Heller School Professor Anita Hill is a distinguished scholar of law and social policy, but unfortunately is remembered mostly for her damning testimony at Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings in 1991. Then, Hill spoke of the sexual harassment she received from Thomas during their tenure together Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Now, 20 years later, Prof. Hill’s courageous decision to testify is still following her. We might have thought that the disparaging accusations in Clarence Thomas’s 2007 memoir would mark the end of Prof. Hill’s troubles, but it seems not. According to the New York Times, at 7:30 AM on Sunday, Oct. 9th Justice Thomas’s wife, Virginia Thomas, left a message on Hill’s answering-machine. It went like this:

“Good morning Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband… So give it some thought. And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will help us understand why you did what you did. O.K., have a good day.”

The Times reports that after a week of deliberation, Hill turned the message over to the Brandeis police, believing it to be a prank, due to the timing (7:30 on a Sunday morning) and the overall oddness.

Only Prof. Hill and Justice Thomas know the reality of what transpired at the EEOC, of course, so I can’t possibly judge the merit of Hill’s original accusations. None of us can. But I do have a few thoughts, based on what can be known:

1. It’s nice to see Brandeis in the newspaper again.
2. I think it’s time Anita Hill was finally left alone to get on with her career. The disgusting and relentless pursuit of her that started in 1991 and seemingly never ends, sends a very poor message to other potential victims of sexual harassment who may be debating whether or not to speak out. This holds no matter what the truth of the original incident was.
3. Virginia Thomas can’t possibly have any proof of whether Hill’s allegations were true, other than her husband’s devoted love, so why cause a confrontation?
4. And why do it at 7:30 on a Sunday morning?

This story is very strange indeed. But I think the best way we can react is to NOT THINK OF ANITA HILL AS THE WOMAN CLARENCE THOMAS MAY HAVE SEXUALLY HARASSED, AND START THINKING OF HER AS A RESPECTED SCHOLAR. We must manage the attention we pay to these cases in a way that does everything it can not to ruin the life of the victim, lest every other victim remain silent.

If you can’t tell, the Anita Hill case has been a sore spot of mine for a long time. I don’t like it that her accusations weren’t taken more seriously, and that Thomas wound up on the court. And I don’t like it that she can’t get past the incident and live a normal life.

3 comments on “Professor Anita Hill receives bizarre voicemail from Justice Thomas’s wife”

  1. Roxy Says:

    Nicely put. I don’t know all that much about it all (who really can though), but I agree with your sentiments. Part of me is pretty upset that this whole debacle is even such a big headline, perpetuating the association of Professor Anita Hill with that whole debacle. It’s unsettling and regardless of what happened, it’s unfortunate that she seems to be plagued by it more than Justice Thomas. I know she’s already written an autobiography (Speaking Truth To Power, ’98) but IMHO maybe she could write something else presenting her side of wanting to be portrayed in a favorable light and remembered for what she did, especially after David Brock’s 1993 book The Real Anita Hill which called her “a bit nutty and a bit slutty” that Brock later described as a “character assassination”. Maybe that won’t help her to move on though- I’m not sure.

    I also especially like your second point on sending a poor message to other potential victims of sexual harassment. Although possibly not as bad as 19 years ago, it’s still alive and well today and unfortunately, can be very difficult to speak out about. It’s a touchy subject and can be hard to draw the line. On this note, I’d like to mention the website ihollaback.org which seeks to end street harassment.

    Anyways, nice article Nathan.

  2. Roxy Says:

    oops i used debacle twice in one sentence. oh well, i like the word.

  3. Carrie Says:

    I think 7:30am is a reasonable time, especially if Virginia had just gotten in from a crazy night of clubbin’ and lovin’. Sunday may be for the Savior, but Saturday is for the body shots!

    Also, I think this incident offers a great merchandising opportunity for Brandeis. Bring back the “I Believe Anita” shirts and sell them in the gift shop to perspective students’ parents. (Oh, Nathan, as per your suggestion, perhaps we change the shirts to read, “I Believe Professor Hill, Respected Scholar.”)

    All jokes aside, I dig what you’re saying Nathan. If you recall from that Justice(?) article about a year ago, Hill had just begun to finally read and chronicle the mail she received during the hearings. As unpredictable and upsetting as this phone call may be, at least it came during a time when Prof. Hill had begun to open and examine the wound it caused.

    But seriously. Worst. Drunk. Dialing. Ever.