Improving skills new and old

When I started my internship at MUA, I knew that I was going to have a wider variety of tasks than I had performed at any of my previous internships. As a business major, I was drawn to the non-profit management side of this internship, including outreach, development, marketing, and digital media. At the same time, I wanted to utilize the internship to improve my Spanish fluency. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I was drawn to this internship because of the organization’s mission: to help low-income Latina women learn English, gain employable skills, and become leaders in their communities and in society at large.

United Way is one of the organizations through which MUA receives its funding.

Because I had so many interests coming into this internship, I was given an accordingly wide array of responsibilities for the summer, and have been given the opportunity to develop and utilize many different skills. On the business end of the internship, I have learned valuable lessons about the importance and difficulty of identifying and adequately reaching a target market. As in many nonprofits, this task is made even more difficult for MUA because there exist three distinct target markets to identify, analyze, and reach: the group of people MUA serves through its programming, the group of people to whom it wants to disseminate its message, and the group of people that fund its operations. These three groups have different habits and lifestyles, and we need to make sure that marketing and outreach messages reach them through the appropriate avenues. For example, even though one of my jobs this summer has been managing the Facebook page, the students that utilize MUA’s services do not tend to be active Facebook users. So why do we have a Facebook page? The answer is that we use social media to spread awareness about the mission of MUA, establish its reputation in the local community, and reach potential donors and volunteers. Accordingly, I must tailor the content on social media to those that I am trying to reach.

The MUA building is in Dorchester, close to where many of the students live.

On the other end of my responsibilities this summer, the biggest challenge I have faced was teaching an English class. The extent of my prior teaching experience had been teaching children how to ice skate, so I felt out of scope teaching a classroom full of students twice my age how to speak English. The biggest skill I have learned though my teaching experience has been that of flexibility. Even with an extremely detailed lesson plan, it is inevitable that the lesson must change as it progresses: certain activities won’t work, students will need extra help with a certain concept, or an activity will go faster than expected. I’ve also greatly improved my confidence in my Spanish skills by teaching English to native Spanish speakers.

I will walk away from this internship with a great variety of new and improved skills. Although I don’t necessarily see teaching or non-profit work in my professional future, I have learned invaluable and widely-applicable lessons about target markets, the need to remain flexible, and the importance of confidence in both language skills and in tackling unfamiliar situations.

Us and Them: We’re Not So Different

A painting of the founders of Americares you see when you walk in the front door each day.

Out of all of the classes I’ve taken at Brandeis, American Health Care was by far my favorite. The course stuck with me for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the class taught me about a system that I am a part of already and will become an even bigger part of once I turn twenty-six and must buy my own health insurance as stated in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The other major reason for my praise of this course is that it made me appreciate the complexities of our current health care system while also emphasizing that there is still so much to learn about how it functions.

When it comes to passing any type of major health care legislation, numerous stakeholders are involved in the process. These include the House and Senate to pass the legislation, but also the American Medical Association, the insurance industry, pharmaceutical companies, and the American citizens themselves. It is extremely difficult to pass any type of health care legislation with all of these parties involved. That is the biggest lesson I took away from my American Health Care course, helping to enhance my views of Americares as an organization and the tremendous work that they do.

Entering the office at Americares is like entering another world; every cubicle is decorated with unique, colorful artifacts that exemplify Americares work in those countries or health sectors.

The American Heath Care course taken at Brandeis also taught me about the issues many people, both domestically and internationally, face when it comes to having access to care. Many times, some of the problems faced in the United States are regarded as “first-world problems,” meaning that they are not relatable to developing countries who have other concerns plaguing their thoughts. Not having access to quality care remains a problem both for citizens in developed countries such as the United States and in developing countries such as Liberia. Strangely enough, although this is a dilemma that we’d like to see improved on in the form of increased access to needed care, it becomes a situation that people from all over the world can bond over.

This bond is something that informs my work at Americares. It promotes the understanding that even though we may live in different countries, our problems are not so different. We may have more resources to cope with disasters or disease epidemics, but without these resources, we would be in the same position, needing humanitarian aid and hoping that someone would come to our rescue. This type of thinking has made me work even harder on the employee handbook and all related materials geared towards enhancing employee experience because of the inspiring efforts made towards those in need. If our nation is in trouble, we would likely expect the same type of efforts to be made if possible. Keeping that in mind, my job this summer is to protect the wellbeing of the Americares staff so that they may continue these efforts that are so relatable and applicable to our everyday lives. After all, employees cannot do their job efficiently if they are concerned about company policies in outdated documents.

Big Changes at Homeless Prenatal Program

Next week will mark my two-month anniversary in San Francisco.  I have been enjoying my summer and spending my free time  doing things like attending the Pride celebration, watching an all-female Queen tribute band on the Fourth of July, driving down Route 1 to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, and binge-watching procedurals on Netflix.  Amidst all this fun, I’ve also been working 30 hours a week at my internship, and some things have changed since my first week at Homeless Prenatal Program.

First, our team got a new intern, Jocelyn, who is a third-year at UC San Diego.  We quickly bonded over the fact that we are both living in the Outer Sunset neighborhood and started carpooling three times a week and going to get poke bowls during our lunch break.  

But there have also been more institutional changes.  Shortly after my internship began, I learned that, after housing the program for five years, HPP would not be retaining the contract for the DV CalWORKs program. In fact, the entire program will be taken over by a new agency by the end of August, right after my internship ends.  I am getting a unique experience to observe and facilitate the transition of the program.  I have gotten to hear both from the executive staff about why they decided to pass along the contract and from the DV advocates about how they are feeling about the end.  The domestic violence advocate team is a tight-knit group of women, all of whom have been meeting with clients in this role for two or more years.  So, naturally, this transition has had a significant emotional impact on both the team and the clients.  

My workload has also changed as the transition progresses.  At the beginning of my internship, many of my tasks involved calling new referrals to schedule appointments, but now that the contract is being transferred to the new agency, so are all the referrals and clients.  Many of my daily tasks now involve preparing clients’ files and sending them to the new agency.  As the DV CalWORKs program winds down, there are not many opportunities for me to work directly with clients from the program. However,  I have been training to participate in the intake and triage process.  I studied and took a test to get certified for the Adult Needs and Strengths Assessment (ANSA), a tool HPP uses to assess all of their clients.  I have also been shadowing staff members as they meet with first-time clients to assess their needs and make referrals.  Ideally, by August, I will be able to take shifts doing triage on my own.  This will provide me with crucial direct service experience to prepare me for a future in social work.  

Working with a non-profit as prolific as Homeless Prenatal Program has provided a lot of opportunities for both personal and professional growth. Being a student of Sociology and African and Afro-American Studies, I have learned a lot about oppression and inequality on an academic level, but academic essays can’t stand-in for people’s actual narratives.  It is clear that there are many disempowering forces at work in the lives of HPP’s clientele, but it is also clear that HPP offers a space for those clients to be empowered and supported through direct services and advocacy.  One of the most unique and critical parts of HPP’s model is its practice of hiring former clients and others directly from the community it serves, which supports the upward mobility of the community and promotes culturally relevant services.  This is a completely different model from that of universities like Brandeis and pretty much any other industry, as well.  While non-profits certainly have their challenges, like transitions, and flaws, like depending on government contracts and private donations for funding, Homeless Prenatal Program has taught me a lot about how non-profits can empower individual clients and communities.

(PS. I’m still working on the parking thing.)

Looking Within

My experience at this service center has been rewarding. The files of the clients will be monitored as part of a mandatory procedure applicable for nonprofit organizations. As such, I have been reviewing files, ensuring that all proper paperwork and signatures are included. Page by page, I scan to make sure all necessary information is in included.

Seeing the faces of this vulnerable population encourages me to come daily to give and provide all that I have. Their faces inspire me to do as much as I can to ensure that they feel welcomed and cared for. Some clients require extra care, particularly medical care. Unfortunately, not all of the clients are in the best shape in terms of health. Reading over their health conditions enlighten me to the inequity of healthcare across the world. Perhaps many of these conditions could have been prevented against early on by early doctor’s visit or hygiene. Now, I am concentrating my attention on finding information about the different insurance plans that these clients have, and the benefits that they receive.

Through my experiences here at the Houston Service Center, I have become more flexible and open-minded. An article here recommends how to increase workplace flexibility. It is common for me to be working on one thing, and then be asked to help someone do another thing. This requires flexibility, seeing that one has to be able to aid others in times of emergency. Additionally, I have become more open-minded as I must be able to accept changes to protocol and procedures. These skills are applicable not only at Brandeis but in daily life. Events such as constantly changing protocol and positions are inevitable. Thus, I see that these skills allow me to maneuver through times of distress in an educational and professional setting.

In a medical setting, flexibility is key as patients and their families may want different things at different times. I also must be familiar with flexibility understanding that in a medical and science setting, I should be able to help my colleagues in addition to serving my patients. Medicine heavily involves interconnectedness, and as such all contributors must be able to remain flexible, and of course, open-minded. Being open-minded in science works in the same way, whether the health care provider to a patient and his/her’s family or to another health care provider. To read more about the benefits of open-mindedness, please see this attached article.

So far, I believe that these skills I have continued to hold and use throughout my time here at the Service Center has given me a time to witness more than I expected. I have sensed that my efficiency has given me an edge at reviewing files quickly yet precisely and thoroughly. I have been able to associate with my co-workers who were once refugees themselves, refugee clients, and people who are really passionate about serving the underserved populations. I look forward to learning more from this experience which will benefit me in my last year at Brandeis, my education post-Brandeis, and my life as a professional.

Hands-On Growth Outside the Classroom at PDS

Interning as an investigator at PDS has been the most dive-into-the-water type of educational experience I’ve ever had. Not only have I learned about the criminal justice system at large, but how it affects people every day. That’s the virtue of interacting directly with clients, as I’ve had the unique opportunity to do during the internship.
I’ve also learned a lot about myself. One thing is that this work excites me like nothing else. Sure, public defense is urgent and exhausting. Sure, it’s sometimes menial and often bureaucratic. But I’ll tell you, it’s never dull, rarely boring, and incredibly fulfilling. Because doing this work you realize that you’re helping people in a way that they can’t help themselves. You’re showing up during some of the worst times in their life and, with your pen for a sword, affirming the truth that people are not defined by the worst thing they’ve ever done.
In front of the Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters, where we routinely get police documents.
Another huge benefit of the internship is constant exposure to the criminal justice system. One thing is that I can confidently say that I’ve come to understand the lifetime of a criminal case. From the preliminary hearing to voir dire to trial, being at PDS has given me a chance to contribute to many parts of the process.
Strong interpersonal skills, too, have been tremendously important for this position, and I’ve definitely grown in this area as a result of the internship. To be articulate and convey information in a succinct and meaningful way is the bottom line of effective communication, and whether it be in speaking or writing the internship has definitely demanded a refinement of this skill. Listening is also crucial; why do you think we have two ears but only one mouth? This is true regarding communication with attorneys and investigators, as well as clients and the public. Being an expert in communication is something I will continue to develop at Brandeis academically, and I have no doubt it will help me greatly in whatever career I ultimately choose to pursue.
What’s piqued my interest as well are the legal aspects of public defense. Such aspects include developing theories of defense, writing motions, and performing legal research. These tasks are typically only done by attorneys and law clerks, and knowing that has made me excited about law school and what’s to come.
In front of DC’s Court of Appeals.
But regardless of which area of public defense I’m engaged in – investigations or legal – I know critical thinking will be involved. That’s what keeps me coming back, in brief the fact that there are multiple avenues of defense and it’s our job to pick one and make it stick.
What I’ve said thus far is all to suggest that public defense is, more or less, fun and challenging. And it is. But for me there’s also been a shell-shock aspect. Dire poverty and terrible injustice are things you encounter almost every week on the job. And to be frank, it’s been eye-opening and maturing in a way that no other experience has been. It’s yelled at me face-to-face: “there’s incredible need in the world, even right here in your backyard, and you better do something about it.” It’s a sad acknowledgement but also motivating. It’s the need that lights my fire, and that’s why I’ve also had the inspiring opportunity to volunteer at a church here in DC on some Monday mornings, where we serve some 70-80 homeless people breakfast.
To conclude, my experience at PDS has been extraordinary in that it’s helped me clarify much of what was previously up in the air. I have a better sense of what I’m good at and where I need to improve, and hopefully, what I want to do.
See you next week,
Andrew

Market’s strategic design & reflections on myself

By now, I have been interning in Boston Public Market for over a month. I feel that not only did I start to get used to the flow of the market, but more importantly, I have gained more insight of how the market functions. By understanding the Market’s mission better, I gradually realize what are some aspects I can do more to help. Besides, doing different jobs with many other interns in the Market also makes me realize my strength and weakness.

 

I might have mentioned this in my previous blog post, but it was not until now I have truly realized that the Market is one of its kind in Boston, even in New England. It is a grocery store, plus indoor farmer’s market, plus unity of small food business, plus public education, plus hand-on cooking classes. It is constantly experimenting with new activities and collaborations, from kid touring to cooperating with big health organizations. The wide range of activities the Market is conducting is not all spontaneous or solely experiments. Instead, they are all surrounding the five public impact goals of the Market: 1. Economic development, 2. Resiliency in the regional food system, 3. Education, 4. Public Health, 5. Affordability and access to underserved communities. These goals define the civic purpose of the Market’s activities. The changing nature of each activity, however, is due to the experimenting nature of the design. The Market is still really young—only turning two years old at the end of this month. Therefore, the Market is exploring the best way to reach the goals.

 

The division in the market facilitates each activity. There are two major division in the office: the operating team and the communication and outreach team. The operating team oversees vendor recruitment, security, market operation, and all the publicizing side of the market. Essentially, they are making sure that everything in the market is running smoothly. On the other hand, the communication and outreach team’s job involves public relationship, marketing, community engagement, etc. While the events design is more on the outreach side, if taking place in the Market, the actually carrying out process will definitely involve the collaboration between both teams. Meanwhile, after reaching out to certain organization and secured the event, the operation team would be the one to carry things out.

 

Even under same division, people with different personalities are partnered up to work together so that each single part of event would be carefully examined. For example, when the community and outreach chair Mackenzie came up with an idea of buying a mobile vehicle for transportation of fresh produce from the Market to our farmer’s market, her co-worker Amanda would suggest to make a list of stops to make, in order to write proposal. This really reflects on myself. I always know that I am not a creative or spontaneous genius, and I have been working hard to become one. But seeing the division in the Market makes me realize that I should identify my own strength and weakness, and focus on developing my strength instead of improve my weakness. Only in this way can I be a more capable person in the workplace, rather than someone who is constantly catching up with others.

picture retrieved from http://www.bostonmagazine.com/health/blog/2017/06/30/bpm-blueberry/

As for the event designing part, for the first year (2015), the Market’s communicating engagement chair was constantly reaching out to other companies and organizations. However, starting this year, there has been some organizations coming to the Market and offered us event. Mostly, Boston Public Market facilitate programming, either by offering space or staff members. For example, the Market is currently conducting “Fresh Friday.” Fresh Friday is a program that Boston Public Market collaborating with Boston Children Museum and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation. During which we offer fresh vegetables and fruits for free to the museum visitors on Friday night. We get our fresh produce from our produce vendors Siena Farm and Stillman’s Farm, and then transported them to Boston Children Museum in our “Blueberry”— a bright blue, electric “produce trike.” One or potentially more of our prepared food vendors also participate in this program by offering kids and their families something different. “I’ve never seen people ‘attack’ vegetables like this.” Mackenzie proudly concluded. This kind of collaboration is a bit like a reward. After an entire year of outreaching, people are now willing to offer, program, and fund events for the Market.

https://www.facebook.com/events/635821173290725/

 

Overall, I would consider the Market as a developing and growing marketplace. As I mentioned previously, the entire food industry is going on great changes now. The big (old) food companies used to own the entire food chain, from assembly to food truck. However, now more and more organizations start to appreciate and encourage the development of small business, which I do think will be the future of the food industry: more and more platform for small business to grow themselves, constantly bring to the public their ideas, and collaborate with other small business spontaneously. This kind of market is more flexible, vivid and extremely popular. Boston Public Market encourages the development of local food business, in the goal of raising the public awareness of food sustainability, nutrition, and community health. As an intern in the Market, I do feel that it is more than what I do that can help the Market, but more about experiencing the environment and deepening my understanding of the Market’s mission. From there, combining with my own background, I will be able to provide my idea and in this way, aiding the development of the Market.

 

Skills that will Serve a Lifetime

Throughout my time as an intern this summer, I have gained skills both in research, writing and beyond. As a researcher I have learned the meaning of analysis, learning how to not only collect data and run statistical analyses, but also how to interpret the results and make conclusions based on them. As a writer, I have learned the meaning of editing. With nearly thirty drafts of a single ten-page paper, and likely an additional ten drafts before it gets published, I have learned how to nitpick my own writing in order to get it closer to what is needed for publication. As an office worker I have learned to be respectful and kind to all those who work in the office. Whether it be other faculty, staff or the janitorial staff, working in an office environment comes with its own set of social norms that I have now adapted to.

I have gained very specific skills such as how to use SPSS software to run Chi-Square tests and how to cite peer reviewed papers using AMA guidelines. While these newfound skills might come in handy in my future, it is the more general skills that I have gained that will likely resonate more as I move forward in my career.  Having the experience of working in an office environment, learning to work independently, being able to communicate with those higher up and more knowledgeable than I am and knowing when and how to ask relevant questions will really benefit me as I move into different work environments in my future.

Since starting my internship I have learned a lot more about my own strengths and weaknesses as an employee. Going into the internship I lacked the confidence to communicate with my supervisor without hesitation, as time has gone by I have become significantly more comfortable reaching out when I need help or have clarifying questions. I also found it challenging to work in my own office where I can so easily close the door and avoid communicating with other people all day. I have therefore made it a point to keep my office door open at least for half of the day forcing me to interact with the other people in my office suite even if only to say “hello”.

There is much for me to offer as well, something I hadn’t realized until at least a month after my internship begun. Although I don’t have any experience in the specific type of research and field I am interning in, the skills I have learned from my classes at Brandeis have prepared me well with writing clearly and concisely making me an asset in any work environment. Realizing there are positive skills and perspectives I bring to the work I am doing makes it much easier to continue learning the things I still struggle with while keeping a positive attitude. While there may still be a lot for me to learn, I was able to make meaningful contributions on my first day on the job.

Beyond Donor Relations

Interning with United for a Fair Economy has been such a rewarding experience. Before I began, I assumed that I would simply be doing the grunt work, but the staff repeatedly set aside meaningful work for me.

From the past two months, I know how frustrating it is for an organization to be understaffed, but this has created so many opportunities for me. Because UFE is so small, I am able to explore the many different departments within the world of nonprofits and actually see the difference that I am making.

Technically, my job description falls under Development, but my supervisor has been so patient and accepting — always encouraging me to venture beyond donor relations. So, whether I am working with Popular Education or Accounting, I am pleased to lighten the loads of those around me.

* In Development, I am writing thank you letters to major donors, foundation heads, as well as average citizens like me. Before starting at UFE, I believed that focusing your efforts on the few people already at the top of the donor pyramid was the most logical route to take.

In reality, the individuals that donate smaller sums but do so faithfully over the years are just as valuable. Not only do these individuals stick with UFE through tough times, but they also give at the highest level they can. In fact, these donors are often the ones to leave UFE large bequests after they pass away and no longer need their savings. But unfortunately, it is so easy to overlook these individuals while they are still alive.

That’s why the Development team invests so much energy into creating a personalized experience for all of our supporters, and why I promise to treat every client with equal attention regardless of the career path I take.

* Accounting – Since day one, I have been processing all the checks and credit card information that have come through the mail. This includes making copies, organizing files, and plugging in all the numbers into a database, all of which may sound tedious, but are so necessary. Especially with the upcoming audit, everyone is scrambling to make sure all the numbers match up, and I have been able to try my hand in the world of finances.

Every day this past week, I have been helping with reconciliation — which includes the task of searching through a half year’s worth of data on multiple servers and assigning certain data points with ones that do not seem to be related at first glance. The task is a time-consuming one, but it forces me to pay close attention and deduce information from different sources. Especially since my HSSP major will require statistics, this is great preparation!

While the skills that I am learning this summer are great ones to have, I have also realized that neither Accounting nor Development are very good fits for my personal needs. Sure, I am enjoying myself every day in Boston, but if my co-workers weren’t so good-natured, I doubt I would be able to say that. I’m starting to learn that my results on the Myer-Briggs evaluation (ENFJ) aren’t too far-fetched after all. I simply cannot work behind the scenes every weekday; I need to be more on the forefront of change, and I’m glad that I learned this NOW rather than later.

Ashley Loc

Developing professional skills at Orchard Cove

In working at Orchard Cove, I have have gained several skills that I can employ in the future at Brandeis and in the workplace. Firstly, I have gained leadership skills. I got the chance to lead the vision board activity with four residents, and also recently had the opportunity to help organize and lead a field trip with residents to a local state park, Borderland State Park, for a tour around a famous mansion. When the tour guide unexpectedly did not show up for the tour, I was forced to make some phone calls and improvise a bit, and we ended up getting a personalized tour from one of the land maintenance workers, which ended up being a blast. These experiences have given me the chances to step up as a leader and have flexibility in running these events. I know in future positions, especially in the human services field, it is important to be flexible and to expect that things won’t always go the way as planned. I will especially use this as I continue my role as a leader of the Waltham Community Service Group Companions to Elders.

