State Patty’s Day — Keep the Name, Change the Meaning
By Holly Swanson
State Patty's Day began innocently enough as a small group of friends celebrating St. Patrick's Day together before leaving town on spring break. They never planned, nor could they have imagined, that it would become the drinking festival that it is today.
Last year alone, the now infamous weekend was the scene of 234 arrests and 14 DUIs, according to data released by police. Just more than 100 partygoers who couldn’t hold their liquor ended up at Mount Nittany Medical Center. There was property damage, public urination and assaults. Though the majority of those arrested were from other universities, the negative publicity still fell on the Penn State community.
But this year is different. This has been a year like none other in Penn State's history. A small group of students and residents have already generated a decade’s worth of negative publicity.
Last weekend at THON, the Penn State community came a long way in restoring the pride and tradition of its name. The students were able to raise more than $10 million for the Four Diamonds Fund to help in the fight against pediatric cancer. The dancers and other participants were selfless, noble, and, well, amazing.
The THON energy needs to carry over to this weekend. Part of the problem is the influx of students from other universities. They come to town, drink, trash the place and leave. It’s become the equivalent of having a party in your own home and getting it crashed by people you don’t know. Those same people leave a mess, both literally and figuratively, behind.
This State Patty's Day is another opportunity to rewrite the public opinion.
The State College community is rallying to turn this weekend’s events into an opportunity to come together and put the focus on helping others. Using the same social media tools that helped State Patty’s Day gain popularity, groups such as the Penn State Council of Lionhearts Service Leaders and the Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light are organizing community service events to provide an alternative to the typical binge fests of the weekend.
The State College Neighborhood Services will be out again, walking the streets to promote safety and respect. On Sunday, a group led by the Penn State Marketing Club, Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council will spend two hours cleaning up the mess that is left behind (more information about these and other events can be found at www.peacelovestatecollege.com). Combined with the closing of bars and liquor stores, word will get out that State Patty’s Day is not just another Mardi Gras, minus the parade. I think that with time, these strategies will work.
The community, students and residents alike, are sending the message that this will no longer be tolerated. No one is against partying, but destroying property, getting arrested and endangering others is never a good idea. The possibility for serious injuries or even death to partygoers or bystanders is troubling and, I’m aware, is waiting to happen.
Two years ago, I drove down College Avenue on State Patty’s Day. Even with young children in my car, we were used as target practice for some young adults who were throwing ice chunks and snowballs at passing vehicles.
It was only 2:00 p.m.
Last year, I saw crowds of people walking down Beaver Avenue at 7:00 p.m., already too drunk to stay on the sidewalk and obey the traffic lights. There will still be some of that this weekend, as there is any weekend in State College.
But this is not the image we need to project to the world. The momentum is here to turn this event into a positive experience.
With the publicity, T-shirts, and Facebook pages, there is little that can be done to erase the State Patty’s Day name. But we can change what it represents. I’d like to see the name continue by letting it represent the community projects of the weekend. We’ll have THON, Day of Caring and State Patty’s Day. Maybe someday, instead of asking “where are you going to party on State Patty’s Day?” maybe people will ask, “what event are you going to help out with on State Patty’s Day?”
Like the media, curiosity seekers and other bloggers, I'll be downtown on Saturday, but I'll be taking pictures of the events that show how we are helping to take back the community. In time, hopefully, these will become the main images of State Patty’s Day.
Holly Swanson is a State College-based freelance writer and editor focusing on parenting and women's health issues. She can be followed on Twitter @statecollegemom