U-Va. slaying prompts campus safety talks
Saturday, September 25, 2010
CHARLOTTESVILLE - With black fabric veiling the columns of the University of Virginia rotunda, students, staff and faculty gathered Friday to reflect on campus violence and discuss ways to prevent it, nearly five months after the killing of women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love.
The "Day of Dialogue" was not meant to provide definitive answers, according to U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan. Rather, she said, it was a way to develop questions that would keep safety issues that can negatively affect a campus at the forefront of conversation.
"We will not arrive at a grand conclusion by the end of the day," Sullivan said in her opening remarks at Old Cabell Hall. "We live in a broken world, and we're not going to fix it in six hours."
Love, a 22-year-old from Cockeysville, Md., was found dead in her off-campus apartment May 3 after her ex-boyfriend, former U-Va. men's lacrosse player George Huguely, also 22, allegedly beat her. Huguely, of Chevy Chase, remains in jail here awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge. On Friday, a judge moved a preliminary hearing that had been scheduled for Oct. 8 to Jan. 21.
The circumstances of Love's death spurred campus and student leaders to attempt to change how violence is viewed and addressed at the university.
"Very few things happen in complete secrecy at a university like this one," Sullivan said. And so, she said, certain questions would be at the center of the day's discussions: If you know someone who is the victim of violence, when do you have an obligation to speak up? If you know a friend has a serious alcohol problem, do you have a responsibility? And if so, what is that responsibility?
"From the administrative side, I want to address it differently," said Sullivan, who became president in August. "We're not going to get rid of anger, hatred, drug abuse and all the rest of the things that might be root causes [of violence]. But what we can do is at least be a little bit more responsible when we know it's going on."
University officials have said that neither men's lacrosse coach Dom Starsia nor women's lacrosse coach Julie Myers nor any other athletic department administrator was aware of Huguely's previous instances of violence, which included an arrest in Lexington in November 2008 after berating a female police officer.
In response to Love's slaying, U-Va. implemented a policy this fall that requires students to report whether they have been arrested or convicted of anything other than minor traffic infractions.
Patricia Lampkin, U-Va.'s vice president and chief student affairs officer, said she reached out to the Love family about Friday's events but that the family members chose not to attend.
The roughly 1,500 students who participated were divided into discussion groups monitored by faculty members and closed to reporters. Gweneth West, head of the university's faculty senate, said students were asked to speak in "I" statements and to use first names only when mentioning others.
Each group was assigned a note-taker, and Sullivan said the note-takers would catalogue "emerging themes" for future planning purposes.
"We see this as a beginning of a series of conversations that I think will go on through the year," Sullivan said. "This is not intended to be a one-shot effort."
In her opening remarks, Sullivan said that several parents had contacted her during the planning for the event. One parent said students should not be confronted with such a depressing topic. Another conveyed that action, rather than dialogue, was what was needed and suggested that students be allowed to be armed on campus. At that point, one audience member began to clap enthusiastically.
At a later news conference, Sullivan acknowledged that "there won't be an easy metric" for gauging the success of the "Day of Dialogue," although she noted that planning for the event brought together campus leaders who previously had little to no interaction.
Another point of discussion on Friday was the new student initiative "Let's Get Grounded," a group of 35 student leaders who want to educate students on how to deal with campus violence. Senior Will Bane, a member of the group, said the coalition has trained 300 students and is hoping to train 3,000 more during the school year.
"What we're trying to do is equip people in our community with the ability to recognize these problems," Bane said. "And while we've trained students now, we're looking to expand to training faculty members, staff, community members to ensure that everyone who's seeing these problems knows how to act appropriately."