Deborah Ramirez’s Yale experience says much about the college’s efforts to diversify its student body in the 1980s.
Deborah Ramirez had the grades to go to Yale in 1983. But she wasn’t prepared for what she’d find there.
A top student in southwestern Connecticut, she studied hard but socialized little. She was raised Catholic and had a sheltered upbringing. In the summers, she worked at Carvel dishing ice cream, commuting in the $500 car she’d bought with babysitting earnings.
At Yale, she encountered students from more worldly backgrounds. Many were affluent and had attended elite private high schools. They also had experience with drinking and sexual behavior that Ms. Ramirez — who had not intended to be intimate with a man until her wedding night — lacked.
During the winter of her freshman year, a drunken dormitory party unsettled her deeply. She and some classmates had been drinking heavily when, she says, a freshman named Brett Kavanaugh pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her, prompting her to swat it away and inadvertently touch it. Some of the onlookers, who had been passing around a fake penis earlier in the evening, laughed.
To Ms. Ramirez it wasn’t funny at all. It was the nadir of her first year, when she often felt insufficiently rich, experienced or savvy to mingle with her more privileged classmates.
“I had gone through high school, I’m the good girl, and now, in one evening, it was all ripped away,” she said in an interview earlier this year at her Boulder, Colo., home. By preying upon her in this way, she added, Mr. Kavanaugh and his friends “make it clear I’m not smart.”
Mr. Kavanaugh, now a justice on the Supreme Court, has adamantly denied her claims. Those claims became a flash point during his confirmation process last year, when he was also fighting other sexual misconduct allegations from Christine Blasey Ford, who had attended a Washington-area high school near his.
Ms. Ramirez’s story would seem far less damaging to Mr. Kavanaugh’s reputation than those of Dr. Ford, who claimed that he pinned her to a bed, groped her and tried to remove her clothes while covering her mouth.
But while we found Dr. Ford’s allegations credible during a 10-month investigation, Ms. Ramirez’s story could be more fully corroborated. During his Senate testimony, Mr. Kavanaugh said that if the incident Ms. Ramirez described had occurred, it would have been “the talk of campus.” Our reporting suggests that it was.
At least seven people, including Ms. Ramirez’s mother, heard about the Yale incident long before Mr. Kavanaugh was a federal judge. Two of those people were classmates who learned of it just days after the party occurred, suggesting that it was discussed among students at the time.
We also uncovered a previously unreported story about Mr. Kavanaugh in his freshman year that echoes Ms. Ramirez’s allegation. A classmate, Max Stier, saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student. Mr. Stier, who runs a nonprofit organization in Washington, notified senators and the F.B.I. about this account, but the F.B.I. did not investigate and Mr. Stier has declined to discuss it publicly. (We corroborated the story with two officials who have communicated with Mr. Stier; the female student declined to be interviewed and friends say she does not recall the episode.)
Mr. Kavanaugh did not speak to us because we could not agree on terms for an interview. But he has denied Dr. Ford’s and Ms. Ramirez’s allegations, and declined to answer our questions about Mr. Stier’s account.
Yale in the 1980s was in the early stages of integrating more minority students into its historically privileged white male population. The college had admitted its first black student in the 1850s, but by Ms. Ramirez’s time there, people of color comprised less than a fifth of the student body. Women, who had been admitted for the first time in 1969, were still relative newcomers.
Mr. Kavanaugh fit the more traditional Yale mold. His father was a trade association executive, his mother a prosecutor and later a judge. They lived in tony Bethesda, Md., and owned a second home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. As a student at a prominent Jesuitall-boys school, Georgetown Prep, Mr. Kavanaugh was surrounded by the sons of powerful Washington professionals and politicians. He was an avid sports fan and known to attend an annual teenage bacchanal called “Beach Week,” where the hookups and drinking were more important than the sand and swimming.
