Post 3: One phone call at a time | Creating change with NCL

Caleigh standing under an umbrella on a sunny day.
Anyone who’s been to D.C. in the summer knows how hot and humid it can get, but this day wasn’t too warm so I spent a little time sitting outside.

National Consumers League uses every tool in its communication toolkit to fight for the well-being of consumers and bring about positive change. Whether the outreach is online, in-person, on the phone or all three, it’s always a full-scale effort. The goal to champion consumers starts small, but with a strong base.

For NCL, progress often means persuading government officials to respond to law proposals using a consumer lens. At the start of my internship, I called dozens of congressional offices to gather contacts for the staff handling one of the League’s current projects. I passed along the names I found to a supervisor, who would send a proposal with the consumer perspective to the congressional aide in charge.

I have made more phone calls to strangers in a day at NCL than I ever made in my life, but I realize that is what makes us effective. Making change means moving out of comfort zones, meeting new people and trying new arguments. We do not try to better the world and this country by only talking to people who seem to share our views.

Each member of Congress is different, sometimes very much so. We occasionally find allies where we least expect it. Alternatively, people we thought would be on our side are sometimes the ones pushing harmful anti-consumer policies.

Less than a hundred employees work for the League, but despite the small size, we have a huge impact. Recently, the League has pushed hard for changes in the minimum wage in D.C. and developed consumer-inspired adjustments to plans that could hurt people who are the most vulnerable.

NCL has a rich and lengthy history, but I admit I had never heard of it before I applied through this program. Only after I joined as an intern did I realize how far this organization reaches.

As I explore consumer issues, I also explore my organization further. For example, while researching food date labeling for a policy memo, I found that NCL and its partners conducted a key survey on the issue, one I later used as evidence and for background in my project.

Our process is thorough. Experts from different divisions often join forces in an effort to develop the most effective policy that stands the best chance of success. Once you realize the history and strategy the League, noticing its widespread presence becomes less surprising, but no less important.

The logo for NCL's Fraud.org site, which gives advice to consumers about avoiding scams.
Fraud.org is essential to NCL’s mission. I have had great conversations with our leading counselor about fraud as well as accessibility.

Another key part of executing our mission, of course, is talking directly to consumers. We do not make assumptions. NCL’s various issues, which we talk about on our website and with our expert blogs, are issues that people have researched in depth. We are a consumer watchdog that helps consumers while giving them the facts they need to make independent decisions.

My colleague who works as the fraud center counselor has an essential role in our communication with consumers. His experience and trustworthiness makes it easy for him to connect with consumers, who he talks to daily over the phone.

The same reliability that our fraud counselor communicates goes for the rest for NCL’s hard-working crew. We are proud to show our knowledge, research, and manners to consumers and the other organizations they stand behind.

Social justice is a team effort and NCL is a wonderful team. Every process starts small, but with the high level of communication here at the League, consumers end up with huge gains.

Post 3: Bridge to Economic Mobility

BridgeYear’s social justice goals focus largely on economic mobility and summer melt. Both issues have numerous implications, which BridgeYear is steadily trying to address.

Economic mobility can be achieved through various methods, one of which is getting a degree from a traditional four-year college. This is one of the most common and widely accepted routes; however, there are students unable to afford this path, while some may not be as interested in higher studies. BridgeYear aims to introduce students to other options, such as community college, vocational training programs, and employment opportunities. They do this by organizing Career Test Drives (CTDs), in which students are exposed to options and information, while being able to experience different careers first-hand.

Summer melt, when eligible graduates who intend on attending college do not end up going, occurs with a large number of students. This is due to a lack of support and direction after, or even during, high school. This results in a vicious cycle, as they are unable to move up and work in higher-paid jobs. BridgeYear tries to alleviate this by providing near-peer advising to students. This allows students to discuss their future plans while they receive actionable steps on the ways to get there, reminders for due dates, tips, strategies, encouragement, and a resource for questions. This, paired with CTDs, creates a tangible path students are motivated to work towards.

Progress for these issues will arise in a variety of ways from a student being more invested and confident in their abilities, to a student entering a high growth career path. Since BridgeYear was only founded two years ago, it is difficult to see the full effect of the program on students, but metrics that indicate success would be increased numbers of students enrolling into community colleges or seeking help to enter a high growth job. In some years, hopefully, we will see progress in terms of the high growth employment gap closing, and steady economic mobility.

These are challenging, long-term goals, which is why the smaller steps building to them are crucial. This includes exposing students to information and the variety of options available, supporting and encouraging them to be ambitious, and giving equal attention to all students. As interns, we are able to contribute by operating CTDs and being advisors. I am able to learn so much simply by having a casual conversation with a student about what they want to do when they graduate, or the barriers they come across.

We are also able to contribute towards the organization and mission through our individual projects, of which mine focuses on communications. This does not intuitively seem directly linked to the cause, but helps in terms of educating and getting people invested in the issues, building awareness and support of the brand, and possibly leading donors to support the organization, or issue, in other ways.

Post 3: How The ACLU of Utah Creates Change

When I first told people of my summer internship at the ACLU of Utah, many envisioned the experience as working at a large corporation inside a massive building. However, the Utah affiliate is actually a small and intimate place where the eleven people who walk in the door every day take on the workload just like any other ACLU office. Of course, don’t let its small size fool you. Everyone works diligently and passionately to advocate for anyone living or visiting Utah. The staff, board of directors, legal panel, members, and volunteers all come together to pursue effective change in a place everyone calls home. 

