By: Anika Nahar – Copy Editor
Civil and women’s rights activist Anita Hill encouraged the audience at William Paterson University on February 24 to be brave despite their fears.
“Being brave doesn’t mean that you don’t have fears,” Hill said at the Shea Center for Performing Arts. “ Being brave just means that you move forward even though you have fears.”
Hill was thrust into the national spotlight in 1991 when she accused then Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual misconduct while the two had worked together.
Hill was put through the wringer for her testimony, with many questioning her credibility and character. She became a figure of courage for many as she testified against her superior and a powerful political figure.
“Most people did not come forward because they knew that the risk was great,” Hill said. “They also knew that there was no protection against retaliation, if in fact, they complained —whether they won or lost.”
Hill said that she did not realize the impact she made through the testimony until she began receiving letters from people across the country disclosing their own experiences of sexual harrasment. They felt they could relate to Hill’s treatment from the media and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Hill recalled a particular instance when she received a mysterious phone call shortly after the hearing.
“You have opened a whole can of worms,” said the anonymous person who revealed that he had been a victim of incest. “When I tried to speak out and tell my family what had happened, I got the same reaction as you got from the senators.”
Hill realized something had been awakened in people at that point.
“Women stepped up and they pushed the issue. In the face of being rejected, they continued to move forward on claims of sexual harassment and more,” Hill said.
Many people looked to Hill as a changing figure not only in political history but in the fight for women’s rights. The hearing shed light on sexual harassment in the workplace and led to stricter policies to enforce a prevalent issue that was previously disregarded.
“In 1991, when they went low, we did more than just go high,” Hill said, expanding on the words of former First Lady Michelle Obama.
“I believe we went rightfully, often brazenly, and often bold for change and that’s what we’re going to have to do now,” Hill said.
Hill also used her time to encourage the audience before opening the panel for questions. The enthusiastic crowd gave Hill a standing ovation.
“I do believe that everybody can do something,” Hill said. “ Find that thing that you can do and do it for change. Do it for the right reasons.”
Since the 1991 hearing, Hill has transitioned to focusing on civil and other women’s rights issues and is a law professor at Brandeis University.
“At this point in my life, I am thinking about what I want my legacy to be… I want to be remembered as someone who dared to be a catalyst for bold change,” Hill said.