Transcript

396:

#1 Party School
Transcript

Originally aired 12.18.2009

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/396

Prologue.

Ira Glass

OK, Sarah. So it's ten to 1:00 on a Friday night in November, and we're sitting on your porch. And it seems pretty quiet.

Sarah Koenig

It's not that bad.

Ira Glass

One of the producers of our radio show, Sarah Koenig, moved to a college town because her husband got a job teaching there. And by day, her neighborhood is like a college town that you would see in an old Hollywood film. Beautiful professors' homes built in the '20s and '30s. Tree-lined streets. Gardens.

But by night, we'd been on her porch for five minutes when--

Sarah Koenig

They seem drunk. These kids seem drunk. This couple here, they're sort of staggering a bit. I think he's like holding her up or something.

Ira Glass

It's nine students walking down the middle of the street. Happens all the time.

Sarah Koenig

It's noisy, right? It's like it doesn't occur to them at all, I think, that there are people just in these houses trying to sleep. And I kind of remember being that way in college, too, actually.

Ira Glass

Yeah, I do too.

Six minutes later, there's another group of drunk students. One tosses something onto a lawn.

Sarah Koenig

Can you guys pick up your trash, please? Can you pick up your plate, your pizza plate, please? People live here.

They pay no attention.

Ira Glass

Five minutes after that, we hear this clattering from the alley that runs next to Sarah's house.

Sarah Koenig

Whoa, what was that? Actually, I'd kind of like to know what that was.

What's going on?

Ira Glass

We run down the alley. Two college boys run away as they see us coming. Don't go back there, you could get raped, they yell to Sarah.

Sarah Koenig

See, OK. They get threw somebody's trashcan, or like drop kicked it up in the air.

Ira Glass

12 minutes after that, from the other direction, we hear a scraping and a loud rumbling, I guess.

Sarah Koenig

That's somebody's property. That might have been a sign, actually.

Ira Glass

I don't know how many street signs you need to hear dragged through your neighborhood before you can recognize the sound it makes from all the way around the corner, but apparently my colleague Sarah has seen whatever that number is. We go to investigate and find two guys.

Ira Glass

So just describe what you've got here.

Male Student 1

A stop sign.

Male Student 2

Nice big pole on it.

Sarah Koenig

A stop sign. That's kind of a big thing when you see it up close, isn't it?

Male Student 1

Sorry.

Sarah Koenig

Where did you find that? Like, where does it belong?

Male Student 1

I don't know.

Male Student 2

That is a good question.

Male Student 1

We just found it on a lawn. We found it on a lawn.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, you found it on someone's lawn.

Male Student 2

It was already ripped off.

Male Student 1

Yeah, it was already [BLEEP].

Male Student 2

We just decided, hey, why not make use of it and take it?

Ira Glass

Of course, this story makes no sense at all. I inform the two guys that I don't need to know their names.

Male Student 2

Well, in that case, we took it from the corner right there.

Sarah Koenig

Which one?

Male Student 2

Where that car just turned. Pretty sure.

Ira Glass

Pulled it out of the ground?

Male Student 2

Yeah, it was cemented in pretty well. Just get a little rocking back and forth between two people, comes right up.

Ira Glass

Did you guys come from like a house party somewhere?

Male Student 2

No. We were just hanging out with a bunch of friends, just drinking. Taking some shots.

Ira Glass

Seems like kind of an academic distinction to me, but.

With that, the other guy starts running with the street sign toward Garner Street, which is hard, because it's attached to a seven foot metal pole, and it's heavy. Sarah and I go back around the corner to her front yard. The evening is not over at all. Just in time to spot another student, this one coming out of a garden. Sarah assumes from the bushes back there.

Male Student 3

I didn't pee.

Sarah Koenig

Really? Really?

Male Student 3

I was just sitting down.

Ira Glass

He goes. And it's not a minute later that Sara points toward the alley, where there are three girls in miniskirts, under a streetlight, fully visible.

Sarah Koenig

Peeing, peeing, peeing, peeing, peeing. [INAUDIBLE]

Ira Glass

One girl hikes up her skirt.

Ira Glass

Get back, get back, get back.

Sarah Koenig

But they're peeing in my yard. They're peeing in my yard. That's my car, OK, and three feet back is a girl's white ass, peeing.

She saw we saw her. She stopped. She stopped.

You know, that might be why the plants grow really, really well in that spot, I'm just realizing.

Ira Glass

Sarah's caught other groups of girls peeing in that same spot. Once she heard a girl say, "This is a good place. I go here all the time."

Sarah Koenig

They're so embarrassed. There's like, muffled giggling happening across the street.

Ira Glass

The college town that Sarah lives in is State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University, which this year was named the number one party school in the country by the people who name the number one party school, the Princeton Review. And this is apparently what it means to be the number one party school. From the moment that Sarah and I turned on the tape recorder to the moment that she sent those girls looking for somebody else's yard to pee in, it's only been 34 minutes. It's 1:30 in the morning.

Sarah Koenig

The fact that we saw that much mayhem sort of going on, at one corner-- so that means it's, multiply that by, you know, this entire neighborhood and other neighborhoods around-- people are peeing everywhere, garbage cans are getting kicked, stop signs are getting pulled out of the road, people are littering. You know.

Ira Glass

The Princeton Review chooses the number one party school from online student surveys. 120,000 students at 371 schools around the country answered these questions. "How widely used are beer, alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs at your school?" "How big is frat life at your school?" And finally, "How many hours do you study each day?"

Students aren't randomly selected, so it's not, strictly speaking, a scientific survey. But the last two years, Penn State has done very well. It was the number three party school last year, number six the year before that, and nobody argues it is not a very big school for partying.

Graham Spanier

Well, look. We've never said we don't want our students to have fun.

Ira Glass

The University's president, Graham Spanier, discussed the number one ranking in a faculty senate meeting this fall. The only recording that exist is from a webcast Penn State did at the meeting, so you hear the audio is little sketchy. But still fine.

Graham Spanier

I mean, when people talk about oh, Penn State's a party school, I'm not-- it doesn't bother me at all, actually. I wish we weren't ranked number one.

You know why we're ranked number one? Have we talked about this? You know why we're ranked number one? The students vote! It's not like somebody came in here and did an assessment of the place. It's an online, web-based thing. And whenever there's an online, web-based thing, Penn State always wins. We have the best mascot in the country. We probably do. But I guarantee that any online voting for the best mascot in the country, we're going to win that. You know? We're the number one university on Facebook. We're the number one university with Twitter.

So when these party school things, some of our students get online and vote? Of course they want to be voted number one. Yeah, Penn State. Then I have to clean up the mess after the votes are in. Because I got all the donors and alumni, and the media I'm calling for comment.

Ira Glass

The amount of drinking at the school does concern Spanier. He told the faculty that when people ask him what's the biggest problem at Penn State, they always expect him to say money, but the answer for a long time has been alcohol.

And he said it's a problem that's bigger than Penn State. Nearly a third of high school seniors across the country binge drink.

Graham Spanier

So it's a bit of a problem that we inherit. But we also have a cultural environment here, an atmosphere that fosters it.

