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UCI Holds Public Forum On The Kavanaugh Controversy

By Miguel Lopez

UCI’s Forum for the Academy and the Public, a collaborative conference and lecture series organized by the Literary Journalism program, hosted a “pop-up” panel on Oct. 2 to discuss Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial nomination to the United States supreme court in light of sexual assault allegations and its impact on American politics moving forward.

Moderated by literary Journalism Professor Amy Wilentz (School of Humanities) and Chancellor’s Professor Jeffrey Wasserstrom (School of Humanities), the panel brought in guests Sharon Block, Ph.D. (School of Humanities), Jane Stoever LL.M. (School of Law), Matthew Beckmann, Ph.D. (School of Social Sciences), and Michael Tesler, Ph.D. (School of Social Sciences) with the intent to foster a diverse informed discussion of the case. The panel’s discussion was guided by the question, “is he [Kavanaugh] behaving like a Supreme Court Justice?”


The panelists concluded Kavanaugh was not. However, Dr. Beckmann thinks this controversy will still result in the election of a Republican candidate.  Dr. Beckmann thinks that “conservatives will just find another candidate instead of taking a chance on Kavanaugh. His unfavorable status with the public could lead to unfavorable outcomes for conservatives come election time.” Dr. Tesler, on the other hand, believes there is a chance for a Kavanaugh confirmation because, with the short week the FBI has to conclude their investigation, nothing definitive against Kavanaugh is likely to turn up.


The panel also discussed the case within the context of the #MeToo movement. Originally started by Tarana Burke in 2006, Me Too has brought attention to aggressors in Hollywood (Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby), medicine (Larry Nassar) and other industries, now finding its way to Kavanaugh and the Supreme Court. Professor Stoever proposed that #MeToo has changed the world by bringing the reality of sexual assault into people’s social media timelines. A survey conducted in January of this year by Growth from Knowledge found that 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime” while an estimated “63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police,” #MeToo has granted agency and security to victims who would otherwise remain in the shadows. “Most people on Facebook know someone who has said #MeToo,” Stoever said, later adding “what does this say about us?”  The group concluded that violence against women is and has been happening for many years, and that now more than ever survivors and allies are feeling empowered to change the culture that enables that violence to happen.


While Professor Stoever is excited about what the #MeToo movement has done, Dr. Block is interested in what comes next.  


“#MeToo… what now?” Though the movement has led to victories, as mentioned previously,  Block references Dr. Ford’s victimization arguing that survivors have a platform, allies, and numbers and still remain susceptible to criticism and disbelief.  Dr. block says, “disbelief in women’s words is part of the public structure.” She brought up the parallels of the 1991 Anita Hill case against Clarence Thomas, most importantly the attempts to undermine the credibility of both women instead of pressing the aggressor. Both women were asked why they didn’t report earlier, and both women first disclosed their accusations in private before going public out of their sense of civic duty. Referencing author Sarah Lacy, Dr. Block called this overall disbelief in women “a feature, not a bug” in our society.


While some viewed the night as a successful gathering that pushed the conversation forward, others were not so sure. Political Science students Caelan Conant and Hasan Jafri came looking for expert opinions that would add new information and perspective to the Kavanaugh case, but they didn’t feel the event was very productive towards that. Both students said they had “higher hopes,” with Conant adding, “all I learned today is that UCI is a very liberal school.”