He would have been 19. That’s how old Gary DeVercelly would be if he were alive today. Far too young to have a life filled with endless possibilities cut heartbreakingly short. The death of Gary last March rocked this University and the community to its very foundation, leaving us to face a tough reality and unanswered questions.
Still, the civil suit filed by the DeVercellys leads you to believe that the University and Phi Kappa Tau (PKT) bear complete responsibility for the tragedy and that the family deserves compensation. From the outset, it’s important to understand that the mission in writing this editorial is not to minimize the pain of the DeVercellys, who continue to endure such a loss. Nor is it to cast doubt on the merit of the lawsuit. That task is something that will be decided upon by the judicial system. Today, it’s important to remember a hallmark of life — there are almost always two or more sides to a story.
On the one hand, the University and PKT are accused of wrongdoing and gross negligence that make them liable for Gary’s death. This perspective goes so far as to assert that if medical attention had been sought sooner, the effects of the alcohol poisoning on Gary might have been reversed. The other side, the University, contends that the allegations have not been established as fact.
Let’s be honest. How many times have we all gone out with friends for a night on the town and returned after having one too many? Perhaps, it got to the point where a friend passed out and we simply put him or her to bed without a second thought. Most likely, the friend awoke the next morning with a headache and a few stories to share. Although we do not condone their behavior, Gary’s peers may have thought he could sleep off the alcohol and thus did not appreciate the gravity of the situation. Hindsight is 20-20 and it’s a luxury you don’t have in a crisis.
The DeVercellys challenged the University to enact changes to ensure no student meets the same fate as their son. In the aftermath, the University moved swiftly to convene a task force to consider the alcohol policy and make new recommendations to be implemented at the start of the 2007 fall semester. The end result was a policy that sets standards that go beyond those at most institutions of higher learning. It takes aim at reducing high-risk drinking through education and outreach programs. Rightfully, it bans alcohol at parties in the residence halls and Greek houses and requires Public Safety to do routine walkthroughs. A Good Samaritan policy encourages any student to seek help for a peer in need of medical treatment without fear of receiving any University punishment. Hopefully, these policies will deter the dangerous behavior that young people seem to be engaging in.
To this day, we all empathize with the DeVercellys after their loss. No parent should ever have to undergo the loss of a child. On March 31, students, faculty and administrators mourned the loss of one of our own at a memorial service that was standing room only. Many of us were tearful as Gary was remembered as a role model for his younger siblings and friends. Later, we marched in solidarity for the CaliPledge, which raised $10,000 for a scholarship named after Gary that recognizes his compassion, concern for others and pursuit of academic excellence. Now, coming off the heels of the holidays, we are mindful of the difficult times the DeVercelly family continues to face.
What is left to be said may be a bitter pill to swallow. Gary has to bear some responsibility for the events that transpired on that fateful night. At the time, he was an 18-year-old who made the decision to travel from Long Beach, Calif., to attend Rider. If any student was encouraging him to do something that put his life in jeopardy, Gary should have exercised the same independent judgment he used to move across the country.
Making the University out to be a scapegoat in all of this is easy. But the fairness of doing so is definitely debatable. While Rider has already paid a heavy price, it has also demonstrated a willingness and commitment to ensure such a tragedy does not occur again. Rest assured, this will not be an incident that defines Rider’s 140-year history.
Written By Opinion Editor, Jamie Papapetros