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Panel Discusses Excessive Drinking, Possible Solutions

State College District Judge Carmine Prestia said last night he is initiating lobbying efforts in the Pennsylvania Judicial System to increase the minimum fine for an alcohol related summary offense from $300 to $1000.

“I have seen enough significant behavior in terms of alcohol abuse, multiple offenders and repeat offenders,” said Prestia during a panel discussion on the  excessive drinking of Penn State students. “The fines aren’t high enough,” he said.

State College police chief Tom King, another member of the panel, said higher fines could decrease the number of citations issued for alcohol related incidents. “We believe that there is statistical research evidence that says if the fines were greater and the impact was harsher…you will have some impact on the problem,” said King.

In just the first quarter of 2010, the State College police department has made 111 drunk driving arrests, an increase from last year. Sixty percent of all crimes officers respond to are alcohol related, said King.

Brought together by the College of Communications, panel members discussed the increasing problem of excessive drinking and dangerous behavior that Penn State students engage in. Members of the panel included borough manager Thomas Fountaine, Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims, University Health Services representative Linda LaSalle, University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) President Christian Ragland and fifth year senior Stephen Fyler.

The 2009 Annual Student Drinking Survey, conducted by UHS, found that 75 percent of Penn State students consume more than four drinks within a three hour time period on Friday and Saturday nights. According to LaSalle, it is considered “high risk drinking” when a woman consumes four drinks and a man consumes five drinks within a two hour period of time.

The drinking culture at Penn State has been a problem faculty and community officials have wrestled with for years, but the tragic death of freshman Joe Dado last September pushed administrators to come up with new solutions to curb dangerous drinking.

“We need to try and do very different things,” said Sims. “This has been with us for a very long time…its always been the number one issue senior student affairs cite as the most significant problem that negatively impacts students’ success in higher education,” he said.

Several proposed solutions came from King, including taxing alcohol sales and limiting the number of bottles that can be purchased at once from a state store. He also encouraged student not to allow friends get belligerently drunk in the first place.

From a more sociological point of view, Fountaine said it was important for all residents to work together in order to make State College a “stronger community as a whole.” “Whether you or a student or a non-student,” said Fountaine, “you are a part of this community.”

Despite all the proposals discussed, Ragland said the ability to change lay in the hands of the students.

“It’s very simple for me,” said Ragland. “This is an issue we do have the ability to change…it’s all about accountability, it’s all about being individuals and being responsible for ourselves. We as students have the ability to do this,” he said.

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