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Hill marks 20th anniversary of Thomas hearings

Published: October 14, 2011
Section: Front Page

Anita Hill has been named the senior advisor to the provost, just as she prepares to keynote a conference in her honor in New York City on Saturday to mark the 20-year anniversary of her infamous testimony accusing the then-nominee of sexual harassment.

Hill, the former Senate witness against Justice Clarence Thomas and professor at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management since 1997, will address “Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later.”

According to the group’s website, the conference “will bring together three generations to witness, respond and analyze present day realities in law, politics, the confluence of race, class and gender, the persistent questioning of women’s credibility, issues of black masculinity and current cases of sexual harassment.”

Twenty years ago this week, Anita Hill was summoned before the Senate Judiciary Committee during Thomas’ hearings in 1991. She was the principal face of the allegations of sexual impropriety and inappropriate remarks that threatened to bring down then-Judge Thomas’ chance of joining the high court.

Hill’s testimony gripped the nation because of the sheer graphic nature of the accusations and the questions about them posed to her by the senators, the majority of whom were sympathetic to Republican President George H. W. Bush’s choice of Thomas. She focused not strictly on the law of sexual harrassment–at that time, not as successful in prosecuting offenders–but on the sheerly inappropriate nature of the remarks made by Thomas.

Hill’s testimony stepped outside just whether the alleged sexually-charged remarks were technically illegal–she spoke of the effects of harassment on women, what she called their pervasive nature and frequency across professions and the need for further legal action against a crime that almost always went unreported.

By judging them with any and either of moral, professional or decency standards, Hill’s testimony allowed Americans who began watching the trial in earnest to form their own opinions. Polls from October 1991 show that the country was against her. The vast majority of Americans believed Thomas’ innocence and wanted to see him confirmed.

Despite Hill’s testimony and the lobbying efforts of a small group of liberal activists and women’s rights groups, Thomas was confirmed by the Senate on Oct. 15 by the narrowest margin for a nominee in the entire 20th century: 52 to 48.

In addition to the series of speakers, Hill first among them, the conference will also include artwork curated by Eve Ensler, the creator of “The Vagina Monologues.” The event is sponsored by a division of the City University of New York and VDAY, a global non-governmental organization to end violence against women and girls.

Hill has also just published a new book, “Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home,” which takes personal interview-based sociological research and portrays a state of American equality at odds with popular conception.

She has been touring for the book, which she launched earlier this month in Cambridge, and the topic is of course relevant to the conference, commemorating what supporters say was a principled stand against sexually harassing comments.

The Hoot previously reported that Hill was hired this month by Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll, a Washington, D.C., law firm, as counsel to their civil rights and employment practice group.

Simultaneously, Hill has even been greatly expanding her responsibilities at Brandeis.

The Heller School recently named her to their diversity committee, with a “broad mandate to examine all aspects of the school’s enrollment and academic policies for review,” Dean Lisa Lynch said.

And in her new role in the provost’s office, Hill will focus on “Brandeis’ image to the outside world” and continue to improve the marketing of Brandeis faculty and student talent, Provost Steve Goldstein announced at this month’s faculty meeting.

Correction: Previous versions of this article misidentified Anita Hill’s new role at Brandeis. Her correct title is stated above.