George Huguely V has been found guilty of second-degree murder.
If this had happened a year later, it would still have been a sensation. Two graduates of a “Prestigious Institution,” from “Nice Families,” one sporting a V on the end of his name, caught in a miserable tangle of alcohol and strong emotions. Two lives destroyed by an act of violence. It’s an adult tragedy.
But it happened at college.
Watching the trial of Huguely, the University of Virginia lacrosse player accused of killing his estranged girlfriend Yeardley Love, I am as struck by what hasn’t been said as by what has been.
This is a story of growing up in a world where people sand off life's edges on your behalf. Where parents and institutions exist not to protect you from mistakes, but from their consequences.
It is a sensational trial from a world of people who don’t watch sensational trials, a world where the objection to murder is not that it will out but that it won't do.
It’s a tragedy of lacrosse players. Lacrosse is co-ed football for the wealthy. At one point the defense tried the argument that, “He’s not complicated. He’s not complex. He’s a lacrosse player.”
This sort of thing does not happen to people like this.
There's an Oscar Wilde quote — “Murder is always a mistake. One should never do anything that one cannot talk about after dinner.”
The setting is a character on its own: the college campus, where hook-up culture runs rampant and you are expected to drink four times a week, where you can sleep with someone and he can come to the stand and say that you were just friends, and it can be true. It’s a no-man’s land in which everyone wants to have fun without consequence. Where people are just mature enough to act immaturely.
Huguely sent Yeardley Love, his girlfriend, a hand-written note saying that alcohol was ruining his life. He choked her. He threatened her.
Huguely’s friends said that at one point, they thought of staging an intervention because of his drinking. They didn’t. Why would they? They were college students.
But then who would?
Colleges around the country are playing the part of those parents who host drinking parties. “Better here,” they tell themselves, watching another car pull onto the lawn. “Better here where I can see them.”
University of Virginia’s substance abuse prevention center notes that 71 percent of U-Va. students drink on a typical Saturday night, with 20 percent consuming more than 6 standard drinks and 18 percent consuming four to five. “Those . . . are the ones that we’re concerned about,” the center’s director, Susie Bruce, told The Post.
But you can't see everything that happens. In the morning, you're left picking up the foul-smelling mess. And people do get hurt.
Under the best of circumstances, drugs, alcohol, sex, sports and a lack of supervision can be a potent and bewildering combination. This is hard enough when it’s going well, when calling yourself an “alcoholic” is a joke among friends. When it’s going badly, it’s impossible.
Where were the adults?
Time and again, reading through the coverage of the trial, I am struck by the — adriftness, for want of a better word — of everyone involved in this. There’s the discipline of sports but then, off the field, there’s the strange mess of college life. Sunday Funday. Hookups. Parties. College is a place you arrive after working awfully hard in high school — or at least writing one or two really compelling personal essays — and you are entitled to your share of fun. Afterwards, you might not find a job. So enjoy those four years. Colleges act in loco parentis only in the sense that some parents are very hands-off, have lots of money and only show up to prevent the police from getting involved.
This is the worst kind of protection. The point of college is to admit high school kids and graduate adults. But it is impossible to grow up in a world where no one is watching.
And this is how things go wrong in a world where nothing is supposed to go wrong.
The only thing that happens in moderation on college campuses? Studying. Eat and drink and love and lie, for tomorrow we may graduate. Institutions of higher learning? As the study “Academically Adrift” found, the average college student spends just 12 hours a week, well, studying, avoiding courses with more than 40 pages of reading a week. This is college. They have better things to do. For some, it works out fine. But for others, the lack of supervision comes at a heavy cost.
Where were the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law on that dreadful Monday night when Huguely stormed to Love’s apartment and bashed in her door?
In life, these awful tragedies happen, and there is little you can do to stop them. The net of family and friends and well-intentioned neighbors is not always woven tightly enough.
But this should not happen at college.
It’s an adult tragedy with adult consequences. Where were the adults?
Read more about the trial