Student-led efforts minimize impact of dangerous drinking event

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State students’ proactive leadership and outreach to campus and community representatives have effected a significant and positive change in the outcome of State Patty’s Day, a potentially destructive drinking event. In previous years the event has caused significant risks to health and safety, property damage and substantial demands on the region’s emergency response agencies.

Student leaders’ vocal opposition to the event, which included appeals to local business owners and partnership with community leaders, led a Penn State student majority determined to discourage the spread of the event and also restore the good name of Penn State. Students’ successful efforts built upon a level of community engagement that began gaining momentum in February 2011, when outcry against the event prompted several downtown licensed alcohol establishments to close for the day or shut their doors early to deter dangerous and disruptive behavior. This year, nearly two dozen licensed alcohol establishments and state liquor officials announced closures or reduced hours and occupancy levels, a response rate three times greater than in 2011.

“The collaboration and cooperation of many Penn State student organizations and on-campus residents -- combined with greater cooperation of many downtown business owners who sacrificed their revenues for a day at our request, greater emphasis on safety, and volunteer efforts by Penn State student organizations and local residents -- all made for a safer, quieter State Patty’s Day weekend, which can be seen as a great success,” said TJ Bard, president of the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA). “Our work this year is part of a long-term effort that I hope will continue with even greater resolve and momentum in future years. I want to extend my gratitude to everyone in the Penn State and State College community who joined in our effort to show that this so-called holiday doesn’t represent what Penn State stands for.”

Preemptive decisions by student leaders helped stem the volume of problems encountered by emergency responders. UPUA passed a statement condemning the destructive behavior of State Patty’s Day, and the Interfraternity Council (IFC) prohibited individual fraternities from hosting social events on Saturday. IFC and Panhellenic Council members also volunteered for State Sweep, a Sunday cleanup effort around downtown State College.

“The Interfraternity Council is very pleased with all of our chapters who respected their individual president's decision to not host events on State Patty's Day. The amount of community service that chapters put forth as well is a great testimony to the strength and integrity of our Greek members. The precedent they set this weekend is one that will be respected for years to come and upheld by members into the future,” said Vinnie Lizza, IFC president. “I would personally like to thank all the parties involved who helped take action against this ‘holiday.’ I think the downtown traffic was significantly less than last year’s and hopefully police reports will indicate the same.”

Preliminary numbers from State College and University police departments support anecdotal observations of fewer people participating in this event and fewer dangerous incidents. Law enforcement officers patrolling the campus and downtown areas noticed the positive impact of the fraternities and licensed alcohol establishments being closed. A greater law enforcement presence than in 2011 led to a greater number of officer-initiated responses to blatant alcohol-related crimes and fewer incidents of escalated issues.

State College police logged fewer total calls this year (425 compared with 480 in 2011) and 25 percent fewer police incidents (283 compared with 377 in 2011). Arrests and citations, which do not yet include pending investigations, were down 3.8 percent, 225 this year compared with 234 in 2011. Of those totals, about 20 percent more in 2012 were officer initiated, which contributed to a larger number of minor citations and less opportunity for incidents to escalate to a more serious level. The most common charges included underage drinking (52), open container violations (42), public drunkenness (25) and public urination (25).

Initial reports also indicate that University Police also saw a greatly reduced number of incidents compared with the same weekend in 2011. Preliminary University Police data, which does not yet include pending investigations and citations not yet submitted, shows a 12.5 percent decrease in overall rate of incidents, from 104 in 2011 to 91 in 2012. Of those incidents, 33, just over one-third, were officer initiated. Arrests by campus officers decreased by a third, from 107 in 2011 to 71 in 2012.

Forty of the 71 arrests made by University Police, or 56 percent, were not Penn State students. Preliminary State College Police Department data does not include details about offenders’ residence or student status and will require a few weeks of analysis to determine exact numbers of student and non-student violations. However, anecdotal reports incident that the department’s activity again this year included many visitors to the area but fewer than last year. In 2011, approximately 60 percent of all arrests made were against non-Penn State students.

This year, with more than 100 weekend events scheduled on campus alone, campus and downtown officials also were concerned about parking capacity issues during the weekend. However, on-campus and downtown parking facilities did not exceed capacity. Initial reports indicate fewer parking tickets issued downtown -- although greater than during other February weekends -- and an absence of residential parking complaints made to borough parking officials. An announcement made by University Housing officials to limit residence-hall guests to one person per room may have had a positive effect on parking totals and disruptive issues as well. Residence hall incidences reported so far during the weekend comparable with a typical busy weekend on campus.

One on-campus alternative event, Skate Patty’s Day, an ice-skating event sponsored by Pollock Area Government and Residence Life at the Penn State Ice Pavilion, saw an attendance of nearly 350 people. Students who participated noted their appreciation for the alternative event to Residence Life staff.

“The atmosphere on campus was noticeably different in comparison with last year. Many students openly voiced their frustration regarding visitors destroying our community, and I believe a lot of students took the initiative to be more responsible,” said Katelyn Mullen, Association of Residence Hall Students president. “The efforts that the student leaders, administration, faculty and borough put forth had a positive impact in curbing previous problems regarding State Patty's Day.”

The State Day of Service, organized by Penn State student volunteer members of the Council of LionHearts, and Community Volunteer Weekend, activities organized by borough officials, brought together hundreds of volunteers for community service activities. Penn State’s Off-Campus Student Union hosted Neighborhood Dialogues, resulting in the formation of new community collaborations between off-campus students and other borough residents. Pairs of students and borough residents completed shifts of volunteer foot patrols throughout downtown neighborhoods.

Last Updated February 04, 2013