At 9:30 a.m. Monday morning, roughly 250 Yale students dressed in all-black filled the hallway of the school’s Sterling Law Building in silence.
For 30 minutes, no one said a word, silently protesting against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a Yale law alum, demanding an investigation into the sexual-misconduct allegations leveled against him.
“As a community, we are here today to show that we take allegations of sexual assault and harassment seriously. We are here today to discuss the very real threat that Brett Kavanaugh poses to this country,” one organizer announced, breaking the silence.
During the three-hour protest, using a wired microphone in the middle of the school’s hallway, nearly two-dozen students expressed their frustrations with what they described as Yale’s “complicity” and “facilitation” of Kavanaugh’s alleged misdeeds while a student at the prestigious school.
Their frustration is twofold: the mounting allegations against Kavanaugh; and the reports that emerged last week claiming two Yale Law school professors had instructed their female students interested in clerking for the SCOTUS nominee to emphasize their physical appearances.
“It was a really powerful experience,” law student and protest organizer Mary Ella Simmons told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “It was in the central hallway and we all, as law students, spend all our time in there, including Judge Kavanaugh and some senators that will decide his nomination has walked through these halls.”
Kavanaugh, a graduate of both Yale College and its law school, was accused last week of sexually assaulting former classmate Christine Blasey Ford when he was a teenager, allegedly pinning her down at a party and attempting to sexually assault her. And on Sunday night, The New Yorker published a new allegation from Deborah Ramirez, who said Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when he was a first-year student at Yale.
Kavanaugh has vociferously denied all of the allegations, calling them a “smear, plain and simple.”
“We are protesting to oppose the hasty, biased, and incomplete investigation of the Brett Kavanaugh sexual-assault allegations, in particular because Yale is implicated in a lot of ways in this process,” law student and organizer Veronica Guerrero, class of 2020, told The Daily Beast on Monday. “We think it is really important that Professor Christine Blasey Ford and Debbie Ramirez are allowed to tell their story.”
The silent protest comes after signs accusing the school of complicity appeared across the Yale law-school campus on Friday, one day after the group that organized the silent sit-in was created.
“YLS is a model of complicity,” one poster read in the school’s courtyard. “Is there nothing more important to YLS than its proximity to power and prestige?”
“So much time in law school is spent to learning about due process and what is means in different settings and I think that to see it applied to real life, for an appointment that is so important and powerful, was one of the main reasons why I and a lot of my classmates came today,” Simmons explained.
The second-year law student added that Yale graduate Anita Hill, who in 1991 accused SCOTUS nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual misconduct, was also a main topic of discussion for this week’s sit-in.
“Anita Hill, as a woman of color, as a black woman was not believed not just because of her gender but because of her race,’’ one student said during the sit-in.
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who also graduated from Yale law school, made an appearance at the sit-in, telling students: “There is no way that the U.S. Senate, in good conscience, can vote on this nomination without a full investigation.”
Greeting reporters outside, Blumenthal said that Ramirez and Ford must be heard before Kavanaugh’s court position is put up for vote.
“It has been a time of terror and anguish for them and the pain and anguish they’ve chosen to endure speaks to their credibility as does their desire for an FBI investigation,” the senator said. “They have a right to tell their stories when and how they wish. They should be heard, respectfully and full and there should be an investigation.”
The sit-in was the first of three nationwide protests coordinated by the Yale Law Students Demanding Better, culminating in a silent walk-out at the New Haven campus. As the students, still dressed in all-black, silently formed a large circle in the school’s courtyard, two organizers walked into the middle, asking the group, “What will you do to make things better?”
“Then people would step forward into the circle and shout their answer,” Simmons recounted. “It was interesting to see people who didn’t feel like they had a whole story to share during the sit-in come forward during the walk out and shout their answers.”
The protests, which ultimately continued for more than five hours, prompted nearly thirty professors to cancel their Monday classes.
“Many individual faculty members chose to reschedule or cancel their classes today for a student-organized sit-in/teach-in, while some other faculty members held classes as usual,” Janet Conroy, Director of Communications and Public Affairs for Yale Law School, told The Daily Beast on Monday. “The classes have been rescheduled to another time in order to make time for the community to discuss issues surrounding the confirmation process.”
Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken said Monday the allegations against the high-profile former student are “rightly causing deep concern at Yale Law School and across the country,” prompting fifty members of faculty to sign a letter urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a “fair and deliberate confirmation process.”
Though Gerken cannot take an official position, the dean said she was “proud” of the Yale community for their engagement.
“Today our students, staff, and faculty are engaged in a long-standing Yale Law School tradition as they engage with the most important issues of the day,” Gerken elaborated in a statement. “I stand with them in supporting the importance of fair process, the rule of law, and the integrity of the legal system.”
In addition to the protests in New Haven, 115 of the school’s law students took a bus down to Washington, D.C., to protest on Capitol Hill and demand a more thorough confirmation process instead of “rushing a historically swing-vote [seat] in a slapstick process,” Simmons said.
Two law students, Jesse Tripathi and Jacob Schriner-Briggs, were arrested for civil disobedience during a Monday protest with a larger group not affiliated with the school, Guerrero said. They were detained along with 80 other protesters, the organizer said, along with a Yale alum. The D.C. police department did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
“Students are putting their bodies on the line to oppose the unfair and inexcusable process by which Kavanaugh is being rushed through,” Yale Law Students Demanding Better wrote in a Facebook post.
Following the protest on Capitol Hill, law students, along with Democratic Sens. Blumenthal and Chris Coons held a press conference in the same room in which Anita Hill testified almost three decades ago.
“We are on the verge of making the same mistakes,” Coons said, referring to Justice Thomas being confirmed despite Hill’s allegations.