Knee-jerk reaction is no

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 8, 1999

way to resolve problems

An unfortunate incident occurred on Dec. 3 when an 18-year-old college freshman suffered terrible injuries to his spine, resulting in an operation and a room in the intensive care unit of a Montgomery hospital.

Some of the early reports constantly attached the student to a fraternity, referring to him as a pledge and implying that the incident was the result of hazing or worse.

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Only time and investigation will ferret out an answer to the question of what happened to Nick Stokes on the morning of Dec. 3. Still, guilty or not, his fraternity has been given a negative association because of the accident.

This is unfortunate. While the court of public opinion often carries the correct verdict (and I’ll stake whatever I have on the fact that it was dead on in the O.J. Simpson case), using it against an innocent organization for the actions of an individual or a small group within an organization is just plain wrong.

As with every barrel of apples, there are bad ones. Whether the bad ones affiliated with this fraternity caused an injury to an innocent student is a matter for the police to decide. But if the answer is yes, we can’t hold the organization or the system itself responsible.

This is strange language, considering today’s philosophy that knee-jerk reactions rule the majority. The crash of TWA 800 and the subsequent terrorist-prevention measures that came from it (despite the fact that the explosion was the result of a mechanical failure) is a good example.

We should fix things that are broken and we should address problems when they are made evident, but we should try to do so when the calm of the storm has passed and when thinking skills and not emotional reaction has control of the ship.

But it is easier to see a problem, blame an organization and change a policy than it is to sanction the person or people who caused the trouble to begin with.

If anyone caused an injury to Nick Stokes, a young man who was healthy and had a lot to look forward to, they should be punished as severely as the law will permit. And if the injury was the result of a calculated program by an organization as a whole, that organization and all who are within it should be punished. Furthermore, if the system that allowed the organization to exist was in on the injury and calculated a way to help inflict harm on a student or cover it up after the fact, then the system should be changed.

The likelihood of this case being anything other than an accident or the result of a misguided prank by a few is slim, and it would be unfortunate if policy were set or changed as a result of this incident.

The bottom line? I hope Nick Stokes recovers and is well soon. I hope this was an accident and not a malicious prank. If it was, those who participated should be punished to the fullest extent of the law and those who were not involved should be able to walk away.

Pray for Nick Stokes in the days and weeks to come. He needs your help and the help of God to get back on his feet. I also have hope that this situation will be resolved by the university administrators in a fair and logical manner, and not because of a knee-jerk reaction.

Brian Blackley is the managing editor of The Messenger. He may be reached via e-mail at or by calling 670-6314.

Dec. 7, 1999 10 PM