Charlotte Ward was in eighth grade when she met Yeardley Love.
The UVA women’s lacrosse team had just beaten Harvard, 13-9, in Cambridge, and several of the Cavalier players were lingering around the field afterwards.
Ward was in attendance for that game and was lingering herself: Despite living some 500 miles from Charlottesville, she had grown up attending UVA women’s lacrosse games (her grandmother lived in the college town and her mother was an alumna). The players were her heroes, the ones who ultimately inspired her to play collegiate lacrosse, and so when the Cavaliers took on Harvard, she jumped at the opportunity to see them play in her home city of Boston and, if she could overcome her shyness, get autographs from players.
Love, at the time a junior on the team, made sure that happened.
“Yeardley saw me, grabbed me, took me around,” Ward said. “I got a lot of autographs.
“I remember really looking up to her. She had the most beautiful smile,” Ward added. “I just immediately felt connected to her, and it was just one little experience with her.”
Ward met Love on April 5, 2009. Just under 13 months later, on May 3, 2010, Love would be beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend in her off-campus apartment. The news of her death paralyzed the UVA and lacrosse communities and served as a wakeup call for the entire nation about the horrors of relationship abuse and violence.
Fast forward six years later: Ward, now a junior on Stanford’s women’s lacrosse team, would once more be connected to Love, but in a different capacity.
Stanford Athletics recently partnered with One Love, a foundation formed in honor of Love that seeks to raise awareness about relationship abuse. The relationship resulted in Stanford lacrosse, in conjunction with Cal, holding a One Love game earlier this week in support of the foundation.
The following day, 100 male and female student-athletes attended an Escalation Workshop put on by the foundation. The Escalation Workshop, one of nearly 700 that One Love has held across the country, features a film-viewing and subsequent breakout sessions that discuss different forms of relationship abuse, its warning signs and ways that people can step up to prevent it. Several student-athletes, including Ward, were also featured in a PSA that Stanford Athletics released earlier this week.
Those statistics simply describe relationship violence — they don’t account for verbal, emotional and psychological abuse, which people often fail to recognize as abuse.
“People don’t fully understand what abuse is,” said Melanie Sperling, One Love’s program coordinator for digital and campus campaigns. “They think ‘Oh, [relationship abuse] is only physical’ or ‘I have nothing to do with that’ when in fact even if you yourself aren’t in an abusive relationship, a friend may be or you may be in the future or it’s just really important to be able to recognize the signs.”
“[The video] tries to make you relate and be like ‘Oh my God, that happened to me’ or ‘My friend went through that’ and knowing that it’s not ‘just a fight,’” added Ward, who was one of the two lacrosse players to take Stanford Athletics and One Love’s relationship to the next level. “It’s relationship violence, it’s abuse.”
In addition to education on relationship violence, the workshops offer participants ideas for how to respond to abusive relationships.
“There are some early tell-tale signs that you might not originally pick up on,” said senior Justin Brinkley, who attended the workshop with his teammates on the track and field team. “I think the team left with a better sense of knowing what those signs are … the theme of the night was if you see something, say something, or even if you think you see something, it’s better to say something.”
The One Love Foundation, which started in 2010, recently shifted its focus to working with and holding Escalation Workshops at high schools and colleges — not simply because Love was a college senior when she was killed, but because nearly 50 percent of women and nearly 40 percent of men who are victims of relationship violence first experience it between ages 18-24. Not only that, but 57 percent of college students report finding it difficult to identify relationship violence, and 58 percent say that they don’t know what to do to help someone who is a victim of relationship violence.
While this week marked the beginning of Stanford’s public efforts to raise awareness for relationship abuse, it was not the first work Athletics has done with One Love: The foundation held a screening of the Escalation Workshop film over the summer, with several members from the department and from the Office of Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse present. In the fall, One Love held its first workshop for student-athletes, with about 100 people in attendance.
With One Love being particularly prominent in the Mid-Atlantic and in cities like Baltimore, where Yeardley was from, its partnership with Stanford marked the first major relationship the foundation formed with a university in California as it tries to spread its message to the West Coast. Cal participated in the One Love game with Stanford and then held a mandatory workshop for all 830 of its student-athletes.
Although Stanford has not made the Escalation Workshops mandatory at this point, several teams have participated so far — including the wrestling, men’s water polo and track and field teams – and One Love and the Athletics Department intend to hold more next year.
“I think what makes it so unique is that my student athletes … are facilitating conversations among their peers, and I think that can be really powerful,” said Stanford women’s lacrosse head coach Amy Bokker, who participated in her first Escalation Workshop with the U.S. Lacrosse team last summer.
Holding these workshops for student-athletes is intentional, as well — not only because Yeardley and her killer were varsity athletes at UVA, but because One Love recognizes the role athletes serve on campus.
“Athletes are also leaders on many campuses, and here at Stanford they can have a very loud voice, so seeing student-athletes participate in workshops, hold events, dedicate games to One Love is a great way to spread the word and give it more of a spotlight,” Sterling said.
“Stereotypically, we [student-athletes] are strong and we’re tough and we have everything under control,” Ward added. “By showing this video and targeting athletes, [it shows] that it can happen to anyone, men or women.”
The Athletic Department’s partnership with One Love comes towards the end of a year in which sexual assault has been a hot topic around campus: The University has been criticized for releasing allegedly misleading data on sexual assault’s prevalence at Stanford, while earlier this year Kappa Kappa Gamma and Sigma Nu held a “No More” Campaign to raise awareness for sexual assault.
“We talk about sexual assault a lot,” Ward said. “I think that One Love is taking a caveat of that and saying there is such thing as relationship violence. This doesn’t just happen between strangers, it doesn’t just happen at frat parties where people don’t know each other. This is something where you can be in love with someone and One Love is trying to teach you that that’s not love.”
In the future, the One Love-Stanford Athletics partnership has the potential to reach a broad audience, one beyond the Stanford Athletics community. A sorority on campus, Alpha Phi, is scheduled to hold an Escalation Workshop later this month, indicating that the movement could pick up steam throughout the Greek community. Beyond The Farm, Bokker is interested in possible high school outreach and getting more Pac-12 and West Coast schools involved with the foundation.
“It’s such an epidemic but it’s curable,” Ward said. “At least that’s what One Love believes, and that’s what I believe through working with them.”
Contact Alexa Philippou at [email protected].