Ms. Ramirez grew up in a split-level ranch house in working-class Shelton, Conn., perhaps best known for producing the Wiffle ball, and didn’t drink before college. Her father, who is Puerto Rican, rose through the Southern New England Telephone Company, having started as a cable splicer. Her mother, who is French, was a medical technician.
Before coming to Yale, Ms. Ramirez took pride in her parents’ work ethic and enjoyed simple pleasures like swimming in their aboveground pool, taking camping trips and riding behind her father on his snowmobile. She was studious, making valedictorian at her Catholic elementary school and excelling at her Catholic high school, St. Joseph.
She and her parents took out loans to pay for Yale, and she got work-study jobs on campus, serving food in the dining halls and cleaning dorm rooms before class reunions.
She tried to adapt to Yale socially, joining the cheerleading squad her freshman year, sometimes positioned at the pinnacle of the pyramid. But Ms. Ramirez learned quickly that although cheerleading was cool in high school, it didn’t carry the same cachet at Yale. People called her Debbie Cheerleader or Debbie Dining Hall or would start to say “Debbie does … ” playing on the 1978 porn movie “Debbie Does Dallas.” But Ms. Ramirez didn’t understand the reference.
“She was very innocent coming into college,” Liz Swisher, who roomed with Ms. Ramirez for three years at Yale and is now a physician in Seattle, later recalled. “I felt an obligation early in freshman year to protect her.”
There were many more unhappy memories of college. Fellow students made fun of the way she dropped consonants when she spoke, but also ribbed her for not being fluent in Spanish. They mocked her knockoff black-and-red Air Jordans. They even questioned her admission on the merits. “Is it because you’re Puerto Rican?” someone once asked her.
“My mom would have preferred me to go to a smaller college — looking back at it, she was right,” Ms. Ramirez said. At Yale, “they invite you to the game, but they never show you the rules or where the equipment is.”
It wasn’t until she got a call from a reporter and saw her account of Mr. Kavanaugh described as “sexual misconduct” in The New Yorker that Ms. Ramirez understood it as anything more than one of many painful encounters at Yale.
Ms. Ramirez also did not see herself as a victim of ethnic discrimination. The college campuses of the 1980s had yet to be galvanized by the identity and sexual politics that course through today’s cultural debates.
Years after graduating, however, she started volunteering with a nonprofit organization that assists victims of domestic violence — the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence, or SPAN. She became a staff member for a time and continues to serve on its board. Gradually she embraced her Puerto Rican roots.
This awakening caused Ms. Ramirez to distance herself from the past. She fell out of touch with one Yale friend — who had asked Ms. Ramirez to be her daughter’s godmother — after the friend’s husband made fun of a book she was reading on racial identity. The husband, a Yale classmate, was one of the students she remembered being at the dorm party that difficult night.
“If I felt like a person in my life wasn’t going to embrace my journey or would somehow question it,” she said, “I just let them go.”
Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings were wrenching, as he strained to defend his character after Dr. Ford’s searing testimony. Thousands of miles away, Ms. Ramirez, who was never asked to testify, also found the hearings distressing. Her efforts to backstop her recollections with friends would later be cited as evidence that her memory was unreliable or that she was trying to construct a story rather than confirm one.
Ms. Ramirez’s legal team gave the F.B.I. a list of at least 25 individuals who may have had corroborating evidence. But the bureau — in its supplemental background investigation — interviewed none of them, though we learned many of these potential witnesses tried in vain to reach the F.B.I. on their own.
Two F.B.I. agents interviewed Ms. Ramirez, telling her that they found her “credible.” But the Republican-controlled Senate had imposed strict limits on the investigation. “‘We have to wait to get authorization to do anything else,’” Bill Pittard, one of Ms. Ramirez’s lawyers, recalled the agents saying. “It was almost a little apologetic.”
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island and member of the Judiciary Committee, later said, “I would view the Ramirez allegations as not having been even remotely investigated.” Other Democrats agreed.
Ultimately, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, concluded, “There is no corroboration of the allegations made by Dr. Ford or Ms. Ramirez.” Mr. Kavanaugh was confirmed on Oct. 6, 2018, by a vote of 50-48, the closest vote for a Supreme Court justice in more than 130 years.
