for those who deserve it (this would also include the student body at large), and also create a new community on their campus that addresses not only what went wrong but where they go from there. They also need to offer, as John said, communities and support. They need to offer ways for the student body to work through this–fundraisers and prayer vigils are a great way. So is counseling for those who need it. Outreach to centers that could benefit the community would be a great way to move forward. Rebuilding from the ground up must happen for ALL.


    • Also, I think this brings up a good point about whose voice is more “heard.”

      For example, in a class I am in someone was outraged that feminists who attended Harvard had the nerve to participate in the recent craze of selling themselves over the internet to pay for their school loads (see, etc.)

      The presenter was basically saying that since these were “Harvard Feminists” they must have been privy to some type of secret knowledge because they should “know better” to not have participated in these types of activities. That they are “better than” the other feminists from community colleges or no college at all is asinine.

      What we are really dealing with in the issue above as well as the Penn State scandal (also the fact that UPenn students “know” MORE) is that these are all HUMAN issues. Sexual abuse, sexual harassment, they cross all boundaries. We need these communities of support in order address these serious issues.

      Also, we need to discuss the “masculinity” issue at hand (re: the act of older men having sex/raping with younger men). How can we provide communities of support for the little boys that will be grappling with identity issues as a result of these horrible actions? We don’t want ANYONE to fall through the cracks in the system, but as we all know, that seems to be the case when we don’t properly address all the problems at hand.


  10. Paula, I agree with your analytical perspective, and try to ground my own work in that fashion. The challenge, for me, is that “bottom” and “top” are never fixed positions, but rapidly oscillating positions–even when discussing a single incident or encounter. So, it’s not simply thinking analytically with those who are “positioned on the bottom,” but to think about what shapes our own conclusions about how we identify the positions and who occupies them. This is, of course, influenced by various mediations–some of them mass, some of them elitist (after all, what is an academic, theological or ethical frame of reference but a way of mediating a complex reality?). As an academic, I think my job is not only to think about power, and how it shapes people’s lives, but also to think about complicating discourses, so that the unsaid is spoken, the most familiar truths are challenged, the most obvious assumptions are called into question.


  11. Yesterday I was also reading Rianne Eisler who said we cannot achieve peace and environmental justice while leaving the structures of a dominator culture intact. Hochitl suggested that that acts of sexual violence will continue to occur in a “rape” culture. I would add that we also need to examine the culture of “football,” one of the sacred cows of patriarchy, just as we needed to examine the culture of the Vatican in the Roman Catholic sex scadal.

    Sorry to offend our national “culture,” but football is a celebration and re-enactment of power as domination through physical force and of competition based on force. In our homes and our high schools people who don’t even play or like football are socialized into believing that the “victory” or “our” team is somehow an integral part of personal and collective identity. Remember “pep” rallies? Remember sock hops? Remember that if you didn’t enjoy and participate in the collective mania that was being created, you were a nerd, a loser, a social failure? Currently football has invaded Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. When I suggested that we talk with each other or play card games instead of watching football in my family, it was yet another mark of my not “fitting in” at home.

    And let us not forget that easy access to sex with women is one of the “perks” of being a sports star in our culture. Some women are willing and when alcohol and drugs are involved, we are told to look the other way and say, “she must have wanted it.” Dare I suggest that sports also re-enact “male” sexual domination through physical force? And the idea that powerful men are allowed to use and discard women at their whims?

    Let us not forget the money involved in sports. Football actually has nothing to do with education, unless we want to talk about education into the culture of power as domination, but it is the greatest money-maker at Penn State and many other colleges.

    Add to this that the victims in this case were poor children, many of them not white, and well, we have a culture of domination coming up victims at the bottom of class and race hierarchies. It is a sad testimony that the culture of domination did not “care” about the violent domination of children.

    Taking all of this into consideration, there is very little doubt in my mind that these violent acts occurred and that they were known and that those who knew looked the other way, as cultures of domination generally do when those at the top of its hierarchies commit acts of domination, including those that require the use of force.

    We do need to talk about all of this as a culture but I am afraid it is highly unlikely that our culture will take a good hard look at the culture of male domination through force that is re-enacted in football mania and reject it out of hand.

    Thanks Paula for beginning this dialogue.


  12. RE: Martha

    I did not know if you had seen this article, but since I know you drew parallels between the Catholic Church scandal to the current Penn State one.


    • I have to get this article especially because it is written by Taylor Branch. He says that after his research, he was converted to believe that athletes should be paid. I think that athletes should at a minimum have the money put in a trust fund. If the institution profits from their performance, so should they. The trust fund would be there for when they graduate whether they decide to play professionally or not. The trust fund would be very much like a college endowment. I would guarantee the future professional success of athletes, which is something that a bachelor’s degree is no longer able to do.

      Today, they are saying that Paterno with have a pension of $500,000. I wonder how many professors or athletes at Penn State will ever make half a million dollars?



    I don’t know if anyone has seen this, but it have this horrible feeling I did when the Church scandals began. It was this tumbling domino effect that apparently is already starting.

    John, thank you for the Atlantic article. It is a great article. It points out that at least these schools are turning people over to the police–granted we have yet to see how deep the cover ups go–but the irony in the parallels is just mind-blowing.

    I do believe in innocent until proven guilty (as was discussed above), but when powerful money dominated systems where there are power structures between the old/young [males] like this exist, abuses will happen. I expect that many more victims are going to feel empowered by the voices of other victims coming forward to start coming out. It was the same with the RRC scandals. I also expect the horrible backlash to start soon as well: the victim blaming, the incredulous supporters claiming that many are on the “cash-cow bandwagon”, ect. This is rape culture. It victimizes and then re-victimizes and the re-victimizes the victims. It is an endless cycle.


  14. I have reworked my earlier post on this subject into my blog which will be posted this Friday.

    I wanted to mention that on Piers Morgan yesterday a woman whose legal speciality included charges of sexual abuse and rape said that the case was extremely good from a legal perspective because there were multiple victims who did not know each other and adult witnesses. She also said that the narratives the victims tell include the traditional markers of pedophile behavior including grooming the victim through attention and gifts and moving slowly from “innocent” touching to sexual conduct.

    I have also read study after study showing that people who come forward with tales of sexual abuse and rape are not usually lying and that many victims do not speak out because they fear that they will be blamed.

    I personally have heard more stories of sexual abuse of female children by adult males than I can count and I have never once had the slightest inclination NOT to believe the person who was telling the story.

    In other words, while this matter needs to move to trial and not as Sarah Palin suggested, to a lynch mob, I do not see any good reason to question the veracity of the testimony that has come forth.

    Power is abused in cultures of domination and this is the subject of my blog.


    • Carol,

      Thanks for both of your blogs. I was at the American Academy of Religion this weekend so I have not been following the story. I have been thinking about the fact that if an organization would cover up a reliable eye witness report of a rape of a ten year old boy, then what other violations and abuses are they covering up. How many women have also been violated or abused? In a community that protects coaches, you can probably guess that they are also protecting players. As a result, I think that most women if they are victimized will just decide to suffer in silence.

      It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. Hopefully, it will generate enough outrage that more people will come forward. Maybe more athletic programs will feel compelled to do some real sensitivity training, and develop some strict policies that protect children and others.


Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: