Anita Hill Speaks on Reimagining Equality

Professor Anita Hill, who became a national figure in 1991 when she accused then–U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, spoke last week about “Reimagining Equality: Attending to the Banal in Post-Obama America” in an event sponsored by the Women's and Gender Studies Program.

Maryrose Zipse ’17 and Gloria Palma ’17 introduced Hill together to a completely packed Soda Center, after a performance by the Saint Mary’s Choir. The Choir sang two songs including a rendition of “Brave” by Sara Bareilles.

Hill said she sees similarities in how Thomas and President Donald Trump regard sexism, and often feels discouraged by the new administration. But recent successes by state attorney generals and her faith in academia give her hope. “We will find a way to engage, enlight, and progress,” she said.

Now a professor of social policy, law, and women's studies at Brandeis University, Hill is a lifelong fighter for social justice in the workplace and an expert on the intersectional effects of race and gender. During Hill’s testimony in the 1991 Senate hearings about Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination to replace Thurgood Marshall, she accused Thomas of repeatedly sexual harassing her when she worked for him at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Her lecture focused on drawing connections between her experience testifying to the Senate and her experience of seeing Trump come to power. Hill commented on the campaign of misinformation and fearmongering brought about by various senators during her testimony and tied this to Donald Trump’s campaign and his administration.

Hill paralleled the character of Thomas with Trump’s. She said that her experience with Thomas, and her allegations of sexual harassment, “said something about the character of the man being nominated for a lifetime appointment.” She compared this to the video published by The Washington Post last October of Donald Trump’s lewd conversation when he said, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab them by the p***y. You can do anything.”

Hill believes that the Trump Administration won’t be as aggressive in enforcing the Title IX portion of the United States Education Amendments of 1972. She said that what she perceives as deficiencies in Donald Trump’s character, plus his appointment of Jeff Sessions to lead the Justice Department, and his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court suggests that his administration will not fight sexism as much as the previous administration.

The Obama Administration's Justice Department concluded that all legislation that denies transgendered individuals access to public restrooms was illegal under Title IX. Within a week of his inauguration, the Trump-Sessions Justice Department decided to reverse this interpretation of Title IX. Hill cites this as indicative of the change that will occur under the new administration.

While Hill admits that she is discouraged by the new administration and its interpretation of Title IX, she has not lost hope. She sees other outlets for reimagining equality. She’s encouraged by the efforts of state attorney generals who fought the Trump Administration's travel ban. She sees academia and the corporate sphere as possible outlets of fighting discrimination.