When Justice Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court at the end of June 2018, there was uproar. A conservative judge who had provided key swing votes on issues such as gay rights, abortion and affirmative action, Kennedy served as a bridge between an increasingly polarized court. Many feared that his decision to step down could transform the Supreme Court for decades. Kennedy’s retirement would give President Donald Trump the ability to nominate a young, conservative jurist to take his place, cementing an almost certain conservative majority.
Almost immediately after Kennedy’s retirement, President Trump began to search for a replacement nominee. He faced a time crunch: in order for a Supreme Court nominee to be appointed, he or she must be approved by the Senate. Because Republicans controlled the Senate at the time, President Trump’s nominee could be appointed without input from Democrats. Trump, and other proponents of a conservative judge, did not wish to wait in case the November midterm elections shifted the Senate majority.
President Trump announced that he would select a nominee from a list of 25 potential candidates that he compiled during his presidential campaign. Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the D.C. Appeals Court quickly emerged as a front-runner and was announced as the president’s nominee on July 9. His heavily padded resume — including his status as a former aide to President George W. Bush — and conservative background made him the ideal candidate to fill the vacancy, and his confirmation seemed certain.
This surety was called into question, however, when California professor Dr. Christine Blasey Ford made sexual assault allegations against Judge Kavanaugh in a Sept. 16 Washington Post article. She claimed that Kavanaugh attempted to force himself upon her at a party they both attended in high school. Dr. Ford’s statement provoked outrage on both sides: supporters of Kavanaugh — who vehemently denied the accusation — attacked her as a liar while others believed the accusation provided grounds to rescind his nomination. The controversy also released a maelstrom of broader questions across the nation — why didn’t she say something sooner? How can a matter of ‘he said, she said’ of such large scale be resolved? Should someone be held accountable for actions committed so long ago?
The rest played out more like a television drama than a political proceeding. Instead of the scheduled Sept. 21 confirmation vote, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley proposed a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh to testify. The hearing was set for Sept. 27. Within a week, two other women brought sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Kavanaugh, both of which he denied. As the hearing loomed overhead, many cited an unfortunate similarity to the 1991 hearing of Anita Hill, a University of Oklahoma law professor, who accused Judge Clarence Thomas, who currently sits on the bench, of sexual harassment. Hill’s hearing, which consisted of an all-white male committee, outraged many and thus precautions, such as hiring an outside prosecutor, were taken to prevent the same indignation.
By the time of the hearing, the nation was riveted: more than 20 million Americans tuned in to watch. Both testimonies were heavy with emotion. Dr. Ford appeared composed, if a bit nervous, and asserted that she was “100 percent” certain that Judge Kavanaugh was her attacker. Judge Kavanaugh spurned the allegations, denouncing his accusers for character assassination in a testimony fueled by outrage.
The day after the hearing, the nomination was moved out of committee, but members of the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to request an FBI investigation ahead of the full Senate vote. After reviewing the material, the Senate voted 51-49 on Oct. 5 to advance Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, and 50-48 the next day to confirm him to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Notre Dame student body, like the nation as a whole, was split on the decision. While some supported Kavanaugh’s appointment and found his denial credible, others believed Dr. Ford’s testimony. “For me, and many others on campus, the Kavanaugh decision was more than just deciding the makeup of the Supreme Court — it was setting a precedent for whether this nation supports survivors or not,” Elizabeth Boyle, student government’s director of gender relations, told Scholastic. “The harmful rhetoric that was aimed at Dr. Ford throughout the whole trial was upsetting and painful for survivors.”
The plight of Dr. Ford, played out on the national stage, fueled the anger of women that felt they had been systematically silenced and oppressed for generations, women that comprise the base of the Me Too movement. Judge Kavanaugh is one of many public figures who has faced scrutiny for sexual assault allegations in the past year. There are examples of men from almost every industry — entertainment, politics, even publishing — that have lost their jobs or, at the very least, faced accusations over misconduct. Despite the credibility of many of the allegations made, few men have faced disciplinary consequences. President Trump currently faces 22 accusations of sexual assault, although with new waves of accusations made regularly — most recently, Leslie Moonves, president of CBS, resigned after facing dozens of harassment allegations — these withstanding allegations appear to have been forgotten by many.
