In a Culture of Privilege and Alcohol at Yale, The World of the Daughter of a Puerto Rican Telephone Lineman Converged With Kavanaugh’s

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 11.14.17 PM.png

Last week, more than 30 years after they graduated from Yale, Deborah Ramirez contacted her old friend James Roche.

Something bad had happened to her during a night of drinking in the residence hall their freshman year, she said, and she wondered if he recalled her mentioning it at the time.

Mr. Roche, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, said he had no knowledge of the episode that Ms. Ramirez was trying to piece together, with her memory faded by the years and clouded by that night’s alcohol use.

Days later, in a New Yorker story, Ms. Ramirez alleged that Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, exposed himself to her at a dorm party. Mr. Roche, a former roommate of the judge, believes her account, he said, and supports her decision to speak out.

“I think she feels a duty to come forward,” Mr. Roche said. “And I think she’s scared to death of it.”

Ms. Ramirez’s allegation — she is the second woman to level claims of sexual misconduct against Judge Kavanaugh — has roiled an already tumultuous confirmation process and riven the Yale community.

More than 2,200 Yale women have signed a letter of support for Ms. Ramirez; a similar letter has been circulating among Yale men. Dozens of students, dressed in black, staged a protest at Yale Law School on Monday, urging that the claims against Judge Kavanaugh be taken seriously. Others went to Washington to hold signs outside the Supreme Court, just days before the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear from Judge Kavanaugh’s first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford.

Judge Kavanaugh, 53, denies the allegations of both women, describing the accusations as “smears” orchestrated by Democrats. Before they arose, more than than 100 Yale students, alumni and faculty members endorsed his nomination to the high court in an open letter. Separately, 23 Yale Law classmates urged Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation in a letter to the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, noting his “considerable intellect, friendly manner, good sense of humor and humility.”

The allegation by Ms. Ramirez, also 53, stems from an incident she said occurred during the 1983-84 school year, when she and Judge Kavanaugh were freshmen.


Like most first-year students, they lived on Old Campus, a quadrangle of Gothic architecture on the Yale grounds. Their social circles included mutual friends.

But they came from worlds apart. Ms. Ramirez arrived at the rarefied halls of Yale from Shelton, Conn., a town just 30 minutes away, the daughter of a telephone company lineman and a medical technician. She attended a coed Catholic high school, St. Joseph, that was predominantly white but had a number of minority students, including Ms. Ramirez, whose father was Puerto Rican.

She worked on the high school paper, belonged to a literary club and was a shy but “brilliant student,” remembered a friend, Dana DeTullio Bauro. “We were not surprised at all that she went to Yale.”

At college, Ms. Ramirez put in long hours working at a residential dining hall and cleaning dorm rooms ahead of class reunions, common jobs for students who had to scrape together money for tuition. Fellow student dining hall employees described her as sweet, sunny and hard-working. Jo Miller, one of those students, said she “was a very energetic, very smiley woman.”

She had been a cheerleader her freshman year, played intramural softball and water polo, and served on her residential college’s student council.

But she saw herself as an outsider at Yale, Mr. Roche said, where many of her classmates were wealthier and more traveled. Friends from back then described her as not particularly confident in a place full of other high school standouts. Ms. Ramirez declined to be interviewed for this article, but her lawyer, Stan Garnett, noted that “she did not come from race or class privilege or have the advantage other students had when entering the university.”

She also found herself in an alcohol-infused culture. “Her whole circle happened to be a drinking circle,” said Victoria Beach, who served as president of the student council when Ms. Ramirez was a member. Elizabeth Swisher, a Seattle physician who roomed with Ms. Ramirez for three years at Yale, recalled, “She was very innocent coming into college.” She added, “I felt an obligation early in freshman year to protect her.”

Judge Kavanaugh had attended Georgetown Preparatory, an elite Jesuit school in suburban Washington, where his parents moved in the capital’s political circles. His family was well-off, with his father a lobbyist and his mother a judge. At Yale, he seemed to settle in quickly with a crowd not unlike his high school friends.

Although he was not a varsity athlete — he was on the junior varsity basketball team and played intramural football, softball and basketball — Judge Kavanaugh hung out with rowdy jocks, many of them members of his fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon.

On a liberal campus known for its scholarship, the DKEs stood out for their hard partying and, some women students claimed, misogyny. During Judge Kavanaugh’s time there — 15 or so years after women arrived — some fraternity brothers paraded around campus displaying women’s underwear they had filched, drawing criticism.


DKE was a “huge party fraternity,” said a former classmate, Sarah Dry. “Lots of drunken parties.”

The DKE pledge process was widely seen on campus as degrading. An opinion piece in The Yale Daily News in 1986 said that pledges were forced to walk around campus reading Penthouse magazine aloud and yelling lines like “I’m a butt-hole, sir.”

One woman remembers Judge Kavanaugh’s wearing a leather football helmet while drinking and approaching her on campus the night he was tapped for DKE. She described his grabbing his crotch, hopping on one leg and chanting: “I’m a geek, I’m a geek, I’m a power tool. When I sing this song, I look like a fool.”

