Women's Rights Icon Anita Hill Decries 'Post-Fact Era' in UI Speech

By Russell, Betsy Z. | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), October 12, 2017 | Go to article overview

Women's Rights Icon Anita Hill Decries 'Post-Fact Era' in UI Speech


Russell, Betsy Z., The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


Women's rights icon Anita Hill told a large crowd at the University of Idaho on Wednesday that the nation is moving into a "post-fact era" as the federal government stops collecting and posting critical data, from pay inequities to employment practices to sexual assault.

"I believe this is going to be an ongoing pattern," Hill said, as she delivered the annual Bellwood Lecture to an audience of 570 on the Moscow campus, citing figures scrubbed from the White House website, initiatives abruptly halted and more.

Hill rose to prominence in 1991 when during testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee she accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. The all-white, all-male panel was dubious of her claims, but the hearings galvanized the nation, leading to a major increase in filing of workplace sexual harassment claims and the development of policies on harassment at both public and private workplaces across the country.

Hill said the senators back then weren't interested in data or facts. One held up a copy of "The Exorcist" and suggested her testimony was pulled from fiction, "or that I was demonically possessed, or both." Another said anyone who would do what she was describing must be some kind of monster, and a third suggested that Hill herself must be mentally ill and suffering from "erotomania."

Ultimately, Thomas was confirmed by the Senate.

"What they did was what I call governmental malpractice," Hill said. The committee failed to call upon experts, though many were available. They didn't call corroborating witnesses, including people Hill didn't know but who had similar experiences working with Thomas. "They all said, 'We really don't know anything about sexual harassment,' but then they went on to rely on their own imagination about what sexual harassment was like," she said.

The hearings, which Hill called a "cautionary tale with 21st century significance," also saw senators from both parties declaring repeatedly that Thomas was innocent until proven guilty. But Hill, a law professor at Brandeis University, said that's the standard for criminal cases - not for civil rights violations, which instead rely on a preponderance of evidence standard.

"All of this went on because the senators refused to look at evidence," she said. "They refused to develop their policies and their investigation and their procedures based on the evidence. And that, I think, is just an indication of where we might be headed."

She pointed to a case in the Silicon Valley in California where data showed that women in high tech were earning 29 percent less than their male counterparts, and a study that showed that starting pay in the biological sciences was in some cases half as much for women as for men. "We need to have a robust collection of that information," Hill said.

"The existence of that data can improve our ability to actually address the government and challenge some of the policies that are being made," Hill said - and she said at the federal level, it's going away. …

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