CONSERVATIVE STUDENTS at Yale are accustomed to pressure.
Haviland says when he first arrived at Yale Law School in the fall of 2016, the environment was less intense for conservative students. That changed when Donald Trump won the presidency, but the intensity exploded last year when Trump named his pick for the next Supreme Court justice: Yale Law School graduate Brett Kavanaugh.
‘A lot of us felt thrown under the bus.’ —Aaron Haviland
At first, Kavanaugh drew praise from some of the law school faculty, but it wasn’t universal. An open letter—signed by students, alumni, and professors—contended Kavanaugh’s nomination was “an emergency for democratic life, for our safety and freedom, for the future of our country.” (Among other things, the letter cited worries that Kavanaugh would become a pro-life vote on the court.)
The intensity boiled over when Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party during their high-school years.
Students asked law professors to cancel classes so that some 300 students could conduct a sit-in on the Yale Law campus to protest the Kavanaugh nomination. Dozens of professors agreed and some joined the protesters. Ahead of the congressional hearing to examine the accusations, one protest sign on campus read, “YLS loves rape culture.”
The climate was difficult for students who wanted to reserve judgment. One second-year law student told The New York Times, “It would be just a total land mine explosion to speak about this publicly.”
The tensions continued after Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and they hit another land mine in February: That’s when the Federalist Society announced it would host ADF attorney Kristen Waggoner at an on-campus event.
Public statements almost immediately appeared on “The Wall,” an email bulletin board open to the law school community. The OutLaws posted its letter protesting the ADF visit, and more than a dozen other student organizations posted letters of solidarity. Members of the Native American Law Students Association said that instead of attending the event they would spend their time “supporting our queer friends by listening to them about what it is like to be queer in Trump’s America.”
Many of the other groups’ statements echoed the sentiments in the OutLaws’ letter: “This event is not designed to allow students to call out bigotry. It is engineered to give a bigot a prestigious platform.”