The Torch Passes: SUNY Looks Back at Yards for Yeardley, Forward to New Leadership and Goals
By James O’Brien
Special to One Love Foundation
No distance has proved too far for students running and walking to honor the life of Yeardley Love.
Across New York’s state university campuses, hundreds of athletes have put more than 25 million yards under their cleats and sneakers, sending a message, three feet at a time, in remembrance of a remarkable woman that the world lost in 2010. They are logging these yards to help raise awareness around every individual facing relationship violence today.
This year, working with the SUNY Athletic Conference system, Yards for Yeardley marked its most significant milestone to date — 25 million yards. At the same time, the torch of student leadership is passing.
Ed Suriano, the SUNYAC Student Athlete Advisory Committee president who has done so much to steer Yards for Yeardley to its current moment of success, has graduated. Ben Chatley, the SAAC’s new president and a longtime supporter of the Yards program, has stepped up to take the reins.
“I think that the most profound element of this, aside from obviously the huge impact and education of relationship abuse prevention and awareness was really just to see all of these different University of New York campuses come together,” said Suriano, looking back at his work with the program. “And I know, specifically at Brockport — and I’ve heard this as a common denominator at our other colleges — that student groups from completely different cohorts came together to make sure that this event was not only run well, but run at an unparalleled level to all the other events of this nature that ever happened on those campuses.”
Now, under Chatley’s incoming leadership, that momentum will continue. The transition is also a prime opportunity — a time to look back, to put into context all that has emerged for SUNY, for One Love, for Yards, and for all the young people carrying the legacy forward.
Yeardley’s Story: Seven-Plus Years, a Single Ongoing Goal
On May 3, 2010, three weeks before her graduation from the University of Virginia, Yeardley Love died at the hands of her ex-boyfriend.
A bright and popular student, a player on the university lacrosse team, her story prompted the birth of the One Love Foundation. Dedicated to bringing the topic of relationship violence and its prevention to young people, in December 2014 the Yards for Yeardley program began. To run, to walk, to bike, swim, or roller blade — the mission has been to rack-up yards, activating campuses and educating students in the effort to prevent tragedies like Yeardley’s from happening again. In April 2017, Yards for Yeardley marked a giant leap forward. Across 10 campuses, students in the SUNYAC system blew away their initial 10-million-yard goal — a goal that Suriano set and then watched blossom far beyond expectations. The athletes logged more than 25 million instead.
“I’m a numbers person,” said Suriano. “Looking back at it, it’s such an incredible fact that at the Brockport campus alone we had over 1,200 students and 53 different student groups involved. I didn’t even know that many student groups existed at Brockport!”
The impact extends even further.
“It is a remarkable thing,” Suriano said, speaking of the 2017 events. “We had a large group of eighth-graders, coincidentally, on campus, who were able to get engaged with the One Love Foundation as well. More than 13 of them signed on at Brockport. These are eighth-graders who now know this story — and this is before they even enter high school, which is also an at-risk period for relationship violence and a time when tough relationships can be a factor.”
25 Million Yards: Milestones Are Made of Moments … and First Steps Together
Thomas DiCamillo went the distance for Yards for Yeardley, in 2017. In his car, day after day, the SUNYAC commissioner drove from one New York state campus to the next, making certain that the Yards message cohered into a unified whole. One day, during the program, he was at the wheel from Fredonia to Geneseo to Brockport and then back.
“I told them that, if they did this, I would try to walk in each one of them,” DiCamillo said of his commitment to SUNYAC athletes. “And I ended up walking over 40 miles! That one day, I did 13 miles at three schools, but I think of it like this: if they were willing to put in the time and effort, then I think you have to also lead by example … if you roll up your sleeves and get in there with them, they find it meaningful. If you empower people, especially young people, they have terrific ideas.”
Empowerment, at SUNYAC, started with administrators such as DiCamillo creating the space and time for the Yards for Yeardley leaders and participants to learn about each other, to form the bonds that would add up to the millions of yards they then accomplished together. They did this by breaking bread — meals together, in the way that so many partnerships begin — and then, from those first group dinners, DiCamillo brought them to the next level with group games and challenges.
“They went from the first day not knowing each other to the second day they were hanging out together,” he said. “By the next morning, they had identified their leaders. They did it … that was the start.”
DiCamillo did not do this alone, however. All along, Joseph Storch, an attorney at SUNY, has been prompting, fostering, and marking the progress of Yards for Yeardley and the overarching work of One Love on SUNY campuses. In many ways, if it wasn’t for Storch, One Love Foundation and SUNY might not have found each other in the first place. A Title IX coordinator in Oswego introduced Storch to the organization.
“It was a really, really elegant approach to dating-violence education,” Storch continued. “Based on what I was used to, in terms of on-campus programs, I said, ‘All right, what is this going to cost?’ Because most people that develop something good for higher education, it’s X-number of dollars, or hundreds of dollars, or thousands of dollars, or tens of thousands of dollars … Amazingly, One Love said, ‘Oh, we don’t want to charge SUNY anything for this. We just want to do this. We want to roll it out, and we’re not here with our hand out.’”
And roll it out, they did. Now, some 25 million yards down the line, the next chapter in the story of SUNY, One Love, and Yards for Yeardley is about to begin.
Next Steps: SUNY, Yards, and the Future
Ed Suriano believes there is something different about SUNY and its approach to stopping relationship violence. His role in the creation and realization of that difference is personal, in fact. In 2012, just as One Love and SUNY began their work together, fellow Brockport campus student Alexandra Kogut died at the hands of her boyfriend.
“Such a proactive girl, so sweet, just such a positive person,” said Suriano about Alexandra, his friend. “To see that firsthand, to see how it rips apart a school and then, ultimately, how the school was able to come together … I realized I would never want to see anybody go through that period of grief, or to see any harm to come to anyone else from relationship violence.”
Suriano stood at the crossroads of a moment, as SUNYAC’s initial work with One Love began. He stepped into the role of leader.
“He was the right person at the right time,” DiCamillo said. Also, he was quick to point out, new president Ben Chatley knew Alexandra also. “These two people, who turned out to be leaders, had this shared experience,” said DiCamillo, “they knew this individual.”
It is in the name of students such as Alexandra, and the overarching presence of Yeardley Love in everything that the Yards program sets out to do, that Chatley has set his sights on the next milestone for SUNY in 2018.
“The creation of Around the World for Yeardley is going to be a large-scale thing this year,” Chatley said. “We are aiming to incorporate roughly 25–30 other SUNY schools across the state into our Yards for Yeardley campaign and hopefully we will be able to run or walk the distance around the equator of the Earth.”
A planet-sized goal. A campuses-spanning effort.
“Our goal is that every school achieves one million yards, or more, for their individual campaign,” said Chatley. “I think it’s really going to be important: this is how we stress the importance of noticing the early signs and symptoms of a dangerous or potentially abusive relationship.”
Suriano moves on to his own next steps, now. But even as he takes his first post-graduate job as a financial analyst, he said he plans to continue to reach back, to assist One Love and Yards in anyway he can. He can look back at the remarkable year he leaves behind with Yards for Yeardley and he can rest assured that Chatley is leading the next phase, bringing the lessons they’ve both learned to more and more of the SUNY system — one campus, one student, one yard at a time.
Reach out to learn more about Yards for Yeardley and for help getting an event started with your community.