In 1991, one woman’s decision to speak before the Senate Judiciary Committee sparked changes in the workplace, politics and the media. On Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m., the same woman — now a law professor at Brandeis University — will address the Kenyon College community in Rosse Hall as part of the Faculty Lectureship series.
When Anita Hill testified in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas more than 20 years ago, much of the nation stopped to watch the live-televised event. It was grueling testimony, with Hill answering graphic questions about her allegations of sexual harassment by the nominee. While the Senate ultimately voted to confirm Thomas, Hill’s testimony heightened awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace, leading to a law allowing victims of sexual harassment to seek damages and to be reinstated in their jobs. The hearings also became a watershed moment for women entering politics (the Senate was overwhelmingly male at the time), and the media frenzy that surrounded the hearings became one of the first instances of tabloid-style media coverage that has become prevalent today.
Reginald Sanders, the James D. and Cornelia W. Ireland Professor of Music and chair of the Faculty Lectureship Committee, said the legacy of Hill’s decision to speak out was a key factor in choosing her as a speaker for the Faculty Lectureship series. The highly acclaimed documentary film, Anita: Speaking Truth to Power — being shown on Thursday, Feb. 5, at 4:15 p.m. in Rosse Hall — and her latest book, Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race and Finding Home, also contributed to the committee’s decision to bring her to campus.
Natalia Olshanskaya, professor of Russian and a member of the Faculty Lectureship Committee, says Hill’s lecture, titled “Reimagining Equality,” gives students a unique opportunity to discuss an important historical event with one of its participants. “I think when you hear the actual participant speaking it creates a completely different emotional event. There is not distance between the audience and the speaker,” Olshanskaya said. “Then they can ask questions and clarify for themselves what has happened.
"This was a very courageous act especially considering when it had happened,” she added.
Sanders stresses the relevance of Hill’s actions to society today. “I hope what students would see is the position women were in at one time,” he said. “And that there are still a number of groups to various degrees that are disenfranchised in our society. I’m looking forward to her clearly articulating a lot of the things that we either suspect or feel or intuit about our society. I think that’s where people like her are really valuable.”