Imagine you’re 20 years old. You play lacrosse for one of the most prominent collegiate programs in the country. Your family brags to their friends that their son, brother, cousin, or nephew is talented enough to play for such an established institution as Duke University.

Now imagine you go to a house party. A few of your friends get a couple of strippers to come to the party. Your friends get a little drunk, maybe you do too, and things get out of hand.

One thing leads to another and a few days later, one of the strippers your friends hired is accusing you of beating, choking and raping her in your friend’s bathroom.

Imagine that.

Two of Duke’s lacrosse players don’t have to imagine. A house party that got out of hand is now costing them their season, their coach his job, and has given one of the nation’s most noted universities a major black eye.

The story told by the victim is awful, if true. The dancer, a black student at North Carolina Central University, was allegedly violated by a group of presumably rich white kids. It sounds just as bad as it may be.

As Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong said, the racial part of this crime has the potential to “make a crime that is by its nature one of the most offensive and invasive even more so,” according to Fox News.

This should raise an eyebrow for all college students. It reminds us of something that was made apparent in 2004 when the St. John’s men’s basketball team was involved in a sex scandal of their own. Or even when Judge Samuel Alito was interrogated in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee this past fall for being a member of Concerned Alumni of Princeton (a group accused of racism and misogyny): Your choices in college can haunt you for the rest of your life.

Your decisions at 20 are with you at 40.

The idea of beating, choking, or raping a woman is awful, drunk or sober. There is no excuse for any of it, ever. But the decision to do something along the lines of these particular accusations is all too feasible, especially for a few college athletes.

We all know someone that is capable of doing something similar, whether in high school or college. We all have that friend that drinks, a lot, often too much, and gets violent and irrational. Witnessing irresponsibility under the influence of alcohol is a fact of life, particularly of college.

So when Duke’s lacrosse program was brought to its knees over the irresponsibility and immaturity of a few lacrosse players, my first thought was, “Wow, imagine?”

Unfortunately, I can imagine. I can imagine a number of people I know, from both high school and college, drinking too much, letting themselves get caught in the heat of the moment, of the influence of the crowd, and getting indirectly involved in such an incident. And it’s not just because I attended the same high school as one of the accused rapists.

That’s one of the most disturbing aspects of this case. This kind of accusation could have happened to a group of lacrosse or basketball players, a few rowdy frat brothers, or whoever parties hard on weekends and is about as responsible and accountable as many teenagers are.

What a few kids thought would be cool in college will end up plaguing them for decades to come. It’s not cool to be responsible in college until, of course, that lack of responsibility comes back to bite you.

Like the Reverend Father Donald J. Harrington C.M. said after Gerry Adams’ lecture on March 17, “Thank God we are not judged based on who we were 10, 20, 30 years ago.”

Gee, wouldn’t that be terrible?