NEW HAVEN — With the country riveted by Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s tumultuous Supreme Court nomination process, nowhere have the sexual assault allegations against him seemed more tangible than at his alma mater, Yale University.
Kavanaugh, who holds both undergraduate and law degrees from the elite university, is accused by a female classmate of sexual misconduct when the two were freshman in 1983. He has flatly denied the accusation, but the school has been buffeted by anti-Kavanaugh sentiment in recent days.
On Monday, law students and professors made their dissatisfaction clear with a sit-in, wearing black and filling the halls in protest of his nomination. Others traveled to Washington to protest on Capitol Hill.
Some professors canceled classes to accommodate the demonstration.
On Tuesday, #StopKavanaugh posters hung from the stone pillars of the school. And Tuesday afternoon, students gathered for a meeting to discuss a law school investigation of a separate Kavanaugh matter: an accusation that faculty had told female students to dress like models when applying to clerk for the judge.
Among undergraduates, the Kavanaugh controversy has sparked anxious conversations about sexual misconduct in the 1980s — and today.
Students said it is eerie to know the dorm where the alleged incident took place, and they said they do not want the reputation of their school tarnished by his conduct.
“We want to make sure we have graduates that we can be proud of,” said Matt Nguyen, a third-year law student.
The allegations by Yale alumna Deborah Ramirez, revealed Sunday in The New Yorker magazine, are the second of two sexual misconduct accusations against Kavanaugh that have come to light during his rocky confirmation process. Ramirez told the magazine that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a drunken party at a Yale dormitory. The judge has denied Ramirez’s account as well as that of a California professor, Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were in high school.
“I never did any such thing,” Kavanaugh told Fox News in an interview. “The other people alleged to be there don’t recall any such thing. If such a thing had happened, it would have been the talk of campus.”
Both Kavanaugh and Ford will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
Yale is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the country, founded in 1701. It counts among its alumni numerous presidents, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Three Supreme Court justices hold Yale degrees: Sonia Sotomayor, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas.
On Tuesday, as cold rain fell and students ducked between the school’s Gothic buildings on their way to class, many said they were shaken by the rush of news. They know well Lawrance Hall, the dormitory where the incident with Ramirez is alleged to have occurred. The storm over Kavanaugh, they said, has led to discussions among their friends about how sexual harassment and assault are still problems on campus.
“It’s really scary to kind of know the location of stuff,” said Garth Holden, a junior from South Africa. He said it leads him to wonder if there are other “Brett Kavanaughs” at Yale now.
Holden said that among other white men he knows, there is some support for Kavanaugh. Those who defend him against the latest allegations, he said, are the ones who supported him from the beginning.
Catherine Lenihan, a freshman from New Jersey, said she has talked a lot about Kavanaugh with her classmates.
“The consensus is what happened is disgusting, and sex offenders should never be considered for the Supreme Court,” she said.
Senior Emma Green said that, unfortunately, the allegations come as no surprise. The abuse of power and privilege happened then and happens still, she said.
She and other students said the problem of sexual assault on campus has not been solved, more than three decades later. But the Kavanaugh hearings have put a spotlight on the subject, she said.
“The most important thing is, hey, believe women,” said Green, who is from upstate New York.
Colleges have struggled for years with how to handle and prevent sexual assault, yet despite considerable efforts by administrators, issues persist. Stephanie Blas, a Yale junior from Miami, said some victims are still too scared to come forward and often feel that the system works against them.
“It would be good to see Yale as an institution working toward a campus that is safer for women,” she said.
As for Kavanaugh, she said, the university should not continue to honor him as a graduate.
“Yale as an institution can’t be complicit in that whole situation,” she said.
At the law school, students attended a school-wide assembly on Tuesday afternoon about a new investigation the school has launched, prompted by allegations about Kavanaugh and what is said to be his preference for attractive female law clerks.
The school is investigating whether two of its faculty members acted inappropriately with regard to helping students apply for clerkships with Kavanaugh, a probe first reported by Inside Higher Ed.
In a memo obtained by the publication, the Yale Law School dean, Heather Gerken, said, “The allegations being reported are of enormous concern to me and to the school.”
She added, “Neither the law school nor the university prejudges the outcomes of investigations.”
Meanwhile, according to a statement from Gerken, 50 members of the law faculty have signed a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding Kavanaugh, urging its members to conduct a “fair and deliberate confirmation process.”
In her statement, Gerken said she cannot take a position on the nomination, “but I am so proud of the work our community is doing to engage with these issues, and I stand with them in supporting the importance of fair process, the rule of law, and the integrity of the legal system.’’
Nguyen, the law student, said he recently completed the application process to be a clerk and knows the pressure to get a good clerkship — as well as the reputations of certain judges for inappropriate preferences and behavior.
“It’s part of the system,” he said — a part that he now hopes will change.