Ira Glass

Well, today we devote our entire show to the nation's number one party school. Not because it's number one and what happens here is unusual, but because it's not unusual at all. Lots of schools, especially a lot of big state schools, do this much partying.

Five of us from our staff went down to State College where Sarah lives to record one football weekend in November. What we bring you today is a travelogue from this place where the rules and norms are probably very different from where you live right now. Its own rituals, its own jargon, its own native dress. We wanted to see what it was all about.

Our show today, in four acts. Only three of them actually pre-soaked in vodka. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

[MUSIC - "PARTY IN THE U.S.A." BY MILEY CYRUS]

Act One. I'm Not As Think As You Drunk I Am.

Ira Glass

This song, by the way, was playing everywhere we went in State College. Thanks, Miley.

Act One. I'm Not As Think As You Drunk I Am.

Let's start with the drinking, which is epic. The Harvard School of Public Health did a study of what schools tend to have the heaviest drinking, and Penn State actually hits all the criteria that they found. It's located in the northeast, and it has a large undergraduate population-- that would be, in this case, 44,000 students-- a large fraternity system, a nationally-known football team.

Now, the fact is that it probably doesn't hurt it's isolated. State College is in a valley nestled between two mountain ridges in a state forest. People here call it "Happy Valley." It's surrounded by farms. You're in the middle of nowhere, a few people said, without much to do but drink.

Ira Glass

And to talk about this drinking, I'm joined now in the studio by Sarah Koenig. Because Sarah, you recorded these first couple clips of tape.

Sarah Koenig

Right. A couple of weeks before you guys came to State College, there was this huge freak snowstorm, and they had to cancel tailgating for the first time anyone could remember because the conditions were so dangerous by the field. But it didn't stop anyone. I saw people tailgating in their yards, on their front lawns. Even in my neighborhood, I saw people under, like, these building underpasses.

I went into a parking garage and found all these people on the fourth floor. There's dirty cars everywhere. Concrete floor. It's cold, it's dark. At the end of one row of cars, there were these two tables pushed together in an L-shape tablecloths, and all kinds of food, and a couple of birthday cakes.

Sarah Koenig

Whose birthday is this?

Female Student 1

It's my birthday! It's my birthday! My 21st birthday.

Sarah Koenig

Happy birthday!

Female Student 1

Thank you!

Sarah Koenig

And what are you doing on the fourth floor of a parking garage?

Female Student 1

I'm getting drunk and tailgating.

Sarah Koenig

Describe your headgear there.

Female Student 1

It's a crown with a 21 that's on fire, and it says "Where is the bar?"

Sarah Koenig

So who brought all this food?

Female Student 1

My mom and dad, because they love me, and they're the best.

Sarah Koenig

About a half dozen older people were there, too. Her parents and some of their friends. And there were a bunch of other tailgates happening around us, and one couple was having their 40th wedding anniversary.

Ira Glass

Wow. In the garage?

Sarah Koenig

In the garage, yeah. At one point, a women probably in her 50s walked up and handed the birthday girl a red plastic cup.

Female Student 1

Aw, thank you! What is this?

Woman

[UNINTELLIGIBLE] Lemonade.

Female Student 1

Is there alcohol in it?

Woman

Most definitely.

Female Student 1

Oh my God! This is the strongest drink I've ever had in my life. They just brought me a really strong alcoholic lemonade.

Sarah Koenig

Is that your daughter, are you the mom?

Woman

No, no.

Sarah Koenig

Oh. What's your--?

Woman

We're parked over there.

Sarah Koenig

You just saw that this is happening.

Woman

Yes.

Man

We've got to keep ourselves entertained somehow, right?

Sarah Koenig

Watch the 21 year old get plastered, that's the entertainment?

Man

Exactly, exactly.

Female Student 1

Thank you so much for the drink!

Ira Glass

At tailgate parties, you see just how deeply embedded drinking is in life at Penn State. It's entire families. It's several generations together. It's outdoor, public drinking, which gives you the feeling, when you're there, that the whole world is drinking. Probably because there's so much of it.

Penn State now has the largest stadium in North America. It holds over 100,000 people. The tailgates are these huge masses of humanity, spread out as far as you can see, all around the stadium. Starting at eight in the morning, starting really early, which is when these alums got here. They talked to one of our producers, Aaron Scott.

Aaron Scott

So you went to bed, three or four, you got up, and you're drinking again?

Alumna

Hells, yeah.

Aaron Scott

Is it ever too early to drink?

Alumna

Never.

Ira Glass

Eight in the morning means, by the way, that if it's a night game, they will tailgate for 12 hours, in the cold, in the freezing cold sometimes, before kickoff.

Sarah Koenig

I talked to a bunch of alums at a tailgate about what would happen if they weren't allowed to drink at all.

Mark Johnson

: I think there would be a revolt. I think there would be a huge, huge pushback from the alumni that donate a lot of money to this school to say that you can't have alcohol at a tailgate.

Sarah Koenig

That's Mark Johnson, class of 1977.

Mark Johnson

: It's just part of the culture. I mean, that's why this school sells 110,000 tickets for every-- you know, just, it's a part of it. It's just part of that tradition.

Ira Glass

Usually pounding down drinks at eight in the morning can be kind of, I don't know, bad. But the main thing about this kind of drinking, where it's tied in with tradition, and football, and family, and overwhelming sense of school spirit, is that it feels incredibly wholesome. The whole campus feels like a Chevy commercial. Welcoming, people friendly. [UNINTELLIGIBLE]

The sense that drinking together is what we do spills over from the football games into the whole weekend. Into the week, too, actually. It's Friday night, it's the night before the football game, outside East Hall, the big freshman dorms. Dozens of kids are lined up for free shuttle buses that are going to take them across campus to the frats and parties on the other side.

Two of our producers, Jane Feltes and Lisa Pollak, noticed that all the girls wore these ratty-looking hoodies and jackets over their dressup clothes. Somebody else told them support for this is "fracket," and wanted some girls to confirm that.

Jane Feltes

Have you guys heard of something called "frackets"?

Female Student 2

Oh, yeah, that's what we're wearing. A fracket, by definition, is a jacket made for frats. It's basically a crappy jacket that's cheap and you don't care about.

Female Student 3

: Yeah. Because like, they get lost. They get, like, puked on. You don't want that back. You don't want it back. Just lose it. Yeah.

Ira Glass

Jane rode on the bus with the freshmen. She joins me now.

Jane Feltes

So the reason that they needed the fracket in the first place, is it was really cold that night, and they're wearing next to nothing. All the girls had on pretty much the same thing. Like some version of a mini, mini, mini tube dress, bare legs, and super high platform heels. They all look like cocktail waitresses at a strip club.

Jane Feltes

Did you guys dress like this in high school.

Female Student 2

Uh, no. We just got slutty after we got into college.

Female Student 3

: My dress-- yeah, it's pretty short. It like barely covers my, like, tuckus, so.

Jane Feltes

That girl, her name's Chuy, She's from Saudi Arabia. Guess that's the word they use for that over there.

Ira Glass

Yeah, right.

Jane Feltes

When I met her and her friend Megna, they were already on their second loop around campus. They were kind of drunk and they'd missed their stop the first time.

And on this bus, everyone keeps breaking into song.

