On October 5, Senator Susan Collins voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, a vote that ultimately decided his lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
Two days before her decision, Collins received an open letter signed by faculty, administration, and staff members of higher education institutions around Maine: 84 of the signatories were from Bates. The letter stated that the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh were credible and provided proof beyond reasonable doubt. The letter also reported a statistic that if each of the approximately 200,000 adult sexual assault survivors in Maine were to tell their stories for 15 minutes at a time, it would take over 5 years.
Last week, The Bates Student decided to reach out to three professors who signed the open letter to talk about Collins’ speech, the ideologies present during the hearing, and which steps should be taken forward for all survivors of sexual assault and misconduct to come forward.
Emily Kane, a professor in the Sociology and Gender & Sexuality Departments at Bates, commented on the overall arc of the hearing. “For the many people who believed her and/or who thought his behavior showed a lack of judicial temperament regardless of who you believed, it was stunning to watch the narrative shift in such a short period of time,” Kane said.
She continued to say, “Along with that, a few other things that stood out for me include the following: the double-standard in which his emotionality was taken by many as an indication of innocent righteous anger rather than taken as a troubling lack of emotional control (which is how it would likely have been interpreted had a woman behaved in that manner); the disrespect with which he responded to Senator Klobuchar; and the highly unusual partisan claims he made (highly unusual for a SCOTUS nominee, that is).”
Professor Susan Stark, the current chair of the Philosophy Department, also sat down to talk about her reaction to the hearing.
One thing that stuck out to Professor Stark was the cognitive dissonance present in Susan Collins’s speech: “I think that she wants to believe that it’s possible to both presume Judge Kavanaugh innocent until proven guilty, and also that she wants to believe Dr. Blasey Ford. And I’m usually someone who’s willing to admit pretty high levels of tension, or potential contradictions in our beliefs, or the truth is usually very complicated—and I’m typically willing to acknowledge some of those complexities, but I think in this case, a vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh simply is tantamount to not believing some aspect of what Dr. Blasey Ford said.
“And I think it’s just not possible to truly have believed her,” said Stark, “to truly find her evidence credible, which is to say that it’s proven beyond a reasonable doubt—which is the standard it would be in a court of law—but all we need for a job interview is credibility and if you find her testimony credible, I believe it’s a simple binary that you cannot vote to confirm him. And I just don’t think she can have it both ways.”
Stark believed we should be asking ourselves important questions during these times in order to make right from wrong. “I think that it’s really important to continue to ask questions, even while we’re trying to take all women seriously, or people of all genders seriously, we’re also asking how we’re perpetuating racism, whose voices we’re taking seriously, or who we’re punishing as a society,” Stark said.
In addition to signing the 2018 open letter, Professor Leslie Hill of the Politics Department was also one of the signatories of the 1991 open letter named “African American Women in Defense of Ourselves,” which was released as a full page ad in the Sunday edition of the Times and other newspapers on November 17, 1991. The letter addressed the outrage against Clarence Thomas sitting as an Associate Justice of the U.S. on the Supreme Court and the racist and sexist treatment of Anita Hill during her testimony.
“The optics of race are obvious, and kind of right there available to us in the ‘91 hearing,” began Professor Hill. “Here you have a black man that is being accused by a black woman. The other part where race is very much a part of the text. Two things: one is the ways in which Anita Hill was interrogated. It seems to address the ways in which black people are not just identified in racial terms, but that racial identity contains ideas about their sexuality.”
She continued, “For black women, in the case of Anita Hill… their racial identity is also hypersexualized… And what’s revealing is when Arlen Specter says to her in the hearing—he was the senator from Pennsylvania—he says, ‘Well isn’t your accusation just a product of the fact that he didn’t hit on you?’ It still makes me apoplectic when I think about it. So that race was visible and played upon in certain kinds of ways, and of course it gets played upon by Clarence Thomas when he said ‘this is nothing but a high-tech lynching.’”
However, for Professor Hill, there is also a racial subtext present in the Kavanaugh hearing: “But there still is the idea that, here’s somebody who attends an elite school, he’s cisgender, white male—he knows how to behave himself sexually. And for Christine Blasey Ford, she totally came across as professorial, whatever good or bad that thing has to do with it, but the idea just never came up that she could have been doing this because she was disappointed that she didn’t get the sexual attention of Kavanaugh or whoever else was around. So race operates very differently in this situation. The sexualization of white racial identity is very different in this case.”
Near the end of the interview, Professor Hill talked about Loretta Ross, the author of “Reproductive Justice,” and what Ross calls a ‘calling-in culture.’ For Hill, this means that this mindset “Kind of [turns] around what people are calling a ‘call-out culture,’ but rather than criticize people for not saying the absolutely correct thing, calling in allies, asking people to… ‘you don’t have to agree with everything that I say, but we both know that we want this result, let’s see how we can work together.’ So there seems to be more mindfulness about coalition.”