Higher Education Columnist
Brett Kavanaugh made headlines in July as President Donald Trump’s second nomination to the Supreme Court. He returned to headlines in recent weeks; his nomination and character marred by allegations of sexual assault dating back to his high school and college days.
Christine Blasey Ford claims Kavanaugh pinned her down on a bed at a party, groped her over her clothes and attempted to pull off the bathing suit she wore underneath. He stifled her screams with his hand before she was able to escape.
Deborah Ramirez claims Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party, and forced her to touch him without her consent.
Julie Swetnick claims Kavanaugh was part of a group of men who were abusive and physically aggressive at house parties. After getting girls sufficiently inebriated, the boys would engage in a gang rape, lining down a hallway, waiting their turn with the girl inside.
The Supreme Court nominee denies all of these allegations.
Kavanaugh, a Republican notable for his work as senior associate counsel to President George W. Bush and on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, is no stranger to fraternizing with the elite and affluent. During the time his alleged sexual assaults on Ford and Swetnick took place, he was a student at Georgetown Preparatory High School, a renowned Jesuit boarding and day school in Bethesda, MD.
During the time his alleged sexual assault on Ramirez occurred, he was a student at Yale University. Kavanaugh would go on to attend Yale Law School. Current Supreme Court Justice and fellow Trump-appointee Neil Gorsuch graduated two years after Kavanaugh from Georgetown Prep, and current Justices Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor and Samuel Alito also are graduates of Yale Law School.
Like Kavanaugh, the majority of young men who grew up in incredibly wealthy suburbs of Washington, D.C., and attended some of the most prestigious schools in the country, are privy to a social protection that most middle-class or public school students are not. These schools and this society indirectly teaches their students that being one of the few and chosen elite makes them immune to the consequences of their actions. Students have an unusual amount of power, prestige and authority from the age they are old enough to know they are different; because they are special, treasured, chosen, promising students, they don’t have to follow the rules.
It is not insignificant or irrelevant that Kavanaugh’s behavior started when he was in high school or that all of the situations in which he is accused of assault took place in the context of underage heavy drinking and excessive partying. These kinds of parties are still taking place in the wealthy Washington, D.C. suburbs, and this kind of permissive, blind-eye, forgiving culture is still prevalent.
I would know, I grew up there, too.
Although I attended a few private schools in my younger years, I went to a public high school school in Maryland. Many of my friends, however, went to the all-boys Georgetown Preparatory or the all-girls Holton-Arms, like Kavanaugh and Ford, respectively. Those aren’t the only powerhouse schools in the region. There’s Gonzaga College High School for boys, the Academy of the Holy Cross and Georgetown Visitation for girls and the co-ed Sidwell Friends and St. Andrews, where Sasha Obama and Barron Trump respectively attend, just to name a few.
My sister went to Holton-Arms, my tenth-grade homecoming date went to Georgetown Prep and I was asked to the Gonzaga senior prom. These are my friends, and they are not unkind or inherently bad people based off their association to private education, but proximity to this kind of power and prestige largely shapes these students in a different way.
When a Georgetown Prep alumnus succeeds, so do the generations of men who have come before him and will follow him. Molly Roberts, an editorial writer with the Washington Post, expands on the sentiment: “those immersed in that culture will back him because he’s a big shot now, and it’s always better to have a big shot on your side. Some might also back him up because they’ve done something similar.”
For that reason, by bringing forth allegations of sexual misconduct, Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick are not only challenging Brett Kavanaugh, they are challenging the entire social and cultural structure that raised Kavanaugh and allows men like him to thrive in society. Students with this kind of entitlement and pedigree have the resources and the connections to grow into prestigious, powerful and authoritative adults – the kind of adults who are nominated for seats on the Supreme Court.
In order for these kinds of students to stop benefitting from the cultural and social connections that protect them from the consequences of their actions, the members of similar social structures must take a stance. To that end, Yale’s response to allegations against Kavanaugh are most indicative of the kind of change that needs to happen for issues of power-based violence to cease. Hundreds of Yale students staged a silent sit-in earlier this week, while others traveled to Washington, D.C. to protest Kavanaugh’s nomination. Letters circulating this week among the student body “expressed support for Ramirez and Ford, and demanded that a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination be delayed while the allegations against him are thoroughly investigated.” Furthermore, 50 law professors penned an open letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, calling for a full and fair investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh.
Society is not kind to women who report sexual assault. In a culture that automatically assassinates the character and credibility of women who dare to come forward and report sexual assault, it’s not unusual for these women to have waited so long before reporting or sharing their experience. All three women have received death threats. Ford initially shared her story anonymously and has had to relocate twice since going public.
Regardless, the amount of time that has passed does not diminish the severity of Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged actions. Kavanaugh might have “just been a kid” when he allegedly assaulted Ford, but she was just a kid, too.
Cover photo courtesy of Time/ Body photos courtesy of Wikipedia Commons and Slate.com, respectively.