Posted by: Catherine Lugg | November 10, 2011

Penn State and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”

Penn State has ALWAYS had a dangerous side, just lurking below that shiny “We are Penn State” crappola. I was a student and then employee from 1991 until 1996, and even then, it was clear the image was at huge variance to reality. A couple of observations:

Joe Paterno is why the fiercely homophobic women’s basketball coach, Rene Portland, kept her job, although she terrorized any player she suspected of being queer. She would just hound young women off the team if she thought that they were queer. Not only that, but she was the clothing, hair, and boyfriend police for each player. She was ONLY cut free when she and the university were sued for discrimination. Paterno strongly supported her hiring and her career, and his support kept her in place even though there were endless reports about her sexually bullying queer kids. ONLY when she and the university were sued did Paterno’s support vanish.

Meanwhile, when I was there, rapes and gay bashings allegedly went unreported. Once, a queer kid (freshman, all of 19) literally had his face kicked-in ON CAMPUS and in broad daylight (I think this was either fall of 1994 or 1995). The university police didn’t do a damn thing, but the county mounties finally did–and the judge threw the proverbial book at the bashers post-conviction. Those of us in various queer student groups tried and tried to get the university to do something. Nope, nothing doing–although the local community finally reached out to us. We also took a chapter out of the NAACP’s playbook. When a bashing would occur, we’d plaster the campus and downtown with bright pink signs with black lettering that said either “A man was bashed” or “A woman was bashed.” I can distinctly remember me and my colleagues trying to get the “PSU’s hired queer” (the person in charge of LGBT student activities) to get off the dime with this stuff. Her response?? “We don’t want to upset anybody!” Such was the level of institutional pathology and denial.

The university did nothing. NOTHING. And while queers were loathed under the presidency of Joab Thomas, Graham Spanier was indifferent since we were so very bad for PSU’s image. Hence, Spanier was considered a major improvement over Thomas.

So, am I surprised by the endless parade of horrors to tumble out of PSU’s deep, dark, dank locker rooms? Not at all. It all makes sense, in a very twisted way. “Happy Valley” has ALWAYS been closer to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” than any sports reporter liked to think about. But as a member of the PSU community, you never quite knew when the stones were going to be hurled your way….but you knew they were coming. As I noted in my last post:

It is, to a large extent, an Arendtian moment. Evil isn’t a drooling monster with horns and pitchfork who shows up on your doorstep. Instead, evil is the most winning football coach in Division 1 history who looks like grandpa but, by failing to act in a meaningful way, condoned the rape of an unknown 10-year old boy by default. And we have similar acts of evil by other members of Penn State’s leadership.

Given the student violence from last night, students who clearly have drunk the PSU “Paterno is G*D” koolaide, we can see how pathological things are at the moment. These students are more upset about Paterno’s firing than that child rape may have occurred under Paterno’s supervision.

A final point: The announced federal investigation is serious trouble for the university, since if PSU did falsify it’s on-campus violence statistics, all federal funding could be imperiled. I fear we’re going to have an endless parade of evidence over the next several years underscoring just how “Jacksonian” PSU actually has been.



  1. Cath,

    Thanks for this, and for the reminder about the homophobic women’s basketball coach there. I hope you plan to put a longer version of this story out there for public consumption. At least, before the mainstream media turns this into a two-sided story about a great football coach who blundered his way into a firing, as Sally Jenkins of the WaPost presented it today (all while deflected this into a story about our society as a whole).

  2. Thanks Dr. Lugg. Buried and nullified sexual abuse, in various forms, have been the mode of operation at Penn State. Let us not forget the burning of items on dorm doors (writeboards, notes, pics that student put on their doors) that occurred when we were there. The vast majority of those student were gay, lesbian, bisexual or just ‘BELIEVED to be’. What did the University do? To put it the best way possible “kids will be kids”. Burning stuff in dorms is okay, just was long as you are a marginalized student who is on the receiving end. We need other students, ALUMNI, to come forward with their “occurences” and what the University Police and University did or did not do. THE ALUMNI MUST SPEAK OUT!

  3. […] thoughtlessness by multiple university leaders, including the most famous of football coaches. As I have written elsewhere: Evil isn’t a drooling monster with horns and pitchfork who shows up on your doorstep. Instead, […]

  4. […] didn’t take criticism and it most certainly didn’t do internal critique. Everything was JUST FINE, thank you very […]

  5. […] is not closure for anyone in Happy Valley. And the lid covering Penn State’s Pandora’s Box of Horrors has only begun to be lifted o… We have yet to see what the Freh report, the on-going federal investigation, as well as the ensuing […]

  6. […] As I have written earlier, this culture is and was fairly toxic to non-believers, to those of us who aren’t particularly enamored with big-time college football. When I was a PSU student and then employee, there was always a level of violence brewing beneath the shiny, happy exterior that was Penn State. Consequently, when Penn State played home football games, I would flee, because the State College area became uninhabitable. It was too noisy and the entire area would gorge itself on both symbolic and actual violence, while the streets became updated versions of the ancient Roman “vomitoriums.” It was and remains disheartening because I received a life-changing, mind-expanding doctoral education despite the toxic football culture–not because of it.3 […]

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