Twenty-seven years after testifying against Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill found herself watching yet another woman come before the Senate Judiciary Committee to tell her story about a Supreme Court nominee committing sexual misconduct. Back in 1991, Hill endured intense public scrutiny and was famously derided as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.” Thomas, of course, was confirmed.
Hill, now a professor at Brandeis University, was at the University of Utah giving a previously planned lecture the night before Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh’s appearances. The morning of the proceedings, she was scheduled to meet with a gender studies class called “Medusa and Manifesto: Identity and Activism in the Information Age” that had been preparing for her visit for months — that meeting just so happened to fall during Ford’s testimony. She told the students that she didn’t like to compare her experience to that of Kavanaugh’s accusers, but they set aside some time to take in the proceedings together.
Here, three women — two students and a professor — who were in the room tell the Cut about their experience watching Ford’s testimony with Hill.
“She spoke about her demeanor at her own deposition and said she couldn’t have gotten emotional.”
—Marley Talvitie, 23, student
Anita spoke to us Thursday in a way that was stoic, reserved, passionate, intellectual. All of those things. She spoke about her demeanor at her own deposition and said she couldn’t have gotten emotional. And with us, she didn’t get emotional watching the hearing, probably because that’s what women have to do to be taken seriously. Especially for Anita, a woman of color who faces different stereotypes. And that issue did come up — she remarked that a politician made a comment that race wasn’t involved in Ford’s case. Hill said, “Race is always at play.” The question of comparison also came up, but Anita said she can’t quite compare her hearing to Professor Blasey Ford’s because they’ve never met. She basically said that she doesn’t like to compare and that she just wouldn’t.
I think a huge overall point she wanted to emphasize to us was that the Supreme Court is not a right, it’s a privilege — that Kavanaugh’s not entitled to this position. But she also said it’s not solely about winning or losing. I mean, Clarence Thomas was appointed regardless of her testimony. She definitely didn’t say it doesn’t matter but what also matters is that we try to fix cultures and systems.
As a woman who has been sexually assaulted myself, hearing Anita talk was a reminder that it’s worth it to speak out. I never reported. The day it happened, I didn’t want to tell my friends. I wanted to go get breakfast and be normal. I understand why people don’t report.
“Anita Hill was one of the first people to connect feminism to me. I filed a sexual-harassment complaint in the ’90s and she let me know I had a voice.”
—Juliet Reynolds, 46, student
The morning was just surreal to sit there with her. She sat right in front of where the TV was. I was on the other side of the room. To see her sit right under where Dr. Ford was giving a testimony on TV, it was so unexplainable. Sitting in the room when she walked in, it was like I was a part of history, with the past, the present, and the future all in one moment. The experience today was amazing because she was encouraging to us and to not be — if the outcome comes that it isn’t what we expect or what we want — discouraged by whatever happens. It was really positive, you just felt empowered that she was there — to see what she went through and where she is today.
There were two other women in the classroom with me who were old enough to know what was going on back then. The three of us who were older and were like, “You guys you don’t even know. You don’t know how awesome this is!” I was 19 during her testimony in 1991, and Anita Hill was one of the first people to connect feminism to me. I filed a sexual harassment complaint in the ’90s and she let me know I had a voice. And then seeing Dr. Ford and that she was nervous and that her voice was cracking brought back all that stress I had. We’ve all benefited from Anita. Because I said something, other people said something.
“At first, she just joined us and sat silently for a little bit and sort of just shared space with us and took it in.”
—Kim Hackford-Peer, 43, associate professor of gender studies
This breakfast discussion with Anita had been in the works since summertime, so we took a lot of time preparing for it with the students — some of whom remembered watching the hearings and many of whom were not born in 1991 when that all happened. Once we got into the classroom, they were all really invested and even when she walked in at first, she just joined us and sat silently for a little bit and sort of just shared space with us and took it in. It was just really a surreal moment for me. It felt almost like if you said something, then you would miss something, or someone else might miss something. We were just completely dedicated to hearing what was being said.
I remember sort of looking around — and I’ve gotten to know these students well over the course of the semester — it just felt like they were feeling like important things were happening and this was a big moment in their life. The energy was just kind of electric, but in a very sort of calm way. I feel like professor Hill was very calm. When she walked in the room, it felt exciting but it was like … gosh, there aren’t really words.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.