Letter to parents and families on alcohol and safety

December 03, 2003

You may have read recently about the State College community being ranked ninth safest community in the nation. This was the result of a study that examined crime statistics for 281 metropolitan areas from 2002 FBI data.

While the low crime ranking for the State College area is in line with other similar studies in recent years, I would still like to raise some concerns I have for the safety of Penn State students.

Penn State students face a problem that is common on most college campuses today -- a high rate of alcohol use. Indeed, this is not a problem unique to college students. National studies indicate that abusive alcohol consumption often starts when our children are in high school or even middle school.

Alcohol seems readily available in our community, and young people everywhere face a significant amount of alcohol advertising and promotion in the media where the image of fun and good times far outweighs unsettling images from the emergency room.

State College and Penn State officials have been working aggressively the past eight years to shine light on the problem and to offer alternatives to alcohol for our students. We have worked cooperatively with substance abuse experts, law enforcement representatives, medical and health experts, local school district officials, university and high school student groups, and local business people.

I think it is also important to remind parents and family members that they can continue to play an important role in the lives of their children even when they are not close at hand. Take the time to have discussions with your children about the problem of dangerous alcohol consumption.

You can find a full summary of our town-gown committee's research on the University's news web site, Penn State Live (live.psu.edu). The data are unsettling. Here is a brief summary of the group's recent findings:

• Arrests in State College and on campus roads for DUI are way up over the past four years;

• Public drunkenness arrests in town and on campus have increased over the past three years;

• Liquor law violations on campus and in the Borough of State College have almost doubled over the past three years;

• The number of Penn State students taken to the local hospital emergency room over the past three years has increased, while the average age of those Penn State students being treated there for alcohol overdoses is getting younger;

• Alcohol sales at the three State Stores located in the State College area have increased by more than five million dollars over the past six years;

• The annual percentage of reported sexual assault incidents involving the use of alcohol has steeply increased over the past five years, from around 60 percent to almost 90 percent.

The last trend is important and worth commenting on specifically. Sexual assault is typically a crime that is significantly under-reported. While the number of reported assaults by Penn State students has remained fairly constant over the past five years, with spikes and drops in the data from year to year, it is difficult to be certain of the validity of the data because of the understandable reluctance of many victims to speak up.

The statistics give a troubling overview of the big picture. At the same time, on an individual level, the alcohol abuse story is very worrisome. Faculty and students have been hurt, and even killed, by drunk drivers. Students have been seriously hurt falling out of apartment windows while intoxicated, and others have died from such falls.

We will continue to be creative and aggressive in addressing alcohol abuse issues. But this is a big problem, and discussing it within the family can be an important part of preventing future tragedies. Please look for opportunities to talk to your children about alcohol.


Graham Spanier
President, Penn State University

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009