Attorney, author and women’s rights activist Anita Hill visited Lehigh to discuss her 1991 U.S. Senate testimony against sexual harassment in the workplace and ways to make progress on this issue.
The talk, titled “From Social Movement to Social Impact: Putting An End to Sexual Harassment in the Workplace,” was held on Feb. 7 at Zoellner Arts Center.
Lehigh’s MLK Committee brings different speakers to campus, who speak about different issues or themes. This year, the committee chose the theme “Race X” because it focuses on the way in which race intersects with societal issues, including gender equity, voting rights, politics and social justice.
Rita Jones, the director of The Center for Gender Equity, said she has wanted Hill to talk on campus for awhile.
“She gave a public face to issues that were beyond workplace harassment and discrimination,” Jones said. “Her story needs to be remembered.”
Hill began her talk by discussing the importance of the 1960s in shaping social movements. She explained how the civil rights movement had a large impact on movements focused around gender, ethnic and religious equality ― all part of a larger movement for social change.
She said the civil rights movement affected the country and the world by changing expectations for a generation of people. She said that movement allowed people to believe in a more inclusive democracy.
Although the civil rights movement played a major role in the progression within social movements today, Hill said there is still a long way to go. She highlighted how the government plays a large role in fostering progression.
Hill used the example of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing to exemplify “innocent until proven guilty,” a standard of proof she believes is often misused and heightened within government.
“We have to call out this idea that whenever someone who’s powerful is accused of harassment or assault in what is not a criminal law setting, his protectors and supporters say ‘Well they’re innocent until proven guilty,'” Hill said. “They’re not in danger of losing anything except the privilege of being on the Supreme Court, and that is a privilege, not a right.”
Hill said more men need to be join the campaign against sexual violence. She said because 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual assault, they play just as important a role in progressing the fight against sexual harassment as women do.
“It should not be just a women’s issue,” Hill said. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Sexual violence affects men directly and indirectly, as it does all genders.”
Hill finished her talk with a Q&A session. Attendees asked questions on women’s rights, the #MeToo movement and how to continue the efforts to make social change.
“I was beyond amazed and inspired by the way she spoke, handled herself and with her confidence,” Aisha Abdulkarimu, ’20, said. “I appreciated her discussion of intersectionality and being a black woman and the challenges that come with that.”