Editor’s Note: Each summer University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School students hone their skills through a wide array of private and public sector internships across the country and around the world. Generous financial support and fellowships for international and public interest work enable students to pursue diverse assignments in the United States and abroad. This post is one in a series of firsthand accounts detailing how students’ summer employment opportunities are preparing them for their legal careers.
Jocelyn A. K. Walcott is New Jersey native and dual JD/MSEd in Education Policy candidate at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and the Graduate School of Education.
My career goal is to eliminate racial and socioeconomic disparities by ensuring equitable access to quality public education.
This summer, I am a legal intern at the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in their Philadelphia Office. Because of the devastating impact of COVID-19, I am working remotely. Fortunately, my internship started as planned and will continue for the full ten weeks.
OCR’s mission is to ensure equal access to education through vigorous enforcement of civil rights laws. OCR enforces laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance from the Department of Education. To enforce these laws, OCR resolves complaints of discrimination and initiates cases to target resources on compliance problems that appear particularly acute. Having taken Constitutional Law in the spring semester, I have a better understanding of OCR’s authority as a federal agency.
So far, I have shadowed investigative interviews and analyzed data to help determine whether certain acts constitute a civil rights violation and whether OCR has jurisdiction. Although OCR is a neutral fact-finder, the OCR attorneys and investigators resolve complaints to remedy discrimination and help institutions prevent future discrimination.
I have already gained invaluable exposure to investigative methods and learned how to navigate complex legal analysis with emotionally charged parties and complicated fact patterns. I am also working on a research memorandum exploring the standards for accommodating students with learning disabilities in virtual/distance learning environments. Through my Legal Practice Skills class, I refined my research and writing; these skills have been fundamental as I work with new types of legal precedents, like agency guidance.
It has been eye-opening and inspiring to take part in OCR’s work to safeguard equality by stopping and preventing discrimination in education. Educational equity is a crucial substructure for social justice in America.
I am incredibly grateful to be a 2020 Leo Model Foundation Government and Public Affairs Initiative Summer Fellow as the fellowship provided the funding for my internship with OCR.