As an intern, I’ve had the opportunity to work on many different aspects of the ACLU of Utah’s mission to create necessary change in Utah. I’ve researched different social justice topics such as LGBTQ rights and the reproductive rights of minors, and I’ve worked in the intake department. Each month, the ACLU of Utah receives about one hundred complaints asking for help on a wide range of legal concerns. Dedicated to responding to every complaint, I read or translated complaints, conducted research on the given legal problem, and discussed the issue further with the staff attorneys to craft a response. Depending on the situation, the ACLU of Utah follows a rubric to determine which cases should be taken in-house and which should be diverted to another attorney or legal resource. When I would discuss potential litigation projects with ACLU attorneys, we would always need to determine if the potential lawsuit could create a large enough impact in order to instigate reform.  

Each of these small steps—reading each complaint, conducting research on specific issues, discussing case details with ACLU attorneys—add up to determine the scope of a given case and whether it has the potential to affect policy or change the status quo. Moreover, Marina Lowe, the legislative and policy counsel for the ACLU of Utah, works at the Utah Capitol to encourage positive legislation to move forward or to stop harmful legislation from becoming law. Her role is to influence the legal and policy process before the need for “cease and desist” letters and lawsuits arises. The ACLU of Utah strives to inform the public about the bills proposed during the Utah legislative session and their analysis of important U.S. Supreme Court decisions. By coordinating with the media, the ACLU of Utah can broadcast important news or information in order to engage advocates or simply to update the public.

Image of the Utah Capitol, or the “Hill”; Courtesy of ACLU of Utah
Marina Lowe testifying in front of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee to stop HB 260– a bill that rolled back Fourth Amendment protections for law enforcement searches of prescription drug records. It failed on the Senate floor! Courtesy: ACLU of Utah, Feb. 15, 2018.

As all of the other legal interns seek to become fully knowledgeable about current ACLU of Utah litigation, Margie Nash, the staff paralegal, organizes weekly “brown bag” lunches. These events allow interns to meet and learn from ACLU of Utah staff members and legal staff from allied organizations. I really enjoy these lunches because it’s a time to host an informal presentation in a stress-free environment. By exposing us to other professions and organizations, the ACLU of Utah expands our options for social justice work in the future. Some of these lunches include speakers from the Disability Law Center, legal director John Mejia, and legislative and policy counsel Marina Lowe. I can’t wait for the next brown bag lunch!

– Anna Greenberg

Post 3: Social Justice and the Public Defender’s Office

In short, the goal of the Public Defender’s office is to provide people accused of crimes with legal assistance in the event they are unable to afford to hire their own attorney. However, in doing so, they work to promote social justice in many different ways. While it may not always feel as though the legal issues being dealt with on a day to day basis relate directly to solving injustices, the work performed by the lawyers, social workers, and support staff as a whole assists clients by helping them connect with the resources they need to succeed. By doing so, this can help clients to avoid getting caught up in future situations that could potentially expose them to criminal charges.

There are many clients that will come into our office arrested for petty crimes that often relate to drugs, or theft in order to get money for drugs. By having these clients talk to the social workers in our office and by connecting them with outside programs and resources in the community, we work to help break cycles of addiction that lead many people to get arrested and accumulate lengthy criminal records. This works additionally for those who suffer from major mental health problems. These two issues are much of the reason why many of our clients get arrested in the first place. Living in poverty without regular mental health or drug treatment exposes many of our clients to unfortunate and dangerous situations that can put their lives in jeopardy. Many of which could have initially been avoided with proper treatment.

Examples of a few of the different organizations we work to connect clients with.

 

In this office, many see that progress for a client is not something that is typical witnessed first hand, it is often shown by not seeing them in our office again. It is hoped that by connecting people with these services, they will take advantage of newfound supports and will not end up arrested again. Our office helps clients to take baby steps towards a larger goal of overall success and stability in their lives. Many have children they have to take care of and need the ability to support them. By helping people begin to get on track by connecting them with programs and counselors, they eventually can take bigger steps towards their goals of getting a job, getting an apartment, and many others.

Post 2: Social justice and refugeehood

In my Sophomore year at Brandeis I took a class with professor Clementine Faure-Bellaiche on religion and secularism in French and francophone culture. In that class, among other classes, we discussed the living conditions of minorities and attempted to understand some of the elements that widen the gap between different groups of people.

In one of the movies we watched it was shocking to see Paris, typically thought of as a glamorous romantic city, as a city that hosts some of the worst slums and refugee projects I have ever seen. Seeing these slums of paris and studying some of the history of that region opened my eyes to the importance of integration. Ever since I have been conscious about this issue and started to notice it even more in context of my personal experience being a Palestinian in Israel.

It was evident in all the examples I witnessed inside and outside of the classroom that integration is essential to have a productive and tolerant society. In France the different waves of migration over the decades and the inability of the government to embrace the newcomers and their new culture created a society which is divided and to a certain extend broken. In Israel the situation of African migrants is tragic to say the least. It should not be the norm that migrants and refugees will always be second class citizens. Nor should it be acceptable that refugees and migrants live in projects or separate neighborhoods.And it should not be the case that simply because one person is born into a stable privileged country that they should be entitled to benefits others don’t.

