"Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality."
These are the words of the great Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and these same words sum up why I believe it is crucial that we as Penn State student leaders join forces to combat a dangerous drinking culture hovering around our beloved university.
As the student life and diversity chairman for the University Park Undergraduate Association, I have been given the opportunity to challenge the dangerous drinking culture on our campus. This issue is very simple for me: We cannot tolerate or condone dangerous drinking on our campus.
I’ve asked myself how I could combat the dangerous drinking culture and realized I couldn’t. We as Penn State students and student leaders have to do it.
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Going back to what King said, it doesn’t matter whether this issue directly affects us; in some way, we are all affected. This is a student issue that only students have the true ability to change. Of course, we have to work with the Penn State administration, borough officials and law enforcement. But in order to tackle the dangerous drinking problem, we have to unite as students first.
So for the Feb. 27 State Patty’s Day celebration, we as a student body laid the foundation for a concept of uniting to combat dangerous drinking. The UPUA decided to render a “Safe and Responsible Actions” pledge, which has been endorsed by 38 diverse and prominent organizations on campus.
We wanted to let students know that we did not want to see the negative statistics from the previous State Patty’s Day. We wanted to strongly encourage our fellow students to not engage in acts that would bring our university shame.
This was a great step in the right direction in changing the culture. Now some may ask how this Safe and Responsible Actions pledge could stop the dangerous drinking culture on campus. What they have to understand is that it was not about the tangible full-page ad we took out in The Daily Collegian exhibiting the pledge and those who endorsed it.
It was about student leaders coming together to talk about the issue and then going back to their various constituencies and facilitating the same discussion to inform our peers of the consequences of dangerous thinking. We had athletes engaging in this discussion, we had Greeks engaging in this discussion, we had multicultural organizations engaging in this discussion, and a whole plethora of student life organizations engaging in discussion that encouraged students to be very mindful of their actions.
Some people wanted us to take a stronger stance, but we recognized this was only the beginning of the power that student leaders can exhibit with any issue that affects us while at Penn State.
When State Patty’s Day was over and the statistics from the police were released, the statistics did show an increase from last year. But that doesn’t mean that my fellow students were any worse than in previous years. In fact, I believe that those who were not Penn State students heavily influenced most of those stats. There were more police out that weekend, so more reported incidents should not be a big surprise. In essence, I would definitely say that we as students are taking the right steps in tackling this issue.
Where do we go from here? We as student leaders laid a solid foundation for combating this and other issues in the future. We have to make sure that we also influence those who come behind us to understand and appreciate the power and purpose of Penn State students united for common student life causes. In this particular case it is combating dangerous drinking at Penn State.
If we do that, when I am long gone from Penn State I know that the message and the purpose will still be alive and well with the new leaders. This year, student leaders have been very vocal in many different ways about this issue, and that has to continue year-round and not just for one celebration.
In all of this, all we have to do is live up to our Penn State alma mater: “May no act of ours bring shame “To one heart that loves thy name, “May our lives but swell thy fame, “Dear old State, dear old State.”
Christian Dupree Ragland, of Egg Harbor City, N.J., is a junior majoring in political science and sociology at Penn State. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.