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Brian Goldman
The Gold Standard

Credit: Brian Goldman

Spring Fling. Hey Day. Homecoming.

Besides being longstanding, time-honored traditions, these three events have one other aspect in common — a focus on alcohol and drinking.

But relax. This is not a column denouncing the alcohol-tinged rituals here on campus. Nor would that be fair. Anyone who deplores these campus traditions is willfully ignorant of the fact that the same can be said for most colleges across the country for an understandable, simple reason — it’s enjoyable.

Trust me, walking down Locust Walk for Hey Day last year was enhanced by drinking a few beers beforehand. And if that makes you cringe while reading this, the blame — respectfully — lies with you.

Two alcohol-related articles were recently published in The Daily Pennsylvanian that seem certain to have an effect on our social lives at Penn.

One article discussed the failure of AlcoholEdu, an online alcohol-education tool similar to our own Penn Alcohol Module. A recent study revealed that the lessons learned from AlcoholEdu only last one semester. Surprise? Hardly. While the University instead uses the aforementioned PennAM, the effects are similarly fleeting. I personally recall the odd characters in the module who were frog-like — and that’s about it.

Is there a way forward that allows the University to educate incoming students on the effects of alcohol and drugs effectively? I’m not entirely convinced there is. Yes, the initiative is important, as evidenced by disastrous and tragic occurrences related to alcohol consumption on campuses across the country. But the PennAM model is not striking a chord the way it was intended to. Don’t just take my word for it; take the unidentified College freshman who told the DP that she put the simulation on “mute,” and it did not discourage her “one bit” from drinking. I suspect that this sentiment rings true for a few others as well.

There’s no saving grace; there’s no obvious policy that the administration could employ to suddenly correct the ineffective PennAM. What’s lost in the shuffle is the notion of oversaturation. A lot of students who have weaved through the education system, both public and private, have been inundated with courses on drug safety, alcohol responsibility, sexual health and the like. Mine started with a guest speaker in elementary school. Perhaps the students’ tuning out PennAM has much to do with the success of these underlying educational initiatives that take place at the elementary-, middle- and high-school levels.

The second alcohol-related article in the DP highlighted the administration’s newfound initiative to more closely monitor off-campus parties and events. Note: it isn’t a laissez-faire approach.

Penn has become more active and engaged in oversight of off-campus houses and the parties they throw, with the Division of Public Safety acting “on info that has been given” to it, according to Penn Police Chief Mark Dorsey.

In its intent, the idea is justifiable; but in its application, the administration has overstepped and overreacted.

It is one thing for the University to keep tabs on parties and maintain extra vigilance toward their known locations. It is quite another for the administration to use threats and fear to shut down events before they even begin. This was the unfortunate case when the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs threatened to label an off-campus pregame as an official “sorority-sponsored event” because a grand total of two sorority sisters — that’s not a typo — lived in the house. This sort of threat fails the most important measure of all — the common-sense test. Since when should an entire sorority or fraternity ever be held accountable for the individual actions of two people? And what did these two even do wrong?

All in all, Penn faces a tall task in remaking both its alcohol-education procedures and off-campus party monitoring strategy.

Penn President Amy Gutmann and the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Program Initiatives need to find a way to effectively educate incoming and current students about the potential dangers of substance abuse and misuse without trampling the off-campus freedom that has come to define — and undeniably enhance — the social fabric of Penn.

If they don’t take action, the ingrained traditions of Hey Day, Spring Fling and Homecoming may lose an integral aspect of their identity.

Brian Goldman is a College senior from Queens, N.Y. His email address is The Gold Standard appears every Monday.

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