The lights came up as a driving drumbeat and soaring chorus began to rock Memorial Auditorium. Making their entrance from the back of the house, two elegantly attired black women strode past row after row of standing, clapping, stomping well-wishers wearing badges that, 10 years later, still said it all: “I believe Anita.”
Thus began “An Evening with Anita Hill,” a two-hour conversation on March 22 with the former University of Oklahoma law professor whose 1992 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee raised profound questions about the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hill’s televised remarks also riveted national attention on an issue that until then was largely confined to whispered conversations: sexual harassment in the workplace.
LaDoris Cordell, Stanford’s vice provost and special counselor to the president for campus relations, interviewed Hill about the Senate hearings and the professional and personal fallout. Cordell, JD ’74, a former superior court judge, also took an Oprah-like stroll through Hill’s upbringing in rural Oklahoma as the youngest of 13 children, and glanced at various perceptions of Hill’s place in America’s black community. Their down-home discussion launched a two-day conference, “Sexual Harassment: A Decade Later,” that brought almost 100 participants from across the country.
Asked about charges that she had been manipulated, either by white liberals or African-American backers, Hill said, “What people can’t really understand is that we women can come forward on our own.” She added that she agreed to testify because “I felt the integrity of the Supreme Court was at stake.”
In the aftermath of the hearings, Hill said, some Oklahoma state legislators tried to get her fired and others proposed abolishing the law school “to remove the taint of Anita Hill.” When supporters raised $250,000 toward an endowed professorship in her name, the school at first would not accept it. “And there are very few universities that would turn down that kind of money,” she said to growing laughter.
Tracing several decades of case law on sexual harassment, Hill stated that the Supreme Court is “really just beginning to get a handle on it and figure out how to end it.” New appointees in the next few years, she suggested, will “determine where we go.”
Asked why she moved to Brandeis University, where she teaches law, social policy and women’s studies, Hill said she appreciated a campus that is committed to social justice. “One of the things the hearings reminded me was that laws are important, but it’s not until people really embrace the law that change can occur.”