Candice Jackson has a keen eye for racism—when practiced against her, a white woman. Now, thanks to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, she may become one of the most powerful civil rights figures in America.
Last week, ProPublica reported that during her time at Stanford University as an undergrad in the mid-90s, the woman who has been nominated to be the deputy assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education penned as series of op-eds for the conservative Stanford Review describing the “racism” she faced as a white person while attending Stanford, claiming that the university’s support for affirmative action amounted to promoting “racial discrimination.”
Conservatives have long fought to undermine affirmative action by dismissing the benefits of multiculturalism, describing the supposed hardships inflicted upon white Americans, and critiquing the formulas schools implement to create their diverse student bodies. Jackson’s perspective aligns with a troubling interpretation of civil rights that views white Americans as suffering a significant share of racial discrimination. Many Trump supporters agree with this perspective.
Additionally, Jackson’s public LinkedIn page shows that she’s spent most of her professional legal career working in her own private practice in the Pacific Northwest focusing on “business, anti-discrimination, entertainment and litigation matters,” and that her clients have included “students, and citizens whose civil rights may have been violated.” But the woman now in charge of enforcing civil rights in our education system mentions no significant work at a reputable civil rights organization.
Jackson is also the author of “Their Lives: Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine”. During the 2016 presidential race she accused Hillary Clinton of enabling sexual predators, and arranged for some of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend the second presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton following the damaging Access Hollywood where Trump bragged about grabbing women by the “pussy.” Jackson helped coordinate the messaging to deflect blame from Trump and attack the Clintons, helped arrange the pre-debate press conference with Bill Clinton’s accusers, and assisted with the logistics of flying the four women to St. Louis. Additionally, Jackson was the lawyer for Kathy Shelton, one of Clinton’s accusers.
Considering what we know of her views, her lack of experience and naive perspective of civil rights run entirely counter to the stated role of the OCR, and right in line with the tacit agenda of Trump and DeVos. Jackson appears to be another appointee who ideologically opposes the function of her office. And for good measure she despises the Clintons, and used her connections to benefit Trump’s campaign.
Jackson’s positions represent a complete 180 degree shift from Catherine Lhamon, the last assistant secretary under President Obama. Lhamon had a long career working in civil rights and public service, and now serves as the chairperson for the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
Under President Obama the role of the OCR expanded significantly. It used its power to not only track the many abuses that minority students faced in public education, but also issued sweeping guidelines under Title IX to prevent sexual assault and defend the rights of transgender students. Obama continued the tradition of Democratic presidents of viewing public education as a civil right that needs to be defended and protected at the federal level.
“Quality education is also the civil rights issue of our generation. It is the only path out of poverty, the only road to a more equal, just, and fair society,” said former Secretary of Education under Obama, Arne Duncan.
Additionally under Obama, the OCR stressed transparency, and sought to make their guidance and data more usable, visible, and available. An efficient, collaborative, and transparent sharing of information, rules and best practices, the Obama administration believed, would be the best way to combat civil rights abuses, and shine a light on the importance if defending civil rights in public education.
During Obama’s presidency, the OCR publicly published its Civil Rights Data Collection (PDF) reports, which detailed the findings from their data collection. And for the first time made their entire data file publicly accessible and available for download. In 2016, the OCR processed nearly 17,000 civil rights complaints, which is an increase of over 60 percent from 2015. Over Obama’s eight years, civil rights complaints increased by 170 percent. From 2009 to 2016 the OCR received over 76,000 complaints and resolved over 66,000, so the need for a strong OCR could not be more important.
Currently, the OCR does not have an assistant secretary, who would be Jackson’s superior, so Jackson would become the de facto head of the OCR until that person takes office. The assistant secretary requires Senate confirmation, and thus far no one has been nominated. Conventional wisdom would assume that a nomination and swift confirmation hearing should be right around the corner considering that the GOP controls Congress. But it wouldn’t be shocking if DeVos chose to delay the hassle and transparency of a confirmation hearing, especially considering the nightmare that was her hearing, and instead allowed Jackson to run the division for the foreseeable future.
Jackson’s appointment signals a reduced role for the OCR, and potentially an agenda intent on ignoring or undermining protections for minorities, transgender students, and sexual assault victims. The Department of Education and the Justice Department have already rescinded the transgender bathroom protections from the Obama administration, which DeVos described as a federal “overreach.” DeVos argued that these decisions should be left up to the state or local municipalities to decide, yet in her role as Secretary of Education this perspective equates to a dangerous, hypocritical passing of the buck.
Thus far DeVos’s Department of Education appears to revel in its dereliction of duty and disregard for legitimate civil rights issues. DeVos displays a whitewashed, myopic, and egregiously flawed vision of civil rights, education and American history. Jackson’s appointment confirms that DeVos’s main objective is to expand this flawed ideology and not the well-being of America’s children.