Series note: This is the second in a five-part series examining the various issues that surround State Patty’s Day.
Two years ago, prospective students and their families were greeted in State College by an unusual sight, at least for 8 a.m. — intoxicated students walking around downtown.
The prospective students were attending an open house for the College of Engineering
in Hammond Building on College Avenue, across from several bars and in close proximity to many others.
The only problem? They happened to visit State College on State Patty’s Day.
Jean Pytel, College of Engineering associate dean for student services, said the incident gave the families of the prospective students a negative impression of Penn State.
“It was a very embarrassing and very uncomfortable experience,” Pytel said. “They couldn’t understand the point of the whole exercise of being inebriated that early in the morning.”
Catherine Steffan, visitation coordinator for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, said the university will still hold tours and visits for prospective students interested in coming to Penn State on Saturday, this year’s State Patty’s Day.
Undergraduate Admissions will have prospective students visit at 9 a.m. and noon on Saturday along with a general session program for accepted students.
Steffan said the demand for tours and visits to the university is too high during the weekend to cancel the events in response to the drinking holiday.
“We attempt to accommodate every interested student who wants to visit Penn State University Park,” Steffan said. “We have no plans to eliminate an opportunity for these prospective students.”
While the plan for prospective student visits will not change, Steffan said the tour guides are prepared to answer questions typically asked by visitors on State Patty’s Day.
But for the university, embarrassment isn’t the only product of the student-created holiday.
Last year, there were more “alcohol-fueled” police incidents during State Patty’s Day than during the busiest football weekends in the previous season, Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said.
“It’s bad for our community in many ways,” Powers said. “It’s costly, it’s dangerous and endangers not only those drinking, but others as well.”
The university is planning to crack down on State Patty’s Day partiers with an increased police presence beginning early in the day and continuing through the afternoon, Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims said.
“The police presence will be extraordinary this weekend,” he wrote in an e-mail. He said off-campus offenses will be processed through the “campus discipline system.”
Offenders who attend other Penn State campuses or other universities can expect Penn State to notify their home institutions, he wrote.
Powers said there are more than 100 alcohol-serving bottle shops, bars and restaurants within a five-mile radius of the university.
This dense concentration of alcohol-serving businesses so close to the large underage population at Penn State creates a major concern for their health and safety of the students, Powers said.
“We hope that students will look out for one another and perhaps be a true friend to those who get themselves into trouble by taking care of them or cutting them off from becoming inebriated,” Powers said.
Powers said Penn State Emergency Medical Service reported more than $3,000 in uncollected ambulance bills connected to State Patty’s Day.
In response to previous years, Powers said university leaders have spoken with bar owners and other businesses that might profit from the student holiday.
Sims said the Campus-Community Partnership on Dangerous Drinking is pleased with the number of taverns that will either remain closed or avoid actions to promote the event.
He did not specify which taverns or how many are set to close.
Sims said student leaders and organizations, including members of the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Council, the Off-Campus Student Union and the Council of Lionhearts service organization, have worked with the university in an “effort to provide a sober presence downtown throughout the weekend.”