Learning from Anita Hill: a panel discussion with Professors Zurbriggen (Psychology) and Falcón (LALS)

February 25, 2015

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On Thursday, February 26 law professor Anita Hill, who accused Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991, will visit UC Santa Cruz.

In anticipation of Hill’s arrival, the campus organized a screening of the documentary film, Anita: Speaking Truth to Power and a panel discussion with Professor Eileen Zurbriggen (Psychology), Professor Sylvanna Falcón (Latin American and Latino Studies) and Tracey Tsugawa (UCSC’s Title IX Officer) about campus sexual harassment, gender and race.

For most UC Santa Cruz students, Hill’s 1991 testimony in front of the senate judiciary committee happened before many of them were even born. But to Zurbriggen, Falcón and Tsugawa, Hill’s testimony is still a vivid memory. The panel reflected how Anita Hill boldly put sexual harassment and gender equality on the national agenda, and noted that more still needs to be done to change the culture of sexual violence.

Anita Hill’s story is similar to many women on college campuses today. “I see the real struggle of women coming forward,” remarks Tsugawa who, as the campus Title IX officer, investigates cases of sexual violence and harassment. Tsugawa shares that for many women, it can take them months, if not years, to report an assault.

Hill herself remained silent for almost 10 years, and it was not until Thomas's Supreme Court nomination that she decided to come forward. Hill said she felt a sense of duty that the senate committee be informed about behavior she deemed unfit for such a position.

“It was that sense of duty, honor, and integrity that empowered her to be calm and fearless,” Zurbriggen remarked about Hill’s bold demeanor.

As the documentary film recounted, the hearings resulted with truth itself being put on trial - Hill was slandered a liar and was vilified by Republican conservatives. “What I think is so striking about watching the testimony now is what it reveals about the toxicity of power,” remarked Sylvanna Falcón. Hill’s testimony transformed into a campaign of silencing, a suppression that Falcón pointed out was carried out by a panel of all white men. “We see white discomfort with blackness and how that discomfort becomes manipulated to eradicate discussion about sexual harassment,” she added. 

Discussion is one of the key steps to changing the culture and attitudes, the panel shared. Tsugawa pointed to Janet Napolitano's recent task force that seeks to both effectively prevent and address sexual violence (which includes dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking) on UC campuses. She shared how UC Santa Cruz is in the process of rolling out the first set of recommendations and is now turning its attention to the remaining recommendations, which include the implementation of a strong, expanded education and prevention program to address sexual harassment and violence among victims/survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders. 

Hill’s testimony opened a national dialogue about sexual abuse, harassment and violence while raising issues of race, politics and power. For UC Santa Cruz students, Tsugawa hopes that more students can find inspiration in Hill’s testimony and come forward to get the help, support and resources to deal with these incidents.

Anita Hill will be delivering a public lecture at UC Santa Cruz on Thursday, February 26 at 6:00 pm in the College 9/10 Multi-Purpose Room. The event is free and open to the public. More information >

Separately, Joel Paul, a principal witness at Hill’s testimony and now a professor of law at UC Hastings, will be coming to campus on May 14 as part of the Social Justice Speaker Series. Professor Joel Paul will address how society can harness the market forces of globalization to promote sustainability and improve the lives of workers in a talk entitled "Trading Up: How to Make Globalization Work for People.” More information >

If you or someone you know needs help, please follow the steps outlined on the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response website, safe.ucsc.edu.

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