“State Patrick's Day,” besides being the most clever name to come out of a state school since chicks were dubbed “slampieces,” started when I was a junior at Penn State out of necessity (I graduated in 1963. I'm 71). You see, God mistakenly scheduled St. Patrick's Day that year during our Spring Break, but somehow a rumor started that the administration intentionally planned the break during that time to absolve themselves from the responsibilities of caring for drunk students running around campus. This enraged people. So, as a student body, we took fate into our own hands: through Facebook we moved the St. Patty's celebration up a week, called it “State Patrick's Day” and blew it out. The campus went berserk. It was the best day-long party of the year, and it eclipsed anything the real St. Patty's ever was. Looking back, it's ridiculous; the kind of hilarious call-to-arms that could only happen at college. But when you're not fighting a war or paying bills, you need something to feel self-righteous about. So for us, it was binge-drinking. I distinctly remember a really tall guy in my fraternity, Thunder Dan, running around proselytizing about how this was a front to his freedom of religion as he chugged from a Bailey’s bottle.
It was the first moment in my life that I remember social media starting a revolution; like Egypt except with less rock throwing and more slurred speech. We laughed in the face of tyranny, we threw off the shackles of oppression, we bonged a million beers. We showed them that a will to drink can’t be thwarted by a higher institution, or a wife, or a crying baby. We said, “We will be drunk, we will be remembered.” And every year hence, Penn State remembered that fateful victory by recreating it, regardless of when the actual St. Patrick's Day fell on the school calendar.
Well, until now.
Penn State administration and the local government are actually subsidizing bars $5,000 a piece to stay closed. They preemptively shut down fraternity functions that day. Thats right. From the creators of such hits as “Ignoring Child Rape” and “Overreacting About A Losing Football Team” and “Firing A Local Legend Over The Phone”; and who could forget that old family classic, “Paterno Family Pays Publicity Firm to Spit in the Face of Victims” (admittedly, not the University, but cripes) comes their newest venture, “Discourage College Drinking So That There’s More College Drinking.” Is my alma mater being run by the strictest parents on the block? The parents who hovered over their kids so much that their daughter drank more than anyone just to escape and would yell, “Free blow jobs!” hours before being forced to go to church? What is happening? In the world we live in today where there are rallies over the internet and people can create a mob easier than ever, how is this going to end well? Can you stop college drinking?
I'm not saying I care if these college kids drink alcohol. At my age, I'm too busy poring over my 401k statement and drinking expensive craft beers like Budweiser Black Crown. But this move by Penn State is moronic. I understand that paying off the bars is probably costing Penn State less than the extra police, arrests, safety precautions, and clean up it otherwise would. Economically, maybe this is a great move – in the short term. But socially? This is a foolish attempt to publicly control a private issue. Beyond the attempt to muscle the student body into better behavior (which will fail, they'll just concoct another way to get drunk), this also sets a terrible precedent for PSU administration. Paying people to stop parties is treating pneumonia with a cough lozenge: it has so little impact on the larger scheme. A one day reprieve brings them back stronger – and angrier – the next day. It's like paying your child in toys to be a good boy – it sends the wrong message.
In 2011, West Virginia University had a problem with binge drinking at their football games. Arrests and hospitalizations were up. So they did something kind of bizarre: for the first time, they began to allow the sale of alcohol inside the stadium. It sounds counterintuitive, how can you limit drinking by making it more readily available? But what they did was subtly change the culture. Students over 21 no longer felt the need to binge before the game to sustain a buzz – they could just continue to buy beers inside. Rather than wagging their finger, WVU embraced reality, took control of alcohol sales, made a boatload of money, and arrests and hospitalizations went down. Gameday arrests dropped 39% from 2010 to 2011. If the largest and most influential imbibers on campus don't feel they need to binge as much, that attitude trickles down.
If Penn State wants to do this right, don't ban anything – the PR alone is terrible for them (admittedly, I don’t think the PSU administration knows what PR is) and it just rallies the student body. Don't kill the party, influence it. Work with the bars to have them raise market prices for the day. Force a cover charge everywhere that will pay the cost of extra police. Beef up IFC oversight. Hire a dozen free pizza and water trucks to make sure people eat and hydrate. Create an enclosed, outdoor space downtown where you can control alcohol sales and ID checking. The costs in the short-term may be more, but in the long term you change State Patrick's Day. It no longer becomes a cause to rally behind. People won’t drink in willful and dangerous defiance. They'll drink to be happy (like old people). And it will be just another great day at Penn State.
Or they could do what they already are: close all the bars and put a moon bounce in the student center. Yeah, that'll work, too. Have fun Asians!
Jared Freid is a New York City-based comedian who you can see on MTV’s Failosophy on Thursdays at 10:30pm. Follow him on Twitter @jtrain56 for videos, columns, and ways to enjoy Budweiser Black Crown. You can also check out his new web shorts here