Tuesday, September 25, 2018


When reporting on campus-related stories, the best sources are often the campus news outlets themselves. Yes, run by students, but also by those who are on-site and in class everyday. These outlets can often give the best inside view.

After February's Parkland High School shooting that left 17 dead, The Washington Post profiled the campus newspaper and relayed how it reported on the tragedy. Following the deadly Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, I urged that a special Pulitzer Prize be offered to the school's Collegiate Times for its great breaking coverage of the events.

And when Michigan State University came under the cloud of sexual abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar, a sports physician convicted of assaulting more than 100 women, the Michigan Daily did yeoman's work revealing the truth to power.

So to get a handle on the latest accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh related to his time on campus at Yale University, a look at the Yale Daily News found an interesting take on the fraternity he joined more than 30 year ago: Delta Kappa Epsilon.

One of his two accusers, former classmate Deborah Ramirez, has claimed that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her and made offensive advancements during their time at the university. 

The Yale student paper on Sept. 20, went back and uncovered some disturbing background on the fraternity he joined at the time. This was days before Ramirez's accusations were even made public and not long after the first accusations by Christine Blasey Ford claimed Kavanaugh had assaulted her during his time at Georgetown Preparatory School.

The Yale Daily News story stated, in part:

"...in his first year of college, Kavanaugh joined an organization notorious for disrespecting women: the campus chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.
DKE Members in 1985 waving a flag of female underwear.Yale Daily News.
A photograph that appeared in the Yale Daily News on Jan. 18, 1985, shows Kavanaugh’s fraternity brothers waving a flag woven from women’s underwear as part of a procession of DKE initiates marching across Yale’s campus. Kavanaugh does not appear in the photograph. But the portrait it paints of casual disrespect for women seems noteworthy in light of the explosive allegation by California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh attempted to sexually assault her at a high school party almost 40 years ago. 

In the 1985 photo, the DKE pledges — “fondly known as ‘buttholes,’” according to the caption — brandish a flag made of underwear and brasiers as they march outside Woodbridge Hall, Yale’s central administrative building. At the time, Bartlett Giamatti, the University’s president, was a former DKE brother himself. 

Although the flag may seem shocking by today’s standards, the photograph appeared in 1985 under the tongue-in-cheek headline “DKE AT PLAY.” At the time of the escapades, Kavanaugh — who does not appear in the photo — was a sophomore, already inducted into the fraternity.

In a letter to the editor published in the News three days later, a Yale student, Rachel Eisler ’86, charged that DKE’s pledge antics “demean women.” She wrote that she approached one of the pledges carrying the flag to ask whether any briefs or jockstraps were affixed to the pole. “Well, I didn’t make it,” the pledge responded, according to the letter. He then said he doubted that any “guys’ stuff” would be woven into the flag.

“‘But hey,’” he told the female student, according to the letter. “‘Your panties might be here!”

The Yale Daily News has also been covering on-campus protests this week as many students speak out against Kavanaugh's nomination.

The student publication at Georgetown Preparatory School, where Kavanaugh attend high school and where the first accusation of sexual assault arose, has not been published since the summer. 

But a search of the school's website finds a strong letter to students and staff from Rev. James R. Van Dyke, the school's president, issued on Sept. 20. 

The letter describes the backlash the school has received as "a challenging time" and also urges that respect for women be upheld. It adds, in part:

 It is a time for us to continue to evaluate our school culture, as we do each day, and to think deeply and long about what it means to be "men for others," what the vaunted Prep "brotherhood" is really about. It is a time to continue our ongoing work with the guys on developing a proper sense of self and a healthy understanding of masculinity, in contrast to many of the cultural models and caricatures that they see. 

And it is a time to talk with them honestly and even bluntly about what respect for others, especially respect for women and other marginalized people means in very practical terms—in actions and in words. We are keenly aware that they are young men—adolescents—and that these lessons are often hard to learn because they ask young men to move beyond their natural insecurities and self-concern and to push beyond what is presumed in so much of popular culture. But we know it is vital and that it will take time and effort and great adult role models. I am proud that our faculty and staff are embracing this work with all their heart.

It's also been tough to see the caricature that we have been painted with by some: that we are somehow elitist, privileged, uncaring. That we are elite, we cannot deny; every student who comes here is chosen for his personal potential regardless of financial need, and every member of the faculty and staff is chosen precisely because we think they will help to build a good and responsible and caring community for our students. 

There is no one here by default. That we are privileged, we also cannot deny; generations of visionary Prep alumni and friends have helped to build excellent facilities for classes and for athletics and have underwritten our retreat and service and arts programs; our students have families who love and care about them and want the best for them; our faculty and staff are educated far above the norm, many with multiple graduate degrees, and are allowed to work with students beyond a rigid curriculum that constrains many institutions. But we are not entitled, and one of the most important lessons we strive to live and to teach our students is an ethic of service and compassion and solidarity with those in need.

Read the entire letter HERE.

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