Mansion at Borderland State Park (URL)

Secondly, I have found the experience of being part of a strong interdisciplinary team who cares about the residents to be very exciting. I am proud to work with a team that is countering the idea that this marginalized population should not be given the same resources and care as others of different ages.  An interdisciplinary team meeting I have attended multiple times focused on discussing the wellness of individual residents and each resident’s goals and wishes. Staff present at the meeting are fitness staff,  a social worker, strategic initiatives director, director of community life, etc., who each give their input on how they feel they can help the resident reach their goals. I feel like this shows how it really takes a village for things to function often times. This has shown me the importance of taking multiple viewpoints into account, really helping to see the whole person not just a small aspect of who they are. Furthermore, this idea can be taken into account when researching a topic for a project. Looking at multiple aspects of an idea before coming to a conclusion holds importance.

 

Every week, my supervisor leads what is called a wave training in which she teaches other staff members step by step to become vitalize coaches. Since she had never trained other staff to be coaches before, it became difficult creating steps and breaking it down for the other staff to understand. As a beginning intern who did not know all the tiny details that make up the Vitalize 360 program, I was able to look at the big picture and create an initial list of steps for the program that captured the main goals of the program. With this list, my supervisor was then able to build off of that with the details of each step, and translate that into steps to use to teach others about the program. This has been a rewarding experience knowing I can help with the process. I will utilize this idea of looking at the big picture, and breaking down steps in the future.

 

Some members of the interdisciplinary team, including my supervisor at a Wave training.

Working at Orchard Cove has provided me with some insight about myself. I feel more excited working directly with residents rather than spending a lot of time behind a desk in an office. I have found that I have really enjoyed the parts of the internship working directly with the residents and leading activities.

Exploring my own City

As my internship with JVS has continued, I have enjoyed my time there more and more.  As the weeks have gone on, I have begun to build stronger relationships with my clients and coworkers and becoming more familiar with my workplace has enabled me to take on new and exciting challenges and responsibilities.  During the first two weeks of July, the clients had a break from their morning English/Skills classes, which gave me time to work on different projects and tasks than I usually do.  I also got to work at JVS’s downtown headquarters for a few days during this time instead of staying in the East Boston location; this proved a very valuable experience as it enabled me to better understand how JVS operates as a whole and allowed me to become familiar with some of the other programs JVS runs in addition to the specific program that I work with.  

An interesting mural Ben and I passed during outreach in Roxbury.

One of the main projects that I worked on during the weeks off from class was an outreach initiative in East Boston, Roxbury, and Quincy.  My co-intern Ben and I were sent into different neighborhoods to talk to people in small businesses, community centers, parks, and other places frequented by locals to attract new clients to JVS’s English for Advancement program.  I had never been to any of the neighborhoods that we visited before working with JVS.  This was such a learning experience for me because they are mostly areas I would not have thought to visit before, however, they were filled with so many interesting places and such friendly fellow Bostonians. I think often many neighborhoods located around the outskirts of Boston- like in many cities- are thought of as less safe or desirable than the neighborhoods I am used to visiting.  It was eye-opening to find that none of what I saw matched any sort of negative reputation that may have preceded the places we went.  It was disappointing to realize that Boston has not escaped the racialized notions that sort suburbs into relatively baseless positive and negative categories.  

In addition to the outreach efforts, over the past few weeks much of my work has been focused on doing intake interviews for the English for Advancement Program.  In order to be a part of the program, clients must first attend an initial information session, and then come to a follow up interview where we do a more in depth assessment in order to decide whether or not the person is a good fit for EfA.  Through handling many aspects of the interview process I have learned a lot about different immigration and work statuses.  There are so many nuances to the different titles, laws, and processes and my supervisors have been helpful in teaching me about these differences.  Unfortunately, EfA can only accept applicants who already have unrestricted Social Security numbers, so I have learned a lot about how the process of acquiring a social security number happens. I have greatly enjoyed interviewing new potential clients because it enables me to hear so many interesting stories of fellow members of my Boston community.  While some clients have lived in the United States for a few years or longer, many have arrived within the past six months and listening to their goals and ideas about their future lives in America is so intriguing and inspiring. 

Signage notifying applicants where our information session is located.

In general I feel like working at JVS is enabling me to feel so much more comfortable in so many different ways.  I am infinitely more confident at work whether it’s doing little things like making phone calls, copies, or commuting around Boston, or doing bigger things like running an information session by myself, translating between the four languages I speak, or contributing during a large meeting.  I feel much more independent and able than I ever have before.  WOW has enabled me to see what my life will be like post graduation.  Living in Somerville in an apartment, commuting to work each morning, and engaging in real work every day feels so adult, and this is something I have never experienced until now.  I am excited to finish the summer strong, EC 

CHIBPS – Blog 4

The past several weeks have been absolutely transformative. I have learned so much about how important it is to tackle issues of social justice from many angles as our research may not have an impact without the help of activists, health advocates, etc. Further, I have come to understand how our research would not even be possible without the legacy of HIV activism that pressured the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH) to dedicate funds to HIV research, and gave use the foundation of knowledge from which we pull to build our research projects.

At this pivotal moment in my life when I am soon to transition out of college and into the true world of work, I have struggled with picking a career path. Adults have advised me to think critically about my core values. The values that I struggle between the most are security and financial stability at one end, and justice at the other. What I have learned through working at CHIBPS, a professional and renowned work environment that emphasizes social equality and ethics, is that I do not necessarily need to compromise one of my core values for the other. Further, it is possible to find financial security while still dedicating oneself to social justice. I am inspired by the people I work for, and am relieved to meet people who work in prestigious institutions who are geared towards social causes. This was something I used to be skeptical of, but my coworkers give me hope.

However, the most crucial thing I have learned this summer about the ‘world of work’ is how important it is to me to work alongside people who are equally, if not more, dedicated to narrowing social inequalities and fighting marginalization through their work. I have also learned how much easier it is to stay engaged and work hard when everyone around me is doing the same. Research can get frustrating as it inherently lacks the instant gratification found in other professions, particularly within the realm of social justice. But I work alongside people who motivate each other to think critically about the work we do. I have found an internship that I look forward to every morning because I know that, even if I am assigned to menial tasks that day like making folders or printing study screeners, I will still be engaging in compelling conversations with ridiculously passionate people. This lesson is something I will take with me into the professional world; I am able to tolerate the aspects of work that are less exciting if I enjoy the people I work with.

In addition to the lessons I have learned of myself, I have learned a lot about what it means to exist in the ‘world of work,’ particularly as an intern within a large institution. Unlike college where we receive grades and comments from professors, the professional world often lacks the constant flow of validation (or invalidation that alerts you whether you are doing well). Put simply, we are not applauded for doing exactly what we were hired to do. I have learned how to gauge my competence and celebrate my minor victories like completing a study assessment on my own and doing it correctly, without expecting to be congratulated by my mentors or bosses.

The skills I am excited to have gained during this experience include conducting in-depth interviews of study participants on my own, mastering the complicated nature of our assessment documents, screening study participants by the phone, consenting study participants and getting pretty skilled at taming our beast of an office copy machine. All of these skills will help me as I pursue graduate programs in the future. In addition, they will help me think critically about research that I read in my psychology classes at Brandeis.

Work with a Purpose

In my time so far this summer at Fiege Films, I’ve had the opportunity to really get a good sense of what working on a team is like. I’m instinctively independent, and I usually like to work on my own, so working here has definitely been a bit of an adjustment compared to how I usually get things done when I’m at school. 

Collaborating with a team on a creative project is something that’s relatively new to me, but I’m finding that it’s a really rewarding experience. Because it’s a team, we each have the opportunity to ask for input and get feedback. I think that having the immediate ability to get other people’s opinions on things makes the overall work stronger.

In terms of technical skills, I’ve learned a lot more about video editing than I thought I would. Working on a project in which I assembled choice segments from hours of interview footage, I was able to get frequent feedback on the artistic direction of the project, but also learned and developed a lot on the technical side. Using programs like Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Premiere, and Adobe Media Encoder day-to-day, I think I’ve gained a lot more technical skills that I’m eager to keep working on when I get back to school.

I’ve really been enjoying my time so far at Fiege Films, and the office environment reflects where I would want to work in the future. I like the balance between independence and collaboration, the fact that I’m given plenty of free reign and leeway on assignments, but there’s still always the opportunity to ask for clarification or for help if things aren’t working quite how they should.

In researching the Gulf Coast, I’ve also been able to develop my investigatory and analysis skills, which I’m sure will be handy when research papers start to roll in.

I’m learning different search strategies, and how to dig deeper if at first I can’t seem to find what I’m looking for. For example, in researching the petrochemical complex around Mossville, Louisiana, I was able to dig deep into the Calcasieu Parish tax records to find exactly how much of the surrounding land was owned by oil and chemical companies. And, after a little research, it shocked me.

This chart, put together by The Intercept, further elaborates on how research can illustrate a historic culture of exploitation:

I think this summer has been so rewarding because the purpose of all of this editing and research and development has been for something that I firmly believe in.

Even though doing research work can take a long time, it really doesn’t feel cumbersome or boring—I think it’s because of why I’m doing it. Because I get to be part of a team that’s passionate about fighting for social justice for threatened communities like Mossville, because I’m personally invested in the mission, this experience has been very rich and rewarding, and it’s been going by really fast.

For the future, I think this means that I’m on the right path, career-wise. I’m glad I’m studying film, because this internship has confirmed for me that it’s a great and effective way to tell stories that matter. And I think that’s why this summer has been so great for me, because I get to work creatively with a great team to help further a cause I care about. 

Moral Obligations

While I personally have been disconnected from my faith lately, I have been inspired to think more clearly and honestly about the ways I identify spiritually and the values that are important in my life. Firstly, during this period of reflection, I’ve come to find that the center of all things we base our work on here at AJWS is Jewish values and teachings, which drives our organization differently than other non-profits. AJWS finds that the emphasis on these teachings can inspire our donor community, and our global community by bearing in mind that the moral deeds we do are through the lens of biblical wisdom and thought. These lessons that influence our work are not unique to the Jewish faith or religion necessarily, but rather in practice they’re quite unifying and special to the Jewish people.

Global Impact

Every so often, our director of Jewish Engagement produces an article reflecting on how AJWS is engaging in our Judaism and the relevance of the corresponding Torah portion for the week. Most recently Joseph Gindi wrote a piece about our obligations to our neighbors and the people who are near and far in response to our global activism work. He writes, “[t]oday, however, our radius of concern has widened, due to advances in technology and trade.” As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains, “Traditionally, our sense of involvement with the fate of others has been in inverse proportion to the distance separating us and them. What has changed is that television and the internet have effectively abolished distance. They have brought images of suffering in far-off lands into our immediate experience.”

Peace

By exploring the ways in which we identify spiritually and how our impact is greater than ourselves, we can begin to understand how the value of our efforts are significant around the world.

After this week, I finally realized that my personal obligation is to continue to pursue knowledge and understanding. With knowledge comes power, and this is very relevant not only in building a skill set that is applicable for future career opportunities but in life as well. I believe that the skills I’ve acquired including creative thinking, intuition, communication and advocacy are all important in my future path. These skills are ones that I can take with me to Brandeis, to Albuquerque or wherever else I may end up. The importance of these skills is not only for personal benefit however. They demonstrate accountability and can be shared with others as I pursue future endeavors. That is why the teachings in this week’s portion are so precise. They clearly state that our abolished distance is only bringing us closer together. We must use our personal knowledge and skill sets to ban alongside one another and fight for the good of our world. I am surprised that in the four weeks I’ve been here, so many AJWS colleges have valued my presence, my skills I carried with me into this internship, and the ones they have taught me as well as the importance of the knowledge that I learn during my time here.

Hope

Thinking About the Future

One of the most difficult skills I have learned so far in my internship has been marketing. I have no previous experience with marketing. As a brief reminder, I am serving as a Marketing Intern for a startup that provides microinsurance to people living in international poverty by soliciting donations from individuals. My role has been to raise awareness of our brand and, mainly, write blog posts pertaining to microinsurance so that readers understand what it is. As a result of this, I’ve gotten a lot of experience in areas like social media strategy, reaching out to news outlets to raise awareness of our work, and, of course, writing blog posts.

Source: Minfow

I am interested in working in the nonprofit sector in the future, and so far have felt very flexible about what my specific role would be within that sector. I have built up skills that I feel will be broadly transferable; for example, last summer I was a Grantwriting and Development Intern at a large nonprofit. I’m excited to be building another transferable skill set in marketing, because I think this can definitely come in handy when looking at nonprofit jobs. I think it will expand the jobs that I’ll be qualified for, and make me an overall more attractive candidate. I don’t know if marketing is a passion of mine, but I am definitely open to learning more about it and gaining more experience with it, and I’m excited about how it might open up my job prospects.

Some facts about how huge the nonprofit sector is. Source: Visual.ly, shared by lifeofgraphic2

I have definitely learned more than just this hard skill. The environment of 1871, the incubator where I work, has definitely been a really interesting place to be. Last summer, I worked in a very traditional office environment. Being in a wide-open space, where a lot of people are talking on the phone, conducting meetings, and just generally doing their work in the same area has made me a more flexible worker. I’ve enjoyed the stimulation of working here, and I know now that I can work in a huge variety of office environments. Again, I think this flexibility is key for working in the nonprofit sector, where work culture and atmosphere vary widely. (The IRS has 25 different categories for what counts as a 501(c)(3), the official designation for a nonprofit – this means that there are a lot of differences between any two given nonprofits!) I am confident that I could be happy in a lot of different situations, and this has been confirmed by my work at 1871.

I’m excited to see what the future of my career looks like! For now, I’m enjoying building my skills and experience, and seeing what I like and don’t like. This summer is making me feel hopeful that I’ll be happy no matter where I end up.

Progress

Progress has been slow with the treatment and perception of mental health and people who struggle with mental illness in our society. There is a lot of apathy and hostility from many people towards those who have mental illnesses. As a result, many who have mental illnesses lack support and understanding from others, making them feel alone. They also often lack the resources to get the treatment they need and deserve. These issues are part of what To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) aims to resolve.

There are many small steps that lead to bigger leaps of progress in this line of work. For example, one of our goals is to have counseling resources listed on our website for all fifty states, in addition to as many other countries as possible. One of my tasks is to search for potential resources for the website. Once I’ve found a promising candidate, I get in contact with such places and figure out if they’re a match for what we’re looking for in resources. If they are and they want to be listed, we can put them on the website. We only post resources once we’ve found three that work, and after we find contact information for support groups in the area in question. Finding this contact information is another one of my tasks. These are all small steps individually, but they lead to the big step of providing the resources for people struggling to get help.

Another example is the TWLOHA blog. A lot of steps go into getting blogs up on the website, including reviewing submissions, editing, posting on the website, and moderating comments. Ultimately, they lead to a lot of content being published online that fights stigma and helps make people feel less alone, which is exactly what TWLOHA strives to do. This is an extremely important part of what TWLOHA does, and it has, in my opinion, the greatest positive impact out of everything the organization does. Fighting loneliness and ignorance with words can be highly effective, and the TWLOHA blog is proof of that. Posts have been shared countless times and have offered new perspectives to a massive amount of people. All this comes from hard work put into gradual steps.

A piece of the Find Help page on the TWLOHA website.

 

A snippet from the TWLOHA blog post “What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen”

 

Michael Solowey

Personal Growth at the Center for Autism Research

Looking back at the past month spent interning at the Center for Autism Research, I now realize many of the valuable skills I have acquired as well as numerous characteristics I have learned about myself in the workplace.

To start, I have gained more collaborative skills and realized that I work well in a team setting. In the past, I have enjoyed individual projects and assignments, however, at CAR, I have found group efforts to be extremely

valuable. I am able to voice my own opinions and preferences and receive feedback from researchers and fellow interns, and then build on those ideas to produce the best result. For example, the other interns and I have been working on writing a script for the summer screening study discussed in my previous blog post (which you can read here!). This study’s goal is to test how willing families, including those with and without developmental concerns, are to download CAR’s response to name app and enroll in the research project in order to investigate how kids with autism, kids with developmental delays, and typically developing children respond to their individual names. The script will be used when approaching families in the waiting room at CHOP’s primary care family practice as well as when introducing the study and explaining more about the procedure in the doctor’s exam office. I believe the team effort, including my own perspective, has resulted in a product that is the most comprehensive to describe our study and its importance to families.

Throughout my time at CAR, I have also realized how valuable my organizational skills are in the work place. I have always been an extremely organized person with color-coded binders and folders for various subjects in high school and a perfectly arranged closet both at home and in my dorm room. However, now I have been able to take that skill to a new level. I have organized binders full of various medical and clinical assessment forms for participants at CAR and made it so that researchers can readily find the materials that they need. I have even printed out new forms and organized those in the binders as well so that the researchers and clinicians will have them ready to go for future visits with the participants.

Other skills that I have expanded upon include patience and taking the time to delve deeper or to look at a project from a new perspective. At first, it was not clear to me how exactly social justice would fit into my internship. However, as the weeks have gone on and I have taken the time to look at the research in new ways and have asked more questions, I have found numerous social justice niches within CAR. One researcher at CAR is particularly interested in the M-CHAT, an early developmental screening tool, and has compiled a database of a diverse group of children’s scores on this assessment. I have been able to question how health insurance, whether a child is on Medicaid or on private insurance, correlates with these scores. We are still in the process of running statistics but I am excited to see where this research (with my own twist) will lead.

Overall, I have experienced much growth over the past month by acquiring new skills and realizing existing qualities and I am excited to see where the next month will take me.

Skills Development and Professional Growth Through Work

While my Green Map System experience still feels fresh, it is both surprising and rewarding to see how much I have grown so far. Beyond some of my expected areas of growth, such as familiarity with the city and long-distance commuting, I have seen major strides in my professional development that will be invaluable as I continue into the professional work. From my internship experience I have gained confidence in my writing and task management skills, in speaking to other professionals, and in incorporating my interests into my projects.

Working on web content and map development for Green Map System at the civic tech coworking space, Civic Hall.

To begin, I have been excited to improve my speed and efficacy in completing complex tasks. For example, as part of the creating Stories and Tools as part of Green Map System’s new website, I have had to learn to incorporate basic HTML into my text to include hyperlinks, paragraph breaks, and other embedded content and have been excited to see how much more naturally this step has become now that I have practiced it with my earlier page uploads. In addition, as I practice each step for the powerful mapping platforms, Carto and ArcGIS, it is becoming much easier to input new sites and change information as needed. I have learned through this experience that some tasks that might seem hard to me at first, are actually manageable and that over time I can build skills in new areas while on the job.

Secondly, over the course of my internship I have had gained confidence in speaking to many individuals involved in local government, nonprofits, and the tech industry. In order to represent myself and Green Map System effectively, I had to take an initiative to introduce myself to others to ask about their work and effectively explain my organization’s mission and impact. In addition, I have learned to consider and discuss meaningful

Church Center for the United Nations, where I represented Green Map System during a Community Mapping the Sustainable Development Goals event.

connections and opportunities between my organization’s work with others of various unique focuses. Relating my experience and my organization’s mission to others will be absolutely invaluable to my future professional work, for tasks such as building partnerships, gaining clients, and simply working with others.

Finally, as noted in previous posts, I always find it meaningful to incorporate my own knowledge and interests into my tasks, and this internship has certainly helped me master skills to do so effectively. With my Green Map Story of the Northern Valley of New Jersey almost complete, I feel that I am adding educational value for using different mapping platforms as well as value to my own community with information of its own green spaces charted online. Thus, through incorporating my own personal knowledge, the completed project is valuable to users on both the local and global level.

I have taken no moment of my internship for granted, as learning opportunities have come up with each activity I have approached. With that, I am excited to see what the last few weeks have in store as I prepare to take these skills into my senior year at Brandeis and the world of work in the years beyond.

My New Skills

Over the past eight weeks my internship at Open Source Wellness has allowed me to grow and learn so much in a short amount of time. I believe this is mainly due to how small and young the organization is. The OSW staff is composed of the two founders, four undergraduate interns, and one graduate student intern, and officially started running programs in October of 2016. Due to this structure, I am given a lot more responsibility than most interns at larger organizations are given. I have gained numerous skills because of the uniqueness of start-up culture.

First, I have strengthened my organizational and leadership skills. During our Tuesday night events, I have been tasked with helping coordinate and organize the event, and with leading the meditation portion for two weeks. Although these tasks were daunting at first, I have seen that I can take on challenges that are typically out of my comfort zone and still succeed. At Brandeis, I am a coordinator for Big Siblings through Waltham Group. As a coordinator, I am in charge of running and leading multiple events. I believe my responsibility to help run OSW events and leading the meditation sessions have helped me gain both the skills necessary to organize the logistical aspects and have the confidence to lead the actual events.

Second, I have strengthened my professional networking skills. One of my main jobs has been to reach out to healthcare providers to form referral partnerships with them. I call, email, and meet with them to explain the program we run at Open Source Wellness, and urge them to refer their patients to us. Through this task, I have gained extremely valuable networking skills. I now know how to speak with professionals on an individual basis, and I have gained more confidence when I speak with people who are much older than I am and who have a lot more experience than I do. This will help me in the future with my networking skills because I will know how to communicate professionally and be Pleasantly Persistent.

Third, I have learned how to understand and relate to people who are different than I am. Many of the individuals I work with live in a low-income, re-entry housing community, and are mainly people of color who have been incarcerated or homeless. This is a very different demographic than I am used to working with and that I, myself, can relate to. Through this experience, I have found ways to connect to people who are extremely different from me. I have seen firsthand that most people struggle with the same health issues, regardless of their backgrounds, socioeconomic status, or ethnicity.

