Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Millennials, Joe Paterno, and Compassion Deficit Disorder

Millennials, Joe Paterno, and Compassion Deficit Disorder
Byline: Ange-Marie Hancock is associate professor of political science and gender studies at USC and the author of Solidarity Politics for Millennials: A Guide to Ending the Oppression Olympics (Palgrave).

As a former Penn State faculty member, I am overwhelmed and outraged by the stories we are hearing out of Happy Valley.  My colleagues across the country continue to ask me why so many students have rallied in support of Coach Paterno, despite revelations that clearly suggest merely following the letter of a reporting policy is insufficient in a case alleged to be this egregious.  Are Millennials – at least the thousands chanting, “We want Joe” – missing a sensitivity chip?

The answer, I’m afraid, is mixed. Paterno is part of “us.”  The now-young men at the center of this tragedy, on the other hand, are presumed to be outsiders. The Millennials who are more outraged about the treatment of their beloved coach than the alleged victims of Jerry Sandusky are displaying compassion deficit disorder.   Compassion deficit disorder means exactly what it says and it is part of our larger contemporary context, which is plagued by the Oppression Olympics, a term that describes what prevents us from recognizing our common ground and, worse, obscures common sense responses to outrageous violations of the public’s trust.

My research and work with Millennials over the past 15 years indicates that many Millennials boldly aspire to end persistent political problems in their lifetime. We as a society have done a great job cultivating that interest as parents, teachers, and citizens.  Moreover, Millennials are more tolerant on social issues than Generation X or Baby Boomers. But unfortunately tolerance alone cannot overcome the kind of compassion deficit disorder displayed by those Penn State students in the face of widespread evidence of institutional failure on behalf of “at-risk” boys at the Penn State football facilities. 

Are we stuck on tolerance?

Together with Millennials, we share some of the responsibility for compassion deficit disorder’s continued existence in our world.  After all, we’ve spent the past 30 years emphasizing tolerance as the gold standard for how we treat each other. particularly across divisions of race and class.  Tolerance is all that’s usually mandated across divisions of race and class, the precise groups that come to mind when we hear that the Second Mile Foundation targeted “at risk” youth. The problem with tolerance, however, is that it is a minimum-level of acceptance.  When I tolerate you, I don’t have to think about your well-being or be as concerned about you as I might be if you were my child or my little brother or sister.  I can therefore either do the minimum, to report up the chain of command in this instance, or simply not care at all.  That’s compassion deficit disorder.

Due to the length of time that has elapsed since the first allegations of assault, if or when the alleged victims of Sandusky reveal themselves to the public, most will be well beyond the tender ages that could spark our empathy. Paterno, on the other hand, has been as familiar as a grandfather to us. How might we proceed, knowing we risk looking at them solely as the young men they are now, rather than the young boys they used to be?

First, we can remind ourselves that simply being tolerant of others is not enough to spark our empathy for a group, particularly when they are not members of our own groups.  This obstacle makes it even more difficult to stand in solidarity with that group.  Eradicating compassion deficit disorder is key. As hard as it might seem, and as hardened as we have become, we need to care for each child as if they are our own going forward.

Second, we can work together to create an institutional culture that encourages speaking up and out to the right authorities.  Graham Spanier might have been the necessary authority, but he was not a sufficient authority.  State College police were the sufficient authority.  It’s not always popular, and yes you may risk repercussions.  But blowing the whistle doesn’t just stop the play on the field, it can facilitate finding common ground.

Last but not least, we can work together – Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers – on an intergenerational effort to take back our world from the Oppression Olympics.  Only by enacting our connections and contributions to each other’s well-being can we unleash our shared desire to fully pursue any deep and abiding interest in changing the world.  
© 2011 Ange-Marie Hancock, author of Solidarity Politics for Millenials: A Guide to Ending the Oppression Olympics

Author Bio

Ange-Marie Hancock, author of Solidarity Politics for Millennials: A Guide to Ending the Oppression Olympics, joined the Department of Political Science at USC Dana and David Dornsife College in 2008 after five years as Assistant Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at Yale University. Prior to graduate school at the University of North Carolina, Hancock worked for the National Basketball Association, where she conducted the preliminary research and wrote the original business plan for the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA). She has served as an international expert in American Politics for the U.S. Department of State and during the 2008 presidential election. She has been quoted in the New York Times, Forbes, on National Public Radio, KNBC, and she regularly supports USC's Annenberg TV News by serving as an expert. She currently serves as the associate director of the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII) in the Dornsife College and as one of the inaugural Dornsife College Faculty Fellows.

Over the past eight years Professor Hancock has authored two books and 11 articles. She is a globally recognized scholar of the study of intersectionality -- the study of the intersections of race, gender, class and sexuality politics and their impact on public policy. Her first book, The Politics of Disgust and the Public Identity of the "Welfare Queen,"(2004, New York University Press) won two national awards.
For more information please visit http://www.ange-mariehancock.com, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter

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