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SXSWedu 2013

Confronting Crises—Learning from Penn State’s Fail

How can leaders act responsibly in the face of crisis and an angry public? The 2011 sex abuse scandal at Penn State provides an ideal case study for exploring the intersection of crisis and confrontation. Administrators missed their opportunity to lead the conversation surrounding the school’s wrongdoings and provide constructive outlets for a frustrated community.

Despite resistance from university leadership, two students disrupted the school’s culture of silence by creating the “Blue Out of Penn State,” a democratic virtual movement that refocused attention on protecting victims and preventing future abuse and negligence. The social media event united the community by providing an open platform that nurtured positive and creative interactions through civic engagement and advocacy. Learn how these two passionate students shaped an online environment that evolved into the largest off-line response to the scandal—and how they succeeded when their university failed.

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  1. How did the students come up with the “Blue Out” movement, what obstacles did they face, and how did they utilize social media to shape community opinion yet remain true to their democratic ideals?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of providing prompt responses and constructive outlets for expression in times of crisis?
  3. What are the benefits that occur when school administrators not only acknowledge explosive issues but also actively collaborate with grassroots movements and student initiatives?



Laura March, Graduate Student, The Pennsylvania State University

Meta Information:

  • Event: EDU
  • Format: Dual Presentation
  • Track: Civic Engagement and Advocacy
  • Level: Intermediate
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