Undergraduate students at George Mason University are calling for university officials to end a contract with Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was hired by the university’s notoriously conservative Antonin Scalia Law School to teach a study abroad course this year. The protesting students, many of whom are survivors of sexual assault, believe that the university should not reward a man who has been accused of sexual assault and sexual misconduct with a teaching job, and that the law school’s hiring of Kavanaugh is an example of how the university deprioritizes the issue of sexual assault.
“It was really disrespectful to survivors to have Kavanaugh and everything he represents to teach at a branch of our university,” Sarah Kurian, a sophomore at George Mason and a member of Mason For Survivors, told Jezebel. Kurian, who says she was sexually assaulted her freshman year by a classmate, connected Kavanaugh’s appointment to her own experiences filing a Title IX complaint. She ultimately lost her case, she said, “because it was my statement versus his statement.” Of the law school’s decision to hire Kavanaugh, she said, “It just shows that we really haven’t taken that many steps forward in caring about the issue of sexual assault.” Kavanaugh, she added, “is just a symptom of a bigger issue within our administration.”
The news that Kavanaugh was hired by George Mason’s law school first broke in George Mason’s student newspaper, the Fourth Estate, which reported that Kavanaugh would teach a course titled “Creation of the Constitution” in England. According to that report, dozens of students came together shortly after and founded the group Mason for Survivors, which has been leading the nascent campaign to get the university to end its contract with Kavanaugh. A petition the group created currently has about 3,400 signatures, and the group has held numerous protests and teach-ins since its founding in March, under the banner of “Cancel Kavanaugh.”
University officials are defending the decision to bring Kavanaugh on and currently have no plans to cancel the class. In a statement from March 27, George Mason’s President Angel Cabrera, wrote:
I respect the views of people who disagreed with Justice Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation due to questions raised about his sexual conduct in high school. But he was confirmed and is now a sitting Justice. The law school has determined that the involvement of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice contributes to making our law program uniquely valuable for our students. And I accept their judgment.
At the university’s Board of Visitors meeting in early April, students from the group, many of whom identified themselves as survivors of sexual assault, called on the school’s leaders to terminate the contract with Kavanaugh. “As a survivor of sexual assault this decision has really impacted me negatively,” one unidentified student said, according to video obtained by the conservative student publication the College Fix. “It is affecting my mental health knowing that an abuser will be part of our faculty.”
Professors at George Mason have also raised objections to the hiring of the Supreme Court Justice. At a meeting Cabrera held with faculty members last week, several brought up concerns they had with Kavanaugh’s hiring.
“This is not a crazy appointment,” Cabrera told faculty, according to a clip obtained by the College Fix. He added: “Having a Supreme Court Justice is going to create value for the students.”
“I’m not saying he’s clear of the accusations,” Cabrera continued. “I’m not saying he didn’t do it, he did it. I’m not making any judgment whatsoever.”
“Well, should we investigate that?” a woman identified as Dr. Bethany Letiecq, president of George Mason’s American Association of University Professors chapter, responded, as some in the audience snapped in approval. “He’s been accused, and there has not been a full investigation... that I can see,” she said.
“We do our due diligence on all hires,” another professor added. “This is a hire.”
For the students, the call for George Mason University to end its contract with Kavanaugh is just one in a list of demands they have put together to improve the ways that the school handles sexual assault. They are also calling for the university to increase the number of Title IX officers on campus, provide free rape kits to students, and hire an on-campus sexual assault examiner nurse, as well as improve the ways that campus police officers address assault cases. The students’ organizing has led to some initial victories. According to Kurian, the school has already agreed to hire three additional coordinators for the school’s Title IX office. “We’re going in a good direction,” she told Jezebel.
In his statement from the end of March, Cabrera stressed that the school was committed to addressing issues of sexual assault. “This decision, controversial as it may be, in no way affects the university’s ongoing efforts to eradicate sexual violence from our campuses,” he wrote. “We remain firmly committed to this goal, and I want to encourage students who feel strongly about sexual assault prevention at Mason to continue to raise their voices and help us move forward.”
Students, meanwhile, are continuing to organize.
Marian Almanza, a member of Mason for Survivors, described how she felt when she first heard that Kavanaugh would be teaching a course for George Mason University. “At first it was anger, then there was some fear, and then anger again,” she told the Fourth Estate. “I just felt very dismissed.”
Kurian agreed. “We were so shocked and appalled,” she said. “The fact that he was going to be attached to the name George Mason, we believe he doesn’t represent that.”