RYAN STROTHER ‘17
Over spring break, my friends and I took a trip down to Panama City Beach, Fla. We arranged the trip through Student City — an organization that sets up student spring break trips. It was an incredibly easy and cheap way to spend a relaxing week on the beach, but it quickly became obvious that Panama City Beach is having trouble with spring break.
The beach, which in previous years was notorious for hosting day-long drinking parties, was peaceful and clean. In fact, the entire city was quiet and clean, and mostly devoid of students due to an ordinance passed in 2015, which banned the consumption of alcoholic beverages on the beach in the month of March. Indeed, enjoying a beer on the beach is perfectly legal for those of age during 11 months of the year, but in March it will result in an immediate arrest. The Panama City Beach council has made it clear that they no longer welcome any kind of spring break celebration.
Businesses that rely on the annual influx of college students have reported an 80-90 percent decrease in students in 2016, much of which local businesses attribute to the beach ordinance. While the ordinance was made in response to violent and criminal activity occurring on Panama City’s sandy beach, it has had severe economic consequences for workers who rely on spring break traffic.
One cab driver complained that he was only on track to make $1,500 in the month of March, way down from the $11,500 he raked in March of 2015. Other businesses have reported decreased sales in the realm of 50-85 percent from last year. The police commissioner has stated publicly that Panama City Beach will be better off, even despite the downturn in sales.
While the decrease in revenue and lack of hotel bookings is certainly frustrating for business owners, the fact that the city was willing to take such a hit in exchange for more lawful and orderly behavior is telling. Last year, a sexual assault occurred on the crowded beach in broad daylight with dozens of bystanders. Additionally, seven people were shot at a house party that got out of hand. These incidents are surely worthy of statutory revision, if it means that such incidents are at all less likely to occur.
But even with fewer people, more laws and law enforcement, there was still tragedy. On the Saturday before we arrived, an intoxicatd student from Indiana died after falling from a parking garage.
No other gap in the academic calendar garners a reputation in the media quite like spring break. Hollywood films like Spring Breakers are part of a genere that has been popular for more than three decades. They usually depict scenes of massive beach parties with scantily clad college students having a great time – and tend to celebrate the drugs, alcohol and arrests associated with spring break partying.
The media certainly shapes our views of spring break culture, but greater weight needs to be placed on the heavy consequences that some students face during a week of debauchery. Horror stories from tropical places all over pop up every year during spring break.
I’m not saying that students should stop going on spring break trips – far from it. I had a wonderful time with my friends on our trip this year, and I’ll cherish those memories for the rest of my life. But I do think that students going on trips need to change their expectations for what spring break should be.