: The comments for our previous blog post
were definitely heartening to see. I'm glad that this conversation has some traction, hopefully that focus can continue as we go forward.
: Yes, I was very impressed by the responses to our first post
and hope it provides a good starting point. One concern I have, though, is the degree to which the framework and the comments remain focused largely on the experience of students. This is understandable given that students made up the majority of respondents.
But I know that you attended the Presidential Leadership Academy's presentation to the Borough Council
last month. It seems to me that some discussion of that presentation might turn our attention toward the impact of the drinking culture on the wider community. What were your impressions of the event?
: On Wednesday, November 10, I went to the Presidential Leadership Academy's presentation to the Borough Council. The panelists listening represented the Borough, Penn State, and students - T.J. Bard and Christian Ragland were representing UPUA.
: Can you give us some context about how that meeting came about?
: Last semester, Spring '10, the PLA researched dangerous drinking in our community and presented their findings in the HUB. The presentation last Wednesday was summary of some elements of their research. The presentation focused on the the phenomenon of pre-gaming, Alumni behavior, Town and Gown relations, and alternative activities to drinking.
I'll be honest, I was disappointed in the conversation I heard. The point that was continuously made was that we must change the culture of drinking here. At one point the assertion was made that, "culture can change in 4 years." This theme of changing the culture of drinking is exactly why Penn State and the Borough will fail with whatever policies and initiatives they implement.
: OK, that is a bold claim. Tell me more about what leads you to this position.
: Lets take a step back and really look at this position - it is untenable. Policy can not bring about real change when it is facing an entrenched culture like this. Any plan that begins with the premise that the University or the Borough can change the culture is doomed to failure and subsequent head scratching. We must work from the premise that we can alleviate the drinking problem, rather than eradicating it. Once the University and Borough agree to that premise then they can identify policies and initiatives tailored towards achieving that goal.
: I agree that cultural changes are best effected from within the culture itself rather than as imposed from outside. I wonder, though, what it would mean to "alleviate the drinking problem"? If we agree that drinking will not be eradicated, then what does responsible drinking look like? What would it mean to have a community of mature student, parent, faculty, staff and resident drinkers? Perhaps we can shift the discussion by changing the vocabulary from one that emphasizes the "problem to be alleviated or solved" to one that asked "what does it mean to live a healthy, fulfilling life?"
: You raise an excellent question in pondering what alleviating the excessive drinking problem looks like. To me, alleviating the drinking problem requires an emphasis on reducing excessive drinking, providing relevant, appealing alternatives to high risk drinking (increased intramural sports, concerts, performances), and sound policies that educate students of the dangers in excessive drinking. Those are just a few of many plausible solutions that should be simultaneously enacted. I believe that alleviating the excessive drinking problem is a step towards achieving a "healthy, fulfilling life." I don't feel qualified to determine what a healthy fulfilling life is for everyone. How is that determined? What are the factors included in the determination?
However, I do think that one can look at the benefits of a changed dynamic regarding excessive drinking and say what will lead to a more fulfilling community based on respect and responsible behavior. Certainly, reducing excessive drinking can contribute to students leading a more fulfilling life as members of the Penn State / State College community. I'd really like to hear what members of our community think it means to live a "healthy, fulfilling life?"