Onward Debates: THON Workshops Waste of Time

Courtney O’Bryan’s death was and is, unmistakably, a tragedy. I think I speak for all of Penn State when I say how shocked and saddened we were to hear the dreadful news.

I wasn’t canning that weekend–as I recall, I was buried under a mountain of homework–but I remember the immediate feelings that went through my mind when I heard of her passing. After the requisite grieving for a young woman with such bright potential, and for her family, I thought: there but for the grace of God go I.

I’m not a particularly religious person, but at that moment, I realized how lucky I was. You see, Courtney’s death hit pretty close to home for me because last year, on a canning trip, I too skidded on some black ice. Thankfully, it was in a residential street–I only ended up on a neighbor’s front lawn, and after a few minutes of digging out of a snow bank, my car was good to go. Nobody got hurt, thankfully, and there was no damage.

But if another car had been heading the other way down the road, I might not have been so fortunate. Courtney O’Bryan could’ve been me, or someone else in my car.

I don’t recount that story to brag about how I cheated death, but to illustrate the inherent safety issue that canning causes.  Sending thousands of young drivers in thousands of cars to hundreds of towns across the Northeast in the middle of winter is a intensely dangerous endeavor–and it’s something that can’t be taught away. Frankly, it’s a small miracle that we haven’t had more than one tragic accident.

Friday evening, at President Rodney Erickson’s town hall meeting in Manhattan, I sat less than ten feet away from Courtney O’Bryan’s father, who displayed an unbelievable amount of courage when telling his daughter’s tale. He spoke of THON not as a monster that took his daughter, but as a force for good that all Penn Staters should be proud of–and specifically commended the organization for moving quickly to institute new policies to try and mitigate the risk moving forward.

I understand why THON felt the need to respond, but what they came up with–mandating attendance at workshops for anyone interested in raising money over the last two canning weekends–is a solution to an entirely different problem. In fact, they only serve to detract from the very tangible danger the organization creates canning in the winter months.

Yes, perhaps a refresher course in the rules of canning could be of use to some, but reminding students not to stand in a roadway median or dart between cars in pursuit of an extra few dollars isn’t going to keep their cars from skidding on black ice. Reiterating that everyone should wear a seatbelt isn’t going to take away from the danger of driving in a snowstorm, a situation thousands of canners have undoubtedly encountered. Far fewer have been nearly hit by a car.

Let me tell you, driving down 322 when the road is slick with sticking snow is a nerve-racking experience. Standing on a street corner isn’t.

I don’t doubt that those in charge of THON have nothing but the best intentions in mind, and though I’m sure they felt pressure from outside to institute this new policy, I would hope and assume that this wasn’t meant simply to go through the motions in order to keep up appearances.

But if THON really wanted to prove that Courtney O’Bryan’s death made a significant impact on how the organization would be run, they’d demand, starting next year, that THON weekend be pushed back a couple months, from February to April. Why? Because then you could have four canning weekends scheduled to avoid bad weather. If you sent all those cars out in September and October and March and April, you’re avoiding the winter months with the most dangerous road conditions.

You might even save a life or two.

And sure, keeping THON active for that much longer can’t possibly hurt fundraising efforts. Giving organizations an extra eight to ten weeks to hit up those wealthy relatives might allow them to reel in a few more big fish.

Is a 30-minute crash course really going to dissuade so many people from canning that it’s worth complaining this much about the whole process? Probably not. It’s really a minor inconvenience, and though it’s every THON chair’s job to make sure their fundraisers know these rules, formalizing the lessons will probably help them sink in a little better–even if most in attendance will be on their phones playing Angry Birds as they hear the common-sense regulations for the umpteenth time. And though I think it’s monumentally stupid to force kids to wear a piece of paper around their wrist for an entire week if they want to try and help kids with cancer, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not worth picking a fight over. I’m sure mine will “accidentally” fall off at some point over the next few days.

I know there was a time when THON wanted to encourage as many people to participate, and made it as easy as possible to join the fight, and although this doesn’t jibe with that vision, it’s not worth getting upset over for the inconvenience alone.

But for THON, which has made abundantly clear its desire to transition away from canning as a primary source of fundraising in the near-future, the efforts ring hollow if they’re actually meant to respond to last month’s tragedy. The beauty of the organization has always been just how easy it is to get involved, its greatness manifested in how many heed the call.

And all they’ve done by mandating these workshops is set up a few pointless hoops to jump through, but the reward for taking the leap is a sad fiction.

For the other side of the debate, check out Ryan Kristobak’s post here.

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About the Author

Devon Edwards

Devon is a 2012 Penn State graduate and current law student at NYU. Devon joined Onward State in January of 2011, after a lengthy stay in the comment section. His likes include sabermetrics, squirrels, and longs walks on the beach, and his dislikes include spelunking, when you put your clothes in the dryer and they come out still kinda damp but also warm, and the religious right.

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