Special Reports

Glorifying alcohol makes matters worse

Almost all of us have done it to some extent, and almost all of us would admit that it's a problem on campus. Yet the question remains as to why so much of the college population chooses to engage in dangerous drinking and fuel the culture of reckless behavior at Penn State.

Stand in the East Halls quad on a Friday night and you’ll hear freshmen animatedly, openly discuss their plans for the evening. They’ll head downtown or to a friend’s dorm room ready to party and get drunk. A few hours later, you can witness them returning to their residence halls, stumbling along with the help of their friends, giggling about how much they’d drunk.

Eavesdrop in any Monday morning lecture hall, and you’re bound to hear about the foggy recount of someone’s weekend adventures. The story usually ends with “why did I do that?” or “and then I blacked out, woke up hungover, and spent the whole next day on the bathroom floor.”

This is not meant to generalize or to suggest that this is common of all underage students, but personal experience leads me to believe that this occurs on a frighteningly regular basis.

As a senior who has been a leader in the residence hall and on-campus student government for the past four years, this is a question I have struggled with on an almost daily basis. As much as I would like to leave my current office of president of the Association of Residence Hall Students proclaiming that I have found the elusive solution to on-campus underage drinking, none of my experiences has put me closer to a solution than when I was a freshman.

It is a simple social question, but requires a complex answer. I fear scientists will find a way to make cars fly before we can adequately address this complex problem.

Sitting around a table and discussing underage drinking with other student leaders after the tragic death of one of our fellow students began as a productive meeting, but we left feeling as if we had been sucked into a black hole. Would our efforts remain stagnant, or would we find an enlightened solution one day?

Though we may not have an answer, recent events have led to a greater understanding of the urgent need for a change in the underage drinking culture.

Underage drinking is clearly not something we can ignore, especially within the on-campus population. Most students living in the residence halls are under 21 and undeniably breaking the law. Some of our students will act responsibly around alcohol, but spend a weekend with any resident assistant and you will see firsthand many students who do not.

But what do you do to counter irresponsible underage drinking? If you make our residence halls dry, you risk alienating students who are of legal age. If you increase enforcement in residence halls, then you put more responsibility on RAs and coordinators, leaving the unfortunate possibility of human error exposed to undue scrutiny. It also creates an us-versus-them environment, which only fuels the rebellious fire.

Yet if you do nothing, the number of underage students admitted to the hospital for alcohol poisoning will continue to rise; relationships between the town and campus will continue to deteriorate as students vandalize residents’ homes and disrupt their families; and we are on constant watch for the death of another student that may have been avoided if not for alcohol.

As long as underage students think it is socially acceptable to engage in drinking, they will continue to do it. As long as students are promoting underage drinking as a positive activity, they will continue to do it.

And it is not just the underage students at fault. Those old enough to drink legally furnish the alcohol, lead by example and pass on this so-called rite of passage to each incoming class. I hate to blame underage drinking on students, but it is my belief that peer pressure and the prominent position of alcohol at student social activities are the main reasons for the amount of underage drinking this campus witnesses.

The Residence Life Office and University Health Services have education programs for residents about the dangers of alcohol. In every residence hall you can find a colorful bulletin board created by an RA detailing the physical and legal consequences of excessive drinking.

Most of these warnings are flippantly dismissed. Despite the available information and vivid warnings, students still partake in underage drinking because it is a social activity that has gained a positive connotation among the undergraduate population. “Party school” and Penn State have become synonymous, among students and in the eyes of the public.

Knowing the source of the problem gets us one step closer to discovering solutions. I would like to graduate in May with the hope that through constant communication among students, campus administrators and town residents, we can change the glamorization of dangerous drinking and work together to find a suitable solution to the problem.

Kayla McPherson is president of the Association of Residence Hall Students and secretary of the National Residence Hall Honorary Nittany Chapter at Penn State. She’s originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and is a senior majoring in medieval studies and international politics.