New Trustee is Part-time Legal Scholar, Full-time Mom
Jennifer C. Braceras ’89 (communication), a newly appointed trustee who was named one of Massachusetts top 10 lawyers in 2000 and is the mother of four, enjoys being a contrarian. For starters, she is a Republican in a Democratic state and likes it that way. "If I lived in Alabama, I'd probably be a Democrat," Braceras says, noting too that politics has no place in the trustees’ boardroom. I don't care if someone is liberal or conservative. We're there because we care about the university."
Her only agenda as a trustee, Braceras says, is to boost the university’s image in national rankings, and as an alumna she brings a valuable perspective to the academic and student affairs committee. “UMass Amherst had an enormous impact on my life,” says Braceras, who also studied law, history and politics in addition to communication.
Professor John Brigham, who taught her constitutional law, remembers Braceras as an especially engaging student, "in part because she went against the grain. She stood out for her brilliant presentation of conservative views. I like to think we sparked her interest in law," says Brigham, who remains in touch with her professionally.
Carolyn Anderson, professor emeritus of communication, remembers Braceras as a "joy in class," despite clashing viewpoints on many issues. "Although politically committed, she was always eager to debate, rather than proclaim, and she brought a sense of rigor, thoughtfulness and depth to class discussions," Anderson says.
Braceras, whose father was appointed to the federal appeals court by President Bill Clinton, didn’t always have Republican leanings. "One of the great things about UMass Amherst is that it is very politically active and forces you to think about issues and where you stand on them," Braceras says. In the late 1980s, support at UMass Amherst was strong for issues such as prohibiting the sale of cigarettes, banning Coors beer for its alleged anti-labor and anti-environment corporate policies and blocking military and CIA recruitment on campus. She decided to back the rights of students to have access to all products, rather than curtailing choice, a view that was shared then by the Republican club. The rest, shall we say, is history.
After graduating, Braceras spent two years working for William Kristol, chief of staff to then Vice President Quayle. At Harvard Law School between 1991 and 1994 she became interested in anti-discrimination law, and spent two years clerking for judges William Young and Ralph Winter. From 1996 to 2000 she worked in labor and employment law at Ropes & Gray in Boston.
Braceras enjoys federal anti-discrimination law—especially education and employment—because of the "human angle," and the way these areas touch everyone's lives, rather than companies suing companies over money.
Named one of Massachusetts' top 10 lawyers of 2000 by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, Braceras gave up her 60-hour workweek after her second child’s birth. But she has fashioned a career out of legal scholarship: teaching civil rights or constitutional law at Boston College and Suffolk University; writing about legal issues, politics and culture for various publications; and serving on various boards and forums.
In 2001 President Bush appointed Braceras to the United States Commission on Civil Rights for a six-year term, probably she thinks because of her vociferous criticism of the commission's performance in the 1990s. Putting her words into action, Braceras is working to reform the agency, using her legal training to study allegations of discrimination, evaluate federal anti-discrimination laws and provide information on civil rights. She helps set the commission's agenda, from looking at anti-Semitism on college campuses to voter intimidation to why there is economic stagnation in certain ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Although she has introduced financial discipline and "academic objectivity" to the commission, she says a lot remains to be done.
Braceras and her husband, also a lawyer, live in Concord, Mass., with their four children, ranging in age from age 8 to 2. Work, she says, is a daily balancing act of competing responsibilities, getting work done while the children are in school and after they go to bed. “I want to be available when my kids need me,” she says. Braceras, who calls herself a "conservative feminist," says juggling work and motherhood is an issue close to her heart and hails telecommuting and the Internet for enabling women to pursue rewarding, flex-time careers.
Adapted from an article by Anupreeta Das, from the November 4, 2006 Daily Hampshire Gazette. Photo by Erin Edwards.
November 13, 2006