It’s midnight of midterms week. You’re sitting in the far side of the Light Lounge, earbuds in to drown out the sound of the TV behind you, furiously typing into the Canvas practice quiz due before your Bio 101 exam tomorrow. Fingers flying, brain numbed by your Starbucks energy drink, your knee twitching at Flash-like pace under the table, you blast through the questions and hit submit. You sit back in your chair, seeing before you the pile of grad school applications and internship offers slowly dwindle before your eyes as the computer spits back your results- 64 percent.
If I fail this exam, my life is over you mutter to yourself, unconsciously echoing the TV behind you.
My life is over, thought Dr. Christine Balsey Ford as she stood at the podium, a whisp of hair sliding over the edge of her glasses, aware of unsupporting eyes on her as as she describes how supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her, retelling the moment when at 15-years old she thought that exact same thing. My life is over.
My life is over, spits Kavanaugh, taking an angry sniff. And you ruined it, he says, staring down the camera broadcasting his allegations of his teenage sexual assault around the world.
Amidst this obvious political turmoil that has become the Kavanaugh hearings, one common defense of the Supreme Court nominee has emerged: that the actions of his 17-year old self should not affect his 53-year old self. And teens — and college students — are listening.
“These statements were intended to diminish the seriousness of what Ford alleged happened, but, intentionally or not, they also diminish a whole category of humans: teenagers,” reports Joe Pinsker in his Sept. 21 piece in The Atlantic called “What Teens Think of the Kavanaugh Accusations.”
“Maybe it was 35 years ago and he was 17, but his past, that could be my tomorrow,” one girl told Teen Vogue. “That could be my friend’s tomorrow. That could be this weekend for the friends that I have, in their basement, in my town.”
Teenagers across the nation are listening to their parents, family members, professors, dismiss the actions of an adult being initiated in one of the highest-respected positions — all because he was their age when he committed the crime.
Teens who are younger than Kavanaugh have been jailed, killed for lesser offenses. It happened to Trayvon Martin at 17. Emmett Till at 14. Tamir Rice; at 12, his life was over. The mentality that Kavanaugh, at 17, was just a boy, compared with the lifelong consequences boys and young men of color must pay for ignorance and racism. Rice’s life ended for playing with a toy gun. The man who called the cops on him didn’t see him as a boy at age 12. Stereotypes about race cut his life short, yet Kavanaugh, whose real violence has been testified under oath for with 100 percent certainty, is still doubtful to some. His life is not over.
On the flip side, the Parkland high school students began a national movement against gun violence at the ages of 16 and 17, same age as Kavanaugh was when he allegedly assaulted Ford. In short, it’s not the age that causes the crime — it’s the person. The person who may be looking over sexual assault cases for the rest of his life.
While both Ford and Kavanaugh have no physical proof of the alleged crime, today’s teenagers need to worry about screenshots, about iPhone GPS, someone’s momentary SnapChat. A Facebook tag showing them at the party. Burn-book style blogs about others that, when discovered, lose the poster their scholarship. If a single bad post can cost someone their life, why can’t an accusation of violence?
It is 1:05 a.m. in the Light Lounge. Few students have stayed this late into the next calendar day. Sleep is a higher priority to most. CNN still analyzes and discusses the hearing. You pack up, your backpack heavy with textbooks, note-cards, continuing on with your life.