Testimony before the committee on law and justice of the Pennsylvania Senate

September 16, 2004

The following are remarks by Bill Mahon, assistant vice president for University Relations, Penn State University, to the committee on law and justice of the Pennsylvania Senate on September 15, 2004.

To view charts that accompanied the testimony, go to http://live.psu.edu/still_life/2004_09_15_testimony/index.html

Penn State and the State College community have been working together for many years to combat the problem of dangerous drinking.

Hundreds of educators, university officials, public health experts, religious leaders, hospital and emergency care providers, police officers, business leaders, students and local residents have identified dangerous alcohol abuse as a priority in Centre County.

In State College and at Penn State we have a community with 40,000 young people living in the middle of scores of bars, beer distributors, bottle shops and State Stores. We live in a small town where tens of millions of dollars worth of alcohol is sold each year.

Alcohol sales at just the three State Stores in State College hit an all-time high last year of more than $15 million. That means that, on average, those three State Stores sell more than $41,000 worth of alcohol every day of the year in a town where most of the residents are under the age of 21.

Nobody should be surprised at the impact this has on our community.

Data on local beer sales has not been easy to come by, but beer certainly also remains popular for many young people.

Many people are working on this issue, but here is a brief overview of some of the initiatives that involve Penn State.

-- Letter to parents and families on alcohol and safety. A senior Penn State administrator sent a letter to thousands of parents and family members of Penn State students before classes started this fall asking them to talk to their children about the alcohol problem. A similar letter was sent by Penn State President Graham Spanier last winter.

-- Early education. Penn State's First-Year Testing, Counseling and Advising Program, designed to help incoming freshman hit the ground running once the academic year starts, includes a program called "Real Life Choices." In this program, students learn about building a healthy social community and the choices they will face regarding alcohol use, the role alcohol can play in sexual assaults and the importance of consent.

-- Media publicity. As students returned to campus for fall semester, State College Mayor Bill Welch and I, as co-chairs of a group called the Campus and Community Partnership United Against Dangerous Drinking, sent letters to the local and student newspapers urging students to be safe and avoid dangerous drinking. In addition, I wrote an op-ed for the local newspaper outlining the negative impact that dangerous drinking has on our quality of life.

-- Freshmen orientation. Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Rodney Erickson spoke to thousands of students during the fall freshmen convocation about the dangers of excessive drinking and some of the alternative, alcohol-free activities available to students.

-- New position created. At the start of the fall semester Penn State appointed a senior University liaison for addressing high risk drinking.

Penn State also has taken other steps to help students avoid the dangers of excessive drinking:

-- LateNight-PennState. In 1996, LateNight-PennState was created as an initiative offering late-night alternative activities for students on weekends. The mission of LateNight-PennState is to make available to students high-quality entertainment during prime social times, namely the hours of 9 p.m. through 2 a.m. LateNight provides an alcohol-free environment for students to enjoy quality and affordable entertainment. In 1999 Late Night Penn State was selected by the U.S. Department of Education as a "model" program under its Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities initiative.

-- Social norms campaigns. Penn State has run social norms marketing campaigns since 2002. A variety of channels have been used to distribute positive messages concerning the use of alcohol. Our internal surveys indicate between 85 and 90 percent of students recall those campaign messages in each of the last several years.

-- Peer education. A group of Penn State student leaders who are interested in promoting a healthy Penn State community developed a new student organization called BACCHUS/GAMMA. This group, which officially begins this fall semester, is chartered with the national BACCHUS and GAMMA Network, an international association of college and university-based peer education programs focusing on alcohol abuse prevention and other related student health and safety issues.

-- National involvement. A number of Penn State faculty have expertise on the issue of alcohol abuse and administrators of the University have been involved in national studies and activities related to the problem. We use their expertise to help guide our activities. One Penn State official, Janis Jacobs, vice provost for undergraduate education and international programs at Penn State, was a member of a committee of the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, both parts of the National Academies, which released a report on out-of-control drinking behavior. The committee conducted this study for the U.S. Congress.

-- Partnerships. Approximately 65 colleges and universities from around Pennsylvania were at Penn State May 19, 2003, for a daylong conference that examined the successes, failures and challenges of dealing with alcohol, tobacco and other drug issues on campuses.

-- Educational speakers. A conference about the success, failures, challenges and what is working on college campuses in preventing alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse (ATOD) was held in 2003 at Penn State University Park. This fall, a series of town hall meetings has begun to address alcohol and drug abuse in the community.

-- University sanctions. Penn State's Office of Judicial Affairs receives referrals concerning alcohol and drug violations from off-campus police, University police, the Penn State Office of Residence Life, faculty and various other sources including students, administrators and staff. Penn State imposes its own sanctions for University alcohol policy violations, separate from those sanctions imposed by the local courts. University sanctions include community service, disciplinary probation, apology letter, residence hall contract review, residence hall contract termination and referrals to the Alcohol Intervention Program run by University Health Services.

-- Efforts on campuses outside of University Park. Penn State also has worked to combat the problem of alcohol abuse on campuses outside of University Park with a broad range of local programs.

-- More information. For more information about Penn State's efforts to combat the problem of alcohol abuse, go to the Web site "live.psu.edu" and do a keyword search for "alcohol" or click on the Hot Topics link to alcohol awareness.

That's the conclusion of my prepared remarks. Along with these comments I am submitting a number of charts and graphs that show how our Town-Gown Committee United Against Dangerous Drinking has developed an accurate sense of the impact alcohol is having on our town and school.

With local businesses and the commonwealth selling tens of millions of dollars worth of alcohol each year in our community, and with national and local media promoting the consumption of that alcohol, Penn State remains committed to helping our students understand the negative impact alcohol can have on their lives.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009