Last Saturday, Oct. 14, as part of the Brandeis 75th anniversary weekend celebration, the university held the panel “Brandeis Women Who Changed the World: A Conversation with Anita Hill and Joyce Antler” in Spingold Theater. The panel was hosted by Anita Hill, University Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Joyce Antler ’63, Samuel J. Lane Professor Emerita of American Jewish History and Culture and Professor Emerita of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and consisted for the most part of a discussion between the two surrounding women in Brandeis’ history who “changed society and scholarship, on campus and beyond.”
Opening the discussion, Professor Hill noted that there was a thread throughout the history of Brandeis that spanned generations of women which consisted of “the search for equality, equity and social justice.” Hill discussed how this thread began with U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, H’52, an early member of Brandeis’ faculty, continued with civil rights leader Pauli Murray—a member of Brandeis’ faculty from 1968 to 1973—and later further with Gittler Prize-winning sociologist Patricia Hill Collins ’69, PhD ’84, and Sally Engle Merry, PhD ’78.
The conversation continued on the topic of advocacy in scholarship. Professor Antler emphasized the role of the “activist-slash-scholar,” quoting Professor Lawrence Fuchs, founder of Brandeis’ American studies department. “[He] let us know as young faculty that not only was it OK that we live lives of activism, but that it is what we needed to do.” Antler also noted that Fuchs was “instrumental” in recruiting Murray to the Brandeis faculty. Hill spoke more about Murray, mentioning her coining of the term “Jane Crow,” which represented the notion that “women of color, especially Black women in the [civil rights] movement, were being disadvantaged by the movement itself.” Hill continued on the thread of Brandeis scholars like Murray, Hill Collins and Merry: “These were women who were political, legal and intellectual activists.”
The discussion shifted to intersectionality, and how these scholars were instrumental in developing the notions of interaction between different inequalities before the concept of “intersectionality” as a term existed. Speaking about Hill Collins and Merry, Professor Hill said that “they looked at gender and race and social class as components of equality that needed to be understood in order to get equality as a whole to ever come into existence. [Sexuality was later brought in] as a component of equality that needed to be observed and understood.”
Hill also spoke about how Roosevelt’s advocacy for women’s rights existed alongside advocacy for the rights of Black Americans as well, stating that “One of her biggest contributions to her husband’s administration was her insistence on at least starting to consider race discrimination in this country … She was partnering to move that needle behind the scenes.”
Antler and Hill’s conversation next turned to the interdisciplinary nature of the studies of Brandeis’ influential women, both inside and outside of the academic world. “Each of these four women chose to really travel between different areas of understanding, to answer the question that needed to be answered,” said Hill, who also noted that Hill Collins called herself an “intellectual nomad.” Hill related the importance of this interdisciplinary mentality to her own work, which spans the Heller School for Social Policy and Management and the women’s, gender and sexuality, African and African American studies, legal studies and politics departments. Hill claimed that it was “unlikely” that she would have been able to produce work in such varied academic fields at “[another university], especially an institution that had the history and shared the values that I wanted to be associated with.”
The panel ended with a Q&A segment in which audience members consisting of students, alumni and family members of students asked Antler and Hill about topics such as their academic journeys, the role of women in academia and the law and sexism and misogyny.