Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh each testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, in a testimony that was hours long. Along with a rotating group of staff, faculty, students and more distantly, alumni, we consumed it. In my case, I watched it nearly in its entirety from start to finish, a deliberate act of witnessing in the spiritual sense. Others of us could take it in only like an eclipse, through a pinhole projector of short clips or recaptured narratives. But the question remains: what did we just watch?
One thing we watched was a performance. What took place before the Senate Judiciary Committee was not an investigative practice. Indeed, as even Rachel Mitchell acknowledged, it departed significantly from the established best practices of investigators. No legitimate professional in the realm of sexual violence work fully and properly investigates by saying, “This is what is alleged. Did you do it?” and asks no further questions. What we watched was, by design, being structured as a “he said, she said” case, with facts and credible narratives unknown and un-gatherable. It is not that kind of case, and few cases are.
One thing we watched was tightly-held stories unspool, about how a group of young men at Georgetown Prep, and subsequently Yale, bonded itself together. As Lili Loofbourow wrote in a piece for Slate, “the awful things Kavanaugh allegedly did only imperfectly correlate to the familiar frame of sexual desire run amok; they appear to more easily fit into a different category – a toxic homosociality – that involves males wooing other males over the comedy of being cruel to women.” For the last four years, the young people who comprise this community, the Williams of today, have had to labor quietly and repeatedly on important questions: how do we form genuine bonds – as teammates, as friends, as partners – based on respect and care for one another, not the cheap currency of sexual conquest or degradation of others?
One thing we watched is what rushes into the vacuum when we lack space for authentic healing and repair for those who have been harmed, and space for accountability and transformation for those who have done harm. More often, we are presented with singular moments of individual trajectory shift: whether someone will be promoted from one lifetime judicial appointment to a more-powerful one; suspension or expulsion from a school. And as with Kavanaugh, we watch people grieve the possibility of this shift in real time. But there is no scale that balances pain, no punishment that winds back clock hands. If that is the only moment when we declare our collective values, those moments come too irrecoverably late. We don’t yet have those authentic spaces for deep healing and deep accountability, at least not consistently, but they are possible.
There are and will be 10,000 moments in our lives as Ephs, on this campus and long after we leave it, when we get to choose what we ask of our friends and fellow community members, and to ask more of them and our relationships. Some of them will require real moral courage, the kind where calling people back to what we expect of them as a member of this community may mean the end of our relationship if they choose not to listen. More often, it will be tiny, decent things that keep, in the words of Rabbi Tamara Cohen, “our futures’ possibilities intact.”
Meg Bossong ’05 is the College’s director of sexual assault prevention and response.