Amid national uproar following multiple allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, students and faculty at the University of Michigan campus are protesting and finding ways to discuss the issue, how it pertains to campus climate and its relevance in national discourse.
After first sending several anonymous tips to U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University, came out publicly in September with details regarding Kavanaugh’s alleged attempt of sexual assault when the two of them were high school students. Kavanaugh allegedly pinned Ford to a bed, groped her and when she resisted and tried to scream, he put his hand over her mouth. Ford has provided notes telling the same story from a couple’s therapy session in 2012, as well as individual therapy in 2013 and results from a polygraph test she passed in which she detailed the incident.
In a statement released through the White House last Monday, Kavanaugh denied the accusation and claimed no memory of this incident or Ford herself.
“This is a completely false allegation,” Kavanaugh said. “I have never done anything like what the accuser describes — to her or to anyone. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday.”
Deborah Ramirez, a woman who attended Yale University with Kavanaugh, came forward yesterday with her own allegations against Kavanaugh.
Democratic lawmakers are calling for a more in-depth investigation of the allegations set forth by Ford. President Donald Trump also weighed in on the issue, emphasizing Kavanaugh’s “impeccable reputation” and his doubt in the allegation because of the lack of a police report and time passed from the alleged assault.
In response, Twitter saw a surge of tweets with the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport, detailing the shame and difficulty people had faced in reporting their own sexual assault.
LSA senior Sarah Saks-Fithian, a volunteer at Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, emphasized the difficulty for survivors of sexual assault to overcome trauma amid media and the internet opinion that criticizes victims for not coming forward sooner. According to Saks-Fithian, victims begin to feel their experience is invalid. More locally, she underscored the importance of organizations on campus such as the Peer-led Support Group program through SAPAC, which supports and advocates for survivors of sexual assault.
“I think that the Kavanaugh case affects survivors on campus as most highly publicized scandals involving sexual violence impact survivors, and that they can be very triggering and disruptive to survivors’ healing,” Saks-Fithian said. “Trauma tends to hover close to the surface, and it can be very triggering when survivors are bombarded by stimuli related to their experiences. As a survivor myself, I know that I become more emotionally vulnerable when I‘m continually exposed to stories of sexual violence, especially in such highly publicized cases like Kavanaugh’s because there's really no way to avoid it.”
Saks-Fithian also highlighted how issues in society are reflected in the University campus community, and public figures should be held to higher moral standards of behavior. Saks-Fithian made the distinction between limiting Kavanaugh’s career opportunities and ruining his life.
“The Kavanaugh case is extremely relevant for our campus community and for the world because it involves someone trying to join the highest echelons of legal power that exist in our country,” she explained. “I find it interesting that people are focusing on the impact these allegations may have on Kavanaugh's career without taking into account the impact the assault has had on the survivor. The impact of sexual violence is not limited to memories of the experience(s). The violation of bodily autonomy, agency and independence have consequences that are often widespread and long-lasting and can and often do completely alter the survivor's life.”
This situation has made some question the legitimacy of the Supreme Court nominations process, a conflict stemming in part from Republicans’ blocking of former President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland as a replacement for former Justice Antonin Scalia. Senate Republicans refused to hold any hearings on Garland’s nomination and successfully appointed and confirmed Justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017 under the Trump administration. In addition, Kavanaugh’s confirmation would make him the second sitting Supreme Court justice, including Justice Clarence Thomas, accused of sexual misconduct.
Michigan Law Professor Richard Primus weighed in on the issue, describing the implications of this case and how it relates to the hearings regarding the accusations against Thomas by attorney Anita Hill.
“The Kavanaugh confirmation hearings are turning out to be potentially the most explosive and damaging confirmation hearings in the history of the Supreme Court. Many people are drawing parallels to the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991,” Primus wrote in an email to The Daily. “But in 1991, there was a much higher degree of trust and cooperation between the rival political parties in Congress, and in 1991 the President who nominated the candidate was not himself famous for bragging about committing sexual assaults.”
Primus explained the importance of accountability within the Supreme Court in order to preserve its status as an institution that exercises fair judicial proceedings.
“It’s a mistake to think that the Supreme Court is permanently and automatically a respected institution whose rulings the other branches are willing to respect,” he wrote. “It took the Court a hundred years after the Constitution was ratified to accumulate the capital necessary to exercise judicial review of federal legislation on a regular basis. In large part because of the stonewall of Merrick Garland, the Court's stature was already wobbling before the current sexual assault allegations came out. If things go badly now, the Court might face a rough future.”
Primus emphasized the importance of sensitivity regarding the issue because of its wide-reaching impacts on all women who have experienced sexual assault.
“No matter what happens to the Court, the process is taking a serious toll on many women who have been victims of sexual violence and who are finding the intense public discussion of the current allegations particularly difficult,” he wrote. “Very few of us have direct contact with the confirmation process, but probably all of us have contact with someone who is having a hard time because of the way current events intersect with her personal experience. We should be thoughtful about being sensitive to that reality as events unfold.”
The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, also known as BAMN, held a protest on the Diag Monday afternoon calling for the removal of Trump from office and the subsequent defeat of Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Kate Stenvig, a national organizer with BAMN and chair of BAMN’s U-M chapter, explained the mission of the protest.
“We believe Christine Ford, and now Deborah Ramirez,” Stenvig said. “The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh now to the Supreme Court is a real threat to democracy, and to the rights of women, and because Trump has chosen Kavanaugh because of his longstanding position that a sitting president should be above the law. I think it’s been clear from the beginning that Trump’s whole platform and his whole support base is fundamentally based on misogyny, immigrant bashing and racism.”
Stenvig described Trump and Kavanaugh as unfit for their government positions, citing the separation of migrant children from their families, which became a topic of national discussion this summer.
“Trump has proven to be the abuser-in-chief: his promotion of sexual assault and predation of women, the fact that he has committed massive crimes against humanity by already using national security as the premise for separating children from their families and putting children in cages, while denying immigrants the basic right of applying for asylum which is their legal right,” she said. “Nobody, neither Trump nor Kavanaugh, who are abusers, should be in the position to be able to make decisions over our lives.”
Rackham student Kate Napier protested alongside BAMN and explained she felt the accusations against Kavanaugh automatically disqualified him from the Supreme Court.
“Brett Kavanaugh is not fit to serve on the highest court in the land,” Napier said. “Someone who has committed an act of violence against a woman cannot be given power to make decisions about women’s lives.”