AMPLIFY: Anita Hill
This month for Amplify, I decided to do something a little different. Instead of searching deep through the internet and archival websites for women to highlight, I looked right at the headlines. I had heard the name Anita Hill many times before this past week, but never knew who she really was. I didn’t know why Joe Biden was cast as a villain when Anita Hill’s name was mentioned and I certainly didn’t know why she was so inextricably linked to the recent accusations against Brett Kavanaugh. I am embarrassed to admit these facts now, especially after learning so much about her in preparation for this article. I hope that by highlighting Hill, I can help other people quietly learn about a woman who changed the conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace.
While I was educating myself on Hill and her part in our country’s history, I started thinking about all the things I didn’t know about Anita Hill - where she’s from, who was she before 1991, what her life looked like after 1991, etc. I wondered about the parts of her life I usually try to include in an Amplify story, so it only seemed natural to write about Hill for September.
Born in Lone Tree, Oklahoma, Anita Faye Hill was the 13th and final child for Albert and Irma Hill’s Baptist family. Hill was a very bright student from the start, graduating valedictorian from Morris High School in 1973 (5). Her great-grandparents and her grandfather on her mother’s side were all slaves and she recalls being fascinated that her family went from slaves to landowners in just two generations (6). Hill left home at 17 and went to Oklahoma State University as a National Merit scholar, and graduated in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. By 1980, she graduated from Yale with her doctorate in jurisprudence (5).
After graduating from Yale, Hill briefly worked as an associate for a boutique defendant’s firm based in Washington, D.C., before taking her fateful position as special counsel to the assistant secretary of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (4). In her role as special counsel, she advised on legal and policy matters related to claims of educational discrimination, reviewed legal and policy positions for government-wide enforcement efforts. Hill also wrote position papers on civil rights education issues relating to race and gender discrimination claims, with an emphasis on issues facing historically black schools (4). It was in this role that Clarence Thomas, who was then the assistant secretary of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, first harassed Hill. Thomas repeatedly asked Hill on dates and made numerous sexual advances, in addition to talking about sex and describing graphic pornography (yes, ladies, discussing porn at work issexual harassment - report that crap to your HR reps. Always) (1). Hill said the harassment subsided and, in 1982, when Thomas was made chair of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EOEC), Hill followed. After the move, though, the harassment started again, this time with Thomas discussing parts of his anatomy and commenting on Hill’s clothing, among other things (1).
In 1983, Hill was tired of the recurring harassment, and left the EOEC for an assistant professor position at Oral Roberts University (1, 4). She taught at Oral Roberts until 1986, when she joins the faculty at the University of Oklahoma Law School. By 1989, Hill became the first black person to be tenured at University of Oklahoma (4). As many news articles recount, we know how 1991 went. Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment before he was confirmed to the Supreme Court. There were hearings. Thomas is now on the Supreme Court.
Let’s take a moment to step back. While some may choose to criticize Hill’s decision to follow Thomas to a new position, I feel that most women can understand her choice. For those who recoil at this statement, consider this scenario: You are working for a man who repeatedly asks you on dates and talks about the porn he watches. You deny his advances and you don’t acknowledge the uncomfortable parts of his personal life he shares with you. Eventually, he stops asking you on dates and stops talking about his late-night entertainment. You have a good job, impressive on your resume. Your boss, who has stopped harassing you, gets a promotion and you have the opportunity to get a promotion for yourself. Not following him means you may lose your current job, so you follow him. The harassment is over, right? You go to your new job and your worst nightmare occurs: he’s harassing you again. He’s talking about his body parts and your clothing. You finally decide enough is enough and you find a new job and a new career path: teaching. You carry on with your life. Eight years later, the man who harassed you is up for one of the most powerful positions in the country, a Supreme Court Justice. This man will make legislative decisions that will affect your life and the lives of all the women around you. How can you not speak up?
Hill stayed at OU until 1996, until she resigned after pressure from fellow OU faculty members (1). In 1997, Hill published her first book aptly named Speaking Truth to Power and in 1998, Hill joined Brandeis University as a visiting professor (1). She has been at Brandeis University ever since, rising to University Professor, the highest ranking a professor can receive at Brandeis. Over the school’s history, there have only been seven University Professors (5). She currently teaches civil rights, legal history, and race and gender law and policy. Hill kept a pretty low profile after the 1991 hearings, although recent news has brought her name back into the spotlight and she has not shied away. Hill recently penned an op-ed for the New York Times. She recognizes that this is a pivotal moment in our history. Will we believe women yet?
Please take some time to review the timeline below, because Anita Hill has an incredible amount of accolades. She has at least five honorary degrees, in addition to a handful of other awards. I also ask that you take the time to visit the sources below, because they all offer even more information on the impressive life of Anita Hill. Unlike most HerStry subjects, Hill still has more life ahead of her, so join me as we wait to see what incredible things she’ll do next!
Dearest HerStry readers, I again leave you with my invitation for feedback. Suggestions, criticisms, questions, corrections - I want it all! I’m trying to help educate the HerStry community on the badass women of our past, but I still have a lot to learn myself.
Anita Hill’s Timeline
1956: Born on July 30 in Lone Tree, Oklahoma (1)
1973: Graduates valedictorian from Morris High School (5)
1977: Graduates from Oklahoma State University with a BA in psychology (1)
1980: Graduates from Yale with Juris Doctorate(1, 2)
1981: Briefly works at a law firm in DC, then leaves to work at U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights as Special Counsel to the Assistant Secretary (1)
1982: Takes a position as Special Assistant to the Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (1)
1983: Starts teaching at Oral Roberts University (1)
1986: Joins the faculty of law at the University of Oklahoma and is tenured in 1989. (1)
1991: In October, Hill testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she recounted Clarence Thomas’s alleged sexual harassment while she was his Special Counsel and again when she was his Special Assistant. Hill was accused of lying and had her sanity repeatedly questioned. (1)
1996: Resigns from the University of Oklahoma after pressure from other faculty members (1)
1997: Publishes Speaking Truth to Power (1)
1998: Starts position at Brandeis University (1)
2001: Receives Honorary Degrees from Simmons College and Dillard University (3)
2003: Receives Honorary Degree from Smith College (3)
2005: Receives the Alphonse Fletcher Sr. Fellowship Award (3)
2007: Works as Visiting Scholar, Wellesley College, Newhouse Center for the Humanities & Wellesley Centers for Women and receives Honorary Degree from Lasell College (3)
2008: Receives the Ford Hall Forum, First Amendment Award (3)
2010: Receives Honorary Degree from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
2011: Publishes Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home(1)
2013: Receives Honorary Degree from Mount Ida College (3)
2016: Wins UC Merced Alice and Clifford Spendlove Prize in Social Justice, Diplomacy and Tolerance (3)
Ashlee Christensen lives in Pittsburgh, PA. She is an Illinois native - grew up in the Chicago suburbs, went to school at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL, and lived in the city of Chicago up until 2015. In June 2015, she packed up with her partner and moved to the city she has absolutely fallen in love with, Pittsburgh! When she's not at work, she can be typically be found in yoga class, working on the next edition of AMPLIFY, cuddling with George the cat, or enjoying trying to figure out what next home improvement task she is going to take on. Follow her nonsense on Twitter: @trashleeinpgh.