All Along the Watchtower: Andre NarcissePosted: November 2, 2009
Sad news from New Haven.
Andre Narcisse, a Yale sophomore was found dead early Sunday morning by his roommates in his dorm.
In the wake of his death, the Yale Daily News had the following tidbit from its phone interview with Yale College Dean Mary Miller
In a phone interview, Miller said it would be premature to speculate on the cause of Narcisse’s death, but added that she has been communicating over the past week with masters and deans to share concerns about alcohol and drug use on campus.
The above quotation from the article already has a few up in arms. Why, they wonder, would Miller say it is premature to speculate and then go on to bring drugs and alcohol into the mix?
Reading the quote, I felt my Irish getting lathered up as well and, at that point, it seemed like a good idea to go back to basics and crack open a dictionary.
Firstly, the above quotation is essentially a paraphrasing of a conversation between the reporters and Miller. The key words–premature, speculate, added, share, concerns–have not been directly attributed to Miller. Is it possible she used the phrase ‘premature to speculate’? Absolutely; but without quotations, the word choice and phrasing–the burden of relay–has to be assigned to the writers.
Before focusing on the drugs and alcohol element, I’d like to focus on the word ‘added.’ The reporters wrote
Miller said it would be premature to speculate on the cause of Narcisse’s death, but added that she has been communicating over the past week with masters and deans to share concerns about alcohol and drug use on campus.
At what point in the conversation was the information added? Was it added quickly? Was it added later on? Was it done without prompting or in response to a question? Given the circumstance, the reporters’ paraphrasing leaves a lot to be desired because one doesn’t know how loosely or closely based the account is.
For argument’s sake, let’s say this was a close paraphrase and Miller’s response reads in an A-B-C fashion. This scenario got my Irish up, so I decided to consult my dictionary. Word search: Speculate. Dealing in connotation is perpetually slippery, but can be easier done if there’s an idea of the many ways something can be intended–not to be an apologist, but to keep shouting matches from ruling the day.
Again, assuming this paraphrasing can be held up as an example of Miller’s head space, her “thought” isn’t terribly outlandish though it could have been (para)phrased better. To speculate, it turns out, is a few things
- To engage in a course of reasoning often based on inconclusive evidence–Given this definition, “speculation” can’t be premature; in fact, it seems like it would be right on time since…there’s little else to go on.
- To assume to be true without conclusive evidence–This makes a lot more sense. It is entirely premature to assume anything in particular to be true because we do not know enough of the facts.
Then the question becomes: Why bring up the drug angle?
Sticking with our close paraphrase, A-B-C scenario, Miller could reasonably be a champion of the second definition above; someone who decided to toss out a possible scenario that might very well be wrong (she could also thug it out with the first definition and be simple enough to contradict herself while trying to make a skin-saving point).
While it might not have been as tidy, it might have been better for the reporters–and by extension Miller–to (para)phrase the statement thusly
Acknowledging that neither her word or anyone else’s can be accepted as fact since there are not enough facts available at the moment, Miller did take the time to toss out an unsubstantiated theory as we all try to wrap out heads around this tragedy. The dean cited her experience as an administrator and mentioned having seen enough in her time to have a concern that this young man’s death is related to drugs or alcohol.
Miller went on to say that the kinda crazy and tragic thing about the situation was that just the other day she’d been hollering at the other deans, saying that they all really needed to keep an eye out on these kids and their drinking habits, especially in light of last week’s Safety Dance fiasco which saw eight mufuckas laid out before night’s end.
Miller might very well be wrong. Narcisse might have suffered from an undiagonosed arrhythmia or some other heart defect, not unlike ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich or Jonathan Larson. But even in error, her speculation–which, if she does champion the second definition, is nothing more than a guess–is neither far-fetched nor malicious.
He was a 19 year old college kid on a Halloween Saturday night. Anybody who’s been 19 or in college or both knows all manner of knuckleheadery can take place during those years; so much of it laughable because we awoke the next day with only a walk of shame or tale of vomitousness to regale our pals with at brunch. So much of it hinges on just missing getting hurt.
In the wake of this tragedy, I feel heart sick and I have questions and I speculate.
I take the information and I guess at the circumstances and events that led to this young man being taken. I welcome whatever truth comes although there is but one that counts: We lost one and it hurts.
I don’t guess to indict Andre Narcisse; I don’t know enough to do so and even if I did, it would do no good. I guess and a ponder and I reflect; reflect on those knucklehead years in which so many of us were so lucky. So full of laughter. So close to tragedy.
Peace to Andre Narcisse.