SPH Sexual Violence Class Becomes Forum on Kavanaugh Hearings
Medical Campus event draws crowd of 200, elicits anger and dismay
After watching Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, a student in Emily Rothman’s School of Public Health class on sexual violence emailed Rothman with a request.
Julia Campbell (SPH’19) was feeling sad and angry and overwhelmed. She asked Rothman, a professor of community health sciences and an expert on sexual violence, if they could take time during the next class to discuss the hearings.
So that’s what Campbell and the other students in the class Sexual Violence: Public Health Perspectives in Intervention and Prevention did yesterday. And nearly 200 people, including Sandro Galea, SPH dean and Robert A. Knox Professor, and Jean Morrison, University provost, joined them.
Emotions ran high. People were mad that Kavanaugh was still being considered as a possible Supreme Court justice after his testimony, which was at times angry and accusatory and at other times tearful. They were also angry that Christine Blasey Ford’s assertions that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager were being challenged in some circles. And they were angry that women who say they have been sexually assaulted continue to be doubted.
Several members of the audience who responded chose not to give their names for confidentiality reasons. One young woman said that members of Congress “are supposed to be looking out for us, but all they can do is argue with each other. They’re about to hire someone who does not not have the best ethical record and that’s for the highest office in the country. It just makes me so angry.”
Another woman, a student in Rothman’s class, said: “It infuriates me that so many Republicans don’t even care.”
And yet another woman said: “There’s a Twitter hashtag, #believeher. It’s as simple as that. We just need to believe her. We need to stop giving them the benefit of the doubt.”
Some in the audience expressed opposing viewpoints—and they were heard. For example, not everyone supported Ford unconditionally. “We don’t know what happened,” one man said. “It’s possible he doesn’t remember what happened or that it didn’t happen. I do think something happened to her, but I think it’s dangerous to assume that somebody who has dedicated his life to doing good has to step aside because of this allegation.”
The discussion was held in the Medical Campus Hiebert Lounge and drew students, faculty, staff, and administrators from schools across the campus. Galea opened by saying that it was the responsibility of people in public health “to be honest and clear about this—that privilege, misogyny, racism, and hatred are the core conditions that make sexual violence acceptable.”
There may be no higher calling in public health, he said, than to make it clear that sexual violence is never acceptable—“not in red states or blue states,” and “not in the Americas, in Asia, or in Africa.”
Morrison joined Rothman and three other experts on sexual assault on the panel—Lisa Fortuna, a School of Medicine assistant professor of psychiatry, Nicole Daley, an SPH teaching assistant, and Megan Bair-Merritt, a MED associate professor of pediatrics—in speaking briefly about the Kavanaugh hearings.
“This is not a new issue, but it is an issue that is now front and center in our national consciousness” and one that “pervades so many aspects of our lives, at work, in social settings, and at school,” said Morrison. At BU, “we will not tolerate sexual misconduct in any form.”
Morrison said that she is a geologist, not an expert in public health, but added that “as a woman who came up through the academic ranks of a scientific discipline in which women are severely underrepresented, I am personally experienced in the arena of bullying, sexual misconduct, and a system of entrenched privilege.
“This is not a new issue, but it is an issue that is now front and center in our national consciousness” and one that “pervades so many aspects of our lives….At BU, we will not tolerate sexual misconduct in any form.”—Jean Morrison, BU provost
“I am deeply troubled by the Kavanaugh hearings,” she said. Last Thursday, she texted her son, a George Washington University junior, who lives in a dorm not far from the White House, and she asked him “to head over to the hearing room and raise his voice and our family voice.
“Then I texted our daughter, who is in a PhD program in biomedical engineering, and I told her not to despair, not to get discouraged,” she said. “But I’m deeply worried that we have not yet created a substantially better environment for all these young people to grow up in.”
A child and adolescent psychiatrist, Fortuna talked about helping victims through the trauma of sexual assault. “One thing that’s most challenging is silence—the inability to express what has happened to them, to not be heard and helped,” she said. “Being heard and believed and supported is one of the first steps in being able to heal.”
“How do we help young people make sense of this,” said Nicole Daley, who works with adolescents through the nonprofit One Love Foundation, which educates young people about healthy relationships. “We know it’s resonating with them because this happened to her in high school.”
Bair-Merritt said she watched the Kavanaugh hearings not just as a researcher and a pediatrician who takes care of children who have undergone sexual violence, but as the mother of a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old. “I cried all day,” she said. “I cried not because I was sad, but because I was livid.”
Rothman, who studies youth alcohol use and dating violence, had a question for the audience. She wanted to know what it meant when Kavanaugh kept talking about beer.