It should not be a given that there is political and social stability in some parts of the world given the unfortunate fact that over 68 million of the world’s population are displaced people due to conflict, human rights violations and violence. And so it becomes the responsibility of each world citizen to help another in times of need. When governments fail to create systems that integrate and accept others as they are, people should make an effort to learn about their new neighbors and fellow citizens.

I have witnessed some of this kindness in Germany during my internship. There are systems set up for refugees to take language classes and integration courses meant to ease the transition for them. But a refugee cannot adapt to a completely new life in a matter of few months. Some of the community members here in Unkel have shown me that real connections between the two communities can start over coffee as long as people are willing to come together with the intention of learning about each other. I have seen people take much time out of their day to help with many tasks like translating documents or making doctor appointments for the newcomers. I have also been lucky to experience the generosity of refugees and their families and their true commitment to making Unkel their new home.

When refugees feel they are part of the community, can speak the language and can earn a decent living social and economic gaps begin to disappear and society becomes a more equal and tolerant one.

Integrationswerkstatt board meeting

Post 3: My Third Week at The Quad Manhattan

The social justice goal of The Quad Manhattan is to ensure that every child is able to get the best possible education. The public school system in Manhattan is not equipped to give twice exceptional students an education that both enriches their giftedness while giving necessary support for their learning and social difficulties. In non-specialized environments, twice exceptional students are recognized as being gifted but are called “lazy” since they lack executive functioning or other skills that allow them to take their talents and apply them to their school work. Or, their learning defects or disorders are all that is recognized and they are put in special education classes where their giftedness is left untapped and is not allowed to grow.

In the context of The Quad Manhattan, positive change in education looks like targeted personalized lessons instead of common core curriculum. Every child learns and experiences the world in different ways. It makes no sense to assume that one method is going to work for everyone. The Quad Manhattan only targets twice exceptional children, but this small step is making way for larger educational change. The Quad Manhattan demonstrates that personalized education is possible, and through its psychosocial intern training is teaching the new generation of psychology professionals the theories and methods that will allow for change in both private and public education.

Door sign I created for my classroom (with names removed)

As I discussed in my last post, The Quad Manhattan creates the change they want to see in education through personalization. As much information as possible is gathered from each child’s medical professionals and parents to allow us to create targeted programming for them. One part of this targeted programming that I did not mention in my last post is how The Quad Manhattan focuses more on social and life skills than school subjects, since it is a summer camp and not a summer school. Since I am working with the oldest kids in the camp, we are focusing more on life skills than the other groups. One way we are doing this is by planning field trips. We had our campers suggest locations that they want to visit and we will go on multiple field trips throughout the summer. During these outings, the campers will have to navigate the subway, deal with crowded spaces, and learn to interact with each other and the public in a new environment (with constant staff support of course).

Part of the set up for camp carnival

Since it was the first week of camp instead of “Field Trip Friday,” we had “Funky Friday,” which was an all camp carnival. I got to be the fortune teller, which allowed me to interact with all of the kids in the camp instead of just my group, which I loved. Before the carnival, I went to each of the group’s interns and teachers and gathered information on all of the kids, which I turned into cheat sheets that allowed me to have the younger kids believe I was actually psychic.

I got to use my theatre background while interacting with the campers, but the best part of the experience was seeing how truly different every child was. Between hearing all about each camper from their teachers and getting to spend two minutes talking to each child, I got to see firsthand how unique every child was, even within this twice exceptional “niche.” I was very privileged that the way my public school decided was the “correct” way to teach was a way that I was able to pretty easily follow. Being at The Quad Manhattan has opened my eyes to the insane number of different types of learners there are, and I am excited to keep learning and adding tools to my professional toolbox.

The “Wheel of Mystery” that was a part of my fortune teller booth

Post 3: Navigating the Legislation Process with Social Justice

This past week has been very relaxed here on the Hill. Because of the holiday and shortened week, we were not in session at all, which means fewer suites, fewer meetings, and an overall calmer office. Because of the quieter work environment, this week has given me the chance to get to know the other interns in the office better and feel a little more comfortable in the office. During my down time and not-so-crazy days, I’ve been able to do a bit of exploring both on and off the Hill. Check out this picture of me representing Brandeis in front of the beautiful portrait of former President Barack Obama!

The interns in my office also took this week to check out the best view in all of DC: the Speaker’s Balcony. Did you really do a Hill internship if you don’t have a picture like this?! Hint: the answer is no.

All four interns from Congresswoman Clark’s office enjoying the view from the Speaker’s Balcony in the Capitol!

Besides my DC explorations, my time at my internship has allowed me to better understand the behind the scenes process of the federal government and how change really happens. The overall goal of any member of Congress or the Senate lies in the concept spoken by Abraham Lincoln, “that government [should be] of the people, by the people, for the people…” Working for Congresswoman Clark, I have seen firsthand how a member uses their power and their beliefs to mold our country for the better.

