Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90, who is under investigation following allegations of sexual misconduct, has drawn scrutiny for his affiliation with the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale.
But his fellow classmates in DKE have stood by their brother.
Kavanaugh joined DKE — a fraternity largely composed of athletes — as a sophomore in January 1985, amidst a resurgence of Greek life at Yale. The emerging presence of DKE and other fraternities sparked debates over Greek life on campus — discussions that have re-emerged recently in the wake of the #MeToo movement. While, in recent years, DKE has come under fire for allegations of sexual misconduct, the fraternity flew under the radar during Kavanaugh’s time.
Still, some alumni scrutinized the group for its often rowdy behavior. As the Supreme Court nominee faces an FBI investigation into alleged disorderly conduct and sexual assault, former DKE brothers contend that Kavanaugh was respectful and relatively uninvolved in the fraternity.
As Kavanaugh arrived at Yale, fraternities were re-emerging in response to a change in Connecticut’s drinking age from 18 to 21. During his time at Yale, DKE was the longest-standing fraternity on campus. According to Mickey Kappele ’87, a fellow DKE brother, the fraternity’s social life was largely insular, centering around weekly brotherhood Wednesday meetings over beer kegs that were found empty at the night’s end. Kappele said the fraternity also hosted general social events like block parties and toga parties. Meetings took place in residential colleges until the fraternity obtained a house on Lake Place in 1988, which the fraternity occupied until this past May.
“Like the judge, I probably had too many beers and can’t remember what happened [at DKE social events],” joked Christopher Maxey ’84, whose time in DKE did not overlap with Kavanaugh’s.
According to Kappele, a few brothers were expelled from Yale for partying all night and disrupting other students’ ability to sleep. Still, DKE had a “pretty good reputation” and did not receive any formal reprimands from the University, Kappele said.
But other alumni have a far grimmer recollection of Kavanaugh’s DKE brothers. Rebecca Steinitz ’86 said the brothers were known for drinking a lot of alcohol, “saying a lot of derogatory things about women” and hosting “extremely raucous parties.” Victoria Beach ’87 added that Kavanaugh and other DKE brothers were part of a “hard drinking, partying crowd.”
DKE, which was founded at Yale in 1844, claims ties to prominent alumni such as former presidents George H. W. Bush ’48 and George W. Bush ’68. Still, in the 1970s, the fraternity suffered from financial troubles and a decline in membership. In 1973, DKE was forced to close the doors of its house, which is now the Rose Alumni House on York Street.
Despite their financial woes, the young men continued their antics, as future politicians and the current Supreme Court nominee shared beer kegs with their brothers through the years.
According to a News story from April 16, 1985, the rise of fraternities provoked debate among students, some of whom viewed Greek life as a threat to the residential college system. In 1984, Zeta Psi was revitalized on campus, and the following year, four new Greek organizations — fraternities Sigma Chi, Sigma Nu and Kappa Sigma and sorority Kappa Alpha Theta — were established at Yale. In 1988, Yale President Benno Schmidt, Jr. ’62 — who was a former DKE brother himself — openly criticized fraternities for alcohol abuse and exclusionary policies, adding that “if I were doing it again I would not join a fraternity.”
In recent weeks, three women have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct during his high school and Yale College years. Kavanaugh’s drinking habits as a college student and teenager have become a centerpiece of criticism against the nominee, who claimed during his Senate testimony that he had never drunk to the point of blacking out. When asked about his high school behavior in a Fox News interview, Kavanaugh noted that many students in high school “have had too many beers on occasion” and have done regrettable things. He has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
Three of Kavanaugh’s DKE brothers, who have defended the judge’s character amidst the allegations, told the News that Kavanaugh was not a particularly active member of DKE.
“He was around and I knew him, but he definitely was not at every meeting, every party, every event,” said Steve Gallo ’88, who rushed DKE at the same time as Kavanaugh. “If there was a bell curve, he was probably in the lower echelon of participation.”
In a group photo of DKE brothers Kappele shared with the News, Kavanaugh is not shown among over 40 other members. Each pledge class had about 22 students, Gallo said.
While DKE mostly flew under the radar, the fraternity’s rush process and pledging events drew attention from the rest of campus, according to Kenneth Lund ’87, a former football captain who was not in DKE.
Two weeks ago, the News published a photograph from January 1985 — the month Kavanaugh rushed DKE — showing two other DKE pledges holding a flag of women’s underwear as part of initiation proceedings. According to Kappele, other tasks for pledges included carrying a trombone around for a week and dressing up as a French waiter to serve older brothers dinner and wine in the dining hall. Chris Dudley ’87, another DKE brother who was one of Kavanaugh’s closest friends, said pledges never did “anything that crazy” but there may have been scavenger hunts around campus.
In a photograph published in the News on Jan. 17, 1986, a DKE pledge is shown wearing a T-shirt that reads, “Butthole … DKE.” DKE pledges were “fondly known as ‘buttholes,’” according to the photo’s caption. That same tradition, which later became far more derogatory toward women, carried on for decades — in 2006, pledges were allegedly forced to wear T-shirts that read, “If she’s old enough to crawl, then she’s in the right position” on the back, according to a woman whose then-boyfriend in DKE had one of the shirts. According to Gallo, DKE’s reputation “has certainly evolved over the years,” and the negative press around DKE now seems to be influencing how people remember the fraternity in the ’80s.
Alumni have diverged on DKE’s relevance on campus during the ’80s and Kavanaugh’s conduct as a college student. Asked about Kavanaugh’s behavior at DKE parties, Dudley said Kavanaugh never took “a risk of stepping on anyone’s privileges and rights.” But according to a New Haven Police Department report the New York Times released on Monday, both Dudley and Kavanaugh were questioned by the NHPD in September 1985 after they got into a fight at a now-defunct college bar called Demery’s.
“I never saw him out of temper and I never saw him drunk, I promise,” said Kappele, another DKE brother who defended Kavanaugh. “Because I was out of eligibility to play hockey … I was at all the parties last term. Three beers is drunk legally, but … Brett was never out of line.”
Dudley said while Kavanaugh interacted with many female friends at parties, he was “incredibly respectful” to women. He has never “seen [Kavanaugh] touch anyone,” Dudley added.
Other classmates, however, have contradicted Dudley and Kappele’s tame accounts of Kavanaugh’s drinking in college. In a statement on Sunday, classmate Chad Ludington ’87 said that on many occasions, he saw Kavanaugh “slur his words” and stagger from alcohol consumption.
Recently, over the past decade DKE has raised eyebrows and made negative headlines for serious allegations of misconduct. In 2011, the fraternity was banned from campus for five years after pledges chanted, “No means yes! Yes means anal!” outside of the Yale Women’s Center. And the fraternity came under fire again last year when the News and Business Insider published detailed accounts of sexual assault allegations against DKE members, including a former DKE president who had been suspended by Yale for “penetration without consent.” Last year, eight more women also accused members of the fraternity for sexual misconduct.
DKE is currently being investigated by the University for allegations of a sexual hostile climate.
Serena Cho | firstname.lastname@example.org