[SINGING]

Jane Feltes

What is happening?

Female Student 2

This is the drunk bus. Good timing.

Female Student 3

: Oh my God. Is this the same stop where we found out that we were late?

Ira Glass

Penn State's administration does a pretty thorough job surveying students to track how much they're drinking. The surveys show that every Friday and every Saturday night, 75% of the school drinks. That's over 30,000 people, an average of four and a half drinks per person. And the students drink those drinks in about three hours average.

To put those numbers in perspective, binge drinking, or as it's being re-branded lately, high risk or dangerous drinking, defined as four drinks for a woman or five drinks for a man consumed in just two hours.

[SINGING]

When you get down into the details of Penn State's numbers, it works out to over half the students regularly binge drinking, which is just a little bit above the national average for college students.

[SINGING]

The routine at Penn State on weekend nights is that you pregame or preload. That's what they call it when you drink at your apartment or your dorm room before going out. It's way cheaper than buying drinks at a bar. Also in winter, keeps you warm. We heard lots of people use the phrase "beer jacket."

And if you went to college long ago, you definitely noticed mostly hard liquor here, not beer. Various sugary vodka drinks of various kinds. Red bull and vodka, one of them. So everybody gets a lot more drunk.

Female Student 4

To living single, to seeing double.

Female Student 5

Oh. And what's the triple?

Jane Feltes

Early on one night, I went to an apartment with a bunch of seniors. And they were getting ready and pregaming. They said they usually do five shots in five minutes before they leave the house. There were empties everywhere.

Female Student 4

That's not bad.

Female Student 5

Oh, yum.

Jane Feltes

What's in your fridge?

Female Student 4

Um, water, lemonade, tequila, Malibu, vodka, margarita mix, and cheese.

Ira Glass

But college students are underage, so a lot, maybe most, of drinking at Penn State is underage drinking. The bars in State College are actually very strict about under 21 drinking. You have to show a student ID. In lots of places they scan the ID. But there are other ways to get drunk. Everybody told us if you're too young for a bar, you go to a frat party.

Frat Brother 1

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.

Frat Brother 2

Back up, three steps.

Frat Brother 1

Why should we let you in this party?

Ira Glass

Thursday night. This is the front door of a fraternity that asked that I not use their name. Under Penn State rules, nobody is supposed to get into a frat party except members of other fraternities and sororities, and guys on an official university list of potential pledges. There's supposed to be a guest list with names at the door. But in practice, it seems like pretty much any cute girl can get onto that guest list on the spot. Which is one reason they all wear the miniskirts, one girl told us. To help with that.

Female Student 7

So he has to come with me because I'm wearing his jacket.

Ira Glass

This particular girl, though, had a guy with her that the brothers did not want to let in.

Female Student 7

He's important.

Frat Brother 1

No, no, no.

Female Student 7

Are you serious? You're going to leave him all alone? Look at him. He's so innocent. Look at his face.

Frat Brother 1

Is he in a frat?

Female Student 7

Yeah!

Frat Brother 1

What frat, though?

Female Student 7

He's one of my best friends! Come on.

Frat Brother 2

What frat is he in?

Female Student 7

He's my best friend.

Ira Glass

He's not in a frat, so under school rules, he should not be let in. But the guys at the door are no match for this girl.

Frat Brother 1

Yo, dude, sorry. You can go in. Go in, just go in, dude.

Ira Glass

And another young drinker finds haven.

Inside the windows are taped over with plastic trash bags, which gives the whole place the feeling of a seedy underground club. One big room is dark with a DJ and a big sound system, dancing. Another room has booze. The floor of this room is slippery with a layer of muck that is part beer, part dirt, part, you know.

There's a lot of flirting. Much of it ineffective. I walked up to one couple who told me they'd been talking for half an hour.

Ira Glass

Did you know this guy before you came?

Female Student 8

No. It's not weird. And I'm not trying to get away from him. Why all the people I meet here are weird.

Ira Glass

Really?

Female Student 8

Like him. He's really awkward. I don't know. This is kind of awkward.

Male Student 1

I'm just trying to get her drunk so I can take advantage of her later.

Female Student 8

That's awkward!

Male Student 1

I know. I'm working on it.

Ira Glass

The whole time we were at Penn State, I found myself looking back and forth between two opposite feelings about all the drinking I saw going on. Sometimes it seemed really extreme. Other times it seemed like, so what. Kids drink at college. Most of them get through it. Lots of students said something that was hard argue with. When else are they going to get a chance to do this? Like I was talking to a senior by the back door of the fraternity about this and that.

Ira Glass

So what's the wildest thing you've seen at a party at this school?

Male Student 2

Wildest thing? At a party? Somebody stripping completely naked and pretending to throw monkey feces as they were doing it. And--that was me.

Ira Glass

That was you?

Male Student 2

That was me.

Ira Glass

When was that?

Male Student 2

Last week.

Ira Glass

Last week?

Male Student 2

Somebody I was like, yeah, I dare you to get naked. I'm just like, I'll get naked. It was really fun.

I mean, you can only do that stuff now, when you're in college. You know? I wouldn't be able to do it six months from now. [BLEEP] it. You know, it's college.

Ira Glass

It's also not hard to find students who talk about the darker side of all this partying. A senior named Dan was out late one of these weekend nights, not drinking, but watching drunk people and taking notes for a paper that he's writing. He decided to quit his fraternity after his sophomore year because he was falling so far behind in the school work. His frat threw parties not two, not three, but four nights a week, which is typical here.

Dan

Every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, huge parties. Something every Wednesday. And then all the other days, something going on. You know, come in from a day of class, and you know, my three or four best friends are all playing beer pong, for instance. It got to the point where I was like, this isn't a good place for me to be to achieve. You know, there are nights that I'd have to wear my headphones to try to study because it would be so loud, and just live in the library most of the time. You know, I've had to cut the circuit breaker on people's rooms before, because it's four AM and they won't turn off their music. And you see fights. You know, I've seen people sent to the hospital for things as petty as, you knocked my drink out of my hand. I saw a kid stop breathing from alcohol poisoning. It's all-- it's amazing, the things that go on there. That it operates legally, I find, is incredible.

Ira Glass

In the surveys of students done by the school, a fourth of Penn State students say that drinking has caused them to miss class get behind with their school work. 15% say they've been pushed, hit, or assaulted. 7% said drinking lead to an unwanted sexual experience. 6% said they'd gotten into what you would call a real, physical fight. And there are crimes that you never hear of unless you live in a place like State College.

Nina White

Our daughter came into the kitchen while we were in the midst of hurriedly getting everything done and said something to the effect of, Mommy, I want to play in my room. Can you please get that man out of my bed? And I remember having said something to the effect of, there's no man in your bed. And she actually went away and came back a few minutes later. So I guess she went up to check, and she comes down. There is a man in my bed, and I want to play in my room. Would you please get him out of there?

Ira Glass

This is a long time State College resident named Nina White. And the man on the bed, of course, was a college student who committed a surprisingly common crime in this town. He came to her house drunk, found a comfortable place, and fell asleep.