Lastly, I have also learned a lot about myself in the workplace, including my strengths and weaknesses. I have discovered that it is difficult for me to draw boundaries when I am asked to do something that goes beyond my capabilities or job description. I find that when a superior asks me to if I want or can do something I say yes, almost automatically, even if I cannot. I have been pushing myself to stick to my boundaries and communicate with my supervisors when I am unable to do something. Here is an interesting article about crossing boundaries in the workplace. I also found out that it takes me longer than most people to become comfortable in a work environment. It took me a few weeks to get to know the work environment at OSW before I became comfortable, personally and professionally.

Americares: Expectations vs. Reality

After six weeks of being at Americares, I can easily see that my expectations for the internship initially were exceeded by the actual role I have in the organization. I expected the role to be somewhat similar to my previous internship. I thought I would be researching on the computer for ten weeks with some interaction with the other interns and few meetings. I was wrong, and I am so glad I was wrong. My role has included communicating information to the other interns as well as their intern managers, setting up several of the intern events, planning group bonding activities, leading a “Professional Development Series” for the interns, taking the lead on an updated employee handbook, and more. These aspects of my role have taught me how to create fun and informative presentations on sometimes dry topics, identifying key components of employee handbooks, research, and properly communicating to organization employees of all levels.

These are a couple of handmade bowls from an Americares Airlift Benefit from approximately 5 years ago. It’s unclear what country they are from, but they are believed to be from El Salvador.

Another skill I will take away from my experience at Americares is the newfound knowledge I have of the nonprofit world. Although I am definitely not an expert in nonprofits having only been exposed to one, I find that my perceptions of nonprofit organizations has both changed and been enhanced through working at Americares. For example, in the case of Americares, I did not know how important it is to be strategically focused in particular areas. We tend to think of nonprofits as focusing on a very broad topic, such as health, when in reality they must narrow down those focuses to be as effective and efficient as possible. An organization may work in the health sector with a focus on access to medicine because they don’t want to diminish the quality of care by having too wide of a scope of interest. This knowledge of how nonprofits function, acquired through my own experiences as well as research, will make me better equipped in future jobs to comprehend the situations and circumstances that employees I will be working with might have. For that, I have Americares to thank.

These flags were old marketing materials from Americares, now out of date after Americares updated their logo in 2012. Our cubicle has more of these flags placed everywhere!

Most importantly, my role at Americares has allowed me to learn a lot about myself in the workplace. In the initial stages of working on the employee handbook, I found myself analyzing policies from the old handbook and trying to come up with solutions or ways to better approach a given workplace situation. I had a desire and a drive to come up with something new and innovative for the organization, to propel them forward and create a lasting impact. Americares has given me the opportunity to learn more about my problem-solving nature and my desire to create something new and fun, out of the ordinary. Although my suggestions have yet to stick or have turned out to be more complicated than anticipated, I know that someday soon, an idea will stick and my workplace and I will be the beneficiary.

Round Tables and Tangent Topics

I have now been working for Avodah for three weeks, but I feel like I have been part of this environment for much longer. The main reason is that the entire staff and interns make it their mission to promote the same values and foster the same atmosphere in the workplace as in their social justice projects. Since both the Service Corps and the Fellowship–the two main programs run by the nonprofit–rely on networking and community building, it seems only natural that the organization will uphold the same level of cooperation internally. However, I did not expect it to be so embedded in their daily administrative and management tasks.

I have participated in two staff meetings so far, and they both have been relevant examples of this organizational culture. The staff members leading both of them started by introducing a topic only tangentially related to the ensuing discussion. For instance, the first time I was in a meeting, Avodah’s president Cheryl Cook started a talk about homes and homelands, roots and belonging, to then transition into a wider debate about Avodah’s mission and values as a community builder. We went around the table (which included colleagues connecting to our office in New York from Chicago, D.C., and New Orleans) and we each talked about our home – if we had one, where it is, what is is, and with whom – after having read the following piece.

Besides the work I have been doing for Avodah on the administrative side, which included learning how to use Salesforce, transferring survey results from one platform to another, and compiling reports about donor involvement and alumni, I believe that this is the most important skill I hope to gain from my experience. I would summarize it as an intersection of being dedicated and genuine. It is often the case that the internal administration of nonprofits is very much separated from their actual social justice mission, which I think affects both how employees relate to their work and how the organization is run. With business and profit-driven models populating more and more of the activist environment, I think it is important for organizations like Avodah to maintain such a standard of involvement and commitment to their mission and culture. Even if I am helping with the organization of our upcoming events or doing prospect research for potential donors, I am aware that the poverty alleviation mission of Avodah on the field is “at home” in our office.

blog post 4

After a month and half of researching racism and police shootings in the United States I have learned a great deal. I learned much more about the topic of racism and how it expresses itself in the US. Racism is present in every state, not just the conservative ones, and many systems are unfair. I also learned about gun control in America and firearm violence. I can apply this to my look on life and American society. I will gain a greater understanding of how racism works and its effects on society. This will help me in help in my classes but also beyond that.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database

https://mappingpoliceviolence.org

During this internship I learned a great deal about researching and many skills associated with conducting research. For example, I learned about collecting data, such as where to find the information and how to chart/measure it once you have it. I learned what to do with that data once you have it and tools for summarizing and analyzing the data you received. I also became an expert at Excel. This is something that nearly everyone has on the resumes, but I can actually say with confidence that I know how to extensively use it. This is a great skill to have that I will need not only in some of my Brandeis classes but also in a career after I graduate. I am an HSSP and psychology major, so I will likely be going into a field involving research and I feel that I am confidant in collecting and analyzing data.

 

I also learned how to work well with others and listen to everyone’s thoughts and ideas. Before we make any decisions on what to do next, we meet together and have an open discussion where everyone weighs in on their thoughts and ideas. In the past I am usually put in situation where I am told exactly what to do, or I working alone and completely in charge of only my work. At my internship I am given a great deal of freedom and independence to do my work the way that best suits me, but I am also part of a team and have to consider other. For example, this week we finished all of our data collection and we met to discuss how to best organize and present that data in more readable form. We were all expected to give our ideas on what we thought was best to but to eventually all come to a common agreement.

I learned that I have developed really good listening skills, although at times it is best to hold back my thoughts and let others take the lead. I learned that we can all benefit from listening to one another rather than competing with each other. I have been given a lot of responsibility at my job and I can use it to my advantage, or do the bare minimum. Because I have so much independence I can choose if I want to put in effort or slack off. I have learned that when I am working on a topic I find to interesting and important, I am more likely to give it my best and do more than just the bare minimum.

Reflections

As an Intake Specialist, I have learned the significance of intuition, active listening and the importance of an open mind. While these abilities may seem like obvious life skills, working for a social justice organization has provided a new lens through which they take on new meanings. Specifically, when working for an organization in which interpersonal relationships are the core of their efforts, every interaction becomes a test of these skills.

For instance, often when filing a complaint, the complainant relies on the intake specialist to transform their story from a disorganized array of events to a comprehensive narrative that illustrates the discrimination they have faced. This involves keen active listening, as often I have to read between the lines of a story to find the significance of certain events. Additionally, each complainant wants to feel as if they have been listened to by someone who cares about their situation and is attempting to help. This is where active listening becomes significantly different from simply hearing the complaint. It takes additional focus in order to maintain a connection with the complainant during the two hours spent with them.

In terms of intuition, I have surprisingly found that it plays a key role in the interview and analysis part of my job. Whether it is the instinct that there is more to a complaint than initially meets the eye, or simply that someone has had a bad day, I try to connect with each individual I work with.

When I am not on intake, I am tasked with writing dispositions that determine whether a case has probable cause or lack of probable cause. When writing a disposition, the most important skill one can have is an open mind. As a neutral organization, it is our job to analyze the facts and come to a just decision. This involves reading the initial complaint, along with the position statement and rebuttal. There have been many occasions where I have found myself biased towards the complainant upon initially reading their complaint. However, once I have read the other side of the story my decision has been swayed. In this sense, it is vital to keep an open mind and to be unbiased during the investigation, as one fact may change the entire story.

Not only have I learned the value of these significant life skills, but additionally, I have learned new legal jargon and court proceedings that have become the basis of my legal education. Working for the MCAD has provide me with a base level of information that I can add to my education tool box as I continue at Brandeis and beyond.

As I write this blog post I am afforded the opportunity to reflect on my experience during the internship thus far. I believe I have grown tremendously from my first few weeks at the beginning of the summer. I have become more confident in my abilities and more independent in my work. I have developed and honed my interpersonal skills and have learned the importance of patience. Most importantly, I have cultivated my passion for law and advocacy.

I have also been asked to help in the marketing of the Fair Housing and Civil Rights Conference that the MCAD hosts every year. I am excited to use my writing skills to assist in the promotion of this event.

If you want to learn more about the event you can look at their agenda page from last year.

Jessica Spierer ‘18

CHIBPS Internship – Blog 1

Each morning, I sip my coffee on the commute to work. When I arrive to our building nested in New York’s Greenwich Village, I greet the security guard, tap my research ID on our scanner and make my way to the 5th floor. Once I reach our office, I say hi to whichever intern is taking their turn at the front desk and wind my way through the isles of cubicles to find an open desk to check the schedule for the day. My tasks vary between shadowing or administering assessments of study participants, venturing to another corner of the city to post flyers, entering data, screening potential patients on the phone and, alas, making folders and organizing cabinets. On weekends, we attend Pride events or hand out study info outside queer clubs and bars. While not every task is the most engaging, the work we do feels important.

NYU’s Center for Health Identity Behavior and Prevention Studies (CHIBPS) is a research program in the Steinhardt School of Public Health. The primary goal at CHIBPS is to pursue research that “improves the well-being of all people, including sexual, racial, ethnic and cultural minorities and other marginalized populations,” particularly members of the queer community. Current studies are focused on HIV, substance abuse and the overwhelming mental health burden facing sexual minorities.

The primary research projects at the moment include a longitudinal study of HIV negative men who have sex with men in the New York City area to assess behavior outcomes and syndemics of HIV, a study utilizing GPS technology to investigate spatial mobility across neighborhoods, and a study testing a model of resilience among older HIV-positive gay and bisexual men by studying the links between psychosocial burdens and health. My specific roles include in-person assessments of sexual behavior, substance abuse and mental health in hopes of developing interventions that are geographically contextual and rely on social networks. In addition, I assist in web-based/mobile recruitment and community outreach at local community centers and Pride events.

On paper, my tasks have a stark resemblance to internships I’ve completed in the past in clinical psychology labs. However, our approach at CHIBPS is vastly different. My bosses emphasize the importance of treating our participants as people. We do not wear business clothing to narrow the power distance between researcher and participant — to appear as a peer rather than an authority figure. While these details seem small, they cary weight and change the way we navigate research. It centers the people impacted by the research, rather than the researchers themselves.

The people most at risk for contracting HIV are among the most marginalized members of our country: queer people of color. At the moment, the president of the United States has ambiguous plans for future HIV and AIDS policy. While acting as the governor of Indiana, Vice President Pence’s severe cuts to public health funding led to a massive HIV outbreak. The Trump administration’s proposed healthcare plan had the potential to severely devastate the mentally ill, HIV positive people, and limit access to sexual health services. Put simply, the American government is sending the message to LGBTQ+ and other marginalized people that they do not matter. Conducting research is key to changing that narrative. CHIBPS brings together experts in the areas of public health, psychology and social work to harness their powerful role in producing research that helps push policy forward, offers practical solutions to solving the issues unique to LGBTQ communities, and gives marginalized communities a voice in their own liberation.

I entered this internship in the hopes of improving my research skills while simultaneously assisting in research that is accessible, applicable, politically relevant, socially just and ethical. I am hopeful that I will feel I have accomplished this by the end of the summer, and that I will feel confident conducting research visits independently.

Alex Shapiro

Skills I’ve honed and the faith that I’ve gained

Two major events of my internship are over, and it’s time to thoroughly reflect upon what they have taught me. 

(My realization that I’m reaching the end of this internship journey, illustrated by the pathway towards the Chicago Botanical Gardens)

The first skill that I’ve found to be infinitely useful in the world of social justice is adaptability. Situations can change quickly and you have to be able to quickly reassess what needs to be done. While at the Convening, there was one particular instance where I was forced to think on my feet.

The first one: At the Convening I was in charge of recharging the translation equipment and I learned the hard way that some of our charging equipment had broken and most of the batteries had not charged over night. Given the immediacy of the next bilingual panel, I found out how many receivers we actually needed, replaced those with batteries from other working receivers, and assessed which chargers were actually working so that they could be continually replaced. 

As technology is continually developing and society is changing, the demand for particular jobs ebbs and flows. Being able to adapt to the circumstances presented before me will help me make an impact in a dynamic workplace.

Another quality that has proved to be important is that of patience. 

(A statue of Mother Cabrini at the Cabrini Retreat Center. Her story is one of kindness, patience and persistence.)

I joke often that this manifests most apparently in the commute I take to work. While public transportation is overwhelmingly a net good, I’ve had my fair share of delayed trains and nosy passengers. Music helps.

But in the case of organizing, patience is realizing that most of the issues we are dealing with are systemic and well-rooted. One demonstration isn’t going to always result in change. I may have to call hundreds of people before one agrees to attend an event, or donates towards a certain cause. Those frustrations, however, is what makes the success all that sweeter.

When it comes to myself, I’ve found that beyond exhibiting these two qualities, I found great joy in listening, learning more and adapting my world view from the experiences of those around me. At this national convening, I was honored to make the acquaintance of organizers from New Mexico to Maine and learn their stories and I networked with the IWJ representative from Massachusetts in hopes of continuing my involvement once I return to Brandeis.

Furthermore, I’ve realized how important it is that I continue to hone my communication skills and continually think outside of the box like Kim Bobo did when she formed an organization to bridge the communication gap between labor and religious leaders. Sometimes one just has to take the first step in starting the conversation. That’s why I’m excited about Labor in the Pulpits encouraging religious leaders to talk to their constituents about faith and worker justice. That first conversation can change everything.

In the future, I hope to take these general and infinitely important skills to be a leader in my future workplace that will be attentive to my clients and always striving towards creative and efficient problem-solving. 

Things I have learned from my internship

So far into my internship at National Consumers League, I have learned valuable skills I do not get exposed to on a daily basis in the academic environment of Brandeis. My first assignment there was to get used to using Twitter as a means to connect our followers. At first I was mentally hesitant since I was not used to constantly being on social media, and it was overwhelming to handle all aspects that come with it. But gradually, I learned that social media is a very effective way to reach out to the general public.

Except for researchers or reporters, who are responsible for finding extensive and reliable sources backing their news or findings, average people find minced and succinct news to be easier to digest and more accessible. Thus I constantly have to find a way to jam the load of information into a tweet with a maximum of 140 characters. And when I don’t have to give out information in the form of tweets, I keep my comments and article brief and concise. This job not only gives me the opportunity to practice and improve my research skills, it makes me realize the most effective way to feed the general public news and information. In the future, I may not continue to work on social media or Twitter, but this has become a mentality I keep in mind whenever I write something: be succinct and be mindful of how my target audience will best absorb the information.

Weekly meeting with all the staff and interns

Another skill I have learned is interpersonal skill. When I first came to my job, there were things I believed should be done in certain ways that might not be exactly what my supervisor believed should be handled. At first, I chose to blindly follow what my supervisor wanted, although there was some frustration with having to redo the project all over. But later, I realized that it was a complete waste of my and my supervisor’s time and energy, and it could be potentially straining for our relationship. After that, I was determined to have better communication with him. Now, whenever we enter a project or assignment, we make sure to talk to each other first. We think about the approach we’d like to use, what expectation we have, who the project targets, and if there are better ways to do it. After our session, we come out with an agreed upon solution and keep on that track, so as to not waste our time and improve our relationship and trust.

I also learned that I should voice out my disagreement in these sessions in a contributory manner. It may seem scary to tell your supervisor you disagree with them, but my supervisor is a very kind and patient man who is more than happy to hear out concerns about our work. Plus, when both parties understand the expectations we have, it is easier to work with each other in the long run. Last but not least–and I can’t stress this enough–it is important to remember that asking a lot of questions does not mean you are unqualified for your job or that you don’t know what you are doing. Asking question simply means you care about your work and you want to do it properly.

My supervisor in Child Labor department

Flying Towards the Future

With the help of thousands of donors, volunteers and staff, WINGS offers its services to men, women, and families that are survivors of domestic violence. WINGS does this in a myriad of ways, but it mainly accomplishes this goal through its housing program. WINGS safe houses, shared transitional homes, and permanent houses help tens of thousands of survivors each year. And while both shelters are in the greater Chicago area, the shelters cater to a large variety of people. Since I’ve begun my internship, we have received guests from Illinois, the Midwest, New York, and Arizona; as WINGS is one of the few domestic violence agencies in the Midwest that is large enough to offer housing services to men (and boys older than thirteen that might be fleeing with parents) along with women.

No one knows better the direction of WINGS than CEO Rebecca Darr who came to speak at our final day of training. With the opening of WINGS Metro last Valentine’s Day, WINGS became one of the largest domestic violence service and housing provider in the state of Illinois. And, while Darr hopes that WINGS will expand into cities all over the country, she truly wishes that her job ultimately becomes negligible as domestic violence becomes a thing of the past.

Here is an example of one of many information sheets that WINGS provides for members of the community

Though we are a long way from eradicating domestic violence, WINGS does what it can to help those in all forms of domestic violence situations. For those staying in the shelter, WINGS staff provide intakes, program referrals, phones through Verizon’s Project HopeLine, mechanical services through an affiliated church program, legal advice, a safety plan, and a plethora of other services. For those who use the WINGS hotline and who are alumni of the WINGS program, many of the same services are provided. Safety Plans are perhaps one of the most important services that WINGS provides. Guests along with various staff members collaborate together to create emergency plans for a multitude of different scenarios. Even if a victim is not ready to flee their abuser or they have successfully gone through WINGS’s entire housing program, they still create a safety plan because one never knows what scenario they can be found in as victims and survivors. WINGS also does outreach work in the community trying to educate men, women, and teens about domestic violence and dating violence.

The kids loved our very own “Easter in July” egg hunt.

Summer Camp primarily focuses on the children and how we can provide them with a safe space in which they can interact with peers and have fun. We do this through a variety of activities that stimulate conversation, movement, and thought. Many kids in the camp have never had experiences that are considered “normal” such as a celebrated birthday or watching fireworks on the Fourth of July. Thus, one of my favorite parts of camp is coming up with new, fun activities that the kids can then take with them and do themselves. At the end of each day of camp we do a different craft, showing the children what they can create when they put their minds to it. One child, Brad*, is oftentimes unresponsive and lashes out without notice, but when it comes time for craft he is actively engaged in creating a work of art for both himself and his mother. Creating a paper plate pirate ship is a big deal to some of the kids who have never made anything for themselves in their lives. I love being able to provide them with new experiences and activities, and—if I get to make a pirate ship or two along the way— I’m a happy camper.

 

Additional information, statistics, and facts about domestic violence can be accessed here.

Halfway Through (well a bit more) and Still Having Fun

It is a bit more than halfway through my internship and I have been enjoying my time at FCD immensely. As mentioned in my first blog post, for the first half of my internship, I worked with Client Relations and Administration. One of the main things I did for my supervisor in Client Relations was look for community coalitions in different parts of the U.S. FCD has worked with substance abuse prevention community coalitions in the past, but they wanted to expand their relationships and see if they could cultivate more contacts with these different groups. I focused on finding groups in New England, New York, California and the Chicago area and tried to find their contact information and contact person for my supervisor in Client Relations.

In Administration there were a few projects that I was involved in. I consolidated line items on their financial statement that Hezelden sends over to them monthly. I did that for 2016 and part of 2017. That involved spreadsheets and moments of panic when the totals I found for each month did not match up to the financial statements we received, which led to backtracking and trying to see where I entered the wrong amounts. I was also tasked to do was create a form for interns to evaluate their internships and to foster discussion between a supervisor and their intern. FCD has had interns in the past but had never had that many. This year, there were three interns including me. Two of them have left but two high school interns will be coming in. The director of FCD wants to make internships more systematic and to create a way to evaluate both the interns and allow interns to evaluate their experience at this organization. I was sent a few links that had information about evaluation forms schools used and some other examples that businesses had. I did some of my own research and then created an evaluation form based on these examples. It is still in the working stages but they have used it with the two interns that have left and we will see if they have any comments on it.

The second half of my internship I will be working with Program Services and Surveys. From what I have been told, I think I might be helping with the editing and updating of some of the educational materials they use in the classroom and I might be working with the high school interns.

Posters that have been presented

I worked with Surveys this past week. The first day, I was introduced to the survey they give to students whose school opt to do it. After the data is collected, the results are given back to the schools. I learned about how it was created and how schools might use the data. I also looked at some of the posters they have presented at the APHA using data they have collected. One of the first assignments I will be doing is a literature review. Individuals at FCD have presented their findings about adult supervision when using alcohol and other substances and how that affects usage. It seems that contrary to what is widely believed, adult supervision may be protective in short term effects but long term effects of usage are not protected against. Their findings are summarized here. I will be looking more in depth about this and hopefully do a literature review about it.

