The Daily Gamecock

'I have no intention of apologizing;' Anita Hill defends her sexual harassment claim 20 years later

Women's rights advocate also talks about new book

Anita Hill spoke in the law school auditorium Thursday about how far women have come in the two decades since her historic testimony before the U.S. Senate, and how far they must still go.

During the October 1991 confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Hill accused Thomas of making sexually harassing comments to her while he was her supervisor at the U.S. Department of Education. Though Hill’s testimony passed a lie detector test and was backed by witnesses, Thomas was still appointed to the court.

The confirmation hearings are now considered a turning point that brought into the mainstream discussions about sexual harassment and gender equality in the workplace.

Hill reappeared in headlines last October when Thomas’ wife Virginia left a voice mail at her office at Brandeis University, where she professes, asking her to apologize for allegedly lying about her husband. An attendee of Hill’s speech Thursday asked about the call.

“I will not apologize; I have no intention of apologizing. One should not have to apologize for telling the truth,” Hill replied.

Many Americans, particularly in conservative circles, still doubt Hill’s allegations. Hill said an unintended consequence of the call was a flood of support and a realization that the issue was still resonant.

“People still care about it,” Hill said. “So I said, ‘Next year is the 20th anniversary; let’s own this issue.’”

Hill told the attendees — few were students, as her lecture was scheduled over fall break to fit in with Columbia’s annual “I Believe Anita Hill” celebrations — that she sees a “disturbing” current trend in which women’s rights issues are being decided by politics rather than common values.

“When I was growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, I always thought that equality was going to go on this track and we would have rights and they would develop and ... we would just continue to accept things that I thought were just simple matters of basic equality,” Hill said.

Hill said these matters included women having control over their own bodies and reproductive systems and being safe from violence and harassment in public, the home and the workplace.

She said women should recognize and fight the curtailment of their rights and that protests such as the “Occupy Wall Street” movement need to hear their voices.

“When are we going to speak out against it? Is it going to take another Senate hearing?” Hill said. “I hope not, but we have to figure out that we’ve got be involved. We’ve got to be engaged. We cannot be complacent and simply say, ‘OK, well, all those battles have been won,’ because they are in danger of being undone.”

Attendee Terri Jowers thanked Hill after her speech for giving victims of sexual harassment a voice.

“Twenty years ago, I was a victim advocate in Barnwell, S.C.,” Jowers said. “A lot of times, victims were afraid to come forward, and once they did, their credibility was so often questioned. Anita Hill stepping forward in front of God and everybody gave victims first a confidence — a courage that they hadn’t had before—– but it also gave them a credibility because when she testified you had to believe every word she said.”

Hill’s main speech, organized by several university departments as the Adrenée Glover Freeman Lecture in African American Women’s Studies, did not focus on directly on her testimony but on the subject of her new book “Reimaging Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home,” which will release this month.

Hill used her grandparents’ personal journey from slavery to home ownership, a symbol of equality in the U.S., to discuss how the current concept of home creates gender and racial inequality. She said that home prices effectively segregate white and blacks and prevent single mothers, particularly in the black community, from buying the ever-larger homes synonymous with success in today’s culture.

“We’re really pricing women, people of color, millions of Americans out of the American Dream,” Hill said.

At the event’s closing, Columbia Councilwoman Tamika Isaac-Devine proclaimed on behalf of the city that Oct. 20 is Anita Hill Day.

“I too remember where I was and the impact your courage had on me,” said Devine, adding that as another black female attorney, she was inspired by the Hill’s testimony.