By Kathleen Morris
The name Brett Kavanaugh has become synonymous with many things, depending on what side of the aisle you find yourself. Some sympathize with him, feeling that what should have been a simple set of proceedings morphed into a spectacle that has tarnished an innocent man’s reputation. Others wouldn’t even dream of using the word innocent when talking about Kavanaugh, choosing instead to believe the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. They say that she showed an immense amount of bravery by stepping forward, opening herself to inevitable backlash. Whatever you believe, the votes have been cast. On October 8, 2018, Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as a judge to the highest court in the country, a lifelong appointment that cannot be taken back.
It isn’t hard to see how this managed to capture the attention of many. People watched their TV screens and devoured articles, scrolling through hashtags and posts, trying to form opinions as information changed and multiplied by the day. With all the warring opinions out there, it was hard to digest it all. And even with all the talk this issue garnered, some just couldn’t find the time to be brought up to speed. It’s no wonder then that several professors on campus decided to do something about it, setting up a teach-in at the Union during the week of the hearings. There they made themselves available to students to discuss what was happening and provide different sources that could provide students with information.
English professor Rebecca Lartigue explained how this came about, saying that she and other professors found that their students didn’t know a lot about who Kavanaugh was, or how his confirmation might affect the country. “Not all students are in courses where class time can be given to discussing current events,” she explained, “and it’s difficult for newer voters to understand the historical contexts that have led to a particular political moment.” All the professors involved seem to echo this sentiment in one way or another. English professor Anne Wheeler reiterated, “It’s hard because it’s complicated, and it’s hard because it is emotionally draining.” History professor Ian Delahanty also shared why this warranted a teach-in, saying, “it was important to show students on campus that the college –especially the faculty–will do all that it can to support victims of sexual assault and to raise awareness of how big a problem this is in our society.” However, sexual assault isn’t an easy thing to talk about. And when something like that becomes intertwined with something as pivotal as picking the next Supreme Court judge, things can become even more clouded with opinions from all sides. Students might be intimidated to join the conversation or have no idea where to start. Several of the professors who spent time at the table set up at the Union noticed this, citing overt disengagement as a recurring trend. Despite some levels of detachment, important conversations were still had. English professor Justine Dymond said she “engaged in some great discussions with students, staff, and faculty.” Professor Delahanty shared an experience of a student who knew a bit about the Kavanaugh case but wanted to learn more. Even more importantly, he wanted to know what he could do to be more involved. All of the professors who participated agreed that getting involved is a critical need when it comes to issues such as these.
According to Sociology professor Susan Joel, this hasn’t been the first time that professors staged a teach-in, giving students the opportunity to engage on a tough topic. In 2015 the documentary Hunting Ground came out. This documentary looked into the reality of sexual assault on college campuses. Professor Joel explained that during that time “a group of faculty tabled to provide support for students who might have been revisiting similar experiences.” They also provided resources to help students learn more about the issue, and to find services that could provide support for those in need. Then and now it seemed important to push the campus forward by giving students a chance to be informed and be involved.
These conversations are ones that need to be had. Whether or not it’s something as lasting as picking a Supreme Court judge, being informed is the best defense against ignorance. This matters because ignorance has always been the most reliable tool used by those with less than noble intentions. For the sake of dispelling ignorance, all of the professors involved expressed their hopes that this can continue beyond these last few weeks. Professor Dymond said, “My hope is that there are more teach-ins about a variety of issues that keep the campus engaged in connecting our learning in classes to our lives and current events.” Professor Delahanty explained that professors “want our students to know that they can raise a hand in class or see us in office hours or around campus to ask about what’s happening beyond the college community.”
With the confirming of Brett Kavanaugh, some may say things look dim. Some feel that this sends a terrible message to survivors of sexual assault, telling them that their experiences mean next to nothing. According to Professor Lartigue, a recent Marish/PBS/NPR poll revealed that 29% of Americans would support Kavanaugh’s confirmation even if he were to be proven guilty of sexual assault. Some may wonder what this says about the way society views allegations of sexual assault. Others feel that this has confirmed that an institution that should be nonpartisan is very much involved in the messy business of politics, meaning that future rulings could be tainted by party lines.
Whether or not you agree with these fears, the best thing you can do for yourself, and others, is be aware because some issues are just too important to ignore. Professor Wheeler put it well by saying, “We’re in the midst of a relentless news cycle, and it is enormously hard to keep up.” She added that despite that struggle, “you need to tune into this kind of thing.” And more so than that, taking steps to be involved can serve its purpose as well. Professor Joel quoted former UN Special Ambassador Waris Dirie as saying, “Whatever happens to the least of us, has an effect on all of us.”
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