why Pennsylvanians love Penn State

There’s a lot more to Penn State than this.

As the horrifying child-sex abuse scandal surrounding Penn State’s football team continues to dominate national headlines, it’s hard for some to understand the devotion people across Pennsylvania feel toward this institution.

How can anyone hold high opinions toward a school whose top administrators, according to an independent seven-month investigation, allowed a former assistant football coach to sexually abuse children on campus? How can anyone feel affection for an institution that sought to protect its reputation instead of protecting innocent boys?

After living in Pennsylvania for more than eight years, I’ve come to understand the fierce loyalty so many feel for Penn State. Simply put, the college’s impact is about much more than football.

Penn State’s influence goes beyond the fact that it gives an identity to State College, the city it calls home. It goes beyond the 46,000 people who get their paychecks from the university and the 96,000 students attending classes there (more than half in cities other than State College). And it’s more than the businesses, from diners to medical research facilities, that help make State College a vibrant intellectual powerhouse in the middle of a region so isolated that you can count on losing cell phone reception on the drive to campus.

Penn State students patrol busy intersections on winter weekends, carrying coffee cans to raise money for childhood cancer research at the university’s medical school. They sell cones and bowls at the country’s biggest college creamery. They start businesses.  They learn from faculty who conduct cutting-edge research on climate change and alternative energy.

I didn’t go to Penn State. My alma mater didn’t even have a football team. I made my first trip to State College just five years ago.

But living in Pennsylvania, I’ve met all manner of alumni who credit the school for their educational and professional achievements. They include journalists, engineers, teachers and entrepreneurs (including a guy who played for Joe Paterno).

Anyone who helped cover up Jerry Sandusky’s crimes against children must be punished to the fullest extent possible. But the scandal their actions created shouldn’t detract from the good that Penn State does beyond the football field.

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