Remarks by Dorothy Samuels-Moderator Panel 1 Anita Hill 20 Years Later
Thank you so much to Hunter President Jennifer Raab Kathleen Peratis, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Deborah Larkin, Amy Richards, Pat Williams, Pat Mitchell and the other organizers of today’s gathering. I was honored to be asked to participate.
The weekend of the Thomas-Hill hearings and the political maneuvering that surrounded them quite literally stopped the nation. Americans were glued to their TV screens. It was soap opera, and a riveting social, legal and political history lesson all rolled into one. Across the country, in offices, homes, universities restaurants, and on street corners, people talked of nothing else. The ensuing debate over who was telling the truth and whether such behavior by a Supreme Court nominee, if it occurred, should defeat his nomination, at once divided and united the nation.
Suddenly, thanks to this mass consciousness-raising exercise, the issue of sexual harassment was out of the shadows. And we have been seeing and feeling and living the ripples ever since.
For Professor Hill’s courage and her grace and perseverance under unimaginable pressure, all Americans, and women especially, owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude.
So let today’s conversation begin.
Our panel, the first of the day, is a distinguished quintet of individuals some of whom had direct personal involvement in the events that transpired on Capitol Hill 20 years ago, and all of whom have valuable experiences and insights to share that can help us understand what happened in the Hill-Thomas drama and why it still matters today.
The panel’s charge from the conference organizers is to kick away the dust of time, helping to conjure for all of us here – including those of you in the audience too young to have their own personal recollections of the events – to conjure what happened before, during and following the hearings, and the range of reactions these events brought forth, bringing to bear not just their academic and political expertise, but also what they themselves experienced and witnessed.
With the goal in mind of leaving time for some back and forth among panel members and lassoing members of the audience into the conversation, opening the floor for questions, panel members have been asked to limit their remarks to just a few minutes.
In the interest of time, I’m going to briefly introduce the panel all at once now in the order they’ll be speaking.
First up will be Charles Ogletree, the distinguished Harvard Law School professor and leader in the struggle for justice who served as Anita Hill’s counsel during the hearings. Indeed, that’s how Americans beyond the law school’s hallowed halls came to know of him – the image of Professor Tree, his yellow pad raised to shield from view his whispered advice to Professor Hill as she sat at the witness table in the Senate hearing room is indeliable.
Professor Tree will be followed by Lani Guinier, another famed Harvard Law School professor and an important civil rights activist and thinker – and actually something of a pioneer herself – as the first woman of color appointed to a tenured professorship at the law school, in 1998.
After Professor Guinier, we’ll hear from Judith Resnik, a Bryn Mawr College classmate of mine whose smarts and savvy I’ve admired going back long before she became the Arthur Liman Professor of Law at Yale School, where she teaches and provides key intellectual leadership on issues of equality, justice, and citizenship. Twenty years ago, as I recall, Judith was an organizer of the effort to have law professors from around the country put pressure on the Senate Judiciary Committee to postpone the vote on Clarence Thomas’s confirmation in order to allow consideration of Anita Hill’s allegations.
Catharine MacKinnon, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and a legendary force for women’s equality, helped frame the legal concept of sexual harassment through her writings and litigation in the courts. During the Hill-Thomas hearings, she helped educate Americans about the nature of sexual harrassment as an expert commentator working with Tom Brokaw, who led NBC news’s coverage of the hearings.
Our fifth panelist, Jamia Wilson, a formidable feminist activist and organizer is the Vice President of Programs at the Women’s Media Center. She’ll talk about the impact the Hill-Thomas hearings had on her and her thinking as a young woman watching the drama unfold.