A dean at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., has been suspended for a tweet that, according to university officials, “demonstrated a lack of sensitivity” to sexual assault survivors.
William Rainford, dean of the university’s National Catholic School of Social Service, posted the tweet on his official university account last week, one day before Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh made back-to-back appearances before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Rainford references Julie Swetnick, the third woman to come forward with sexual misconduct allegations against the Supreme Court nominee. Swetnick has alleged that she witnessed sexual assault by Kavanaugh during a party and was herself the victim of assault in an incident where Kavanaugh was present. Kavanaugh has denied the allegation.
In his position as dean, Rainford oversees the university’s undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. programs in social work.
“Swetnick is 55 y/o,” Rainford wrote. “Kavanaugh is 52 y/o. Since when do senior girls hang with freshmen boys? If it happened when Kavanaugh was a senior, Swetnick was an adult drinking with&by her admission, having sex with underage boys. In another universe, he would be victim & she the perp!”
More than 40 graduate social work students walked out of their classes to protest Rainford’s tweet the following afternoon, according to The Tower, Catholic University’s independent student newspaper. The students created a petition of demands, including Rainford’s resignation, an apology from university President John Garvey and a university donation to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
“I was very upset that, one, the dean would say something like that, but also that he would be so nonchalant about students here who are victims of child molestation and sexual assault,” Bi’Anncha Andrews, another social work graduate student, told the paper.
“I don’t want him speaking for me as a social worker or as a Catholic,” added Victoria Conaway, a social work graduate student.
On Friday, a day after the walkout, Garvey released a statement announcing that Rainford’s remarks were “unacceptable” and that he would be suspended for the remainder of the semester.
“The tweets called into question the validity of some accusations of sexual assault made against Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Of deepest concern to me is that they demonstrated a lack of sensitivity to the victim,” Garvey said.
“We should expect any opinion he expresses about sexual assault to be thoughtful, constructive, and reflective of the values of Catholic University,” particularly from a university-affiliated social media account, he added.
The statement maintained that the university has “no position on the Kavanaugh matter.”
In an apology letter to the university, Rainford, who has served as dean since 2013, acknowledged that his tweet “suggested that [Swetnick] was not the victim of sexual assault.”
“I offer no excuse,” he wrote on Thursday. “It was impulsive and thoughtless and I apologize. … Victims who suffer assault and abuse need to be heard, respected, and provided treatment and justice.”
Rainford’s @NCSSSDean Twitter account is no longer active. Associate Dean Marie Raber will serve as acting dean until Rainford returns.
At a campus protest on Monday, students, alumni and faculty members called for Rainford’s resignation. More than 100 people participated, according to The Washington Post. “The tweets not only mocked a survivor of a campus sexual assault, but also suggested a scenario in which she was instead a perpetrator,” a campus announcement of the protest read.
“Start by believing survivors… Not mocking them on Twitter,” read one protester’s sign.