Anita Hill spoke at Claremont McKenna College’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum to a crowd of Claremont Colleges students and faculty, as well as members of the larger Claremont community, on Oct. 31.
Hill gained national prominence in 1991 during the confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, when she testified that Thomas had made harassing sexual statements when he was her supervisor.
Hill, now an attorney and professor of social policy, law and women’s studies at Brandeis University, discussed equality in the U.S., covering many current political, social and economic issues. She also discussed the role of government in promoting equality for women and racial minorities.
“We have to decide what we want, where we want our country to be in pursuing equality,” she said. “Is it just a personal responsibility? Are we willing to let our culture decide? Or is it something we want our government to actively engage in? Or is it something we want our courts to do?”
Hill discussed Supreme Court rulings that have affected equality in the U.S., from Brown v. Board of Education to potential rulings on marriage equality that could be passed down in the upcoming year. She said that government, through legislation and the judiciary, is essential in creating social equality, noting that the Supreme Court has had a direct effect on her education and career.
“I admit I have a personal bias,” she said. “Had it not been for Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the kinds of opportunities to work without being subjected to racial or gender bias would not have opened up for me when I was just starting my career.”
Hill said that the responsibility of creating of a truly egalitarian society does not rest solely upon the government, however.
“The public conversation about it, for us to be figuring out culturally where we want to be or where we want our leaders to be, really isn’t taking place,” she said. “We ought to be having the conversations because these decisions are going to be made.”
Some of the decisions to which Hill referred involve court appointments, especially for the Supreme Court seats that are likely to become vacant in the next few years.
“The most immediate impact in terms of leadership, really, is going to be who is on the Supreme Court,” she said.
Hill ended her talk on a personal note, thanking her supporters and encouraging the audience to continue supporting victims of harassment, assault and discrimination.
“As you have stood with me, stand with other women. Stand with other women whose voices need to be heard,” she said. “I have found my voice, and I will never lose it again. But just because one individual finds a voice, that is not a revolution. What is a revolution is that we all have our say.”
Director of the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum Bonnie Snortum said that she considered the talk a success.
“Tonight was a home run,” she said. “[It took] years attempting to bring Anita Hill here, and so finally the stars were aligned and she was able to come. I’m thrilled that our students were able to meet her here. I think it’s important to understand the significance of her and what she did.”