Advocate Anita Hill Commemorates new Institute for Social Justice
Advocate Anita Hill Commemorates new Institute for Social Justice

by John A. Lahtinen
Communications & Public Affairs
Writer/Editor

More than 20 years ago, Anita Hill’s name was splashed across headlines throughout the country when she testified before Congress that Clarence Thomas, then a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, had made unwanted and sexually inappropriate comments to her as her supervisor.

A graduate of Yale Law School and now professor of social policy, law and women's studies at Brandeis University's Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Hill spoke to faculty, staff and students last week about “Reimagining Equality,” telling the audience that the struggle for equality continues today.

Anita Hill


Among those in attendance was Meghan Avery ’13, a legal studies major and president of UNH’s Legal Society, who said she admired Hill for the courage she showed during her testimony in 1991.

“She did not know how the public was going to react, but she still came forward,” Avery said. “Speaking about any type of victimization takes an incredible amount of strength, but to do it against a public figure... there are no words, just awe.”

Avery said the idea of equality – particularly in the workplace – is extremely important.

“Women who pursue demanding careers are looked at nowadays as cold since they are perceived to not want a family,” Avery said. “The quote ‘can women really have it all?’ suggests that both careers and families are impossible and women must sacrifice one. These questions must end for equality to truly happen.”

Victoria Carnera ’13, a criminal justice major and president of the Victimology Club, agreed with Avery.

“As an woman of color, she faced the greatest inequality; both her sex and her race made her life more of a challenge,” Carnera said. “Stepping forward took an immense amount of courage.”

Continuing the Conversation

The lecture commemorated the opening of UNH’s Institute for Social Justice, which started last year and promotes political, economic and social justice on campus and in the surrounding community through research, teaching, service, campus and community programming, personal connections, and policy development. Members include students, faculty, staff and community partners. The Institute is led by assistant professors of criminal justice Tracy Tamborra and Leila Dutton.

Hill said the concept of social justice is one that endures in our society to this day and that organizations like the Institute must promote.

“The Institute for Social Justice is not only inspiring to those of you who are here, but it’s inspiring to those of us who are outside working in the area of equality,” Hill said.

Hill advised that social justice needs to be actionable and has to involve not only deliberate dialogue, but also give and take.

“Sometimes you’re going to have doubts with each other and with the people within your community, but you’re always going to keep in mind that you are working together for a larger good,” she said.

‘Shape a New Vision’

Hill’s testimony in 1991 drew the public’s attention to sexual harassment and resulted in verbal attacks against her. Although Thomas was confirmed as a justice and still serves on the U.S. Supreme Court, Hill’s testimony shed light on workplace harassment and resulted in a law passed by Congress giving harassment victims the right to seek federal damage awards, back pay and reinstatement.  

“I am very proud of what I did and happy that lives were changed because of my testimony,” Hill said. “I’m proud of the fact that I found my voice and helped other women find theirs.”

She challenged the audience to continue making strides in the areas of equality and social justice, arguing people should have the same opportunities no matter where they live.

“The work that you can do, and the work that you will do, will begin to shape a new vision for social justice for this community, for the University of New Haven,” Hill said, “but it also can become a model for the state and for the country.”


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