The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


What I was wrong about

Before the appearance of Mr. Goddard’s column, “An apology is in order from SMU’s angriest lecturer,” I made a promise to myself and to others that I was not going to write another column this semester.

I now find myself in the unenviable position of having to break that promise. In doing so, I appear at best insincere. If I do not break it, I run the risk of appearing petty or arrogant. In short, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

In his column, Mr. Goddard referenced my name seven times, and only once did he use a title of courtesy, Mr. Henson. Four times Mr. Goddard referred to me simply as “Henson,” which reminded me of a guy in my high school, David Bradley, who referred to every other male in high school by his last name. “Hey, Henson!” he used to say. Oh, to be in high school again!

Twice Mr. Goddard referred to me as “George Henson.” I’d be lying if I said being called “George Henson” didn’t conjure up images of my mother. I always knew I was in trouble when my mother called me by both my first and last names.

So what’s my point? Someone young enough to be my son calls me by my last name, not once but four times, and I am the one accused of being “angry.” Not to mention “irrelevant.” Guilty, I suppose. My comments and opinions are only as relevant as the attention that people like Mr. Goddard pay them.

Or as relevant as the three or four e-mails I get each week thanking me for expressing an opinion that someone else is too timid to express, for broaching a topic that someone else is too intimidated to broach, for caring enough to present an alternate point of view, for having the courage to stick my neck out when it is likely that someone like Mr. Goddard is lying in wait, pen in hand, to take a stab at it.

Frankly, the “angry” label doesn’t surprise me as much as it makes me laugh. It’s not a new trick. In fact, it’s a common tactic used by someone who seeks to diminish his opponent’s argument without basing his own argument on logic or reason. In rhetoric it’s called the argumentum ad hominem, also called the ad hominem fallacy. It goes something like this: Henson makes such-and-such claim. There is something unlikable about Henson (i.e. his angry disposition), therefore Henson’s claim is false.

This exact same attack has been used against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. By labeling her as “angry” (code word: “bitch”), Republican operatives have appealed to one of the most misogynistic instincts in our society.

Some of you – hopefully most – studied this no-no in rhetoric. Most of us are guilty of using it at one time or another. Perhaps I was guilty of it in the column Mr. Goddard referenced. To that extent, I apologize. I apologize for rushing to judgment. On this count, Mr. Goddard is right. Everyone deserves a fair shake. And the presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of our judicial system.

Unfortunately, few people, at least those who have spoken publicly, have extended the presumption of innocence to Jake Stiles. On several occasions – in this and other forums, and as recently as two weeks ago – some accused Jake of recklessly causing his own death, and in the same breath they defended SAE. Am I the only one who sees a pattern there?

It does not surprise me that fraternity members outside of SAE would rush to defend their cousins. The truth is, SAE has sufficient alumni members who are uniquely positioned to defend their fraternity. The fact that members of other fraternities, however, would circle the wagons and that surrogates would slander Jake Stiles and the “alleged” victim of the “alleged” sexual assault that “allegedly” took place at the SAE house the night before Good Friday should surprise no one.

After all, there is much more at stake than one chapter’s reputation. There is a dangerous precedent at play: If SMU begins to look too closely at what goes on in the SAE house, who’s to say it won’t begin to more closely investigate allegations at other Greek organizations that enjoy the same privileges as SAE.

To some, a way of life is at stake: a meretricious system based on nothing more than a sense of entitlement, a system that protects certain fraternities more than others because of their alumni’s checkbooks or their position in the university community.

If I have heard it once, I have heard it a thousand times, from faculty members who are too afraid to speak out and from Greek members who are not protected by the privilege that certain fraternities enjoy: Other fraternities that have been guilty of far less have been treated with far greater scrutiny and far less forbearance.

But Mr. Goddard is right. I owe the young man accused of drugging and sexually assaulting a female student in the SAE house an apology. Not because he is a member of SAE. Not because I am “SMU’s angriest lecturer.” Not because I trust that SMU’s judicial system will work, but because I judged him based on the sins of others.

I will also apologize because, contrary to what Mr. Goddard claims, I am not so angry – irrelevant – that I cannot admit when I am wrong. If only others could say the same.

Good luck to all on final exams.

George Henson is a lecturer of Spanish and foreign languages and literatures. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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