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Pennsylvania

West Chester University's town-gown effort to tackle drinking lauded at LCB conference

| Friday, April 11, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

NEW CUMBERLAND — Some students' plans for a drinking festival celebrating the end of the semester at West Chester University never really materialized because of a “full-court press” by the university and borough, officials said.

“DubFest” — dreamed up by students as a street party in spring 2010 — could have been West Chester's version of State Patty's Day, the wild drinking holiday made up by Penn State students, Mayor Carolyn Comitta said.

While DubFest began innocently enough, before long, 10,000 people said on social media they planned to attend, she said.

“We said, ‘We need to say zero tolerance today. We are not having a riotous party in West Chester. Not gonna happen,' ” Comitta said.

Speaking before more than 100 who gathered on Thursday for the second day of the state Liquor Control Board's alcohol education conference, Comitta said borough and university officials collaborated on an offensive against DubFest.

“Actually, the message went out from the university. ... You step one foot off your property with a beer in your hand, you're going to get cited,” Comitta said.

The LCB's conference focused on how colleges and universities can improve community relations to jointly tackle issues such as underage and excessive drinking.

Lynn Klingensmith, director of judicial affairs and student assistance at West Chester University, said she joined Comitta, the university president, borough council members and police officers in walking the streets the day of DubFest.

Most students had left town, and DubFest wasn't much of a festival. She said she and Comitta stopped for frozen yogurt because the town was so quiet.

West Chester officials credit their strong working relationship for helping to resolve problems or potential issues.

A core group of stakeholders that includes bar owners, police and neighbors meet monthly to improve town-gown relations, Klingensmith said.

The next challenge is to get more students involved. “The more students can speak to students, the better the message is going to be received,” Klingensmith said.

Jess Sweitzer, assistant director of housing and residence life at La Roche College in McCandless, said she was impressed that Comitta referred to West Chester students as “our students.”

“It speaks volumes that this really is a partnership” between a school and its town, Sweitzer said.

Although challenges will always exist, students make West Chester a vibrant community, said LCB Chairman Joseph “Skip” Brion, who lives a mile outside the borough and walks his dog, Tucker, there daily.

“It doesn't matter on a Friday or Saturday that I'm in there, at my age, at a place that they are,” said Brion, 65. “Everyone works together ... and drinks together, for that matter.”

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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