The Me Too movement originated in October 2017, when a tweet by actress Alyssa Milano that asked her followers to respond “Me Too” if they had ever been sexually harassed or assaulted went viral. Within hours, thousands of people, including high-profile actresses such as Lady Gaga, Anna Paquin and America Ferrera, had responded, drawing together and sharing their experiences online. The tweet was largely seen as a response to the allegations made by actress Ashley Judd against Harvey Weinstein, a film producer and Hollywood fixture. Though Milano popularized the term “Me Too” in 2017, it was actually coined in 2006 by Tarana Burke, a activist for women of color that have suffered sexual assault. Whereas Burke’s work is mostly focused on helping survivors like herself, the Me Too movement sparked by Milano has focused on giving voice to women who have long been silent and on holding perpetrators of sexual assault accountable for their actions.
The movement continued to gain traction as more and more prominent men were accused of misconduct. Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. and Matt Lauer all faced allegations. Time Magazine named a group of women’s — termed the “silence breakers” the person of the year for 2017. The cover featured Taylor Swift, Ashley Judd, Susan Fowler, Adama Iwu and Isabel Pascual, and the piece celebrated the courage of those taking part in the movement.
The Me Too movement continued to gain traction into the new year. In January 2018, Shonda Rhimes, Reese Witherspoon and 300 other women in Hollywood formed Time’s Up, an initiative to protect women across all industries from workplace harassment. Many of the stars that attended the 2018 Golden Globes wore black, as well as “Time’s Up” pins in solidarity with victims. In addition to inspiring Hollywood celebrities, the Me Too movement has permeated a variety of cultural spheres. In one example, dozens of young female Olympic gymnasts rallied against abuser Larry Nassar, who is serving a 40-year prison sentence as of January.
The Me Too movement has seen its share of difficulties over the past year. Some have criticized the reach of the movement, and Me Too activist Asia Argento was herself recently accused of sexual assault. Still, the movement thrives, surviving criticism and division to remain a dominant force in American culture and an underlying influence upon the behavior of both women and men. Those who have had to bear the weight of their trauma alone have been able to find a voice, not only individually, but communally and demand the justice they deserve.
Student body president Gates McGavick spoke to the movement’s impact not only nationally, but within the Notre Dame community. “Just as it’s spread across the nation, it has given women on Notre Dame’s campus, especially survivors of sexual assault, a feeling that ... a movement is there for them in what obviously is an incredibly difficult situation.”
Two years ago, Scholastic covered sexual assault on campus — how survivors report assault, how the administration manages students’ cases and how news of assaults reaches the student body. This month, we answer the following questions: How has the Me Too movement influenced policy, practice and culture at Notre Dame, and how are both students and the administration working to eradicate campus sexual assault? How have specific committees and policies — Title IX, for instance — worked in light of this mission? And what specific policies or attitudes prevalent at Notre Dame, if any, contribute either to the prevalence or to the reduction of sexual assault?
Me Too on Campus: Administrative and Cultural Forces
Members of the Notre Dame community spoke to Scholastic about efforts to curb campus assault, cultural changes they believe still need to happen and specific actions that students can take in the wake of the Me Too movement. McGavick cited disparities in dorm culture — both differences in discipline and in expectations surrounding parties — as a contributor to what many view as a source of gender inequality, stating, “Anyone who doesn’t think there’s a disparity in punishment and tone has either never spent time in a dorm or is ignoring the problem.” The administration is working to resolve these issues by changing the language surrounding “social gatherings” in residence halls, as covered in Scholastic’s previous issue. Regarding administrative successes, McGavick emphasized the important role that greeNDot training — now a requirement for many student government members — has played in promoting gender equality and argued for its expansion. GreeNDot trains students, faculty and staff on how to work against ingrained behavioral patterns which promote a culture of violence and discrimination. There are two ways to get involved with greeNDot. First, the Overview Speech is available for a basic introduction to the elements of the program and can be given to departments, units, organizations, clubs or residences. Second, students can register for bystander intervention training in order to learn about how to act in times of crisis and how to integrate the principles they promote into their daily life.
