Civil Unrest Is Not Happy Valley

The year was 1990. I was an undergraduate student in meteorology at Penn State University. The 19th ranked Penn State Football Team was on the road, with a 7-2 record, getting ready to take on number 1 ranked Notre Dame. The lights were out at Beaver Stadium – all was quiet. Tens of thousands of students, alum, and townies gathered in living rooms and watering holes all across Happy Valley to watch the game on TV. Who will win?

The game was hard fought. Both teams exchanged the lead a couple times. But as is too often the case, Penn State seemed to struggle in the first half. Defeat was looking like the obvious outcome. Penn State rallied in the second half and tied the score at 21. Late in the fourth quarter Penn State regained possession of the ball and moved downfield toward the goal line, but fell short. Time was running out. With one second left on the game-clock, Craig Fayak kicked a field goal! 19th ranked Penn State upset number 1 ranked Notre Dame!!!

A Nittany Lion ROAR like a severe late-summer thunderstorm enveloped Happy Valley. Those tens of thousands of students, alum and townies flooded into the streets: dancing, hollering – celebrating. Instinctively, with no prompting, like the birds of autumn flocking south, the revelers traveled north – to the dark and quiet Beaver Stadium. No football team waited them there – just a goal post shrouded in darkness. Thousands climbed the dark walls of Beaver Stadium in search of their momentary idol. The team- tunnel goal post now belonged not to Beaver Stadium, but the loyal fans who cheer weekly for their beloved Nittany Lions.

The goal post was taken out of the dark stadium and presented to a sea of humanity gathered in the darkness outside. By this time, Police Officers were on scene. Interestingly, no confrontations occurred. Instead, a few police cruisers led the way across campus, through East Halls, down Pollock Road, past South Halls and onto College Avenue. The police turned traffic around and blocked the roads to make way for an impromptu parade. The crowd followed the police cruisers paving the way for them – hoisting the goal post high in the air the entire way. More police followed the crowd, protecting them from the vehicles coming behind them.

The goal post made three stops that night – first at the steps of Old Main, second at the Nittany Lion Shrine outside Rec Hall and finally on Coach Joe Paterno’s front lawn, where it was planted for him to see Sunday morning upon his arrival back in Happy Valley.

I was with that crowd every step of the way! No one was dancing on cars, smashing windows, ripping up shrubs and tearing down street lights!!!! Albeit a crime was committed by the taking of the goal post, it clearly was not on the level of recent Happy Valley anarchy. Something has changed.

The recent Ohio State win and subsequent multiple crimes that followed are not new. This chaos dates back to 1998 when a drunken crowd ravaged downtown State College on the final night of Arts Fest. The crowd that night caused the citizens of State College over $100,000 in damage. Many similar incidents have followed. A simple look through The Daily Collegian’s and Centre Daily Times’ archives will highlight all of them for you. The intervening 18 years has evolved from crowds that dance in streets and parade around a goal post to outright civil unrest and disrespect for authority.

At the risk of sounding old and crusty – even though I am in my 30s – it seems students of today are less respectful, disciplined and reverent. I am not going to suggest why these changes have occurred in the generation behind me (although I have a few ideas as to why). And I am not going to suggest ways to change it, but I am going to suggest how we can deal with it here in Happy Valley.

The anarchy of 1998 was the impetus for the installation of the cameras along Beaver Avenue. I was an opponent of those cameras, on the grounds that it violated our civil liberties. I was (and still am) a staunch advocate for students. Look at both my Borough Council Campaigns as evidence. It has become increasingly difficult, however, to defend students to a majority of townies who quietly, and in some cases loudly, despise students. I must now grudgingly admit that perhaps the cameras are a good thing.

The citizens of the Borough have a right to protect their property from the masses hell-bent on destroying it. This, too, is a civil liberty.

Penn State University has a code of conduct that all students are expected to uphold. Students upon arrival at Penn State are treated as adults, for the most part, and are expected to be self-disciplined. There is an expectation that students be good neighbors and be assets to society, not disrupt it. The problem is that these words currently are simply empty rhetoric.

It is time to employ harsh tactics to force conformity to this standard of conduct. Town and Gown must enforce this standard of conduct, since it is not voluntarily being upheld.

Actions to be taken the next time an incident occurs: Arm law enforcement not with pepper spray – but with bull horns and video cameras. When the rowdy crowds begin engaging in felonious crimes (more than jaywalking and such), use the bull horns to disseminate information to the crowd that they are in violation of specific codes of law. Cite the codes and read them. Order the crowd to disperse. Failure to do so then becomes another felony – inciting riot. Video tape all offenders. After identifying the offenders (and there will be hundreds upon hundreds of them) arrest them and charge them. Refer them to judicial affairs. ONE STRIKE AND YOU ARE OUT – EXPELLED from Penn State University. No exceptions. Period.

Many will argue that this is draconian and an over-reaction. Frankly, it is not. Town has patiently tried to find less intrusive solutions to this growing problem. None have worked. Once it is clear the University is willing to expel hundreds upon hundreds of students for not upholding a basic code of conduct, behavior will change very quickly. It will send a message across the country, that being a part of the Penn State community has many benefits, but also has solemn responsibilities.

Students will begin to police themselves. Peer pressure will work in a positive way. If your friend begins to get out of control, you will pull him/her aside and say, straighten up or you’re out….do you want that?