Thursday, September 27, 2018

“What Boy Hasn’t Done This in High School?” Brett Kavanaugh and the Rotten Goose Egg Party at Oaklawn Park

Failed Florida congressional candidate Gina Sosa is probably looking for a rock to hide under about now. Her question doesn’t even deserve an answer. The more appropriate question is, “What kind of high school boy has done this?” What sort of person abuses other people? And why?
I’m not rendering judgment on Brett Kavanaugh. The accusations are serious and should be taken so. In fact, they should be investigated by the FBI. Which makes one wonder why the GOP is so reluctant to allow this logical and reasonable solution to the he said/she said dilemma they are facing. And the attempts by many Republican defenders of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, including Utah’s own Orrin Hatch, to either dismiss the accusations or try to explain them away, shine a bright light on the reason why so many assaulted women never go public with their stories. They are afraid they will not be believed. These attempts to minimize the seriousness of the accusations make one wonder what the response would be if the shoe were on the other foot. What if the nominee were a liberal and the accusers were conservative? I’d like to hear Orrin Hatch’s answer to that question.
But if the accusations are true, we do need to ask ourselves what sort of person would engage in this sort of behavior? Obviously, such a person would view other individuals as objects, not as people, not as human beings with feelings, a sense of dignity, and free will. We call this dehumanization. Can such a person simply “grow up,” become a very different type of individual, and be trusted implicitly with great power over the lives of others? Or do some aspects of this malignancy linger?
I don’t know the answer to these questions. But the question of what is “normal” for high school boys took me back many years to my own high school experience. If you knew me in high school, you wouldn’t think of me as the type of student who would likely be the victim of abusive behavior. For starters, I am male and white. (Not that white males can’t be abused.) But I was also senior class president, starting guard on the basketball team, and class co-valedictorian with my good friend Tad. I had lots of friends and didn’t ever feel picked on. Except for one evening near the end of my junior year.
Sometime after the student body and class officer elections, the graduating senior class officers hosted a party for the new senior class officers. We had dinner at Oaklawn Park, as I recall. The idea was to give the new officers some training and help us understand some of our responsibilities. I don’t really remember much about the evening. It’s been 45 years, after all. I couldn’t tell you what we ate or what sorts of things we talked about. I don’t recall who exactly was there, besides the two class presidencies. If I had to guess, I would say the student council for each of the two classes also attended.
What I do remember, very vividly, was what happened at the end of the party. For some reason, the graduating senior class officers decided that we needed to be “initiated.” That’s one term for what is now generally called hazing. For our initiation as new class officers, our predecessors had procured a fire extinguisher and filled it with beer. They thought it would be funny if they sprayed us with beer. This was Utah, so none of us drank the beer. We just got showered with it. Mildly annoying, but nothing more than a prank, I thought.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the initiation. They had also procured some rotten goose eggs. These were large and extremely smelly, and these high school seniors thought it would be fun to smash those eggs all over us juniors. But their plan had one flaw in it. As I mentioned above, I was a starting guard on the basketball team, and I was lightning quick. With a large field of grass at my disposal, no five of them could lay a hand on me. I ran circles around them until they got tired. Then they played their trump card. “If you don’t let us catch you tonight, we’ll get you at school tomorrow.” Understanding exactly how embarrassing and awkward that would be, I allowed them to catch me. They proceeded to stuff rotten goose eggs down my pants and smash them. It was gross, to put it in 1970s terms. And cleaning up was disgusting.
Now, I don’t want to draw any sort of equivalence between this hazing incident and sexual assault. They are not even in the same area code. But there are some similarities. Both hazing and sexual assault are forms of abuse. They are humiliating, dehumanizing experiences. The perpetrators of both have no concern for the dignity or free will of the victims. The intent is to harm the victim emotionally, if not physically, or to gratify some internal craving for power over others.
I don’t think I suffered any long-term damage from the incident. But, as you can see, I have never forgotten what happened that evening, even though I don't recall ever really talking about it. It was something I probably just wanted to forget. But I haven't. I’ve forgotten a lot of things about high school, both pleasant and unpleasant, but I doubt I’ll ever forget this experience. And this is probably common with all victims of abuse. There are psychological explanations for this. But I wonder if those graduating senior class officers, the perpetrators, remember the incident. I would bet they don’t. And they were sober. But I do wonder what sort of people they are now. I haven’t kept in touch. After that experience, I had no interest in ever seeing them again. I hope the best for them, but still I have to wonder.