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

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
SMU professor to return to campus after being trapped in Gaza for 12 years
Sara Hummadi, Video Editor • May 18, 2024

There’s a problem!

This is the fifth column I have written about the drug- and alcohol-related deaths of Jake Stiles, Jordan Crist and Meaghan Bosch.

I have made it a point to mention their names as much as possible. In doing so, I believe it not only shows respect, but also reminds people that Jake, Jordan and Meaghan were real people – someone’s children, siblings, friends and grandchildren.

Nowhere in his recent column does English professor and drug task-force member Dennis Foster refer to Jake, Jordan or Meaghan by name – referencing instead “three students” and “one who had sat in my office shortly before her death.”

I will assume the omission was unintentional. Nonetheless, it is regrettable. More unfortunate, however, are the series of fatalist – defeatist – conclusions to which he appears to have already arrived:

“Most of the problems that people have named seem to have no solutions, at least none that SMU can do much about.”

“I left this early meeting wondering if we have not a ‘problem’ but a tragedy, some horrible knot of human nature that leads some to self-destruction…How can SMU be responsible for students determined to kill themselves?”

That can’t be what Professor Foster thinks, that Jake Stiles, Jordan Crist and Meaghan Bosch were “determined to kill themselves.” Perhaps he simply didn’t think before he wrote.

He continues, “I guess that a lot of students benefit from the programming and adjust their behavior to the norms of the new adulthood they enter when they enter SMU.”

Where were those “norms” of adulthood when students were encouraging Jordan Crist to drink to the point of falling down and slipping into a coma? What “norms” of adulthood make it acceptable to fail to call for help when a friend and/or fraternity brother overdoses?

There is one point on which we agree, “There are many disturbing parts to the stories of the students’ deaths, but the one that bothers me most is that not only did no one intervene when they saw these people were in trouble; no one even admits to having seen the drinking or drug use, much less the slide into coma and death.”

Unfortunately, SMU is happy to allow those who participated in or witnessed the activities to remain anonymous. How can we expect students to accept responsibility, to admit to involvement if SMU allows those culpable to remain nameless – or worse – unpunished?

After a moment of lucidness, Professor Foster slips into his previous pattern of thought: “In the meantime, we should probably all be thinking about whether and how we might be responsible to those one, two or three people in our midst who may need our help to make it through the year.”

“One, two or three people in our midst”? According to a recent study conducted by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “49 percent (3.8 million) of full-time college students binge drink and/or abuse prescription and illegal drugs.” The statistic may even be higher at SMU.

Since 1993, the number of students who “use cocaine, heroin and other illegal drugs (except marijuana)” is up 52 percent.

Every student at SMU runs the risk of becoming an unwitting victim to the minefield of mixed signals, peer pressure, misinformation and accountability aversion that exists on this campus.

The majority of students are able to navigate that minefield thanks to a combination of good decision-making skills and luck. Others – like Jake, Jordan and Meaghan – could step on a mine anywhere along their four-year journey through SMU.

In a Sunday Dallas Morning News feature, reporter Holly Hacker interviewed parents of first-year students who universally expressed the falsely reassuring attitude that “drugs are on every college campus.”

Speaking to that attitude, Professor Mark Chancey said, “I think it’s fair to say we’re not the only ones that have this problem – but we’re not responsible for what happens at other campuses.”

Following Jake Stiles’ death, I warned that it was only a matter of time until another student died if SMU did not ask some very tough questions. Not because I had a crystal ball, but because I knew that history was doomed to repeat itself if no one took the time to learn from Jake’s death. Sadly, I was right.

Professor Foster’s column continues, “In my conversations with people about these events, the one thing most say is that SMU, like many other universities, has a problem in its ‘culture.’ […] But what can be done about a culture? It can’t be dictated. It can’t be ‘fixed.'”

What an unfortunate message to send to students! Comparative anthropologist Joseph Campbell argued that the “essential feature” of culture is that it is learned. Who better to help shape culture if not the university?

In its recent Campus Culture Initiative Report, Duke, a school that SMU seeks to emulate, concluded that “[t]he university as a community has the opportunity and responsibility to challenge the purported norm [culture], to define what is, and what is not, normative for Duke, and reset the default more positively.”

I challenge the task force to read the Duke report – and to reject the fatalistic view that Professor Foster has taken.

I challenge President Turner to take a more active leadership role in the effort to change the “purported norm” at SMU.

I challenge the Student Senate to develop practical and meaningful programs to help change the culture that Professor Foster considers unchangeable.

I challenge the new VP of student affairs and the new chief of police to investigate their predecessors’ handling of Jake Stiles’ death.

I challenge students, faculty and administrators at SMU to begin an open and honest dialogue – to end the don’t-ask-don’t-tell philosophy that permeates this campus.

Finally, Professor Foster wrote, “I want to hear how those in this community are thinking about both the problems and the solutions.”

When can we meet, Professor Foster?

About the writer:

George Henson is a Spanish professor. He can be reached at [email protected].

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