Anita Hill knows a thing or two about bravery.
The Brandeis law professor, who is best known for testifying before a Senate panel against Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991, told the graduates of Wesleyan to find their heroes, draw inspiration from them, and honor their bravery as often as they can during her commencement speech on Sunday.
Hill idolizes Harriet Tubman, the Underground Railroad conductor and political activist, and explained that while she could never be as fearless as Tubman, she never stopped trying. "In 1991, I did my best to honor her and the bravery of so many women who came before me when I testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and I have tried to do so every day since then," Hill told graduates. "To remember what it means to be fearless and to recognize that courage is not something that is measured in one deed, one act--even if it is before the Senate--but it is measured in how we live our lives."
Hill told the Senate panel 27 years ago that Thomas sexually harassed her when she was his assistant working in the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. Her testimony kicked off the "he-said, she-said" debate and brought attention to sexual harassment claims, which came alive again in the recent #MeToo movement.
Hill was tapped to speak at Wesleyan after author and alumnus Daniel Handler backed away from his invitation to headline the commencement amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Hill didn't address this. Instead, she celebrated the graduates who fought against sexual violence and called them her new heroes.
She also highlighted the work of an on-campus group called SEMI (Students for Ending Mass Incarceration); the school's #sanctuarycampus movement to make campuses safe for everyone; and Wesleyan's efforts to get Ben & Jerry's on to the "Milk with Dignity" program. That campaign calls on major food companies to take responsibility for farm-workers' rights.
Hill explained that while women across the country are sharing the truth about sexual assault and harassment--and demanding action--they're often met with intense backlash. But she encourages these women to continue to speak out, as it can be self-liberating and inspiring to others.
"Because you have persisted on campuses, campuses will be safer for the next generation of students," Hill told the audience. "That is the only way that we are going to proceed with this issue."