Still, Ms. Ramirez came to feel supported by the very Yale community from which she had once felt so alienated. More than 3,000 Yale women signed an open letter commending her “courage in coming forward.” More than 1,500 Yale men issued a similar letter two days later.
She also received a deluge of letters, emails and texts from strangers containing messages like, “We’re with you, we believe you, you are changing the world,” and “Your courage and strength has inspired me. The bravery has been contagious.”
College students wrote about how Ms. Ramirez had helped them find the words to express their own experiences. Medical students wrote about how they were now going to listen differently to victims of sexual violence. Parents wrote about having conversations with their children about how bad behavior can follow them through life. One father told Ms. Ramirez he was talking to his two sons about how their generation is obligated to be better.
Ms. Ramirez saved all of these notes in a decorative box that she keeps in her house, turning to them even now for sustenance. One person sent a poem titled “What Is Justice” that has resonated deeply with her.
“You can’t look at justice as just the confirmation vote,” she said. “There is so much good that came out of it. There is so much more good to come.”
Deborah Ramirez, one of the women who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual abuse, said in an interview that she had been hopeful that her story would be investigated when two agents drove from Denver to Boulder, Colorado, last weekend to interview her at her lawyer’s office. But Ramirez said that she was troubled by what she perceived as a lack of willingness on the part of the Bureau to take steps to substantiate her claims. “I am very alarmed: first, that I was denied an F.B.I. investigation for five days, and then, when one was granted, that it was given on a short timeline and that the people who were key to corroborating my story have not been contacted,” Ramirez said. “I feel like I’m being silenced.”
.. Several former Yale students who claim to have information regarding the alleged incident with Ramirez or about Kavanaugh’s behavior at Yale said that they had not been contacted by the F.B.I. Kenneth G. Appold was a suitemate of Kavanaugh’s at the time of the alleged incident.
.. Appold, who is the James Hastings Nichols Professor of Reformation History at Princeton Theological Seminary, said that he first heard about the alleged incident involving Kavanaugh and Ramirez either the night it occurred or a day or two later. Appold said that he was “one-hundred-per-cent certain” that he was told that Kavanaugh was the male student who exposed himself to Ramirez. He said that he never discussed the allegation with Ramirez, whom he said he barely knew in college. But he recalled details—which, he said, an eyewitness described to him at the time—that match Ramirez’s memory of what happened. “I can corroborate Debbie’s account,” he said in an interview. “I believe her because it matches the same story I heard thirty-five years ago, although the two of us have never talked.”
When White House aides raised the issue with Judge Kavanaugh, he adamantly denied it and told them he did not even remember her.
.. They did what had never been done in a Supreme Court confirmation and put him on television to be interviewed, choosing Mr. Trump’s favorite network, Fox News.
Judge Kavanaugh, joined by his wife, seemed flat and mechanical as he retreated to the same talking points denying the allegations. Mr. Trump, who styles himself a master of television, thought his nominee came across as weak. Getting the clip of him denying the charges into the media spin cycle was important, but it was not enough.
.. The tide seemed to turn, oddly enough, when a third woman emerged with even more extreme allegations. Michael Avenatti, a brash and media savvy California lawyer who has been careening from one Trump administration brush fire to another, produced a statement from a woman alleging that Judge Kavanaugh in high school attended parties where women were gang raped. The woman, Julie Swetnick, said she was herself gang raped at one such party, though not by the judge.
Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, rushed to the floor to insist that “Judge Kavanaugh should withdraw from consideration.”
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a key swing Republican, was so troubled that she took a copy of Ms. Swetnick’s statement, highlighted and marked up, to a meeting of Republican committee chairmen. Senator John Cornyn of Texas went through it point by point with her to debunk it.