“Anyone who doesn’t think there’s a disparity in punishment and tone has either never spent time in a dorm or isignoring the problem.”
McGavick hopes to further entrench greeNDot’s influence by implementing training in dorms. Like his predecessor, 2017-18 student body president Becca Blais, Gates also hopes to see the administration embrace Callisto, an app that “allows sexual assault survivors to report in a much more survivor-centric way and allows for a lot more discretion and protection throughout the process.” McGavick added that while he believes Callisto is “in the stage of litigation with the university’s general counsel,” he hopes that the university will approach the program “more wholeheartedly.”
Administrators also weighed in on the issue of sexual assault and gender equality, diving into matters of both policy and culture. Iris Outlaw, Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention (CSAP) member Director of Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS), emphasized the need for dialogue between the genders. Outlaw cited cultural difficulties surrounding platonic male-female relationships — an issue she called ubiquitous and not necessarily unique to Notre Dame — as a major factor preventing such dialogue. She also emphasized the important role of greeNDot, which the administration hopes to expand with the goal of “empowering students to be proactive, versus being reactive.”
Outlaw stated that while she believes the university offers a strong “support system” for survivors, the “visibility” of sexual assault resources remains a source of difficulty. “I think the challenge for us is ... trying to find out from you all, what is the best way to market that. Because a lot of times ... the way it’s marketed is not hitting the targeted populations.” She added that CSAP is organizing “new educational pieces” to deal with this issue.
How do CSAP and the Gender Relations Center also affect student life? John Johnstin, advisor of Men Against Sexual Violence and the GRC’s Assistant Director for Outreach, Student Leadership & Assessment, spoke to Scholasticabout the group’s work. “The Committee for Sexual Assault Prevention ... is a tri-campus (Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, and Holy Cross) initiative composed of students, faculty and staff to assess our campus climates, do benchmarking to ensure ND is implementing best practices and [provide] advice on how to promote effective policies and procedures, increase awareness and intervene with comprehensive violence prevention based on national guidelines.”
CSAP, appointed annually by the Vice President for Student Affairs, enrolls over 30 members from the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being, Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP), the GRC and other organizations. Other resources offered by the administration include Out of the Shadows — a support group for sexual assault survivors — and various legal and medical outlets, including the University Counseling Center and University Health Services, the Office of Community Standards and the Deputy Title IX Coordinator.
Johnstin added that the GRC, working with the MSPS, will bring Me Too founder Tarana Burke to campus in February. “Sexual assault is a global issue that affects far more people in all aspects of our lives than we will ever know and many survivors do not feel heard, believed or supported. I am excited to say that this conversation will continue.”
Title IX: What has changed? What remains the same?
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law which prohibits discrimination based on sex in any university programs and activities. Under Title IX, sexual harassment and sexual violence are considered forms of discrimination. Changes to Title IX policy under the Trump administration have drawn both criticism and praise. For instance, September 2017 saw the rescission of an Obama-era regulation that made “preponderance of evidence” (over 50 percent likelihood), as opposed to “clear and convincing” evidence (upwards of 75 percent likelihood), the standard for assessment of guilt in campus sexual assault cases. Some saw this change as beneficial and fairer to the accused, while others believed the new ruling put too much burden of proof on survivors. Despite the changes to Title IX on a national level, there have been few changes in its implementation at Notre Dame.
According to Amber Monroe, manager of student Title IX services and Title IX deputy coordinator, “I will often say that I would like to have such a campus culture of prevention and intervention that my position would no longer be necessary ... I understand that is aspirational, but I believe we are trending in the right direction.”
Speak Up, the official Title IX online reporting system, allows students to report discrimination, harassment, sexual assault and other issues. Upon logging in through Qualtrics, students are prompted to make a report regarding an incident of racial or discriminatory harassment; an incident of sexual harassment, assault, misconduct, dating/domestic violence or stalking; an incident of retaliation or a violation of a university-
issued no contact order; or an incident which does not fall into the above listed descriptions. While Speak Up reports are not monitored 24/7, information reviewed is processed within two business days. Students are not required to provide any information they do not want to.
