To say the least, the controversy surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing was one of the most divisive moments America has seen in recent years. Anyone who doesn’t believe that need only look back at what happened on The University of Texas’ West Mall earlier this month.
On the afternoon of October 2nd, the campus chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) took to the West Mall to protest what they saw as the unfair treatment of Kavanaugh. Holding up signs that said “Kavanaugh Did Nothing Wrong,” “Justice for Kavanaugh,” and “Me Too Gone Too Far” among others, the rally quickly escalated when a crowd began to form and tensions flared. While many felt that YCT shouldn’t have held an event that was bound to be so provocative, YCT Chairman Saurabh Sharma explained how the importance of facilitating discourse played a role in planning the event.
“Our goal was to engage in good-faith discussions on the topic,” Sharma explained. “The idea is that for every person who comes and talks to us, there might be onlookers who can hear perspectives that they have not been privy to and make up their mind from that. That was the goal.”
The idea for the event came from the organization’s resolve to become more active on campus in regards to current events.
“This year we had planned to be engaged in activism around campus with more contemporary issues because those are the issues that are more ripe for debate,” Sharma said. “My peers and I looked around, we saw that there was a lack of activism on college campuses when it came to supporting Kavanaugh. The reason why is because, on college campuses, this is an issue that a lot of conservatives are afraid to speak up on.”
But despite what they hoped the event would accomplish, they did take precautions during the planning process.
“We did not publicize it beforehand for safety purposes,” Sharma said. “There’s been some discussion surrounding whether or not people should have been informed ahead of time. The problem is that it would have put a target on our backs to come and mob us, and for that reason, we only told our own membership about it the day before it actually happened.”
“We were prepared for the possibility of something like this happening, but we didn’t bank on it,” Sharma said.
It didn’t take long for the event to quickly escalate as a large crowd formed around the YCT table. Tensions began to flare so much that spectators began ripping the signs that the group had made.
“The most surprising thing was the active destruction of our property, especially property that was in our hands,” Sharma said. “We didn’t expect that at all.”
But the escalation wasn’t just physical. The Kavanaugh controversy revolves around an incredibly sensitive and emotionally charged topic, and some interpreted the rally as being an example of the perpetuation of rape culture. Nevertheless, Sharma is adamant that such an interpretation is wrong.
“I think to some degree I was expecting a misattribution of our intentions,” Sharma explained. “The phrase that’s been going around has been ‘rape apologists,’ which doesn’t make sense because we’re saying that it didn’t happen. If we were saying that it happened but he should be confirmed anyway, then that would be a different story.”
Sharma also made the distinction between the group’s support for Kavanaugh and their attitudes toward sexual assault.
“I, along with my fellow conservative students in YCT, think that sexual assault and harassment are heinous actions that should be dealt with using the strictest possible penalties,” Sharma said. “I have long said that if you rape someone, you should be castrated or killed. That being said, it has to be proven.”
As for whether or not the demonstration was triggering for students who might have been victims of sexual assault, Sharma was quick to defend the decision to have the rally in such a public spot.
“The Kavanaugh story consumed the entire news cycle for the last month and a half. It was unavoidable if you are politically involved at all. I sympathize greatly with those who have personal experience with (sexual assault), and I understand that it’s very difficult. But it’s part of our body politic, it needs to be engaged with, and to make an exception for an issue because it’s personally affecting people I think would be a mistake.”
When asked about claims that the group was making a statement about the collective of sexual assault allegations, Sharma says that that’s just not true.
“We can’t take responsibility for an opinion that people are ascribing to us, only the ones that we put out there,” Sharma said. “It’s a really challenging accusation to deal with because we aren’t questioning the claims of individual people who might be passing by.”
Perhaps the most provocative sign of the rally was the one with the slogan “Me Too Gone Too Far,” which some felt to be disrespectful to everything that the movement has done for victims. But Sharma explained that there was a greater message behind it.
“The short way of saying it is that when unsubstantiated allegations are given the same merit as substantiated ones, you weaken the credibility of substantiated ones, and that’s what was really troubling,” Sharma said. “What was deeply troubling was that the important ethic and weight that allegations have been carrying in the Me Too era, in my view, was being squandered on a claim that was not as strong as the other claims that were being made. And it was frustrating to see a movement that was nonpartisan become partisan when it didn’t have to be.”
When asked if there was anything the group should have done differently in this scenario, Sharma was quick to say no.
“The event was thought out. We did our due diligence, and we don’t act on impulse, so I think we stand by everything we did,” Sharma said. “One thing I was very happy with was that neither myself nor my peers lost our cool out there. We understand that as conservatives, fair or not, we’re held to a higher standard in unfriendly partisan environments, so we hold ourselves to that.”
As for how the group has handled the fallout of the rally, Sharma both acknowledged the difficulty and remained optimistic.
“It’s been challenging, but I think the YCT community is a tight-knit group and we’ve managed to keep our heads held high,” he said. “One thing I learned a long time ago, and that I try to teach our members, is that we can’t judge ourselves by the standards of how the other side reacts. You have to have a well-defined and resolved moral compass when it comes to what kind of activism you do, how you portray the ideas you believe in, and what ideas you have.”
With the dust starting to settle, it’s difficult to imagine how long the response to this event will continue. Just a week after YCT’s demonstration, students held a “Stand With Survivors” rally in order to express their solidarity with victims of sexual assault. Sharma himself even admits that YCT could continue dealing with the response for the foreseeable future.
“The fallout is by no means over, but we’ll see,” he said.
Regardless of the outcome, it’s difficult to deny that this event has been a catalyst for conversation about a topic that should concern every student regardless of political affiliation. One can only hope that such a discussion will persist beyond periods of public interest and scandal.
Next week, The Orator will be releasing a piece by Managing Editor Brendon Sparkman on his interview with counter-protester Sara Ross.