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


Life is precious

If you read The Daily Campus on Tuesday, you were reminded not once but three times about the one-year anniversary of Jake Stiles’ death.

As the Ed Board aptly pointed out, the last thing many of you want is to be reminded about the three students who died during a six-month period beginning last December.

As a society, we don’t handle death well, young people even less. The older we grow, the less we take life for granted, and the more we learn to respect death. When I was 16, I could barely attend my grandmother’s funeral. When I was 42, I held my mother’s hand as she took her last breath. To a 19 or 20 year old, death is little more than a fatalistic abstraction overshadowed by more vital, life-affirming thoughts.

Some people – especially those who feel invincible – need to be reminded how precarious life is, and how sudden and unexpected death can be, even though we know it’s the one thing in life that’s inevitable. One moment Jake Stiles was celebrating with his fraternity brothers and next – the truth is, we don’t know what happened next. Whatever it was, I’m certain Jake didn’t expect it.

Some have argued he knew the risks. We all know the risks of reckless behavior, in theory. Translating theory into practice can be tricky even for the most responsible person. I’d venture to say that no one at the SAE house that night, amidst the merriment of their holiday party, was thinking that events could, at any minute, spiral out of control and lead to someone’s death.

Some would like us to believe that Jake’s drug use that night was isolated. I personally know it wasn’t. I read the text messages going back and forth, to and from his fraternity brothers. I know others were doing drugs. I wish I didn’t because one of them was a student of mine. I’m realistic enough to know that what happened to Jake could have happened to him. Just as it could have happened to any other SAE who was doing drugs that night.

I’ve been accused of singling out the SAEs. I’m not. I’m not naive enough to believe that the same behavior wasn’t happening and continues to happen in other fraternity houses. But Jake Stiles died in the SAE house that night. We can’t forget that, no matter how much some would like us to.

What happened to Jake could have happened to anyone in a half-dozen other fraternity houses or a few dozen dorm rooms across campus. Just like it could happen tonight to any of a number of students, whose judgment center hasn’t fully developed, for whom binge drinking is a hobby and underage drinking is a rite (and right) of passage, who naively (falsely) believe someone has their back, as they go out tonight to celebrate the end of classes.

Jake Stiles, I’m sure, thought someone had his back. Everyone wants to believe that someone – a fraternity brother, a friend – will be there for us. Jordan Crist probably thought the guys he was drinking with had his back.

I can’t help but wonder if someone bothered to tell Jordan to stop drinking. After all, that’s what it boils down to: being a brother. I wonder whether someone told Jake to slow down, or whether the person who provided the drug that killed him even told him what it was.

Where were the brothers who were text messaging him every few minutes, telling him how good their drugs were? Where were the SAE leaders who, some believe, knew a fraternity brother was supplying drugs to members? Where was the zero-tolerance policy the night someone sold (gave?) Jake Stiles the drugs that killed him?

Where were SMU’s leaders the days and weeks after Jake’s death? Why were they not asking the same questions I’m asking now? Is it because they just didn’t want to bother? Perhaps if they had, Jordan Crist might not have died five months later. Perhaps he would not have felt so invincible. Perhaps he wouldn’t have placed too much faith in the people he thought had his back.

Many have argued that an amnesty policy is needed to help ensure students make the right decision when faced with choosing between helping a friend in distress or getting in trouble. Is that what the school’s mission has been reduced to? Some have even referred to the policy as the Good Samaritan plan. What a perverted use of Christ’s parable!

In the last three months, to their credit, a handful of people, including students, have tried to make sense of what happened over the course of the previous year. For the most part, their efforts have been met with indifference. And for the first time, the university released some staggering statistics about alcohol use on campus. What did most students do? Yawn and order another drink.

If I sound cynical, perhaps it’s because just days after reading about students being taken to the hospital at an alarming rate, one of my students came to class, just released from the hospital following a night of out-of-control drinking, hospital bracelet on wrist, IV bandage on arm, shoeless and disoriented.

I don’t mention this to embarrass the student, rather to point to the elephant in the room that no one wants to see: Namely, if students can rationalize such reckless behavior midterm and midweek, just imagine what might happen tonight, the night before reading days, the last opportunity to blow it out before finals.

Don’t think it could happen to you? Neither did Jake Stiles on the same night last December or Jordan Crist on the same night in May.

If you go out tonight, ask yourself if the person with you has your back, or will he or she expect a promise of immunity before doing the right thing?

About the writer:

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

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