Remembering a Revolutionary: the Legacy of Patricia Hill

Dr. Hill, changemaking professor of English and ethnic studies. PHOTO COURTESY OF USF OFFICE OF MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS

Dr. Patricia Liggins Hill, a beloved USF professor and alumna, passed away at 80 years old on Jan. 23. Hill shaped USF’s history. She was one of the first three Black professors hired at USF and was the first director of the ethnic studies program. A memorial held at St. Ignatius Church on Feb. 17 welcomed family, friends, and colleagues of Hill, as well as the larger community inspired by her work. 

Hill received a master’s degree in English from USF in 1970. That same year, students protested the University’s lack of  diversity, and three Black professors were hired in response. Patricia Hill, Elizabeth Parker and Lenneal Henderson became the first Black faculty. The 1970’s saw a significant increase in diversity in the student body. However, in the fall of 1979, USF was still 49% minority students as compared to 73% of the student population today.

The ethnic studies program — now critical diversity studies — was a big step forward when it was created in 1970. Two years prior, students at San Francisco State created the Third World Liberation Front, a political organization, which led a series of strikes in a struggle for the creation of the nation’s first ethnic studies program.

Although the program was new, and facing national backlash, Hill remained firm in her work. She received her doctorate from Stanford in 1977 and became a full-time professor of English at USF in 1985. In her 45 years at USF, Hill gained a reputation not just for teaching interesting classes, but for inspiring students and faculty alike. “She made the pages of literature come alive,” said Adrienne Riley, a co-founder of the Black Student Union (BSU) and continued supporter of Black scholars at USF, who took one of Hill’s first classes in 1970 during Riley’s senior year at USF. 

By all accounts, Hill’s love of literature made her a fabulous professor. “She was vibrant, excited, and generous with her time,” said Riley. Judith Garvey, a USF alumni from the class of 1976 said during Hill’s memorial that Hill was the “best professor [she] ever had,” and noted that she still has her textbook from Hill’s history of African American literature class. 

Leon Monroe, another former student of Hill’s and active member of the BSU in the early ’70s, said, “With little to no diversity amongst the faculty, Hill was burdened with being not only a college professor but also a counselor, confidante and occasional surrogate parent. Black students flocked to her classes and spent considerable amounts of time depending on her guidance in personal as well as academic matters.”  

Hill’s coworkers found her as inspiring as her students. “[Hill] was the mother of Black faculty at USF,” said James Taylor, a current professor of politics at USF. “She taught me how to fight.” Taylor described Hill’s commitment to making sure the faculty union represented minority professors. In 1994, Hill and three other professors filed a lawsuit against Alan Heineman, the president of the USF Faculty Association, Stanley Nel, the head of the College of Arts and Sciences, and professors of English, Patrick Smith and Edward Stackpoole S.J., for racial discrimination and sexual harassment. In 1997, after a long legal battle and what the Foghorn described as “several pounds of court documents,” the suit was settled out of court. According to Taylor, actions like these changed the face of USF’s faculty union, making sure it welcomed and represented minority faculty members. 

Hill was deeply involved in community, both on and off campus. Candice Harrison, the former director of the African American studies program and the former faculty director of the Black Achievement, Success, and Engagement (BASE) program at USF, recalled a dinner she shared with Hill one night in the Fillmore when someone recognized Hill and approached the two to tell Hill how her work was impactful. 

In the wake of Hill’s death, Harrison hoped to comfort Black faculty on the loss of someone who devoted her career to fighting for them. “She would pick us up,” said Harrison. “[She would] remind us of our strength, beauty, and power.”

 Dr. Patricia Hill (right) with her mother, Haroldine Liggins (middle) and daughter, Sanya Hill Maxion (left). PHOTO COURTESY OF USF OFFICE OF MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS

In honor of Hill’s lifelong commitment to nurturing the Black community at USF, her daughter, Sanya Hill Maxion, an adjunct professor at USF School of Law, announced a new endowed scholarship this month that will increase the general scholarship fund for BASE. Maxion, class of 1981, is the third link in a four-generation legacy at USF. Haroldine Liggins, Sanya’s grandmother, worked as a secretary in the USF School of Education for ten years, and Sanya’s son is a current freshman.

In her personal life, Hill lived vibrantly. “You should see my house, it looks like a museum, that’s what everybody says,” she told the Foghorn in a 1990 profile. Hill’s life was characterized by art and beauty. “Literature is a form of art,” she said. “But art is really something else. My focus in life is art, in various forms.” Hill’s love for literary art was compiled in her book  “Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition,” published in 1997. Hill was the general editor in charge of collecting and arranging the excerpts in “Call and Response.” In the same Foghorn interview, Hill praised the 49ers, naming Jerry Rice as her favorite player. She compared Rice’s plays to “poetry in motion.” 

It might be surprising to hear a respected scholar and professor, an activist, and a mother praise the football prowess of Jerry Rice, but Hill was full of unexpected attributes. At her memorial, more than one person recalled her swearing habit and her sense of humor. “Non-traditional” was the word Hill’s daughter chose to sum up her mother in her remarks at the memorial.

Hill’s strength and confidence affected everyone who knew her. “She really was fearless,” said Riley, “just absolutely fearless.” All who lined up for a chance to speak at Hill’s memorial  emphasized the gift they’d received from her. It was an outpouring of joy and gratitude for her life and work.  


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