The Wrong Answer For Equality

New education appointee a threat to civil rights

375
DeVos calls on Jackson to lead the OCR
Illustration by Lizzy Choi

The Trump administration continues to fail the American people in enforcing civil rights, this time in the Department of Education (DOE). The appointment of Candice Jackson as deputy assistant secretary for the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is proof the administration and department are not prioritizing or recognizing the importance of civil rights.

Rather than a history of civil rights advocacy and experience, Jackson’s past reveals her overtly racist, antifeminist ideologies and a disturbing lack of understanding surrounding race, gender and historical oppression. The appointment of somebody so wholly unqualified — somebody who does not support the morals her position should reflect — is not only contradictory, it is unacceptable.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced Jackson’s appointment, which doesn’t require Senate confirmation, last week, sparking nationwide alarm — and for good reason. Jackson will also serve as acting assistant secretary until somebody is appointed and confirmed for the position.

According to its website, the OCR exists “to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation’s schools.” It addresses Title IX cases, campus sexual assault case mishandlings and other discriminatory actions by launching investigations spurred by complaints or compliance reviews. UC Santa Cruz is one of more than 200 schools currently under investigation for two sexual violence case mishandlings.

To continue to watchdog schools around the country, it’s imperative the person leading this office be somebody who will truly, vigorously enforce civil rights. Candice Jackson is not this person because she is not an advocate for civil rights.

As a student at Stanford University, Jackson, who is white, claimed she faced discrimination after discovering a calculus section reserved for underrepresented students. This claim of “reverse racism” demonstrates her ignorance of privilege and race, two concepts central to the OCR.

In a similar fashion, she has decried programs designed to provide help for historically underrepresented individuals, arguing they go beyond breaking down the barriers such groups face. The OCR serves to provide improved access to education and resources to the groups that need them most, but Jackson doesn’t even acknowledge the systemic injustice marginalized groups continue to face or the barriers that still exist.

Jackson also has a history of undermining sexual violence survivors. For example, she called the women who accused President Donald Trump of sexual assault and harassment “fake victims.”

In her 2005 book, she wrote “unwanted sexual advances are difficult to define” — criticizing sexual harassment policies for negatively affecting men. Sexual violence survivors must be listened to and believed — questioning the validity of their experiences only worsens the pervasive rape culture that exists today. With Jackson as acting assistant secretary, thousands of survivors seeking advocacy and help each year can expect the same inappropriate skepticism and lack of support.

Jackson’s appointment is part of a common theme in the Trump administration — unqualified people being given positions they don’t deserve. She lacks the perspective, experience and consideration necessary for this position.

We should look at our government and see people representing the issues and offices they stand behind, not those they have a history of advocating against. For marginalized folks, for the 17,000 people who filed civil rights complaints in 2016 and for the integrity of our education system and continued improvement of systemic injustice, this is the wrong appointment.

As students, we must come together to create dialogue with the education system and challenge political officials to show solidarity to all students for the right to equal education. We must reject this administration’s continued push for discriminatory ideologies and demand this position and others like it are filled by qualified individuals.