The students were angry and upset — and they’ve been taught to believe that their feelings, whatever they are, deserve to be expressed. Well, they don’t. At least not in that way. As even the tolerant New York Times noted in its coverage, “Some students noted the irony of their coming out to oppose what they saw as a disgraceful end to Mr. Paterno’s distinguished career and then adding to the ignobility of the episode by starting an unruly protest.”
Here’s a suggestion: What the students ought to have felt — and perhaps did feel, though they hardly have names for this antique sensation anymore — was shame. Though personally innocent (until the riot), they ought to have felt ashamed to be associated with an institution that (allegedly) enabled a serial child rapist to prey upon victims. Their proper mood ought to have been one of sadness and a desire to make restitution. Anger too should have played a part — but not anger at the board of trustees for firing responsible officials, but rather anger at the university administration for permitting a profound outrage. That’s the way a community with basic moral understanding behaves.
A couple of days after the riot, a larger crowd of students did hold a candlelight vigil for the victims, which is encouraging. The mood at the vigil was described as “solemn,” with subdued applause for several speakers. But the students seemed unable to sustain a serious mien for very long, and the vigil was transformed into a rally by the end with the crowd bellowing “We are Penn State!”
One student participant said of Paterno’s firing that “having that taken away from us made us feel lost.” No, they were lost long before that.
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2011 Creators Syndicate, Inc.