Why Closing the Bars Won’t Solve Anything
By now, you’re probably well aware of the intriguing decision by downtown bars, made in conjunction with the Campus-Community Partnership on Dangerous Drinking, to close on State Patty’s Day. The drinking pseudo-holiday has become a polarizing issue in the Penn State community, with the student body split on whether the excitement of drunken debauchery outweighs the strain on the community and medical services.
In any case, many have tried and failed to combat the holiday over the years. This year, the anti-State Patty’s Day waves are crashing down harder than ever, with fraternities shutting down, bars closing, the police taking draconian measures, and dorms limiting residence hall visitors.
These measures have been implemented in large part due to a public outcry towards State Patty’s Day, led by a cabal of University and student leaders, aimed at squashing the holiday for good by limiting students’ access to alcohol.
But it’s not working. And it won’t work until the apartment owners and the landlords take action.
As in most town and gown arrangements, Penn State students drink alcohol at three main locations: bars, fraternities, and apartments. On any given weekend, you can find most of the 44,000 students at one of those three locations, drink in hand. Only one of them is completely unregulated and only one of them will be — at least to some extent — immune from the State Patty’s Day crackdown.
The decision to close downtown drinking establishments is shortsighted at best and could end up regressing the progress made to phase out the event this year. Do our leaders in the community really think that students who planned to drink at bars are suddenly going to schlep up to the library on Saturday instead?
It’s senseless to think that students just won’t drink because the bars are closed. No, they’ll be at apartments, now with double the number of drunkards, guzzling down red solo cups full of slipshod jungle juice with 50 percent ABV and shotgunning half racks of Natty’s to impress all the freshmen herded there because they couldn’t go to the frats.
Just think about it for a second. Where is the most dangerous place to drink in State College? Alcohol at bars is expensive and bouncers are hawkish in looking for drunk people to cut off. You don’t hear about people falling out of windows at Cafe. And unless you’re Kristina Helfer, getting enough beer in a fraternity basement to become a threat to others or oneself is such a sisyphean task that even the most skilled freshmen can’t succeed.
Apartment parties are where the real binge drinking goes on in college towns across the country. This is America, where three dollars can get you 80 ounces of beer and a night that you probably won’t remember.
It seems counterintuitive then that the most hazardous drinking location is also the least regulated. Sure, the Meridian can ban parties, but that just means residents will find another building in which to drink. Police can work overtime, but their presence will be far from ubiquitous. Students–and their friends from out of town–can and will find ways to get as drunk as they possibly can.
Herding the frat and bar crowds into overflowing apartments with waterfalls of Vladdy and cases of cheap booze only makes things worse, with the burden of ensuring student safety left to their just-as-intoxicated classmates.
Landlords have, on the whole, been hesitant to enact anti-State Patty’s day measures because of the impact to their bottom line. They don’t want to spend any money on more security and don’t want to be held liable if no-tolerance policies aren’t enforced. As recently as last year, landlords wouldn’t even publicly discuss the holiday, much less take action against it. They’d rather collect excessive damage fees from unruly tenants and wash their hands clean of any responsibility for the debauchery.
What we’ve seen so far this year is an obstinate, short-sighted approach by University and town leaders that, in attempting a fix, addresses only two-thirds of the problem while ignoring and thus exacerbating the dangers inherent in that final third. No more half measures. Until someone pressures the apartment-owners to care more about the safety of their tenants than the depth of their coffers, that won’t change.
I am optimistic that State Patty’s Day 2013 will see a significant decrease in crime, destruction, and hospital visits. I’ll hold out hope that these community-lead measures will work. But I think we’re looking squarely at a weekend full of green shirts overflowing onto balconies and into hallways as Penn Staters are left with nowhere to go but apartment parties.