CMLLC graduate Jamie Dickinson fights discrimination in the courts

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by Professor Haiyong Liu

Fifteen years later, Jamie Dickinson showed up in Manoogian again, this time, with her daughter Aerin, for her Friday afternoon Spanish tutoring session. Jamie knows the power of language, and not surprisingly, Aerin has inherited her mom’s interest in and talent for learning foreign languages.

Dickinson in Hebei Province, China, 2004

Jamie was one of the first students I ever taught when I arrived at Wayne State in 2004. She was in my Chinese Pop Culture class and wrote a term paper comparing how political propaganda works in China, Russia, and America, which won her the Undergraduate Research Grant. Outside of class, Jamie worked hard to collect petition signatures around campus to convince the Board of Governors of Wayne to found a BA degree in Asian Studies. Her efforts paid off big time!

Jamie was the president of the Russian Club as well, for which she was equally dedicated to her duties. She had to miss a Chinese class once because she was overwhelmed with preparations for a Russian event. I still remember how she tried to defend herself when faced with losing two attendance points. “They needed me; otherwise the event would have failed,” she said. She got an A despite losing the two points and a year later graduated with a major in Russian and a co-major in International Studies cum laude. These anecdotes made me, as a new teacher, realize that learning is not confined to the classroom but also occurs outside the classroom.

Jamie is an energetic person with a big heart. After learning about a recent Wayne State graduate with a degree and career interests similar to hers, she volunteered to mentor her academic younger brothers and sisters. She even brought her current colleagues to our Career Fair in April to show how many doors a degree in foreign languages can open.  

Dickinson in St. Petersberg, Russia, 2002

Jamie has continued to demonstrate her energy and big heart after leaving Manoogian. She has been working for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as a Federal Investigator for 12 years after a stint at the Citizenship and Immigration Services, where she got the noble urge to help eradicate employment discrimination, be it on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, and sex, which encompasses LGBT status, sexual harassment, and pregnancy. Jamie also told me that protecting undocumented workers is extremely important. She and her colleagues help them obtain a special visa to testify in court after being sexually harassed and assaulted, and they conduct trainings and seminars in Detroit to make people aware of their rights.

Jamie is now working with her agency, established in 1964 by President Johnson, to take their 16th case to the Supreme Court: R.G.G.R Harris Funeral Homes in Garden City, MII vs. the EEOC. This is a big case, which was headline news in the New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the cover page of the ACLU. In the hallway of Manoogian, Jamie passionately explained to me there is no formal federal law indicating that LGBT status is protected from employment discrimination, which the EEOC deems to be a type of sex discrimination. The EEOC has previously interpreted the law to mean that sexual harassment and discrimination against pregnant women are types of sex discrimination.    

Jamie attributes her career success to her Wayne State degree in foreign language, her study abroad trips to Russia and China, and her embrace of diversity. She pointed out to me that Wayne State was the first university in the nation to offer Albanian classes. Jaime loves teaching things to her teachers. She taught me the very local expression, “don’t poke the bear”, which I still enjoy using from time to time.

I am impressed by the great sense of social obligation and social equality demonstrated by my former student.  I want to thank her for making us proud and for seeking justice for those who face discrimination. Thank you, Jamie, and best of luck in your EEOC case! 

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