by Maya Kaufman
Imagine a society where equality is “just life.”
That was what Anita Hill implored the audience to do when she spoke at Kenyon this past Monday night in Rosse Hall. To many, the name “Anita Hill” is synonymous with her October 1991 testimony in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the fitness of Clarence Thomas as a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hill stated that Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her boss at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Senate voted 52-48 to confirm Thomas’s nomination.
“I think that the ’91 Clarence Thomas hearings were really a watershed moment in talking about … sexual harassment as a larger issue,” President Sean Decatur said. “It put it on the national radar screen in ways that it hadn’t broken through before.”
However, Hill is more than her 1991 testimony. In 2011, she published her second book, Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home, and in 2013, Hill was the subject of the documentary ANITA: Speaking Truth to Power. Hill is currently a professor of social policy, law and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Brandeis University and is Of Counsel in the civil rights and employment practice group at the law firm Cohen Milstein.
“You have to make a decision that you are more than one episode in your life,” Hill said in an interview with the Collegian. “After the hearings I was just committed to living my life to the fullest — to understanding what happened in 1991 and what it had done to change me, but also to understand that I was a lot of things before 1991 … and that even though it was going to be difficult that I still had to do those things.”
In addition to her talk in Rosse, Hill led a common-hour discussion the following day, during which she spoke about Reimagining Equality and answered questions in a smaller group setting. Faculty Lectureships, the committee that brought Hill to campus, also screened ANITA three times on campus leading up to Hill’s visit.
Professor of Music Reginald Sanders, who is the chair of Faculty Lectureships, referred to Hill’s talk as “timely,” due to the increasing attention to cases of sexual misconduct at colleges and universities.
“I feel that America is at a crossroads, and we must be determined to make the United States a country that works for everyone,” Sanders wrote in an email to the Collegian. “I think we can learn a lot from Hill in this regard.”
Rosse was almost full for Hill’s talk. The students who attended were predominantly female.
“I would say that more girls that I know have heard of Anita Hill,” Maya Street-Sachs ’17, who attended Hill’s talk and one of the documentary screenings, wrote in an email to the Collegian.
Hill believes that, since 1991, attitudes toward sexual harassment have “absolutely” changed. “In terms of public consciousness, people have come a long way from this idea that, ‘Oh, that’s just life and women need to toughen up, and girls need to realize that’s what the world is like,’” Hill said.
Karina Cruz ’16 said that for her, Hill’s talk “reinforced the fact that we need more women with power to make decisions on all levels on behalf of other women.”
Yet Hill emphasized that, for equality to become “just life”, it is important to make a stand.
“Voicing your opinion is really not only our responsibility but it’s also our privilege, and we need to exercise it,” Hill said. “You can take risks and you can be hurt, but … you can get beyond that place to go on and live a good, meaningful, empowered life.”