Youth response to Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination

The following  column appeared in several APG of Eastern Minnesota newspapers during late October-early November, 2018

Youth response to Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination

Yes, youngsters were listening to and thinking about the recent U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Thanks to the Minnesota Youth Council, students from Apple Valley and Edina shared some insights. As I looked into their ideas, I learned that some suggestions have strong research support.

This is NOT a column about what Kavanaugh did or did not do. I don’t have any special insight or evidence about that.

But as an educator and parent, I’m interested in how young people reacted to the hearings. So I turned to the Minnesota Youth Council for help.

According to its website, in 2013, the Minnesota Legislature adopted a law which “established the council as the ‘voice of youth’ to the state legislature and the governor-  the only legislatively mandated youth council of its kind in the country!”

Approximately 35 young people from suburban, rural and urban areas of the state have been selected for the council. They attend district, charter and private schools. (For more information on the council, visit https://mnyouth.net.)

MYC member Mimi Le, 16, of Apple Valley, is a junior at Eastview High School. She wrote in part: “Seeing the Senate review over the past week has led me to become aware of how little is taught or even talked about to students about what consent is and defining what are acceptable behaviors and boundaries. In America, and MN (sic) specifically, high school students are largely uneducated about how to navigate relationships. … This lack of knowledge sets the cycle of enabling sexually dangerous and abusive behavior in our society. I believe a vital step in reforming and changing our sexual harassment culture is to establish a curriculum that educates students on the basics of consent and specifically what steps they can take if they experience or see behaviors that are violative.”

Turns out there is strong research supporting what Le suggested. A May 2017 article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine described results of a five-year project involving thousands of high school students. As the article explained, “Male and female students are trained to recognize situations and behaviors that can contribute to violence and determine actions they could safely take to reduce the likelihood or effect of violence.” Surveys of more than 89,000 high school students who received the training found it “significantly decreased not only sexual violence perpetration but also other forms of interpersonal violence perpetration and victimization.” (Find the journal article at https://bit.ly/2OsBiKW.)

Given this research, I hope many Minnesota high schools will review what they currently are doing and consider adding the training that Le suggested.

MYC member Raina Meyer, a 17-year-old from Edina, also shared her reactions to the Kavanaugh hearings. Meyer attends Minnesota Online High School and is a PSEO student.

She wrote, in part: “I was shocked that, despite initially claiming that Dr. Ford’s testimony was very credible, a number of key senators and the President himself have since proceeded to attempt to discredit her, and even mock her, which I find appalling and disheartening. At the start of this process, I still had a bit of hope remaining that the majority of current senators would use their power to denounce a man with a demonstrated history of partisanship and sexual assault allegations, regardless of their party. However, now that we’re almost at the end of this process, I’ve once again lost hope in many of our elected officials.”

In a note to me, Meyer’s mother, Denise Kurki, wrote that “Raina is becoming increasingly active in local politics.” That’s great. We move ahead when concerned people take action. Though some MYC members may support this nomination, no one else chose to comment or respond to several requests for their reactions.

Regardless of their views on Judge Kavanaugh, I think increased political involvement by young people would be a very positive result of the intense national discussion that the nomination produced.— Joe Nathan (Editor’s note: Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at Joe@centerforschoolchange.org.)