Dr Jannett Jackson talks about Struggle, Stereotypes and Skyline College
January 30, 2020
The last two years have been a roller coaster ride for the district with former Chancellor Ron Galatolo suddenly resigning and then being succeeded by Dr. Regina Stanback Stroud retiring in July 2019. Dr. Jannett Jackson filled in the spot for Interim President in fall 2019. This position came with a lot of expectations and pressure but for Dr. Jackson, this wasn’t new being an African American girl. She was born in Louisiana, who moved to California with five of her other siblings after her parents split. She was only five years old then. She believed she always had a strong work ethic around her, but it was her mom, who, despite being a college dropout, encouraged them to go to college.
She always knew that she was going to go to school – that was always her and her family’s way out of poverty. She went to the University of Texas at Austin. All of her siblings have studied to the same levels, earning either a bachelor’s or master’s.
We had a pleasure talking to Dr. Jackson and we asked her a few questions.
Dr. Jackson, what is your greatest accomplishments so far?
Making my mom proud. My mom passed away in 2018, and one of the last things she said to me was, “I am so proud of you and what you’ve done in your life.” That feeling will always be there, but I know she’s here with me – I speak to her almost every morning. Yeah, so I would say one of my greatest accomplishments was making my mom proud.
You spoke about challenges – what has been your biggest challenge in life so far?
Believe it or not, I wanted to achieve beyond the status quo, first, being a woman, and secondly, being an African American woman. This absolutely was not the other way. Being an African American and a woman, I’ve had more challenges just because I’m a woman, and then the second strike is (being) an African American woman. Then, this third strike is being a smart and intelligent African American woman because women are supposed to be attractive and quiet – know your place. You know what your places are: a secretary or, you know, clerical, or if you are middle manager, that’s as far as you’re going to go – you’re never going to be the top executive, you’re never going to be the CEO – and I challenged all of those, because it’s like – that’s not who I am. I know I’m smart – I’m as smart as you are. I could do your job – I could do it better. I’ve always had that belief in myself. And if I had to pass on anything to anyone, it would be: Believe in yourself. Have that intrinsic sense of wealth, or sense of who you are – rather than allowing other people to define who you are.
Speaking of struggles, you just said you had to face obstacles because of being a woman of color. Reports suggest student successes by ethnicity, the African American students score the lowest success rates and the highest withdrawal rates. How do you look at this, and what do you think you can do about it?
I think probably our college, Skyline in particular, has addressed this better than any other. I’ve been doing this over 30 years. Any college that I’ve been in. Four different community college districts. This is the fourth community college district, and I think that the research shows that students of color – of any color – students that are marginalized, always, they will leave, and they, as I say, vote with their feet, when they don’t feel like they belong, when there are no services that provide a path – a guided pathway for them to know what step to take – because they’ve never had anyone – They’re usually the first in their family. I grew up in a poor family, but I grew up with my mom always pushing me towards education. When I was 14, I got a job working in the library, because I love to read. So, when you read, guess what? – You find out about all these other things outside of your world. But not all of our students do that, and in part of the African American culture, there’s this distrust of education. When I went to college and I first got accepted, one of my relatives – an older woman – she said, “We’re proud that you’re going to college, but people that go to college lose their common sense. Don’t lose your common sense.” Because to her, when you go to college, you start talking about all these theoretical things, and it’s like, “Where’s your common sense? You see a snake on the ground and it’s crawling towards you – Don’t sit there and describe the snake, and what species is it from, and if it is poisonous or not! – As you see it coming towards you, your common sense is “Get out of the damn way!” And, oh, thank you, Granny, but that is kind of that ethos of discouraging students, or discouraging young people.
The governor has just approved a six-digit budget for California community colleges. What do we, as an institute, and students, expect from it?
So, the funds we get from the government only contribute towards tuition fees, nothing else. Transport, textbook assistance, counseling, and other wrap-around fees are what we have the Skyline College Promise Scholars Program for. One of the reasons that I decided that I would come and come off retirement to this transition year is to make sure that the things that we’re doing to address those concerns, we continue doing – I didn’t want it to stop. “Oh, Dr. Regina Stanback Stroud is gone, we’re not going to continue with our comprehensive redesign. Oh, we’re not going to continue with our equity institute. Oh, we’re not going to start our promise scholars”. There are so many things that were started at this college, that have nurtured, and have expanded to the other colleges within this district and also other colleges within the state. One of the things we have not given the full implementation is the ASTEP program. Our Promise Scholars Program – We’re only in about the third year of that program. Yeah, so really, we haven’t even finished a full cycle this next year will be the first full three-year cycle. And numbers are promising – much better than if you take the traditional numbers that we had before and how many students came in, how many students dropped out, that’s the – what we call – the retention. Yes, you know, so – Retention has gone up. Persistence has gone on – They persist beyond one year.
Student housing, Dr. Jackson – We need that. What are we doing about it?
