The following are common themes and participant suggestions for moving forward that reflect the outcome of the November Public Issues Forum.
Should we strengthen and enforce the law?
Participants generally agreed that additional law enforcement rarely works in isolation but is most effective when coupled with other approaches. One common suggestion was for an increased police presence in problem areas.
A lot of the discussion centered on making legal consequences more effective. For example, having offenders meet with their victims and including a community service component that connects to the larger community. Many felt that penalties needed to include an element of shame and public embarrassment, including, perhaps, pictures of offenders in the newspaper. (“People should see how they look when they’re drunk.”)
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A greater role was envisioned for parents, including holding them accountable when their underage children are caught drinking; for example, by having them participate in alcohol education classes.
However, one idea that had particular resonance was that law enforcement should focus on the behaviors that result from problematic drinking. This was especially the case for DUI offenses, which people viewed as particularly serious and for which they are willing to support more severe penalties. Participants were also supportive of the county’s DUI Court as a means for addressing one aspect of that issue.
Although there was disagreement on whether there should be tougher penalties for lesser crimes (some felt it would be better to reduce the drinking age to 18 to make it less of an “underground” activity), there was common ground on the idea of consistent enforcement: either enforce the law consistently or don’t enforce it at all.
Is more education needed?
Remember, “Friends don’t let friends walk home alone drunk.”
A common theme was the desire to have alcohol education begin at a younger age — as early as elementary school — before children typically have their first drink. It was seen as important that everyone know the effect alcohol has on the 12-year-old brain, particularly when combined with prescription drugs, which has become far too commonplace.
Some people think there needs to be education on how to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, while others think there is not enough emphasis on strategies for saying “no.” Still others think there is a need to make alcohol education more “real” by showing some of the graphic consequences, such as the wrecked car from prom night. This idea came from students.
Participants drew analogies to the campaign against tobacco use, the success of which is partially due to the fact that cancer is “scary.”
Similarly, it has become quite expensive to smoke, leading to suggestions for eliminating two-for- one and other drink specials that tend to encourage excessive consumption. Everyone, including parents, needs to be better informed about the potential consequences of excessive drinking (such as unwanted sexual experiences).
Changing the culture
One of the strongest areas of common ground was the recognition that we need to find ways to help Penn State students and local residents feel — and act — like they are members of the same community. A number of suggestions addressed this:
•There is a need for community centers that serve residents and students — and that stay open late.
•Freshman orientation should involve the community as part of a welcoming committee, an idea that has been successfully implemented at Cal State, Fullerton, with a variety of vendors and civic and faith organizations represented.
•Freshman seminar should include a citizenship education component. Service learning, in which community service is incorporated into curricular content, should become an integral part of all university majors.
Students, many of whom are away from home for the first time, need opportunities to interact with adult role models.
As an integral part of their education, students need opportunities for leadership roles in the community.
Please join CARE Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care and the Centre County Communities that Care for a second community conversation on alcohol March 23 in the State College Municipal Building as we continue to develop a holistic approach to addressing the problem of underage and dangerous drinking.