Interning at FCD is different from school and it so far has been a very good experience. I like not having a structured day and just having a list of tasks that I have to do per day. I can divide up my own time much more easily and it just feels easier as time management goes. There is also a lot of collaboration in this organization. It might be because it is a smaller one, but I often hear people calling to each other from their rooms to ask questions or solicit advice from each other. To me it is just interesting that individuals who specialize in different departments and areas can come together and drive FCD’s mission forward. Being only one of the three interns, and for a week, the only one, I also feel like they give me a lot of time and space to ask them questions. I can just walk into their office a lot of the time, or they will come visit mine, and we can just sit down and talk. I ask them about FCD, about public health issues and even about how they got to where they are and they are always so open and encouraging. I never feel suffocated here, or mollycoddled, but I never feel intimidated when I have questions to ask; I really enjoy the freedom I am getting at this internship to not only do the tasks I have been assigned but also to ask questions and learn from them.

Some research for the lit review

I also have felt immediately welcomed into their group. During a few of the group meetings they have once a week, I have sat in and the director of FCD has always asked how I was and for my opinions about different topics or problems they are discussing. I am always allowed to jump into the discussion if I have any input or questions and it has made this internship a very comfortable experience. I have been even allowed to sit in on in person interviews and a phone interview for prevention specialists. They have asked for my opinion about each one, and if I don’t talk, the director will ask me to speak and give some feedback.

At this internship, I do think I have been learning and gaining some new skills that I can definitely use in the future. In general, I do think my organization skills have increased so much after having to keep track of so many files and line items when making spreadsheets. I also have learned how to be more deliberate and precise with my wording when creating documents for them. When I listen to how they talk about things, they pay so much attention to the wording of what other people say and how they say things. Having a proper tone and using the right words is not some new idea for me exactly, but the precision they have makes me think twice about how I word things now; it just never hit me exactly how much it can affect how something is seen or presented. I also think that sitting in on interviews has given me evidence that being deliberate and precise is so important. Being able to sit in on these interviews has enlightened me on how interviewers look at a potential candidate during an interview and what things are liked and what things are frowned upon in this setting. A bit more than halfway through my internship, I am having an incredible time at FCD and I definitely believe that the rest of my time will be just as enjoyable and will be a great learning experience.

The Art of Listening

As a Cultural Anthropology major, I have come to understand the significance of experiential learning as a way to expand my education. In fact, the very nature of Anthropology requires fieldwork to fully understand how to analyze and internalize a culture. This became apparent to me this past semester as I had the unique opportunity to participate in an experiential learning fieldwork practicum called “Sages and Seekers.

As an addition to an Anthropology course on aging, I conducted interviews with an elderly community in order to enrich my understanding of ageism and marginalized groups within society. What began as simply an opportunity to gain extra credit, transformed into an inspirational experience that forged new relationships and developed key interpersonal skills. Using my well-honed communication skills, I conducted in-depth research and interviews with community elders that required discussing sensitive subject matter. Each student was paired with their elder counterpart, allowing for unique relationships to form.

Throughout the semester, I became extremely close with my Sage Sandy. With each personal story he shared and research questions he answered, our relationship deepened. The process of researching and personally connecting with each interviewee sparked my interest in advocacy. I became passionate about telling each senior citizen’s story to fight against ageist discourse.

This ability to intuitively listen has become extremely vital to my role as an Intake Specialist. When filing discrimination complaints, I must develop a relationship with each individual I interview in order to create an atmosphere of trust and understanding. While the MCAD might not be able to help each individual who enters our doors, we provide them with the opportunity to share their story.

Additionally, the MCAD affords me the opportunity to advocate for individuals with claims of discrimination, specifically in categories I have studied in depth. In this way, my interdisciplinary background has fueled my specific interest in the MCAD. My Anthropology and WGS courses specifically study marginalized groups, providing me with a distinctive and valuable perspective.

For instance, recently, the MCAD has expanded its jurisdiction to include new protected categories including age, sexual orientation and disability. Specifically, a governmental recognition of sexual orientation as a protected category is a major win for the LGBTQ community. As the MCAD explains:

“In 1965, gender was added to the Commission’s list of protected classes, opening up a huge new front in the battle against discrimination. Protection for families with children and recipients of public assistance came in 1972 and 1973. In 1975, a law was enacted to prohibit discrimination on the basis of age. Discrimination on the basis of disability and sexual orientation was added to the Commission’s jurisdiction in 1984 and 1989 respectively, while increased attention to the issue of sexual harassment generated a large number of complaints. Moreover, the Commission’s expanded jurisdiction to award emotional distress damages, back pay, and legal costs contributed to the dramatic increase in filings” (http://www.mass.gov/mcad/).

I am honored to work for an organization that is committed to advocating and fighting against social injustices. I believe that my past academic experiences, specifically, my interdisciplinary liberal arts education has deeply impacted my approach to this internship and my passion towards law and advocacy.

Jessica Spierer ’18

Small steps to equal opportunities for success

One of the biggest reasons that I decided to work at MUA is because I felt that it was important to try and make a tangible difference in helping combat wealth, education, and health disparities faced by the Hispanic population in this country. In our current political atmosphere, growing anti-immigrant sentiment has made living in the United States even more of a challenge for ethnic minorities. It is imperative that we take action to ensure that immigrants – especially woman immigrants, who face even more barriers to success – have the resources they need to thrive in the United States.

MUA’s mission is to provide a means for low-income Latina women who have limited education or English language skills to effect social, political, and liberating changes in their families, communities, and in society at large. This goal is no easy task, for various reasons. Poverty presents a significant barrier to success for many Latinas: one in four Latinas live below the poverty line, while more than half live near the poverty line. Furthermore, Latinas make 56 cents for every dollar earned by white males. They also have the least access to health care among any group of women and have the lowest high school graduation rate of all women.

So how does MUA help work toward a world without these significant gaps in success?  The answer lies in small steps. MUA’s focus is on helping Latinas learn English, which is a common prerequisite for employment – and more generally, for success – in the United States. Some women come to MUA with no reading or writing skills. These women first learn how to read and write in Spanish, and then progress to English classes. Following basic literacy skills, MUA has various levels of English classes. It also has various job certification classes, to be taken in conjunction with or upon completion of English classes. These classes, along with social services such as daycare and affordable housing counseling, serve as stepping stones to allow the women who come here to gain employable skills, seek new career opportunities, and overall build better lives.

On a personal level, progress is seen in both subtle and clear ways. As students continue to take classes, their language skills increase, they become more comfortable in social situations that require them to speak English, and their confidence grows. On a national scale, progress is more easily measurable. The percentage of Latinas who have graduated high school from 2003 to 2013 grew by 14 percent. College degree attainment has been increasing by roughly 0.5 percent every year, and their representation in the fields of teaching, law, medicine, and management has grown by 30 to 40 percent in the last decade.

These changes are steps in the right direction, but there is still much work to be done. Latinas deserve equal opportunities to achieve success in the United States, and it is partially through organizations like MUA that they will eventually be able to.

 

Resettlement and Placement Services

The overall social justice goal of my internship organization, the Refugee Services of Texas-Houston Service Center, is to build and foster a welcoming environment for all vulnerable populations, including refugees, asylees, individuals with Special Immigrant Visas, Cuban-Haitian entrants, Central American minors, and survivors of human trafficking. The many services these clients receive during the 90-day period help them to become integrated within the American lifestyle. After this 90-day period, clients may choose to apply for additional support if necessary.

A monitoring tool that allows for us to check whether each file of a client contains all the necessary documents.

 

Based off of my experiences from the past week, I have witnessed the continuous care and support that the employees of the non-profit invest. Whether in the office making phone calls and writing case notes, or out on the road transporting clients to apply for benefits, all employees and interns work together to serve the clients’ needs. It all begins even before the clients arrive to the United States. People from the agency work hard to search for a vacant apartment, find the best electricity provider, and prepare all documents in order for admittance into the States to go smoothly. Once arrived, the clients are situated into their furnished apartments and the 90-day process begins. For more information about the first 90-day period, click here. During this period, the agency helps the clients to apply for a social security number, enroll into ESL classes, find employment opportunities, receive medical insurance and federal assistance, provide monetary assistance, amongst many more.

Clients who enroll into one service lead to further services. All of the services are required and are outlined in each client’s file. Case managers, employees who are directly responsible for the clients, are required to meet deadlines assigned in regards to the different services that the clients must receive. What progress looks like in this scenario is when, by the 90-day period, the clients become self-sufficient and are able to live on their own, and are employed. Very few of the clients who are able to be employed are unable to find employment. If you are interested in connecting refugee with employment opportunities, please visiting this link. This demonstrates how successful the agency is at getting the clients integrated into the American lifestyle.

 

However, many of the clients who come to the United States know little to no English. Although the clients are enrolled in ESL services, I would like to see how the clients have improved their English skills. This pertains to the adults specifically, who are not enrolled into schools unlike the clients of age to enroll into local public schools. There is still lots to learn, especially from the perspective of the clients. How comfortable do they feel as they have a new life now in the United States? What do they hope to achieve now that they have many more opportunities in life? What is the biggest barrier in life here in the United States? By knowing the answers to such questions from the clients themselves, it would give me a better idea of the different progresses that the agency makes throughout their 90-day service period.

 

In relation to my work of interest, I hope that clients will soon become autonomous of their own health care. While cost may be an issue, I believe that there are many ways and techniques to learn about preventative care that are low in cost, which will help to reduce any future higher costs procedures. As each client has health care insurance, taking advantage of such benefits means for them to become more healthy and independently aware of their holistic health.

Investigating Prejudice Amidst Demographic Changes

The main goal of SIM lab is to investigate the neural and physiological factors that underlie social interaction and motivation in human beings. For this summer specifically, we are researching interracial interactions and how neural and physiological responses may vary when someone interacts with someone else of the same race, versus of another race. As a place of science, our main goal is to collect empirical data; meanwhile, individually we all hope that the information we find will be used to further the dialogue about prejudice and social attitudes and lead to a more egalitarian society.

 

As mentioned, our main strategy is to be as objective as possible when screening participants, collecting data, and analyzing data. We try our best to ensure that every participant that enters our lab has the same experience, and if anything should vary we take detailed notes. The screening process for me has been especially informative, because it highlights just how fluid the construct of racial identity truly is.

(credit: national geographic, Visualizing Race, Identity, and Change)

When screening a prospective participant, I have to ask them directly about their race, and there is a lot of uncertainty at times. For example, take a person who has one Caucasian parent and one African-American parent. Is this person white or black? Has their lived experience been more similar to a white person in America, or a black person? Factors like appearance and geographical location greatly inform how this individual has experienced him or herself, as well as the world around them. Moreover, how has this individual’s perception of their “in” and “out” group been affected by their biracial identity? There are so many confounding variables that factor into how someone socially interacts, and it is impossible to truly control for all of them, but we try out best.

 

The 2015 U.S. census predicts that by 2044 more than half of the U.S. population will belong to a minority group. That is a huge demographic change in a very short amount of time. It is impossible to predict what this sort of demographic shift will mean for America, but it makes it all the more important to be studying how people interact across race, and how social identity shapes human behavior. I hope that as our society becomes more diversified and mixed, social constructs such as race and ethnicity will become less important and less impactful in daily life.

(2015 U.S. Census)

For us, here at the lab, evidence of prejudice and attitude changes comes in the form of anonymous data. Individual participants are turned into numbers in a data system. The data that we collect now can ideally be used as a reference and comparison point in the years to come. Nevertheless, it is exciting to know that the data we are collecting is impactful and meaningful, both in this moment and also for future research.

Empathy vs. Dehumanization

The dichotomy between empathy and dehumanization is ever-present in our daily lives. We are faced with daily decisions about to what degree we should care about a certain social issue, be it the decision to give money to a beggar, to share an important article, to join a protest, to donate… the list goes on. There is no dearth of social injustices in the world that need attention and support, and in the age of information overload it becomes emotionally draining to pay attention to everything; so, human beings naturally compartmentalize the world around them into neat categories with emotional tags attached.

(Credit: Graphic artist Yanko Tsvetkov, a world map according to President Trump’s prejudices)

For example, one may associate homelessness with drug addiction, and they associate drug addiction with disgust or repulsion, so that when they encounter a beggar they are not compelled to give money because a.) They have a pre-existing association with disgust, and b.) They cognitively justify the emotion by thinking something like “well, they will just use the money for drugs so they are undeserving.” It’s these same kind of cognitive-emotional snap judgments that makes black people much more likely to be stopped, shot, and killed by police officers than white or Hispanic people.  And it’s the same reason why most of the western world is rejecting Muslim refugees. People make snap decisions about who deserves their empathy, and whom they can discriminate and dehumanize. In psychology, these delineations often fall into “in-group” categorization or “out-group” categorization.

When discussing prejudice and discrimination, we like to talk about the socio-economic effects, the emotional toll, the institutional factors; how does prejudice affect people in daily life? As a middle-eastern American living in post 9/11 America, prejudice has been a felt experience for me, as well as something I have studied in various academic settings. Now, I get to investigate the science behind prejudice. There are real neural and physiological differences in the brain of someone who is prejudiced vs. someone who is not, and that is fascinating to me.

(Credit)

A lot of what we are researching in the lab is how does brain activity reflect this difference between ‘in’ and ‘out’ group interactions? How does your brain respond to someone it considers a member of “us” versus a member of “them?” And furthermore, how does this affect whether or not you feel empathy towards another person?

Defending with Diligence and Zeal

Attorneys practicing in DC and other states are obligated by local bar associations to adhere to certain rules of professional conduct. One of the most pressing requirements is to defend one’s client with “diligence and zeal.” We take this very seriously at PDS, where all our work is client-centered. By this I mean that the client makes all the important decisions. After all, we do work for them.

 

One place where we see this play out is within the context of plea deals. Even if a certain deal is clearly unfavorable to the client, PDS attorneys (and others) must inform him or her of the deal and its repercussions. And, while we’re always willing to take a case to trial, the client invariably has the final say.

 

At PDS, defending our clients zealously is our main objective, and we accomplish this in a variety of ways. First and foremost, we investigate, leaving no stone unturned. Sometimes this means virtually the entire organization listening to hours of jail calls, and other times it means canvassing a crime scene for witnesses late at night or early in the morning. Whatever it takes to gather the facts of case, we do it, from a deep appreciation that many times we are our client’s only voice before the prosecution’s charges.

 

Our attorneys also file motions and submit documents on our client’s behalf, often balancing the fine line between annoying the judge and acting zealously. Although as an Intern Investigator I work on the fact-finding side of cases, I’ve also been provided the opportunity through my assigned attorneys to learn about the legal side.

 

Working in PDS’s civil division has also afforded me a view of housing, employment and custody issues. Typically, the civil cases we handle are in some way related to a client’s criminal case. And, like with criminal cases, our goal is advocate for our client as zealously as possible.

 

In custody cases, this may mean providing a story to the judge why our client is the best fit to have legal and/or physical custody. With housing cases, this may mean preventing a client’s eviction by gathering funds from local churches, or arguing in court that the landlord has no due ground by which to evict. For employment cases, we might argue that our client was wrongfully fired, for example if he or she was fired due to criminal charges that were dismissed.

 

All of this is to say that we help our clients, many of whom are members of marginalized communities, to navigate complicated bureaucratic procedures and maintain their dignity in the face of some of the worst circumstances of their life. The best part is that as an Intern Investigator, I’m a full and important part of the team, doing work every day on behalf of the people who need it most.

 


One of our neighbors at PDS, the US Capitol building. 
Two of our other neighbors, the Navy Memorial and Archives Building, which contains the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. 

Resource Equality for Elders

The elderly are a traditionally underserved population when it comes to health care issues. Elders’ decisions and values are not necessarily respected on their own terms. They are frequently sidelined from the general population. Often, elders are not given the services to accomplish their goals. Orchard Cove seeks to upend this trend by providing residents with the resources and support they need to actuate their goals or potential. For example, the vision board activity provides the residents with an opportunity to reconsider their goals and desires and in doing so gives them a stimulating environment. It enhances their sometimes dull and isolating environment. Stimulation and personal fulfillment should not be a privilege, but rather something that is accessible to all. Orchard Cove strives for that every day.

Fitness center at Orchard Cove. Many classes are offered so residents can be healthy and reach fitness goals.

The Vitalize 360 program promotes the change in this social justice issue one step at a time. We gauge this change by the number of clients reached per month through the program and have found that we have significantly enhanced their quality of life via goal assessment and thoughtful conversation.

Picture of the vitalize lounge, a place in between the fitness center and my supervisor’s office where residents can meet up and play games.

The Vitalize 360 coach supports this issue by guiding residents in leading healthy, fulfilling lives. First, the vitalize coach has a meaningful one-on-one conversation with a resident. Along with discussing the resident’s daily routines, issues, and interests, the resident discusses what matters most to them with the coach. The worksheet helps the resident to narrow in on what matters most to them in life. I have sat in on several of these meaningful conversations now and have seen a range of answers to this important question. For many, it is family that matters most, while for others, retaining as much independence as possible is most important. I am constantly reminded that each person has his or her own preferences that should not be assumed.  

After the resident is able to define what matters most to them and has a vitalize plan, the vitalize coach makes sure that the resident has a health care proxy and knows who their agent is. The vitalize coach informs the resident how important it is to have conversations with their loved ones about not only end of life wishes but their quality of life now. Vitalize 360 emphasizes that people need to have conversations about sensitive topics including death and preferences with their health care agent. My supervisor gave me an article to read called “Death Over Dinner” that recommends having these conversations over the dinner table.

I am working with my supervisor on coming up with clear responsibilities for each person involved in the Vitalize 360 process. My supervisor is also training other staff members to be vitalize coaches for the first time, which has forced us to look at the details of the process of Vitalize 360 and sort out any kinks in the system along the way. This is helping us to create clear steps and procedures for Vitalize 360 that can be taught to the new coaches. Having meaningful conversations and strengthening Orchard Cove’s Vitalize 360 program can further change the way Massachusetts views and treats the elderly and health care.

Social justice question 1

My first week at Boston School of Public Health was quite the interesting one – even my first day was very exciting. I am researching firearm violence and specifically looking into police shootings. I believe this topic is very relevant and important to spend money and time on given the current state of America. I work under Dr. Siegel and with two other interns who are also in college. We are looking at shooting by state and ultimately attempting to link lower rates of police shootings with stricter gun regulations in that state.

We are at the first stages of this project, so we are focused on looking into why police shootings happen. Racism is one of the biggest causes and motivators behind fatal police shootings, so we are gathering data to document and prove systemic racism in each state. This topic is a necessary one to asses because it has caused such harm and damage to American society. To my surprise, there is not many public health articles showing the correlation between racism and adverse health outcomes, and we are the first people to research this specific issue. There is also no comprehensive database breaking down clear statics of systemic racism on a state level, so we are also the first to do this. We plan on creating an extensive database assessing racism each state by looking at factors such as education, incarceration, segregation, and unemployment. Within the past two weeks, the team I am working with has been collecting data on these topics. There are not many primary sources that document this so we’ve been mainly having to use the census, which can be very time-consuming because there is so much data in the census. We hope that having this completed database with help to combat racial issues, specifically police shootings.

My first day I was told to find the statics of people incarcerated, broken down by race and state. I was shocked to find how little information is out there. The Bureau of Justice only had data on years 1994-1998, 2005, 2015. This is one of few reports that had the information we needed. This is clearly a topic that needs more attention and needs to be better documented by federal organizations. For the other years, I had to go to the censuses and search for numbers state by state and do some math.  This website coded the census, making it fairly readable. This is pretty time consuming and took a full day to do one year. The data found was pretty disturbing, but unfortunately not surprising given how problematic the justice and prison system is. All the state had drastically higher percentage of the Black population in prison compared to the White. The next day I was alarmed to find that the Bureau of Justice had completely shut down its website and was forced to start on an other topic and hope the website would be back to running soon.

I find this work to be importation, and since it is a cause I care about and deeply worries me, I do not find spending hours searching through and analyzing data to be boring. I also enjoy the people I work with and my boss has had many interesting and important projects that have had very important effects on public health and has also focused on marginalized groups.

Here is some examples of the work that I analyze, the top photo is data from the 2010 census and the bottom photo is some of the reading that I was assigned to prepare for the project.

Internship Training at Care Dimensions

During February break, I began researching hospice positions around Waltham and, within a week, I received a call back from a volunteer coordinator from Care Dimensions. What I had expected to be an informative conversation about the role of hospice turned into an impromptu interview and an informal offer for a volunteer position. Though I was ecstatic to have a summer job, I was most appreciative

Reading my Volunteer Training Manual

that the volunteer coordinator seemed to understand my fear that I wasn’t ready to visit and form relationships with terminally ill individuals. Since then, I’ve completed six of the eight volunteer trainings she spoke of over the phone, and my confidence has grown with every exercise, Q & A, and guest speaker. All volunteers received a manual covering topics from the role of nurses and social workers to dementia to grief and bereavement. Through the trainings and given resources, I’ve developed a greater understanding of hospice’s mission and of my own contribution toward that mission.

When an individual is admitted to hospice service, it means that two physicians have certified that, if their disease follows a normal course, the patient will likely live no more than six months.  Following admission, the patient and family are assigned a care team comprised of a nurse, a social worker, and a chaplain who will visit regularly. This clinical team is assembled to care for a person medically, emotionally, and psychosocially. As part of my training, I met three people representing each aspect of the team and was struck by their commitment to the service they are trained to provide. As they spoke of their duties, they revealed the enthusiasm for their work that drives them to give the highest quality of care possible. I was also lucky to join Care Dimensions just in time to receive an invitation to their summer volunteer appreciation dinner, during which I met people who contribute a variety of talents to the hospice; I chatted with a volunteer coordinator from Danvers about her five pets, I laughed as a media specialist snapped my photo, I asked a woman a million questions about her therapy dog as I petted the very same dog, and I shared my excitement over joining the volunteer team with a woman who later rose to give a speech and introduce herself as the new CEO and president of Care Dimensions.

