October 10, 2008

In Requiem

Johnny Smith died in the early morning hours last Sunday. It is a terrible tragedy. He was, by all accounts a bright young man with a future. It appears he died by drinking too much alcohol after Homecoming at Wabash College. He was a pledge at Delta Tau Delta Fraternity.

Today, the Fraternity has been suspended by the college. They will likely lose their charter. The fraternity has been an active member of the Wabash community for more than 100 years. Just days after they lost a friend, a brother, the men of Delta Tau Delta will be forced from their home and split up.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an alumnus of Wabash College. I was a member of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity. Also for the record, Fraternities at Wabash are not like those at most universities. Some 70% of students live in a Fraternity House (in my day it was closer to 90%). I would not have been in a fraternity at a different school. Living in a Fraternity at Wabash is the norm.

Mr. Smith was 18. No one forced him to drink. He made decisions on his own. His Grandmother has alluded Johnny said he was under a lot of pressure to drink, but if so he only had to say a word and he could leave the house. The college would have found him a room within hours. This was not an arcane pledge ritual where he was forced to drink. It was Homecoming, no pledge activities happen on Homecoming night. Besides, even in my time that kind of hazing had become history.

The officers of Beta Psi, Delta Tau Delta and Wabash College will likely be sued over this. The college and International Fraternity are likely just protecting themselves. Unless Smith was tied down and the beer or whiskey or whatever was poured down his throat, the responsibility lies with one person. I do not want to speak ill of the dead, but we all make choices. This young man made a tragic one.

It is time, as citizens of the United States, that we begin to expect people to take responsibility for their actions. Was there an environment where binge drinking was accepted and probably even encouraged? I have no doubt. Was alcohol provided to underage students? If that is the issue, the College better move to shut down every Fraternity and living unit on campus. Universities and Colleges across America should immediately close their doors to all but commuter students. Not to be flip, but Otter's speech at Dean Wormer's hearing In Animal House comes to mind. You remember; "If you criticize us aren't you condemning the fraternity system? If you criticise the fraternity system aren't criticising the educational system...?".

While I lived in the Fraternity there were several members that did not drink, or rarely drank. No one had an issue with that. We accepted their decision, and kind of admired them. That moderate person was not me. I enjoyed my college years with gusto. In recent years I have chosen to be the designated driver on many occasions. A good time can be had without being drunk.

Young men are distraught over the death of their friend and fraternity brother. The President of the College talked about the pain of the seventy or so members of the Fraternity at a memorial service this week. I guess he was only concerned about those students up to the point of throwing them out of their house. They are being punished for the actions of one individual. That is a sad commentary on the America of today. The America where bartenders are arrested and sued when a drunk wrecks his car, where gun manufacturers are sued when their product is used in a crime, where a manufacturer of a legal product is sued when a person chooses to smoke and get the very disease warned of on every pack. This my friends is your America.

RIP Mr. Smith.

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