Updated: Mar 27, 2021
Jennifer Jaskolka received 89 rejection letters and still did not give up. Good thing she did not! Read this great article by Jennifer about her determination.
When I was 12, my then-friend Carly quit coming to my house. When I caught her in the middle-school hallway and asked why, she said her mother told her it was because I had “horns.” Not knowing what this meant, I went home and asked. It was the first time I recall experiencing anti-Semitism, and the “rumor” spread like wildfire. Not only were stereotypical notions responsible for me losing new friends (I had moved to Nebraska the year prior), it also caused me to hide a pivotal part of my identity, often downplaying or hiding my ethnicity and rich history, for the next decade.
The Holocaust, genocide, racism, and prejudice demonstrate the roles that ordinary people can play in the human experience. Anger, fear, misunderstanding, a lack of knowledge, and other motivations drive people to extremism and to act in treacherous ways, robbing dignity and sometimes, life. While 6 million Jews perished during the Holocaust, including my paternal grandfather’s entire family, others were persecuted because of their perceived racial and biological inferiority as well as their political, ideological grounds. These included Roma, people with disabilities, alcoholics, sex workers, the homeless, trade unionists, Blacks, Russians, LGBTQ members, Socialists, Communists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses; they were an “alien threat” to the Nazi community. The fact that the Holocaust annihilated broadly, coupled with the fact that American government-sponsored programs allowed radical measures against minorities under the pretext that they posed a threat to the “American” way of life, was often a dinner table discussion topic growing up. These dinner table conversations, as well as reckoning with and eventually embracing my family history, which includes my paternal grandfather surviving a camp, my paternal grandmother hiding for five years in a farmhouse in Russia, both being smuggled into British-controlled Palestine due to immigration quotas and living in a barn upon arrival, and sharing a two bedroom home with another family of 4 until my father turned 16 and his family immigrated to America, all shaped my decision to advocate for women and the underrepresented in the legal profession. But it took me a while to make the connection and to understand my own power and how it can help shape the legal community around us.
As a first-gen and the first in my family to graduate college, law school was an enigma for me. I felt that others were in on a secret that I was deliberately excluded from. I struggled my first year because again, I didn’t stay true to my authentic self and study habits. Instead, I compared myself to others, joined study groups that didn’t serve me, and relied too heavily on outlines provided by 2L and 3Ls because I lacked confidence. Recalibrating helped me succeed during my 2 and 3L years. Then came the 89 rejection letters. That I still have. They are on my home office shelf.
At first and as a new lawyer, I brushed off being called “sweet pea,” “honey,” “sweetie,” and the expectation that only women took notes and ensured everyone’s coffee cup stayed filled. I brushed off comments by a male partner that my body better bounce back after having my son and daughter or risk my then-husband leaving. I reacted internally with horror when the 13 male partners told me, the only full-time woman attorney, that my request for 4 weeks paid maternity leave was denied. I sighed but carried on when on the 11th day after delivering my first child, my anemic-self acquiesced to a judge’s request to appear in court on behalf of a client the next day. And again, I sighed and carried on when on the 7th day after delivering my second child, a partner called and said he didn’t understand one of my cases so I needed to come back to the office. So I did, baby in tow. Then one of my partners took two months paid leave to recover from back surgery. Talk about a proverbial light-bulb moment. Oy vey…what was I doing? I had been complicit in my own treatment, a bystander to the same treatment experienced by many other women and underrepresented groups, and sabotaging my career and learning trajectory.
One of my strengths is surrounding myself with people who know more than me. After moving to Colorado. I began attending DEI seminars (thank you Kathleen Nalty and the Center for Legal Inclusiveness), reading books, journals, and articles, sitting on Colorado Pledge to Diversity committees (thank you Kyle Velte), attending Colorado affinity bar association and ACC Colorado events, contributing money and time to organizations that were devoted to moving the needle (Diversity Lab), and most importantly, began deliberate and intentional reciprocal mentoring relationships with women, men, and diverse lawyers and law students.
Armed with new tools, resources, and friends, passivity would no longer be tolerated.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” - Maya Angelou
Jennifer Jaskolka serves as Xcel Energy’s manager of Corporate Safety & Industrial Hygiene/Assistant General Counsel. Jennifer was appointed by the Denver Mayor to the Denver Board of Public Health and Environment where she helped promulgate a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis, addressing structural inequalities to public health head on. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Association for Corporate Counsel and is a past co-president of Colorado Pledge to Diversity.