In a recently published article in "Addiction," researcher Samantha Wells describes a troubling trend at universities nationwide: "a culture of intoxication ... whereby young people drink with the strategic and hedonistic goal of achieving drunkenness." Unfortunately, Penn State students are no exception.
Students’ attitudes about the social role of alcohol may, in part, be attributed to a lack of desirable alcohol-free entertainment. The Presidential Leadership Academy proposes improvements in three key areas: on-campus entertainment, downtown activities and Greek community involvement.
Penn State’s LateNight program features musicians, comedians, magic shows, arts and crafts, games and movies free of charge. When LateNight was introduced in the 1990s, alcohol-related incidents decreased, but turnout has declined in recent years.
In September 2005, attendance topped 22,000; in September 2009, fewer than 17,000 students participated.
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In the most recent PULSE survey, Penn State students indicated a preference for concerts, comedians and movies. These LateNight staples garner interest and high attendance, but fresh activities must be added to maximize student involvement. Because students’ perceptions of what is “fun” continually evolve, a committee of students and LateNight coordinators should regularly evaluate and modify programming.
Possibilities for novel activities include Club HUB, a night club in the HUB; events showcasing world cultures; and gaming promos, in which systems are available to sample new video games. If LateNight is restructured to include continuous innovation, the program can once again reach a larger audience.
University-sponsored programs have the potential to reach many students, but in order to make a significant impact, the downtown social scene also must be addressed. Because students spend much time on campus during the week, they often seek downtown activities on weekends.
For many students — especially those too young to attend bars — apartment, house and fraternity parties are dominant sources of weekend entertainment. These unsupervised venues have no serving restraints or social controls regulating alcohol consumption.
Alcohol-free social activities should be established in downtown bars. Students would have access to alcohol-free entertainment, and downtown establishments likely would profit.
Bob Schmuff and Carl Yungman, nightclub owners in Baltimore, closed their over- 21 establishments to open an under-21 club, because “It was easier to run and more profitable to cater to teens.”
Pat Fung, owner of Gingerbread Man in downtown State College, says he would be open to the idea of holding dry nights to cater to those younger than 21, especially if doing so would reduce high-risk drinking.
The Interfraternity Council acknowledges that Penn State’s culture of intoxication acts as a wedge between students and State College residents. Recent round-table discussions have provided a forum for community and Greek leaders to air their grievances and alleviate resentment. Establishing a permanent council would demonstrate long-range commitment from both sides.
The existing Greek community-service initiative does not actively advocate community relations, and thus needs improvement. Currently, fraternity-centered activities are emphasized, with incentives for alcohol awareness and anti-hazing practices.
Shifting the focus toward cultivating relationships with community members would foster an environment of mutual respect. Dan Cartwright, IFC vice president of communications, says incentives such as improvements/furnishings for frat houses or permission for a Wednesday social would be effective motivators.
Additionally, the Greek community should help promote alcohol-free activities downtown and on-campus. Incentives could be given for taking part in or planning such activities. If members of the Greek community visibly support alcohol-free activities, other students might be more inclined to participate.
If steps are taken to improve entertainment options both on-campus and downtown, and if the Greek community becomes more positively involved with State College neighbors, we will all live in a safer, healthier environment.
Kelsey Bradbury, a sophomore majoring in advertising and psychology, is from East Amherst, N.Y. Readers can contact students in the Presidential Leadership Academy at firstname.lastname@example.org.