As I prepared my application to join the WOW program, I already knew that my responsibilities would include an extensive training, weekly social visits to patients, administrative work, and involvement in the

Token from Volunteer Appreciation Dinner

monthly volunteer support meetings. I knew that the volunteer coordinators were lovely people committed to the hospice cause,but I didn’t know just how much everyone at Care Dimensions values the volunteers. The sincerity they express in their gratitude for our service has been my motivation to finish the assigned readings, travel an hour to Waltham for trainings, and ask tough questions. I’ve learned so much about end-of-life care, and I am eager to begin visiting patients and to share the passion and dedication I’ve seen as characteristic of Care Dimensions. My greatest hope for my role as a volunteer is that I can have a positive impact on people who, as a consequence of their situation, are pulling further away from society, but still deserve awareness and respect from their community in a way that preserves their dignity.

 

 

wow journal 3

The social justice goals of my internship are to help combat police shootings and bring more public attention to racism in America. One major strategy that my company uses is being part of an institution. Boston University has a lot of credibility, which is helpful when addressing issues of injustice that marginalized populations face. It is has been very useful to use an institution that has power and influence when dealing with this topic that is often overlooked by many.

Currently we are looking to create a large database measuring racism in each state. We are looking at factors such as incarceration rates, housing segregation, medium income, unemployment, educational attainment, and homeownership. We made a big step recently, as we finished gathering all the information. We still have a long way to go before we finished with our project and ultimately relate it back to police brutality, but this is still a huge accomplishment. We will be the first people to publish information on this topic that is this extensive. Nowhere can someone find a breakdown of these measures of racism on a state basis charted across a span of twenty-five years. The only comparable article is this wallet hub article that only measures a couple of factors and only does so for one year.

Our data collection can be used beyond our work as well. Having statistical evidence that proves systemic racism can be incredibly useful combating racism in America. Many Americans deny that racism is an issue and doubt the validity of various social activist groups, so having hard facts will help strengthen the arguments to defend the cause. There is a huge backlash against social justice, and there even news outlets where millions of views can be influenced into thinking that America does not have a problem with racism, thereby overlooking and invalidating a real cause. This is an example of one of these programs. We hope that this data will be useful in arguing against this kind of rhetoric and hopefully inform people.

With our data we are planning on creating a points system to rank all fifty states on a scale to most to least racist. We hope to find correlation between states that have higher rank on racism with higher rates of police shootings. This will prove that police brutality and race are interconnected and it is a real issue that disproportionally affects people of color. After this step we are then planning on looking at states that have high rates of police shooting and seeing if there is any correlation with that state’s firearm laws and restrictions. We are hoping to find that state with more lenient firearm regulations have higher rates of police shootings. This information will give us a plan to try and lowering police shootings. Finally we then hope to publish our findings and use them. There is a long journey ahead of us and sometimes it is hard to imagine this happening in one summer. Our progress with our data collections however is an important mark of what we have accomplished thus far. Progress at our site works when we all have an imaginable goal.

Blog post 2

In my career at Brandeis I have taken classes that talk about systemic racism and its effect on American society. Currently at my internship, we are finishing up creating our database tracking systemic racism at a state level and seeing the effect it has on police shootings. Some factors we are using to measure this are incarceration rates, managerial positions and housing segregation. We are attempting to prove that police shootings are caused by racism by showing that states that have higher levels of racism and prejudice also have higher rates of police shooting unarmed black people.

In my classes, I have leaned that racism at the systemic level can lead to a society that acts upon a racist subconscious. For example, in a community with a particularly high rate of black incarceration, a low rate of minorities in managerial positions and highly segregated housing, citizens are much more likely to believe in racial stereotypes and engage in the misconstrued dialog of the black typecast. Law enforcement brought about by police also plays a powerful role in this cycle.

In my research, I have found that in 2010 a black person in Wisconsin was eleven times more likely to be incarcerated than that of a white person. Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s housing was 83% segregated in 2010. So, a non-black police officer that lives in a predominately Caucasian neighborhood in Wisconsin, whom most likely does not have much exposure to the black community because of his residency in a white-dominated suburb, is more likely to believe and contribute to minority stereotypes. Because of this, it is more likely that this particular officer, who witnesses a high percentage of African America incarceration rates, believes that it is common for black people to be criminals and or violent. This belief would lead to a higher likelihood for the officer to seek out or arrest black citizens due to his own prejudices.

Building on that idea, when encountering a minority he may also suspect them to be violent or have a history of crime, leading to a higher level of fear and increased irrationally on the job. This may cause the officer to use excessive force while warranting an arrest and if the situation were to at all escalate, the officer may fear for his life and lead him to shoot the perpetrator. Usually in these situations the officer is in no real threat and the supposed “criminal” is usually unarmed and often not breaking a law or merely committing a very minor non-violent crime.

In my classes I have learned how racism leads to much injustice in America, and I have learned that it kills. These statics that I am researching are not only problems themselves but also lead to big issues like police brutality and unfair deaths. What I have learned about race in America has helped to contextualize the work I do and understand how they are all connected. Creating an extensive database documenting various indicators of racism state by state is an important resource to have because it can used to expose other issues. It is important to learn that these things are not coincidences and we must address systemic racism and other inequalities, which will cause a ripple effect helping to solve other issues. Without this knowledge, I may have not understood the importance of spending the day looking at a census charting numbers such as incarceration rates or home ownership, and I may have missed the full picture.

The way we work at National Consumers League

These last two weeks I have been increasingly assigned to work directly with the director of National Consumers League. As the director, she works on many issues regarding consumer’s rights and safety, ranging from hotel cancelation period, increasing regulations on table saw safety, better laws to protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, to discouraging automakers from lobbying to rollback fuel efficiency standards. To be able to work on these different issues is an great opportunity for me to better understand not only the values and the extent of work the NCL cares about, but also how the process works in a small and dedicated entity like NCL.

Among the issues that the interns have been working on, such as those mentioned above, none of them really fits into any department we have at NCL, except for Public Policy perhaps. But that department does not handle these issues. And to be honest, I have no idea what Public Policy is specifically working on right now. Instead, to have the director of the whole organization delegate these issues to interns and personally oversee the research, the report and communication process is amazing in its own way. How are the content of issue selected? It is actually a very random but up to date process. Usually, the director would find these issues in the daily news. These could be big and obvious and receive a lot of attention from the media and the public, or they could be very elusive and only appear in a column in the local newspaper. Regardless, when she assigns them to the interns, we treat them with the same standard of intensive research, expressive statements and in a very timely manner.

6 page research with more than 12 sources, all for one blog post

Many might think it is inefficient, and that she should have department heads work on these issues instead. They maybe right, but the NCL is a small organization with about twenty employees in total. So department heads may already have too many responsibilities on their hands already and may not be able to catch up with that is going on. Instead, here the interns not only get intimately within the system and are mentored by the person with the highest position in the organization but we are also working with the latest issues and are not hindered with the bureaucracy of chain of command. This way the NCL can have the resources to both deal with long-term battle like health care, child labor and other work extensive issues and have a say in sneaky matters that many may not even realize are there but have a significant impact on our lives.

Just finished a big media project raising awareness on how child labour fuels the chocolate industry

Honestly, this is a very effective strategy that I have never heard from other organizations. We are participating in on all fields when it comes to protecting consumers and people’s rights in general, which is much broader than I have imagined when I first applied to NCL. And every step we make in the process ensures that the view the NCL holds are scientifically and empirically supported, helping consumers make informed choices.

 

The Bigger Picture at IWJ

This past weekend was IWJ’s National Convening, and being a staff member for the event has made me realize both the necessity of and the labor that goes into national coalition gatherings.

Currently, IWJ has been going through a period of transition, in terms of leadership and overarching objectives. Thus, there are important discussions to be had about the means of implementing IWJ’s core tenets, and which organizations and projects should be garnering the most focus and resources. While observing these discussions about IWJ’s future, I noticed how they had to balance the possibility of measurable success with moral ideals and ideological consistency. No one answer was found at the Convening, but coming together meant tangible bonding as a community in a way that could not be achieved with conference calls alone. In order to enact change, you have to create connections with like minded people from a variety of backgrounds. At the Convening, I saw religious leaders and worker center leaders interacting about their commonalities, and it gave me hope for the future.

Personally, I found it extremely gratifying to see the small details that I contributed adding up to create a bigger picture, even if they seemed insignificant at first. For instance, knowing that we were successfully able to have the programming simulcast in Spanish and English, and having near seamless transportation and registration for the individuals involved gave me great pride, since I knew the role that I had played in putting everything together. When it comes to organizing, especially organizing around social justice where it constantly feels like an uphill battle against entrenched norms, every little bit makes a difference. Small tasks and projects that I took on, including finding more efficient ways of organizing equipment and schedule, were important components of an enriching experience.

There were two major events that stood out to me at the Convening.

The first was participating in a boycott action. We took buses to Wendy’s and stood in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers by asking passerby to protest Wendy’s. It felt powerful; taking a tangible step to turn the theoretical ideas discussed in the conference rooms into reality. It reminded me how every person I observed and conversed with at the Convening is truly dedicated to the betterment of workers everywhere, especially as I heard the powerful speeches of the individuals I recognized from our day-to-day activities.

The particular issue that we were taking a stance on is related to Wendy’s refusal to join the Fair Food Program. As a brief summary, the Fair Food Program guarantees safe working conditions for tomato pickers in Florida and has been signed by Walmart, Burger King, Subway and many other large corporations. To learn more about this important campaign, please check out the website.

The other event was the viewing of David DeSario’s documentary, “A Day’s Work.” “A Day’s Work” delves into the story of Day Davis, a temp worker killed on the first day of work. The documentary was heart-wrenching because it both painted a picture of how much Day Davis meant to his family, and the way workplace negligence and proliferation of temporary worker agencies that don’t care about worker safety led to his demise. I was surprised at how common temporary work is within the United States, and how a labor activist who infiltrated the temporary work agency that placed Day Davis at his position at Bacardi reported that trainees are only given a thirty minute video before operating heavy duty machinery. Realizing the extent of worker grievances in the United States has made me more happy that IWJ and its affiliates are there to push for a system that puts worker humanity first and foremost. I encourage you to watch the documentary itself.

Onto the next project: Labor in the Pulpits!

Finding Our Way Across the Bridge

My internship with BridgeYear is officially halfway over. As we find ourselves in the middle of a very busy July, we’re thinking about our current students and projects, but also about the future of the organization. It’s a daunting task, and while the co-founders are the ones doing the majority of the thinking ahead, us interns get to pitch in.

Students analyzing (fake) urine samples in the Medical Laboratory Technologist Simulation. Many yucks can be heard in the background.

To rephrase, BridgeYear is the on-ramp to educational pathways and employment opportunities for individuals in low-income communities. We do this by designing Career Test Drives (CTDs) to increase career awareness and providing near-peer advising to support the crucial postsecondary transition to community college. It’s important to mention that due to the startup nature of the nonprofit, things are constantly changing. While our goal has always been to provide support to students who plan to enroll in community college, the how I mentioned above was not set in stone from the start.

Last summer, change to us came in the form of increased matriculation rates with our how being advising provided by college students. If we could successfully guide students through the enrollment process and get them to the first day of their fall semester, then we had some impact in defeating summer melt. As it turns out, with BridgeYear advising, 59% of recent high school graduates who participated in the 2016 pilot enrolled in community college (compared to the local rate of 30%). This meant that the program nearly doubled enrollment rates and the organization was heading in the right direction.

While this was all great news that told us we had the advising portion down, something was still missing. After advising and interviewing community college students over three months, BridgeYear realized that career clarity was a missing aspect of purposeful college enrollment, and in came CTDs. The idea behind CTDs was to get students to go to college not just because it was what was expected of them, but because they had strong reasons and future plans.

Students participating in the Pharmacy Technician CTD. BridgeYear travels to participating schools and set up can be done in any empty classroom space in under an hour.

The first of the CTDs was Pharmacy Technician. Students got to pretend to be pharm techs in a fifteen minute simulation in which they filled prescription orders for patients. In that time, students learned hands-on about job responsibilities and the skills necessary to be successful on the job. Whether they loved the job or hated it, the good news was that they gained exposure. After that CTD was a hit, two more came into the picture: Medical Laboratory Technologist and Medical Coding Specialist. Today, thanks to CTDs, 91% of participants have become more aware of the daily tasks of new careers.

What planning to determine where BridgeYear is headed looks like on the daily. Literally creating the bridge to opportunities.

The process that comes before changes, in places like our how, takes many forms. Sometimes the process is countless hours of brainstorming on a whiteboard or giant post-it notes. Sometimes it’s talking to mentors and coaches who can share their expertise and help us better our strategies. Oftentimes it’s talking to the students themselves. At the end of the day, the ideas that seem small when thrown around our collaboration table are what allow us to continue innovating day in and day out.

The change itself comes in a multitude of ways too. Students enrolling in college at higher rates like previously mentioned is one way. Helping them gain career exposure is another. There’s days when change to me is students asking for my help without me having to nudge them. It’s all a part of the big picture.

As I wait for the next half of the summer to unfold, I will continue to contribute my part by leading the Advising Team to ensure that our students enroll into college and that lack of guidance isn’t a problem. The advising portion is still essential to our mission and is a responsibility I take to heart. Even if my role seems small on a weekday afternoon, I hope it will be bigger than I anticipate in the long run.

Dariana Resendez ’19

The Panacea for Obesity: Fat!

Hello fellow science lovers!  Since my last blog post[i], I have been quite busy and have generated exciting and perplexing data.  As a brief reminder, I am working within the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School[ii], focusing on hydrogen sulfide signaling using genetic knockout mouse models.  In particular, I am focusing my research on a knockout (KO) mouse strain for the major hepatic (liver) endogenous hydrogen sulfide producing enzyme, cystathionine gamma lyase (CGL). When I wrote my last blog post, I was beginning to examine key gene expression and protein expression levels between wild type (WT) control mice and CGLKO mice by reverse transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR)[iii] and Western Blots[iv] respectively.  I continue to rely on these powerful molecular biology methods, where I attempt to connect the dots between differential gene and protein expression levels.  Recently, my data has lead me towards a nutritional framework, where I have been particularly interested in dietary-induced and dietary-resistant obesity.

Pictured on the right is the ob/ob mouse strain compared to a normal, wild type mouse strain on the left. Ob/ob mice are deficient in the feeding inhibiting hormone leptin, and thus are used in obesity and diabetes research [vii].
Given the pervasive rise in obesity and diabetes within the United States (US), therapeutic targets for dietary-resistance to obesity are a “hot” research topic within the field of Endocrinology and Metabolism.  In a special report published in 2005 within the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the authors predict “that as a result of the substantial rise in the prevalence of obesity and its life-shortening complications such as diabetes, life expectancy at birth and at older ages could level off or even decline within the first half of this century.”[v] This stands in stark contrast to human trends, where human life expectancy has steadily increased over the past thousand years [v].  Thus, the need for breakthrough research discoveries regarding obesity, metabolic disease, and diabetes has never been more imperative.  A major research target in recent publications has been the heat-generating, master energy consuming mammalian brown fat, or brown adipose tissue (BAT) [vi].

In mammals, BAT is a major tissue site for chemical production of heat (thermogenesis) from fats, which has made BAT a promising target to induce weight loss[vi].  Traditionally, when exposed to cold temperatures, humans generate heat by shivering [vi].  However, mammals such as mice and human infants possess vast BAT depots, allowing thermogenesis during cold exposure to be driven by the chemical uncoupling of cellular energy production, oxidative phosphorylation [vi].  This chemical uncoupling of oxidative phosphorylation is achieved in part through expression of uncoupling protein-1 (Ucp1) [vi]. Additionally, white fat or white adipose tissue (WAT), the classic form of stomach fat we all attempt to minimize, can be induced into a BAT like state, known as “beige” or “brite” fat [vi].  This beige fat has thermogenic capacity, and because thermogenesis relies on the breakdown of fat depots in order to generate heat, beige fat has the ability to burn excess fat depots and promote a healthier metabolic system [vi].  Countless studies have demonstrated that “expanding the activity of brown fat, beige fat or both in mice through genetic manipulation, drugs or transplantation suppresses metabolic disease.”[vi] One such stimulus for expanding beiging of WAT is dietary control.  Thus, because of the vast therapeutic potential of beige fat and BAT, I have been particularly fascinated by diets that can induce beige fat and or increase BAT activity.  Such a diet could have broad reaching implications for metabolic disease, and could help reduce the estimated 300,000 deaths per year related to obesity [v].

Here, major anatomical depots of brown adipose tissue (BAT), white adipose tissue (WAT) and beige adipocytes are depicted. This figure portrays differences between fat locations in (a) mice and (b) humans.   Genetic markers are given for each adipocyte type in the lower right hand corner  [viii].
Compared to my classroom studies at Brandeis, working in a biomedical research lab allows me to explore complex physiological topics that I would never confront in an undergraduate class, such as BAT and beige fat thermogenesis.  After running experiments on RNA, DNA, and proteins extracted from both control (WT) and CGLKO mice, the results almost always spur me to read a slew of research papers and reviews, which guide me towards a holistic understanding of what is occurring inside my mice. For example, I have examined Ucp1 expression levels in my mice, leading me towards reviews regarding thermogenesis. This ability to read beyond only what is assigned to me is a wonderful aspect of research which is mostly absent as an undergraduate at Brandeis.  I find this freedom allows me to become more excited about the material, and often causes me to gleefully share theories of mine with my co-workers, most of whom are post-doctoral fellows.

Similar to last summer, I am loving the environment of working in a basic science research lab.  I am continually refining my molecular techniques, learning new assays weekly, such as the protein concentration quantification bicinchoninic acid (BCA) assay[ix].  With each data result or conversation with the post-doctoral fellow I work alongside, I learn new complex signaling pathways within mammalian physiology.  After each biweekly lab meeting, I learn new elements of modern thyroid research, continually building upon my knowledge base of intricate thyroid endocrine regulation.  These molecular biology techniques combined with novel biology concepts will serve me well both in my future Biology coursework at Brandeis and in my future pursuits in and after medical school. Who knows, I may even end up a practicing Endocrinologist and participating in BAT thermogenesis research!  Only time will tell.

– Josh Lepson

[i] Brandeis University Hiatt Career Center. 2017. World of Work (WOW) Summer Internship Blog: Harnessing Science for the Common Good. Accessed on July 2.

Harnessing Science for the Common Good

[ii] Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. 2017. Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism. Accessed on July 2.

http://www.bidmc.org/Centers-and-Departments/Departments/Medicine/Divisions/Endocrinology.aspx

[iii] ThermoFisher Scientific. Basic Principles of RT-qPCR: Introduction to RT-qPCR. Accessed on July 2.

https://www.thermofisher.com/us/en/home/brands/thermo-scientific/molecular-biology/molecular-biology-learning-center/molecular-biology-resource-library/basic-principles-rt-qpcr.html

[iv] ThermoFisher Scientific. Overview of Western Blotting. Accessed on July 2.

https://www.thermofisher.com/us/en/home/life-science/protein-biology/protein-biology-learning-center/protein-biology-resource-library/pierce-protein-methods/overview-western-blotting.html

[v] Olshansky, S.J., Passaro, D.J., Hershow, R.C., Layden, J., Carnes, B.A., Brody, J., Hayflick, L., Butler, R.N., Allison, D.B., Ludwig, D.S. 2005. A potential decline in life expectancy in the United States in the 21st century. N. Engl. J. Med. 352(11): 1138-1145.

[vi] Harms, M., Seale, P. 2013. Brown and beige fat: development, function and therapeutic potential. Nat. Med. 19(10): 1252-1263.

[vii] The Jackson Laboratory. B6.Cg-Lepob/J. Accessed on July 2. https://www.jax.org/strain/000632

[viii] Bartelt, A., Heeren, J. 2014. Adipose tissue browning and metabolic health. Nat. Rev. Endocrinol. 10(1): 24-36.

[ix] ThermoFisher Scientific. Pierce™ BCA Protein Assay Kit. Accessed on July 2.

https://www.thermofisher.com/order/catalog/product/23225

“Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue”

In her wonderfully complex book (and ambitious journey) My Jewish Year, journalist Abigail Pogrebin joins a comprehensive review of the most important Jewish holidays with her personal experiences and anecdotes. She takes a year to find meaning in the celebrations and customs of Judaism as she immerses herself in very different contexts and communities to explore her own Jewish identity.

In one of the chapters, called Activist Shabbbat: Friday Night with the Kids, she enjoys the traditional dinner in the company of a highly untraditional group: a dozen recent college graduates who have taken a year away from their careers, routines, families, and homes in order to fight poverty. The “kids” are none other than the Jewish Service Corps of Avodah, working in four cities around the country in organizations specialized in a wide range of issues, from homelessness to domestic violence, legal representation, counseling, and education. Avodah is providing them with a living and learning space in which the Jewish texts they explore and the constant observance of holidays serve as inspiration for their social justice activities.

