It Isn’t Her Fault


All of us who have watched with heavy hearts the saga of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham’s disappearance believe that she encountered someone with vile intentions who succeeded in acting on them.  After an evening of dinner and drinks with friends, followed by dropping in on a couple of off-campus parties, Miss Graham was likely abducted and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.

Many people have stepped forward to offer assistance in the midst of this tragedy. Hundreds of ordinary citizens gathered in Charlottesville to accompany trained personnel in searching for Miss Graham. University students held a candlelight vigil, wore special ribbons in Hannah’s honor at a football game, and continue to express sadness over their missing classmate and her distraught parents.  I even read a story about a male student who observed a female student walking alone after dark, obviously intoxicated, and escorted her home to ensure her safe arrival.

Thus far I have heard no discussion about the fact that Miss Graham’s vulnerability, always a concern for young women, was greatly exacerbated by excessive consumption of alcohol.  Perhaps stating the obvious sounds like blame or is presumed to overlook the reality that there are cruel people willing to harm others and that Miss Graham tragically encountered someone of that nature.

Miss Graham is in no way to blame for whatever happened to her during the early morning hours of September 13, 2014, at the hands of another person. She is responsible for making the choice to drink, illegally, as are all college students who do so and suffer consequences both minor and horrific.  And I am unaware of a single stakeholder, i.e., all of us, having suggested that refraining from consuming alcohol is a legitimate response to this or any other catastrophe—date rape, DUI, alcohol poisoning, death— involving underage drinking.

Always, always, our focus seems to be on how to protect students without expecting them to act within the confines of the law.  We fling up our hands, declaring helplessly that excessive partaking of alcoholic beverages is a rite of passage, as if exhorting students not to drink illegally and/or to the point of intoxication is to deny them one of college life’s peak experiences.  Surely no one can be expected to enjoy undergraduate school absent serious bouts of heavy drinking, and we don’t want to rob them of that opportunity!

I will never understand.  How is it, and why is it, that extraordinarily bright young people with unlimited promise and opportunity  often seem to want nothing more than to drink to the point of intoxication?  What makes it the most attractive option for many students, and how is it that parties and gatherings must center on alcohol before they are considered worthwhile?  Is there, truly, never anything better to do on a college campus? I have only questions and not a single answer.

My heart aches for Hannah Graham.  I can’t begin to comprehend the pain her parents are experiencing and will endure for a long time to come.  Miss Graham is not responsible for the evil that befell her; but, somehow, we are all accountable for our collective acceptance of college as a phase of life marked by illegal, excessive drinking that might regrettably result in a lost or ruined life on occasion.