 

Consider the words written by our founding fathers in the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

That description is the exact social justice goal of the government, of any member, any staffer, and even any intern. This is then accomplished through understanding all aspects of our country, and then sponsoring, cosponsoring, opposing, and amending legislation that may affect those different aspects. For example, a bill that recently passed both the House and the Senate called the Farm Bill threatened cutting food stamps (the SNAP program), among many other things it achieves. The Senate version that was passed amended that part of the bill so the SNAP program is protected. The House will then have to vote again on the Senate version of the bill, and I, among others, hope that the SNAP program remains protected. This is just one example of different views and changes that could happen when trying to enact a piece of legislation. The different parties and members have diverse priorities that create tension but also awareness of issues that need to be considered.

The name plaque in front of our office in Longworth!

Overall, the legislative process is incredibly complicated and unpredictable, which makes explaining it in a short blog nearly impossible. But one day an intern could be doing research of a recently introduced bill, next the member may cosponsor it, and after moving through committee it could get passed through the House! But the likelihood of it ever going that smoothly is incredibly slim. If you are interested in understanding the craziness that occurs in the legislation process, I recommend you read “The Dance of Legislation” by Eric Redman. It does a better job than I can ever do describing the uncertainty yet significant steps of the process.

While many of the ideals in government of creating the best America we can stands true for almost every government official, the different views of how they should be enacted between parties makes achieving these goals very difficult. I have been very lucky to be given the opportunity to see this social justice work with a member whose ideals align with my own, but I cannot emphasize enough how getting anything done in government is no easy task. But something I always try to highlight is if you want to see change, call your representative, share your thoughts, and who knows, maybe I’ll pick up!

Post 3: Encouraging Others to Help Find Dreams

KKOOM supports approximately 130 children at Samsungwon Orphanage and Emmanuel Children’s Home. Beyond holiday and summer activities and events, we provide scholarships for preschool and college students. By providing financial aid to Korean orphans both beginning and ending their educational journey, we open doors to academic opportunities otherwise unavailable.

In South Korea, toddlers begin attending preschool at the age of two. However, due to lack of funding, the South Korean government does not subsidize preschool for orphans until they are four years of age. Since 2011, KKOOM has provided access to early education, helping eliminate the education gap and thus leveling the playing field for orphans as they proceed through their education.

HyungJun when he first came to Samsungwon v. Hyungjun 2 months later

HyunJun is one of our preschool scholarship recipients. When he was eleven months old, HyungJun arrived at Samsungwon Orphanage in Gumi, South Korea. Now almost two years old, he is the youngest child in his home and — thanks to KKOOM supporters — thriving in preschool. Only sixteen pounds when carried into Samsungwon, HyungJun is now a normal weight for his age and, as evidenced by the pictures below, enjoying life. Read this interview with HyungJun!

KKOOM also provides college scholarships. Yonghoon (a rising third year) is at World Cyber University, majoring in social welfare. According to an interview with KKOOM, Yonghoon desires to work at Emmanuel Children’s Home in Gimcheon, South Korea. Another student, Minyeal, recently graduated from World Cyber University with a degree in pastoral studies. Lastly, Se-Hee (a rising second year) is majoring in hotel tourism. Her dream is to work abroad. Se-Hee shared that “with the KKOOM scholarship funds, I will apply for a special course to improve my English proficiency.” These are just a few snapshots of students KKOOM has supported over the years.

It is only through the support of family, friends, and strangers who believe in our mission that KKOOM is able to support these beautiful students. Our long-term goal is to provide educational support for as many orphans as we can, for as long as we can. To that end, our small steps as an organization come in the form of widening our donor base and securing recurring donations.

During KKOOM’s annual board retreat in Los Angeles this past weekend (June 29 – July 1), I had the opportunity to share my perspective as the youngest board member. A specific small step I have put forth is for KKOOM to reach out to college students and young professionals to try to gain their support. As the youngest member, one of my tasks in July is to draft suggestions on how to build rapport and find faithful supporters among my peers.

I’m hopeful that as our organization continues to help Korean orphans find their dreams, we’ll encourage others to join us and to do the same.

Post 3: How can we measure success?

Programs are measured on the records of their achievements, and the IRC and Intensive Case Management programs are no different. During the intake process, our clients create a list of goals they have for their time enrolled in our program. These goals vary from learning English, to getting a job, to making connections with other people in their community, to navigating the healthcare system.  While this goal-setting process could be seen as “What do I want to be done for me?” it’s really more of a “What skills do I need to (re)learn to survive in this new place and culture?”

Prevalent themes in client goals                                (created with wordcloud)

How do we measure success and completion of these goals? After intake, our program completes a three month, six month and close-out assessment with the client to measure their progress. A numerical scale is used which ranges from safe to very vulnerable. It is common for a client to start at a one or two and move up one value during their twelve-month enrollment period. Does that seem like progress to you?

Yesterday, I spent almost two hours with a client coaching them on using the phone interpreter through their health insurance to schedule a medical appointment. This client does not speak English so the first step is navigating the automated menu in English because the only other language option is in Spanish. Once the client got connected to an operator they had to repeat “No English, Dari!” while the operator asked them in English to repeat themselves and spell the language. After connecting to an interpreter, the insurance refused to schedule the appointment until I intervened and said that insurance is required to provide language services to their members so that they can readily access healthcare services.

