Emotional issue pits friend against friend on campuses

October 12, 1991|By Ginger Thompson and Sandra Crockett

Tracey Stewart and Shatika Copeman, both 22, have been friends since they were in junior high school, have worked together as peer counselors and now drive together from Washington every morning to attend classes at Morgan State University.

But yesterday, as they sat in the student union watching law Professor Anita F. Hill make shockingly explicit accusations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, it seemed as though they came from different worlds.

"He may have asked her on a date, but that is not sexual harassment," said Ms. Stewart, a business administration major who saw Ms. Hill's composed testimony as the desperate attack of a jilted lover.

"If he did describe all those pornographic movies to her, then why did she keep calling him? I mean every new job he got, she called to congratulate him. I think they had some kind of relationship and he dumped her."

Ms. Copeman glared at her longtime friend with astonishment. She said she believed every word of Ms. Hill's testimony but doubted that the Senate panel would, doubts that stem from the day three years ago when Ms. Copeman sat through a hearing very similar to the one televised yesterday.

"When my sister was in high school, she was sitting at her computer terminal and this teacher came up behind her and grabbed her breast," Ms. Copeman said. "We went through the hearings, and no one believed her. It was the word of this white teacher against the word of a young black girl."

Dozens of students stopped to watch the hearings between classes in a television room in the McKeldin Student Center. While several women sat on the floor and applauded as Ms. Hill gave her deliberate testimony, a few men in fraternity sweat shirts walked by the room and turned their thumbs down.

James Harper agreed with the latter sentiment and said he was opposed to Judge Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court until Ms. Hill came forward.

"Look at it this way," said Mr. Harper, a telecommunications major wearing a navy blazer and a colorful tie. "If you and I are friends and I say, 'Hey I saw this porno flick. This happened and that happened in it. You should check it out?' Is that sexual harassment?

4 "It was probably done as a joke, not a come-on."

Other students, munching on popcorn and nachos, said they think Ms. Hill is an ambitious woman motivated only by visions of fame.

"If she really wanted to help other people who might be victims of this kind of harassment, then she would have come out with these accusations long ago," said Ta-Tanisha Duncan, a political science major.

"That was bad judgment on her part," said Tiffany Williams. "But she seems like a naive country girl."

Across the line in Baltimore County, none of the regulars who hang out at the Towson State University student union could agree on who in the Thomas-Hill dispute was telling the truth.

"We're all getting hyper about this. We're screaming at each other -- and we're friends," said Faith Horwath, an 18-year-old freshman.

Nicholas Kracher, 18, could not understand why Ms. Hill did not say something to Judge Thomas when he made the alleged sexual comments.

"He was her boss, and they worked for the equal opportunity division. She had a perfect opportunity to bring that up," said Mr. Kracher, a freshman majoring in mass communication.

"Why did she feel uncomfortable about bringing it up? I would have just said something."

"This man would have broken her life into bits," Ms. Horwath interjected.

The only consensus in the group of friends was that the hearing had turned into "one big media circus."

"This is simply to let a couple of senators get on TV," said Eric Boring, a 24-year-old English major. "It's pointless. We're going to have a conservative justice no matter what. So what's the point?"

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