by Joe Greenfield '20
A few months ago, a man was nominated to the Supreme Court with a background very familiar to those on the Close. Brett Kavanaugh was raised in Bethesda, Maryland, and went to high school at Georgetown Preparatory School, an all-boys private boarding school very similar to St. Albans. Late into Kavanaugh's nomination process, he was accused of sexual assault by a psychology professor named Christine Blasey Ford. In her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ford alleged that at a small gathering a drunk Brett Kavanaugh and a high school friend of his locked her in a bedroom and attempted to rape her. This allegation brought national scrutiny to the DMV’s private school environment and its history of mistreatment of female students. St. Albans was not immune to this scrutiny; in particular, media attention was put on St Albans’ infamous 2015 Yearbook, which contained numerous subtle but sexist insults against students attending NCS.
Some students at St. Albans consider it unfair that they would draw criticism for an alleged action of a student attending a different school 30 years ago or for a yearbook written by those no longer attending the school. However, I believe that everyone attending the Close knows that issues of sexism, sexual harassment, and even assault are still prevalent, and ignoring them is dangerous. Unfortunately, you do not have to spend very much very much time among St. Albans students to hear some sexist remark leveled at NCS or the students there. These remarks, even phrased as jokes, can be harmful and add to an already toxic environment.
So, will the Kavanaugh hearings have any effect on this environment? Personally, while I think it may be a bit early to tell, my intuition says no. The Kavanaugh allegations offered a unique opportunity for discussion: a privileged white man, much like the many of the students at St. Albans, may have faced consequences for his actions in high school. And, in the week after Christine Ford’s testimony, there was a notable change in tone at St. Albans. Students began to consider the effect their actions were having on the students at NCS.
However, I believe that any hope of a lasting change that may have been at St. Albans was swiftly dashed when, after two contradicting testimonies and a short, substandard, inconclusive FBI investigation, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Again, a man faced no consequences for his actions because those deciding his fate either believed him over a woman or, perhaps more likely, never really cared in the first place. And while the Kavanaugh allegations remain in the public conscience for now, sooner or later, people will move on. Instead of teaching the young men at St. Albans that their actions would have consequences, it instead reinforced the notion that they would not.
I talked to Jack Tongour ‘19, who started the student organization ASAP, or Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention, after the Kavanaugh allegations. He told me he had the idea for ASAP at the end of the last school year and was planning to start it this year. ASAP serves as a place students can share their experiences and learn how to be an ally for victims of sexual assault. I asked Tongour what effect, if any, the Kavanaugh hearings have had on the Close. “In many ways it is the same, but I think people are a little more aware...I think people are more careful too in terms of their actions, because nobody wants to be accused of [sexual assault].” He went on to discuss what effect in may have had on the administration: “I think it’s prompted the administration to…[want] to have conversations. But it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be any curriculum changes as of now, because it seems that talk has sort of dissipated about it. When you’re under the spotlight, under the pressure, there’s big talk about how ‘oh we’re going to change everything,’ but that pressure isn’t really there. I don’t know if we need a class — I’m not sure what the best solution is a this point — but I do think that there is more that can be done. I personally think that the best way is through the students. Ultimately it is on us.” Tongour told me how the hearings have affected NCS student’s experiences with St. Albans, “I’ve heard girls, in ASAP, they talk about how they come to St. Albans and they don’t feel comfortable just walking into Marriott Hall. And that’s something that’s been around, and I certainly don’t feel that the Kavanaugh hearings have helped that.” Tongour then told me about his hopes for ASAP’s future: “In terms of moving forward, I’m confident ASAP’s going to be around. I am confident that we’re going to continue to have this club throughout the year, and ideally it’s going to be here after I’m gone. I think we actually have a chance to make real change.”
Perhaps, with efforts like Tongour’s ASAP, change can be made on the Close.