Christine Blasey Ford, a 1988 UNC graduate who testified before the Senate that then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school, has been nominated for a 2019 Distinguished Alumna and Alumnus Award.
“What Dr. Blasey Ford did on Sept. 27, 2018 was something that was extraordinary in how ordinary it was: she told the truth about a sexual assault she experienced when she was fifteen years old at the hands of Judge Brett Kavanaugh,” read the nomination letter, written by English and comparative literature professor Jennifer Ho.
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Nine days after Ford’s testimony, Kavanaugh was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.
“It’s deflating, and it’s disheartening,” Ho said. “It’s basically saying, ‘We’re choosing to believe powerful men, rather than to believe the more than credible testimony of a woman.’"
In her testimony, Ford said trauma from her sexual assault made the first two years of her undergraduate experience difficult. As an educator, it was a reminder that students struggle with more than the material on the syllabus, Ho said in the nomination letter.
According to the 2018 Annual Security & Fire Safety Report, 81 rapes were reported to UNC Police in 2017, 51 of which were reported by the same person. In June, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights found UNC to be in violation of Title IX laws that ban gender discrimination.
“I thought this would be a way to signal that we, as her undergraduate alma mater, are supporting her and that we believe her,” Ho said. “And I think that it also sends a signal to the larger University community that we believe our students when they come forward and they tell us that they have been sexually assaulted.”
Ho’s letter had received over 2,000 signatures of support as of Wednesday morning. Ho will continue to collect signatures until midnight Oct. 13, when she will submit her nomination letter and the signatures to the Honorary Degrees and Special Awards Committee.
Among the signatories on Ho’s letter is Insaaf Mohamed, a 2018 UNC graduate who crowdfunded a full-page ad supporting Ford that appeared in The Daily Tar Heel.
“We believe and support UNC alumna Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. We stand with her and with all victims of sexual violence,” the ad read.
The names of supporters framed the main text in small black letters, a callback to the New York Time’s infamous 1991 ad supporting Anita Hill.
Through Venmo donations, Mohamed garnered over $1,500 from 175 donors. After purchasing the ad, Mohamed donated the remaining funds to the Orange County Rape Crisis Center.
“I think it’s important for people to see that UNC alum and students and faculty support Dr. Ford, but also for people who are survivors to see that they have people around them who support them” Mohamed said.
The Carolina Women’s Center is also planning a nomination for Ford to recognize her bravery and acknowledge her role in elevating the national dialogue about sexual assault and rape culture, CWC Director Gloria Thomas said in an email. The CWC is requesting support from Women’s and Gender Studies, the Faculty Council’s Committee on the Status of Women and UNC Feminist Students United.
“If there is a statement that the Carolina Women’s Center hopes to make through this nomination, it is that education and awareness are key elements to eliminating rape culture and associated perpetrator behavior, which requires that survivors speak their truth,” Thomas said. “But survivors must be believed and not ridiculed.”
Some have already started tampering with the online nomination letter, which was originally shared via a public Google Doc, Ho said. Early Saturday morning, an anonymous person deleted the signatures and replaced them with Kavanaugh’s confirmation statement. The signatures, which include self-proclaimed ‘Donald J Trump, Trump University’ and ‘Hillary Clinton, Not the President’ have since been restored.
However, Ho said she thinks the issue of how to deal with sexual assault is not partisan and should not be reduced to electoral politics.
“The danger is that people somehow think supporting sexual assault survivors is now linked to a particular political party,” Ho said. “Believing sexual assault survivors is not a partisan issue. It’s a women’s issue. And a woman’s issue should be all of our issues. It should be a human issue, and human issues go beyond electoral politics.”
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