Janet Saunders Brings Varied Background to Affirmative Action Position

Janet Saunders Her new position as director of Employment Practices and Affirmative Action might sound daunting, but Janet Saunders is equipped to handle a challenge. With thirty years of experience in human resources, over twenty of them in affirmative action, and an education that includes a degree in industrial psychology as well as time in law school, Saunders is eager to apply her skill at building community within the University as it heads into the twenty-first century. Her responsibilities include policy implementation and development and training for issues such as sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination.

A proud Brooklynite, Saunders comes to CSU, Chico by way of the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, where she was director of personnel and affirmative action. Before that, she worked in human resource management and affirmative action in the private sector while attending school at night and raising two daughters.

"Psychology was what took me to human resource management," she said. "I enjoyed anticipating human behavior and problem solving, and eventually I began to combine those interests with legal issues." It was at law school, in fact, that she began to see how the varied threads of her work experience could be woven into a profession that was truly gratifying. "I loved the substance of what I was studying," she said, "and I loved the combination of managing people and making sure policies and procedures worked in compliance with a particular law or group of laws. For a while I looked at labor law as a specialty, but the combination of behavior, management, and discrimination law is what really challenged me."

And Saunders is certain to face challenges in her new position. Since the passage in November 1996 of the California Civil Rights Initiative, the assault on affirmative action has stepped up considerably. But Saunders is concerned that communication about the issue often breaks down before the terms are even defined. "If we can't talk about concrete concepts, then there's no sense in discussing affirmative actionmisunderstanding and lack of definition lead to confusion."

"It's amazing to remember that at one time women couldn't practice medicine," she continued. "When you think about some of the ludicrous things that existed in our history, you can see that it's through movements such as suffrage and legislation such as affirmative action and the Civil Rights Acts that we've progressed as an American culture. We would not be what we are now were it not for all that different groups of people have contributed through inventions, innovations, participation, and perspectives."

Saunders is used to responding to the charge that affirmative action and other programs benefitting women and minorities discriminate against white males. White males also benefit from affirmative action, she said. "We are not giving them a rounded education if we deny them the opportunity to share in a diversity of perspectives, whether ethnic, cultural, or gender. White male students should not have to be shocked when they go out in the world and report to a female or ethnic minority supervisor."

Despite the threat to various programs from supporters of the CCRI, Saunders isn't sure loss of funding will be much of an issue overall until women's programs begin to take more of a hit. "That's a `Saunders opinion,'" she said, smiling, although it was clear she takes the threat seriously. "Women have not been very vocal, although women have benefited, not just from affirmative action but also equal opportunity legislation. Before Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we didn't have women corrections officers or police officers, and women couldn't carry a gun or lift more than twenty-five pounds. Yet some women did not want to jump in the affirmative action battle. Even now they tend to want to leave it as a racial issue. It's not a racial issue."

When asked what she hopes to accomplish in the next year, she was quiet for amoment.Then she answered, "I would hope in the next twelve months we could foster a more enlightened understanding of affirmative action and give ourselvesfaculty and staff, as well as studentsan opportunity to distinguish between some of the mechanics used to achieve affirmative action and affirmative action itself. If we can accomplish that, it may be a small miracle."

Though she confesses to being something of a workaholic, Saunders does plan to get out of the office once in a while to play some racquetball or tennis. A big blues fan, she fondly recalls a club she sometimes went to when she worked in Chicago, "a club called Blues with great acts and wall to wall people." She also enjoys comedies and mysteries, whether books or movies. Courtroom dramas especially interest her and so does suspense. Remembering the time she watched Cape Fear with her daughter and some of her daughter's friends, she laughed. "They watched me. But after a show like that, you feel so fresh and alert. Everything falls into perspective and you say, `I can handle that!'"
Written by BAS

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