The fields were resod almost every year. Inside the halls, bright floors, freshly waxed, except after game day. In the parking lot, a line of luxury cars. Lacrosse sticks sticking out of cubbies and lockers. Chapel on Wednesday, where the girls covered their shoulders and boys in dress shirts joked about getting drunk on the Lord’s blood.
I don’t know Brett Kavanaugh, but I do know the high school he went to. Washington-Metro’s all-boys private academy, Georgetown Preparatory School, was a part of the Interstate Athletic Conference, the sports conference that also included St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes, the private school I attended from sixth grade to senior year in the early 2000s. “Prep,” as we used to call it, was a lot like St. Stephen’s, except that we weren’t a boarding school, and we were co-ed. But same atmospherics. Same khaki pants and blue blazers. Same wealth and prestige. Same culture. Same spirit.
No means yes and yes means anal. I grew up with that slogan, too.
But like I said, I don’t know Brett Kavanaugh.
You have to understand that the prep schools around D.C. are particularly insular. Many students that attended my school and schools of the same ilk were “lifers.” They had been there from pre-K to graduation. Thirteen years of instruction, of friendship, of khaki pants and blue blazers—and if you had asked my 17-year-old self, 13 years of breeding and indoctrination.
It wasn’t just that some students had attended St. Stephen’s for their entire sentient lives, but their siblings and parents had too. If they didn’t, they attended other prep schools—Holton Arms, Episcopal, St. Alban’s, Sidwell Friends, Landon. Moreover, their parents taught P.E. and art classes. Their parents were friends with other parents, because they too had grown up together, or at least they now attend the same country club, live in the same neighborhoods.
When I was younger I found it stifling, all the same people, and all the same ideas, and all the same clothes. Like a herd of buffalo in L.L. Bean and Abercrombie. Tradition, if you want to call it that. But there was no room for imagination, no room for daring or difference or questioning. I haven’t lived in D.C./ Northern Virginia since I graduated high school. I have a few male friends from back then but we didn’t reconnect until I was in my first year of graduate school. I had to get out. I judged that community. In my mind, it was claustrophobic and close-minded. But as I got older, I began to see that the strength of those bonds was strangely beautiful and powerful. Although it hadn’t had that effect on me, I was moved that a place, an experience, could be so strong that it could hold people together for entire generations. And these weren’t any generations. These were generations of politicians, and oil tycoons, and diplomats, and lawyers. Generations of power teaching power.
Standing at the lockers, my friend grabs the front of my shirt and looks down it. I can’t help it. Your breasts could feed all of mankind.
At Belle Haven Country Club an inebriated parent of one of my classmates gestured to her chest, mocking me for having large breasts, and said, Look at me! I’m Alysia Harris…Such a slut… I can only imagine what they’ve called Dr. Ford behind her back.
Some of the boys that graduated alongside me in 2006 still live together. Many of them went to the same college, UVA. Those who didn’t came back to the area after college and moved in together. They’ve been getting black-out since 15. Binge drinking isn’t something they’ve grown out of. It’s a lifestyle they grew in to. I didn’t attend parties in high school because back then I didn’t drink, and drinking was ubiquitous.
House parties where the school’s legal counsel had to be called to smooth things out with police.
A sex tape featuring one girl and a few male students recorded and left in the computer lab.
And chapel every Wednesday. Pink roses pinned to our lapels at graduation.
I don’t know what happened at the particular party in question in the summer of 1982, but I do know what used to happen on a regular Saturday night 20 years later, and the details are eerily similar. Every Monday would reverberate with rumors and whispers.
I’m not writing this to discuss one man’s personal culpability. Again, I don’t know Brett Kavanaugh. I’m writing this to understand the formative context that produces Kavanaughs. I’m writing to indict not an individual, but a culture, and to describe how cycles of violence against women are circulated, passed down, and learned in community. How these inherited pathologies are excused as so-called tradition and masked when schools like Prep substitute the value of honesty, morality, and respect for success and prestige. Kavanaugh is a success. He is their success. His confirmation validates that community and its standards, that they did a good job. Sure, we all have minor indiscretions, but did you see our boy’s touchdown?!
Look, I’m not saying St. Stephen’s or Prep were horrible. My parents gave me the option of transferring and I didn’t. I loved my teachers. I was given the very best formal education to prepare me for success (in white conservative spaces). College at an Ivy League was a walk in the park compared to high school. The first time I really experienced the same rigor again was writing my dissertation at Yale 10 years later.
And to be quite frank, I’m friends with some of the same guys I’m referencing here. When I’m in town, we go out together, and we drink.
Make no mistake, studying and academic rigor were community norms at my high school. So was community service. But hard drinking, sex, and misogyny were also community norms. That is just a fact. If those norms hadn’t changed in the 20 years separating me and Kavanaugh, I’ll wager they are still the same behaviors that are excused, overlooked, and exacerbated by adults in power at these institutions today.
A junior dragged his girlfriend to the ground in the front lobby of the school and beat her with her own shoe.
A football player refused to let me get on the bus until I said yes to going out with him.
Two players asked when I was going to suck everyone on the team’s dick.
We needed someone to teach us, and more importantly, someone to correct us. In sixth grade, I liked a boy and wrote him an illicit sex poem. I didn’t know half of what I was talking about. I apologized to him last year, and he just laughed, saying it was one of the greatest days of middle school. For me, it was a violation of his consent. For him, it was a point on the proverbial scoreboard. As seniors, my class was incredibly smart. But ask that same group of seniors what consent meant. I remember boys raising their hands in Family Life class, stating that paying for a woman’s dinner was evidence of consent. Driving her home after a date, evidence of consent. Drinking alone together, consent.
A boy from Field School that I had known for four years locked me in his bedroom.
Two of my male friends—who I’m friends with to this day—half carried, half dragged me into the darkened wings of the stage one morning after or before announcements. They pulled off my blazer and unzipped my dress. Semi-peplum blazer, beige and cream. Silk turquoise slip dress. Don’t remember what shoes. Do remember them laughing and me laughing in response.
Whether Brett Kavanaugh laughed that night, I don’t know. I know Dr. Ford didn’t. I know at some point in my life I started laughing to deflect some of the shame. I know I’ve hated my breasts since I can remember. I know some of the kids I went to high school with had drinking problems back then, and their parents did too. I know how the community closes ranks. How we still love football, how we celebrate our players, how hard we root for the home team.
The fields at D.C.’s finest prep schools are resod almost every year. Fresh new seeds into the same muddy soil.