Penn State students may not think of others' pain

I go through a spiel in class at the beginning of each semester.

It's about attendance policies and checking emails. It's about extra credit (which I don't give) and getting help (which I am happy to give).

It's about community. It's about caring. It's about setting our priorities.

My students belong, in a real sense, to each other and to me for one long semester. We share knowledge, ask questions, discuss and test our understanding.

Every semester, I warn my students about the responsibility they bear as members of our classroom community. I ask them to keep in mind that none of us knows what burdens their classmates are carrying.

We all have to be careful about what we say, particularly when we are exploring texts about terror.

An example: The rape of Tamar by her half-brother Amnon in 2 Samuel 13.

Tamar tries to tell her story, but she is shut down and shut up, both by her brother Absalom and by her father, King David. Sound familiar, anyone?

Current rape statistics are underreported. Still, the ones we have tell us that one out of six women in the United States will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape.

Eighty percent of those women are under age 30. Some, I know, are sitting in my classrooms.

My students need to be aware that they are living among victims. Victims have to know - right off the bat - when my class will deal with texts about victimization.

Many years ago, my students and I discussed Dinah's story in Genesis 34. The students had debated: Was she raped? Did she willingly sleep with Shechem? Can such things be consensual when the young woman is really a child?

The classroom discussion was kind and careful, though difficult for us all.

One of my students - a man in his 30s - missed class the next week. Later, he told me what had happened.

He had been having nightmares and panic attacks. He couldn't sleep. He couldn't eat. He would walk toward the classroom and find himself unable to walk in. He was a child again.

Studying the texts had unleashed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. He needed professional help, and thankfully he got it.

I wonder whether Penn State students protesting the firing of their football coach have any idea what pain they could be unleashing.

Students around them are likely having nightmares and panic attacks. They may be unable to eat or sleep. Surely, some are remembering their tormentors, their helplessness, their pain.

Whether in the classroom, in the office or even at the grocery store, we are in a community. We must think before we speak - before we ever dare to send the signal that there is anything more important than taking care of children - before healing the pain of anyone who has been the victim of sexual abuse.

It's about community. It's about caring. It's about setting our priorities.

It's that simple.