At the candlelight vigil for Yeardley Love three days after her death, UVA’s then-president, John Casteen III, implored students to pay attention—and call attention—to friends who might be in need.
“Don’t hear a scream and not report it,” he told the 5,000 students holding candles in the school’s amphitheater. “Don’t watch abuse. Don’t hear stories of abuse and stay quiet.”
Casteen, in the final months of his 20-year term, was distraught. He met with students, faculty, the Loves, the Huguelys. He wrestled with the what-ifs.
What if George Huguely’s arrest and prosecution in Lexington for drunkenness and fighting with cops had been reported to UVA?
A week after the killing, Casteen met with Virginia governor Bob McDonnell to ask if local law-enforcement authorities could share arrests with universities. McDonnell was noncommittal.
What if Huguely’s teammates had reported his drunken rages, as they should have done under the lacrosse team’s rules? What if Huguely had told his coach about the arrest, as required by the team’s honor code?
One thing has become clear: Athletic honor codes rarely work. Whether at prep schools like Landon or universities like UVA, athletes rarely snitch on themselves or others.
The questions raised in May by the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins in a column about Huguely remain salient: “[H]is teammates and friends, the ones who watched him smash up windows and bottles and heard him rant about Love. . . . Why didn’t they turn him in? . . . Why did they not treat Yeardley Love as their teammate, too?”
“A lot of people were second-guessing themselves,” fourth-year student Sharon Zanti recalls. “You could see it on the faces of the coaches afterwards. There was a lot of horrific grief on the part of friends and faculty.”
Zanti, fourth-year student Danielle MacGregor, and student-government president Colin Hood spoke with me on a late-winter Sunday on the UVA campus. The students and the university, they say, has used Love’s killing as a catalyst.
“We pulled that night apart,” MacGregor says. “What could we do? What could we change? We settled on bystander behavior. Students need to be trained to react. How can we get people to not be a bystander?”
UVA’s new president, Teresa Sullivan, called for a Day of Dialogue at the start of classes last fall. Pillars around the iconic Rotunda were draped in black. In meetings and conferences, the central question was “Are you your sister’s or brother’s keeper?”
The answer, at least for student leaders, was an emphatic yes. After the Day of Dialogue, they developed a program called Let’s Get Grounded. It offers students a 90-minute training session in how to recognize and react to potential problems, such as alcohol abuse, bullying, and violence. “We are encouraging people to look out for one another,” MacGregor says. “You don’t have to know someone to be an active bystander.”
At a campus known for heavy drinking, how many of their schoolmates are taking them seriously? So far, 1,200 out of more than 15,000 students have enrolled in the program and taken a pledge to intervene if they sense someone is in jeopardy.
“I don’t think anyone faults us for trying to fix it in this way,” Zanti says. “Being an active bystander doesn’t mean you are solving problems, but it can be a start.”
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