Notwithstanding the trauma of the last three months, the basic teaching, research and service work of Penn State continues unabated. And though the crisis and the challenges it has spawned will continue well into the foreseeable future, problems old and new will confront the University in the months ahead. One immediate “old” problem is the event known as State Patty’s Day, scheduled for Feb. 25 this year.
Since its establishment five years ago, this weekend-long bacchanal continues to damage the University’s reputation and threaten life and limb. After being in the national spotlight recently for all the wrong reasons, the last thing Penn State needs is another highly publicized episode of bad behavior—not to mention the threat it brings to the health and welfare of our town and gown.
Last year during State Patty’s Day weekend, the State College Police handled 480 calls for service, up from 365 calls the previous year. In addition, Mount Nittany Medical Center saw more than 200 patients that day, twice the normal load, with 103 persons admitted for alcohol-related problems, some of them life threatening.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are many in our town-gown community who are pushing back hard against State Patty’s Day. The eventual goal is to eradicate this awful display of public drunkenness.
And Penn State students are leading the way, with the help, support, and encouragement of various University and Borough offices as well as the Penn State Alumni Association. Our Ad Hoc Committee on Excessive Drinking Issues, chaired by Alumni Association Vice President Kay Salvino, has been fully involved in this effort.
Earlier this week, these same students, along with University and State College police officers and Alumni Association staff, met to coordinate a wide range of interventions.
For example, students are joining with University and Borough officers, under the aegis of Campus and Community United against Dangerous Drinking, to meet with the Tavern Owners’ Association and local beer distributors. The aim is to discourage drink specials and other incentives to imbibe as well as to encourage limited hours and even closings.
Since this stands to be one of the most profitable days of the year for bars, restaurants and distributors, you may deem this a lost cause. Actually, the opposite is true. Last year when this same appeal was broached, a number of establishments joined the effort. Bar Bleu, Inferno, Saloon, Lion’s Den, Shandygaff, Brewery and Mezzanine actually closed for the entire day. The Phyrst closed at 6:00 p.m. Indigo planned on opening but never did due to the large, unruly crowd gathered outside its doors.
Also noteworthy is that local beer distributor Nittany Beverage closed for the entire day, and the state liquor stores in the Centre Region closed three hours earlier than normal.
But that’s just for starters. Students will be contacting area vendors to discourage the sale of T-shirts and other items that promote State Patty’s Day, particularly in the shops that line College Avenue. They’ll also try to discourage the websites that are promoting the event to curb their enthusiasm. They’ll be providing publicity and contacting their counterparts at other colleges and universities, asking them to discourage students at those schools from making the pilgrimage to State College. In fact, that’s one of the biggest problems State Patty’s Day faces—its popularity among people who have no organic relationship to Penn State. Students at other schools have even organized bus trips for State Patty’s Day. They’re just coming here to get sloppy drunk—at the expense of our campus, our town and our reputation.
Students will also be encouraging other students to take the pledge, a pledge that they will not participate in State Patty’s Day, which damages Penn State’s reputation and the reputation of the students, as well.
Perhaps the most promising counter-programming is what the students are calling State Day of Service, a student-organized program that encourages various community service projects to take place that same day.
Since State Patty’s Day is promoted virally through social media, additional counter-communications are in the works. The Alumni Association is partnering with student leaders from the Blue & White Society, Lion Ambassadors, Council of Commonwealth Student Governments, and University Park Undergraduate Association to produce videos featuring students appealing to Penn State pride as a means to discourage participation in the drunkfest.
The Interfraternity Council may be repeating last year’s limit on socials and taking other action to discourage large gatherings on the weekend, with letters going to each chapter advisor.
Other new initiatives are in the mix. There will be increased residence hall security with a newly established limit of one guest per room in the residence halls that weekend. And the police presence will be equal to that of a football weekend.
There’s more, much more that is taking place. But be assured that Penn State students are stepping up big time this year to confront the problem. And, as always, the Penn State Alumni Association will continue to be a supporter in the effort to end this embarrassing and harmful event.
For the Future,
Roger L. Williams ’73, ’75g, ’88g