Joseph Smedley: What We Know, And What We Don't
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Politics and Activism

Joseph Smedley: What We Know, And What We Don't

Joseph Smedley: What We Know, And What We Don't

Over the past week, Indiana University has been the center of a whirlwind of rumors, uncertainty, and, unfortunately, a great amount of pain.

Last Monday, Sept. 28, sophomore Joseph Smedley, a biochemistry major at Indiana University, was reported missing.

20-year-old Smedley was last seen around 11:30 p.m. on Sunday in Bloomington. The police reported that the last contact from him came early Monday morning, around 4 a.m., when his sister received a text message from him saying that he was leaving the country. IU police say cell phone records may have placed Smedley near Old State Highway 37, north of Bloomington, around 6:30 a.m. on Monday. Police then identified a drowned body at Griffy Lake near campus on Friday at 6:30 p.m. as Joseph Smedley.

This is what we know.

What wedon't know are the actual circumstances behind Smedley's death. There has been much speculation about how he went missing, if he left on his own or was taken, and whether or not his death was caused by himself or another. All of these things are still being investigated by the police.

Indiana University has struggled with missing person cases and the deaths of students, particularly within the last year. The situations were all different in nature, whether we're talking about Hannah Wilson last April or the sudden disappearance and passing of Joseph Smedley now. People have tried to compare the two cases by circumstance and community outreach, but the deaths differ completely.

We knew more information about what happened to Wilson very early on, and by the time she was found, we knew the circumstances of her death. A kidnapping and murder. Smedley's disappearance has much uncertainty, and we do not know much about any of the true details of his missing person's case.

When faced with situations such as these, we often look for a source of explanation; one that might not necessarily be relevant to the actual situation. But we cannot pull explanations out of thin air based on preconceptions or generalizations of cases that appear similar. This has been a problem throughout the spread of information concerning Joseph Smedley's disappearance and death.

There has been other coverage of this tragedy, namely reacting to the lack of response initially from Indiana University in the first few days after his death was confirmed. Another Odyssey article brought up a unique perspective, stating, "But do you know Joseph Smedley? He was biochemistry major, and a member of the Sigma Pi fraternity on campus. He was also a black male, and not a white female." The article goes on to bring up valid points and bring attention to an issue that is still prevalent in our society, an issue that needs to be attended to. It may have angered people, but the writer's intention was not to place blame. It was to bring to light an issue that is often overlooked. But we do not know enough about what was actually behind Smedley's death, and what led to it, to compare him and Hannah Wilson.

As a writer, I often find myself guilty of this; I look for explanations, for logic, to help me report a tragedy. But taking incidents and politicizing them to capitalize on them with an agenda is a giant fault of the media. I'm not saying that this is what this article did. This article discussing the "Missing White Girl Syndrome" was not about Joseph Smedley, but the loss was cited as an anecdote. In a way, he was politicized. In a way, he was taken for an agenda.

We do not know enough about his case at this time to do this, in my opinion. However, part of being a journalist is exposing truths and bringing ideas to the public's eye, whether it angers people or not. The journalist cited his death as a way to bring up a prevalent topic in society, and not everyone is going to agree with that. People who mourned the death of Wilson and are currently mourning the death of Smedley might have felt as though their loved ones were exploited, and this occurs in the media more than we realize. Her article angered people because it was written in a way that brought up a question of race, comparing Hannah Wilson's kidnapping and murder to Joseph Smedley's death which is not as clear of a case.

But I do want to make it clear.

We cannot generalize, we cannot stereotype, and we cannot call to action on a tragedy in which not all the details are known.

That is the main problem in the way the media handles tragedy. Smedley's death was unexpected to many, and the details are few and far between. There was less publicizing of his tragedy because of the unknown circumstances, in order to allow the police investigation to take place without as much speculation. Because of this, we cannot begin to draw conclusions, or point fingers at a lack of compassion, at least, not yet.

Take the response to his death as an example. Many jumped to the fact that there had not been a vigil planned due to a lack of respect or care for Smedley (as was mentioned in the article previously mentioned), when in fact one was being planned by IU students for both Smedley and another Indiana University student, Yaolin Wang, who was murdered this past week. There was concern that he was not being honored, or that he was being forgotten. This could not be further from the truth. Smedley's Sigma Pi Fraternity brothers are helping his family raise money to cover the cost of the funeral with a Go Fund Me page. With every hour that passes since his death, the fund receives more and more generous donations from the Bloomington community and those who Smedley had made connections with. There are also several memorials and vigils being planned for later this week.

He is not being forgotten. Neither is Wang. That is what is important.

When tragedy strikes, people often have two choices. The first is to look for a cause, to look for someone to blame, or for a reason that it occurred. It's only natural. But I choose to take the second choice: to hold those I care about close to me, and to remember those who have left us positively. I remember them how they would want to be remembered.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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