.. The Republican senators got into a lengthy conversation about Mr. Avenatti and how he could not be trusted and concluded that Ms. Swetnick’s claims did not add up. Why would she as a college student repeatedly go to high school parties where young women were gang raped? No one came forward to corroborate the allegation, and news reports surfaced about past lawsuits in which Ms. Swetnick’s truthfulness was questioned.
“This was a turning point,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “That allegation was so over the top, it created a moment that was scary, quite frankly. But that moment was quickly replaced by disgust.”
The involvement of Mr. Avenatti, who represents Stephanie Clifford, the former porn star known as Stormy Daniels, particularly galvanized Republicans, reinforcing the idea that the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh were a political setup. One Republican congressional official called Mr. Avenatti’s involvement “manna from heaven.” From the other side, a Democratic congressional official called it “massively unhelpful.”
the notion that Mr. Avenatti tipped the scale was “wishful thinking” by Republicans who were bent on confirming Judge Kavanaugh at all costs.
.. credited Ms. Swetnick’s story with forcing Republicans to request an abbreviated F.B.I. investigation. “If it would have just been Dr. Ford,” he said, “I don’t think the investigation takes place.”
.. But Judge Kavanaugh’s angry outburst rallied Republicans. He went so far in expressing rage that he blamed the allegations on a plot to take “revenge on behalf of the Clintons” and he sharply challenged two of the Democratic senators about their own drinking.
During a break, Mr. McGahn told him he had to dial it back and strike a calmer tone. When he returned to the committee room, Judge Kavanaugh moderated his anger and apologized to one of the senators.
.. When Mr. Durbin asked Judge Kavanaugh to turn around and ask Mr. McGahn to request an F.B.I. investigation into the charges against him, Mr. Graham erupted in a ferocious, finger-wagging lecture. Other Republican senators began channeling their inner Trump and lashing out on Judge Kavanaugh’s behalf as well.
.. Ms. Collins said she would find it hard to vote yes without a sworn statement from Judge Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge denying that he saw what Dr. Blasey described.
.. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary chairman, got a fresh statement from Mr. Judge within three hours to satisfy her.
.. the three joined other Republican senators in Mr. McConnell’s office to discuss what the F.B.I. investigation should look like. The three undecided Republicans settled on four people they wanted to hear from
Ms. Ramirez, Mr. Judge and two others identified by Dr. Blasey as being elsewhere in the house at the time she was allegedly assaulted.
.. That night Mr. Graham went to dinner at Cafe Berlin with Ms. Collins, Mr. Flake and Ms. Murkowski. They discussed whether a limited F.B.I. investigation might assuage them.
The list of four witnesses they selected, however, later struck Democrats as so constrained that they demanded a more expansive investigation. In the end, the F.B.I. interviewed 10 people, but not many others Democrats recommended.
.. Ms. Murkowski was struggling with what to do. She asked the committee staff to question Judge Kavanaugh’s friends about their understanding of terms from his yearbook like “boofing” and “Devil’s Triangle” to see if they matched his.
.. “The tactics that were used completely backfired,” said Mr. McConnell. “Harassing members at their homes, crowding the halls with people acting horribly, the effort to humiliate us really helped me unify my conference. So I want to thank these clowns for all the help they provided.”
.. Less helpful may have been Mr. Trump’s decision to mock Dr. Blasey during a rally in Mississippi
.. White House aides insisted that the president’s outburst fortified Republicans... Trump and other Republicans accused sex-crime victims protesting Kavanaugh as protesters paid by George Soros.. The GOP Senate whip, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), called the victims a “mob” and echoed the bogus claim that they were paid protesters. They deny victims’ very existence; they are non-persons — props sent by opponents to ruin a man’s life... Graham snorted that he’d hear what “the lady has to say” and then vote Kavanaugh in.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he’d “plow right through” (more like plow over) Ford’s testimony and confirm Kavanaugh.
Republicans’ defense of Kavanaugh — that Ford and others were props of a left-wing plot and therefore lacked agency of their own — evidences the party’s attitude toward women.