A young man in the audience answered: “No one teaches us how to interact with people in an intimate way. I think he used beer as a mechanism to validate—it intoxicates us and we are not thinking when we’re drinking, and that’s why he did what he did.”
The discussion went on for more than 90 minutes. The comments about the political leaders who will decide whether Kavanaugh is confirmed as a Supreme Court justice seemed to reflect a sense of powerlessness, Morrison said. “But at the end of the day we elect those people,” she said. “If we vote and elect different people to sit in those seats, we can change the outcome.”
Conferring afterward, Rothman and Campbell, the student whose email sparked the forum, said they considered the conversation an important step. “Everybody had a chance to speak,” Campbell said. “I was really grateful that we had male perspectives. I was impressed by how many people came.”
“People shouldn’t sit alone and struggle with complicated thoughts,” Rothman said. “They should have opportunities to get together, to think, talk, share, be pushed. Everyone is struggling with this watershed cultural moment. The way through it is with other people.”
I hear quite a few people from the left side of the aisle talk about the Kavanaugh hearing as if conservatives don’t care about sexual assault victims, or see rape as a non-issue. This is not true at all. The reason why it may seem like the Republicans “don’t care” is because, while Dr. Ford’s testimony was heart wrenching, there simply is not any corroborating evidence to back up her accusation. An uncorroborated accusation is not enough to stop Kavanaugh from being appointed to the Supreme Court.
It seems that many people have the opinion that Kavanaugh must prove his innocence. However, this is a perversion of justice, and the burden of proof is on the accuser. The idea that a man’s career and reputation can be destroyed over an accusation, I think, should be more alarming than the fact that some people won’t believe all women.
Paul: Thank you for your logical and rational comments. An accusation does not make a man guilty. If this is not the case, any man can have his reputation and life’s accomplishments destroyed because of an accusation.
This is a fair argument.
However, we’re now hearing that many people who know or went to school with Kavanaugh are saying his has not been truthful about how he’s portrayed himself. That he consumed high levels of alcohol, partied hard, and showed signs of being very intoxicated like stumbling and becoming belligerent. While Dr. Ford’s testimony may not be enough prove he’s guilty of sexual assault, I now question his fitness in many other ways. First, his truthfulness in question(under oath, mind you). If the accusation isn’t enough, is lying about other things enough to disqualify him (perhaps pending what the FBI finds). What about his temperament during the hearing? His clear partisan viewpoints?
I have a hard time believing Kavanaugh, to be frank. But even if I try to presume his innocence in the accusation, the entire situation has revealed more than enough to question if he is the right man for such a prestigious and powerful position.
I think it’s great that SPH is having these open discussions and it makes me proud to be a part of BU. I hope they continue.
I am hopeful that the SPH will consider this an ongoing discussion. It would be a great service us, BU students faculty and staff, if SPH would consider holding an additional panel & group discussion on this subject on the Charles River Campus for those of us unable to get to the Medical Campus. I for one would be keen to attend along with many of my friends and colleagues. The topic seems to deserve more than one discussion. Hope you will consider it SPH! Thank you.
Regardless if the accusations can be proven, his outburst and lack of judicial restraint should be enough to disqualify him. He demonstrated a clear partisan viewpoint and total disrespect for the Senators questioning him. This is not the type of person who should be sitting on The Supreme Court Of The United States.
Outburst.. If judge Kavanagh’s is innocent. The man’s whole life still will never be the same. His reputation is forever tarnished. During this process the Democrats have been doing whatever they can to destroy this man. His wife and kids have been threatened. There is no evidence to support Mrs. Ford’s claims. In this country your innocent until proven Guilty. We can not let ones bias control the outcome. The people who bring up the Bill Clinton rape allegations have a valid point. I bet Mrs. Morrison didn’t have someone go to those hearings to raise their voice. We have to take politics out of this problem. People need to have an open mind and hear both sides, before passing judgment. If they find evidence that he is guilty then he gets what he deserves. But if the man is innocent, I don’t blame him for those outbursts.
DOCTOR Ford has received death threats and had to move her family to keep them safe. Regardless of opinions on what may or may not have happened it is frustrating when people don’t acknowledge that this is not an easy process on either party or their families.
I agree with the first part of the statement but I have different views about the second half: “But at the end of the day we elect those people,” she said. “If we vote and elect different people to sit in those seats, we can change the outcome.”
In my opinion, “we” include those who have no clue about what’s going on and still vote. That’s why I don’t ever see the wish coming to reality.
I forgot to thank all the participants for such a thoughtful convention.