Education

Women's rights icon Anita Hill coming to University of Iowa

Hill's visit comes just days before Iowa caucuses

Anita Hill testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in 1991. (Bill Snead/Washington Post)
Anita Hill testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in 1991. (Bill Snead/Washington Post)
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IOWA CITY — Women’s rights trailblazer Anita Hill, who in 1991 made history when she aired sexual harassment accusations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, plans to speak Jan. 23 at the University of Iowa.

Although her speech is not pitched as political in nature, Hill, 63, does have a high-profile history with one of the top Democratic presidential candidates — Joe Biden, 77, who at the time presided over her congressional testimony. Hill’s speech comes just 11 days before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses on Feb. 3.

Her talk, sponsored by the UI Lecture Committee, is titled, “From Social Movement to Social Impact: putting an end to sexual harassment.”

Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee 28 years ago when Hill, at age 35, brought allegations against Thomas — inciting contentious confirmation hearings that stirred debate over issues of gender and race.

Critics of Biden’s handling of the hearing slammed him for, among other things, failing to seriously investigate Hill’s accusations and refusing to take public testimony from other potential witnesses with similar accusations against Thomas.

Hill’s testimony bubbled to the surface of the current social consciousness last year when professor Christine Blasey Ford accused high court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her decades ago — prompting another contentious confirmation hearing involving similar issues.

Kavanaugh, like Thomas, eventually was confirmed to the court.

Hill told The New York Times she views Biden as having “set the stage” for Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

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Biden, before announcing his bid for president, reached out to Hill to express regret for what she endured, The Times reported. She told the publication Biden’s call was dissatisfying, and she wouldn’t characterize it as an apology. But she later told NBC News she could see herself voting for him if he becomes the Democratic Party’s 2020 nominee.

Hill’s testimony nearly three decades ago was widely credited with raising awareness of workplace sexual harassment — although its treatment stands out in today’s #MeToo era, where women and men feel more empowered than ever to report and reprimand sexual harassment and assault.

Hill earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Oklahoma State University and then a law degree from Yale University in 1980. In 1981, she landed a gig with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, where she worked for Thomas.

It was during that time Hill said Thomas made unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate comments.

Hill left what she characterized as an intolerable work environment in 1983 for a teaching position at Oral Roberts University. She later joined the University of Oklahoma law faculty and in 1989 became its first tenured African American professor, according to her biography.

Hill maintained a relatively low profile after the hearings, but biographers reported she became a “sought-after speaker, especially on sexual harassment.”

She’s written articles and an autobiography and participated in the documentary “Anita” in 2013 and the HBO movie “Confirmation” in 2016.

In addition to being supported by the UI Lecture Committee, her Iowa visit also is supported by various campus diversity, multicultural and gender offices including UI College of Law Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies and the UI Center for Human Rights.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

If you go

When: 7 p.m. Jan. 23

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Where: Iowa Memorial Union Main Lounge on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City

Cost: Free

Details: Doors open for UI students, faculty and staff at 6 p.m. at the south entrance. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. for the rest of the public.

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