Anita Hill Speaks at the U One Day Prior to Kavanaugh Hearing on Sexual Assault Accusations


Justin Prather

(Photo by: Justin Prather | The Daily Utah Chronicle).

By Christina Giardinelli

Hundreds showed up to hear Anita Hill speak at the University of Utah on Wednesday night for the 2018 Tanner Lecture on Human Values. The lecture hall in the recently-opened alumni house reached its capacity of 600 while an additional 200 to 300 people were turned away, said Tanner Humanities Center spokesperson Megan Dipo. Due to a large number of attendees, extra security was scheduled for the event, according to Beth Tracy James, the associate director of the Tanner Center.

The event was held on the eve of a controversial Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which Christine Blasey Ford, a psychologist and professor at Palo Alto University, is set to testify on sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Ford accused Kavanaugh of assaulting her at a high school party in 1982.

Many have drawn similarities between this scandal and Hill’s 1991 testimony on sexual harassment allegations made against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings. Thomas supervised Hill, who is now a social policy professor at Brandeis University, at the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Although Hill’s accusations did not keep Thomas from being sworn in, she is often credited with initiating a movement toward equality for women in the workplace and raising awareness of sexual harassment.

“Anita Hill was an original ‘me’ of the Me Too Movement,” said Tanner Humanities Center Director Bob Goldberg in a press release promoting the event. “Like women today who fight back against harassers in the workplace, she was targeted as delusional, manipulative and seeking revenge. Character assassination and blaming the victim has a long history that has not yet seen its end. Anita Hill offers us perspective and a view of the road ahead.”

During the lecture, Hill spoke out against Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who was an active participant in her hearing and accused her of plagiarizing passages from William Peter Blatty’s novel “The Exorcist.”

“You know I have to say it,” Hill said as she received cheers from the audience. “He will be gone soon, I hear.”

Hill discussed the events leading up to her testimony in 1991 and went on to condemn not just harassment in the workplace, but also at universities.

When questioned about the similarities and differences between her case and Ford’s, Hill responded that she cannot compare the two because Ford’s story is her own to tell, as is that of every victim. Hill said it is not her place to give Ford advice because she does not personally know Ford, however, she did say Ford should turn to the people who love and care about her.

Hill said she does not believe Ford will receive a fair hearing because there has not been an investigation.

“I think that there is a real mockery here,” Hill said. “You will hear the senators say things like ‘This is just a ‘he said, she said’ situation and you can’t know the truth.’ They are setting it up to be that. If you really want the truth of any situation you have to have a thorough investigation.”

Hill lamented the lack of subpoenaed witnesses and experts, accusing the committee of rushing through the process.

Since Ford’s accusations, two more women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault committed by Kavanaugh. Deborah Ramirez, a former Yale student, claimed that Kavanaugh made forceful and unwanted advances on her at a dorm room party while she was intoxicated. In an interview with The New Yorker, Ramirez described Kavanaugh forcing his genitals into her face and making nonconsensual physical contact. She told the magazine she was initially reluctant to speak to the press due to gaps in her memory of the event.

A third woman to come forward with accusations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh, Julie Swetnick, gave a sworn affidavit released Wednesday morning by her lawyer Michael Avenatti. In the affidavit, Swetnick claimed she witnessed Kavanaugh and his friends drugging and gang-raping incapacitated women at college parties. Swetnick said she was a victim of one of these alleged gang rapes.

Kavanaugh has denied all three allegations and will defend himself in Thursday’s hearing. Hill said she feels it is not enough to merely rely on a justice system that has failed before.

“What will you do?” Hill asked the audience. “What will you do knowing that we are at this moment of change in how we think about the world? What will you do if the conclusions that are reached are not to your liking?”

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