With a few minutes remaining before her first period history class Sept. 28, Jaya Nayar ’20 focused intensely on her computer screen. She wasn’t working on homework or finishing up a last-minute essay. Instead, like many others across the nation, she was watching the hearings with Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. Nayar said she was shocked at what she was witnessing.
Ford testified to the trauma she said she experienced when she was allegedly assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh when they were both teenagers. Over 20 million people watched as the hearings were broadcast, according to Reuters. Both Kavanaugh and Ford said they were confident in the truth of their testimonies, but their accounts were polar opposites.
At the hearings, United States Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina criticized Ford’s allegations as “the most unethical sham since [he’s] been in politics.” Kavanaugh himself painted Ford’s allegations as purely political and with no factual basis, only meant to prevent the nomination of a new conservative justice.
Nayar said she felt that conservative representatives do not adequately respond to issues of sexual assault, allowing the problem to continue unnoticed.
“I think that the way that conservatives do things, such as saying that what happened to Christine Blasey Ford doesn’t matter or isn’t really relevant, is morally reprehensible,” Nayar said. “I also think that the way that conservatives refuse to discuss these issues and confine them to the margins makes them more pervasive within society by recreating stigma and not allowing us to address the problem.”
The allegations of sexual harassment surrounding Kavanaugh come roughly thirty years after Anita Hill, a former professor at University of Oklahoma at the time of her allegations, accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual misconduct. Hill’s allegations also entered the fray during Thomas’ nomination process and resulted in 10 days of televised hearings. Coco Kaleel ’20 said she believes the Kavanaugh hearings have become so significant because this is the second time assault allegations have come out during the appointment of a new justice.
“In history class, we talked about [the Kavanaugh hearings] because it is a historic moment, especially because the last time something like this happened was with Hill,” Kaleel said. “I think times have changed. I’ve seen it on social media too.”
Will Berlin ’19, who describes himself as a libertarian, agreed that conservative politicians need to take a more strong stance against sexual assault.
“[Conservatives] have to get with the times here,” Berlin said. “The majority of Americans believe that sexual assault is bad, which is good, but Republicans need to take a stricter stance on this.”
The allegations against Kavanaugh come after the rise of the feminist movement #MeToo, which was first created on social media platform MySpace by Tarana Burke in 2006 and gained traction in 2017 after numerous celebrities revealed that producer Harvey Weinstein had been harassing them. Women and nonbinary individuals shared stories of abuse and harassment on social media with the goal of challenging rape culture and exposing assault.
Students such as Dahlia Low ’20 said they believe that the #MeToo movement has helped shift conversations more in favor of survivors. Low said that this change can be seen in the reaction to the Kavanaugh hearings.
“A lot of the supporters of Kavanaugh have been very cruel to Dr. Ford and sent her death threats, and she’s had to relocate twice, but there definitely is more awareness in the leadership,” Low said. “They can’t just discount her because she is a survivor and the #MeToo movement has really brought an awareness of rape culture to society.”
Low said that she expects the Kavanaugh hearings to lead to more discussions about assault.
“I definitely think that the school community as teenagers is more aware of what is happening,” Low said. “For instance, we were watching the Kavanaugh hearings during a lunch period. You have much more political awareness among students, which is really good for starting a conversation for how we as the next generation can fix rape culture.”
Will Newhart ’19 said he expects a strong response from the feminist movement if Kavanaugh is appointed.
“If Kavanaugh does get put on the Supreme Court, it’ll definitely be a blow to the movement, but it will still inspire more activism and a push toward that,” Newhart said. “I feel like that’s what happened when President Trump got elected. More people became more outspoken. Student activism, especially since 2016, has increased so much.”
In moving forward, students said that are a number of goals which movements like #MeToo need to accomplish, such as working toward including other marginalized communities into the discussion on sexual assault.
“I’m very grateful that celebrities are speaking out and making this more of a mass movement,” Low said. “However, I do think that a lot of people that are speaking out who are in the media are people with money who can afford lawyers to sue their abusers and get out of situations. I think that we need to work more on bringing voices that we aren’t always talking about to light. That includes a lot of minority opinions who aren’t in the spotlight, whose stories aren’t being told. We need to focus on them and get their stories out.”
Additionally, when it comes to reforming feminist activism on campus, students agreed that the best place to begin is by staying educated and aware on current events like the Kavanaugh hearings.
“I think that staying aware of the news is not that hard, but a lot of people don’t do it,” Nayar said. “It’s as simple as getting notifications on your phone. Just read the headlines. You don’t even have to read the article.”
Low said that student awareness on sexual assault is key to mobilizing a response to the problem.
“We need to understand that this isn’t a problem that is going to solve itself,” Low said. “We have to be the ones to solve it, for starters by not letting someone who is a known sexual abuser into the one of the highest courts in the land.”