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.