Love's legacy: Sullivan urges vigilance, voices at UVA
Almost five months after the University of Virginia reeled from the brutal murder of one of its own, an air of mourning still pervades the Lawn. Columns of the Rotunda are clad in black veils on one end, and on the other, a preponderance of black-clad students, faculty, and staff stream into Old Cabell Hall for the start of the university's Day of Dialogue: Toward a Caring Community.
The day is a continuance of a discussion that started May 3, said UVA President Teresa Sullivan. That was when the death of fourth-year Yeardley Love, a beautiful lacrosse star, rocked the university community and became a national story. Her former boyfriend, George Huguely, another lacrosse player, is charged with her murder.
"In a real sense, we are picking up from where we left off last May," said Sullivan. "Those of us who weren't in Charlottesville last May experienced Yeardley's death from a distance, and even at a distance, it was heartbreaking."
The September 24 Day of Dialogue was initiated by a student group called Let's Get Grounded, and 1,500 registered to take part in discussions throughout the day that were closed to the media.
Sullivan noted that there were seven deaths of UVA students during the 2009-10 year–- including a spelunker and an earthquake victim, as well as another murder victim: Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, who disappeared from a Metallica concert.
"For some of these deaths, we're left to wonder whether we might have done something differently.... whether we could have intervened," said Sullivan.
"We've seen horrible events here in Charlottesville," said Sullivan. "We acknowledge that violence and abuse are international issues."
She said she's been offered differing opinions on proper response–- ranging from not talking about the deaths at all to a suggestion that students should be armed on Grounds, a proposal that brought hearty applause from at least one member of the Old Cabell Hall audience.
Art, poetry, music, and dance are part of the day's process, the most visible of which are the black-veiled columns on the Rotunda designed by UVA art and architecture professor Sanda Illiescu. Installed about a week ago, the veils would come down around 5pm to symbolically close the day's events.
"Note the progression from first person singular to plural," said Sullivan, as she framed the day's key questions: Am I my brother's/sister's keeper, and are we a caring community?
"We live in a broken world, and we're not going to fix it in six hours," acknowledged Sullivan.
During the press conference following the opening session, WVTF's Sandy Hausman asked Sullivan whether the event was "preaching to the converted."
Sullivan pointed back to the student-initiated Let's Get Grounded, with its goal of teaching people to recognize when something's wrong in the community, and when to act.
"Very few things happen in complete secrecy in the university," said Sullivan. "When do you have a responsibility to speak up?"
The new UVA president remained on her message.
"We're not going to get rid of "anger, hatred, drug abuse and all the rest of the things that might be root causes," she said, "but what we can do is at least be a little more responsive when we know it's going on."