I remember sitting in Dr. Frank Hirtz’s Community Development class when he said something to the effect of “the solutions to problems are often dictated by people’s perceptions.” While I no longer study community and regional development, this is something that has resonated with me during my tenure as chair of Picnic Day.
Immediately after Picnic Day, people were out to cast blame on someone for the externalities associated with our university’s open house, namely, the violence that erupted downtown. Some blamed out-of-towners, others blamed the businesses for serving alcohol too early and at a bargain. People blamed the Greek communities and the general student population for their house parties and making alcohol accessible to minors.
The truth of the matter is that the blame should not be cast upon any of the particular aforementioned entities – we are all to blame. Either we have been causing the problems or we have done nothing about them for years.
Last year’s off-campus problems were not new to Picnic Day. Arrests, citations and hospitalizations have been on the rise for years. Last year represented a tipping point for the event in which we determined that things have finally gotten out of hand. Many would say that we have been proactive in addressing the problems associated with Picnic Day this year, but I would argue that we are merely being reactive.
This is the first year in which we have made a concerted effort to scale back the size of the event instead of subscribing to the notion of “bigger is better.” In the past we sought out bigger crowds despite having an increasing rate of public disorder. We sought out bigger crowds despite rejecting pleas for a budget that is commensurate with attendance. To this affect, we should not be surprised with the position we are caught in today.
The time to cast blame, however, is long gone. We can point fingers and ask ourselves “What if…?” all we want and guarantee that there will not be a Picnic Day in 2012. If we are going to ask ourselves any questions it should be: “What is my legacy going to be?” and “What did I do to ensure this time honored tradition continues?”
Here’s some food for thought: In the past, Picnic Day has been canceled twice due to an outbreak of foot and mouth and World War II. Is our behavior and lack of ownership of the event such that it stands on equal footing with war and disease?
Now, some will read this and decide that they are going to do what they want to do because this is their day. I am here to tell you that it is not. Our community needs to realize that this event is truly in peril and what it demands of people is altruism, not entitlement.
If you cannot buy into my perception, at least hold off for a couple more weeks to do your thing – go to HB2K11.
Charlie Colato is chairman of the Board of Directors for Picnic Day 2011.