It becomes more than a living space when you consider the symbolism of this new community they are part of. These are young people (aged twenty-one to twenty-six) who uproot their regular lives in order to work on the flourishing of other people’s lives. They grow new roots in an environment in which altruism and selflessness replace the infertile soil of possessive individualism that characterizes many of our contemporary societies. It is impressive and inspiring that they choose to do so. A day in the life of a Corps Member looks nothing like a day in most of our predominantly self-centered and self-absorbed existence. The average person will perceive themselves as charitable if they take a few minutes to donate on an organization’s website. These young people are not only “donating” a year of their lives, but they are boarding on a journey in which a few fundamental changes occur.

(Source: avodah.net)

Through the commitment to give back to the less fortunate, they not only come to see that their contribution matters, but they realize how much it is needed. I think that a renewed awareness of how far-reaching and all-encompassing the pursuit of social justice needs to be is the most valuable perspective one can gain from such a program. It is hopefully a realization that can only make one dedicate their entire life to such a mission. Abigail Pogrebin quotes the mission of Avodah as stated by Cheryl Cook, the president of the organization – “Three Words in Deuteronomy, Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: Justice, Justice, Shall Your Pursue”. The Corps members choose to live by these words and I think the ultimate step of their mission would be making as many of us as possible ask ourselves why we choose not to.

Sonia Pavel ’20

Using Art to Bring About Social Change

I’m a firm believer in the power of art to enact lasting social change. I think that artistic expression has the ability to move hearts and minds, to motivate people to go out and change things for the better. This is why I’m so excited to be working here at Fiege Films this summer, because I get to have a real and tangible impact on working to bring about social and environmental justice through the art that I’m helping to create.

In an increasingly polarized society, in which it’s becoming difficult to even have a calm conversation with people of different political viewpoints, I believe that that art is especially important. We’ve seen that simply spouting facts and figures about things can have little effect on changing people’s perspectives, but I think what’s so compelling and powerful about art is that it transcend these biases.

I think often about how to bridge these ideological gaps and about how I personally can reach out to people of disparate political persuasions and understand their perspectives, and I think art is a perfect way to do this.

Take, for example, this piece that Fiege Films put out for Greenpeace. Called “Born on the Island,” it’s part of the series “Postcards from Climate Change” that uses filmmakers to tell personal stories about people affected by the radical changes our planet is currently undergoing.  

Statistics and research can often be dehumanizing. They can make you forget about the real people that are experiencing them. But when you tell a story, when you put a face to a name, I think it makes things more powerful, and people are more apt to care.  

Our last feature film, “Above All Else,” is another great, practical example of doing this: telling a personal story about a polarizing, broad issue. 

It’s easy to hear about a story in the national news, and to be told to think one way or another about it, but when you get the chance to actually meet and spend time with people, to understand how they think and what’s important to them, and to empathize with their struggle, it becomes totally different.

Especially in this current political moment, we can get trapped in our own sociopolitical bubbles. It’s comfortable; we like to be around people and ideas that complement our own. But it’s not healthy. We need to be cognizant of other perspectives, to search out ideas that expose our own biases.

Art that is personal, uncomfortable, and compelling is more important now than ever. Well-told stories that transcend the usual narratives are essential to bringing about social change. By focusing on the marginalized, the overlooked, the forgotten, we as a society can make things better for everyone, and avoid the trap of being comfortably ignorant and complicit.

Accessibility in HIV Care

HIVE’s goal is to advance reproductive and sexual wellness for those affected by HIV in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the United States. To achieve this goal, HIVE provides many types of care to these communities. Whether it be medical, social, financial, or otherwise, HIVE makes themselves accessible for those who need care.

As mentioned in my first blog posting, HIVE does a lot of work online through their website, www.hiveonline.org. More specifically, the blog section of their website— www.hiveonline.org/hive-blog/ —is a space where contributors can share their experiences with HIV, sex, pregnancy, disclosure, and PrEP, among many others. The blog proves to be critical in HIVE’s mission because to see and read the stories of others who are experiencing the same things can be greatly affirming. For example, for someone who is living with HIV who is finding it difficult to disclose their status to romantic or sexual partners, it is helpful to read the stories of others who have experienced similar situations.

A HIVE blog post on disclosure

Aside from the blog, HIVE’s website hosts resources for those who are affected by HIV, as well as medical providers who support these communities.  For HIVE patients, the resources can act as a supplement to the care they are receiving. But for those who are outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, or those who cannot access medical care for a variety of reasons, the website is critical in obtaining information that is otherwise unavailable. What is more is that the information that HIVE hosts on their website is presented in a warm and friendly manner. That is to say, in many cases, medical care can feel overwhelming and hostile and can be the site of incurring additional trauma, which is often not talked about. Actions such as misgendering individuals, committing racist or sexist microaggressions, and misrepresenting and devaluing one’s life experiences are all valid reasons for opting out of medical care. But HIVE recognizes the power of language and the assumed benevolence of medical care and transforms their HIV care in ways that are caring and compassionate. For example, HIVE worked with AIDS Foundation Chicago to release a series of videos on HIV and reproductive and sexual health. The videos feature real individuals and couples affected by HIV speaking about their real experiences and reproductive goals. The series is touching and poignant, reimagining what HIV care can look like. To watch, visit: https://www.hiveonline.org/chicagohivlovewinsvideoseries/

The filming of the video series

In sum, HIVE advances reproductive and sexual wellness for those who are affected by HIV by making care accessible both for those who are able to attend clinics and those who are not. For this reason, change and progress in HIV care looks like accessibility and having care be available for everyone. Taking a small step such as sharing one’s story or providing a platform to do so produces an effect beyond what one can imagine in transforming HIV care and reproductive and sexual health.

CHIBPS Blog 2: Research as Social Justice Work

The day after Trump was elected was a hard one. I attended Professor Luis’s Sexuality and Healthcare course. We had spent the entirety of the semester discussing the systemic oppression woven into the American healthcare system, and the dark history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. It was painfully relevant. We discussed our fears for the future of healthcare in America under the Trump administration, and the implications for the queer community. The historical background I learned in that course, particularly of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, equipped me with the historical context of which our studies are grounded.

Activists had to fight hard to push policy forward that would allow HIV positive people to live longer, healthier lives. A key component in this process is research on prevention and treatment. Further, the Trump administration’s proposed healthcare plan has the potential to severely devastate the mentally ill and limit access to sexual health services. The American government is sending the message to LGBTQ+ and other marginalized people that they do not matter, a narrative that echoes President Reagan’s mishandling of the AIDS epidemic at its peak. As we discussed in Professor Luis’s course, conducting research is key to changing that narrative. At the height of this epidemic, this led to revolutionary outcomes like the development of medical treatments and prevention. While these developments were crucial in reducing the spread of HIV and allowing HIV positive people to live longer and healthier lives, the work is not done.

Taking Professor Luis’s course motivated me to seek an internship in psychological and public health research that is accessible, applicable and politically relevant in this critical moment in history where so many people’s healthcare is in jeopardy, particularly people who carry marginalized identities. This is a crucial time for psychologists, medical professionals and public health experts to harness their powerful role in producing research that helps push policy forward, to offer practical solutions to solving the issues unique to LGBTQ communities, and to give marginalized communities a voice in their own liberation.

Post 2: Art at Orchard Cove

An underlying theme that has emerged in the courses I have taken at Brandeis is that each person has a unique story that should be recognized and valued. Furthermore, people have the right to be heard and express themselves at every age. I have taken this idea into account as I work with a population that is often undervalued and not given the attention, respect and resources it deserves. The Vitalize 360 coach and I created an art class in which residents created dream/vision boards that represent their goals, dreams, and overall things they want to be, do or have.

With four residents seated around a long table in the art studio at Orchard Cove, the art session began. I started off by giving a short presentation on  what a vision board is and the purpose of creating one. Then my supervisor explained how a vision board relates to the Vitalize 360 program and achieving WMM. Finally, we led the residents in creating their own vision boards. Magazines, inspirational quotes and other pictures were scattered around the table. The residents cut out pictures and words from the magazines that represented their vision, and then glued them onto a foam core board.

I found it so interesting how differently each person interpreted the art assignment. One resident started cutting out pictures and realized that a vision board did not properly describe what she felt she was creating, but rather a current state board which showed what she likes in her life now. Another resident, who writes poetry in her spare time, found that the pictures in the magazines did not speak to her as much as the words did. When I came over to check on her, I was amazed by the visually pleasing poem she had created using different cutouts from magazines and she read it to me.

Another resident had greater difficulty grasping the concept of the project, and I went over to help explain it to her. She had negative thoughts and feelings about the future and what her purpose was in the world. I felt a little discouraged because I was not sure how to engage her in the project. However, my supervisor had brought these small square pieces of paper with inspirational life quotes, which the resident found appealing. A woman next to her helped her glue the quotes to her board, and had a very positive attitude on life.

I was originally nervous about leading this project because I thought the residents may find it to be too fundamental or juvenile, but that was not the case at all. This project was a means of self expression and showed what is important to the individual. In helping to create and lead this activity, I realized the importance of the individual story and self-expression.

Example of a vision board that I showed to the residents

Orchard Cove promotes healthy aging, physically, mentally and socially. In Vitalize 360, the wellness coach takes each resident as an individual and seeks to help the individual lead their best life. At every age, people need to feel part of a community and everyone has something to offer.

My supervisor giving a wellness talk to some of the residents outside

 

What’s in Store

This week is very exciting here at AJWS. One of the remarkable things about the organization is the involvement we have domestically and worldwide from our generous community of donors and staff. We are represented in four major cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and Washington D.C. Here, we have various people working within their respective departments collaboratively to ensure seamless communication and rapport throughout all the work we do. The excitement I feel today stems from the event planning I have been doing to bridge the gap between our staff members far and wide. Not only do we have people flying in from all our tier one offices, but we have specifically planned engagement retreats and events to give everyone the opportunity to spend time with one another, align the work they are doing and bond as a cohort of people working to achieve and accomplish the AJWS mission.

Promoting Gender Identity

Tomorrow’s event is centered around one of the many things that makes AJWS so unique. Our study tour group leader training is designed to give our staff members an inside look into the energy, knowledge and passion required to carry out a successful travel/study tour abroad. Recently we have had donors and staff return from Guatemala which is where AJWS is “focus[ing] on ending discrimination against women, youth and indigenous people, and protecting the land and natural resources that farmers need to survive.” This study tour training is important as it teaches people like me who have never experienced anything like this the logistics required to capture the hearts of our donors and the people who we are helping in developing countries. The second event is only for the development department in which employees who work within this division can have an opportunity to learn more about each other’s learning styles, office attitudes and the way they perform within the work place. These activities and skills are key in creating a safe and productive work environment, one of which AJWS has but this is unique compared to other organizations.

Our Inspiration

Along with planning required for these retreats to be successful comes the lessons learned after putting something of this nature together. Since this is my first time working on a task like this independently, there is a lot of responsibility and attentiveness to detail required. When networking with caterers and venue representatives, the most important skill is professionalism and hospitality. While I’ve enjoyed my time out of the office, these meetings can often be stressful, although they do provide general world experience great for navigating future career moves. I am thankful that I have been given so much freedom and that these events are turning into my own prized possessions.

Event Planning Notes

The biggest event I oversee is known as the State of AJWS breakfast in which our very own CEO Robert Bank makes an appearance and speaks on behalf of AJWS to our community about the work we have done and will continue to do this year, and the years to come. Robert is inspiring, forward thinking and a true philanthropist who cares deeply about the people and the issues at hand. I must thank my wonderful supervisors and colleges for helping me to perform to the best of my ability day in and day out. Working with members of the donor engagement team including Stefanie, Aliza and Neely has been eye opening, as these strong women are always working hard to demonstrate their love for the organization. Our team is special, and I will miss them dearly when I am gone.

It’s hard to believe this is my half way mark. I have already served as an intern for 4 weeks! I cannot imagine what else is in store for myself, the friends I have made here, the executives, the board and the people we support throughout the world.

Weekends out of the office spent exploring Brooklyn!

Furthering Social Justice

Open Source Wellness officially began running their first event in October 2016 and their second event this past April. Considering it is an extremely young organization, the founders have many goals and milestones they want to achieve. Their main social justice goal is to reach more people in low-income communities.

The organization was founded by two psychologists, Liz and Ben, who came up with the idea behind Open Source Wellness while they worked in different health clinics in Boston. They continuously saw patients who were referred to them by doctors who told the patients that they needed to change their eating habits, exercise more, or reduce their stress to combat the chronic health conditions they were facing. Wealthier patients could hire a nutritionist, personal trainer, or join a meditation group. However, people who lived in low-income communities went back to their same lifestyle because they did not know how and did not have the means to change the way they ate or acted. Through these experiences, Ben and Liz decided to open a “behavioral pharmacy” to help people make major lifestyle changes at little or no cost. Their doctor could write a prescription to go to Open Source Wellness to get support in making lifestyle changes. Even though this is their mission, Ben and Liz have been struggling to reach this demographic.

Below are pictures of Liz and Ben:

 

To combat this issue, the other interns and myself have been reaching out to providers, including clinics, doctors’ offices, and community centers in low-income areas in an attempt to form a referral partnership with them. We have been giving them free spaces that are reserved for their patients in our month-long program upon their referral. By reserving certain spots for their patients, we are creating a scarcity of spaces that they can fill which will incentivize them to fill the spots. Hopefully, once they see how helpful the program is for their patients, they will start sending more people. Some of the clinics we have been speaking with seem extremely interested in our mission, so we started talking with them about running an event in their clinic. These would be solely for their patients or members and would happen in the clinics or centers. West Oakland Health Center and Project Open Hand are two of the groups that we have been meeting with.

If the clinics followed through with their pledge to get their patients to sign up for our July cohort, which starts on July 11th, that is what progress would look like. It would also include one or more of the new clinics or centers allocating money to OSW to begin an event in their building, exclusively for their patients.

Provider outreach has been my main long-term task as an intern at OSW. I have spent countless hours emailing, calling, and meeting with doctors and administrators to tell them about the program that OSW offers, and to speak with them about creating a referral partnership.

The Lifelong Struggle towards a Just Economy

United for a Fair Economy (UFE) has been active for more than 20 years, but our cause has only been in mainstream conversation for 10. Though, it is important to note that things didn’t suddenly get bad — they’ve been bad. Ever since President Ronald Reagan introduced trickle-down economics, the wealth divide has only become deeper.

Thankfully, there are plenty of wealthy donors that we can pay homage to, but not every millionaire helps fund libraries and schools. Too many make irresponsible decisions; and even if we place taxes on gold or sports cars, we’d be punishing mechanics and jewelers — not the 1%.

Therefore, progressive taxes offer the only route towards a more equitable economy. Regardless of whatever counterarguments you may have heard.

One of my closest friends asked what a “fair economy” even entails, and it’s quite simple. UFE’s goal is not to have every bank account hold the same value; we are working so that everyone can live on a respectable income.

It’s simply not acceptable that the wealthiest 400 households can afford to buy a new car for every household in the country. And it’s not justifiable when $40,000 is a Bachelor’s degree for one person and a bottle of champagne to another.

Instead, we believe in an economy where each individual’s tenacity has real value — and not just the illusion of it.

For decades, UFE and its supporters have acknowledged that reliable infrastructure and social welfare programs are vital to a nation’s success. Those in office may sweep the issues under the rug or minimize the consequences, but our economy’s health lies in our collective well-being, not just that of major CEOs and heiresses.  

We are constantly reframing and rephrasing certain issues, because with just this simple task, one would be amazed by how many people suddenly care. Politicians and academicians have created significant barriers to understanding the way our economy works, and UFE is devoted to creating a level playing field.

For example, there are still many low-income families that are against the idea of an estate tax because they believe that they would be negatively affected by it. In reality, you and I both know that an individual would need millions before the tax comes into effect, but many at the top feed off of misinformation.

And not only is jargon to blame. There are instances where it is clear that legislators are hoping to create a one-sided response. Take the Right to Work law for example. The document was made to sound like a basic virtue, but really, it gives power back to corporations. The law has defunded labor unions considerably and affected their ability to function effectively.

But again, that’s simply not clear, and those that are most affected by such laws simply don’t have the time to do extensive research. These are the individuals that are busy sustaining our country’s foundation, and we owe it to them to take such matters into our own hands.

Especially during times like these, UFE rallies progressive individuals in the top 5% and forces politicians to listen. And while these 5%ers are the ones receiving the most benefits, the need for a more sustainable economy trumps self-interest.

Ashley Loc

The Process of Eradicating Discrimination

The goal of the MCAD is to investigate, prosecute, adjudicate and resolve cases of discrimination. This is accomplished through an in-depth investigative process conducted by each investigator to ensure that the correct determination is made and justice is served.

As an Intake Specialist, I initiate the 18-month process that begins once a complaint is filed with the MCAD. As a neutral organization, our role is to investigate possible discriminatory acts, and propose probable cause or lack of probable cause findings to the commissioner. This investigatory process includes review and analysis of the original complaint, a position statement from the respondent and often a rebuttal from the complainant. Additionally, for all cases except those that deal with sexual harassment, an investigative conference is held to produce additional information to support the case. In order to be deemed a “probable cause case,” the investigator must be able to illustrate how the case meets the requirements of the PFC- Prima Facie Case.

Not only does the MCAD investigate walk-in cases, we also have an entire testing department whose sole purpose is to uncover discriminatory practices within the community. This testing includes cold calling employment, housing and public accommodation facilities while posing with identities that fall under multiple protected classes. The goal of this unit is to asses these organizations and eliminate discriminatory practices before they affect the community.

Additionally, while the MCAD investigates singular discrimination cases, often we receive multiple cases against the same respondent. (Interestingly, we often see an abundance of cases against dental offices). In this instance, the overall benefit of the community is brought into perspective, as the MCAD holds the respondent accountable. Often, this means sending the case to court and refusing to settle in order to ensure that it becomes part of public record and is known to the larger community.

Progress takes many forms. While on the surface the MCAD focuses on individual cases, it is then those cases that become the building blocks that lead to the larger mission of eradicating discrimination. However, it is due to federal funding from both the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and HUD (U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development) that the commission has the authority and jurisdiction to investigate and enforce discrimination laws.

One aspect of working for MCAD that I enjoy the most is the team building environment that they promote. While there I am not just an intern, but an integral part of the larger mission and goals of the organization. The picture on the left below is of me and my fellow interns.

It is with their help working for the enforcement and housing departments that the MCAD is able to maintain their large case load. Underneath that is a picture of me with two investigative officers. We are all part of the continuous process towards accomplishing our social justice goals and promoting future progress towards eradicating discrimination.

Jessica Spierer ’18

 

A World (Market) to Explore!

This summer I will intern in the Boston Public Market. The Boston Public Market is an indoor, year-round marketplace for locally sourced groceries and specialty agricultural products, where residents and visitors can find fresh, seasonal food from Massachusetts and New England. The Market houses 40 local farmers, fishers, and food entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, almost a third of the Market floor was assigned to the KITCHEN, a teaching kitchen dedicated to public education, which offers many hands-on cooking demos, lectures, and is in collaboration with many community partners like Project Bread, Boston Children’s Museum and many more. The core of the Market’s mission is to educate “the public about food sources, nutrition and preparation”[i]. In my understanding, the core of this mission is to help the public regain their relationship to the origin of food, and to consider themselves as part of this environmental justice.

Another key part of the Market’s mission is to provide fresh, healthy food to consumers of all income levels. The Market is one of few year-round farmer’s markets that take SNAP purchases and participate in relevant city and state programs. As I mentioned in the last journal, one of the main focuses this summer is to help transit both customers and vendors to a new state program, the Health Incentive Program.

Picture achieved from https://bostonpublicmarket.org/blog/2983

The above is a brief description of the Market’s core value. If I were someone who had no knowledge in nutrition, food justice, community health, or environmental sustainability, I would most likely simply admire the staff’s effort and enjoy the vivid market place even more. However, from several classes I took at Brandeis, I now can look at this vibe in a new perspective. An HSSP elective “Diet and Health” discusses malnutrition, especially obesity, as a disease sourced in poverty. This class also gives me more insight on SNAP and several other US programs aiming to fight against hunger. Besides, in an environmental class “Food and Farming in America,” we discussed food deserts and sustainable agriculture. It was not until I started working in the Market that I realized the importance of factors such as supporting local community and seasonality of produces. I began to look for grain-fed meat in the supermarket, shopping more and more for in season food groups. I gradually started to apply knowledges from classes to real life. My previous experiences as a research assistant in Schuster Institutes opened my mind to nutrition issues in the US. One of the tours I programmed was inspired by my work experience here, which is designing a meal within limited budget.

A large portion of projects requires constantly (and repetitively) reading about the Market’s mission. After all, new programs are still designed around the central mission of the Market. This is when all the class knowledge came into play. On the other hand, engaging in the vivid environment of the Market also gives me more opportunities to actively learn from managers and vendors. In this way, I can maximize my learning during my interning process. Meanwhile, with all the background knowledges from Brandeis, not only can I finish my projects more effectively, but also am I able to interpret the Market’s core value better to visitors and tour groups. I believe community education is an important part of this internship, and of course, of social justice work. Although it seems that I’ve been doing all the smallest things, but they sum up to both my deeper understanding to the Market’s mission and better interpretation to the public.

Although occasionally it seems that what I have worked on does not relate to social justice issue at all, as long as I dig in deeply enough, I will always find the hidden link somewhere. Sometimes during a conversation with market manager, sometimes during a tour to a farm, or even in the middle of the researching a project, I always came across something inspiring. Social justice issue, at the same time, is also commonly seen.  This active thinking process really strengthens my ability to think flexibly, and to make connections whenever I can.

