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Elizabeth Smart to speak at Penn State abuse conference
Event » University aims to raise awareness of child sex abuse

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"They (Penn State) really are trying to do more to give back now and make amends," said Cornbluth, who frequently has offered commentary on the Sandusky case.

Laura March, 27, a graduate student and State College native, praised the university for a conference that will explore the root causes of child abuse and how to stop it.

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She, along with her boyfriend, Stuart Shapiro, also a graduate student, started Blue Out, an event in which students were encouraged to don blue - the nationally recognized color symbolizing child abuse awareness - during a major home football game. Since then, Blue Out has partnered with One Heart, another student group, and they have raised $126,000, most of it donated to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.

"We were so distraught and couldn’t really focus our emotions on anything beyond trying to make things better," March said, pleased that Penn State is sharing that focus with the conference.

With a new school year under way, the campus is beginning to settle into a "new normal," said Larry Cata Backer, head of Penn State’s faculty senate and an international affairs professor. Communication across the campus has increased, he said.

"We talk with each other more. We engage with each other more. The new normal is a great thing," he said. "We would have learned nothing if we had gone back to the old normal."

The university is working to change its policies, so that, for example, the human resources department is poised to screen and catch problems, such as child abuse allegations early on, he said.

"I am surprised at how proactive our top leadership has been and how much effort it is taking to move the ship along," he said, citing the national conference as another positive effort.

Penn State also has launched the Center for the Protection of Children at the Hershey Medical Center and donated to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.

The idea for the conference started with Staley and her boss, Doris MacKenzie, director of Penn State’s Justice Center for Research. They were perplexed by the lack of information and misinformation swirling on the topic as the Sandusky scandal continued to rock the university.

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Staley hopes the event helps the university community to continue to move forward while serving as a "springboard for conversation around the nation."

©2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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