The prep schools that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford attended in the 1980s are nestled in leafy suburbs such as this one minutes from the White House and Capitol, where affluence is matched by expectations for the children who grow up here.
Bold-faced names who attended the 117-year-old all-girls Holton-Arms School include Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Christine Lagarde, who oversees the International Monetary Fund. All-boys Georgetown Preparatory’s famous alums include President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch.
The schools belong to a small constellation of pricey, private institutions that draw students from the prosperous enclaves in and around Washington – communities such as Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac – whose residents identify themselves by the private swim clubs to which they belong. Overcrowding of the Whole Foods parking lot on a main Bethesda artery, River Road, is a perennial source of irritation and debate.
But Georgetown Prep, Kavanaugh’s private, all-boys school, also fostered much darker impulses that have persisted for decades. Students who attended the elite private school describe a world of rowdy parties, where a teen boy’s cool quotient was established by access to alcohol and drugs and his prowess with girls and sports.
Kavanaugh himself has alluded to the clubby, slightly naughty atmosphere at Georgetown Prep.
“But fortunately, we had a good saying that we’ve held firm to, to this day, as the dean was reminding me before the talk, which is, ‘What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep,’ ” Kavanaugh said in a 2015 speech at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law, drawing a few laughs. “That’s been a good thing for all of us, I think.”
Ford has accused Kavanaugh of a drunken sexual assault when both were teens. He has denied the allegations and is scheduled to address them Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Ford’s lawyer Debra Katz on Thursday said Ford would be willing to testify next week if she and the senators can agree to “terms that are fair and which ensure her safety.” Katz said Ford has faced death threats since going public with her allegation.
Ford’s accusation has electrified what has become a predictable nomination process of sharp questions from senators of the minority party and fulsome praise from the majority. Classmates of Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, attest to his high moral character; colleagues of Ford, a professor in California, vouch for her.
The allegations of sexual misconduct in prep school culture come as no surprise to Eric Ruyak, a Georgetown Prep student in the 2000s.
“What she’s describing, I saw at parties in 2003 and ’04,” Ruyak said Thursday. “Boys trying to take advantage of girls who were drunk.”
Ruyak himself alleged sexual abuse at Georgetown Prep.
For him, the attacker was a priest whose misconduct was later confirmed by school officials. Ruyak has also engaged in a social media slugfest with Mark Judge, a classmate of Kavanaugh’s who has been accused of watching and laughing as Kavanaugh held down Ford and tried to rip her clothes off at a party while they were all in high school.
Judge has authored the memoirs, “Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk” and “God and Man at Georgetown Prep: How I Became a Catholic Despite 20 Years of Catholic Schooling.”
In a letter this week to the top senators on the Judiciary Committee, Judge said he had “no memory” of the alleged incident and said he never saw Kavanaugh “act in the manner” described by Ford.
Judge’s lawyer declined further comment to USA TODAY.
Ruyak, 32, of Los Angeles, said the all-male environment and the wealthy background of most students bred a sense of entitlement among some. It was commonplace, he said, to hear students boast in explicit terms about sexual conquests and for some teachers to allow the puerile banter, if not condone it.
“It’s predominantly white, very homogeneous,” Ruyak said. “There’s a tremendous amount of wealth, no women, and, quite frankly, male teachers making lewd jokes. I feel badly. I know plenty of wonderful guys who went to Prep.
“When I went to Northwestern (University), I saw then how malignant that environment really is.”
Leslie Morgan Steiner, an author and domestic abuse survivor, graduated in 1983 from Maret, another Washington prep school.
Drinking, drug use and partying were common at the time, she said. So, too, was sexual assault, she said, although many of the women kept it secret for decades.
Steiner said one survivor wrote her an email that still haunts her. The woman said she’s never “been able to have sex since then without seeing and viscerally feeling her rapist. It’s a lifetime of trauma she’s gone through.”
But she doesn’t think Washington is different from other areas of similar privilege.
“I don’t think it was any different from any place, and I think it’s exactly the same today,” Steiner said. “The thing that’s different is that women are more open about it and parents are more supportive.”
Elizabeth Mitchell, who went to one of the area’s elite prep schools years after Steiner, said she avoided parties hosted by boys “like the plague, because I was afraid of them.”
Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of Georgetown Visitation, an all-girls Catholic school whose students often interacted with Georgetown Prep’s.
“There was definitely a heavy-drinking, country club-entitled, future-kings idea that I think prevailed,” she said. “You had this culture where mom and dad weren’t home, and you had these massive mansions.”
In a letter posted Friday on Georgetown Prep’s website, school president the Rev. James Van Dyke said it has been “tough to see the caricature that we have been painted with by some: that we are somehow elitist, privileged, uncaring.”
“That we are elite, we cannot deny… but we are not entitled,” he wrote.
Van Dyke also said it was time to talk with students “honestly and even bluntly about what respect for others, especially respect for women and other marginalized people means in very practical terms – in actions and in words.”