By Hannah Ballerstedt
In collaboration with Roosevelt University’s Women’s and Gender Studies Student Advisory Board, Professor Marjorie Jolles led the event, “From Anita Hill to Christine Blasey Ford.”
On Oct. 7th, The conversation between professors, faculty members and students intended to analyze the similarities between the hearings of Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court Justice. Both hearings included testimonies from women claiming sexual harassment – Anita Hill in the case of Thomas and Christine Blasey Ford in the case of Kavanaugh.
Jolles began the event by providing background information about the controversy between Hill and Thomas. “Anita Hill worked with Clarence Thomas in the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education,” Jolles said. She also explained that Hill worked with Thomas again at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Jolles then allowed the hearing to speak for itself by playing clips from “Sex and Justice,” a film depicting confrontation between Hill and Thomas.
The event’s audience first watched Hill’s testimony. Jolles concentrated on senator Arlen Specter’s questioning of Hill. “Spector becomes infamous for his treatment of Anita Hill,” Jolles said, before playing a segment of the film. In this segment, Specter questions Hills credibility by asking her, “How reliable is your testimony in October 1991 on events that occurred eight-ten years ago, when you are adding new factors, explaining them by saying you have repressed a lot?” Attendees also observed Hill’s response to Specter’s question. “I guess one really does have to understand something about the nature of sexual harassment. It is very difficult for people to come forward with these things,” Hill said.
In another segment from “Sex and Justice,” Sen. Orrin Hatch exclaimed that Thomas’s reputation, “had been very badly hurt.” After viewing Hatch’s defense of Thomas, Jolles encouraged the audience to analyze the 1991 Supreme Court nominee’s treatment. “They’re not questioning him,” one attendee said, “they’re cheerleading him.”
Next, Jolles shifted from the case of Hill and Thomas to that of Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh. While she played some clips of the hearing, most of the room had already watched coverage of both Ford and Kavanaugh’s testimonies. Jolles asked viewers to notice what has changed.
The audience came to the conclusion that while society tried to treat women more fairly in 2018, the overall tone of discussions about sexual assault has not changed.
Jolles pointed out that Sen. Chuck Grassley seemed to understand that respecting Ford was a must. Before her questioning, Grassley told Ford the Senate would supply her with anything she needed to feel comfortable while testifying. However, some of the audience noted that this treatment may mean that the Senate views her as weak. Grassley’s sympathy of Ford may imply that he thought, “she’s too emotional to explain what happened”, one attendee said.
The general consensus among the classroom was that the treatment of sexual harassment survivors has not come far over nearly 20 years. Many found similarities in between the 1991 and 2018 hearings. When discussing Hill, one audience member said she saw the same thing play out with Blasey Ford as it did with Anita Hill. No matter how competent Hill and Blasey Ford were, the senate was, “still coming back with these questions that are just infuriating,” the audience member said.