Saturday, November 12, 2011

Make the PSU Investigative Committee Independent; Broaden Scope to Include ALL Forms of Campus Violence

Pennsylvania NOW leaders and our membership, like the PSU Board of Trustees and the rest of the country, are “outraged by the horrifying details contained in the Grand Jury Report.” We too have felt betrayed by these acts.  However considering the long history of the Athletics Department, role models within Athletics, and the PSU Administration in minimizing reports of campus-related violence on adult women, we are not completely surprised that an alleged cover-up of child sexual assault has also occurred.

Since 1994, both the local NOW chapter in Centre County, PA and the state chapter of NOW have pressured the University to review to all forms of campus violence against women and to more specifically look at the ways to break down the wall of immunity that has historically and currently appears to exist between the Athletic Department and the rest of the University. 

These earlier incidences involved Joe Paterno making insensitive remarks about domestic violence and sexual assault that were shrugged off as jokes by individuals, the Athletic Department, and the PSU administration; allowing a football player to play in a bowl game AFTER he was suspended for two semesters for an alleged rape; and the PSU administration weighing in on a rape case to have the sentence of a former Penn State wrestler placed at a minimal 6-month stay in the county jail. 

Over these past 17 years—due partially to our initial involvement and concern about this wall of indifference—there have been some, but not enough, efforts to address this issue campus-wide. But other than ordering that no suspended player can play sports at Penn State, nothing as far as we can see has been done to break down this wall between Athletics and the rest of the University for acts of violence against another person.

Earlier this week the Penn State Board of Trustees announced that they would be appointing an “independent” committee that includes “counsel and investigative teams” to investigate these allegations of child sexual assault.  Yesterday, when the Board announced the members of this committee, they stated, “The complete committee membership will be determined and announced in the near future and is expected to be composed of a majority of Board of Trustee members with representatives from each of the board's constituencies as well as representatives of the Penn State community including faculty, students and alumni.” 

This statement, in our opinion, shows that there is little if no independence in this review. All of the investigative committee members that are to be appointed are Trustee members, current members of the University community, or alumni.  There are no experts on sexual assault or domestic violence, or stalking.  There are no survivors. And there are no members of the larger community – whether that be local here in Centre County or more broadly across the communities in Pennsylvania where the other Penn State University Campuses are located.

On Monday after the news broke of the alleged child sexual assaults, Pennsylvania NOW contacted the University President and the Board of Trustees. Since the child sexual assault issue appears to be part of a broader problem of indifference to sexual assault, relationship violence, sexual harassment, and stalking, we have asked them to broaden their review to all forms of campus violence and to more specifically look at the ways to break down the wall of immunity that has historically and currently appears to exist between the Athletic Department and the rest of the University. 
After finding out that the committee is unlikely to truly be independent, we contacted Trustee members Kenneth Frazier, JD, President of Merck and Company and Ron Tomalis, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education. They have been appointed as Chair and Vice-Chair of the newly appointed investigative review committee; we have asked them to:
  • Appoint people to this committee that will make it a truly independent investigative review board. An effective independent investigative committee must, at minimum, include experts in the field of sexual assault and domestic violence, survivors of abuse, and others not associated with Penn State.
  • Broaden the review to include all forms of campus violence – sexual assault, domestic/relationship violence, and stalking – of both children and adults;
  • Broaden the review to 1) include ways to break down the wall of immunity between the Athletic Department and the rest of the University, and 2) review policies, programs, and reporting mechanisms across the University and within the Athletic Department on all forms of sexual assault, domestic and dating violence and stalking.

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