We then tried to schedule an appointment with the provider information that the insurance had on file, which ended up having an incorrect phone number, which we discovered after calling the clinic twice. Eventually, the client was able to schedule an appointment for himself! We smiled, applauded, and let out deep sighs and laughs. We laughed even though we had spent two stressful hours on the phone, even though we didn’t speak the same language, and even though we both knew that this was only the first hurdle for this client to receive the appropriate physical and mental healthcare services. That phone call will not move the client up a number on our assessment form, and we will probably have another coaching system in the next few weeks to solidify the skill, but those two hours on the phone were progress.

Will our clients ever fully reach their goals? I hope so. Will all the goals be achieved fully during the course of our program? Probably not. Progress is slow because change is slow and building up people’s confidence is slow. Additionally, some of these goals will not be achieved because of systemic constraints within the healthcare system such as language and cultural barriers causing health disparities, the education system, lack of access to quality mental health services to address trauma and the current political climate with its prejudice, and the lack of welcome towards refugees.

I would be proud to have a fraction of the resilience I see from our clients, many of whom have experienced great trauma. For example, some share stories of a wife patrolling the house while the husband slept to protect him from Taliban bombings as well as the loss of family members left behind in Afghanistan. One of the goals a client shared for their child was that they hoped that their child would “grow up in a safe, secure and peaceful place with access to healthcare and education so that they could pursue their own goals.” So, I will continue to define progress as making difficult phone calls to insurance and building self-confidence to complete other tasks. These are the first steps to helping our clients make their goals for themselves and their children a reality.

– Maya

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are mine alone and are not affiliated with the views of the IRC or ICM program.

Post 2: Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere

Why should we help kids in Korea instead of orphans in third-world countries?

The woman asking me this seemed to assume that the poorer the country, the more dire and urgent its children’s lot.  However, there is no shortage of deprivation in the world and thus no reason to ignore any of it. This spring, in her address on re-imagining social justice leadership, Brandeis professor Anita Hill invoked Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  Her talk outlined the struggle for women’s rights in recent decades without any thought that the struggle should have been delayed because women in other countries or other groups in this country were also suffering.

Korean orphans grow up in one of the world’s most industrialized countries, but their culture’s deeply rooted discrimination against children born to unmarried women limits their opportunities from birth through adulthood. KKOOM’s work affords such children–institutionalized due to their legal orphan status–access to educational opportunities that would be otherwise unattainable.

Education allows these orphans to pursue their dream careers as they come of age. Whether or not these careers are in helping professions or humanitarian establishments, they will be more perceptive of social injustice in their own communities or abroad and better equipped to address it.

Nelson Mandela once said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Giving these orphan students the opportunity to be as educated as their non-orphan peers is incredibly important.

J.S., one of KKOOM’s preschool scholars

I also have the honor and privilege of sharing our work with my peers. Earlier this summer, I was tasked with creating a blueprint for KKOOM’s College Ambassador Pilot Program. As I began reaching out to college students and groups (such as Korean Student Associations), I had the chance to share my passion for this very real problem facing Korean orphans thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean.

I originally hesitated sharing this, but, to speak candidly, a few weeks ago, I attended the funeral of a sixteen-year-old girl who took her own life. This gave my trip to Korea and the work I do with KKOOM more meaning.

Suicide is the number one cause of death among Korean youth, with statistics most often citing academic pressure. Add the cultural stigma Korea pins to those they consider “illegitimate children” to the stresses an average teenager faces and the result is the horribly unequal playing field on which Korean orphans find themselves fighting.

Working with KKOOM allows me to directly help these students. By providing them educational opportunities and events like Dream Camp — by arming them with education — these kids can run faster and farther after their dreams.

Post 2: Clinical Research at SERI

Driving in the simulator. Taking an exit off the highway to our digital ski resort – see the snow-capped mountains on the right?

Here at Schepens Eye Research Institute (SERI) in Boston, I have been working on four research projects. In the first project, we are investigating the relationship between visual impairment and auditory distraction as well as the effects of age on these interactions. In order to test this, we have subjects from two different age groups (young = 20-40, old = 60+) drive in our driving simulator (see picture above) while wearing goggles that simulate visual impairment and performing an auditory distraction task. The visual impairment goggles use dispersion filters to blur vision and simulate eye conditions such as cataracts. The auditory task involves listening to an audio book and repeating back certain words (such as “the”) every time they are said. This is a lot harder than it seems. Try it at home! But not while driving. During these drives, pedestrians appear, and the driver must honk each time they see one. Response times are recorded as well as data about the control and motion of the vehicle. [Note: If you or someone you know is a current driver in the Boston area, age 60+, you qualify to participate. We are still recruiting. Contact me.]

The second project I am helping with is related to the first. In this project, we use the same auditory task, but we leave out the goggles so that we can track head and eye movement. Our eye tracking device is unable to track eyes through the dispersion filters on the goggles, so in order to examine the effects of auditory distraction on gaze movements we must do without the goggles. The eye tracking device utilizes six cameras and infrared lights around the simulator. The data we receive from this is in the form of graphs of head and gaze movements surrounding pedestrian events. Here is an example of one of these plots:

This plot shows the head and gaze movements surrounding the presence of a pedestrian. The red line represents head movement, and the blue line shows gaze movement. Yellow and green lines along the blue line show glances. The two black vertical lines indicate the time that the pedestrian is on screen. The green dash at the top is the moment the horn is honked.

