Kudos to Sara Ganim and Amanda Sokolski for their April 25 story interviewing alumni on the student drinking problem at Penn State.
The opinions in the article, while obviously not a random sample of alumni, did have the ring of reality — been there and seen or done that.
The opinions suggest why the student drinking problem has proved so intractable over the years.
What were the provocative insights of the alumni? Student drinking has at least a decades-long history at Penn State, consider its reputation as a "party school in '64" and "kegs all over the place in "85."
However, there was concern that drinking had become more serious over the years. These insights on the local track record and evolution of the student drinking problem may bode ill for current efforts to combat it.
First, there is the question of whether an increase is for real locally. Is the percentage of students engaging in binge drinking increasing over time or is the problem increasing because there are more students at Penn State?
In recent years the number of students living in the borough has increased relative to the nonstudent population, which magnifies the problem. In short, if it is mainly numbers and not an increase-in-incidence problem, this complicates remedial action. It is not feasible (or desirable) to reduce the Penn State student body or the number of students living in the borough.
Second, if the student drinking problem is on the increase due to a more affluent society, what can be done? You can"t have students check their wallets upon entering Penn State.
I remember being a fuzz-faced freshman at a teachers college in "46 in New York state where the drinking age was only 18. There was no notable student drinking. Most students were there thanks to no tuition, and many of my classmates were returning World War II vets who were anxious to get on with life and knew how to drink. But that is a wistful look at a bygone day. This is 2010 and students apparently have discretionary dollars to dispense on alcohol.
One alumnus suggested that efforts to curb drinking needed to start with "parents in the home" before students come to Penn State. He said, "Schools are not the right place to provide that kind of education."
Interesting thought, but if the alumnus is correct, that is bad news for formal efforts at Penn State and in the State College community to rein in SDP. Another alumnus said "all the education in the world isn"t going to do much with certain people until one of his friends is affected."
So, how about these reality-check insights by alumni in the CDT article? A little food for thought? Unfortunately, maybe indigestion for those charged with coming up with a plan to curb the growth of SDP in our town/gown community.
However, plaudits to the many seeking a solution. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Best of luck.
Ted Fuller Pine Grove Mills
The following comments were posted online with the alumni story published on Blue-White weekend.
"Perhaps I am jaded by a long weekend on the ambulance, picking up drunk after drunk. Twelve hours Friday night and 12 hours Saturday night, and every call was alcohol related.
"No grannys at the nursing home, no neighbor who is having a bad asthma attack. Nope. Drunk after drunk after drunk. There are days when I am truly disgusted to be a Penn State alumnus, to call Happy Valley my home. This is one of them.
"What will it take? How many kids ... have to suffer life-altering injuries? How many have to die before people wake up and realize what is happening here? When will they start to take ownership of their actions? "Probably sometime after never."
"This is not rocket science. When I was at Penn State in the early "60s the campus held about 20,000 students. Today there are more than twice that. Beaver Stadium held 40,000 and was seldom filled. Today"s games are attended by 100,000 plus.
"Fifty years ago the same percentages of people of all ages abused alcohol or couldn"t handle the amount they drank. The same percentage of a much larger universe means many more incidents in essentially the same geographic space.
"More arrests. More people making fools of themselves. More DUI. No real behavioral difference. Teenagers and 20- somethings away from home for the first time are doing the same things we did. There are just a lot more of them in Happy Valley today than there were back then."