Because of incidents like this, the population at Penn State who seem the most exercised about student drinking right now is local residents who live near the students. They've been organizing and trying to pass new laws. Some of them admit that dealing with so many drunk kids so many months in a row has turned them into something that they are not proud to be. One neighbor, Laird Jones, told me he knows it's driving him a little batty.

Glaird Jones

I don't know if you heard when you came in, but I have motion sensors out there. So I can hear an alarm, and I know which point in the yard they came in, so I can just see what's going on.

Ira Glass

[? Glaird ?] lives right in the middle of the fraternities, right on the same block. And he puts up with so much noise, and so many kids kicking in his fence, and drenching his yard with pee, and so many incidents with bloody kids, injured kids, kids who are high, parties next door with hundreds of kids that wouldn't end, then he delivered these all like a series of the macabre one-liners in the most disturbing stand-up act ever. Sample?

Glaird Jones

One of the things you learn here in your yard is if you see a tampon, you have to get a stick and find the condom.

Ira Glass

That is so gross.

Glaird Jones

I think I'm a lot more callous about human suffering, and I've sort of taken this attitude that the only way they're going to learn is to get hurt. I mean, I was walking home with my son on Sunday, past the frat house up the street. And for fun, they were throwing furniture off the roof. Which is actually kind of fun. It's just, when it all hit the ground, they got out lighter fluid and soaked it and lit it on fire. In a yard full of dry leaves ten feet away from a parked car.

And I thought to myself, you know, should I call? Or should I just get my son out of the way let them learn?

Ira Glass

That buzzing, of course, was the motion-activated sensors pointed at his yard.

For now, anyway, most of the students seem to go to classes, get an education, and drink pretty happily. And the people who are learning something, and changing, and making resolutions because of the drinking so far mostly seem to be the neighbors.

Coming up-- why delivery guys don't like to deliver Buffalo wings in State College, Pennsylvania. Also--

[GROWL]

Thank you, mountain lion. Have we mentioned that the name of the football team is the Nittany Lions? I know a lot of you knew that anyway. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Two. If God Isn't A Penn State Fan, Then Why Is The Sky Blue And White?

Nancy Updike

Here are six tips for running a business in State College, PA. Six tips, all kinds of businesses, with supporting illustrations. Tip one. Keep up.

This is McLanahan's, a sprawling Hearst Castle of a store. It's your basic drugstore- deli- produce market- hardware- underwear- beer pong- stationary- grocery- Penn State merchandise emporium, which over the years has acquired and absorbed the stores that used to be next to it to the point where it's bought up everything it can, and the only way left to expand is to cram more stuff everywhere. And there's always something clamoring for more space.

McLanahan's owner Ray Agostinelli says that over and over again, he's had to stock way up on some usually sleepy object that has suddenly become a crazy hot seller.

Ray Agostinelli

Well, it happened one time with marshmallows. And all of a sudden, all the marshmallows were gone. And here what it was, is that they'd take them to the football games, and they were throwing marshmallows.

Nancy Updike

You said people were throwing marshmallows onto the field?

Ray Agostinelli

Oh yeah, they were getting pretty dangerous with them. This wasn't too good. And they got outlawed. But the kids would come in and buy all the marshmallows, and we said, wait a minute. We never sold them any marshmallows. What? But just whatever the crazes are, you have to keep up with and be there.

Nancy Updike

And then there are the crazes that never go away. Sex. One of the McLanahan's many frank and non-judgmental offerings is its display right out front that is condoms on top, lubricant in the middle, pregnancy tests on the bottom.

Ray takes me into one of the two Penn State merchandise sections of the store. It's a full sensory experience. That's a CD of the school's band in the background. There seven different kinds of car air fresheners with the Penn State logo, pacifiers, a steering wheel cover.

Nancy Updike

Ray, are you ever amazed at something, you never knew that the Penn State logo could be put on it? I just saw a remote control, a TV remote.

Ray Agostinelli

You put it on here and it will sell. You put it on your microphone, it will sell.

Nancy Updike

In the almost 50 years Ray has been working at McLanahan's-- he bought it from Bob McLanahan 40 years ago-- Ray has seen the Penn State merchandise in his store go from almost an afterthought, maybe one rack of sweatshirts, to being a third of his business. The only downside is--

Ray Agostinelli

If Penn State would have a losing season, sales drop dramatically.

Nancy Updike

Oh, is that true?

Ray Agostinelli

Oh my gosh. You can't imagine. You can't imagine.

Nancy Updike

Ray says if Penn State loses one football game, sales of Penn State merch at McLanahan's go down 20%. Not for a day, for a week. And sometimes even longer, until the next winning game.

Which brings us to Marrara's, the dry cleaner up the street. Just about every business owner and employee I talked to said business was significantly down because of Penn State's loss to Ohio State the week before. But at the dry cleaner, no mention of this. Parties happen every weekend, win or lose, and that means some people will end up talking to Roberta at Marrara's, who after 18 years at the store is functionally psychic.

Roberta

You know, if they've thrown up or something like that, they're not going to admit that that's what has happened.

Nancy Updike

Do you have a way of telling if it's-- you're nodding. Yes, I have ways. What is--

Roberta

Well, if they put it in a plastic bag, the garment's in a plastic bag, and they don't want to open it, I don't want to open it, either.

Nancy Updike

Is that what you tell them, literally? If you don't want to take it out, I don't want to take it out?

Roberta

Right. We won't clean anything that has vomit or animal urine or anything like that on it.

Nancy Updike

In case anyone's wondering, women students usually bring the vomit, male students the urine, animal or otherwise.

So second tip. Apply the smell test.

Third tip. When it's late, simplify.

Every Friday and Saturday night after midnight, when the drink specials at the bars are over, Canyon Pizza starts getting a loud, amped-up line of students down the block. The business model at Canyon Pizza is straight-up, no-frills genius. Slices are a dollar a piece. After 11 PM, it's cheese only. And every time the pretty women behind the counter get a tip, they hit a giant tip gong.

Canyon Pizza also delivers until four in the morning on weekends, and the deliveries are a whole separate world, deserving their own business tip. So tip four-- be aware of fists and wings.

One of the delivery guys is Alex Moore. He's going on a run in his black Saturn Ion, which was new when he started doing deliveries almost three years ago, but it's taking some abuse after being parked in front of Canyon Pizza and its nighttime crowds weekend after weekend.

Alex Moore

I'm actually working on a Canyon Pizza video game. Yeah, I'm serious. It's called "30 Minutes or Less."

Nancy Updike

The point to deliver a pizza through all sorts of obstacles?

Alex Moore

Yep. The point is deliver pizza. You know, you have to avoid all the drunk people, and when they do stuff to your car and stuff, you've got to pay for it. All kinds of-- very realistic delivery driving game. People throw ranch all over my car. I have footprints on the back of my car right now because some kid was jumping up and down on it.

Nancy Updike

You say ranch, like ranch dressing?

Alex Moore

Yeah. It rots the paint off your car. And people spit all over my car pretty much every night. And yeah. Someone kicked in this window, so it doesn't roll down correctly anymore. Recently some kid broke my jaw.

Nancy Updike

Oh my God, Alex!

Alex Moore

Yeah. His friend was punching dents in one of the other delivery' driver's cars and I went to chase him down. Some random kid broke my jaw on the way. So I had to have my jaw wired shut for two months.