Nearly a dozen people who knew him well or socialized with him said Judge Kavanaugh was a heavy drinker in college. Dr. Swisher said she saw him “very drunk” a number of times. Mr. Roche, his former freshmen year roommate, described his stumbling in at all hours of the night.

In a statement, Kerri Kupec, a White House spokeswoman, played down the descriptions of Mr. Kavanaugh’s heavy drinking at Yale without disputing them. “This is getting absurd,” she said. “No one has claimed Judge Kavanaugh didn’t drink in high school or college.”

Ms. Kupec noted that in a Fox News interview on Monday, Mr. Kavanaugh acknowledged that “all of us have probably done things we look back on in high school and regret or cringe a bit.”

Some former students cautioned against associating Judge Kavanaugh with DKE’s heavy partying contingent. “They were a typical fraternity that served alcohol, but I don’t recall ever seeing Brett Kavanaugh drunk,” said John Risley, who overlapped with Judge Kavanaugh at Yale and was friendly with members of DKE.

One night, Ms. Ramirez told The New Yorker, Judge Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a drinking game in a dorm suite.


Sitting in a circle with a small group of students, she recalled, people selected who had to take a drink, and Ms. Ramirez said she was chosen frequently. She became drunk, her head “foggy,” she recalled. As the game continued, a male student began playing with a plastic dildo, pointing it around the room.

Suddenly, Ms. Ramirez claimed, she saw a penis in front of her face.

When she remarked that it wasn’t real, the others students began laughing, with one man telling her to “kiss it,” she told The New Yorker in an interview. Then, as she moved to push it away, she alleged, she saw Judge Kavanaugh standing, laughing and pulling up his pants.

Neither The New Yorker nor The New York Times, which attempted to verify Ms. Ramirez’s story last week, were able to find witnesses acknowledging the episode. (The Times did not obtain an interview with Ms. Ramirez.) The New Yorker, however, reported that a fellow student, whom the publication did not identify, confirmed having learned of the incident — and Judge Kavanaugh’s alleged role in it — within a day or two after it happened.

Ms. Ramirez initially told friends she had memory gaps and was not certain that Judge Kavanaugh was the person who exposed himself, as she related to Mr. Roche and some other old classmates last week. But, after six days of assessing her memories, The New Yorker reported, she said she was confident that Judge Kavanaugh was the man who had humiliated her.

Her lawyers declined to comment further on the episode.

Chris Dudley, a friend and supporter of Mr. Kavanaugh who belonged to DKE and went on to play professional basketball, says the allegations don’t square with the man he knows. “That’s just not Brett,” he said. “That’s not in his character.”

Ms. Ramirez told few people about the incident at the time, she has said to former classmates, because she felt embarrassed and wanted to forget about it. While she and Judge Kavanaugh were not close friends, they continued to cross paths at Yale and beyond. In 1997, for example, they both attended a wedding of classmates, and appeared in a group photo.


Some of her closest Yale friends said they lost touch with Ms. Ramirez in the last decade. That was in part because she became more politically liberal and conscious of her Latino roots and no longer felt as comfortable among her Yale cohort, several friends said she told them.

Over the past 16 years, Ms. Ramirez, a registered Democrat who lives in Boulder, Colo., with her husband, Vikram Shah, a technology consultant, has worked with a domestic violence organization, both as a volunteer and in a paid position. She joined the board of the organization in 2014.

Ms. Ramirez also works for the Boulder County housing department, where she coordinates funding for low-income families and recruits volunteers.

Anne Tapp, executive director of the domestic violence organization, described Ms. Ramirez as remarkable, compassionate and trustworthy, and said that the two women had discussed multiple times in recent days whether she would come forward with her account about Judge Kavanaugh. Ms. Tapp said that she had tried to support her. “She has struggled over the past week or so to come to the decision to share her very personal story,” Ms. Tapp said.

Several former students who worked in the dining hall along with Ms. Ramirez and her younger sister, Denise, who is also a Yale graduate, did not know of the incident Ms. Ramirez described and have not seen her in years, they said in interviews. But they said they knew her to be an honest person in college.

“She wasn’t manipulative,” said Lisanne Sartor, a former Yale student who is now a writer and director. “What you saw was what you got. This was not someone seeking the spotlight.”

Mr. Roche, the friend she called last week, described her similarly.

“She was bright-eyed and guileless, compared to the sophisticated and often aggressive population you find at Yale,” he said in an interview. “The idea that she would make something like this up is inconceivable,” he added. “It’s not consistent with who I know her to be.”

5 thoughts on “In a Culture of Privilege and Alcohol at Yale, The World of the Daughter of a Puerto Rican Telephone Lineman Converged With Kavanaugh’s

  1. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Never forget this name: DEborah Ramirez … #BelieveDeborah … ‘THE WORLD OF THE DAUGHTER OF A PUERTO RICAN TELEPHONE LINEMAN CONVERGED WITH KAVANAUGH’S’ … the rest is history!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s