Georgetown Prep’s President Defends Its Culture, Without Mentioning Brett Kavanaugh

The Supreme Court nominee was recently accused of committing sexual assault while he was a student at the high school in the 1980s.

An image of a sign reading Georgetown Preparatory School
The Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, accused of sexual assault, attended Georgetown Prep in the 1980s. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

The president of Georgetown Preparatory School—the elite, all-boys private boarding school from which Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee, graduated in 1983—has a message for students, their families, and alumni: Trust us, our school doesn’t breed sexual miscreants.

“Prep is a wonderful place, a wonderful school, a wonderful community,” Reverend James R. Van Dyke, who became the school’s president two months ago, wrote in the letter, which was sent to the campus community on Thursday, and posted online Friday. “There is no denying that this is a challenging time for a lot of reasons,” he said. “But it is a wonderful place, a wonderful school, a wonderful community.”

“I don’t say this because I have to,” Van Dyke wrote. But the truth is, he kind of did have to. Why exactly it has been a “challenging time” for the school went unspoken in the letter, but it’s obvious. Kavanaugh has been accused of attempting to sexually assault Christine Blasey Ford, a psychologist and professor at Palo Alto University, when the two were in high school. Ford alleges that Kavanaugh, while drunk at a party, cordoned her off in a room, pinned her on a bed, groped her, and put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams. Mark Judge, a friend of Kavanaugh’s, was also in the room egging him on, Ford alleges. Both Kavanaugh and Judge are Georgetown Prep alumni.

Van Dyke’s letter is the first time the school has spoken publicly about the accusations against Kavanaugh, even though it did not reference them explicitly. Instead, Van Dyke framed the letter as a defense of all of that is good about the institution—the committed faculty, the Christian Service Program, Special Olympics volunteers, student tutors, and so on—while only obliquely referring to what he is defending it from.

The school, he argues, is being caricatured as elitist, privileged, and uncaring. In the wake of the Kavanaugh accusations, alums of such elite private schools have called them “bastions of misogyny,” researchers have argued they reinforce “hypermasculine culture,” and some say they “foster darker impulses.

Van Dyke agrees that Georgetown Prep is elite—and even privileged—but only in the positive sense of those terms. “That we are elite, we cannot deny; every student who comes here is chosen for his personal potential regardless of financial need,” he wrote. “That we are privileged, we also cannot deny; generations of visionary Prep alumni and friends have helped to build excellent facilities for classes and for athletics and have underwritten our retreat and service and arts programs.” But he drew a line at the assertion that they’re entitled or uncaring.

Georgetown Prep is one of the most expensive private boarding schools in the country, with a price tag of over $60,000 per year for boarding students. Yes, the school has scholarships for low-income students, but it is serving a heaping helping of an elite clientele as well. Members of that elite group often do not face consequences for their actions in the same way less privileged young people do. As Josh Rovner recently put it in The Atlantic, “kids who grow up like Kavanaugh—white kids whose parents can afford prep-school tuition and, presumably, the services of a good lawyer—rarely experience prolonged contact with the criminal-justice system … But most kids don’t grow up like Kavanaugh.”

In an interview with Here and Now, Adam Howard, a professor of education at Colby College, argued that places like Georgetown Prep do, indeed, have a lot of good attributes, but “they also encourage win-at-all-costs attitudes, unhealthy levels of stress, deception, materialism, competition and so forth, selfishness and greed.” Kavanaugh himself described the school’s culture in 2015 as, “What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep.”

Van Dyke acknowledges that the school should be evaluating its culture. “It is a time to continue our ongoing work with the guys on developing a proper sense of self and a healthy understanding of masculinity, in contrast to many of the cultural models and caricatures that they see,” he says. “And it is a time to talk with them 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.”

Van Dyke’s letter seeks to reassure the Georgetown Prep community that it will improve without admitting it could have fallen short. The school is positioning itself as so far removed from Kavanaugh’s alleged actions that they don’t even bear mentioning, but it knows it is not removed enough to say nothing. (“I don’t say this because I have to.”) There is a tension here, a sense of wanting to fix the school’s culture of toxic masculinity, but deny it too.

Read Van Dyke’s full letter below: