Saturday, Oct. 6, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court in a narrow 50-48 Senate vote. Kavanaugh was then sworn in that evening becoming the 114th Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Prior to this, Loras Students gathered to discuss their thoughts surrounding the situation. The DuTalk event was a collaboration between Intercultural Programs, Student Union, and Professor Kristin Anderson-Bricker. Anderson-Bricker began DuTalks in 2009 after studying deliberative democracy. When you combine political communication and deliberation, University of Washington professor John Gastil states, “people deliberate when they carefully examine a problem and a range of solutions through an open, inclusive exchange that incorporates and respects diverse point of view.” Often dialogue is difficult for people and leads to debate so DuTalk outlines a way to create dialogue between individuals on controversial topics using a set of guidelines.
Director of the Intercultural Program, Sergio Perez, understands the need for people to be able talk with each other on issues they might agree and look for solutions. Loras College prioritizes creating spaces for these tough discussions. Perez said, “We understand that not everyone feels comfortable or equipped to engage on topics that are politicized and this is our effort in providing space for students to develop those skills.”
At the event, students were put into groups to discuss the question using a six-step plan to go through to answer it which is a shortened version of the original DuTalk setup. The steps were: table introductions, to explore personal responses to the issue/question, to explore the societal implications, to generate a list of potential solutions to the problem as your group has defined it, to name a few.
The question that was discussed: Why are American so Divided over the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh?
Brett Kavanaugh to many was just a name of man that was going to be President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seat. Kavanaugh has worked in the public eye for more than 20 years. He first assisted special counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigations into Bill Clinton’s professional and personal dealings. Kavanaugh would later become counsel and staff secretary for the George Bush White House. In 2006, he left his secretary position to become judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit which held up to becoming a Supreme Court Justice.
Considering the political climate that the United States is currently in, it was no surprise the Kavanaugh confirmation was going to raise eyebrows. No one was ready for what was to follow. This summer, a former classmate of Kavanaugh, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford wrote to her Democratic lawmaker a confidential letter alleging him of sexual assault after hearing that he was being considered. After pieces were made known to the public last month, Ford decided that she should speak up and be the one telling the story. Several other women have since come forth, with personal accounts of being assaulted by Kavanaugh when they were younger.
Throughout this process, Kavanaugh has denied all allegations of these events. Ford shared her story in front of a Senate Judiciary Committee, and Kavanaugh got to share his own perspective and got the chance to defend himself. There was push to move the vote in hopes for a FBI investigation, which did end up taking place.
The FBI did not find any substance to the claims and cleared Kavanaugh. In a statement from Ford’s lawyers, she said, “Whatever the outcome, Senators deserve to know the truth: An FBI investigation that did not include interviews of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh is not a meaningful investigation in any sense of the word.”
After all this, he was confirmed to the United Supreme Court by a slim 50-48 Senate vote.
The Duhawk Community that took part in the talk and just those around campus in general have been vocal about the controversy surrounding Kavanaugh.
A recurring element that was shared was how society treats victims of sexual assault. For Ford, she had a strong group of people behind her hoping for justice, but not all felt the same. Some accused her of lying and others agreed the assault happened to her- but just did believe not Kavanaugh was the assaulter. Those who did believe she was lying even went to the extremes of saying she was propped up by the Democratic party because they did not want a conservative member on the bench. Another piece to those who did not believe her felt that she could have spoken about her assault at any time but she chose now to say something.
Sophomore Darby Callahan does not think anything happened to Ford because of the lack of evidence and findings from Dr. Ford and the witnesses. Callahan said, “I feel that Dr. Ford lied about the sexual assault. Here is my reasoning. If there was truly evidence, where is it? If she truly did get sexually assaulted by Justice Kavanaugh, why did her witnesses have a different story of having no recollection of what supposedly happened 36 years ago?”
Professor Jennifer Smith has spent much time following this topic. She said, “I believe something did happen to her.” While that is the case, based on all the information presented she does not believe Kavanaugh was present. Smith also took issue with how society automatically decides to believe women even with no evidence. Smith said, “The events showed a total disregard for due process which is the basis of our judicial system.”
Professor Michelle Bechen spoke about the importance of believing survivors of sexual assault and why speaking up is not as simple as some may think. Bechen works for the River Center in Dubuque which works and gives care for individuals affected by sexual assault in Iowa. She said, “In my over 20 years of experience working with survivors of sexual assault, I have never had anyone lie about it. We must believe survivors. The reason we don’t disclose is because of not being believed and our reputations come into question. After hearing her testimony, I don’t have any doubt she was assaulted by him. Not one.”
Women were (and still are) Ford’s biggest supporters through it all. A #BelieveWomen campaign even gained steam for those who are victims of sexual assault. A counter argument was made about Ford choosing now to speak up. She felt it was time to break her silence and that it was her “civic duty” to do so. Sometimes it’s easier for some to speak about their sexual assault compared to others.
There are many hoping that this event will get those who were assaulted to feel comfortable speaking up sooner. Junior Patricia Patnode stated, “The only solution now is to change culture so people who are assaulted feel supported to report right away.”
Junior Cassidy Oberreuter attended the event and spoke highly about the structure and importance of being able to share such opinions even with those who do not agree. This allowed her to feel comfortable when it came to her turn to speak. She said, “I am disappointed in Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. Allowing Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court enables individuals to believe that behavior such as his is acceptable in society. I am discouraged by his confirmation, as I believe that we once again chose the side of the oppressor, rather than listening to survivors of sexual assault.”
Oberreuter raises a point that was heavily talked about at the DuTalk; by Kavanaugh still getting to receive the nomination and end up being confirmed, it says something to the country about the way sexual assault is treated. Those who mentioned this feel that by confirming him, the actions that took place are okay and will never end.
Although that makes for a reasonable argument, an even bigger problem it would be an even bigger problem to just move on to another nominee. Those who oppose Kavanaugh have opinions on the alleged sexual assault but also still take a disliking to him being a conservative. If President Trump were to pick someone else, there would still be issues.
Professor Smith also mentioned that after Kavanaugh was picked to be the nominee, the Democratic party shared a statement of their disapproval within a short time. They showed they would take issue when they left out the name to insert who would be chosen, and forgot to put in Kavanaugh’s name.
Patnode also added, “He’s [Kavanaugh] an upstanding man who will make an upstanding judge. After watching everything it’s evident to me that he is a fine, fair person.”
If you have topic that you are interested in using the DuTalk process, feel free to contact Professor Kristin Anderson-Bricker or Student Union.