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State Pattiology

If you look up in the sky, each star looks very similar to the rest. If you take a course in astronomy, however, you soon learn that while they may look the same to the naked eye, there are many different types of stars—white dwarfs, brown dwarfs, red giants—each with their own characteristics. On the surface, they may look the same, but as students and faculty we study them together and learn that surface appearances can hide critical differences.

It’s common for students to respond to criticism of State Patty’s Day with the comment that “State Patty’s Day is no different than _____”, where you can fill in the blank with Homecoming, Blue/White Weekend, Sy Barash Regatta, Phi Psi 500, ArtsFest or any number of other events. And, on the surface, that seems obvious. You have visitors, students and drinking. Those three things make up a big part of all of those events. But, let’s take a look at that by simply asking how State Patty’s Day is different than these other events. What do these other events have that State Patty’s Day does not?

Here’s a short list:

  • These other events all have a group that organized the event, whether that was a fraternity group, as with Phi Psi or Regatta, or a group of community members and students, as with Homecoming, ArtsFest, etc.
  • These organizing groups for the other events work closely with both town officials and University officials to plan the events, often meeting several times during the course of a year or more before the event.
  • These organizing groups either planned their activities on private land or, if using public or University spaces, secured the appropriate permits from town and University officials.
  • These organizing groups provide funds and/or volunteers to assist with crowd control during the event. As Phi Psi grew, for example, they provided 75 or more volunteers to assist the town.
  • These organizing groups made efforts and often developed activities to appeal to a broad cross-section of the University and local community. Sy Barash Regatta, for example, had events where local officials competed against students, hosted rock bands and other musicians, and more. Phi Psi included a master’s category for persons age 35 and older and allowed competitors non-alcoholic choices in their race.
  • These other events, particularly when they were organized and conducted by students, selected a local charitable organization and used the event to raise money to give back to the community or they have an important purpose other than simply being about drinking.

So, if you look at State Patty’s Day as a true student, I think it’s easy to sustain the claim that it is different in many important ways from these other events. I think those differences can really be summarized in a single word: partnership.

The organizing groups in these other events, especially those student groups, worked in a collaborative partnership with the community. Students often found significant community support because they reached out as partners. Students partnered in planning the event; students partnered in conducting the event; and students partnered in giving back to a community group to demonstrate their support of the community.

Exploring the similarities and differences in the natural world, as with stars, is one reason why we, as faculty and students, learn together in a university. Another reason is to explore those same similarities and differences in our social world–to learn from the diversity of approaches humans take to their lives.

When students wonder why the community reaction to State Patty’s Day is so negative and so different from these other events, I hope my effort at “State Pattiology” allows them to take a step out of their world and into how past and current Penn State students, alumni and community members partnered to do the hard work of getting past their differences to create something that was truly valuable to all.

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