The Penn State child-abuse scandal is indicative of the broader problem of concealing crimes on K-12 and university campuses.
I've seen considerable improvement since my high school principal violated Georgia law and covered up a felony aggravated assault after I was attacked with a box cutter on his campus. I don't know the driving forces in the Penn State case, nor do I claim to know enough to assign blame. However, it seems clear that campus officials failed to protect vulnerable children from allegations of sexual exploitation.
The fear of negative publicity is often a primary motivator for campus safety personnel when crimes are covered up. At Penn State, the negative publicity that would have occurred—with proper reporting and a resulting criminal investigation—would have paled in comparison with the deep wounds now inflicted on Penn State's once-superb reputation.
Though far from the first or last such tragedy for a campus, this troubling case is an excellent opportunity for campus leaders to learn valuable lessons to develop a real commitment to the safety of people above short-term concern for organizational reputation.
Most people can accept and understand that heinous crimes can occur in our finest learning settings. The tragic murders of innocent children at an Amish school in the same state is probably the best example of how tragedy can strike even the most peaceful schools in low-risk settings for violence. Americans won't tolerate a cover up by people with the power to help, protect and heal those who are their responsibility.
I hold no bitterness against the two teenage boys who brutally raped me when I was a young boy. I have no anger in my heart for the person who attacked me with a box cutter when I was a high-school student.
It has taken more effort to reach a point of forgiveness for my high school principal. Though I know he was basically a good man who cared about kids, he still made a conscious decision to commit a criminal act to conceal a violent crime that took place on his campus. This crime involved a young person who grew up holding educators in high regard and who trusted authority. This trust was broken. It's unacceptable for any campus official to be more concerned with the reputation of a school building than the safety of the children within its walls.
Though I understand that there are sometimes intense pressures to maintain a positive public image for our educational institutions, I also understand that people who must make these decisions make a choice to serve. This noble and honorable choice goes hand-in-hand with the responsibility to take action to protect others, particularly those who may not be able to protect themselves. Our education leaders must strive to maintain a healthy balance between concern for public image and the need to act to protect people.
I have forgiven my principal for his conduct. I can attest though that the pain resulting from his failure to act honorably to protect me and my classmates hurt far more than the slash of a box cutter.
My heart goes out the victims in this case as well as to the many members of the Penn State community who are also experiencing pain. I hope that all who have suffered may heal with time and the support and care of others.
Editor's Note: This blog post was initially published by Campus Safety Magazine, a sister publication of POLICE.