Josephine Gallo is an American PhD student from Pembroke CollegeRosie Bradbury

“It’s heartbreaking that the Senate did not take Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony seriously enough to reject Kavanaugh or even order a full and fair investigation,” commented Margaret Comer, president of Gates-Cambridge Scholars and a doctoral student, on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court amid allegations of sexual assault.

“I wish that we lived in a world where her coming forward was not an act of immense bravery – she still hasn’t been able to move back home – and it underlines the need for disciplinary and reporting mechanisms to be truly supportive, instead of confusing and re-traumatising.”

Students across Cambridge spoke to Varsity about how the Kavanaugh confirmation has affected them and what they feel the University can take from the process. This follows weeks of controversy after Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at Stanford University, made accusations of sexual assault against the judge.

Ford alleged that Kavanaugh assaulted her in 1982 when she was 15 and at a high school party. Shortly after, Kavanaugh issued a statement saying: “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.” Since Ford’s accusations, two further women, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, came forward with sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh.

“No student should have to suffer while an abuser is let off the hook”

“The public at large are still not prepared to value women and their experiences”, said Jacqueline Gallo, an American PhD student in the Faculty of Education who has previously worked as an administrator in several school systems.

Commenting on the power structures in society that she believes revolve around men, Gallo told Varsity: “Women are still not believed, women are expected to ‘handle’ the ‘attention’ of men to save their careers, and men are expressing frustration at being ‘oppressed’.”

Speaking on burdens of proof for sexual misconduct cases, Gallo said: “So long as abusers do not suffer consequences for behaviour that makes for a toxic environment, it will remain difficult for victims to come forward. I believe one thing #MeToo can accomplish is to demand fair, but also strict consequences to abusers.

“No student should have to suffer while an abuser is let off the hook”, she added.

Sophie Van Horne, a graduate student at Pembroke College and a US citizen, said that she had found Kavanaugh’s confirmation “upsetting and completely partisan”.

“Nominations should be rejected given questionable history, especially as the Supreme Court is an institute where bipartisanship and personal politics shouldn’t have a place,” she argued.

Varshita Narash, Communications Officer at Cambridge for Consent, said the appointment sends the message that women who have been assaulted “either will not be believed when they come forward, or even if they are believed that somehow what happened to them does not matter.”

“We must use our outrage over the treatment of Dr Ford to strengthen our justice work here”

Asked more generally about the impact on Cambridge students, she said: “We want to offer our support and solidarity to anyone that has been affected by this decision and the constant media coverage that has proved upsetting and triggering to so many. Please remember if you have been affected by an instance such as that described by Dr Ford, you are not alone, it is not your fault and you can find help.”

With a similar message of support, CUSU Women’s Officer, Claire Sosienski Smith, said, “we need to keep talking about this, in order to hold the people who perpetrate and enable sexual violence to account and let survivors of sexual harassment know that we believe them.” She argued that victims of sexual assault are often “silenced” by perpetrators in “positions of power”.

“We must use our outrage over the treatment of Dr Ford to strengthen our justice work here. We continue to call out the abuses of power wherever and whenever it happens, finding strength through collective action and communities of support.”

CUSU Women’s Campaign launched a campaign earlier this year to re-evaluate the University’s student disciplinary procedure from relying on the criminal standard of proof – proof ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ – to the civic standard of proof of the balance of probabilities, which is more commonly used by UK universities and which involves cases being decided in favour of the party whose statement is most likely to be true.

Margaret Comer called the confirmation "heartbreaking" in light of Dr Christine Blasey Ford's testimonySarika Datta

In January, many Cambridge students supported the Time’s Up campaign – a campaign to encourage women to speak openly on their personal experiences of sexual assault and harassment – by wearing black to stand in solidarity with victims of sexual assault.

In February, Cambridge University said that it had received 173 complaints of sexual misconduct in the nine months following the launch of its new anonymous reporting system, with a peak in reports having occurred when their flagship ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign against sexual misconduct was launched in October 2017.

When asked about the notion on innocence until proven guilty during the confirmation process for a Supreme Court justice, several students like Gallo believe that unlike a criminal investigation, the process is a character assessment. Gallo stated, “The problem with this hearing is that people are insisting that one is innocent until proven guilty.

“It’s flawed because Kavanaugh is not on trial; he was being interviewed for one of the most important jobs in our nation. And Kavanaugh showed in his job interview that he does not have the temperament to do the job effectively.”

Appointments to the Court are life long and it is expected that Kavanaugh will tip the balance of the 9-person court in a more conservative direction. Before the final vote, hundreds of protestors gathered in Washington DC, while more than 2,400 law professors signed a letter opposing Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Margaret Comer echoed call for allegations of sexual assault and harassment to be properly investigated. She also added that Cambridge should focus on “preventing these assaults and acts of harassment from happening in the first place.”


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She described how: “This year, my department [Archeology] has held several training sessions on the prevention of sexual harassment and bullying in Cambridge and on fieldwork. I found the one I attended extremely informative, but there were very few men in the room.”

She argued that “a good first step would be to make these sessions, across Cambridge, whether through departments or colleges, as mandatory as filling out a risk assessment or attending research skills modules.”

Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA) chairman Timur Coskun commented on the Kavanaugh hearing by saying that “we as a community within Cambridge can learn a lot from the events of the past fortnight, particularly with regards to the consequences of publicised allegations that may arise before due process”.

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