The past is not dead: Legacy identification and alumni ambivalence in the wake of the sandusky scandal at Penn State

Jennifer L. Eury, Glen E. Kreiner, Linda Klebe Treviño, Dennis A. Gioia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


We investigate how the temporal effects of past, present, and future influence organizational identification. We examine an underrepresented but important stakeholder group-organizational alumni-whose prior organizational experiences can leave a “legacy identification,” such that alumni continue to define themselves in terms of the organization's ideals and values, even after leaving. We examined alumni responses to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State by analyzing a subset of more than 25,000 communications sent by more than 14,000 alumni in the year following the scandal. We found that alumni drew upon their legacy identification as they went through an emotion-laden struggle involving predominantly positive experiences in the past, predominantly negative experiences in the present, and uncertain experiences in the future. We show how targeting processes toward insiders and outsiders affect identification states, including three previously undocumented forms of ambivalent identification: “reconciled identification,” “selective identification,” and “conditional identification.” Our grounded model illustrates the broad applicability of the legacy identification concept, which has strong implications for studying the temporality and complexity of identification processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)826-856
Number of pages31
JournalAcademy of Management Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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