Nancy Updike

Oh my God.

Alex Moore

Yeah. So I got stories. One second.

Nancy Updike

Alex stops to deliver a pizza. Actually two extra larges and pepperoni rolls. He says he's never had a drink in his life. Just not interested.

Alex is 22. He's studying game simulation and computer programming at DeVry online. Look closely at his hoodie. It's Pac-Man.

Pizza delivery has been a good job while he's finishing up his degree. The only food Alex says he doesn't like to deliver is wings. Canyon Pizza has a sister store, Canyon Wings, and Alex says that mysteriously, people don't tip for wings. He says most of the time he gets a dollar or nothing at all. Just stiffed.

Alex Moore

Which is a bummer.

Nancy Updike

On wings.

Alex Moore

Yeah. And the only reason I say that is because I had a friend who worked at [? Damons who delivered wings too, and he got the same thing. A dollar or stiffed. I don't know. It must just be a thing with wings. I really don't know.

Nancy Updike

Tip five. Keep it cheap.

In Pennsylvania, beer is only sold in certain stores. It's not sold in grocery stores, and it's not sold in the places that sell liquor and wine. This is just how Pennsylvania does things. It's been this way since the end of Prohibition.

So Paul Pletcher owns Pletcher's, one of the beer stores in State College. It's a family business. Paul's father lured him away from teaching middle school math. And over the last 15 years or so, Paul has witnessed a strange trend in student drinking-- the ascendance, and eventual dominance, of light beer. As Paul remembers it, it went from Coors Light to Miller Lite to Bud Light and now--

Paul Pletcher

The most popular beer in State College right now I believe is Natural Light. It's inexpensive and very popular among the students.

Nancy Updike

Natural Light, aka Natty Light, is way beyond "very popular" among Penn State students. It laps every other beer. Even though apparently no one likes it, including the students at Pletcher's who are buying it.

Male Student 1

It's pretty bad.

Nancy Updike

But you have three cases of it.

Male Student 1

Well, it's not for me. It's for my friends.

Nancy Updike

Only in college can you show up with a beer your friends know is bad and still be a hero. Natty Light's sole virtue-- this is according to its own customers-- is that it's cheap. $16.50 a case at Pletcher's. No one, not a single person I talked to, liked the taste.

Male Student 2

It's terrible.

Nancy Updike

This group of students said that at their party and tailgate, they would have the six cases of Natty Light they were buying, plus another favorite drink, Jungle Juice, which is also--

Male Student 2

Oh, it's horrible. It's like a lot of Hawaiian Punch, orange juice, pineapple juice, and then two handles of Vladimir Vodka, which is the worst vodka you can possibly get. That's what I lived on freshman year. It's terrible.

Nancy Updike

So basically I'm getting a picture of Penn State that you spend 70% of your time drinking things that you find absolutely repulsive.

Male Student 2

Yeah. We like the way they make us feel.

Male Student 3

If there was a drunk button-

Nancy Updike

Did you catch that? He said, if there was a drunk button--

Male Student 3

If there was a drunk button, I would buy one.

Nancy Updike

Press the button.

Just for the record, if it'd been available, I would have used the drunk button in college.

Tip six. Like your customers.

There's a bar just up the street from Canyon Pizza called The Brewery. It's a dive. Literally. It's in a basement. The main owner is Ray [? Rocky ?] who grew up in Pennsylvania and went to Penn State undergrad and grad school. He started tending bar as a student.

Ray Rocke

When I got the business like 17, 18 years ago, we were probably 80%, 85% beer in sales over the bar. Now we're probably 80% to 90% liquor.

Nancy Updike

It's completely shifted.

Ray Rocke

Yeah.

Nancy Updike

Ray says there are many reasons for this tectonic change in student drinking habits. He says beer is at a disadvantage at the University generally since Penn State banned kegs at fraternities, dorms, and tailgates.

And Ray says in his experience, promotional reps for liquors like Bacardi or Captain Morgan do a lot more on-site promotions, giving away T-shirts and such, than beer labels do. And the promotions work. They push sales toward liquor.

There's also lots of liquor now that's flavored-- more fruit punch than bourbon. And Ray says the 21 year olds he sees in his bar seem to come in already much more used to drinking liquor than beer. It mixes well with soda or red bull, and it's easier to hide.

Ray Rocke

You know, you get a flask of Captain Morgan, you get the bottles, the plastic bottles, I don't know if you've seen them, they're shaped like a flask. You could put one of them in your pocket. You can't carry a case of beer in your pocket.

Nancy Updike

The result of more liquor and less beer, according to Ray?

Ray Rocke

Before, I'd say, 15 years ago, there were more people that got drunk. But now there are less people getting drunk, but of the ones that get drunk, they're a lot worse.

Nancy Updike

So Ray does see students getting what he calls "stupid drunk." But most don't do that, he says. Like a lot of the business owners I talked to, Ray likes that the students are having a good time. He likes the students, period.

Ray Rocke

They're fun to be around. You know? I mean, they're all young. The energy level. You can't help but be in a good mood when you come in and everybody is-- you know, these people don't really have what I would call real problems, you know, in the real world problems, or outside the bubble that is State College.

You go into a bar, and people have real issues. You know, they're going through divorces, they're going through problems at work. I mean, talk to any college kid, they figure they've got their life ahead of them, they're going to make big money, they're going to change the world, they're going to do everything they want. The world hasn't kicked them in the ass yet. They haven't been beaten down, whatever you want to call it.

Will they get a little mouthier than they should? Sure. But I'd rather have a student that has a little bit of an edge to him than a bunch of people that hate the world, and they're just not happy.

Ira Glass

Nancy Updike.

Act Three. Talk To The Paw.

Aaron Scott

Officer Martin Hanes tells me the job's all about repetition. From 10 to 12, students start flooding the streets. From 12 to 2, he deals with loud parties, fake IDs, and underage drinking.

Martin Hanes

2 to 3 is usually when you get a lot of the DUIs, because the bars have just closed, and a lot more fights. Then 3 on is, I always say it's our victim hour. It's when we go to the hospital, a lot of times. And usually at 4 after is when get our drunk kid in the house.

Aaron Scott

Drunk kid in the house. That's what you heard about earlier on the show, where some drunken student stumbles into, if not breaks into, a stranger's house.

Martin Hanes

Center county 30 to 61.

Aaron Scott

Arrest for public drunkenness and underage drinking have increased 5% this fall. Officer Hanes blames the number one party school ranking, at least in part. Students see it as a national title they have to defend.

Martin Hanes

People are proud, like sports teams are proud. We're number one. The number one drinking school. Let's show them what it's like.

Aaron Scott

So it's 12:30, and the bouncer outside Indigo, the town's biggest dance club, flags us down. He says a guy tried to pass off a license that wasn't his, and then fled into a hotel two doors down.

Bouncer

As soon as you pulled up, he took off.

Aaron Scott

The bouncer leads us into the hotel and up the stairs to a bar. He checks the bathroom and says the guy's inside. We all go in and find him standing alone at a urinal.

Martin Hanes

You have ID on you? Why are you trying to pass off somebody else's ID?

