Speaking at Mercer, Anita Hill calls for racial and gender equality

Written by: Kellie Rendina

Anita Hill, Senior Advisor to the Provost and Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s Studies at Brandeis University,  came to speak at Mercer’s West Windsor campus Wednesday evening May 2. Hill spoke to a packed house, though few students were in attendance. She addressed a range of different issues and discussed her new book titled “Reimaging Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home.”

Hill is most well known for her testimony against current Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas during his confirmation process. Hill testified that Thomas sexually harassed her while she worked for him when he was the head of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Despite Hill’s testimony, Thomas was elected a justice of the Supreme Court, where he remains, the only African-American among the nine current justices.

At the lecture, Hill discussed the reasoning behind her coming forward with her testimony against Clarence Thomas in 1991.

“I had information about an individual who was going to be appointed to a lifetime position, who was going to be deciding the rights of people and I had information that I believed he did not respect those rights… and therefore you could not count on him him to respect them in the way that he judged the cases that came before him. The integrity of the court was at stake and the integrity of the court is only as good as the integrity of the people who sit on the court.”

Hill went on to say that she was proud to have been a part of the conversation that followed the Thomas hearings and that she was most proud of the fact that women began talking and “women talked to their mothers and they talked to their daughters…my testimony didn’t change things, your reaction to my testimony was what changed things.”

Hill questioned how far women’s rights have actually come and sited the Lashonda Davis case in which Davis, a fifth grade student from Forsyth, Georgia was both verbally assaulted and groped by a classmate throughout a five month period in 1992. Allegedly, the school did nothing about these complaints.

The case went to the supreme court, the matter in question was whether a public school should be held accountable when they “‘react with deliberate indifference’ to known acts of sexual harassment.” The decision was made with just a 5:4 vote, in favor of Davis. Hill argues that this should not have even been a question in the first place, let alone such a close vote.

“How secure is even a decision like the Davis case today?…We’ve got to make sure that those cases don’t even get to the supreme court. A case like that, I really would be fearful of what would happen if it got to the supreme court.” She said.

Prof. Daniel D’Arpa, the director of the Foreign Language Department was in attendance at the lecture and took away a different message from Hill’s discussion on the Davis case. He said, [the case] “made me stop and think about the important role of lawyers in our society. Here is a case where educators like myself failed to help a young girl in need. And it took lawyers to fight for her to make things right. I know that Hill’s point was more about the fragility of the 5-4 vote and how it could have gone the other way. But I was left thinking about how the education system had failed the student while the legal system helped her.”

Hill then transitioned into a discussion on women in the housing crisis. Hill began with the “inequity of women’s pay,” and the wage gap, as a main reason for women being affected differently during the housing crisis. “Our government seems to have accepted that women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn, it’s almost become normalized…As long as our wages are depressed women on their own will always be trying to catch up when it comes to housing.”

Hill also argued that this disparity is in part due to subprime lending. Subprime loans typically come with higher interest rates and unfavorable terms in order to make up for a “higher credit risk.”

When women began entering the housing market on their own in large numbers in the early 2000’s, subprime lending also became popular. “Women were in the market, trying to borrow this money and they were getting shafted. They were being targeted, and many of them were qualifying for conventional loans, but they were getting high cost loans.” Hill stated that there is evidence that women were twice as likely as men to get a subprime loan

As the cost of housing goes up, it is projected that the percentage of women who’ll spend 50% of income on housing will increase over the next 20 years. Hill questions how women will be able to send their children to college with these potential figures and how, during a severe winter, women will even be able to pay their utilities.

D’Arpa said he was also very interested in Hill’s discussion of the housing crisis’s effects on women. He told The VOICE that Hill’s views made him see the situation in a new way. “I learned that the data on inequality in housing for women can be argued to correlate with that of African Americans in general because so many black households are headed by women. This interpretation of the data was something I hadn’t thought of before, and it’s the kind of thing that good scholars do well,” he said.

Mercer Dean and James Kerney Campus Provost Monica Weaver, one of the organizers of the event, told the VOICE she saw the lecture as “an opportunity for students at both campuses to work together for the community.” However, at the lecture, most attendees were MCCC professors and people from different organizations such as the NJ Women Lawyers Association and the Association of Black Women Lawyers of NJ.

In an interview with The VOICE, Hill was asked about current events like the Trayvon Martin shooting. Hill said she believes that events that bring up racial issues like the Trayvon Martin shooting are “disruptive narratives that make people think differently about things. I don’t see it [the Martin shooting] as a polarizing event. It has potential to bring us together.”

Hill also discussed the recent Sandra Fluke case. Fluke, a law student at Georgetown argued for a mandate for contraception coverage and to include institutions that object on moral grounds. Hill stated that this issue is about “A young woman’s ability to have her voice heard. That’s what we’re dealing with 20 years ago and it’s what we’re dealing with now.”

Hill ended with a simple statement: “I do insist that we all stand up for gender and racial equality. We can’t have one without the other.”

Registration for the event was $25 ($10 for NJWLA or ABWL members). Proceeds went to the Homefront shelter.

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Kellie Rendina
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