Scholar finds many lessons in Sandusky trial

Ellen J. Staurowsky attended each day of the Sandusky trial.
Ellen J. Staurowsky attended each day of the Sandusky trial. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 26, 2012

Among the hordes who descended on the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte daily for the trial of convicted child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky was Ellen J. Staurowsky, a Drexel University professor who has made a study of the landmark case.

Each day of the trial, which began June 11 and concluded Friday, Staurowsky, a professor of sports management and an expert in social-justice issues in sports, rose at 5 a.m. so she could get a prime seat among reporters. Besides being there for research and rich, real-life material for her classes, she also writes columns for College Sports Business News, which earned her a media credential.

Staurowsky found the case an unusual combination of the issues of sports, higher education, and the welfare of students, she said. And it certainly was anything but a dry research project. During the eight days of testimony, young men took the stand and, in horrifying detail, told how a man, once their mentor, had repeatedly raped, threatened, and otherwise abused them. One young man, 18, sobbed as he described the abuse.

"This is intense for all kinds of reasons," Staurowsky said. "It would have been difficult for anyone sitting in that room not to have been affected."

But the case also represents an important lesson for higher education, which must reevaluate the role of college sports, the issue of sexual abuse, and institutional accountability, she said.

"This is such an historic moment, I think, for the state of Pennsylvania and I would also argue for higher education in general," said Staurowsky, also a former college athletic director and field hockey, lacrosse, and men's soccer coach. "Many colleges and universities are looking at these issues."

Staurowsky, of Audubon, Montgomery County, got her bachelor's degree from Ursinus, her master's from Ithaca College, and her doctorate from Temple University. Before coming to Drexel, she spent 20 years as a professor at Ithaca, where she delved into issues of gender equity in sports.

As a professor, she encourages her students to get out into the field and see the issues they study in books.

"I like to show students how to translate these things out from the classroom," she said.

She praised the work of both the prosecution and the defense.

"I would say the defense had its day, more so than some people might have predicted at the beginning of this trial," she said, referring to the testimony of strong character witnesses for Sandusky and inconsistencies in statements by state troopers.

Staurowsky also was impressed by the work ethic of the media and courtroom personnel.

"I have such a deeper appreciation for what gets mobilized in a case like this and what a hard job it is," said Staurowsky, who had to make her way through the maze of satellite dishes, cameras, and reporters that filled the front lawn of the courthouse each day. "All of this will get tilled back into my classes."

She received research funding to cover her expenses over two weeks; she returned home Saturday, the day after the verdict.

Classes were not yet concluded for the quarter at Drexel when the trial started. Some of her students still had to finish their final projects and papers. A colleague videotaped her students' presentations, and Staurowsky viewed and graded them at night when she returned from a day in court.

"The students understood where I was and what I was doing," she said.

Some wrote to her to ask about her experiences. It was not lost on her that some of them are the same age as the young men who took the stand at trial.

"Their faces and demeanors are as familiar as those of the young men seen every day on a college campus," she led off one of her columns.

Shortly before the verdict was announced Friday night, Staurowsky once again sat among the media representatives.

"No matter what happens, this was a profound human moment," she said. "Someone is going to jail for the rest of his life if it's a guilty verdict. If it's not, what does that mean for the victims and the rest of their lives?"

Then things got completely quiet, except for the sobs of a young woman in the courtroom.

As the guilty verdict was announced, Staurowsky noticed that the jury seemed "resolute in their decision" and "remarkably calm."

She walked off "into the quiet of the night" and back to her hotel room, where she wrote her column. Each of its eight sentences began with: "The sound of justice . . ."

It concluded: "The sound of justice being served was heard in the words of Accuser 6's mother who said: 'Nobody wins. We've all lost.' "


Contact Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ssnyderinq.

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