By Eliana Batrez | Assistant News Editor

Anita Hill discussed how issues of sexual harassment have shifted from her time to current day.  (Courtesy of Megan Collins)

Anita Hill discussed how issues of sexual harassment have shifted from her time to current day. (Courtesy of Megan Collins)

On Thursday, March 23, Professor Anita Hill of Brandeis University visited Saint Mary’s to talk to a crowd of faculty, students, and community members about her experiences in 1991, how it felt to be in the public eye, how she dealt with issues of race and gender, and how the  societal issues now parallel to the present day.

The event started at 6:30 p.m. in the Soda Center with the Saint Mary’s Choir’s rendition of “Brave” by Sara Bareilles and was a sponsored by a plethora of academic departments in collaboration with the Roy E. and Patricia Disney Forum.

After the choir performance, Denise Witzig, Chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies (WAGS) Department, gave a brief speech thanking everyone who had organized the event and brought WAGS students Gloria Palma ‘17 and MaryRose Zipse ‘17 to the stage to introduce Professor Hill.

Both shared the way Hill’s actions have influenced their interactions with leadership campaigns such as End the Silence and the January Women’s Marches.

Hill began her speech recounting the way her Oklahoma upbringing in a post Brown vs. Board of Education era affected the way she later viewed the integrity of people who make big decisions like these and whether or not they personally put themselves above the law.

This idea served as a partial explanation for Hill’s actions in the 1991 testimony she gave in opposition to the confirmation of Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court Justice (even though he was, in fact, confirmed and currently serves on the Supreme Court).

During the time of her testimony, the social climate Hill experienced was one that had not dealt with issues of sexual assault within the public sphere. With this in mind, Hill asked the audience members who were born after 1991 to raise their hands. Most of the audience raised their hands. All humor aside, Hill pointed out that the audience members who raised their hands had the privilege of growing up in a time where the public almost collectively grew up with a social consciousness surrounding assault and its illegality.

Throughout her lecture,  Hill spoke of the ways many people with political power had the influence to change the way  Thomas’ confirmation hearing could have been different.

The notion that objections to Thomas’ confirmation were met with an innocent until proven guilty attitude rather than an acknowledgment that he was being considered for the privilege of being part of the Supreme Court did not sit well with Hill. Because of this, she felt more pressure to not only find her voice but use it to inform the public.

This is something she continues to do, and utilizes speaking engagements such as this one and her 1998 memoir, “Speaking Truth to Power” and its subsequent documentary. 

A key aspect present in Hill’s speech was the role intersectionality plays in life. At no point during her experiences was Hill able to separate her race from her gender; the two are as intertwined as they come, as both exist and effect her everyday realities.

The same must be said for the way the concept of everyday realities will look under Trump’s America, specifically the enforcement of Title IX. More than once, Hill noted the way that the Trump administration fails to aggressively defend Title IX the way the Obama administration did. This, coupled with a more conservative Supreme Court and the nomination of Neil Gorsuch (and the impending confirmation hearings), present a reality that is very familiar to Hill.

Though the social sphere of awareness has shifted to include issues surrounding equal rights for the LGBTQIA+ community and speaking out against religious discrimination, sexual assault maintains prevalence. Hill pointed out that the Trump administration is dividing  people and their differences through fear mongering and the amount of public attention they get.

Hill didn’t want to leave the audience with the impression that they were all doomed. Instead, she wanted everyone to be brave and to live their truths, reminding them to stand for something. Hill’s final message was: “Thank you for being who you are already and listening to me tonight.”

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