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Tension boils between Penn State students, alumni

| Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, 11:57 a.m.

STATE COLLEGE — When hundreds of Penn State alumni protested Sept. 20 against the school's governing board for its handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, event organizers asked the crowd: “How many students are here?”

A lone student raised his hand.

Moments later, student leaders told protesters that their crusade against the Board of Trustees for the “truth” in the case reflected poorly on the 40,000 undergraduates at the school's main campus.

“We all want to seek the truth, but the manner in which they're seeking it out is not benefitting us,” student body Vice President Brenden Dooley said in a later interview.

Tensions between students and protesting alumni have risen sharply since the “March for Truth” demonstration. Members of the protest group have criticized via social media students who want to “move on” from the scandal. Students and alumni have bickered back and forth via Twitter.

The school has noticed the growing tension, said Penn State spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz, but there's not much it can do to combat the discourse without infringing on First Amendment rights.

Student body President Katelyn Mullen said she and others have received critical emails since she took a stand against the alumni group during the protest.

Said Dooley, “In one of the emails I received from an alum, it said if we're not siding with them, then we will forever be known as Pedophile State University. I never attended Pedophile State University. I go to Penn State.”

“Offensive” communications diminish the value of the university, Mountz said.

“It's our sense that students are growing tired of all the negativity that's been focused on Penn State as a result of the scandal,” Mountz said, “and of the efforts of some alumni, however passionate and well-intentioned, draw negative attention to the university by continually focusing on nothing else but scandal-related issues.”

Many alumni are set on finding answers to what drove the university's response nearly two years ago when the Sandusky scandal rocked the campus.

But many students just want to move on from Nov. 9, 2011.

On that day, the Board of Trustees fired legendary football coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier over their response to complaints of sexual abuse by Sandusky.

The former defensive coordinator is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence for molesting 10 boys in and around the Penn State campus and his State College home.

Ray Blehar, who earned his MBA from Penn State in 2008, helps lead a group of alumni intent on removing trustees who were members of the board when the scandal hit. He was part of the Sept. 20 protest.

Blehar said communication with students have been civil, but he describes those who want to move on as “leaving the children behind.” Based on his discussions with students, Blehar said, he believes those students to be in the minority.

Mullen disagrees and views the protesters as a minority of Penn State graduates.

Blehar said the group's battle for the truth will press on, and he hopes that the tension can cease for the greater good of the university.

“I think there's a lot of room for us to come together as Penn Staters,” he said.

Anna Orso is a freelance reporter based in State College.

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