Twenty-five years after Anita Hill testified during the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, the acclaimed attorney and academic denounced a long list of sexual harassment and assault cases, illustrating that the national conversation about such issues continues to evolve.
Hill’s comments came during a ceremony Monday night in which she was presented with UC Merced’s Spendlove Prize for social justice, diplomacy and tolerance.
Hill discussed the recently released 2005 tape of Donald Trump bragging about groping women, questioning the public response to it. “The nation collectively recoiled at the language of Donald Trump,” she said. “The mere fact that it’s newsworthy shows we’ve come a long way from 1991.”
But Hill said the conversation about Trump’s comments still was harmful to victims of sexual violence.
“It occurred to me that all of the conversation was about, ‘Well, how is this going to impact his (Trump’s) career?’ ” she said. “What the conversation should have been about was: How much did he injure the individuals who were abused?”
Hill also said that punishments for sexual harassment and violence often don’t match the severity of the offenses, citing former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and Brock Turner, the Stanford student convicted of sexual assault, as examples. She noted Ailes received a multimillion-dollar severance package after his resignation and Turner was sentenced to only a few months behind bars.
“We have to put teeth into these punishments,” Hill said.
Hill was thrust into the national spotlight in 1991 when she testified during Thomas’ confirmation hearings that she had endured sexual harassment while working for Thomas at the University of Oklahoma, igniting a national conversation about sexual harassment.
The hearings were portrayed in HBO’s film “Confirmation,” which aired this year and starred Kerry Washington as Hill.
Hill was the 10th recipient of the Alice and Clifford Spendlove Prize, which was presented to her on Monday night at the Merced Theatre.
Sherrie Spendlove said during the ceremony that she remembers watching the hearings with her parents and being “appalled.”
Charles Ogletree Jr., a Merced native and the first recipient of the prize, represented Hill during the hearings. He’s now a Harvard Law School Jesse Climenko law professor, among numerous other titles and accomplishments.
He said Monday night that Hill is one of the strongest and most courageous people he’s ever met.
Earlier Monday, Hill addressed a class of UC Merced students, offering advice to women seeking executive positions and describing her experience during the hearings.
“Someone asked how she felt testifying against someone who was black,” said Selena Valencia, a 20-year-old business student who attended both the seminar and ceremony. “She said it wasn’t about race. It was about what’s right and wrong and the judicial system.”
Hill said that if she were asked to testify again, she would. She emphasized her resolve with a quote from Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress: “I am, was, and always will be a catalyst for change.”
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477