What students at U. Penn wanted Anita Hill to talk about in 1992
The term “sexual harassment” was so new in the news that the anchors seemed confused as to whether to pronounce it har-ASS-ment or HAR-ass-ment
Back in 1992, I was on the board of the campus group at the University of Pennsylvania that selected speakers to come to campus and give speeches each semester. We usually had a decent sized budget that we could either spend all on, say, one former vice president or head of state, or divvy it up among a few politicians and artists. For spring 1992, we invited Prof. Anita Hill, who six months earlier had been grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding her claims of sexual harassment by now-Justice Clarence Thomas. She had served as his attorney-advisor at the U.S. Department of Education and then as his assistant at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before leaving in 1983. In 1991, she told the committee that he frequently aimed salacious comments at her and boasted of his sexual prowess.
“Americans were shocked by both the frankness of Hill’s lurid testimony and the unsympathetic response of the all-male committee, some of whom were openly antagonistic toward Hill,” summarizes History.com.
Hill has been in the news again, responding to then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chair and current presidential candidate Joe Biden’s declining to apologize over how the hearings were handled.
In cleaning out some college boxes recently, I found various artifacts that colored in the time — a time when Pres. George H. W. Bush was still expected to win that year’s presidential election, when universal health insurance and “don’t ask, don’t tell” were hotbutton campaign issues, a time when the term “sexual harassment” was so new to the nighly news that anchors seemed confused as to whether to pronounce it har-ASS-ment or HAR-ass-ment.
In these boxes from over a quarter century ago, I found long handwritten letters that friends mailed over summers, fretting about what they’d do with their lives; I found piles of mix tapes, and I found the scraps of paper on which University of Pennsylvania students wrote their questions for Prof. Hill to answer in April of 1992, 27 years ago this month.
I was an obsessive saver, so it didn’t surprise me that I still had the questions. But I was curious what they reflect from that time, and if anything’s changed. I decided it was worth presenting them here. What do you think?