Special Reports

Student group has ideas to make a difference

Penn State President Graham Spanier poses with members of the Presidential Leadership Academy, a group he established last spring. Photo provided
Penn State President Graham Spanier poses with members of the Presidential Leadership Academy, a group he established last spring. Photo provided Photo provided

Alcohol abuse at Penn State is at an all-time high. The annual PULSE survey reported, "In 2009, 54 percent of students reported engaging in high-risk drinking behavior, with 25.4 percent being classified as frequent high-risk drinkers."

This kind of behavior is best exemplified on State Patty’s Day, which, this year, resulted in 160 arrests and 350 calls to police.

The increased police presence required to deal with the influx of complaints and arrests cost State College borough about $15,000 in taxpayer money, according to Police Chief Tom King.

The rising severity of this predicament has resulted in increasingly disgruntled community members and concerned administrators. Furthering the frustration is a relative lack of information on proven programs and initiatives, which has spurred policymakers to pursue new avenues of generating ideas, such as consulting students themselves.

We, the students of the Presidential Leadership Academy, have been charged with looking at the issue of high-risk college drinking and proposing possible solutions in reducing its prevalence at Penn State.

Our analysis attacks the problem from six distinct points of view: pregaming, alumni, academic expectations, Greek life, culture and first-year experience. For the past four months, we have been researching the effects of each category on student drinking behavior at Penn State and the consequent effects on the community.

Now approaching the end of the project, the PLA is proposing three policies that we hope will act as a catalyst for greater change in the future:

•Clarification of the alcohol policy. The alcohol policy at Penn State is relatively inaccessible and difficult to understand. Consequently, students are unfamiliar with their rights and responsibilities as community members and unaware of the ramifications if they abuse those rights.

This section addresses the revision of the current alcohol policy in addition to other judicial methods associated with excessive alcohol consumption.

•Dry dorms. Enforcing current alcohol regulations within dormitories has proved to be difficult, at best. Differences in the way rules address certain students (by age, current residence, etc.) create a gray area when applying the law.

This complicates the regulation of alcohol use within dorms, thereby diminishing the effectiveness of administrators and resident assistants. This section proposes that all on-campus residence halls be substance-free and recommends the creation of programs that reward students for responsible behavior.

•Revamped late night activities. For years, Penn State has used the HUB for alternative after-hours activities. The weekly LateNight event provides a variety of activities and entertainment for students.

PLA proposes the formation of a student-staff committee in charge of keeping late night activities for students fresh, engaging and innovative. Incorporating downtown venues also has been a consideration.

At 6 p.m. April 26 we will present our report to Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims and others at the HUB Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public and questions are encouraged.

On May 3, three follow-up articles detailing our policy proposals will run on this page as part of the Focus on Excessive Drinking series.

The Presidential Leadership Academy, created by President Graham Spanier last spring, is a group of 30 students who are selected at the end of their freshman year to take part in a leadership development program lasting until their graduation.

Specifically, the students of the academy “ ... will develop leadership fundamentals to thrive in an environment in which multiple dimensions of an issue are explored, diverse viewpoints are welcomed and heard, and a fully informed and respectful discourse ensues that leads to sound action.”

More information on the reasons behind the creation of the Academy and the students involved can be found atwww.academy.psu.edu.

Alex Thomson, a sophomore in engineering science and mechanics, is from Wexford. Chris Randby, a sophomore public relations major, is from Richboro. Readers can contact students in the Presidential Leadership Academy at hrcdpla@gmail.com.