Journalism

I Went to an Elite Prep School like Christine Blasey Ford’s. Here’s Why the Kavanaugh Hearing Was Deeply Disturbing for Grads Like Me

This article was originally published by TIME on September 28th, 2018, by Fuller Project Correspondent Xanthe Scharff.

As Thursday’s Senate hearing into Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when in high school at Georgetown Preparatory School was about to get underway, protestors and Kavanaugh supporters assembled in the Hart Senate Building atrium. A walkway and a thin line of police separated the protestors—many of whom were muzzled by the black duct-tape they strapped across their mouths—from about 30 women who called themselves, “Women for Kavanaugh.” Just before the hearing, the women from that group turned to the cameras, flashing a “V for Victory” with their fingers. The group’s smiling leader, prominent conservative activist Penny Young Nance stood inches above other women in stilettos. One protestor yelled to them, “I don’t want to wish bad things on you, I just hope you are never sexually assaulted.”

Among the protestors on Thursday were alumnae from The Holton Arms School in Bethesda Maryland—an all girls private school and Ford’s alma mater. For many of them, Dr. Ford’s testimony hit a personal and familiar vein. Alumnae tightly locked arms, forming a circle in the Hart Senate Building Thursday morning. The haunting harmony of their school hymn, sung in unison by the women, floated up the atrium to Senators’ office doors.

At Holton, both students and the administration have been vocal in their response to the Senate hearings. Sarah Burghess, Holton Arms class of ’05, told me that over a thousand alumnae signed a letter to support Ford, posted on a webpage they created. The student body has reportedly been “on fire” for the past week debating the issue, according to an article in Vanity Fair in which seven additional alumnae talk about their experiences being sexually assaulted while in school. The Bethesda Patch, a local news site, reported that the school would allow some students to attend the hearings.

More broadly, the Senate hearing has prompted disturbing memories to resurface among survivors and alumni of other private sister and brother schools to Georgetown Prep and Holton Arms. I talked to an alum from St. Albans School, one of the most prominent single-sex school in the Greater Washington D.C. area, where former Vice President Al Gore’s son once attended along with other notable families. St Albans, along with other elite schools in the area, has been mentioned in some of the personal testimonies that emerged in the news since Ford’s accusations were made public, showing that some alumni from this family of schools share similar memories.

“They [predatory kids] knew exactly how to behave in front of the priest and the headmaster,” says Lex Paulson, who graduated in 1998 from St. Albans. Speaking by phone from his apartment in Paris, he said “the surety that they wouldn’t be held accountable, it fed their smugness when tormenting vulnerable kids.” Now a well-respected professor at the Sciences Po in Paris, Paulson was thrown into lockers and bullied while in middle and high school.

Others at Hart on Thursday drew on radically different prep school experiences, and were out to show support from Judge Kavanaugh. “I find it hard to believe that in a community like that [Georgetown Prep], where people value their reputations, that this could happen and people wouldn’t know about it,” says Jaime Ballew, a young Senate staffer and part of the “Women for Kavanaugh” group. Referring back to her time at religious prep school in rural Virginia, where everyone knew each other from church and the country club, she says: “Georgetown Prep School is Ivy League-mapped. Parents are spending thousands of dollars on their children’s education. How would they not notice changes in their behavior?”

Ballew’s support for Kavanaugh stems from her belief that he will follow the constitution in his rulings, she said. A number of college students from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia said that Kavanaugh should be considered innocent until proven guilty and worried about the impact of #MeToo on falsely accused men. Jerry Falwell Jr., who is President of that evangelical university and is close to President Donald Trump, announced that up to 300 students could ride in University buses up to DC to support Kavanaugh.

Standing in a group of several dozen, three students from Liberty University stood against the wall in the Hart lobby. Ben Rakes, a reserved 18-year-old in an Adidas sweatshirt, told me, “#MeToo has been good for women, it’s good for them to come out. But politicizing it can be like the boy who cried wolf, like the girl who cried rape…then it’s just another account.” Andrew Einmo, a 19-year-old also from Liberty said, “We think rape is serious and can’t be taken lightly. We want to see solid proof…. like cameras, detectives searching the room.” Jacob Glewen, 19, said his views were informed by hearing that a female friend told him she made a false accusation.

Across the hallway, a young woman gripped her cell phone, which was streaming Ford’s opening statement. She wept inconsolably, holding onto another young woman’s hand; several older women placed their arms on her shoulders and made a small barricade around her with their bodies.

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