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Nittany Lion Spotlight: State Patty's Day

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Back in the BSD newsroom, I was kicking around the idea of doing a State Patty's Day post before my motivation to condescendingly scold the current student body just sort of fizzled out. I figured it would be unbelievably hypocritical, given that I spent the bulk of my college career either actively in, or recovering from, some sort of intoxicated stupor. Besides, who wants to hear a lecture from someone who graduated over ten years ago? I'm practically ancient in the eyes of current students, and if State Patty's Day existed when I was at Penn State, hell yes I would've been part of it.

But damn it, this is my neatly manicured lawn, and no, you may not set your feet upon it.

Slight background for the uninformed. SPD started as most funny, half-baked ideas start these days -- as a Facebook group. You know, like "Should Betty White Host SNL?" or "Can This Pickle Get More Fans Than Nickelback?" (Answer to both of those issues, incidentally -- yes, yes.)

In State College, State Patty's Day started in 2007 from a Facebook group created by Joe Veltre because St. Patrick's Day fell during spring break.

"It was kind of meant as a joke for me, my close friends and roommates. The group within a week had 1,000 people," said Veltre, a university senior who also works as a bartender.

Veltre said he never planned to continue the holiday in 2008, but got positive feedback from students. A now-defunct student organization called "Safeguard Old State" began promoting the day.

Last year, SOS promoted it thusly:

State Patty’s Day was originally started in 2007 to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day due to the scheduling of Penn State’s Spring Break over that holiday. In 2008, the student-led holiday returned as an attempt to provide a means for students, alumni and townspeople to celebrate a new, uniquely "Penn State" holiday tradition.

State Patty’s Day, in the words of its founder Joe Veltre (Class of 2009), was borne out of a desire by students to "prove that despite a reputation for excess, we might just be able to teach ourselves moderation if given the chance."

Safeguard Old State founder Thomas A. Shakely elaborated on the idea behind State Patty’s Day: "The holiday offers the opportunity for students to come together outside of the normal, artificially-programmed settings of initiatives like ‘Late Night Penn State’ and academic roundtables and see if they can learn how to celebrate and drink responsibility in the real world."

Shakely, elaborating, said: "Look, administrators have been pouring millions into anti-drinking programs for decades that simply haven’t worked. Undercover programs, education initiatives, source investigation projects – they all fail, because they miss the point that you can’t teach responsible drinking without, first, letting the drinking actually occur and, second, letting folks drink in an environment where other students, their peers, can keep them safe."

I've never really been against drinking in large groups, but those bolded quotes are what annoys me about State Patty's Day. It's obvious bullshit on a third-grade level. Really, SPD was created so students can altruistically prove that they're able to handle their alcohol by having an organized day in which to make themselves blind-drunk? Why not distribute automatic weapons in North Philly to prove that citizens who ordinarly shoot each other can handle the temptation of, you know, shooting each other? SPD is essentially trying to legitimize the actions of an organized, shitfaced mob.

By the way some SPD supporters describe it, you'd think that Penn State was a pious, quiet place like Grove City College* throughout the rest of the academic calendar. If it was, who wouldn't understand the need for a student generated and organized day for otherwise hard-working students to get hammered? Hell, I'd buy the first round. But come on, this is Penn State -- there's no lack of alcohol (or other stuff) on the other 51 weekends of the year. And here's the big problem that students don't seem to understand or care about when it comes to State Patty's Day -- there are real costs and concerns associated with it. SPD isn't a bad idea just because Graham Spanier hates it when you have fun, or because the State College Police Department loves wrangling vodka-fueled meatheads into the back of squad cars. It costs homeowners and businesses a lot of money due to property destruction. It costs taxpayers even more due to the increased police and EMS responders needed for the weekend. It pulls doctors and EMT's away from patients who didn't voluntarily destroy themselves with alcohol. And it's impossible to make college students, many of whom think everything is free and they'll live forever, to appreciate those concerns. So here's another one -- it gives students (and non-students) from outside Happy Valley an opportunity to come into State College, trash your town, and walk away like nothing happened.

The Daily Collegian reports that 160 partyers were arrested this past weekend. That's more arrests than were made during the previous two State Patty's Day weekends combined. Must have been a big weekend in State College.

"The trend seems to be going the wrong way," State College Police Capt. Dana Leonard tells the Daily Collegian. "Everything is upward trending in the past three years--calls are up, alcohol overdoses are double. It's a disturbing three-year trend."

More than half of the arrests involved non-Penn State students or visitors, the report says. Penn State had hoped the "resistance from community and Penn State officials" would keep numbers down. It didn't.

"This was just a selfish, dangerous event with no merit that caused ill will in the town, cost a lot of resources, time and money, and took away from real security and safety needs," Lisa Powers, a Penn State spokeswoman, tells the Daily Collegian. "It's a shame."

Herein lies my main objection with State Patty's Day -- it's just drinking for the sake of drinking in a town that is already rather well-known for it. In a small group of friends or even a fraternity/apartment party, that's fine. In a drunken group of thousands, it's an obviously dangerous situation that leads to absolutely nothing worthwhile. Just look at the police log for proof that students can't handle themselves**. Those numbers always increase exponentially when students drink in especially large groups, whether it's Arts Fest week, Homecoming, Blue-White weekend, or any primetime Penn State football game. Poor, sober repressed students!

SPD is not about anything, and the overt transparency of the St. Patty's Day "tradition" has already sprouted a new excuse for organized debauchery and douchebaggery -- Cinco de State. A bad idea based on a bad idea. Make no mistake, in ten, twenty, and thirty years, SPD participants will look back at these weekends with great fondness. However, this year's SPD seems to have pushed the traditional enemies of fun-loving students -- the local police and university administration -- to the breaking point. Hope everyone enjoyed it, because SPD will be shut down in the very near future, just like all of the similar events before it. Probably after another student's death.

* - I've been informed by a reliable source that students at Lebanon Valley College play beer pong with water. Water! The horror! (Seriously, the horror.)

** - Not a generational comment. A friend of mine at PSU fell to her death when she leaned too far out of a window at Alexander Court back in 1997. And sadly, that's what it's going to take for this St. Patty's Day thing to end, at which point the students will move onto some new fictional holiday like Statesgiving or Nitsmas.