Finishing Up at the MCAD

Time flew by, and now my internship at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination is coming to a close. At the beginning of the summer, one of my personal goals was to educate people about their civil rights so that they could be their own advocates. I soon realized, as cliché as it may sound, that I was the one learning from these presentations. Over the course of the summer, I gave presentations to hundreds of people, and these individual interactions—listening to people’s stories and feeling their gratitude—truly made me realize the difficulty but importance of this work.

One particular presentation stands out in my mind. At this presentation at a halfway house, I found it very hard to focus; the women had not been informed that I would be coming, the childcare volunteers cancelled last minute, and two of the women did not speak any English. I almost wanted to call it a day, seeing as I had to keep pausing and trying to engage the audience and ignore the distractions.  Then I noticed during one of the brief moments of calm two women suddenly paid close attention, one exclaiming that she never knew that she had these rights, while the other nodded vigorously in agreement. They then mentioned that they had to inform the other women who could not attend the presentation.
While I may not have discovered through this internship what it is exactly I want to do career-wise, moments like these offered clarity as to what sort of feelings I want to have and elicit at a job. I think that if I focus less on what field I want to go into, or what particular job I think I might like, and concentrate instead on what issues I am passionate about, and how I can have the most impact on an individual level, I will be better able to determine what I want to study, where I want to work, and what type of job I want to have.

Now that I have a taste of what civil rights advocacy on the enforcement side of the law is like, I am interested in experiencing what goes on in order to pass a policy or a law. Now I can better comprehend the necessity of education and advocacy even after a law or policy is passed, which will prepare me if I want to advocate for changes in policies.

For anybody interested in working at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, I would recommend doing as many presentations as you can with another intern—it is very useful to have another perspective, and you will be less nervous with somebody else there to help. After one summer working at a government law enforcement agency, I am hardly an expert, but if somebody is interested in this field, I think it is important to have as many personal interactions as possible to remind you why you are doing all of the other (perhaps less exciting) work.

In psychology, there is a term called co-morbidity—when two conditions occur simultaneously. That is, when you have one condition, it is likely that you have another particular one. In my short time at the MCAD, I learned something that perhaps I already knew, albeit subconsciously. The people who stood to benefit the most from the information I provided were the very ones who had many other pressing issues (e.g., poor health, poverty, domestic violence, etc.). At times, this was a bit discouraging, because I felt like the information I wanted to spread would not help somebody with his or her other issues.
I realized, sadly, that it is not possible to help every single person with every single issue, but if there were nobody doing this type of education and outreach, it would add to that list of struggles that people face daily. Simply letting people know that there are organizations and people out there to help them can be important, and educating one person can lead to a whole family, and eventually a whole community being educated. Achieving social justice in its many forms—equal opportunity being one of them—is not something that can occur overnight. While this is not a novel idea by any means, this internship brought it to the forefront of my mind, and has only made me determined to work harder in every capacity to try to achieve social justice.

5 thoughts on “Finishing Up at the MCAD”

  1. Your internship sounds really great! It must have been rewarding to actually speak with people and educate them about their rights. One of the problems I found with my internship was that at times, it was really hard to understand how the work I was doing would actually have an impact. In such a large organization, and in the Development/Fundraising department, it is not so easy to understand why the work is important or relevant to the mission- human rights in the developing world. In pursuing any career, it is important to understand why you do the work you do. It seems like in your experience, you really came to understand what impact you could have as an educator or presenter, and that is something I’m interested in doing in the future. Thanks for this post!

  2. Sounds like a good summer Sela! I was wondering if your or your organization offered further support after you did these presentations on civil rights, such as providing or directing people to services where people can file grievances? Or even perhaps directing people to groups that are working on the pushing and advocating for changes in policies and laws? I find that everyone benefits much more if these groups are working in coordination! Thanks for the valuable work you’ve done!

  3. Sela, it was a pleasure to have you this summer, and to read your observations along the way. I loved your conclusion about how you will choose your future path, and think that approach will lead you in a meaningful and rewarding direction. Thank you for your hard work this summer. I have no doubt it made a difference to many individuals.

    Regarding the question from “anguy”, yes, all of our presentations include information about how to file a complaint here at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. We don’t routinely include information about advocacy groups, but certainly would be glad to supply that information upon request.

    Becky Shuster
    Director of Training
    Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination

  4. Hello,

    I really enjoyed reading your post! It seems that the experiences you had were incredibly rewarding and loved the conclusions you came to. True, one alone cannot help every single person – as much as we’d like to and try our best to do so. At it definitely can be discouraging at times to feel or realize that your ability to actually make a difference is quite limited. As you said, at that moment you couldn’t do much to help people with the whole array of other issues they were dealing with. But the fact that you were there, helping them with at least one aspect of their problems, is indeed invaluable and very necessary. We may not be able to fix/change everything we would like to… but that should never discourage us from trying to help, as little or limited as it may seem. It’s a lesson I’ve learned this summer that I have to keep reminding myself all the time: do not be discouraged. It may be a single drop in the ocean… but without it, the ocean would have a drop less.

  5. Sela, it sounds like the work you were doing had a profound effect on your presentations’ audiences. I really like what you touched on regarding co-morbidity–I agree that it can feel dissatisfying to not be able to better a person’s life entirely, but a great way of guiding them in the right direction toward solving all of their issues simultaneously is to tell them about all of the power and opportunities they already have available to them…which is exactly what you’re doing. So, I definitely feel like you are on a solid path to realizing social justice in the world. Awesome internship!

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