Oh my god, I don’t know, that one is… Okay, so, the district has a proposal that has gone before the board – No action has been taken on it – It was information only. I think they had a study session about affordable housing for students, not for faculty and staff, because we’re already building one over here. There’s one already at CSM – They’re talking about maybe one at Cañada College, but right now, the focus is on students. And so, they’re going to talk about it again. We really are the point of the spear. When it comes to innovation in the district, we are always the first ones to do things – We’re the first ones to do promise scholars. Now, the district gets credit for it, but it really started at school, definitely.
Talking about the international community, you have a lot of international students and with the Chancellor’s new bill, online schools are emerging faster than ever. How do you think this affects campus life, and the fact that there are visa restrictions for international students for online classes?
Again, this district is better than other districts that I’ve been really working with. For international students, we have two pilot programs right now. One we started here, and now it’s gone over to the other two colleges. It is looking at students taking courses before they come to the United States – so that’s why it’s pilot – and you have to get certain permission from the Department of Education to get this certificate that allows us to do that. We have that for our district – Very few districts have that. So, that is going to address international students who want to take classes even before they get here, so the build-up is that they won’t pay international fees. That’s the key! The second thing is, someone who is an international student who doesn’t have family here – They want housing and food for them. We are looking at our cafeterias and voucher program, because that’ll tie into the food and security program that we’re currently doing. Instead of having what we have right now. We’re testing it right now. It’s a pilot program in its first year – Students actually get a voucher, and they go in, and they scan it, and all of that. So, it’s a paper form. What we’re looking at for the fall of this next year is having one card. So, when you take your student ID card, you’ll be able to access all of these things.
What about adding new courses? You see the STEM majors need more courses. History classes are dropping even though the enrollment has been the same as it was the previous spring. It hasn’t decreased, but the classes have been cut down.
Yes, I know – One of the things that we’ve talked about is increasing the number of online courses, but we also need to make sure that the faculty that are teaching those at school are available in school, too. So, this is the first year we’ve had full-time, permanent deans, and we’re getting ready to hire eight to nine new faculty members. So, there should be some increase in classes, because we’re hiring more. We’re finding the gaps and filling them in in the system and institution. We just got a full-time researcher who’s looking at the data. She came on in April of this last year. So, we’re grinding – I know it’s slow, but at least we have the people in place. We had an interim president and we’re getting ready to get a permanent president.
President, perhaps I think you’re aware of something that happened in a town hall meeting regarding the presidency. What do you think about bullying at the workplace?
Oh, goodness, I have heard so much. And it is sad – It’s sad that I have to look at bringing in someone external, which I’m getting ready to – I’ve already found someone, and we’re in the negotiation phase right now. Okay, who is going to come in and to help us structure a transition training program for the new president? – Because I can’t do it in four months. It is not something that you can have one forum and have everybody come together. Yeah, they come, and they say how pissed off they are, and you know they don’t like this, and everybody goes, and they say, “Oh, I feel good now that I got it off my chest.” Yeah, nothing happens. Research shows that unless you take that training, and change the structures, the processes and the procedures – It’s a temporary little fix, and it’s still there. I don’t want temporary fixes. The new president will get a plan that will establish processes, procedures and policy to address that.
So, you’re saying what happened was unacceptable?
Unacceptable. It’s been dealt with, because it’s a personal issue, so I can’t go into the details – but it’s been dealt with on that side. But the thing is, it’s like, people say sticks and stones won’t break, definitely never… Words hurt me. Yeah, they do, words hurt you. Words hurt you so how do we as an institution say that is not who we are. I don’t care if the president does it. I don’t care if the governor does it, or, you know, whoever – That is not acceptable to us, as the institution.
So, we’ve heard that the previous president, Dr. Regina Stanback Stroud, hired people like her friends, and favoritism existed. We’ve also heard that it’s still happening. What do you have to stay about this?
I will say: I can’t speak to what happened, because I don’t know. I know we have some great people here, but I can tell you, since I’ve been here, at least with the positions that I approve – I don’t approve all of them I approve the deans, the directors, and the senior administrator, and the vice president. So, if you were applying for a position in EOPS, and it’s a secretarial position – I don’t get involved in that. So, I can’t say if that happens or not. I have heard that too. I’ve heard people talk about nepotism; I’ve heard people say, “I’m not going to apply for that job because so-and-so is the interim, and I know they’re going to get the job,” – which is why they made a concerted effort not to put someone in this position – That works here. Yeah, they want people to know it is open.
You’re saying that this is not happening anymore. So, what’s done is done, and whoever said this to me is wrong?
Yes, I would say that. Unless they can give me an example. You know: If you and they can tell me. I’m not going to be here, so I’m not going to, you know, rain hail and brimstone on their head, or beat them up, or anything. I have seen people who had been doing the job. And then they apply for the job. They’ve been doing it all along, so they obviously are going to get it.
