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Anita Hill at Hunter 20 Years Later

Anita Hill (Photo: C-SPAN)
Anita Hill (Photo: C-SPAN)
Twenty years ago this month Anita Hill made sexual harassment a national issue when she testified against Clarence Thomas during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Six months later, Hunter welcomed Hill to its campus for a conference on gender, race and politics. On October 15, 2011 Hill returned to the Hunter auditorium for another daylong conference that measured how far women have come in the ensuing two decades - and how much remains to be done.

The conference - "Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later" - was organized by a committee headed by Kathleen Peratis and Letty Cottin Pogrebin. Hunter and several other CUNY schools, the White House Project, the Women's Media Center and V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women, were conference partners. The conference was broadcast live on C-SPAN. (It's now available online at

"Anita Hill had no way of knowing she was about to change the world when she went before the Senate Judiciary Committee," Hunter President Jennifer Raab said during her remarks. "Six months later, when she stepped to the podium in this very room, 2,000 feminists and human rights activists from across the nation rose up to cheer for her. Anita, I can only imagine how significant that must have been for you, given your treatment on so many other stages."

"People say to me, we know you from your testimony 20 years ago," Hill said to the audience. "And I think that is very much a part of who I am, but I have also been teaching for 20 years. ... With the issue of sexual harassment I've been trying to help other people find their voices."

Three panel discussions used the Hill-Thomas case as a lens through which to analyze contemporary issues of race, gender and politics. The panelists included a broad range of figures from academia, law and the media, including Hunter Professor Virginia Valian, writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin, University of Michigan Law Professor Catharine MacKinnon, Yale Law Professor Judith Resnick, UCLA Law Professor Devon Carbado, Kimberlé Crenshaw, co-founder of The African American Policy Network, and Gloria Steinem, co-founder of Ms. Magazine.

"Anita Hill is now believed, honored and trusted by the majority of people in this country," Steinem said. "Clarence Thomas is on the Supreme Court, but Strauss-Kahn is never going to be the President of France."

The day's program ended with a performance in the Kaye Playhouse of "Speaking Truth to Power," a collection of original works by contemporary writers that was co-curated by playwright Eve Ensler ("The Vagina Monologues") and Purva Panday Cullman.

Julie Zeilinger, an 18-year-old Barnard College sophomore and editor of the feminist website, spoke for the many students who attended the conference, saying, "Because of Anita Hill, young people were born into an environment where sexual harassment is taken seriously."

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