With news coverage pouring in on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote, a group of 15 students gathered in the Social Lodge to discuss and reflect on the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings dominating news cycles. The reflection took place before Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court.
Organized by Amanda Bell (C’21), Zosimo Garcia (C’21), Lala Hilizah (C’21), and India Tisdale (C’21), the discussion and recap on the Supreme Court hearings was originally intended to take place immediately after the Senate voted either to confirm or reject Kavanaugh’s nomination. However, due to the postponing of the vote, the event occurred one day prior.
Tisdale began by offering a brief timeline of the Kavanaugh hearings and the events leading up to the confirmation votes. When Kavanaugh first received his nomination to the Supreme Court in mid-July, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford wrote to her representatives, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, voicing her concerns with Kavanaugh’s nomination.
On September 16, Ford’s allegations that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers were made public. Kavanaugh denied these allegations. Ford was then invited to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and after her acceptance of this invitation, two other women came forward but were not asked to testify by the Senate.
With this context in mind, the discussion primarily focused on the testimonies given by both Kavanaugh and Ford and their representations in the media as well as statements from political figures like Senator Lindsey Graham and President Donald Trump. To guide the discussion, the panelists played two clips of the testimonies given by Ford and Kavanaugh, one from The Guardian and one from Fox News.
The Guardian’s report consisted of Ford tearfully recounting details of her alleged assault and both Kavanaugh and Graham enraged and screaming to the Senate Judiciary Committee about Ford’s allegations.
The Fox News report critiqued Kavanaugh’s lack of due process through the Senate investigation, as well as offering clips of the judge in tears describing how his daughters wanted to include Ford in their prayers. Notably, no soundbites of Ford were shown in the Fox report, as a number of students pointed out in discussion.
The discussion then opened up for commentary, where students then voiced concerns about the emphasis by Fox News on the legal aspects of due process and the “guilty until proven innocent” framing of the trial by more conservative outlets. Some, like Kaylei Goodine (C’19), shared that “due process was a bit irrelevant given the hearings were not an official criminal investigation, but [involved testimony] given to a committee deciding if Kavanaugh was a qualified nominee.” Others worried that the emphasis on legality undermined the importance of empathy for survivors.
Still, there was some hesitation to completely ignore the importance of due process. “There’s a fear that the man might actually be innocent as well, or maybe he’s not but another man facing allegations is,” David Johnson (C’19) said.
Johnson, who was present in Washington, D.C. when the nomination first came out, worries how much people actually know about Kavanaugh outside of Trump’s endorsement. “The nomination dropped, and maybe 15 minutes later, there were already protests. As much as I wanted to join them, I knew that I didn’t really know anything about him,” said Johnson.
Another clip showed President Trump hosting a rally in support of his nominee as he declared, “A man’s life is in tatters!” before mocking the lapses in Ford’s memory of her alleged assault.
In response to this clip, most seemed in agreement that Trump’s statements against Ford only exacerbated the situation. Amanda Bell (C’21) noted, “The way Christine Blasey Ford has been treated by Trump and conservative media like Fox shows the reason many women are afraid to come forward. They think they won’t be believed.”
Eunice Muchemi (C’19) further defended Ford’s decision to stay silent to this point. “If this is what she’s facing now, I can’t imagine her wanting to come forward 30 years ago when she was only a teenager,” she commented.
However, as the conversation deepened, there was some discourse concerning men’s fear of being falsely accused when at the apex of their careers. In response, Tisdale responded that women constantly live in the same state of fear, but for the opposite reasons.
“Women are constantly afraid. We’re taught to never walk alone, to take self-defense classes, to not put ourselves in situations where we may be attacked. If men are afraid of being accused, maybe they’ll start to think more about how their actions affect others,” Tisdale explained.
After an hour of reflection on the hearings, the panel prompted the students, “What can we learn from the way these testimonies were covered, and how can we do better as a campus?”
Suggestions floated around the room: offer more discussions, bring awareness and other forms of sexual misconduct back into the conversation, and hold each other accountable. However, no matter the suggestion, they all involved the whole community working to challenge perceptions of sexual assault on campus.
Muchemi brought attention specifically to who are involved in these dialogues. “We can always use more male support in campaigns, like Speak Up Sewanee,” a movement last year by students calling for the revocation of journalist Charlie Rose’s honorary degree after sexual harassment allegations about him surfaced.
She continued,“It allows for a new perspective to be added to the conversation and offers a chance for them to learn more about issues they may not think about as much. The more we base issues of sexual misconduct on gender, the more isolated men become from the conversations we’re having.”
“As a campus, I think we need to do more to be supportive of victims/survivors of sexual assault and harassment,” commented Livia Karoui (C’20). “Even if the Supreme Court or even the President don’t take it seriously, we should. We as a community have a duty to support our victims/survivors and make sure that they feel empowered and respected.”
Judge Kavanaugh was officially confirmed as the next Justice of the Supreme Court on October 6, one day after this discussion.