The third project I am helping with involves driving with a bioptic telescope, a device attached to glasses that people with visual impairments may use to help them drive and read street signs (see picture below). Unfortunately, the telescope creates a ring-shaped blind spot around that impairs vision. Therefore, during our experimental drives, we have signs that participants look at through the telescope and honk at pedestrians they see. We then examine the timing of how the head and eyes move to look through the telescope as part of a bigger study that examines the effect of this blind spot on pedestrian detection.

Bioptic telescope

In these three projects, I help to run subjects through our experiments, which involves obtaining consent, doing vision measures (including visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and central visual field), and running them through the drives in the simulator. I also help to process and analyze the data we collect.

The final project I am working on is a telephone questionnaire that we are designing in order to gather information about how much drivers with visual impairments use in-vehicle assistive technologies (such as cruise control) and whether or not these devices are helpful. This project is in the beginning stages, and I have been helping to design the questionnaire, fill out paperwork, and pilot the questionnaire to make it clear and usable.

So far, I have been having a lot of fun and have learned a great deal about each step of the clinical research process. During my final few weeks, I hope to continue running subjects and learning more about data analysis.

For more information about the lab, visit the lab’s website here: http://bowerslab.eye.hms.harvard.edu/

If you are in the Boston area and are interested in participating in experiments here, let me know!

Post 2: Religion as a means of mobilizing people

I have never seen a religious leader working for the workers before.  I have never heard a talk about religion in a ‘lefty’ space before.

Before coming to Brandeis, as an activist and lefty high schooler, I worked in several organizations including feminist and socialist groups in my hometown of Istanbul, Turkey. The spaces these organizations provided was secular, almost to the extent of anti-religiousness.

Turkish left chose its side long ago between the war of the two major identities of Turkish Politics: seculars over Islamists. It is almost an unspoken rule to have a distance towards religion, particularly Islam, in the left, in Turkey.

Coming to Brandeis University changed my view.

At Brandeis I was introduced to a friendly space for all religions. On top of my knowledge of Islam, I learnt more about Judaism. I saw my friends fighting against injustices with their Jewish identity, emphasizing what their religion taught them and highlighting the motto of social justice all the time. It was then I realized how intersectionality was used by the religious people, believers and spirituals for a call to unite and mobilize the masses. I was amazed.

Then I started working at Massachusetts Interfaith Worker Justice. I saw even more how religion could play a role in mobilizing and uniting the people.

I heard Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, religious leaders and co-chairs of Poor People’s Campaign, calling all for a moral revival, to fight and confront the enmeshed and inseparable evils of systemic racism and other forms of discrimination, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation.

I talked with Sister Tess, an activist and e-board member of Mass IWJ, while she was participating in a huge Raise Up Massachusetts (RUM) rally in Massachusetts State House to demand paid family and medical leave and 15-dollar minimum wage.

Once again, I saw the option of having religion and religious people in the action space and the talk. I saw how religion and its message could mobilize people.

Now, by heart, I want my country and my people to include religion and religious people in the talk. I believe in the power of religion and its message to mobilize people.– Ece Esikara

Post 1: My First Weeks on the Job

I came to my internship at my local Federal Court House in New Haven, CT, expecting to dive into problems of social justice, and discover clear (and present) solutions. What I did discover instead, is an incredibly complex justice system, with both strengths and weaknesses. I very quickly learned that nothing in law is as quick or straight-forward as it’s depicted on television. Series like “The Wire” or “Law& Order” depict a system of intense, near constant high-drama which seems to fit the medium upon which they’re broadcast. By contrast, the real drama of the courtroom plays out in a coded language of motions, orders, and various out of court conferences, proceedings, and hearings. In fact, most of the cases I have seen never have, and never will go to a trial (by jury or by bench). As has often been cited and discussed in recent years, well over 95% of Criminal cases use “plea deals” – agreements between prosecutors and defendants, in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty, most often in exchange for a reduction of the Prosecutions’ request for sentencing. Thus, most of the action I’ve seen “courtside” has been non-trial proceedings.

The experiences I’ve had so far both in and out of Court, have been incredibly enlightening. While I can’t extrapolate to the entire Justice System, every judge and lawyer that I’ve seen have struck me as individuals whose care and concern, both for the welfare and rehabilitation of the defendant and the safety and security of the public are carefully weighed with each decision. These men and women are charged with preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution of the United States, and supporting the often difficult pursuit of truth and justice. This task contains within it the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of generations of Americans, yearning for a more perfect Union. I have immense respect for the men and women I have met so far, who nobly carry out this mission. As the summer continues, and I begin to become accustomed to the unique language of the Courtroom, I look forward to learning more about our system of justice.

Post 2: Money as the Base

I have learned through my time at college that money is the underlying base of everything any organization can do. Money is the means through which actions can be taken. For example, at Brandeis, I am on the mock trial team and before the Regional Competition in Washington D.C., there was a forecast of snow and none of us felt comfortable driving ten hours in that weather. Thus we needed the school to subsidize train tickets to get us to the competition. After acquiring the funds, we were able to go and compete in D.C. However, none of that would have occurred had we not had the money for those tickets.

I have learned a lot about how money functions in a non-profit, such as the AJWS. Like how though termed “not-for-profit”, the financial goal of an organization like this is to make a profit. This is done through investments, and by gaining a profit, that money can be either saved for a day when the NGO might not have as many donors or used to fund base expenses.

