Activists at George Mason University express feelings of ‘hurt and betrayal’ as the US college selects the Supreme Court Justice accused of sexual assault
One of the most painful defining moments of 2018 was the process, protests, and division over the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. Psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward to publicly allege Kavanaugh had assaulted her when they were both teenagers – the committee hearing that followed was grim and traumatic. She alleged that in 1982 at a party, a 17-year-old Kavanaugh pinned her down, tried to undress and rape her. She recalled how he laughed while she struggled. Despite her evidence and widespread rebellion, the ultra-conservative was confirmed as Trump’s Supreme Court addition in October 2018.
It has now been announced that Kavanaugh has been hired by George Mason University, Virginia, to take up a role as a visiting professor at its British outpost, Antonin Scalia Law School in Runnymede, Surrey. He will teach a course on the US constitution, alongside his former clerk and assistant professor of law Jennifer Mascott.
Runnymede is known as the place where the Magna Carta – one of the earliest charters of rights – was sealed, called the “birthplace of modern democracy”. The move to hire Kavanaugh has been met with widespread anger among students at George Mason University.
Marian, a student at GMU and a member of activist group Mason for Survivors, describes the overarching feeling among students to Dazed. “It told me the university and law school disregarded what students and survivors, like myself, felt about the Kavanaugh situation,” she says. “I felt hurt and betrayed by the appointment of Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, but knowing he was hired by my university made me feel even more betrayed. As an activist, this decision meant that we as students have to mobilise to address the Kavanaugh issue, and various systemic issues the university has in regards to sexual assault resources and prevention.”
The group asserts that the GMU Virginia campus is “severely lacking” in resources to deal with sexual assault, highlighting this instance with Kavanaugh, as well as the university’s “protection” and lack of urgency in acting on sexual harassment allegations made against former student body president David Kanos. The group also points to the lack of action when a man was found to be recording women in a campus bathroom, and the case of the George Mason Forensics director found to have been sexually abusing students for years. Multiple experiences of assault go unreported, the group says, because of the lack of resources or “supportive environment”. “It is a serious problem,” says Marian.
The Mason for Survivors group demands that the university terminates and voids all contracts and affiliation with Kavanaugh, and releases “any and all documents including but not limited to: emails, donor agreements, and contracts related to the hiring”. The group is also asking for a ‘Town Hall’ meeting for students and staff to comment on procedures, and for a formal apology issued by the university.
Marian believes that Kavanaugh’s appointment “perpetuates the notion that the school does not care about sexual assault. It means students are less likely to report. It means students will feel as if reporting the details of their assault will be meaningless, and that is very dangerous.”
“I felt hurt and betrayed by the appointment of Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, but knowing he was hired by my university made me feel even more betrayed” – Marian, Mason for Survivors
Kavanaugh’s position was approved by GMU’s law school in January, and his hire was first reported back in March by the student newspaper Fourth Estate. The Washington Post confirmed the story on Tuesday (April 9).
A petition to remove Kavanaugh from his post has gained over 4,300 signatures at the time of this report. “There is a historic amount of institutional negligence on your part to support survivors of sexual assault and the student body as a whole,” the petition reads, “which has bred a sense of mistrust and suffering within the Mason community and allies.”
Similar outcry took place at Harvard Law School last year – following Kavanaugh’s course on the Supreme Court at the Illinois school, students and alumni spoke out. A student op-ed, published in a college publication, said that an “opportunity to learn about the Supreme Court might not be equally available to women because many will self-select out of a class taught by a credibly accused sexual assailant”.
A statement from GMU’s university president Angel Cabrera reflected on the outcry, but stood by the hire, and asserted the university’s support of sexual assault survivors. “The law school has determined that the involvement of a US Supreme Court justice contributes to making our law program uniquely valuable for our students. The decision, controversial as it may be, in no way affects the university’s ongoing efforts to eradicate sexual violence from our campus.”
Mason for Survivors are also calling for urgent reform on Title IX policy, on-campus policing, and sexual violence resources. Title IX prohibits sex and gender discrimination in education, while also covering sexual harassment and sexual violence. Marian tells Dazed that the university has just two Title IX resource officers, despite being one of the most populous public universities in Virginia, and that students reportedly do not have access to on-campus rape kits – the group is calling for clear information on sexual health and violence resources in college materials and an increase in Title IX officers, as well as the recruitment of an on-site sexual assault examiner nurse, full time clinicians, and a 24/7 police department sexual assault coordinator. “One student told me she has been waiting for weeks in regards to her Title IX complaints,” says Marian. “These sort of issues make me feel so wary about ever using the Title IX complaint system. If something ever happened to me on campus, I genuinely would not feel confident in using our current Title IX system.” Mason for Survivors also asks for all sexual assault incidents to be reported to students within 30 days.
A campus-wide meeting has been arranged for April 16, involving students, staff, and faculty, to vocalise issues on Title IX reform and sexual assault prevention.