Special Reports

Table talk seeks fix to drinking problems

Kim Rimmey, an adolescent counselor for local schools, talks during a small group discussion at a community forum on excessive drinking, as Courtney Allen, a Penn State freshman, center, and Brittany Madison listen on Tuesday, March 23, 2010, at the State College Municipal Building. CDT/Christopher Weddle
Kim Rimmey, an adolescent counselor for local schools, talks during a small group discussion at a community forum on excessive drinking, as Courtney Allen, a Penn State freshman, center, and Brittany Madison listen on Tuesday, March 23, 2010, at the State College Municipal Building. CDT/Christopher Weddle

STATE COLLEGE — Thirteen people, including one Penn State student, sat around a table Tuesday night trying to figure out a solution to the drinking problem in State College.

Maybe the university should alert parents of all first-time alcohol offenses or students should have to pay higher fines for violations. Maybe community members should attend more university events, take part in softball leagues with students, or organize block parties with them.

They brainstormed various ideas, but the consensus in the room was clear: Consequences need to be greater and the two communities need to be closer.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a lack of alcohol education, in terms of drinking responsibly, that’s the problem,” said 18-year-old Penn State freshman Courtney Allen. “I think this divide really is the problem.”

The discussion was one of eight taking place throughout the State College Municipal Building, as part of the Public Issues Forum of Centre County. Attendance was 96 people, down from a record 206 in November.

They broke into groups, and each selected a representative to present at the end.

“It seems like the community is very interested in solving this problem, which was kind of surprising to me. I assumed that because, you know, they were in a big college town they had just accepted it,” mechanical and nuclear engineering major Matt Wolfson, 18, said afterward. “But they’re very into this, which is very encouraging.”

Allen and Wolfson were among the few Penn State students in attendance, which Hamilton Avenue resident Mike Roeckel said was discouraging.

“We’re talking about two communities, but one community’s here,” said Roeckel. “We have a couple of students, but it seems like a conversation with yourself isn’t going to go very far.”

Mark Hlavacik, a Penn State doctoral candidate who moderated the discussion, said the Maya Angelou talk at the Eisenhower Auditorium may have cut into the attendance at the forum.

Community members will have to take the initiative to reach out to students, said Jon Downs, who sees a reminder of the divide at the start of every workweek.

“Every Monday morning, I come in with beer cans in our bushes in front of our school, and people have urinated at our fences,” said Downs, director of State College Area School District’s Delta program, an alternative education high school in downtown State College. “And it just seems that if they knew what the purpose of the school was, had some relationship with the people that were there, they may — they may — think twice before littering or throwing a full beer can through a window and breaking it.”

Ed Mahon can be reached at 231-4619.

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