Anita Hill, the law professor who became an advocate for victims of sexual harassment in the workplace when she spoke out against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings in 1991, provided the keynote address at Wesleyan University’s Commencement in Middletown Sunday.
She told students that they live in an age of uncertainty with unprecedented social and political turmoil.
She praised students across the country for their work to make campuses safer from sexual violence. While she recognized the intense scrutiny that people who speak out can face, she urged the students to continue the effort.
“Even today however, silence-breakers face backlash often delivered instantly, harshly, and anonymously with the click of a mouse,” Hill said. “But speaking out despite the hardships can be self-liberating and can empower others.”
Hill was 35 when she testified against Clarence Thomas’ nomination. Though Thomas was eventually confirmed to the court, Hill’s hearings were broadcast live, and her testimony marked a watershed moment for women facing sexual abuse. It’s an experience that is still relevant today, as the #MeToo movement continues.
“I think that we are in a new day and I don’t think that people can deny [anymore] that sexual harassment is a problem,” Hill said.
Zenzele Price delivered the student commencement address. Price majored in film. The part of Hill’s speech that resonated most with Price was her call for a commitment to social justice.
“I’m going into an industry with a lot of inequity,” Price said. “I’m hoping that, if I can get my foot in the door, I can keep that door open for other people as well.”
Hill spoke to 827 graduates. But she did have advice for Price in particular. She said Price should find industry leaders who are fighting the status quo and follow their example.