Nick

Sir, I have one ID on me.

Martin Hanes

You saying this gentleman's lying?

Nick

Yeah. I have one-- I have two IDs.

Martin Hanes

All right. Do me a favor. Put your hands behind your back. We're going to place you under arrest, OK?

Nick

Are you serious?

Martin Hanes

I'm dead serious.

Aaron Scott

Officer Hanes is generally pretty nice to the students, but because the kid ran and is now lying, he switched over to hardass cop.

Martin Hanes

OK, let's go.

Nick

OK. For what reason?

Martin Hanes

Presenting a fake ID.

Nick

Sir, I don't have a fake ID.

Martin Hanes

Now you're lying to me.

Aaron Scott

Officer Hanes takes him out of the hotel and puts him in the car. Then, because the cop car sometimes riles up the crowd in front of the club, Officer Hanes drives down the block and pulls into a parking lot to write up the guy. I'll call them Nick. He's skinny, clean cut, and despite his initial denial, he caves quickly and cooperates.

Martin Hanes

You're not a student at all?

Nick

No. I'm visiting my cousin.

Martin Hanes

You've visiting your cousin? Where's he at?

Nick

She is out and about.

Aaron Scott

In the middle of writing the citation, Officer Hanes looks up and stops.

Martin Hanes

That guy right there? Wait a second.

Aaron Scott

A guy in a hoodie just walked into a parking lot on the other side of the alley.

Martin Hanes

To your right here, in about two seconds, someone's going to be peeing in public.

Aaron Scott

Officer Hanes has been at this for three and a half years. He knows where the drunk kids go to pee, where they'll run if they think he's chasing them, the tricks they'll use to hide their open containers. He's like a biologist who's catalogued this species' full range of behavior. And it's an oddly biological job. His arrests revolve around alcohol going into the body, alcohol's effects on the body, and the resulting liquids coming out.

With Nick in the back of the car, we drive down the alley and pull into a parking lot on the other side. In the back corner is a large green generator.

Martin Hanes

He's behind the generator.

Aaron Scott

We get out of the car and sure enough, as we approach, a splashing sound. And then Officer Hanes pulls a hunched student from behind the generator. He tells the public urinator to sit by the wall while he returns to the car to finish Nick's paperwork.

Since Nick is only one month shy of 21 and cooperative, Officer Hanes says he'll change the charge to disorderly conduct, which means Nick won't lose his license, but will still have to pay a fine.

Nick

Do you know how much the fine will be, or no?

Martin Hanes

It's set by the judge, but it's between $25 to $300.

Nick

Can you put any input in there?

Martin Hanes

I can.

Nick

Would you like to throw a 25 only?

Martin Hanes

Well, that's going to have to take place at the court.

Nick

I'm on a budget.

Martin Hanes

All right, man.

Nick

Can I get that ID back?

Martin Hanes

No, you can't.

Aaron Scott

As Nick leaves, he tries to shake hands.

Nick

Thank you very much, sir.

Martin Hanes

I know. Take it easy, all right? Did you use the bathroom up there and did you wash your hands?

Nick

Of course I washed my hands. Of course I was faking going to pee. Sorry about that.

Aaron Scott

Hanes tells me avoiding questionable handshakes is a regular hazard of the job. The public urinator also offered his.

Martin Hanes

Sorry, but if you were just caught urinating, I'm not shaking your hands.

I think I scared him enough that he splashed himself, and probably splashed his hand.

Aaron Scott

There's a bottle of Purell in the driver's door compartment. But not everyone deals with is so civil. Maybe it's because they're drunk. But you know that deferential respect and anxiety most people feel when dealing with cops? That gets chucked out the window more than you think.

A few months back, Officer Hanes was pulling out of a parking deck to answer a call when three girls stopped him, waving their arms and screaming for help.

Martin Hanes

And I said, do you need help or something? Is anything going on? They said, we need a ride. Can you give us a ride? I said, no, I'm not a taxi. I can't give you a ride. You need to call a taxicab. And they started yelling at me, you know, Why can't you give me a ride? Quite being a, you know, a-hole and all that. And then one girl started climbing in through the window. So I yelled at her to get out of car or she was going to be arrested, she got mad and she went to the back of my car when I started pulling in. I heard a loud thump. She punched me around the side. I got out of the car, and she started trying to run away, and her two friends got in front of me and started pushing me back, telling her to run.

Center county, 3261. 10-8.

Aaron Scott

By 4 AM, the streets are empty. All in all, State College police issued 80 citations this weekend, including 17 for underage drinking. Not many, if you consider there were tens of thousands of underaged students drinking at Penn State. Officer Hanes told me he only goes after underage drinkers if they give them a reason, like fighting, carrying an open container, or being just sloppy drunk.

For a football weekend, it was pretty slow, which Officer Hanes chalks up to the team's relatively poor showing this fall. His job ebbs and flows with the success of the Nittany Lion, which puts him, as an alum and a fan, in an awkward position. He used to root for national championship. Now he prefers a one-loss team. He says it keeps the streets quieter.

Ira Glass

Aaron Scott.

Act Four. A Drinking School With A Football Problem.

Sarah Koenig

The first university president in the country to take on excessive drinking in a very public way was Graham Spanier when he arrived at Penn State 15 years ago. At a time when most schools didn't want to talk about it, he was relentless. Here he is in his 1998 State of the University speech.

Graham Spanier

To put it succinctly, let me say to all high school students. If you are interested in Penn State because of the attraction of binge drinking, please go somewhere else.

Sarah Koenig

The message didn't always go down well. A month after this speech, Spanier was booed by students at a football game. A local bar ran an ad depicting him as Hitler, speaking with a German accent and sending storm troopers to raid a fraternity. He got pushback from alumni, a University trustee, even the local ACLU, who all said this wasn't an issue for a university president.

After 1998, he stopped hammering the topic so publicly, he says, in favor of working on it more behind the scenes. Ask the people behind the scenes today how it's going, and they'll tell you they're losing ground.

Linda Lasalle is the administrator in charge of educating Penn State students about the dangers of alcohol. Some of her work happens in the classroom.

Linda Lasalle

And I talk about how our data shows that most of our students actually have five or fewer when they drink. Or we had data they showed that a few years back. And students would laugh at me! They would say, oh, you know, none of my friends drink that little. We're all drinking eight, nine, ten. So this higher level of consumption to them is the norm.

Sarah Koenig

For ten years, Linda Lasalle's office has taught kids about blood alcohol levels and alcohol poisoning. They administer a mandatory online alcohol education program for incoming freshman called AlcoholEdu. They did a social norms media campaign aimed at changing students' behavior by teaching them that most students drink less than they think. Lasalle heard the plastic drinking cups they handed out became popular for beer pong.

Linda Lasalle

No real success. We're seeing some tremendous knowledge gains from students who participate in the program. Our preliminary data shows that there's no significant behavior change, however.

Sarah Koenig

So armed with all these facts about what alcohol can do to you, students here seem to drink just as much as they always did.

Sarah Koenig

It's just, it must feel so defeating.

Linda Lasalle

It does. It feels very defeating. I have very conflicting feelings about it. Because I feel like there's not very much we can do, that there are so many things that contribute to this problem that are out of our control. And you know, at the same time, I also feel like I want to be able to do something. No college student should ever die because they simply had too much to drink.

