I can’t get the picture of her out of my mind. Perhaps it’s because her eyes really sparkle like stars in the pictures of her in the media. I can’t forget the lovely words friends and family have spoken about her: She was an angel; she was the kindest, sweetest person; I don’t know how we are going to live our lives without her; her death is beyond belief.
I am not the only person to feel this way: 2,000 people attended her funeral last week.
In case you didn’t hear the story, this beautiful young woman is Yeardley Love, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Virginia who played on the women’s varsity lacrosse team and was murdered last week on the eve of her graduation. Her ex-boyfriend, George Huguely — a fellow senior from Chevy Chase, Md., who played on the men’s lacrosse team — has been accused of her murder. The two were in a relationship, but had just broken up, according to what Huguely told the police when he was arrested. Now Love is dead and buried, and Huguely is in jail awaiting trial for her murder.
Love and Huguely: Even their names indicate irony. She was truly beloved by her friends, family, and fellow team members. “She exuded goodness,” Love’s prep school lacrosse team coach said. “She was a good-natured and good-hearted individual.” Huguely, whose name just looks like “huge,” weighed over 200 pounds. According to press reports, he allegedly “kicked his foot through her locked bedroom door” and “shook Love while her head repeatedly hit the wall.”
Huguely had previous run-ins with the law. Eighteen-months ago, he was arrested for “public swearing, intoxication, and resisting arrest” outside a fraternity house at Washington & Lee University. The arresting officer said: “He was by far the most rude, most hateful, and most combative college kid I ever dealt with.”
He threatened to “kill everyone” at the local police department.
With this story haunting me, I walked by a newly opened store in the heart of Princeton the other day that had a banner across its front door proclaiming, Lacrosse Unlimited. A large poster of a player wearing a protective face-mask that made him look like a knight in armor asked passers-by, “Are You Warrior Material?” The tragic story of a lovely young woman from Virginia has its ironies, I thought, even in New Jersey.
I’m not going to place the blame for this horrible murder completely on the sport of lacrosse, although I think competitive sports can give the young adults who play them a sense of invincibility and outsized power. I remember the trouble that members of the Duke lacrosse team got themselves into a few years ago, principally because of excess drinking. One of the press reports about Huguely said that he had been drinking the entire day leading up to the moment he allegedly smashed his way into Love’s apartment and killed her.
In the aftermath of the story, I’ve heard reports that the University of Virginia president is considering ways to prevent such tragedies from occurring on campus again by developing better communication between law enforcement officers and campus police. Had the campus police known of Huguely’s previous altercations with the law, would they have better kept an eye on him, especially if they saw him drink to excess? Knowing of his recent breakup with Love, would they have moved in to protect her? Obviously better communication between law enforcement groups is always helpful.
But does this strategy get to the heart of the matter? I’m not sure. For me, the heart of the matter is having young people on college campuses — and in high schools — learn more about healthy and unhealthy relationships. Students need to know what constitutes a good relationship and a bad one and how they — and women, in particular — can get themselves out of bad, potentially violent ones. Many of Love’s friends said that she didn’t know to whom or how to report Huguely’s abusive behavior, and they didn’t know if they should have reported it to authorities.
The University of Virginia and other universities should institute workshops for all students called “Healthy Relationships” that cover what constitutes abusive relationships and where to seek help. Speakers should be invited to campuses to discuss the relationship aspect of students’ lives, which are in every way as important as their academic subjects.
As a foundation for this series, I recommend a curriculum called Unequal Partners, developed by Peggy Brick and Bill Taverner at the Center for Family Life Education at Planned Parenthood of Greater Northern New Jersey. Says Brick: “Our Unequal Partners is full of ideas for evaluating relationships. It really gets students thinking about what they really want in a relationship, [and] when a partner’s behavior is NOT acceptable.”
Taverner said that he has used lessons from this curriculum with undergraduates at Fairleigh Dickinson University. One lesson that he used, “Warning Signals,” really caught my attention. If Love had been part of a required workshop about warning signs of violent relationships, would her life have been saved? If she had participated in a role-play on how to get out of a difficult relationship, would it have made a difference? Had she learned to whom she should have reported Huguely’s excessive drinking and flares of anger, would she still be alive?
Many New Jersey high schools wait to offer sex education classes, including those with an emphasis on relationships, in the last semester of senior year. This timing has often troubled me, because I think it reveals administrators’ and school boards’ inherent fear of offering this subject so critical to the lives of young people. It comes too late to be of good use. By waiting until the bitter end of high school, supervisors think they can fend off negative reactions from a few parents and tell them that they are simply preparing students for college.
Perhaps waiting can pay off this year, especially if Yeardley Love’s tragic story can become a teachable moment. If used properly by educators, her story can lead to rich discussions about relationships: the good ones based on love and respect; the bad ones based on verbal abuse and disrespect; and the ugly ones, where alcohol and extreme violence can lead to catastrophe. Students can talk about this abusive relationship turned tragic and learn about what love is and is not.
If educators and parents pick up on the sad, sad story of Yeardley Love and talk openly and honestly with young people about the ramifications of abusive relationships, then this lovely young woman with eyes that sparkle like stars will not have died in vain.
As for the poster in the window about “Warrior Material,” whenever I see it, it will give me chills.