Two folding tables stand side-by-side in the Georgetown University student union. At both, students sit staring at their laptops, transfixed by what’s happening on their screens. They’re watching Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, effusively defend himself against sexual assault allegations from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified earlier on Thursday. He is angry and forceful, at times spitting and breaking down in tears.
The two groups of students represent two factions of the traditionally Catholic university in Washington, D.C., that don’t see eye-to-eye on women’s reproductive rights. At one is the group Georgetown Right to Life, a student organization “dedicated to protecting human life from conception to natural death.” At the other is H*yas for Choice (they are not allowed to use the Hoya school mascot as part of their name or receive funding from the university because of the school’s Catholic identity), the only group that provides condoms and Plan B on campus. There’s a bowl of condoms on their table and students in the busy thoroughfare are walking by and taking them. The two groups are cordial to each other, but they’re not interacting and they don’t know each other.
Today, H*yas for Choice is encouraging students who walk by to take a photo with an “I Believe Survivors” sign, and posting it on social media. This echoes the protest signs that were lining the halls of the Hart Senate Office Building in the hundreds on Thursday during the pivotal hearing.
“Any kind of visibility is crucial for showing survivors that they are not alone and they are supported,” Angela Maske, a 22-year-old senior and president of H*yas for Choice, explained the social media campaign. “Being a survivor can feel very lonely, especially in times like this high-profile case, with narratives around doubt swirling around that can be harmful and invalidating.”
— natalie gontcharova (@natalie_nyc) September 27, 2018
It’s just very concerning that this is being painted as his life being ruined when he’s just not getting onto a lifetime appointment onto the Supreme Court.
Like many women Maske knows a lot of sexual assault survivors, and she says the atmosphere on campus has been heavy and tense as the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh poured in. According to 2016 survey, 31% of undergraduate women at Georgetown experienced non-consensual sexual contact as a result of physical force or incapacitation, a statistic that Maske says is higher than at similar schools largely due to “the culture of toxic masculinity that pervades many campuses,” but also the “large amount of privilege that many of our students have where they feel they are entitled to anyone and anything.”
Angela Maske is the president of Georgetown University’s H*yas for Choice. She’s here in solidarity with survivors as she knows a lot of them @natalie_nyc reports from Washington D.C. #KavanaughHearings pic.twitter.com/2llg7iS2IR
— Refinery29 (@Refinery29) September 27, 2018
A few of Maske’s friends are helping her manage the H*yas for Choice table, which students take turns doing in hourly shifts. As they watch Kavanaugh get angrier and angrier, some of them are perplexed by his reactions. “He’s so visibly angry and it is mind-boggling to me,” Emma Vahey, a 20-year-old junior, says. “It’s just very concerning that this is being painted as his life being ruined when he’s just not getting onto a lifetime appointment onto the Supreme Court.”
Everyone at the table agrees. “I think it’s really concerning to see how this parallels the Anita Hill hearings” in 1991, says Avery Moje, a 20-year-old senior. She’s taking a class called Gender in the Law in which they’re watching a documentary on Anita Hill, and she can’t help but notice that, “Clarence Thomas was also very angry when he was asked to respond, he made comments about how unreasonable this all was.” All of the students are concerned that if Kavanaugh gets confirmed, it would have a negative effect on sexual assault survivors’ abilities to report their stories, a process that can be demeaning and convoluted on college campuses as it is.
Ben Amadi, an 18-year-old freshman who plays football for Georgetown, walks by and takes a photo with the I Believe Survivors sign, telling the students he appreciates what they’re doing. “From what I read, I fully believe the women,” he tells Refinery29. “I have respect for the women and the fact that they’ve been through a traumatic experience. The likelihood that they’re actually lying, the statistics toward false reporting is very slim.” He adds that especially in sports, there is often a “culture of conquest” and he doesn’t shy away from talking about that with his male friends.
“We talk about how the norms of society have made it easy for things like this to happen, how the culture around guys and their friends is, they put a lot of value towards getting with a female, and so that kind of affects how we look at females and objectify them and that leads to sexual assault and rape,” says Amadi.
Ben Amadi, freshman at Georgetown University
A couple of feet away, Hunter Estes (no relation to Ashley Estes Kavanaugh that he knows of), a 21-year-old senior, joins his friend Caroline Willcox at the Right to Life table.
We talk about how the norms of society have made it easy for things like this to happen.
As a 2015 alum of Georgetown Prep, from which Kavanaugh graduated in 1983, Estes sees Kavanaugh as a role model and says he was “ecstatic” when the judge was nominated, as he respects his lifetime of public service and literal approach to the law. Estes says that while we must listen to and empathize with sexual assault survivors — “This is something that hits me deeply. I have three younger sisters” — he doesn’t think the allegations are currently credible enough to bring Kavanaugh down.
“I don’t think everyone has a right to immediately be believed, I think those decisions can only be made once evidence is provided,” he says, adding that he believes there is a lack of evidence and corroboration in Dr. Ford’s case. “That’s the problem I face in this situation. I don’t believe or disbelieve an accusation immediately. I think the basis of Western legal tradition is everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and I think that doctrine is what provides us with the capability to function in a legitimate democracy.” Even though this is a job interview and not a trial? “Even in a job interview, due process should apply and we should walk in with the assumption of innocence.”
In a sworn statement shared by lawyer Michael Avenatti on Wednesday, Julie Swetnick alleged that Kavanaugh and his friends would spike drinks at house parties, which would lead girls “to become inebriated and disoriented so they could then be ‘gang raped’ in a side room or bedroom by a ‘train’ of numerous boys.”
“I’ve never been shown a case of any other school that has taken more seriously the sense of discipline and honor…an overarching sense of service and deep devotion to our community,” he says. “And so everything that has been said, and the attacks against the school, is exactly the opposite experience that I’ve had.”
Sitting next to Estes watching the hearing, Caroline Willcox, who is from South Carolina, is more conflicted about the allegations against Kavanaugh. Willcox, also a 21-year-old senior, is the president of Right to Life, although she says her opinions on Kavanaugh are her own and do not necessarily represent the organization.
They both seem really sincere, and that’s the hard part.
“Her testimony is very compelling and it’s hard to watch that and not feel something and believe her and have your heart go out to her,” Willcox says of Dr. Ford. Like Estes, she says she believes that although Dr. Ford may not have political motivations, Democrats have manipulated the accusers and made their stories into a political issue, “kind of detracting from the situation at hand.”
She says, however, that before making a decision we simply need more evidence in the case — not ruling out FBI involvement, which Democrats have been pressing for. “If these allegations are true, then I don’t think he deserves a spot on the bench,” Willcox says. Republicans are pushing forward with Kavanaugh, with the Senate Judiciary Committee slated to hold a committee vote on Friday despite Democrats calling for a more thorough investigation or his resignation.
Pausing for a bit, Willcox shifts her gaze back to Kavanaugh defending his honor on-screen. “They both seem really sincere, and that’s the hard part.”
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