So I guess I don't have a good answer. I don't know what would really make a difference, especially in this campus.

Sarah Koenig

Is that hard for you to say, as someone who has your job?

Linda Lasalle

Yeah. It's very difficult to say.

Sarah Koenig

This worst case scenario, a student dying, was on everyone's mind this fall, because it happened in September, just a month after school started. Maintenance workers found the body of Joe Dado at the bottom of an outdoor stairwell. Dado had been missing for a couple of days after he left a frat party alone at 3:30 in the morning. It seems he'd been climbing on top of a wall between two classroom buildings and fallen on his head. He was a freshman, just 18 years old.

At other schools, the administration has sometimes used these sorts of deaths to push for change. In 2004, after a 19 year old sophomore at Colorado State named Samantha Spady was found dead of alcohol poisoning at the Sigma Pi frat house. The frat house was shut down, and all other fraternities banned alcohol. Alcohol sales were banned inside the football stadium, and her parents started a foundation in her name. MIT, Indiana University, University of Virginia all reacted with sweeping changes after alcohol deaths.

Here, the immediate reaction to Dado's death from senior administration was remarkable for its gentleness. Nobody hollered at the students to quit drinking so much. Rather, the message was, if you're going to get plastered, do it more responsibility. Graham Spanier issued a statement telling students to, quote, "Remember our commitment to one another's safety." Damon Simms, vice president of Student Affairs, told students at a meeting that he hoped the entire student body would double their efforts in watching out for each other.

Maybe they figured this message had a better chance of sticking, and it did stick. The lesson students have taken is not that Dado drank too much, but that he would be alive today if only he hadn't been alone.

My colleague Lisa Pollak talked to freshmen at the student union here.

Male Student 1

We've become more responsible. Nobody goes home alone anymore. We call each other, make sure we're doing OK.

Female Student 1

My friends, we all try to stay together a lot more, and don't leave anybody out by themselves late at night. Like even if they say they're fine, you're like, no. You're not fine.

Lisa Pollak

OK. This might sound like a really silly question, but did any of you think to say, well, why don't we just not drink anymore?

Female Student 1

No, we didn't say that. But yeah.

Sarah Koenig

It seems to be the perennial lesson of these accidents. After a drunk girl fell from a sixth story window in 1997, this was the story in the local newspaper. Quote, "The death of a Penn State student at a party a week ago may prompt partygoers to keep a closer eye on each other's safety, students say. But, they add, the accident probably won't change their drinking behavior." Penn state students also fell to their deaths in 1993, 1987, 1984, 1983.

The averageness of what killed freshman Joe Dado is exactly why this is such a challenge for administrators. To Penn State students, the amount Dado drank that night is completely normal. After questioning his friends, police reported that Dado drank several shots of vodka and mixed drinks in his dorm, the whole pregaming thing, and then got on the shuttle bus with his friends. They went to a frat called ATO, played beer pong, drank four or five cans of Natural Light each. Then they went to Fiji, another frat, where Dado did a couple shots of whiskey. By the end of it, his blood alcohol level was high, but not crazy high. It was a third less than the average for kids brought to the emergency room for alcohol.

Jack Townsend

It was just a normal night. It wasn't like overindulgence. It wasn't like a ridiculous, wild party.

Sarah Koenig

The last person to talk to Dado that night was Jack Townsend, a 21 year old junior. He gave Dado those shots of whiskey at Fiji, and he's been criminally charged with providing alcohol to a minor, along with the frat.

Townsend was a friend of Dado's. He played soccer with him in high school. He took one of his sisters to the prom. He told producer Lisa Pollak that when he looks back at that night, it's hard for them to reconcile that something so ordinary led to something so terrible.

Jack Townsend

So I thought, you know, nothing of it that night. You know, it's just a friendly drink. Based on the things I heard from the entire timeline of that night, I mean, it reminded me of my freshman days. The same thing, you know?

Lisa Pollak

And that you drank even before you go out?

Jack Townsend

Yeah, yeah. I mean, none of that was shocking to me. None of that was really surprising to me. It was typical weekend night for a freshman. I have thought about how, like, how didn't I realize how dangerous some of this stuff could have been before it happened.

Lisa Pollak

Because it hadn't really struck you before?

Jack Townsend

Yeah. Because nothing ever really bad ever came from it until now.

Sarah Koenig

Joe Dado's case fits neatly into a variety of depressing data sets. Researchers know, for instance, that the bingiest of the binge drinkers are white male freshmen, and even if he wasn't binging, there's the fact that most bad things happened early on in the school year. The alcohol ER admissions here for September are much higher than for the rest of the year, for instance. He drank Vladimir vodka that night, the most widely sold liquor in State College, and was hanging out with fraternity members, who tend to drink more than non-Greek students.

Bob Saltz, a senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, says here's what's counterintuitive about managing drinking on college campuses and why so few are having success. He says that while your heaviest drinkers are of course at the highest risk of getting hurt or hurting somebody else, there aren't that many of them. So you really also need to be worrying about the light and moderate drinkers, who vastly outnumber the heavy drinkers. Kids like Joe Dado, who might only overdo it once in a while.

Bob Saltz

Even though at any given time, most of the students are going to have an easy time of it, no one's going to get hurt, we just don't know who it is who's going to get hurt over a large population. But the concern many administrators have, and some students as well, is that it seems somehow wrong to impose a strategy that's universal, because again, the holdover concept that we really should be only focusing on the heaviest drinkers.

Sarah Koenig

Saltz's strategy for reducing risk to the biggest population of students is so simple that I missed it the first time he said it. You reduce risk by limiting kids' access to alcohol. The less alcohol is available, the less kids drink. The less they drink, the fewer bad things happen. In practice, what this means is a police crackdown, and just as importantly, the perception of one.

The problem with this strategy has been that there was hardly any campus-wide research to back it up, until now. Saltz is about to publish the results of an NIH-funded study he did at 14 California campuses. At half of them, cops went on party patrols, broke up large off-campus parties. They stepped up DUI enforcement and enforced laws against sales to minors at bars. And most important, they heavily publicized this stepped-up enforcement to students so they would start self-policing, rather than risk getting busted.

By the end of the study, Saltz found that fewer kids were getting drunk. The campuses where they cracked down reported 6,000 fewer drunk students coming from off-campus parties, and 4,000 fewer coming from bars.

Bob Saltz

And we were able to show that increased controls on off-campus drinking did not lead to any displacement of those problems somewhere else, which is what people assume, is that if you do a better job at off-campus parties, that students will just go to a park, or back to the dorms, or some other place, and that the level of problems will stay the same. And I was happy to see that that did not happen in our case.

Sarah Koenig

Saltz says sprawling university bureaucracies usually aren't well-suited to this kind of tough guy strategy. For one thing, they're run by educators, who tend to think they can simply teach kids to drink less. But when I asked him if there's any university out there that's having real, on-the-ground, sustained success, he immediately says yes. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Their drinking reduction stats are the envy of the student affairs world.

