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Brett Kavanaugh was socialized in a culture of unchecked misogyny at Yale

Yale’s DKE fraternity and its decades-long hostility towards women

Brett Kavanaugh's Yale Yearbook Photo, Vintage DKE Yale chapter placard
Brett Kavanaugh's Yale Yearbook Photo, Vintage DKE Yale chapter placard

In his testimony last week, Brett Kavanaugh mirrored many troubling, familiar behaviors of arrogant and hostile men. He relied on the bullying rhetoric common of abusers. He employed the incredulous whining of an entitled man potentially denied entry. And he demonstrated the bizarre lack of awareness I first encountered during a sit-down meeting with the DKE bros of Yale University, of which Kavanaugh is an alumnus.

In 2010, I served on the board of Yale University’s Women’s Center, a hub for feminist organizing on campus. That year, Delta Kappa Epsilon was embroiled in controversy after its misogynistic rush activities were caught on camera and quickly went viral. The fraternity had blindfolded its pledges and navigated them to the Women’s Center and around freshman dorms while they chanted: “No means yes / yes means anal.” The chant continued, “I f*** dead women / And fill them with my semen.”

After being met with backlash from the rest of campus, DKE fraternity leadership invited the Women’s Center to a meeting to formally apologize to “The Feminists.” They wore suits. They seemed a little annoyed. And it seemed like they thought that the extent of their responsibility ended with an apology and a promise to be better.

Shortly after this meeting, 16 women filed a Title IX complaint against the university with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Campus activists began working with the administration on reforms to protect and support survivors and to address the toxicity of the campus’ sexual culture. Eventually, the university imposed restrictions on DKE, effectively banning the fraternity.

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Like today, pledging Greek life in the 80s wasn’t as popular at Yale as perhaps other universities where it dominates campus culture.

Kavanaugh joined DKE as a sophomore in 1986 and remained active through his time at Yale Law School. Founded in 1844, DKE stands out among the few fraternities at Yale. According to its website, the fraternity has produced more American presidents than any other, including both Bushes. DKE is also reputed, both in the 80s and today, to be especially drunk and especially hostile toward women.

Kavanaugh himself hasn’t spoken much about his time in the fraternity, though we have gotten snapshots from elsewhere.

Recently, the Yale Daily News published a photograph of Kavanaugh’s contemporaneous fraternity brothers flying a flag made from women’s underwear. While one brother claims the panties were acquired consensually, alumnae quoted in the Yale Daily News describe DKE as an “animal house” and “demeaning to women.” One woman wrote in the YaleWomen Facebook page that members “would ransack women’s rooms while they were in class to collect undergarments.”

A male graduate of ’88 describes DKE as having a heavy-drinking reputation, and being attractive to conservative gender roles. An alumna of ’89 told CNN the fraternity was “widely regarded as drunks and jocks. Joining a fraternity like that was at the time, a way of saying no to Yale’s overall culture.”

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Yale became co-ed in 1969, just 15 years before Kavanaugh arrived. The failures of complete assimilation were reportedly everywhere — like in the women’s bathrooms that were located on just one floor in an entire building.

Since Deborah Ramirez came forward and said that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her during their freshman year, a chorus of former students who attended Yale at the time have described a toxic sexual culture at the university — and at Kavanaugh’s fraternity specifically.  

“It became obvious that women at Yale were worried about rape and that rape was an aspect of university life.”

Several alumnae told HuffPost they avoided DKE due to its reputation. One called its members “pigs” and “horrible men.” Almost all of the women HuffPost spoke with said “DKE brothers in those years were known as heavy drinkers who often degraded women and themselves while partying — especially during pledging and hazing rituals.” One sexual assault activist and organizer of “Take Back the Night,” a march meant to demonstrate support for survivors of sexual assault, admits the march’s route would avoid the DKE house for fear of harassment.

One alumna said there was an overall feeling that women “were only [at Yale] by the graces of men” and that “there was this sense that we were responsible for what men did to us.” For those who had been assaulted, fears of a ruined reputation, retraumatization, or not being believed contributed to a culture of silencing.

While the Women’s Center was active and organizing at the time, one woman told HuffPost the center felt alienating as their politics were viewed as “militant.” In an essay published in a yearbook, Beth Morrow ’87 wrote, “It became obvious that women at Yale were worried about rape and that rape was an aspect of university life.”

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Accounts of Kavanaugh by collegiate peers range. The worst of these accounts parallel the characterization of his fraternity, and the culture the women who attended Yale at the time describe. One classmate calls him an aggressive, obnoxious drunk, part of the crowd he hung out with.” Kavanaugh’s freshman roommate, James Roche, remembers him similarly as a “notably heavy drinker, even by the standards of the time. (H)e became aggressive and belligerent when he was very drunk.”

Regarding Ramirez’s accusation, Bryan Cole, a 1987 alumnus, told HuffPost, “That it would happen to a woman and she would not feel comfortable to speak about it doesn’t surprise me.” He continued, “Unfortunately, guys like Kavanaugh still felt they could behave that way, especially when drinking […] There did not appear to be consequences for your actions.”

Thirty years later, DKE’s reputation is devastatingly similar.

“There’s always been this sort of vibe about DKE that upperclassmen women warned me of,” a woman, currently a junior at Yale, told Business Insider in January. Members are reported to sit on their porch and harass women on the street. Women’s sports teams and sororities are disinclined from holding mixers with them.

“Every time I hear a girl say she’s going to DKE, I feel indescribably sad and angry. But I feel like I can’t say anything because I want to graduate.”

Since the university lifted sanctions on DKE in 2014, and the fraternity was permitted to socially reintegrate into campus life, Business Insider reports over a dozen women witnessed or experienced sexual misconduct by its members, including unwanted kissing and groping. The report also indicates eight distinct, corroborated accounts of sexual misconduct.

Predictably, in 2017 the Yale chapter president, Luke Persichetti, was suspended (for just 3 semesters) for “penetration without consent.” A few months prior, Persichetti commented on the enlightening effects the university’s ban had on the fraternity: “Our current members understand the history of the ban and have played an important part in the cultural shift that has taken place since then.”

The university took five months to investigate his accuser’s claim. As part of the university’s adjudication process, a confidentiality agreement prevented Luke’s accuser from feeling that she could safely speak publicly about her experience. She told Business Insider, “Every time I hear a girl say she’s going to DKE, I feel indescribably sad and angry. But I feel like I can’t say anything because I want to graduate.”

Earlier this year, DKE International told Business Insider it would open an investigation into its Yale Chapter regarding the reported sexual assaults. It also said it would suspend events with alcohol. Doug Lanpher, DKE’s Executive Director, however, has previously questioned whether the severity of a ban was appropriate following the pledge controversy in 2010.

It is this culture of misogyny that socialized Kavanaugh.

Since the FBI has launched its investigation into Kavanuagh’s sexual misconduct, several more classmates have come forth refuting Kavanaugh’s claims of never drinking to excess or disrespecting women.

One Yale classmate corroborates Ramirez’s allegation, while others attest to partying with Kavanaugh in ways previously described. One classmate recalls an admission of sexual misconduct.

These accounts will seemingly not be taken into consideration by the FBI, as the investigation is directed by the White House to restrict its questioning.