Students organized a silent show of solidarity in support of Christine Blasey Ford in front of Gilman Hall on Thursday, Sept. 27, the day of the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings. The three students who organized the event — senior Lexie Botzum, graduate student Talia Katz and graduate student Sojung Kim — came up with the idea for the demonstration in an Anthropology class about human vulnerability.
Blasey Ford was the first of three women to accuse Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, casting doubt on his nomination. Both Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh testified on Capitol Hill on the day of the event.
For class, Botzum, Katz and Kim had been reading Judith Butler’s Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, a text about the power of political assembly. They felt that the topics brought up by the book coincided with the political climate of the #MeToo movement and with Blasey Ford’s testimony.
“After we had already decided that we wanted to take action about the hearings and Christine Blasey Ford, we learned that the Women’s March was organizing a National Day of Action, which we thought fit,” Botzum said.
At the beginning of the event, Hopkins community members spent 15 minutes in silence, with some holding signs in support of Blasey Ford, some wearing all-black clothing and some duct taping their mouths shut to protest women’s voices being silenced.
Katz explained why the students decided to organize the event.
“Since Title IX issues on campus are so pressing, we thought we might as well incorporate other groups because there was no other collective action happening on the Hopkins campus,” she said.
What started out as a way of internalizing their reading assignment, Katz said, spread across the Hopkins community through word-of-mouth. She said that they only reached out to a few friends to let them know the event would be taking place, after which information about it started to circulate.
“When people find places where they can rally together, they’re very willing to come forward. It was really collaborative and organic after the part that we planned, we joined with other students to sit and discuss these issues on the steps of Gilman,” Katz said. “We may have started this in a class discussion, but it became a very generative public moment.”
Anthropology Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies Anand Pandian, who taught the class Katz, Kim and Botzum were in, emphasized to his class that the event was strictly voluntary. He added that it was important to ensure that students with differing perspectives are given a space to share them.
“I can’t assume, as a professor, that everyone feels the same way about the two testimonies that we heard on Thursday,” Pandian said. “If there are those who have other opinions, it’s my responsibility to ensure that they have a voice as well, that they have a way of expressing them.”
While several people who attended the event had duct tape on their mouths, Pandian chose to place the duct tape over his eyes instead to convey how people in positions of privilege could be blinded to reality.
“When the duct tape came out on the steps of Gilman, it struck me that it would be false for me to claim that I am muzzled,” he said. “What I can acknowledge is that I may not be able to see all the privilege that someone in my position enjoys and takes for granted.”
Students held signs that read “Believe Women,” “My Clothes are not my Consent” and “Why do we only care about men’s futures,” among others. After the 15 minutes of silence, Kim, Katz and Botzum made brief speeches.
“We are very inspired by you coming out here,” Kim said. “We are deeply moved to see such a diverse and strong assembly of people here today willing to put our bodies on the line to stand in solidarity with Dr. Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and survivors everywhere.”
Teachers and Researchers United (TRU) member Erini Lambrides spoke out in support of the event and of the students organizing it. Similarly, a member of the International Socialist Organization, who had heard about the event through a friend of a friend, expressed support for the ideas expressed.
Michael Busch, a Physics & Astronomy graduate student, attended the event because he was inspired by Blasey Ford’s bravery.
“[Dr. Blasey Ford] risked her security and career to speak out about the trauma that she experienced, reliving the assault and speaking up against her assaulter because of a sense of civic duty,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “I thought if she had the bravery to go to Washington DC, I could leave my office for 15 minutes and show the community that I support her.”
Senior Sophia Diodati, a student in the Anthropology class about vulnerability, wrote in an email to The News-Letter that the event’s silence was striking.
“What I find most moving is being able to get people talking without opening your mouth — that’s power,” she wrote. “It’s taking back this idea of ‘screaming into the void’ to reclaim yourself and your experiences.”
According to Katz, it was important to make public spaces safer for survivors because so much about reporting procedures made it increasingly challenging for survivors to come forward. She explained that Kavanaugh attended an elite university, Yale, and emphasized that universities like Hopkins needed to fight against the culture that chooses not to believe survivors.
Botzum agreed, adding that the biggest threat to security at the University was sexual violence. To her, the climate surrounding sexual violence at the University made this event particularly necessary.
“The OIE [Office of Institutional Equity], as a whole, has been a really ineffective service at achieving any kind of justice or outcome for any kind of results,” she said. “I know people who are rapists who are still going to school here.”
After community members finished making remarks, some remained behind to sit in a circle outside Gilman and continue to discuss themes that had been brought up at the event, including the power of collective action and acknowledging the privilege built into the history of an institution like Hopkins.
Diodati added that for her, the decision to attend the event and support Blasey Ford was simple.
“I attended because I believe her,” she wrote. “That does not happen enough.”