By: Kara Posner
In 1991, no matter whom you supported – whether it was Anita Hill, the government career lawyer whose life and reputation were dissected on the public stage by the Judiciary Committee and for months afterwards by the FBI, or Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court hopeful who was accused of explicit sexual overtures – the events of the hearings brought the term “sexual harassment” into our everyday lives.
Hill’s very name continues to evoke discussions about sexual misconduct and the treachery of deciding whom to believe in the he said/she said argument. The struggle continues 16 years later for Hill and Thomas as they each continue to clear their names and assert righteousness.
We know that Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court, but what became of Hill since she left the spotlight of the hearings?
Hill left Washington, DC, and Clarence Thomas’s office at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1983, to return to her home state of Oklahoma. She taught first at Oral Roberts University and then at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.
After the Thomas hearings were televised in 1991, the stigma she sustained was so strong and the backlash so penalizing that the University of Oklahoma declined an endowed professorship in her name. The FBI interfered in her and her family’s everyday lives for months as they investigated leaks about her testimony to the press. She weathered public and private attacks on her credibility, her spirituality, and her professionalism. A discrediting tell-all book about Hill was published and then, years later, retracted by its author with an apology and a statement that he was wrong. More recently, Hill published a New York Times editorial to defend herself from statements in Clarence Thomas’s own memoirs.
Hill went on to teach at UC Berkeley and then at Brandeis University where she is currently a professor with the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. Her unintentional legacy is a continued open discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace that almost always includes her name. She keeps the discussion fresh as she notes that sexual harassment is an occurrence that is still as intimidating for workers today as it was for her 16 years ago.