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College holds screening, discussion of Anita Hill documentary

| Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Saint Mary’s College held a screening of the documentary “Anita: Speaking Truth to Power” for students and faculty Tuesday in Rice Commons, followed by a discussion about the film’s significance. The discussion was led by three faculty members: Dr. Jamie Wagman, Dr. Stacy Davis and Dr. Bettina Spencer.

Prior to the showing, College president Jan Cervelli said she hoped the documentary would help explain the significance of sexual harassment in the workplace and empower students to understand how it can affect victims’ lives.

The documentary told the story of Anita Hill, a former coworker of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas whose Senate confirmation hearing for appointment to the Supreme Court made headlines in 1991. That same year, Hill testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which at the time was led by Joe Biden, about the sexual harassment she faced while working under Thomas.

Spencer, a psychology professor, recalled her thoughts after receiving news of the hearing.

“I was eleven years old [when this happened], and I thought Anita Hill was on trial,” Spencer said.

Other faculty members similarly reflected on what they remembered about the hearing and how watching the documentary helped them understand the significance of Hill’s testimony about sexual harassment.

“In a sense, she was on trial,” Wagman, a professor of history and gender and women’s studies, said.

The documentary depicted Hill’s subjection to questioning from the Senate Judiciary Committee throughout her testimony and was asked to keep repeating the graphic details of the verbal harassment she said Thomas had committed.

“It’s interesting as an adult in 2018 to really reflect on these moments and where we [as women] have come but also where we haven’t,” Spencer said.

Prior to Hill’s testimony, the documentary said the discussions of sexual harassment remained far from public. As she testified, however, the showing portrayed members of the Senate Judiciary Committee beginning to feel discomfort at hearing such graphic details in a hearing to which much of the public was paying attention.

Also mentioned in the documentary was the role race played in the handling of these allegations. In defending himself, Thomas mentioned in the movie that the sexuality of black men had been stereotyped. This, he said, led to his being subjected to a “high-tech lynching” as a result of these allegations.

“My friends and I watched this [hearing] and couldn’t believe the words [Clarence Thomas] used,” Davis, professor of religious studies, said.

Having been 18 years old at the time of the hearing, Davis said she remembers understanding how significant it was for such allegations to be made against such a high-profile figure as Thomas.

“The Monday after, all the phrase around my school was ‘high-tech lynching,’ and once he said that, we knew she was done,” Davis said.

In the discussion after the screening, students shared their thoughts of the documentary as well as the reason they attended the event.

“It’s a topic that, outside of a women’s college, I feel like you don’t hear a lot about,” sophomore Hannah Gams said.

As the event was intended to be the first of several held to discuss the issue of sexual harassment, Saint Mary’s students were told they will have more opportunities to learn about the topic.

“While I’m here, I like to embrace the opportunities that Saint Mary’s offers us to discuss the issue [of sexual harassment] openly,” Gams said.

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