On a balmy Indian-summer afternoon in Waltham, Mass., a slender, attractive 55-year-old professor welcomes a visitor to her modest office at Brandeis University to talk about the historic scandal that transformed the national debate over sexual harassment two decades ago.
“It was traumatic,” acknowledges Hill, who teaches public policy, law, and women’s studies at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. “It hurt, and it hurt people I cared about. But I was determined not to be defeated by people who tried to make me out to be something I wasn’t.”
As the 20th anniversary of the hearings approaches, Hill is preparing to deliver the keynote address at a conference commemorating her contribution to the issue of sexual harassment, “Sex, Power, and Speaking Truth,” which will be held at New York’s Hunter College on Oct. 15. Such public visibility is uncharacteristic for Hill, who remained silent about Justice Thomas’s conduct for years before being summoned to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee after investigators heard reports that the Supreme Court nominee had sexually harassed female employees on the job. After the hearings, Hill virtually disappeared into private life and has since kept such a low profile that many women feared she was shattered by the poisonous retaliation she endured. “I always thought she was broken by it,” says one Ivy League professor and women’s-history expert who has never met Hill.