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“This American Life” Visits Penn State, Gets Upset

On Friday, award-winning and nationally-syndicated radio program This American Life aired a special on Penn State entitled “#1 Party School.” The program focused primarily, as the title would suggest, on Penn State’s recent “honor” of being named the number one party school in America, and the culture of drinking that has permeated the University and the State College community. The hour-long program interviews several prominent members of the Penn State community, including University President Graham Spanier and Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims, as well as several Penn State students and State College residents.

The report begins with one of the show’s hosts sitting on a friend’s porch in an unnamed area of campus (my best estimates are either West College/Beaver or North of Park Ave.) and details some of the typical shenanigans that Penn State students are known to get into on a weekend night at 1:30 in the morning. The reporter and her host find numerous inebriated students stumbling across their yard, including 3 unnamed females urinating on their lawn. The program then launches into a scathing commentary on the widespread use of alcohol by Penn State students. The program is obviously a commentary on the drinking habits of college students, but also takes time to mention the drinking habits of legal-aged alumni, implying that one of the primary reasons that alumni come back, and donate, to the University is because they are permitted to drink on the tailgating fields before football games in the fall.

They follow around a State College police officer and seem appalled by the fact that he appears interested in underage drinking violations only if the suspect is “sloppy drunk” or belligerent. They also make a point of mentioning that the University has tried, on several occasions, to curb student drinking, only to fail miserably each time. Unsurprisingly, the Joe Dado tragedy makes an appearance, with the reporter commenting that Dado’s BAC of .169 is “less than half” of what a typical Penn State student drinks on a weekend night.

Read on to find my take on the program

Personally, I have no problem with a news outlet profiling student drinking habits, but my issue is with the fact that the report makes no mention of the great things that Penn State does everyday. It mentions that we have the largest stadium in the country, but only in connection to the drinking that occurs on football Saturdays, and it completely ignores the fact that Penn State is a top 50 university with highly respected programs in engineering, business, education, and earth sciences. It ignores students’ philanthropic efforts, makes no mention of THON, and notes on several occasions that the Princeton Review ranking of Top Party Schools includes the amount of studying time students put in each week as a factor.

So thanks, This American Life, for coming to visit Happy Valley. In the future though, please try to include both sides of the story instead of implying that Penn State students only care about being drunk 24/7.

If you feel like killing an hour of your winter break, have a listen to the report here.


About the Author

Chase Tralka

Chase Tralka is a Senior majoring in Information Sciences and Technology with a minor in Security and Risk Analysis. He is from Northern New Jersey and is involved in far too many organizations to list here. He enjoys photography, cycling, and listening to obscure free jazz music.


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