Counseling center reflections

The author recalls her time at Penn State and the power of groups

By Leann Terry, PhD

As I reflect back on the past several months here at Penn State I’m again reminded of the power of groups. Take the “riot” that PSU students engaged in on the evening of November 9, 2011 after they found out that our late football coach Joe Paterno was fired. It was described by reporters as a scene where “violence erupted” and it “turned ugly” when several thousand students were on the street. Yet to hear another perspective, it was the TV reporters who incited the students, asking them, “Why aren’t you more upset? Why aren’t you doing more?”. It makes a better story to have the story get “violent” with a flipping of a TV van, rather than to have thousands of students out on the streets showing their support for a man who was like a grandfather to many PSU students and alums.

Several days later nearly ten thousand PSU students, faculty, staff, and community members came together for a candlelight vigil to support victims of sexual abuse. It was described as an incredibly moving experience, one which represented hope despite loss.

Finally, in a show of support, staff at fellow counseling centers (particularly those members of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors) wore blue on Friday, November 12th, 2011. This was in recognition of the Blue Out that students organized for the football game the following day. We felt an outpouring of support at our counseling center when we knew that colleagues across the country (and even Mexico and Canada) were supporting us.

These were just a few of the occasions in the past several months in which experiences were created and emotions were expressed in groups. Smaller groups, those of roommates, or in classrooms, helped students make sense of the news as it emerged. Groups will continue to play a role as we move forward, whether it is the fireside chats, the counseling groups, or impromptu gatherings of students on the Hub lawn. Groups help us feel the inherent fiber of our being, the community and connectedness between us. So in parting, I encourage each of you to look around and take stock of the groups of which you are a part. How have your actions and reactions been shaped by the group? What have you contributed to a group’s development? How do groups help define your identity? Groups abound. We just need to see them. So in closing, here’s to recognition of the power of groups.