My time with the ACLU of Utah has felt like a whirlwind experience. It’s odd to think that I won’t fully see my research come to fruition because I simply won’t be in the office everyday. I have had the opportunity to meet with leaders of other non-profit organizations in the area, participate in marches, and oversee team meetings. It all feels strange to have to go back to a classroom setting after everything I observed and learned over the summer. But nonetheless, I am eager to go back to Brandeis and bring the skills and knowledge I have learned with me.
Looking back, I can split my final takeaways into two categories: 1) workplace and 2) social justice. Both can go hand in hand but are also very different.
As an intern or as I like to the call myself the “bottom of the office totem pole,” it was important for me to adapt to the workplace environment. For the most part, everyone is pretty relaxed and flexible; however, appropriate workplace etiquette is still required. Some of these things include appropriate language when talking to one’s superior or just with the other interns, being patient with yourself and those around you, and being proactive to complete assignments or ask for more to do. Especially in an environment where everyone is older, it’s extremely important to make your voice heard.
On the social justice front, I realized that any goal—no matter how small or large—will always take time. Usually, the ACLU of Utah will work with a lot of different organizations in order to get to an end result. For example, this week I was able to join the entire office on a field trip to tour the Odyssey House—a non-profit organization that serves individuals and families with addiction, mental health, and physical health issues. Although there is a lot of work to do to reduce recidivism and addiction care within the criminal justice system, the partnership between the ACLU of Utah and the Odyssey house begins to repair the gap. This visit opened my eyes to the struggles of everyday Utah citizens and the many outlets that exist to make a change in the community.
Moreover, I have also learned that by collaborating and inviting more than one voice to the table, it’s important to be respectful of the varying opinions in the room. There are always two sides to every story—maybe three— so to enact meaningful change means to find a balance of what you want versus the other party. Monthly, the ACLU of Utah hosts a meeting with their legal panel of attorneys to discuss current cases. While observing, I noticed that even when members of the ACLU of Utah community come together, everyone has their own thoughts on how to best handle a situation in the courtroom. But no matter how each attorney felt, they all engaged in civil discourse and used respectful language to persuade the group. To me, this example demonstrates what social justice is all about: it’s about embracing teamwork and asking for help when you need it.
I am excited to go back to school but I am really going to miss the faces I saw everyday in the ACLU of Utah office. Everyone took on a challenge with a “we’re in this together” attitude that I will not forget. For my sophomore year at Brandeis, I aspire to be open to learning new things and shop classes that may be outside of my comfort zone. I realized that I may never be the smartest or most experienced in the classroom, but those qualities are not faults to feel worried about. Instead, I am going to embrace what I can learn from my peers and professors. All in all, I feel bittersweet about what my final weeks at the ACLU of Utah have to offer!