Furthermore, I believe that a common misconception people have when thinking of the money that is donated to an NGO is that 100% of those funds are being directly used in the humans rights work. This is not true for any organization. One of my responsibilities here at the AJWS is to review expenses incurred and ensure that they were not personal expenses and to ensure the coding of everything is correct. Many of these expenses I review are not donations to grassroot organizations but expenses indirectly related to them, such as airplane tickets, food, hotels, all paid for by AJWS so that staff can go to conferences and don’t have personal expenses when doing on-site work. Furthermore, some of the money goes into expenses such as rent, salaries, insurance and expenses such as these.

This knowledge has shown me that finances are at the base of all the work the NGO does and that the finance department is responsible for the actualization of all the works of the AJWS. Through this knowledge, I know that even though I may not be directly interacting with grassroot organizations or people around the world, my efforts in the finance department are the base for the help we give.

– Melissa Frank

This is a picture of the staff of the finance department and I at the NYC office

Post 1: Environmental Protection Equals Social Protection

The Sierra Club is a national volunteer-driven non-profit organization, and the Lonestar Chapter where I am currently interning is the oldest grassroots environmental group in Texas. Their mission is “to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet!” and they work towards this through various goals within each division of the chapter. These conservation goals include clean air and water, smart energy solutions, land and wildlife protection, water for the people and the environment, promoting responsible transportation choices, and achieving a stable climate.  These may at first seem like purely environmental protection goals, but at their core is environmental justice because the health of the human world is linked to the health of the natural world. Furthermore, the legislation having to do with issues such as where refineries are built or where toxic runoff ultimately ends up will more often than not negatively impact marginalized communities.

Since I’ve been working here, my supervisor, the director of the Lonestar Chapter, has allowed me to put a finger in each of these environmental issue pies, so to speak, and I’m usually given different tasks each day. I have worked with the Lonestar Chapter’s water resources specialist, who also works with the Texas Living Waters Project. Under her supervision I compiled cases of drinking water contamination (mostly limited to ground water cases) across Texas. This issue is quickly becoming more and more prevalent, and it is important to get this information available to the public in an easy-to-access form.  Too many rural, lower-socioeconomic-class communities are being affected by tap water that comes out with harmful biological, chemical, or industrial pollutants.

I then moved on to work with the Lonestar Chapter’s clean energy coordinator. My tasks here included reading through the annual State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) reports from all the co-op and municipal electric utility groups in Texas. I then had to compile certain factors of each report into an energy efficiency scorecard, which we use to rank these utilities on all their measures to achieve more clean energy and energy efficiency. Finally, I drafted emails to each of these electric utility companies explaining the score they received and breaking down the categories in which they could improve to give their customers more access to energy efficient programs or equipment in their residences or their commercial businesses.

The latest work I’ve been doing is under the Chapter’s communication manager. He has put me in charge of our organization’s Media Clip Report, which compiles anytime we are mentioned in the media and asses the tone put out into the world. I’ve also been collecting information on the Sierra Club-endorsed challengers in Texas house and senate elections so that it can be put in one place for our members, or the public, to access.

Overall, my tasks are often spreadsheet- and research-oriented, but these intern-level tasks help the organization flow like a well oiled (or rather, green energy powered!) machine. By the time I depart from the Sierra Club, I would like to have accomplished more direct outreach and education with the local community, and also simply expand my knowledge of all the overlap between environmental and social justice issues.

Post 2: “We need strong advocates to help us make change”

My internship at the Abidjan Military Hospital has been very interesting so far. I have worked with many doctors and made friends with a lot of patients. The hospital is semi-private hospital here in Abidjan that was first made for the members of the military. However, now it accepts people from all walks of life. One of the biggest challenges the hospital faces is the lack of resources to treat its patients. I remember on my first day here, the hospital’s blood pressure machine was broken, which slowed down their work. I had bought one a couple days before I came from the U.S. in case I needed it here. I gave it to the nurses to continue their job. The doctors’ problem brought the lack of resources to the attention of the government. Nothing is being done about it so the doctors are forced to work in conditions that are not ideal.

Entrance to hospital
The entrance to the emergency department at the Military Hospital and people waiting outside to either be taken care of or waiting for their family members.

A second challenge that the health care system faces is the fact that patients neglect their health to the point that they show up to the hospital a little bit too late sometimes. This is due to the fact that they are unable to afford the treatments, which in turn leaves them in hospital waiting rooms with no care. This is a challenge I face almost everyday. I sometimes find myself trying to pay for some of the treatments so the patients don’t die waiting for someone to pity them. You have to be a strong soul to work in these conditions and I couldn’t handle seeing some people in so much pain over a treatment that only costs $30. There were times when I saw the doctors raising money to pay for some patients they had just met whom they couldn’t let go home. This reason is one of the many reasons why I want to fight to be an advocate for proper health care in countries like the Ivory Coast, no matter the social status of a person.

One thing Brandeis has taught me  is that everyone can help someone. Even though I am not able to make a big impact right now in many people’s lives, I hope I am able to make an impact in someone’s life in the future. I have had discussions with doctors on what can be done to provide help to the people. They all said almost the same thing: “We need strong advocates to help us make change. People are dying for minor reasons. It’s not fair. We need the government to do something. Please share our stories with the world. Tell them to look at us.” So, I hope I am able to raise awareness on these problems going on around the world. Someone has to do something.

