FAIRFAX, Va. ― George Mason University president Angel Cabrera told students Tuesday night that he knows they’re upset about the school hiring Supreme Court justice and alleged sexual assaulter Brett Kavanaugh for a teaching gig. But too bad.
“Even if the outcome is painful, what’s at stake is very, very important for the integrity of the university,” Cabrera said to audible gasps from students in the audience during a two-hour town hall on Kavanaugh’s hire and sexual violence in general on campus.
“Oh, my God,” one female student said aloud.
“Why?” asked another, to no one in particular.
GMU’s student government organized the event, along with student group Mason for Survivors, after the school gave Kavanaugh a three-year contract to teach a summer course at its England campus. The town hall comes after protests, an ad campaign and a student-led petition with more than 10,000 signatures opposing Kavanaugh’s hire. He was confirmed to the Supreme Court in October after an ugly, painful, weekslong Senate fight over Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that he sexually assaulted her in high school.
Dozens of students came out for Tuesday’s town hall, where Cabrera and other school officials took precleared questions from students. The first hour was closed to the public as students shared personal stories of being sexually assaulted. Once the event was open to the public, school officials defended their decision to hire Kavanaugh ― even as none of them seemed to want to take direct responsibility for doing it.
Provost S. David Wu said it was the law school’s choice to hire Kavanaugh, and he saw “no reason for university administrators to override” their decision. Cabrera agreed, emphasizing the need to protect the law school’s ability to hire who it wants. Alison Price, senior associate dean of GMU’s Antonin Scalia School of Law, said she would ensure going forward that faculty would thoughtfully consider a hire’s “implications to all students.”
Students were somewhere between baffled and outraged that none of their school’s leaders saw a problem with giving Kavanaugh a job.
“In hiring Kavanaugh, to what extent did you consider the mental health of the survivors on campus and how that might affect them and their education?” asked one male student, as the room filled with the sound of students snapping their fingers in support.
“Even if in this particular case the outcome is one that you deeply disagree with, the process by which these decisions are made and the reason why we are so firm in defending them is actually essential to the way a university like ours operates,” Cabrera said to sighs in the audience.
David Hamlette, a 19-year-old sophomore, went rogue and shouted out a question that hadn’t been precleared. He asked the school administrators how many of them had kids, and when six out of seven of them raised their hands, he asked how many would feel comfortable with someone facing sexual assault allegations being in close proximity to their children on a campus.
In an incredibly awkward moment, only one of them, Price, raised her hand. Wu half-heartedly raised his hand after a few seconds. But even Cabrera kept his hand down as students began buzzing. Rose Pascarell, GMU’s vice president for university life, jumped in to say the question was “complicated” because she would be comfortable with her son on a campus that had a strong focus on sexual violence prevention.
“I don’t know if I have to keep this professional, but that was like, dumb,” Hamlette later told HuffPost. “Do you feel comfortable having your daughter around an alleged assaulter? I don’t have children and the answer is no. It shouldn’t have been a complicated question.”
It wasn’t just current GMU students in attendance. Sarah Fishkind, a 17-year-old high school senior in Maryland, told the school administrators that GMU had been one of her top three choices for college until the school hired Kavanaugh.
She shared a story about a boy in elementary school blocking her from leaving his room until she took her clothes off, and said part of what helped her get past the fear and humiliation from the incident was her mom telling her she believed her. She said she’s not sure GMU officials understand the connection between stories like hers and their decision to hire Kavanaugh.
“How could Kavanaugh possibly be hired despite Ford’s allegations? Why is the college student that recorded women in the bathroom still on this campus?” asked Fishkind, referring to a disturbing February incident on campus. “A blatantly obvious response by GMU [would be one] that states that first they do not believe Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony and second do not care about the safety of their students.”
She continued: “The beautiful George Mason University is one of my top choices, but do I want to risk my safety and disregard my core values? I can attend one of my other top choices. When I was 10 my mother believed me. Now I need George Mason to believe me.”
Students applauded Fishkind when she was done, and Cabrera told her “it would be an honor” to have her at GMU.
But Fishkind told HuffPost later that Kavanaugh’s hire is factoring into her college choice “a lot,” and said GMU students she’s been talking to this week have been telling her not to come to the university.
“They said sometimes they wish they weren’t here,” she said, “and at the same time, they don’t feel like they’re being heard.”
HuffPost asked Cabrera after the event if he saw any possibility of revisiting the school’s contract with Kavanaugh if students continue to protest and say his association with the school feels inappropriate or makes them revisit their own sexual trauma.
“No,” he said. “It’s done.”