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Yale Law students riveted by Kavanaugh hearing

September 28, 2018

When Justice Brett Kavanaugh mentioned his alma mater, Yale Law School, the room booed.

About 80 students packed into the student lounge at Yale Law’s Sterling Building in New Haven Thursday afternoon to watch the historic U.S. Senate hearing that will likely decide whether Kavanaugh is appointed to the Supreme Court. Students in classrooms and dorms throughout the campus, like the rest of the country, spent the day glued to screens watching the hearing.

Sitting on the floor, squeezing on couches and leaning against the walls, the students listened intently to the testimony. A few students left the room to cry in the hallway.

Miranda Coombes, an undergraduate student, sat cross legged on the floor, watching Kavanaugh defend himself. She allows his allegations date back decades, but she said she sees some of her classmates’ behavior in the details that his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, described in painful detail earlier in the day .

“There are so many different Brett Kavanaughs at places like Yale that often promote prestige and power and give platforms to these very privileged people,” she said.

Kavanaugh graduated from the Law School in 1990. One of the women accusing him of sexual misconduct, Deborah Ramirez was a Shelton native and his classmate at Yale.

Nishanth Krishnan, a sophomore, followed the news of the hearing on his phone. He said the day’s hearings reminded him of those involving Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill in 1991.

“Clarence Thomas, the (Supreme Court) nominee in question at the time, was also a Yale alumni who was in almost an identical situation,” he said. “It’s almost parallel to what happened in the 1990s. People want previous wrongs to perhaps be righted.”

At the law school, many students showed their support for victims of sexual violence. A number wore “I believe Christine Blasey Ford” buttons on their clothing. One t-shirt declared “I believed Anita Hill and I believe Christine too.”

Signs in the lounge and down the Law School hallways also voiced their support for Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school.

“Boys will be accountable for their actions” read one handwritten poster board. “We want a full, fair and neutral investigation” said another. Printed fliers saying “Yale Law Students Demand Better” dotted the building.

Some at Yale Law, birthplace of the Federalist Society that encouraged conservative legal thinking, do support Kavanaugh’s appointment, however. One student told Hearst Connecticut Media that he and a handful of other students he knows back the conservative justice even as the number of sexual assault allegations against him grows. The student felt too nervous about pushback from his peers, however, to identify himself.

Across the street from the law school, Robert Jett lay on his stomach on the quad and watched the hearing on his laptop. He was surprised by Kavanaugh’s display of emotion.

“It’s really, really confusing,” said the Yale junior. “I wouldn’t have imagined it going like this... I expected Kavanaugh to be really strong on this, and not to say that crying isn’t strong, but this just isn’t going in the way I anticipated it going.”

Less than 24 hours before, several hundred undergraduates had filled this green to shout their opposition to Kavanaugh. Coombes was one of the student organizers of the protest.

“Nothing gets done if it isn’t a continual movement,” she said. “We’re about changing campus culture.”

On Monday, more than 300 Yale Law students and faculty staged a sit-in against Kavanaugh. More than 100 also carried the protest to Washington D.C. that day.

Fifty Yale Law professors penned a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Sept. 21, urging it not to rush the appointment and take serious the allegations of sexual assault.

Not part of the letter was Yale Law Professor Akhil Reed Amar, who wrote a New York Times Op-ed supporting Kavanaugh’s appointment in July.

“I just find it really interesting how historical things at institutions really repeat themselves,” said Courtney Nunley, a Yale sophomore. “You see these patterns of institutions protecting their own.”

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