By Dr. Russ
Neither optimism nor pessimism is inherent in the circumstances of life. The circumstances of life are what they are – happenings to which we must react and adapt. While we cannot control many circumstances we can control our view or perspective of them. We do control some circumstances when we set a goal and take action to accomplish it.
The sexual molestation of young boys by prominent assistant coaches at Penn State and now Syracuse University are not pleasant to hear about. I too wish such evil never happened. The first evil of course is commission of this abhorrent act. The second evil is the cover up, silence and denial of the first evil’s existence. Where is the positive perspective amid this morass of evil?
In the late 1960’s the term “institutional racism” came into our discussion of race relations. Racism it was found was not just about individual attitudes, but also about organizational policies that were found to foster prejudice and discrimination. An example of institutional discrimination that still exists today after almost half a century of effort to correct it is the advantage that men still hold in the pay scale as compared to women. Nevertheless, while the gap between men’s and women’s salaries has narrowed considerably in recent times, the desired equality in pay between men and women has not been eliminated.
Institutional norms and culture are powerful forces that inhibit change, even when the majority of individuals within the institution want the change. Most now agree that Syracuse University took the right action when it fired Bernie Fine on the basis of allegations, and not a conclusive trial. There was just too much evidence for them to look the other way. Key administrators at Penn State tried to look the other way and were finally disciplined for their oversight. Twenty five years ago, Bernie Fine had apparently begun his molestation spree.
Twenty five years ago another major university had the opportunity to expose sexual abuse of young man, but instead reprimanded the administrator who fired the individual on the basis of valid knowledge of extensive past history of such acts. That institution had little desire for justice, but instead wanted to protect its image by denying the alleged molestation ever occurred. The thought at the time was: “What would the community think of the institution if it found out it had a child molester on its payroll?" In that mindset, it is better to deny and cover up, than to admit, expose, clean house and move forward.
I believe the rapid firing of Bernie Fine shows that institutions can learn and adapt to take on a more positive culture. It is likely that the Penn State and Syracuse cases are just the tip of the ice berg for this kind of behavior, and if so, we will be having to withstand many more bombardments of negative news in coming months and years.
As these stories hit the news and encourage a more open dialogue about the problem, it will be important to continue to support the courage of the victims to come forward to tell their story. Let us hope that this is the beginning or the end of “institutional victimization.” What is “institutional victimization?” It is an organizational culture that supports the victimization of its members in order to protect the image of the institution.
Elimination of such "institutional victimization" will result in the elimination of the hopeless and helpless orientation that keeps pessimism alive and well.