According to “du Lac: A Guide to Student Life,” the university’s student handbook, after a report is processed and an initial assessment is made, the university either refers the report to the Alternative Resolution process, the Administrative Resolution process, an appropriate entity “to address the concerns if the conduct is not within the scope of the policy or does not raise a potential policy violation” or the matter is closed.
Anonymity, should the complainant request it, is granted based on a determination made by the deputy Title IX coordinator or a designee. According to “du Lac,” this decision is based on “a number of factors, including, but not limited to, patterns of behavior involving the respondent ... threats of future sexual or other violence by the respondent ... [and] whether the complainant is a minor.”
Administrative Resolution is a process wherein the result of a continued investigation could be disciplinary in nature. An investigator meets with the complainant, respondent and any relevant witnesses or individuals with relevant information regarding the incident. From this information and any other documentary evidence available, the final investigative report is made with a recommendation as to whether there is a violation of policy and the appropriate administrative outcomes that should result.
Alternative Resolution, an addition made to Title IX policy in 2017, is “a voluntary and remedies-based ... and educational process that is not intended to be disciplinary in nature.” Some of the approaches this process offers include education programming, facilitated communication with the respondent and/or mediation.
Determinations are made on a case-by-case basis, but mediation is not allowed — even on a voluntary basis — for cases involving sexual violence. Mediation has come under fire as an informal method of resolving conflict under the auspice of a third party observer and typically does not result in punishment for the respondent. Mediation, illegal under both the Bush and Obama administrations, was made legal, if both parties were to agree, on Sept. 22, 2017 by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
In an Oct. 2, 2017 article for Time magazine, Grace Watkins, class of 2017, wrote on mediation in sexual assault cases: “Mediation perpetuates the myth that sexual assault is simply a misunderstanding between two people, rather than what is really is: a violent abuse of power. Mediation fetishizes compromise, which for survivors often means premature forgiveness of serious harm. It relies on the societal expectation that ‘good girls forgive,’ thereby reifying the same gender stereotypes that Title IX was intended to eliminate. Survivors deserve a trauma-informed process that protects them from further harm and respects their autonomy.”
According to “du Lac,” mediation is not an option for resolving sexual assault cases.“We give complainants a lot of agency in our process,” Monroe said. “Connecting and working with students who have a passion regarding this issue is key to finding the most effective responses. We meet regularly with students as a part of CSAP and with members of student government.”
In addition to continuing to prohibit mediation sexual assault cases, the Trump administration’s revocation of the preponderance of evidence policy has not effected university policy which still uses this as this standard in conduct procedures. Notably, the university also maintains the mandatory 60-day timeframe for administrative resolution, no longer mandatory under the Trump administration.
In addressing the problem of gender inequality and sex-based discrimination, Monroe offers a recurring adage that students should try “to understand that [this] is not a ‘women’s issue,’ and that we all need to work towards equality.”
Support options for ND
If you or someone you know is searching for help dealing with discrimination, harassment, assault, or other related issues, the following resources that are listed below may be a good place to start. For more information on reporting and for other sexual assault resources visit http://titleix.nd.edu.
Counseling: the University Counseling Center 574-631-7336
Counseling: S-O-S Rape Crisis Hotline of St. Joseph County 574-289-4357
Counseling: RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National National Network) 800-656-4673
Medical: University Health Services 574-631-7497
Medical: St. Joseph Regional Medical Center (available 24/7) 574-335-5000
To report an incident of discriminatory harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, or other conduct which constitutes a hostile environment, an online report can be submitted to the university administration at http://speakup.nd.edu or an official incident report can be made to law enforcement. For on-campus incidents, Notre Dame Security Police is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 574-631-5555. For off-campus incidents, reports can be filed with the St. Joseph County Police Department (574-235-9611) or at the local law enforcement agency where the incident occurred.
Students are not required to make an official report.