September 24, 2010

I am a Wabash Man,0,6542976.story?page=1
Go watch this. Then come back.

The parents of Johnny Smith are suing Wabash College and the Delta Tau Delta fraternity (now no longer on campus) over his death from alcohol poisoning.
I can't judge the lawsuit. Far from having all the facts, I know Johnny Smith died from alcohol poisoning, there was an investigation, the fraternity he was part of was shut down, and that's it. I can't imagine what his parents feel; parents should never have to outlive their children. I know how the grieving process goes, so I hope they mourn, move on, feel bad about moving on, and then move on from that.

Not knowing the details, however, has not stopped the news organization from reporting, complete with stupid pictures, scary music, and the classic "dark figures moving in the background" which you can see at 00:52 seconds, and again later.They open with a ridiculous headline - "Out of control fratboys, drinking themselves to death" - and then pretend to know something about the schools history.
Then this guy comes on, says people are drinking and passing out every weekend. Who is this guy? Is he a lawyer? I guess, though broad claims like that don't speak to professionalism. Ah, later it is revealed he is a lawyer. One who can describe the night of Johnny Smith's death in detail. He must have been there, perhaps with the ghost of Christmas past.  I guess interviewing people who were actually there must have been too much work.
Mrs. Smith is also in the report, visibly upset. I can't blame Mrs. Smith for participating, talking to anyone can often help a grieving person. But the reporters take several remarks of hers, sandwich them in between the lawyer and narration, leave out everything else she might have said - why she's suing, what she hopes to accomplish - and opt for the ole heartstring tug to get viewers on their side.
And their side is, pretty obviously, against Wabash. First impressions are important, and beginning a report with "Out of control fratboys" puts their objectivity into question. "Fraternity men" must have too many syllables. "Drinking themselves to death" sounds much more frightening than two deaths, And given the overall quality of the reporting, is anyone surprised that the administration didn't return calls? If this report is indicative of their general level of competence, I wouldn't say a word to them either. FOX59 seems to come with a guarantee that your words will be misconstrued, cut out of context, and used to reinforce the narrative they've already created.
Well, if by chance someone who watched the report and burned with hate against the monsters at Wabash should stumble across this blog, here are a few facts left out of that report:
Wabash does have a drinking policy. It is the Gentleman's Rule. Gentlemen obey the law, and the law says you can't drink before 21. Wabash men are trusted to take care of themselves and one another, and to accept the consequences of breaking the law.
Given the effectiveness of drinking regulations at other campuses ( increased regulation seems kinda dumb. Wabash has about 1100 men last time I checked. There are several hundred thousand incidents each year, according to these statistics; unless Wabash students are as highly motivated in busting shit up as we are at studies, these must take place at other colleges. Colleges with strict alcohol policies as well.
HELP is a twice yearly conference at Wabash that is designed to help (oddly enough) new fraternity presidents, RAs, and other campus leaders adjust to their roles. Included is a seminar on alcohol control.
Fraternities began policing themselves before Johnny Smith died. Alcohol regulation committees were formed, to prevent binge drinking and encourage more responsible behavior. Each fraternity abides by its own (fairly strict) code of "thou shalt not fuck shit up" with regards to people, property, and the good name of the school. Actives and alumni are expected to adhere to this code, and are disciplined if they fail.
A school full of men can be scary! Given the popular image of men in pop culture (sex-obsessed morons in sitcoms; sex-obsessed cavemen in many other shows) it can be easy to demonize Wabash with such a pathetic excuse for a news report. It is probably not that easy, non-Wabash folks, to accept my counter-argument that Wabash is a good place, turns out good students, and Johnny Smith was a tragic, extreme exception to the rule rather than the norm. That's okay. That's good! Not accepting things at face value shows you're thinking. If you have a college bound young man, take a look at Wabash. Judge it for yourself. Talk, not only to the administrators, but also to the men who attend it.

Late facts: At no point was it my intention to give offense to Mrs. Smith, featured in the news report. I can't imagine what losing a son is like. Best wishes go to her and her family.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed, that was more-or-less a sham scare-session. Sadly, this is journalism.