Mara Lavitt

At a cocktail party for students admitted to Harvard Law School in 1969, a professor told a young Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 that Harvard did not need any more women. Clinton, who would later become the first woman to receive a presidential nomination from a major political party, promptly, and unsurprisingly, committed to Yale, graduating in 1973.

On Wednesday Oct. 25, Clinton returned to her alma mater to discuss the 2016 election, her new book “What Happened?” and her hopes for the future of U.S. politics with Law School Dean Heather Gerken. More than 400 people — including Law School students, faculty members, administrators and Clinton’s former colleagues — packed into the Law School Auditorium to attend the discussion, giving the former secretary of state a standing ovation as she entered.

“I want to be clear that it is my best effort at explaining what happened,” Clinton said about her book. “But there are certain lessons in it that I really hope people will take away with them, because it’s not just about what happened, it’s what we need to do to prevent it from happening again.”

Clinton said that recounting her experience during the 2016 election was an “excruciating” process, but that writing the book was also cathartic after a grueling year on the campaign trail.

In the book, Clinton said, she tried to tackle “the ongoing, endemic, systematic presence of sexism and misogyny” in American society. Addressing the audience, Clinton urged women to be prepared to face adversity in the workplace and the ballot box, and to persist nonetheless.

“The only way we’re going to get sexism out of politics is to get more women into politics.” she said.

Clinton also said sexism played a role in the 2016 election. She accused Trump of leveraging the sexist tendencies that permeate society in order to gain favor with his base.

In addition, Clinton suggested that the current administration perpetuates false narratives, declaring that “there is no such thing as an alternative fact.”

“Deliberately trying to substitute fiction for fact, lying about things you can see with your own eyes — like the size of the crowd at an inauguration,” Clinton said. “It is such a serious threat to self-government, to the fundamental view of democracy.”

She added that journalists have a responsibility to push back against lies, falsehoods and what she described as “bothsides-isms” — giving arguments with no basis in fact equal attention in broadcasted discussions about issues like climate change.

Clinton also commented on the current state of the Republican Party, which she said is “imploding.”

“It is at the mercy of its financial backers and a cabal of leaders who are doing things like shrinking the electorate, gerrymandering and taking every step they can to maintain power on behalf of themselves and those who are like-minded,” she said.

Administrators interviewed expressed excitement about Clinton’s return to the Law School, which offered students the opportunity to hear from an accomplished alum.

Gerken, who introduced Clinton and moderated the discussion, told the News that the Law School was delighted to welcome Clinton back to the place “where she grew up as a lawyer.”

“The response from the students was overwhelming,” Gerken said. “I know she was touched by the extraordinarily warm and enthusiastic welcome.”

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler said it was moving to hear Clinton “reminisce about her time” at the Law School and to hear about how her work at Law School clinics inspired her to pursue a life of public service.

And Harold Koh, a former dean of the Law School who served as Clinton’s top legal adviser when she was secretary of state, said Clinton’s return to the school was a “fitting homecoming.”

“Hillary Clinton embodies everything Yale Law School trains its students to be: superbly able, fearless and utterly committed to making this a better world,” Koh said. “No wonder the chemistry was perfect and the atmosphere electric.”

Daniel Dager | daniel.dager@yale.edu