News & Events

Struggle isn’t over, Anita Hill tells Mass. Nurses

 Martin Luttrell

Anita Hill addresses nurses at Mechanics Hall yesterday.

WORCESTER — Anita Hill, who raised national consciousness over sexual harassment during the 1991 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, told a convention of nurses yesterday that their voices must be heard to improve health care and the workplace.

Ms. Hill, a professor of law and social policy at Brandeis University and the author of her memoirs, "Speaking the Truth to Power," spoke to about 300 members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association in Mechanics Hall, saying that the gains that were made by civil rights and gender-awareness activists can be built upon.

"You may ask what sexual harassment has to do with nursing," she said, prompting a chorus of laughter. "I believe the movements of the 1960s and ’70s created the opportunities we have today to speak out.

"I have seen how far the world has come since the time of my parents’ youth. My world isn’t perfect, but it’s better" because of the work of earlier activists, she said. "We thought we were sprinting toward equality, but the race goes on and on.

"It seems as though the questions we ask today are the same as 30 or 40 years ago."

She said social revolution is not a sudden, radical and complete change, but rather a change that occurs in people’s thinking over time. "I think the 1991 hearings on Clarence Thomas was one point," she said. "After that, no longer could instances of harassment be considered rare and unusual. There were people who said that after those hearings no woman would come forward, but we defied common wisdom.

"Women demonstrated that sexual harassment is a corporate matter, with corporate responsibility. The Supreme Court agreed, even with Clarence Thomas on board."

She said nurses can be heard on how to make health care better. "The revolution is not complete. We need your voices," she said. "We need to know what staffing levels are needed for safe care, and also, what is needed to get more people to go into your profession.

"We need your voices on the delivery of basic care to communities … How do we hold institutions responsible when managed care fails, without penalizing those who are doing their jobs?

"We know that you know things that will help us make those decisions."

Earlier in the convention program, Mayor Timothy P. Murray recognized the work the association did in saving Worcester State Hospital and advocating for health care legislation that mandates safe staffing ratios.

State Rep. Vincent A. Pedone, D-Worcester, spoke about the coalition he led that worked to save Worcester State Hospital, and Annette A. Rafferty told of the establishment of Abby’s House, the first emergency shelter for women and their children in Central Massachusetts.