Anita Hill to speak at UC Santa Cruz on gender and racial equality Feb. 26

Anita Hill
Anita Hill
DVD cover, image Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
(image Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)
cover of book by Anita Hill

Anita Hill’s life changed forever in 1991 when a television audience of 22 million saw her testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Clarence Thomas.

Her calm demeanor--as she was pressed to endlessly repeat the graphic descriptions of sexual harassment she endured while working for Thomas--struck a chord with the public and began a conversation about sexual harassment and power in the workplace that still resonates today.   

Now an author and professor of law, public policy, and women’s studies at Brandeis University, Hill comes to UC Santa Cruz on Thursday, February 26, to deliver a free public lecture on the topic: “Speaking Truth to Power: Gender and Racial Equality, 1991-2015.

In a telephone interview from her office in Boston, Hill recalled the groundbreaking hearings that took place 23 years ago in Congress.

“The experience itself was surreal beyond anything that I think anybody could have prepared for,” said Hill. “The committee had already voted on the candidacy and nobody really wanted to have a second hearing--there was antagonism to my testifying on both sides, whether it was Democrats or Republicans. It wasn’t until the public demanded a hearing that I got to even be there.”

“I was really there to testify about the character of Clarence Thomas--I wasn’t there to declare that I was sexually harassed,” she added. “It was a fact-finding hearing. But people to this day think that I was on trial because of the tone set by the Senate committee. How (then Senator) Joe Biden allowed the issue to be framed gave people the entirely wrong impression, and it gave the Republicans license to treat me in the way that they did.”

A new documentary film released last March by Academy Award winner Frieda Mock titled Anita: Speaking Truth to Power captures the absurdity of the hearing that took place in an era when sexual harassment in the workplace was not yet a national issue.

“When students watch the hearing in the movie, they’re stunned,” Hill noted. “It seems to them like that must have been at least 50 or 60 years ago--that it couldn’t have happened within the lifetimes of people they know, or in their parents’ lifetime. It’s hard for them to believe it.”

In conjunction with Hill’s talk on campus, the documentary will be screened in downtown Santa Cruz at the Nickelodeon Theater on February 22 and 23.

After the hearings, Hill began speaking to worldwide audiences about how to build on the progress of the women’s and civil rights movements, urging them to expand their concept of equality to include more than just legal rights. She also wrote her autobiography Speaking Truth to Power in 1995.

Four years ago, she followed with another book Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race and Finding Home about the subprime meltdown, examining the deep roots of race and gender inequities that contributed to the devastation of families and communities across the country.

But despite the persistence today of entrenched sexual harassment and racial discrimination, Hill—who in 1989 became the first African American to be tenured at the University of Oklahoma, College of Law—still remains hopeful about the future.

“I grew up in a household, the youngest of 13 children,” said Hill. “My mother was born in 1911 and my father in 1912, in rural areas of Arkansas and Oklahoma respectively. They raised children, some of whom were raised in Jim Crow segregation, and daughters who were legally discriminated against. That was part of their reality. But my mother insisted that we all get educated and get prepared for the possibility of doing all these things women weren’t allowed to do.”

“So I’ve seen change, not only in my lifetime, but in my siblings lifetime, and in my parents’ lifetime. And that’s what I keep holding on to.”

“I also know that everybody doesn’t have to be on board for change to be possible,” she added. “It just takes a committed few to move us. And I’ve witnessed over and over again those people who are truly committed to progress.”

Anita Hill will give a free public lecture on Thursday, Feb. 26, beginning at 6 p.m. at the College 9/10 Multipurpose Room on campus, followed by a book signing. Seating is limited: an overflow simulcast will be available in the Humanities Lecture Hall. The film Anita: Speaking Truth to Power will also be screened on Feb. 22 and 23 at the Nickelodeon Theater in Santa Cruz ( A campus screening takes place Feb. 24, at 7:30 p.m. in the Humanities Lecture Hall with a panel plus Q&A on campus sexual harassment, gender and race. For information and disability accommodations, contact or (831) 459-5655.

Anita Hill’s visit is presented by the UC Presidential Chair in Feminist Critical Race & Ethnic Studies and co-sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Students, Humanities Division, Social Sciences Division, Arts Division, Institute for Humanities Research, and Bookshop Santa Cruz.

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