This piece is written by Kristy Gardner (Tom’s daughter) who is an assistant professor in the Computer Science Department at Amherst College. She attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference this week in Houston with 15 of her students. Kristy would like to thank Francine Briggs for graciously sharing her notes from the session with Kristy, thereby allowing Kristy to quote Dr. Hill directly. The photo which includes Kristy (in the middle) was taken by Deb Deppeler.
Anita Hill calls us to act. To any woman who feels that her voice doesn’t matter, Dr. Hill responds: “It does.” To those of us who want to help make our country a better place, Dr. Hill advises us: “Vote.”
This week I am in Houston attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. In 1994, the first Celebration was held with 500 women in attendance. In 2010, the first year I attended, there were 2,000 women present. This week, 20,000 technical women (and many of our male supporters) came together in Houston to share our experiences, to celebrate our accomplishments and how far we’ve come in increasing the representation of women in technology, and---in the wake of Thursday’s Judiciary Committee hearings---to support each other as we despair at how far we have yet to go.
This morning we heard from Anita Hill, who was invited to speak at the Grace Hopper Celebration long before Judge Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court, long before Christine Blasey Ford became a household name, and long before we knew that Dr. Hill’s own history was going to repeat itself quite literally as she spoke to us. The title of her session was “The Past, Present, and Future of the #MeToo Movement.” As the week’s events unfolded, preregistration for Dr. Hill’s session filled, then the conference announced a live stream to be broadcast in the Toyota Center, which seats 18,000 and which, I am sure, was full.
I arrived at the session an hour and a half early to wait in line for a seat, and spent that hour and a half talking with other women about what brought them to this event. Some had vivid memories of Dr. Hill’s testimony 27 years ago. Some expressed immense anxiety at the thought of sharing their own experiences of sexual abuse with close friends and family, let alone with the world, and expressed their tremendous admiration for Dr. Blasey Ford’s courage. Some wondered how to discuss this week’s events with their young daughters. Many were emotional, and there was a palpable sense of relief at being part of a community at this moment in history. All wondered: can’t we do better?
Dr. Hill walked in to a standing ovation, and began by sharing her reaction to Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony. She was struck, as was I, by Dr. Blasey Ford’s poise and calmness at a moment when she was terrified at having to speak about events she did not wish to discuss in a venue where she did not want to be. Dr. Blasey Ford has been criticized by some for not coming forward publically earlier, either in 1982 when she was assaulted or several months ago when President Trump first announced Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. Dr. Hill’s response: “She came when she needed to come.” Dr. Blasey Ford did not come forward because she wanted to be in the public eye. She did not come forward due to political motives. She came forward because she believed---as Anita Hill did 27 years ago---that it was her civic duty to bring the truth to light.
Too often, members of groups that are underrepresented, marginalized, or silenced feel isolated, or they feel that their voices will not be heard if they speak, or that they will not be believed if they are heard, or that nothing will change even if they are believed. But we need these voices. We need to keep pushing back, even when change doesn't come right away. Judge Kavanaugh said during his opening remarks yesterday, “you may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit. Never.” Let’s turn those words back on him. We may be defeated in the final vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but we cannot ever quit.
The theme of this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing was “We Are Here.” We---the women at this conference---are here in a field in which women have been and continue to be underrepresented, undervalued, and unheard. We are here: women who have faced workplace sexism and harassment are here to say that it is not acceptable and that it must stop. We are here: survivors of sexual assault are here to rally behind Dr. Blasey Ford as she exhibits enormous courage in speaking out on such a public stage. We are here as voters, we are here as activists, we are here and we will not sit back and we will not go away. It is our civic duty.
Dr. Hill closed her remarks this morning with a question for those of us in the audience: “There will be a decision made in the Senate today, and many of us are going to feel disappointed and betrayed. What are you going to do? How are you going to respond? A natural response is to throw up your hands. And maybe move to France. Or Canada. I had a choice to make 27 years ago. I wanted to do nothing more than retreat back to my world and say nasty things about the US Senate. I did say nasty things about the US Senate. But I did not retreat. You do not have a choice about what they do, but you do have a choice about what you do. What are you going to do to make the world a more positive place?”
At the end of the thunderous applause that followed, the woman sitting to my left turned to me and said, “She asked us what we’re going to do. Look at how many people are in this room---what if we each passed on that question to 100 people?”
So I’m passing it on: what are you going to do?