STATE COLLEGE – It's been a tough week for Penn State fans, and an even harder week for the students currently attending PSU's Main Campus in State College. With a national scandal unfolding around their university, these students have faced the challenge of staying focused on their studies while trying to make sense of the events that occurred throughout the week.
Several students from the St. Marys area are currently enrolled at the school, and a few were willing to share their views of what the atmosphere has been like on campus.
Elizabeth Dingcong, a junior at PSU, expressed, above all else, concern for the victims of the scandal.
"I think I can speak for all the Penn State students when I say that we are completely appalled and disgusted that a man is capable of such horrifying acts, and we are truly saddened and brokenhearted that such things could ever occur on our campus, a place we were so proud to call home. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and pray that the outcome of this terrible situation is that they find peace and justice," Dingcong said.
After news of the scandal broke, but prior to the events of Wednesday evening, Dingcong indicated that it seemed like students at the campus were unsure of what to think about the entire situation.
"The scandal was the center of everyone's conversation, in and out of the classroom. Students and faculty tried to sort facts from rumors and fully understand the severity of the situation and what it meant for the university," Dingcong said.
Freshman Michelle Pistner agreed, remarking that the atmosphere on campus was not normal all week.
"It's indescribable, but it is definitely not a good feeling. This feeling has been going on since the allegations came to light this past weekend," Pistner said.
Both Dingcong and Pistner also indicated that students were particularly concerned about what would happen to Penn State Nittany Lions football coach Joe Paterno, who was fired by university trustees Wednesday.
"Most students think that JoePa should have been allowed to coach the rest of the season," Pistner said.
Dingcong added that students began to take things personally when accusations began to target Paterno.
"Joe Paterno is viewed as a living legend and as a true Penn State icon," Dingcong said. "When media backlash questioned the integrity and moral standings of JoePa, the student community couldn't help but take such accusations personally. When the news broke that Paterno's position as head coach was to be reviewed by the Board of Trustees, I joined hundreds of students on the lawn of Old Main to show my support and respect for the head coach."
Similar support was not shown for former PSU President Graham Spanier, also fired by the university's board of trustees on Wednesday.
"As for Spanier, it is my personal opinion, as a tuition-paying student, that the decision to fully back Tim Curley and Gary Shultz and to pay for their legal council is outrageous," Dingcong said.
"He (Spanier) basically took the backseat to all of the news surrounding JoePa," Pistner added.
Nick Wortman, who is currently a senior at PSU, noted that after news of the scandal broke, "the mood on campus was depressing and everyone was shocked."
According to Dingcong, it was a "sad day in Happy Valley" when Paterno announced his retirement on Wednesday afternoon, prior to his firing.
"My initial reaction was anger toward Sandusky and what he has done, and complete sadness that Paterno's career has to end in such a disgraceful way. But I came to terms with the decision knowing it had to be done and prepared myself to cheer on JoePa at his final game, which would have been Saturday against Nebraska," Dingcong said. "Little did we know the storm that would come over the Valley that night."
According to the students, like Penn State supporters across the country, they found out the news about the university board of trustees' decision to fire Paterno during Wednesday night's press conference.
"The student body, at least in the case of JoePa being fired, found out during the press conference. The only contact the university had with students over this matter was a few emails, but they were usually after the fact," Pistner said.
"The university kept the student body in the dark throughout the week and we were finding things out by the press conferences just like everyone else. The first time we were directly contacted about the whole situation directly was [Thursday] through email by acting President Rodney Erickson," Wortman added.
Dingcong recalled that she was "completely shocked" at what she was hearing when she listened to the press conference announcing Paterno's firing on Wednesday night.
"My initial reaction was to go downtown to join my friends and classmates and show my support for Paterno. Around 12:30 a.m., a peaceful rally quickly turned into a full-blown riot and I watched a media van being flipped, windows being smashed and lights being torn down. At that point, I decided I wanted no part of it and I became a spectator," Dingcong said. "There is no excuse for violence, and it is unfortunate that a few students chose to cope with their frustrations in this manner. What I want people to understand is we don't know what to feel. Whether the board of trustees made the right decision? I feel that without all the facts I cannot properly answer that question. Until then, I will continue to show my support for JoePa and my university," Dingcong said.
Wortman added that things quieted down on campus on Thursday.
"During the day on campus, it was somber and almost seemed as if people were in disbelief," Wortman said.
The somber mood on campus continued through Thursday evening.
"There is a certain unease that we can't seem to shake," Dingcong said Thursday night. "It's unbelievably hard and painful to have so much negative light shown on Penn State resulting from a terrible situation that we (the students) have no control over. What we do have control over is the ability to represent ourselves and our school in a respectful manner and show the world that we are still Penn State, and our standards have not changed. I hope the leaders of this university will act in the best, long-term interests of its students, alumni, faculty and all those affiliated with the school. We will act with integrity, and we will hold those accountable. This, unfortunately, is just the beginning of hard times for us. I know that we will stick together, stay strong, and fight on."