.. You cannot say a party that embraces a deeply misogynistic president who bragged about sexually assaulting women and mocked and taunted a sex-crime victim; accepted a blatantly insufficient investigation of credible sex crimes against women in lieu of a serious one that the White House counsel knew would be disastrous; repeatedly insulted and dismissed sex-crime victims exercising their constitutional rights; has never put a single woman on the Judiciary Committee (and then blames its own female members for being too lazy); and whips up male resentment of female accusers is a party that respects women.
.. What’s worse is that Republicans who would never engage in this cruel and demeaning behavior themselves don’t bat an eye when their party’s leaders do so. Acceptance of Trump’s misogyny — like their rationalization of the president’s overt racism — becomes a necessity for loyal Republicans.
.. One either agrees or ignores or rationalizes such conduct, or one decide it’s a small price to pay (“it” being the humiliation of women) for tax cuts and judges. It’s just words, you know.
.. The Republican Party no longer bothers to conceal its loathing of immigrants, its contempt for a free press, its disdain for the rule of law or its views on women. Indeed, these things now define a party that survives by inflaming white male resentment. Without women to kick around, how would they get their judge on the court or their guys to the polls?
Throughout Thursday’s Senate hearing on Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual-misconduct allegation against Brett Kavanaugh, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee claimed that they had tried in vain to secure more information about other accusations made about the judge. “We were moving heaven and earth and even moving the schedule to get to the truth,” Senator Thom Tillis, of North Carolina, said.
Senator Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, the chairman of the committee, said, about an allegation of sexual misconduct raised last week by a former college classmate of Kavanaugh’s, Deborah Ramirez, “My staff made eight requests—yes, eight requests—for evidence from attorneys for Ms. . . . Ms. Ramirez.” He added, “The committee can’t do an investigation if attorneys are stonewalling.”
.. On Wednesday, several conservative-media outlets published leaks of some of the e-mail correspondence between Ramirez’s team and Republican committee staffers, which appeared to back up Grassley’s characterization. But a fuller copy of the e-mail correspondence between Ramirez’s legal team and Republican and Democratic Senate staffers shows that a Republican aide declined to proceed with telephone calls and instead repeatedly demanded that Ramirez produce additional evidence in written form.
.. Clune proposed a phone call several times, Davis repeatedly insisted that Clune answer two questions: Did Ramirez possess evidence in addition to what was in the New Yorker article? And was she willing to provide testimony to the committee’s investigators?
.. “As you’re aware, Ms. Ramirez’s counsel have repeatedly requested to speak with the Committee, on a bipartisan basis, to determine how to proceed. You refused. I’ve never encountered an instance where the Committee has refused even to speak with an individual or counsel. I am perplexed as to why this is happening here, except that it seems designed to ensure that the Majority can falsely claim that Ms. Ramirez and her lawyers refused to cooperate. That simply is not true.”
.. “Almost immediately in our correspondence, they became less interested in hearing from her and more interested in discovering what witnesses we could bring forward. Since it was only the majority staff that made these demands, as the minority staff questioned those demands as unprecedented, we became suspicious that any disclosures we might file would be shared inappropriately with Judge Kavanaugh or others to prepare and attack Debbie’s account,”
.. Since Debbie’s interest was in an F.B.I. investigation where Judge Kavanaugh could be questioned under oath, we didn’t feel comfortable releasing this information without their assurances. We continued to attempt to negotiate in good faith by submitting a lengthier letter providing more information as well as Debbie’s request for investigation.
.. It is remarkable that the committee admits they had enough information to question Judge Kavanaugh under oath on Debbie’s statements in The New Yorker, yet that very same information was insufficient for Debbie’s counsel to earn even a phone call.”
.. “The imposition of aggressive and artificial deadlines regarding the date and conditions of any hearing has created tremendous and unwarranted anxiety and stress on Dr. Ford.”
.. “many aspects” of the terms under which she would testify “are fundamentally inconsistent with the Committee’s promise of a fair, impartial investigation into her allegations, and we are disappointed with the leaks and the bullying that have tainted the process.”