In the beginning you said, you struggled more due to being a woman than due to being African American, right? How do you see equal pay and workload, today?
Oh, my goodness. It’s better than it was when I was your age. When I was your age, there were no women presidents at all. It was all white men. I was in the military – I don’t know if you know that, but I was in the military. And I was a second lieutenant. I came in, I was enlisted. First, I was an officer – then I went back to college, got my master’s degree, and then I decided I wanted to go into the military and be an officer (again), so I switched over. And (one day) I had one of my squad leaders, Tate, come to me and say something. I was a lieutenant, so they addressed me as such. I was getting ready to apply for a job – a promotion – so I can become a colonel, or a captain. And the only women who had gotten promoted were women who had performed sexual favors. That was the only way you could get promoted. And (Tate) had so much respect for me, and we’re still friends to this day, Facebook friends.
Let’s back up a little bit. So, my boss was a known panty-chaser. That’s what we called him, he’s a panty-chaser. How many can he get under his belt to say he “got” her, wink-wink nod-nod, you know? There weren’t that many women – I was one of only two women in the whole office. I was getting ready to get promoted – I wanted the job. And so, my boss called me into his office to talk to me about it. He said, “Hey, Jackson, I want you to, you know… Come into my office.” I said, “Well, sir…” I knew what he was a panty-chaser and I didn’t want to be behind closed doors with this guy. And so, he said, “Well, come at the end of the day, when you finish.” We got off at 4:30.
And when 4:30 came, everybody was gone – out of there. And I told Tate, “Stick around. I’m going up there.” He said, “Ma’am, I don’t want them talking about you.” And I said, “What are you talking about?” “I don’t want them talking about you like they talk about this other girl”. And I said, “I would never do that.” I said, “There’s dignity… If it takes that to get promoted, I won’t get promoted, and I’ll walk away.” And he was like, “Okay…” I said, “I’m not stupid either – I know why he’s calling me up there – He wants to see if, you know… If I will ‘play’ with him.” I said to Tate, “What I want you to do is, at a quarter to five, to come knock on the door.” – because I knew he was going to close the door, and his office was down the hall, at the end of the hallway – and it’s dark, so if his door was closed, nobody would know if he was there or not. I could scream and nobody would know because everybody’s gone… So, I said, “I want you to come and knock on the door if it’s closed and make up a reason to be doing so – I don’t care what you say. Do not leave me there with that man.”
But I knew that if I didn’t go to his office, I’d never get promoted, so I had to at least go face my demons. So, I went to the office. Sure enough, yeah – I sat in a chair, he had a sofa. He came over from around his desk and he sat on the sofa. And so, we were talking, and he asked, “What is your goal?” “Well, I’d like to do such-and-such…” “Well, you know, we have an opening coming up…” “Oh, yes, sir, thank you, sir, I would love to come on staff –” You know, blah blah blah – “So, why don’t you come over here (to the sofa) and sit down?” I said, “…No, sir, I’m okay (where I am).” He went, “Well, you would be the first woman to ever be on battalion staff.” And I said, “Oh, that would be an honor for me, if I could.” I knew he was getting a little antsy, like, when he said, “Want to come over here? I want to show you a graph of the US.” I said, “I can see it from here…”
Somebody knocked on the door. “Hello? Who is there?” (he said,) until he gets up and opens the door. (Tate was there, and said,) “Sir, we need the lieutenant because we’ve got an issue.” And then he went, “Oh, can somebody else do that.” When he said that, I jumped up, and I squeezed by, and said “Well, thank you sir. You know, I would really appreciate it if you consider me for the position. So, tell me what’s going on.” And then we start walking away.
So yes, all of those things are still there. You, as a woman, have to be smart enough to figure things out. Don’t let myself get (involved) that – have somebody to have my back to make sure that I don’t get into a compromising position –because they’re right: The reason the women did it with the guy down in LA (Harvey Weinstein) – he controlled their careers, but they didn’t have anybody to come and knock on that door, except for one person – my hero. He did it for Gwyneth Paltrow.
Any advice for students?
There is a saying: Keep your eye on the prize, life happens – Sometimes you take a detour, sometimes you stall, sometimes you have to take a break – but always persist: Hence the poem I referred to earlier about persistence.
A project or accomplishment that is very important to you and why?
I think words have power, and that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is not true – Words do hurt, so I have asked that classified staff, be referred to as classified professionals because they ARE! In addition, many of our students see our classified professional staff even before they take a class of meet an administrator. Classified professionals can make a difference on a students’ journey just as significant as anyone else, by saying ‘classified professional’, it is recognition of their role in a students’ journey.
How do you plan to empower students at the campus?
I’ve always believed in the adage “Lead by Example”, and there are several tenets I live by – One of them is embodied in a poem called “Persistence” by Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the US.
Some of the questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. This article has been updated as of 02/03/20