University Professor Anita Hill Delivers Heller MBA Distinguished Management Lecture

April 13, 2018

By Daniella Fernandes, MA SID'19

Each year, the Heller community eagerly looks forward to the MBA Distinguished Management Lecture, which welcomes speakers passionate about social justice from across sectors.

This year’s lecture was special – delivered by Heller’s own, lawyer and Brandeis University Professor Anita Hill, who spoke on “Reimagining Social Justice Leadership: New Models for Advancing Progressive Policies.” 

Hill framed her remarks around a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 

She discussed the history of civil rights legislation and civil rights cases, and took questions from the audience. 

Dean David Weil introduces Hill

Heller Dean David Weil introduced Hill, saying, “A highlight of my time here has been the opportunity to engage in conversations with Anita on a variety of issues regarding civil rights and workers’ rights and the challenges of improving them. After each conversation I come away energized and enlightened by Anita’s unique perspective, creativity and analysis.”

Hill framed her remarks around a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” 

She discussed the history of civil rights legislation, starting with the President John F. Kennedy’s plan to enforce civil rights through a combination of lawyers, federal agencies and even tax laws that led to the effective pursuit of civil rights and social justice as a matter of public policy. But executive leadership on civil rights changed in recent decades, particularly with President Ronald Reagan, who she noted stopped supporting prior IRS policy that prohibited segregated universities from receiving tax-exempt status.

Hill also discussed how civil rights cases, previously focused almost exclusively on race, began to expand to issues of gender and take the form of class action suits.

She highlighted the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1991, which had been stalled in Congress for years and which President George H.W. Bush had threatened to veto but eventually passed in November 1991—barely a month after the infamous Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings that catapulted Hill into the spotlight. 

“Until this legislation passed, women who filed lawsuits for workplace sexual harassment could only recover a certain amount in damages, regardless of how much they had incurred,” she said, adding, “At the time nine out of ten women surveyed said they experienced sexual harassment, but few, if any, knew there was anything illegal about it.”

“The fight against gender discrimination has never been led by the federal government – something I call ‘the gender blind spot.’”

Though there remains a lack of legislative and presidential leadership on these issues, Hill said that there are agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Department of Education, who continue to issue important guidelines.

She was asked by students during the question and answer session about how she keeps working on these emotionally draining issues and staying grounded. 

“If you commit yourself to social justice, there are really no breaks,” she said. “You’ve got to surround yourself with people who are warriors along with you, who care about these issues too. If you ever leave this work, your desire to fix these issues will not go away. Someone else will pick up the work you leave behind, probably someone you’re trying to support right now. I say that not to guilt you, but to remind you of how important you are.”

An MBA student asks Hill a question during the Q&A session

Media Contact

The Heller School welcomes media inquiries on this and all other news items. Email Communications Specialist Karen Shih or call 781-736-3737.

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