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

My quest to learn the musical instrument struck a chord much greater than the beautiful sound of a perfect stroke.
I decided to learn the guitar, but I walked away learning more about life
Bella Edmondson, Staff Editor • June 19, 2024

Happy Birthday, Jake

Almost two years after the death of Jake Stiles, family and faculty come together to remember a “respectful young man”

Tomorrow would be Jake Stiles’ 22nd birthday. Stiles died on Dec. 2, 2006 in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house.

At the time, SMU police did not investigate Stiles’ death. In fact, few people at SMU showed interest in helping the Stiles family find out how their son died. That is until the university discovered that a major magazine was planning an in-depth article about the university’s (mis)handling of the death.

During the year and a half that followed Stiles’ death, I wrote a half dozen articles detailing what I knew about his death, information that the family had shared with me. SMU now claims that the information was never brought to their attention. Curiously, at least one administrator said that I had made several allegations in print but never contacted anyone to discuss them. Is that how it works?

I reported over a year ago that text messages on Stiles’ phone, messages that someone in the SMU police department forwarded to a police department phone, implicated a handful of SAE’s in illegal drug use the night Stiles died.

One text message suggested who might have provided the drugs. Another implicated the brother who may have paid for them. Other messages implicated other drug users. Some members were allowed to graduate. Some are still at SMU.

The police report, which SMU refused to release until this summer, shows that none of the SAE members implicated were interviewed at the time – a dramatically different direction from the 40-plus students who have been interviewed in the wake of drugs discovered in the Kappa Sigma house.

According to a recent article in The Daily Campus, the investigation into Stiles’ death is “still” open. Let me correct the record: the case was recently “reopened.”

One must ask whether the sudden interest in investigating drugs is due to the new sheriff in town, Dr. Lori White, whether SMU is finally taking drug use on campus seriously, or whether the Kappa Sigma house simply doesn’t have the alumni in place that SAE does to run interference.

The next few weeks will be crucial to finding answers to questions that SMU has heretofore neglected to ask. They can no longer hide behind the disingenuous claim of not knowing what the questions are. Whether SMU’s action is the result of self-preservation or a newfound interest to investigate illegal activity at the SAE house the night Stiles died, motives are not as important to the Stiles family as action.

Today the Stiles family wants the SMU community to remember Jake for who he was. By everyone’s account, he was a happy-go-lucky guy. I must confess that I never saw that side of Jake in my class. The young man I barely got to know was a shy but respectful young man. Those who knew him, especially his family, assure me that I never knew the real Jake Stiles. I never knew, for example, that his high school Spanish name was Alfonso. Perhaps if I had known, I would have told him about Alfonso el Sabio (Alphonse the Wise), a 13th-century Castilian king.

Sometimes it’s easy for faculty to forget that students come to SMU with experiences and memories that shape who they are. Lamentably, students like Jake too often end up like footnotes to the long and disjointed narrative that makes up university life. Stiles was not a footnote.  

Rhonda Stiles recalls a gentle young man who always wore a smile and never made an enemy. Growing up in Naperville, Illinois, the friends he made in kindergarten remained his friends until graduation. He couldn’t wait to meet with them when he went home to visit.

During the summer, Stiles worked as a lifeguard. When weather permitted, he played golf with his father and friends. Mrs. Stiles’ favorite photo of Jake, the one she keeps by her bed, is one of her son on the golf course.

Mrs. Stiles shared with me an e-mail she received last week from Tim, one of her son’s childhood friends. “Jake is still very much a part of our life,” the e-mail read, “And we continue to talk and think about him every day. We have nothing but good memories of Jake, and we continue to laugh about the good times we shared.”

Mrs. Stiles works as a case manager for mentally-handicapped adults; she told me that Jake always found time when he was home to visit her patients at the group home where she worked. He did it, she said, because he knew that his visits made them happy.

Stiles was a competitive swimmer and scholarship student. Washington University in Saint Louis, where his sister Amelia was a student, was his first choice. He settled on SMU after being wait-listed at WU and being offered a scholarship here. His sister Amelia, who was married last year and lives in Amsterdam now, was his best friend. Stiles didn’t live to see his big sister get married. She regrets not being at SMU to see her little brother crowned Mr. University.

Christmas was Stiles’ favorite holiday, and decorating the tree was his favorite holiday tradition. His aunt Jenny has sent him a Christmas ornament every year since he was born. The Stiles didn’t put up a Christmas tree the year Jake died or the year after. Mrs. Stiles says she thinks it’s time to put up a tree again. I agree. Jake deserves it – as much as he deserves to be remembered today, his birthday.

¡Feliz cumpleaños, Alfonso! Happy birthday, Jake!

George Henson is a lecturer of foreign languages and literatures. He can be reached for comment at [email protected].

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