[i] Boston Public Market Annual report 2015, 2015, Boston Public Market Association. Achieved from: https://bostonpublicmarket.org/WP/wp-content/uploads/BPMA-AnnualReport-2015.pdf

Small Steps in Research Lead to Publication

Conducting research on social justice issues may at times seem like a slow process that yields little change in the real world. Yet, through the process of research, social justice questions are answered and new social justice questions get asked. Research advances the way we think about social justice through knowledge as opposed to actions. While the change might seem slow, without research, there wouldn’t be awareness of many of the social justice issues currently being tackled by non-profit organizations and our government.

In research, change and progress can be seen through the different steps of the process. Immediate change might not be seen during the time of data collection, analysis, and writing, however, once publication is reached, the paper can tremendously impact the way of thinking on a specific social justice issue. For example, the research lab I am working at this summer spent months collecting data regarding immunization and fluoride refusal with the hope of finding a link between people who refuse them. During the time of data collection and analysis, not much changed regarding a social justice issue. However, once the paper was published and was read by more influential leaders as well as fellow researchers, it began gaining recognition for the breakthrough ideas it presented. Although progress is still taking place and follow up research is currently being conducted, the initial paper inspired change and further interest in the issue.

Throughout the process of conducting public health research and publishing a paper, there are many small steps that must be accomplished before tackling the larger ones. Reaching out to communities for data collection, collecting consent from potential participants, following up with research participants, distributing incentives to participants, managing the data, encrypting data and condensing the data are only some of the many tasks that must be taken prior to engaging fully with the data set and drafting the paper. Without these many steps, the research would likely be unethical, inaccurate and misleading both to the research participants and to colleagues reading the paper. These small steps enable researchers to tackle larger ones such as analyzing the data, reaching conclusions, writing the paper and submitting for publications.

Public health research is often conducted very similarly across different labs. At the University of Washington, it is no different. The process taken is often very similar, but the results can be different. The issues being investigated by the lab I am working for this summer might seem relatively small; however, once they fit in with rest of the research being conducted on the same and similar topics, it becomes clear just how valuable it is. Much of the published research coming out of the lab provides social justice leaders with new and interesting perspectives on topics previously covered, enabling for further discussion on ways of reducing the problems. The complexity new research brings to old and new issues allows for more accurate discussions and better understood solutions.

Consent and Privacy as Social Justice

This past semester I took a class in which we discussed different aspects of ethical research. As part of this class we learned about the many ways in which people were abused and taken advantage of for the sake of research. Whether it be experimentation or lack of consent and privacy, throughout history many people have participated in research involuntarily. Conducting research in an ethical and respectful manner was a huge social justice issue that has thankfully been mostly addressed.

While in this class we learned that a key aspect of conducting research in an ethical and respectful manner involved protecting participants’ privacy and identity. While analyzing the data for the research paper I am in the process of writing, we encrypted the data, taking out the names and any other identifying information and instead giving each participant a numerical ID. By doing so, only a select few people have access to participants’ identity while for those working with the data, each participant is anonymous. As a result, participants are more likely to share information they want kept confidential improving the research along the way as well.

In my time as a research assistant I have had to analyze data regarding dentists’ perception of fluoride refusal. Many of the questions in the survey were controversial with opinions varying widely. For certain questions, dentists had the ability to write in their own answers, some of which could be seen as extremely demeaning. Although some of these responses will likely be published, knowing that individual identities were kept private allowed many dentists to express their honest, uncensored opinions.

From my observations of the research lab I am working in, privacy and participant consent are extremely important. Since social justice and equitable and honest research are so important to today’s researchers, many precautions are taken to ensure data collection and participation are done voluntarily. Prior to participating in data collection, dentists were asked to consent to their opinions being collected and published. Explanations on how the information collected will be used ensured participants agreed to the terms of the research and were aware of how their opinions might be shared.

Anonymity is often forgotten in today’s society where so much of our lives are shared publicly online. However, in public health research which often relies on individual respondents, to truly capture the public opinion on an issue, privacy and comfort are key. No one would want to share their private opinions on a controversial issue only to find that they are later ostracized due to the opinion being made public. Therefore, while it might seem laborious to take the many consent and privacy precautions modern researchers implement, one must remember the history of the many involuntary research participants.

The Process of Incorporating Social Justice into the Center for Autism Research

One of the foremost social justice goals of the Center for Autism Research is to expand the scope of research, and along with it diagnosis and treatment, to classically underrepresented populations. Currently, CAR is working to accomplish this goal through the development and ongoing use of the response to name smartphone application. As discussed in a previous blog post, (which you can read here!) diminished response to name is a hallmark feature of autism. CAR has created this mobile app to record how various children, those with autism, children with developmental delays, and typically developing children, respond to their individual names. The goal of the response to name app is both to understand the differences in response to name in these different populations and to determine if it can be used as an early indicator of autism as well as to incorporate a more diverse participant pool into the research.

Here, change and progress mean taking a different approach to how research is typically conducted. Instead of participants coming into the Center for Autism Research office in Philadelphia, they are able to participate in the research project from home, the supermarket, or any other place that is customary to their everyday lives. This shift in the way the data are collected requires many small and larger steps that I have been able to be a part of throughout my time at CAR.

The first step was developing the app, which I was able to make my mark on several summers ago when I drew out the tutorial for how to use the application. This summer, I have worked on coding some of the pilot videos. I have watched numerous trials and analyzed them for any atypicalities in the way the child’s name was said and for the degree to which the child responded to his or her name.

Currently, several summer interns including myself are part of a new project called the summer screening study that is aiming to recruit more individuals to use the response to name app. We are doing this in order to determine who actually participates in the study and to ensure that the participant pool is in fact demographically and socioeconomically diverse. Later, when a larger study is conducted, researchers will be sure that the application is truly reaching people of diverse backgrounds.

As one of the interns working on this project, we visit a primary care practice at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and recruit patients from the waiting room. We explain the complete study to the families, help them through the consent process, and download the smartphone application with them. This is an exciting and more hands-on way for me to participate in the research process!

I have really enjoyed the process of watching the response to name application study unfold as it attempts to capture a more representative sample. I am excited to see the next steps and where the research and data collected will go as well!

Painting Social Justice

Here are a few examples of crafts that we have done this summer: homemade playdough, an Uncle Sam puppet, and a “floating” jellyfish

Five painted pictures sit on the brown countertop, each hand-crafted by a different camper, and each marked with considerable effort and thought. Scrawling black sharpie accompanies each of the paintings, proclaiming the creator.  For two weeks the paintings sit there waiting to be given to their respective owners—owners that will never return for them. These are the sad remnants of some of my campers, and a sad example for many of the families in domestic violence shelters everywhere. Owners who never return for their paintings, and residents who never return to the shelters. Sometimes, we know where they have gone (some transition to shared WINGS housing, others find family to stay with, and a few continue on to referred programs). Sometimes, however, families say a quick goodbye and leave without informing anyone of where they are going, leaving only the worst to be unbearably assumed. Those five children still have not returned to camp; and, when inquired about, sad smiles and hopeful words answer.

This chart displays some of the necessary services that WINGS provides

It is hard for victims of domestic violence to leave their abuser and the control and fabricated stability that the abuser presents. And, while WINGS staff wants to ensure that no one returns to their previous unstable situation, there is nothing that can be done. This is the harsh reality for many in shelters across the globe. WINGS supplies women, men, and children with tools to safeguard themselves and attempts to ensure that no one will return to such conditions. WINGS does this best through offering housing, support, advice, and knowledge to the patrons of the shelter.   And, while I do not directly work with most of the adults, my job—providing both children and parents with an escape—is just as important.

Since camp has started; parents, staff, and other women have approached me exclaiming just how great the camp has been for both parents and children. While the children get to have fun, play games, and do crafts; parents get a respite and are able to work on crucial matters whether it is applying for transitional housing or taking a much-needed nap. The environment in camp also provides a safe space for children to talk about and discuss things from their favorite superheroes to their feelings to their innermost thoughts about the situation their family is currently in.

I have spent the past two years taking various education and childhood development classes and, thus, have briefly studied the impact violence and broken homes have on children. At WINGS I, unfortunately, witness the outcomes first-hand. In the camp, each child presents themselves in different ways. Some who are initially quiet and reserved, must first become comfortable with everyone in the room before interacting with anyone. Others, who are silly and wild, will lash out—both verbally and physically— at the smallest of irritants. Through this internship I am learning how to better navigate children who were raised in these situations. During my training, we discussed how oftentimes younger children are more impacted by the violence then their older counterparts, and through the camp I have seen that the younger children are often the first to become aggravated and physically aggressive, while the older children look for different outlets such as removing themselves from the situation. Nonetheless, all the children have a bright outlook when it comes to their futures; a future we all pray isn’t marked by a leftover painting and a sad smile.

Statistics, facts, and additional information about domestic violence can be accessed here.

Progress at Umby

My organization, Umby, a peer-to-peer microinsurance startup, has a vision of ending poverty around the world. This is definitely an ambitious goal, but the hope is that microinsurance has the power to do just that. By allowing individuals living in poverty to invest in savings, education, and new ventures, microinsurance can break the poverty cycle and help whole generations of families.

Image from the Kathmandu Post

While Umby is certainly not in a position to end poverty all by itself, we do have the opportunity to raise awareness of people living on less than $4 USD a day – the realities of their lives and, most importantly, what their needs are. In the US, we certainly have to face the reality of poverty in certain ways: walk down the street in any urban area in the country and you will see people living outside, many of whom are asking for our help. But it is still easy to ignore what poverty is really like for those that experience it, especially those that are living in a context that is vastly different than the one here in the US. I think one of the most valuable aspects of Umby’s work is the peer-to-peer aspect. The eventual platform will allow people with the resources to provide support to directly connect with those who would be receiving the microinsurance. This allows for powerful connections. It will raise awareness of the realities of international poverty to those of us who have the immense privilege of living in the US.

A map showing the percentage of people living below the poverty line. In the US, it’s between 10-20%, while in parts of Africa and South America it is over 60%

This has also been my role. As I reflected last week, my role as a Marketing Intern means that I am in charge of informing people who’ve never heard of microinsurance, as well as trying to bring to life the realities of living in some of the poorest countries in the world. I believe that this ties into the idea of raising awareness, and hopefully will lead to people making donations to support microinsurance for families experiencing poverty.

This is a small step towards ending international poverty. Of course, a simple raising of awareness is not going to be enough to end poverty, especially in countries where there is a lack of infrastructure and/or a corrupt, unstable government. However, I believe that getting privileged people interested in these conversations and issues is a wonderful step on the way towards reaching a poverty-free world. The more people are willing to work together to address these problems, the faster they will be eliminated.

Progress: Spreading the Wealth

Whenever I head upstairs, I pass this quote on the wall and am constantly reminded of why I’m there and what my purpose is.

Every day when I head upstairs to the human resources area of Americares, I am greeted by a saying on the wall stated by the organization’s founder, Bob Macauley: “The fact that you can’t help everybody doesn’t mean that you can’t help somebody. So do whatever little you can—or as much as you can.” To the founder, performing any small good deed is considered helpful, a sign of progress. Bob Macauley may no longer be alive, but his ideals live within the company and are always prominent. Based on this standard, progress could be defined as simply doing a good deed for another, or encouraging others to pay it forward and perform a good deed for someone else. Although the goals of the organization have evolved under the care of Michael Nyenhuis, the CEO of Americares, the ideals of just helping one person better their community and those around them still exists today.

When most people think of Americares and the work it does, they tend to only recognize the organization’s biggest and most well-known program, gift-in-kind donations. The term “gift-in-kind” is a fancy way of describing a gift of anything other than money. However, Americares has broader strategic focuses, including emergency programs, access to medicine, clinical services, and community health.

In the context of these core focuses, progress comes in the form of increased impact. Specifically, this means providing aid to more people, whether it be through utilizing the services provided by the Americares Free Clinics (AFC), responding to humanitarian crises quickly and efficiently, or rebuilding and expanding local health facilities in order to strengthen the health care of the community. An organization like Americares would always like to see the number of people it helps or the number of humanitarian crises they are able to respond to increase, but those who work at the organization know that they have done their job if they were able to make a difference for at least one person.

One view of the medication storeroom from the Americares Free Clinic in Stamford. On the wall, you can just start to see all of the donated medications procured for patients in need.

In order to make Americares programs successful, donations are imperative. Donations are the building block that allow Americares to fund its free clinics or any other programs it decides to initiate. Most specifically, the donors themselves are the keys to success in any of the Americares programs. Through their contributions, the organization is not only able to maintain the success of its current programs but also expand those successes to encompass more people from more geographic locations previously untouched.

Although progress can be initially achieved with increases in donors and donor contributions, it would be impossible without having the strategic focuses previously mentioned. Americares would love to be able to help every person that ever got hurt, injured, or in need of aid, but realizes that the quality of the work performed might be diminished with too wide of a scope of care. Therefore, what makes Americares a great organization is its ability to make progress and successes attainable for anyone lending a hand while also recognizing that quality is just as, if not more important than, quantity.

Learning about Criminal Justice Reform at the DC Public Defender Service

As a Philosophy major, there isn’t much I’ve learned in that department that translates directly into what I’m doing this summer at the DC Public Defender Service [PDS]. That said, the type of thinking I’ve come to develop at Brandeis has been crucial for my investigatory position.

Much of what I’m doing is problem solving – whether it be navigating the bureaucracy of the US Marshal Service or figuring out how to charm myself into getting a statement from a witness in the field. Some of the internship also involves critical thinking in the sense that we need to figure out, under the circumstances, how best to defend our client.

The most common theories of defenses we pursue fall into one of a few categories: fabrication, misidentification, mere presence, or self-defense. Depending on the evidence, we’ll choose a theory and present that as our version of the case events to the judge and/or jury. There’s no doubt that my experience in the Philosophy department has prepared me well to think about and make effective arguments. Being able to apply those skills on the ground in a way that effects people’s lives is a remarkable opportunity.

The social justice issues I’m learning about – mass incarceration and criminal justice reform – are topics that I’m only now, at PDS, starting to grasp. While the organization is not policy-oriented, interning here has allowed me daily exposure to some of the injustices that plague the criminal justice system. One area that has particularly interested me is mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug crimes. It’s something that’s been discussed – how draconian these minimums are, how much discretion they remove from the hands of judges, and how they disproportionately affect the African American community. Of course, not every drug case is negatively affected by these minimums, but learning about them has certainly allowed me to contextualize much of the work that I’m doing.

Our office on Indiana Ave, NW.

Mass incarnation is another issue I’m becoming particularly passionate about as a result of my learning and experience at PDS. Until I started doing research, I had no idea how extreme the issue really was. Did you know that the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world? According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 2.3 million adults are currently incarcerated in the US – about one of every 110 residents. It is a number that has more than quadrupled since the War on Drugs was first waged by President Nixon in the 1970s.

What’s worse, felony convictions don’t disappear after a convict has served his or her time in prison. To the contrary, such a conviction stays with people for life, and prevents them from accessing many fundamental services and being full-fledged members of our community. Just to get an idea, convicted felons can’t live in public housing, receive public social benefits, vote, or travel abroad. What this effectively means is that a ten-year sentence doesn’t end after ten years. I’m not sure if it ends at all.

Having these ideas in mind, many of which I first heard of at Brandeis, has allowed me to realize the vital role PDS plays in the criminal justice system. Without public defenders, there’s no doubt the system would be far less just.

Birthday #1

On June 30th, 2016, a manila envelope arrived at the BridgeYear Headquarters (aka a townhouse living room set up to look like an office). Inside were a couple of pieces of paper that the BridgeYear team had so anxiously been waiting for. The first sentence read:

“Dear Applicant,

We are pleased to inform you that upon review of your application for tax exempt status we have determined that you are exempt from Federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the International Revenue Code.”

At first glance, this may seem like an odd sentence to get excited about, but for a team of ten that had been working for a month to build something from nothing, it was the kind of confirmation we needed. We had been approved for 501(c)(3) status, meaning we were officially operating under nonprofit status!

The full BridgeYear team during our celebratory photoshoot. Special shout-out to our Co-Founders, Victoria Doan and Victoria Chen (on the top left), for leading our team and coaching us to be our best selves.

It’s been a year since that day, which means BridgeYear is officially one! Last Friday, on the organization’s birthday, the team celebrated with some cake and a photoshoot. As I stood there and watched my coworkers laugh hysterically at our co-founders standing behind the camera yelling things like “Give me more sass!” and “Yes, that’s perfect!” I couldn’t help but reflect on the last year. So much has changed about the organization, and in the process, a lot has changed about me too. After my first summer of interning, I realized that education was the field I saw myself in the most. While I didn’t come to that conclusion then and there, subconsciously, I built my class schedule around topics that I believed would best prepare me to serve in this sector.

Upon my return to Brandeis for the fall 2016 semester, I took a course called Latinos in the US with Professor Madeleine López. There, I learned about the generations of Latinos before me whose efforts to attain social justice in education are the reason I get to attend a school like Brandeis today. Professor López taught me to analyze history in a way that I hadn’t been taught to before – she showed me that the inequalities experienced by Latinxs in our education system today are rooted in the history of this country. With her words always in mind, I’ve been able to trace back the reasons for the low rates at which Latinxs enroll in and graduate from higher education. When a whole population experiences de facto segregation and is denied of resources for decades, the systems in place are anything but fair. I think about this a lot as nearly 78% of BridgeYear students today are Latinxs from low-income communities. It makes the reasons behind my work in college access and success 100 times stronger on a good day, and 1000 times more powerful on the tougher days.

Under Professor Wallace’s leadership our class put together Justice Jam: an event that brought together the Brandeis community to discuss social justice in education. I got to be a panel moderator for the incredible Clint Smith! Check him out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6lifKTbFTw

While my class with Professor López gave background to my work, Spring 2017 brought with it a massive amount of knowledge through the class Critical Perspectives in Urban Education. It was one thing to learn about segregation before Brown v. Board of Education in 1964, and it was another to talk about its existence in 2017. Professor Derron Wallace taught me to recognize the evolving forms of racial, economic, and social exclusion that place students in urban areas at a disadvantage. With BridgeYear I get to go around the city and into high schools where resources are scarce and out of reach for those who could benefit from them the most. Because of Professor Wallace, I’m able to better understand the complexity of issues affecting local public schools and then critically think about how I’d like to tackle them in the future.

Writing this reminds me of how lucky I really am. I’m able to work hands on in something I’m passionate about. I get to turn theory from my classes into practice at work and the scholar inside of me cannot get over how magnificent this feels. With six weeks left of the internship, I’m eager to see more of my Brandeisian lessons appear in my day to day work.

Dariana Resendez, ’19

Music, Movements, and Mental Health

In the spring 2017 semester, I took a class called “Rock and Roll in American Culture.” In this class, I learned about how social movements have influenced rock and how rock has influenced social movements. For example, rock music and rock musicians played a big role in the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. To my surprise, this is a parallel to the organization I’m interning with, To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA).

TWLOHA began eleven years ago when the organization’s founder sold t-shirts at a rock show to help pay for a friend’s rehabilitative treatment. The vocalist of the band playing that show noticed the t-shirts, emblazoned with what would become TWLOHA’s logo, and wanted to wear one of them while performing on stage. Overnight, hundreds of people sent in messages to the TWLOHA MySpace page. Soon after, TWLOHA joined Vans Warped Tour, a traveling music festival featuring mostly rock bands. Since then, TWLOHA has sold t-shirts, started conversations, and disseminated mental health resources at dozens of music festivals around the country, even expanding to other genres outside of rock. Many different musicians have worn TWLOHA t-shirts on stage, and a large portion of the people who know about the organization learned about it from these musicians. TWLOHA  is deeply connected to music, especially rock music, as a platform for social movement .

I experienced this connection firsthand, as I had the opportunity to work at the TWLOHA booth at Warped Tour in West Palm Beach, Florida. A band I like, Movements, performed while I was there. Before their set, they invited to the microphone a man who shared his struggles with addiction and urged people struggling with addiction to seek help. Later in the day from behind the booth, I could hear another band’s vocalist talking about how hard it is to have a loss of hope, trying to convince people struggling to stay alive, saying, “It’s okay to not be okay.” Hearing and seeing these musicians use their performances and popularity as a platform to promote social justice reminded me of what I learned in “Rock and Roll in American Culture.”


Recalling the discussions we had in this class, I was reminded of the power and importance of art as a method of promoting social justice. The moments I witnessed at Warped Tour are a few of many examples of art being a catalyst and platform for social change. This connection reminds me of TWLOHA’s roots in rock music and how music has catalyzed this organization’s ability to promote social change in mental health.

MPHA and Social Justice

As a Health: Science, Society, and Policy (HSSP) major at Brandeis, I have learned and studied the health inequalities that are present within the United States. Two classes at Brandeis that I took that especially focused on this topic were “Health, Community, and Society” taught by Professor Peter Conrad, and “Sociology of Body and Health” taught by Professor Sarah Shostak. These classes caught my full attention when the topic of health inequality in the United States was brought up.

Both classes examined healthy food access and the consequences that arise when healthy and affordable food is not accessible. In “Health, Community, and Society,” I was given the task to interview various people about how they viewed their own health. I was given the flexibility to create the questions for the people I interviewed, so I focused my questions around food access and made sure that the people I interviewed were from a diverse array of socio-economic backgrounds. After conducting these interviews, I noticed that the ways in which people viewed their health tended to vary amongst socio-economic classes. People that I interviewed from a lower socio-economic class tended to feel that they had less control over their health compared to people from a higher socio-economic class. This is due to a lesser amount of opportunities to live a healthy lifestyle.

