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Non-hazing deaths but a campus safety issue: SMU Spanish professor George Henson questions SAE death procedures by administration; Security on Campus calls for Virginia Tech investigation

Moderator: This column is in the SMU Daily Campus. The views are those of Prof. Henson. Following is the press release from Security on Campus fyi.
Opinion

George Henson, ghenson@smu.edu

Last month I wrote a column asking if SMU administrators had ignored evidence of widespread drug use at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house the night sophomore Jacob (Jake) Stiles died of a fatal overdose.The rush to label Jake’s death an “isolated incident” seemed premature to me – even before I saw the text messages that pointed to drug use by other members and hinted at who may have supplied the drugs.In the column, I wrote about Laura Dickinson, a student at Eastern Michigan University, whose rape and murder had been covered up in order to spare the University negative publicity. I asked if something similar had happened at SMU.

Since my column, the president of Eastern Michigan University, Dr. James Fallon, has been fired for his role in the cover-up, in spite of his insistence that he didn’t know about the circumstances surrounding Ms. Dickinson’s death.

Fortunately for Dr. Fallon, the consequences were not as harsh as those facing five Rider University and fraternity officials – including the dean of students and director of Greek Life – who have been charged in the alcohol-related death of a Phi Kappa Tau pledge.

Is it possible, I wondered, that neither the chief of police nor the VP of Student Affairs had told the president of the university that Ms. Dickinson had been found, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, on her back, legs spread, naked from the waist down, with a pillow on her face?

Then it occurred to me: what was Dr. Turner told about the circumstances surrounding Jake’s death? Was he told about the dozens of text messages on Jake’s cell phone, many of which allude to drug use in the SAE house the night he died? In short, what did he know, and when did he know it?

Did Dr. Turner know that other SAE members were bragging via text message about the “blow” they were doing? Did he know that one had messaged Jake about the “rail” he was going to do?

Did he know that the messages suggested that a member may have sold the drugs and that the same member had asked how good the drugs were? Did he know that the suspected fraternity dealer may have even lied about what drugs he was selling?
Continued…

Perhaps Dr. Turner was left out of the loop. I can’t imagine a university president would not be concerned by such messages being sent back and forth the night a college student died of a drug overdose in a university-owned fraternity house.Did Dr. Turner know that one of Jake’s fraternity brothers had been hospitalized in Galveston two weeks earlier due to an overdose? If he didn’t, why didn’t he? If he did, why did he not order an immediate investigation? Fraternities at SMU have been investigated, and punished, for less.No one wants to believe there is a dual standard at SMU, that some fraternities are immune from investigation because of the connections their alumni may have. The fraternity members I have spoken to, however, suggest there is.

At least one of the fathers of a student implicated in a text message is a multi-millionaire with a Texas family name as old as the state itself. Did that play a role?

If Dr. Turner didn’t know about the text messages, which SMU police downloaded soon after confiscating the phone, he should have. If he didn’t then, he does now.

I can’t imagine his not wanting to order a full review of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity in general – and of the near death of one of its members during the fraternity’s fall formal in Galveston and of the fatal overdose of Jake Stiles two weeks later.

In the Chronicle article, reporter Sara Lipka writes that Fallon, “appeared incurious” about the grisly circumstances and investigation surrounding Dickinson’s death.

Roy E. Wilbanks, vice-chairman of Eastern Michigan University’s Board of Regents, told the Chronicle that “[President Fallon] should have been right in the middle of [the] investigation, leading a crisis team.”

Although president Fallon may have appeared incurious, he wasn’t the only administrator who acted inappropriately.

In addition to Fallon’s firing, both the chief of police and the VP of Student Affairs were forced to retire. And, according to the Chronicle, a written reprimand “for inadequate oversight” was placed in the file of general counsel Kenneth A. McKanders.
Since Jake’s death nine months ago, two other SMU students have died. What was SMU’s reaction? To issue statements of grief and a promise to hire more drug counselors.

It was not until the parents of two of the victims made their concerns public that Dr. Turner named a task force – whose mission isn’t quite clear and whose members aren’t entirely impartial.

At some level, someone swept the events that contributed to the death of Jake Stiles under the rug. I don’t know who, but I’m sure someone does. I can’t imagine, however, that Dr. Turner wouldn’t want to know – especially in light of the recent events at Eastern Michigan University and Rider University.

In a January letter to the editor, someone, presumably SAE members, wrote, “Nobody has been more affected by the passing of Jake than the members of SAE.”

Through the many e-mails I have received from Jake’s mother and father, I can assure everyone that the Stiles family including Jake’s mom, dad and big sister has been much more affected than anyone at either SAE or SMU. Not only by the death of their son and brother, but also by a continuing miscarriage of justice.

We live in a time in which “mistakes were made,” a passive acknowledgment of wrongdoing, a time in which people admit responsibility without accepting consequences. Regrettably, to date no one from SMU or SAE has met even this low threshold of accountability.

The good news is it’s never too late to do the right thing.

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Security On Campus, Inc. news

The federal government is today being asked to investigate Virginia Tech’s response to the April 16th shootings on campus in which 32 students and faculty were brutally murdered. Security On Campus, Inc. (SOC), a national non-profit victim’s rights organization, is charging that waiting more than two hours to warn the campus community about the first of two shootings violated standards set by the federal Jeanne Clery Act.“The community had no idea they were at risk when the shooter struck again,” said Connie Clery, SOC’s co-founder and mother of the murdered college student for whom the Jeanne Clery Act is named. “The intention of the Clery Act is to empower the campus community to protect themselves. They were tragically denied that opportunity at Virginia Tech.”

Under the Jeanne Clery Act colleges are required to issue timely warnings about homicides and certain other crimes that present an ongoing threat “as soon as the pertinent information is available.” Campus police responded to the first shooting, in which two students were killed, at about 7:24 AM. No warning, however, was sent until more than two hours later at 9:26 AM. By then the shooter had moved across campus and begun a shooting spree in which 30 more people were killed before he eventually killed himself.

“We are outraged that, as the new school year begins, there has been no acknowledgement that the campus should have been warned faster,” said Clery. “We are accordingly asking that the U.S. Department of Education fully investigate Virginia Tech’s policies to make sure that students and employees on campus are protected in the future.”

Colleges which violate the Jeanne Clery Act may be fined by the U.S. Department of Education or lose their eligibility to participate in federal student aid programs.
George Henson is a Spanish professor. He can be reached at ghenson@smu.edu.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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