Starting in 1998, the school teamed up with the city of Lincoln and declared an all-out war on out of control drinking-- a data-driven, goal-oriented war. Not only did they do the kind of police crackdown Saltz advocates, they attacked the problem from every possible angle, enlisting of bar owners, state legislators, liberal arts students, business students, high school principals. They lobbied to digitize Nebraska's driver's license to stop rampant fake IDs. They tried to knock down the average number of drinks on a student's 21st birthday from 14 to 7.

Linda Major, Assistant to the Vice Chancellor at UNL, was the general in this war from the beginning. She says breaking up wild parties in residential neighborhoods was one of the most controversial things they did early on. Also, one of the most effective.

Linda Major

And over the course of time, the wild party patrol really went out very few weekends, but people believed that it could happen any weekend, and so behavior was naturally curbed.

Sarah Koenig

Major sensed the place felt different, and every statistical indicator backed up that feeling. There were far fewer neighbor complaints about parties. Students reported studying more, getting more sleep. Fewer people dropped out, and there were fewer reports of unwanted sex or driving drunk. Way more freshmen were abstaining from alcohol. And binge drinking numbers sank from 63% of students in 1997 down to 42% in 2007.

The frustration for Penn State is that it follows the same research as UNL, and does a lot of the same things. It has as many alcohol programs and interventions as any university in the country.

But one researcher told me that the problem is almost no colleges, Penn State included, properly evaluate what they're doing, so they really don't know what works and what doesn't. This work is tricky. There's so many variables that just because something works at one school doesn't mean it'll work the same way someplace else.

Still, it's clear Penn State has not done what UNL did-- joined with the town and declared total war. At least not recently. There's no shortage of complaints about the university's efforts. Why won't it ban alcohol from the dorms, or take on the widespread underage drinking, or punish students more harshly, expel them, even, when they break the law?

Damon Simms

We need to do things differently. Everything that once upon a time was not open to reconsideration needs to be open to reconsideration.

Sarah Koenig

Luckily, the one person at Penn State agitating for a complete overhaul of the University's drinking reduction strategy happens to be the guy in charge of them-- Damon Simms. He's the new vice president for Student Affairs, and he's not messing around. When he rattled off a list of recent meetings he's had on the topic, it was almost comical in its scope. The town manager, the editor of the local newspaper, the borough council, student government, town and university police, faculty, fraternity leaders, on and on.

Simms thinks being named number one party school and the death of Joe Dado have pushed the issue to some kind of tipping point, and he plans to capitalize on it. He's working on a list of ideas. When we met, it was 72 items long.

Damon Simms

And there are some sacred cows that need to be reconsidered, too.

Sarah Koenig

He says that includes grade inflation, troublesome fraternities, and out-of-control tailgating. Simms will be proposing a bunch of new initiatives early next September, including new sanctions for students who break alcohol laws.

Already fraternities have new rules. No more Wednesday night parties. On other nights, photo ID required for entry, and professional bouncers at the door.

But what you hear all the time around here, off the record, from local residents, from faculty, from other administrators, is that Spanier really can't, or won't, do anything more draconian about the drinking problem here. Make fraternities dry, say, or curb tailgating. Because politically, he simply cannot risk alienating those secret cows Simms is talking about. Especially alumni and athletics, meaning football, which brings in enormous money.

Tens of thousands of alumni come to football games, rent skyboxes-- the only places in the stadium where you can drink, by the way. They arrange their lives around the season. It's a big part of why they give money to the school. Last year, alums and other donors gave $182 million.

I asked Spanier if there was something he needed to be careful about here in terms of the connection between football and donors and booze.

Graham Spanier

No. I don't buy that at all. That's just speculation that you hear from people like, oh, that must be part of the issue. They would never go after the alumni. The fact is, what happens with six or seven home games is not the heart of this issue here. We're talking about weekend in, weekend out, every day of the week, throughout the year kind of issues.

Sarah Koenig

When this comes up, it's sort of like, well, someone will say, why don't they just make tailgating dry, you know, no alcohol on university property? Is that kind of thing ever even brought up as like a, we just want to signal a culture change? We're just going to make a big bold move and say, we're going to become a different kind of school now? Is that ever on the table?

Graham Spanier

No, I don't think so. I can't envision telling alumni of legal age that they can't drink on a football weekend, and seeing that that's going to change the problem of alcohol consumption among underage students on college campuses. I don't think those two things are really tied together.

Sarah Koenig

One bright spot Spanier sees is that there's been a shift at Penn State since he started talking about this 15 years ago. Now for the first time academic deans and faculty leaders and student leaders are wanting to talk about this, saying they want to help.

Graham Spanier

That is a sea change from what we saw in an earlier era.

Sarah Koenig

Do you feel optimistic?

Graham Spanier

No. I wouldn't say I feel optimistic. I feel like we just have to keep working on it.

Sarah Koenig

Joe Dado's death, he said, won't have any meaning to next year's freshmen. That's what makes universities like any other enterprise. Every year, the student body turns over by the thousands, so every year, he and his staff have to start all over again.

Ira Glass

Sarah Koenig.

Here's something else you need to know before we close this hour. People love Penn State. Students were spontaneously telling all of us how much they love the school, how they never want to college experience to end. They chant the school chant, "We are Penn State," not just in the football stadium-- in the student union, shuttle bus, out of the blue. They say "we are Penn State" in conversation, to make a point. They're part of this club that they're really excited to be part of. This feeling gets its purest expression at football games, where they're a hundred thousand strong, screaming together, but it permeates the school.

I went to the game when we were there with two juniors, Megan Koch and Zach Fliegel. Megan's Nittany Lions memories include the night of her high school homecoming, which was also the 2005 Michigan game. She was all dressed up. Her dad was on the cell phone.

Megan Koch

He was calling me, telling me, you know, play by play what was going on. And he's like, you're not going to believe this, but Michigan just scored and we lost with two seconds left on the clock. And I remember I just hung up the phone and I was like, oh my gosh. I started like crying.

Ira Glass

For Zach, it's also about the past and the future. On our way to the stadium, we passed some little boys in the tailgate.

Zach Fliegel

I used to be that kid, throwing the football around in between cars and stuff.

Ira Glass

Lions played, Lions won. It was the last home game of the year, and seniors down in the first row were crying. Zach said even a bad game, being in the stadium, in the student section, was worth it.

Zach Fliegel

I live for this. I'll probably be coming here until I'm old and wrinkled.

Ira Glass

Really? So like 50 years from now, where will you be sitting? Point to the spot.

Zach Fliegel

Hopefully in WC, WD on the 30, 40 yard line, maybe?

Ira Glass

Show me the seats where you want?

And he pointed a third of the way up, 30 yard line. I went around to his friends in the student section. Nobody hesitated. 50 yard line, skybox, 30 yard line. Look for them. 2059. They all want to come back.

Our program was produced today by Sarah Koenig and me with Alex Blumberg, Jane Feltes, Lisa Pollak, Robyn Semien, Aaron Scott, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Seth Lind is our production manager, Emily Condon our office manager. Our music consultant is Jessica Hopper.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. WBEZ management oversight for our program by our boss, Mr. Torey Malatia, who never could have gotten into the frat party, except that girl insisted.

Female Student

Look at him! He's so innocent! Look at his face.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.