Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Years in Happy Valley

This post will not be as poetic, nostalgic, romantic, or well-worded as many of the other posts I have read on the whole PSU issue.  But perhaps this less lyrical lesson I learned (the hard way) is just as important.

I was at PSU between 1994 and 1997.  The early years of the scandal, no?  Unfortunately, I was also involved with the police, not once but twice.  It was never for anything I had done but because I had been "duped."  Not once.  Twice.  Well, not exactly, but more on that later.

You see, the Penn State problem isn't just the Penn State problem, and for every JoePa who didn't say as much as he should have, there are hundreds, if not thousands of us who said nothing.

Four days into my college career, I was in a car accident.  I lost my memory and had short-term memory problems for the entire first semester.  And somewhere, during that time, I picked up a stalker.  He said I led him on. I think.  At this point, I'm going on secondhand accounts and journal entries I wrote and then hid from people (who could have convinced me of anything since I couldn't remember) but ultimately hid them from myself (I still stumble on a rogue entry from time to time in an old book or envelope of photos).  I don't think I did.  He was told to leave more than once.  Others would come and flush him out.  I once slept somewhere else completely to escape him.  He was using his access as a computer lab administrator to follow me when I logged in.  I quit using campus computers.  Toward the end of the semester, I remember returning roses to him only to have him chase me, thrashing those same roses at my face.

I complained.  I talked to people.  I was told that I had no proof.  I was told that I was violating his rights.  No one in power helped me at all, although my friends around helped a lot.

Three years later, I again talked to someone in law enforcement.  There had been at least two girls after me, and they went through a whole lot more than I did.  At that time though, I was done.  I wanted nothing to do with it anymore.  There was nothing that I could say that would be admissible anyway.  Who was going to believe the word of an amnesiac?  Particularly when I didn't have such a bad experience, comparatively.

In the interim, you see, I had had another brush with law enforcement, this time through a roommate who was alleged to have stolen thousands of dollars of goods and other things.  When my other roommates and I were initially told what was going on, we were advised to keep quiet while the police were investigating.  If there is one thing I wish I hadn't done, it is keep quiet.

I learned, as I had before, that predators pick their prey for a reason.  With my roommate, it was that Christians were big on forgiving and forgetting.  So she could keep stealing and lying--things large and small--for a very long time before it ever caught up with her.  My stalker picked prey no one else would like or believe.  How was I to know if I led him on or not?  Thankfully, I'm not that stupid, and he underestimated my friends (yes, my dear, even wee freshmen can find friends).

But the point is, I wasn't the only one to see either of these two.  In fact, many of us saw them.  In some cases, we spoke, and nothing happened (stalker episode).  In others, we trusted those in authority and said nothing, to our detriment (roommate episode).

Either way, in neither case was there only one person to see.  Nor was there only one person to turn their head.  Predators survive for a reason.  They are good at camouflaging, and they pick prey nobody misses.

Maybe JoePa was wrong.  Maybe others were also.  But I am sure that many others saw and said nothing.  It happens every day.  It happens every where.  My acquaintance Stephanie White, whose son Mike died in South Korea, will attest to that.

But let's not push the blame off on someone else.  Let's shoulder some of it ourselves.  And the next time we see someone being bullied--even if it's the kid who routinely spits on our car or the guy who insists on coming home drunk (and loud) at 3 AM--let's hope that we stop it because it's right.  And hopefully when it's us, someone will see--and say something.

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