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December Editorial: PSU Scandal Raises Questions About Sexual Harassment Policies

Byline: by Brooke Ketron

Posted: January 23, 2012

Recent events at Pennsylvania State University (PSU) have caused uproar and public outcry. Assistant football coach of PSU, Jerry Sandusky, is accused of inappropriately contacting or sexually assaulting at least eight underage boys on university property.

In addition, several school officials were charged with perjury or dismissed for allegedly covering up Sandusky’s crime and/or failing to report it to police. Among those dismissed was the popular head football coach, Joe Paterno. President of PSU, Graham Spanier, was forced to resign in the aftermath of the event.

There are many other reports of college institutions covering up wrongdoing and scandal to protect the college’s reputation. This begs the question; if PSU was willing to hide internal corruption, would Wilson College do the same?

While inappropriate actions may not be visible to the student body, they are likely noticed by those surrounding the situation. It is the responsibility of all parties at a college to report misconduct to the proper authorities. Any information about such an event is inherently relevant to the student population. Students pay a great deal of money to attend the finest universities to obtain an education in a safe, reliable and reputable environment. If this transparency is compromised, students have the right to know what happened, how the matter is being handled and how to stay safe.

Speculation and rumors began surfacing on campus last spring semester that students were being sexually harassed by a professor. When the stories first circulated, many students were confused and awaiting an official report by school administration. However, a notice was never sent to students, but rumors and accusations persisted.

One student recalls, "One day we had to move our class to another room because our professor said that another professor was escorted off campus that day. There was a fear that they might return to campus out of anger. I didn’t really know what was going on, but other students said that the professor was allegedly harassing other students. I hadn’t heard about it until then. After that the more I talked with other students, I learned that numerous students were affected by his stalking tendencies. It freaked me out. But, I never heard anything official."

There is no evidence that administration is required to inform students about harassment cases. But, does that make it acceptable to not address such a situation? The Blue Book states, "The College will take steps to educate the college community, communicate and implement the institution’s harassment policy." It is logical to believe that such extreme rumors would be addressed in some fashion or another, particularly pertaining to the safety of students.

The fact that administration had no comment on the allegations or dismissal does not make them false anymore than it makes them true. If the claims are false, then why did administration not deny them? It only seems fitting that administration follow the Honor Principle, which they stress heavily to students, and notify students regarding the validity of such accusations. Given that the circumstances may be false is not grounds to ignore the situation and leave the safety of students and faculty, and the college reputation at risk.

If a similar situation occurred in the future, how should administration respond? It seems obvious that they take the accusations very seriously and investigate it closely. Pending the results, administration should handle themselves accordingly and inform the student population about the event(s) once there is a resolution.

Conferences of the individual graduating classes or a larger communal conference could be an effective form of communication between administration and the student body. Such meetings can help maintain the transparency of the college.

In a mistrusting world, it is difficult to find a location that feels safe. Even a quiet campus like Wilson can be shaken by the hands of tragedy and scandal. To prevent events like those at PSU and the University of Illinois, there should be consistent, open and honest dialogue between students, faculty and staff. Addressing rumors that cause unease and speculation is a step towards a trusting and responsible community.

If you or somebody you know is being stalked or harassed on campus, contact the Dean of the Faculty, Mary Hendrickson, the Dean of Students, Carolyn Perkins or a trusted professor/faculty member as soon as possible.

Last Updated: March 5, 2012