In “Sociology of Body and Health”, I was given the task to interview the person in charge of buying groceries from two different families. I interviewed my mother, whose home is located in a food swamp, and I interviewed my friend’s mother who lives in an affluent community. A food swamp is an area that has too much access to unhealthy and cheap food. These areas have a large amount of fast food restaurants in a small space and are generally found in low-income neighborhoods. This is much different than an affluent neighborhood that has less access to unhealthy food and greater access to healthy foods.

As you can probably imagine, the two interviews were drastically different. My mother focused more on foods being cost-effective and convenient, whereas my friend’s mother had the freedom to buy essentially anything that she wanted for her family. There are many grocery stores in her neighborhood and a Whole Foods nearby. Her neighborhood did not have nearly as many fast food options as my mother’s neighborhood which is swamped with options.

This is an example of a food swamp, an area swamped with unaffordable food options that are cheap and convenient.

My experiences interviewing people about health and food in these courses motivated me to obtain an internship with a focus on creating healthy and affordable food options for everyone. Thankfully, the Massachusetts Public Health Association focuses on just that. They have secured $6 million for the Massachusetts Food Trust Program, which “provides loans, grants, and technical assistance to support new and expanded healthy food retailers and local food enterprises in low and moderate income communities. This could include grocery stores, corner stores, farmer’s markets, mobile markets, community kitchens, food co-ops food truck commissaries, indoor and outdoor greenhouses, and food distribution hubs.” This is so important because what you put into your body plays a huge role in your health in the future. It is harder for some people to prevent diseases that happen due to poor diet (heart disease, diabetes, etc.), therefore it is necessary to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity of eating healthy and therefore preventing these diseases.

This map of Massachusetts shows the differences in access to grocery stores from city to city.

Since I have all of this previous knowledge that I gained at Brandeis, I am very excited to work with MPHA. I will have the opportunity to interview people about how MPHA has positively impacted their lives, and I am very excited to hear about the great things that MPHA has done for people in low-income communities in regards to unequal access to healthy and affordable food. Because of the knowledge that I’ve gained as an HSSP major, I will feel confident conducting these interviews and will have the ability to acquire answers and experiences from these people that will then be published for many to see and, hopefully, be inspired to participate in ending health inequalities.

Karen Caldwell ’18

An “Ethnography” of Social Justice

On the second day of my internship at Avodah, I helped organize the final event of the organization’s New York Fellowship Program. The main goal of this social justice initiative is to provide networking, mentorship, and learning opportunities to young professionals interested in giving back to their community through social work.

Ruth Messinger, Stosh Cotler, and Jill Jacobs were the three panelists invited to speak at the closing ceremony. They articulately addressed issues such as the contribution of the Jewish community to causes related to poverty alleviation, and the role of women in leadership positions, particularly in the world of activism. The panel was moderated by Avodah’s Executive Director Cheryl Cook. They also talked about sources of inspiration they found in their journeys, as well as the importance of making such social justice journeys visible to the rest of the community, in the hope of inspiring new ones.

(The panel of the Fellowship Closing event, organized in the innovative and unconventional location of JCC Harlem)

One of the reasons why I am so interested in the work of the above mentioned activists and the entire team at Avodah is that I have explored only the theoretical side of these issues through my classes at Brandeis. As an aspiring Anthropologist looking to specialize in cultural studies, with a focus on group dynamics and the identity of disadvantaged groups and minorities, I chose the Social Justice internship at Avodah knowing that it would be an invaluable experience. I have spent the past two semesters studying the politics of poverty, group exclusion of the cultural and socioeconomic ‘Other,’ and social identity theory through the works of Clifford Geertz, Henri Tajfel, Barbara Ehrenreich, Michel Foucault, Philippe Bourgois, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and my professor, Janet McIntosh. However, as an undergraduate student, I do not yet have access to the research opportunities of an actual anthropologist, which is why I chose to pursue the experiential learning process of this internship.

Unlike Philosophy or Political Theory, Cultural Anthropology is a descriptive discipline of human nature and culture, meaning that ethnographic fieldwork is essential. At Avodah I am able to observe the community living arrangements administered by the organization, meet with members and fellows of their Jewish Service Corps Training Program, who are learning practical ways in which to address the same issues I am theoretically interested in, and listen to the fascinating stories of activists such as the ones who took part in the above mentioned event.

Sonia Pavel ’20

Post #2: New York Communities for Change

Hello all!

I’m back this week to answer the prompt:  What have you learned at Brandeis that informs your thinking about your organization’s work?

Answer: At Brandeis, I learned about how the Federal Housing Authority and the GI Bill systematically excluded Black and Brown families from the growing American middle class. Learning how the U.S. government leveraged housing discrimination and loan programs to exclude Black and Brown communities from the American middle class helps me understand the communities I am working with. It helps me understand the financial insecurity a lot of folks face. It helps me understand that the fight for equality is a never-ending battle against a system built on discrimination.

Federal Housing Authority & Redlining

In 1934, Franklin D. Roosevelt founded the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) as part of the “New Deal” effort to bring the United States out of the Great Depression. The FHA was created to issue and regulate mortgages and allowed millions of Americans to afford a down payment on a house for the first time. Unfortunately, millions of Black Americans were shut out from the dream of home ownership due to a discriminatory practice called redlining.

The FHA created “residential security maps” like the one shown below to determine which neighborhoods were eligible to receive low-interest loans. Low-income majority minority neighborhoods were outlined in red ink indicating that they were “high risk.” High risk neighborhoods were outright denied loans or were only eligible to receive high-interest, short-term mortgages. A 1938 FHA manual even explicitly instructed banks to steer clear of areas with “inharmonious racial groups” and pushed local governments to create zoning laws that enforce racial segregation. In the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Ghetto is Public Policy.”

Further reading: How We Built the Ghettos – Jamelle Bouie

GI Bill

The GI Bill is credited by many experts as establishing the American middle class by providing a number of services to veterans including generous low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans, unemployment compensation, job training programs and college tuition and fees. Overall, the bill was a tremendous success, helping over 16 million veterans attend college, receive job training, start businesses or purchase their first home.  However, in the words of historian Ira Katznelson, the GI Bill was “deliberately designed to accommodate Jim Crow.”

Take the state of Mississippi: By October 1946, 6,500 former soldiers had been assigned jobs by the state employment service. 86 percent of the skilled and semiskilled jobs were filled by white people and 92 percent of the unskilled jobs, by Black people. Between 1945 and 1960, only two of the 3,200 loans provided were given to Black veterans.

However, this was not just a Southern issue. Housing discrimination was rampant in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions. In New York and New Jersey, “fewer than 100 of the 67,00 mortgages insure by the GI Bill supported home purchases by nonwhites.”

Homeownership has been the primary path for millions of Americans to accumulate private wealth. Today, seventy-three percent of white people own a home, compared to only 45% of Black people. The average white homeowner’s house is worth $85,000 compared to only $50,000 for the average Black home. The average Black household has only 6 percent of the wealth of the average white family. These disparities are an inevitable result of the discriminatory implementation of the GI Bill and the Federal Housing Administration.

 


 

At NYCC I work with community members who are fighting back against “urban renewal” or “redevelopment” plans that accelerate gentrification. The progression of these projects is pretty formulaic: First, a corporate real estate developer funds a local politician’s campaign or otherwise buys them off. Next, the politician gives public land and taxpayer money to the developer to build luxury condos in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. For an example of this phenomenon please read this report on the Bedford Armory Development project in Crown Heights.

What I learned at Brandeis helps me understand that these gentrification projects are not a new phenomenon. They are merely another manifestation of state sanctioned racial housing discrimination. People in power will always uphold the status quo unless pushed to do otherwise.

Response to Name App at the Center for Autism Research

In my Research Methods and Laboratory in Psychology course at Brandeis University this past spring, we spent some time discussing representative sampling and the importance of recruiting a diverse population. This is essential in order to achieve external validity, the extent to which the results of a study can be generalized to other situations or to other people. (If you would like to learn more about representative sampling, click here!)

Representative sampling is often a concern in autism research including at the Center for Autism Research. Many of the families that are able to bring their children in for various assessments and research projects are affluent Caucasian families, and this can potentially confound the data. Since the studies mostly involve these certain groups, researchers cannot know whether the results are generalizable to a larger population or whether they are solely consistent with that particular group.

The Response to Name app created by The Center for Autism Research

The Center for Autism Research is aware of this issue and is trying to combat it through various new projects such as the Response to Name app. Diminished response to name is a hallmark feature of autism that can potentially serve as an early indicator of an autism spectrum disorder. Researchers at CAR have developed a mobile smartphone app that prompts a parent or guardian to stand behind their child when the child is engaged in an everyday activity and to call their name. Thus, families don’t need to come into the lab to participate. The app then video records the response and uploads the file to a secure network. Parents also rate whether their child responded to their name.  (More information about the pilot run of the smartphone app can be found here.)

This past week I have been watching the videos (about 30 trials per participant!) and coding them for certain information including whether the name calling bid was typical, if the child was in view of the camera, and if they responded. It has been very interesting for me to observe the different ways that children with autism, children with other developmental disorders, and typically developing children respond to their own names. This phenomenon was not something I thought much about before, but now the distinctions are becoming clear to me and I better understand the importance of studying this trend.

The instructions for the app. I actually drew the tutorial as a volunteer for CAR in high school!

It is the hope of the Center for Autism Research that in the future, the data collected from this app will be used to better understand “response to name” and aid in the early screening and potentially diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. The use of the mobile app is extremely valuable in the effort to get a wider range of families to participate in research. With the introduction of the app, there is greater accessibility to the study which hopefully will be a step towards more accessibility to diagnoses and treatment for underrepresented groups.

Urban Planning: Theory & Practice

One of my favorite classes so far at Brandeis has been UWS—a favorite that I’m definitely in the minority for. The University Writing Seminar is a required class that all Brandeis students have to take, and each class has a different theme that students write about. My freshman UWS was called “The Decay of the American City,” and was about exploring urban planning practices in America.

Even though I didn’t really volunteer to take the class, I ended up discovering a whole subject of study that I didn’t know existed. I’d never before given much thought to how urban landscapes are developed, or really investigated the underlying ideas about how we put together the spaces where we live.

This past semester, I took a different class that approached these same ideas from a more literary perspective. “The Novel and the City,” a comparative literature class, explored the development of both novels and cities over the past three centuries. Again, I got to study how cities and societies are formed, and the social concepts that dominate how we construct our physical and social environments.

These two classes—my two favorites so far—have been excellent precursors for my current internship. For my internship this summer, I’ve been spending a lot of time researching urban spaces on the Gulf Coast, specifically in Southeast Texas and South Louisiana, and putting these ideas into practice. From my time at Brandeis, I’m now able to more critically investigate communities, to look at how they’re put together and how people live in them.

The Gulf Coast hosts both people and petrochemical plants, and often they’re uncomfortably situated in close proximity to one another. For example, in the Meadowbrook/Allandale neighborhood of Houston, Texas, there’s Cesar Chavez High School, which is located less than a quarter-mile away from a Texas Petrochemicals refinery, a Goodyear plant, and an Exxon-Mobil chemical facility.  The dire situation is detailed in this excellent Texas Observer article, which says that “a major accident at any of the three plants, by the industry’s own estimates, would injure or kill many Chavez students.”

Looking at this physical space from a critical perspective, we have to ask tough questions about it. For instance, why was this high school built so close to a refinery? Might it have to do with the respective racial and income make-ups of the neighborhood?

When we look at these two maps below, sourced from 2010 Census data for Meadowbrook/Allandale, the situation becomes more distressing.

Meadowbrook/Allandale, and its adjacent neighborhoods, like Manchester and Harrisburg, are living examples of the disparities in how our society treats both the poor and minorities. They’re why films like In the Air need to be made, because any society that treats its citizens so poorly needs to be called out.

My time spent at Brandeis, too, has helped me with my internship in that I got to learn about the subject of urban planning in theory and now I get to see it in practice. I’m excited to help tell the stories of these marginalized communities and to help fight for justice to be done.

Bringing Brandeis Knowledge to Oakland

During the spring semester at Brandeis, I took the course Narcopolitics with Professor Brian Fried. Through this course, I learned about the correlation between drug use and incarceration rates. A recurring issue that we discussed throughout the course was the elevated rates at which children of formerly incarcerated persons are likely to be incarcerated when compared to children whose parents have not experienced incarceration. This comparison shocked me at the time. Currently, I am witnessing the reality of this fact and it is extremely unsettling.

Here is a link to an article that explains the cycle of intergenerational incarceration.

Many of the individuals I work with at Alameda Point Collaborative, a low-income housing community, were previously incarcerated or homeless. The people who attend events through Open Source Wellness are mainly in their fifties and sixties, and many of them have older children who have also been incarcerated. One of the women who regularly attends our events explained her experience with incarceration. She described her long struggle to move past this difficult time in her life because of the legal, social, and emotional restrictions she experienced. Now, her son faces a long prison sentence. She spoke about her inner struggle about the best way to support him, and if she chooses to support him at all. She does not know if she can deal with the responsibility of trying to get him released early or if she is willing to support him when he is released because she feels she put a lot of effort into trying to break the cycle of incarceration. She said she understands that it is more likely for her children to be sent to prison, because she did, but she hoped her children would break the statistic.

Above are pictures of the community garden and kitchen where the residents of APC grow and cook the food that they serve at our events.

Many of these individuals have been incarcerated for drug offenses. There are strong genetic links and environmental factors that influence drug use. The children of parents who have drug or alcohol addictions often begin their lives with a hereditary vulnerability in addition to the impact of their parent’s drug addiction. Additionally, the loss of parental role models for long periods of time during a parent’s absence due to imprisonment negatively impacts breaking the cycle of incarceration. I recently read an article about recent research that proposes that 40%-70% of people in the prison system have Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) which the researchers contest has a strong genetic link, further adding to the cycle of incarceration.

In Professor Fried’s course I learned about the unfairness of U.S. drug laws and the impact they have on the cycle of incarceration. With this knowledge, I am more informed about the challenges facing individuals who were incarcerated, especially the difficulties encountered in breaking the cycle of incarceration. My role at the Open Source Wellness program, is to help run the weekly event by facilitating a group discussion in a weekly women’s circle. I feel as though my increased understanding of incarceration in the U.S. is helping me support these women in a way that is meaningful and helpful to them.

Seeing My Internship through a Brandeisian Lens

For this post, I will be talking about the effect studying at Brandeis has had on how I approach my internship.

Besides the fact I was fortuitous enough to be able to apply for this internship through Brandeis’ Handshake Program, I also see my social justice work through the important lens of a Politics/Psychology double major. And as Politics/Psychology double major, I’m often asked about the relevancy and intersection of my two majors to my life view.

The connection between them isn’t always obvious–hence the dearth of cross-listed classes compared to other disciplines. But the way I’ve always seen it is that both seek to understand and generalize behaviors writ large. Politics is understanding systems. We talk about the ways other nation states interact with each other, and how they straddle the line between order and anarchy. Psychology, on the other hand, focuses on individuals and to the extent to which human behaviors and predispositions affect our perception of the world.

I’ve found an interconnected approach is an important part of organizing. Because, specifically relevant to IWJ, while talking with the religious congregations, organizations and corporations, it’s important to know the right people to target. An action is as successful as the allies you acquire and the extent to which you are able to quantify and exhibit successes. Having demonstrable goals makes victories relevant to the cause of social justice.

A few weeks ago, I participated in Seminary Summer, straddling the middle ground as a participant and observer. I learned about the variety of inequalities faced by individuals in the labor market and the way non-profits and religious organizations are speaking out.

One example stuck out to me. We were given an issue of wage theft and were given time to brainstorm with a partner the most effective way to address this injustice, and how to incorporate religious communities. Knowledge of political science helped me to vocalize what systems I should be targeting and what structures were in place to encourage, or more often than not discourage, systemic change. But knowledge of psychology made me think what would be the most effective way to approach people for my desired result.

(Some of the reading I’ve done at work. Learn more here.)

Since Seminary Summer, I’ve spent time putting together details for our National Convening. In this, I’ve drawn upon my extracurricular experiences at Brandeis. Being a debater and learning how to speak succinctly and persuasively has aided me in crafting scripts to message and interact with IWJ donors and affiliates about our upcoming National Convening–in particular, encouraging allies to come to a photo exhibit we’re hosting with the work of David Bacon.

If you haven’t seen his phenomenal and moving work as a labor activist and photojournalist, his website is available here.

The following is one of his powerful images:

Overall, I’m grateful that Brandeis has improved my analytical and persuasive abilities and I have them come to play as I prepare for the next major event of my internship.

 

Closing Disparity Gaps

This past semester, I took a course titled “Economy of Race and Gender.” While the course tracked the disparity amongst racial groups in the US, primarily White and Black, in an economic perspective, it provided insight to other racial groups. With discrimination and gaps in income, the not so privileged group(s) tend to do worse in life.

I can use this knowledge and apply it to my internship as many of these clients begin with nothing. They navigate the American lifestyle knowing little to no English and with a limited budget. Language barriers and limited to no knowledge on how to work with basic home appliances make living in the United States hard, I would suppose. I remember a story of one family that thought turning off the air conditioner means to push the lever down, which turned out to have an opposite effect of what they had hoped for. The next day, many of the young children suffered from colds and had to be taken to the doctor’s office. Hearing these stories really touch your heart. We must be appreciative that we know how to handle and work with these appliances and amenities, while people from other countries do not know how.

Additionally, the course at Brandeis discussed closing the educational gap where poor and underserved students through Affirmative Action are given preference in admissions. This made me think about my own background as a first-generation college student and how I was able to attend Brandeis. I never thought of leaving my city until mentors from a program that provides college readiness services encouraged me to apply out-of-state to universities like Brandeis, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania. Information about the program, EMERGE-HISD, can be found here. During a short meeting with my supervisor, I brought up the idea of possibly developing a curriculum that encourages high school seniors to apply to need-blind and full-need universities and colleges. I would like for these clients to take advantage of the high-quality education that the United States offers so that they can become future leaders in the United States and the world at large.

Slides from the Health Care Orientation

As research has shown, minority students who enroll at these large, prestigious universities are known to return and serve underserved communities. Likewise, perhaps with these individuals, supported by the refugee agency, they will make an attempt to attend such universities to help bring change to their lives, the lives of their family members, and the lives of people around the world. Similarly, my goal and hope that all clients utilize and take advantage of the benefits of Medicaid will help close the gap of health care disparity both in terms of medicine and dentistry. The findings in this article are relevant to the work I will be doing within the next few weeks. Through my work, ranging from organizing client files, developing a curriculum, to educating clients, I hope that what I do purely reflects my attempt to give access to these individuals who might not know of such opportunities. With these resources, it is of my greatest interest to help inspire their lives and bring positive changes.

Life Number 2: Starting Fresh in the United States

The Refugee Services of Texas (RST) serves refugees, asylees, individuals with Special Immigrant Visas, Cuban-Haitian entrants, Central American minors, survivors of human trafficking, and other vulnerable populations. RST is a social-service agency dedicated to providing assistance to refugees and other displaced persons. A list of the different services that the Houston office offers can be found here. Through its many services, it aims to build a welcoming environment for these underserved and vulnerable populations. The office of the agency is located on the fifth of six total floors of a square building surrounded by other office buildings and apartment complexes. Upon entrance, one may feel that he or she is in a clinic. Chairs are lined up against the wall and against each other in the middle. Toys for the children are stacked in the corner.

Upon my entrance into the office space on my first day, I was greeted by a large number of employees and interns. I felt extremely welcomed and happy to have landed this internship opportunity with RST. It’s not the beauty and aesthetics of the office that makes this agency special, it’s the work that impresses me and pushes me to do all that I can do to better the lives of the clients and the employees here. My work, which may evolve over time, mainly focuses on promoting oral health. My goal is to inform all clients of the importance of keeping good oral hygiene. I will be creating a curriculum for the volunteers to use while they welcome and orient the clients.

Although each client has Medicaid, clients of ages 20 and younger are only eligible to receive dental benefits. Thus, clients of over the age of 20 will have to pay out of pocket, depending on income. More information about this policy can be found at this website. The agency hopes that each client will end up having a dentist to serve their oral health care needs. This will allow for the clients to receive great health care that is vital and of much importance.

My work will be part of the cultural orientation given within the guaranteed 90 days of service that the agency provides for its clients. As of now, the agency informs all clients of health care opportunities and information, but does not do so for dental care. I am happy to help start this new program and service for the agency. I believe that my work will further help make the clients comfortable in their new lives as residents of the United States.

The agency provides services to all ages, including newborns and infants. There is no discrimination!

By summer’s end, I hope to learn about the different policies that govern how refugees, asylees, individuals with Special Immigrant Visas, Cuban-Haitian entrants, Central American minors, survivors of human trafficking, and other vulnerable populations arrive to the United States. As a child of parents who were once refugees, I want to learn more and connect with what it means to be a refugee, as well as the hardships that must be tackled. I hope to learn the many different ways that individuals can become settled into the States, and how present-day government policies affect the lives of these vulnerable populations. I also hope to become more comfortable with interacting with people of different backgrounds and traditions. The employees working in the office, a total of nearly 20, speak a total number of 30 languages. Thus, I am positive that by the end of my internship, I will be able to learn more about different cultures and customs.