Shock and bewilderment: A PR student at Penn State offers her take on the sex-abuse crisis

The author, a PR and journalism major at Penn State, experienced the week’s big story from a unique vantage point. Here, she explains what it was like in the classroom and on the street.

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The sexual abuse allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky came as a shock to many in the Penn State community. Following his Nov. 4 indictment, the atmosphere around not so Happy Valley has been both somber and full of bewilderment.

I was sitting in my PR class during the brunt of all the action last Tuesday. Naturally, as future professionals of the industry, my classmates and I were mesmerized by the fast-paced news, unsubstantiated rumors, and opinions shared via social media.

At the dismissal of class, there was one conclusion—not only was this a human tragedy, but also the beginning of a public relations nightmare for Penn State. Despite more than two-year ongoing investigation, it was clear there had been no crisis communication plan pre-scandal.

Everyone wanted answers, but no one was coming forward with explanations. The university released flawed and non-informative statements and canceled press conferences as reporters and news trucks hovered around campus.

The cancelation of Tuesday’s press conference “due to the ongoing legal circumstances centered around the recent allegations and charges” prompted this tweet from my former PR professor, Renea Nichols:

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