Help find common ground on drinking issue

May 17, 2010 

There have been many discussions focused on the impact of underage and dangerous drinking, mostly from the town and gown perspectives of the Centre Region. What we have not heard is how the communities of Bellefonte, Penns Valley, Bald Eagle, and Philipsburg-Osceola see the problem and what they see as solutions.

We know that high school students from these areas have a different experience with drinking, as indicated in the columns below. We also know many of these students will attend Penn State, and many Penn State students live in these communities.

The primary goal of Public Issues Forums is to provide an environment in which our community’s residents can work through complex and sometimes controversial issues in a way that allows participants to get to the heart of what is important to each person. The quality of these conversations largely depends on the diversity of perspectives that we are able to bring to the table.

To that end, we are reaching out to all members of these communities: parents, law enforcement, senior citizens, health care professionals, business leaders, educators and students.

Three approaches will be considered at Thursday’s Public Issues Forum at the Match Factory in Bellefonte:

Approach 1: Demand responsibility from residents. To deter alcohol abuse, we must draw the line on irresponsible use of alcohol and provide swift and certain consequences to those who cross the line.

Approach 2: Treat the public health epidemic. More programs for prevention, early detection, counseling and treatment are needed to address the range of alcohol problems up to and including addiction.

Approach 3: Educate for societal change. We should undertake societywide educational efforts to dispel falsehoods and ignorance about alcohol use and, at the same time, generate social norms and public policies against irresponsible behavior.

Forums are structured so that the participants have to wrestle with the tradeoffs and consequences inherent in each approach. Issues are addressed from multiple perspectives to avoid a debate dynamic that is common in public discourse but that often fails to result in constructive outcomes. An explicit goal of any forum is to have those who attend come to a better understanding of why people with different viewpoints see the issue the way they do; another is to discover areas of common ground.

We invite you come and talk with fellow citizens about underage and dangerous drinking. Let’s find our common ground for action and find ways to address this important issue.

The writers are co-chairs of the Public Issues Forums of Centre County.

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