Nurse in consultation room
A nurse taking care of a patient in the only “consultation room” of the emergency department.

– Awa Soumahoro

 

Post 3: GHI and Social Justice

The social justice mission of Gardens for Health International is to fight against chronic malnutrition in Rwanda with good nutrition and agriculture practices. The organization was founded in 2007, and by 2010 was in four different health centers in the district of Gasabo. In 2018, GHI operates in 19 different health centers across the country. Their health center program teaches 50 families in the community about what a balanced meal looks like, and what the best foods to grow are for good nutrition.

I mention these facts because they emphasize the impressive progress Gardens for Health has made since their founding. Through the innovation of a variety of new programs, GHI is able to interact with a number of new community actors. In the last couple of years, they have pioneered an antenatal care program where they teach pregnant mothers how to care for their unborn child. The program has been incredibly successful so far, and is being expanded to even more districts in the coming season. Additionally, GHI just had their first Training of Trainers Program (ToT) where they brought Rwandans from across the country to the farm to learn about the GHI program model in order to teach more communities about our version of health education. Although the first annual ToT was just completed, it was so successful, preparations are already being made for the ToT training this coming December.

ToT training document (Kinyarwanda Version)

Another amazing thing I have learned from the GHI programs is that, they are teaching all of their participants to pass on all of the knowledge they are receiving to members of the community who were unable to participate in GHI trainings. This is one of the ways the reach and impact of GHI reaches beyond the health centers the work in.

In addition to these major new changes to the GHI programs, there are many small steps the organization takes in order to maintain their mission effectively. One of the things I admire about the GHI office is its self-sufficiency. The office is on a big farm that serves three purposes. Firstly, the crops grown on the farm provide the seeds for the home garden package given to all the families who complete the health center program. Additionally, all the food in our daily farm lunches is produced on the farm. Lastly, the harvested crops that are left over are sold in local markets, and the proceeds are reinvested back into maintaining the farm. These practices play into why I believe Gardens for Health is such a credible organization. They practice their teachings in full force on a daily basis, encouraging everyone involved in GHI to live up to their mission.

Sunny day at the office 🙂

GHI also composts, raises goats, and feeds other members of the local community at the farm lunches. By establishing new programs and implementing their sustainable farm practices at the office, fighting malnutrition is engrained in the core structure of the organization. For these reasons I am so proud to work for an organization like Gardens for Health International this summer.

– Eli Wasserman ’20

Post 2: Social Justice and The Center

Hello everyone! Lesbia Espinal here once again sharing my summer experience. (Thecenter.com)

I am Lesbia, currently a junior to be at Brandeis, majoring in Computer Science and Health Policy with a Business minor.

Last semester, I took a class called Health, Community and Society (Sociology 191a). Taking this class opened my eyes to a world many of us sometimes do not want to admit exists: the world of social injustices. This class introduced me to many readings and one of them was called “Saving Normal.” This reading talked about how the word “normal” can have different significance depending on who defines it. The Center Houston then takes this concept of “normal” and turns it into “you choose your normal.”

The Center helps/ welcomes people with disabilities. Another thing that I learned during my sociology class was the fact that people with disabilities have this label of “sickness.” This label is just a way many people like to separate disabled people from the rest.

Social justice is one of The Center’s main goals, which is reflected in every interview, picture, and press release I write. My experience at Brandeis has taught me to fight for what is right! The Center truly appreciates their clients and being part of that is such a blessing.

Learning for me is a step closer to succeeding. It’s great that I learned about disabilities before my summer internships because now I am able to apply my knowledge to hands on work. My work at The Center mostly concentrates on awareness and planning fundraisers. Being part of the marketing team is my way of merging into the not-for-profit world, because I believe that the magic happens with a strong marketing team.

Even through difficult situations such as hurricane Harvey, The Center is still serving their clients. For almost two weeks I have been part of relocation planning for The Center. Hurricane Harvey damaged housing and the department of adult training, where clients learned skills that can help them obtain a job. The concept of helping and serving others is my favorite part of The Center, which makes me look forward to every day I spend there.

Hurricane Harvey at The Center

The Center is grateful to the volunteers that came out of their homes to help during Harvey. Damage caused by the hurricane led to losses in profits that go towards training clients, housing maintenance, programs and paying employees. However, every year The Center promotes the #Biketothebeach challenge. Funds raised during the race will go towards The Center foundation, which are greatly needed after Harvey.

A partner of the #Biketothebeach race creates a simulation that allows clients of The Center to also be part race challenge. The concept of healthy bodies is also something that is greatly appreciated by clients when they participate in  weekly spin classes, which are taught by volunteer of Pursuitride.

Lastly,  The Center’s vision is one of creating social justice in the community.

P.S. I got my office this week and I couldn’t be happier about it and all the work that I will be doing through the summer!

Post 1: Summer of 2018! :)

I have been in the United States for about three years and moved to this country from Cape Verde during the summer of 2015. I believe I will not have another summer as busy as this one. The summer of 2018 has been the busiest one so far.Thus far, my internship with State Representative Evandro Carvalho is keeping me very busy as I work with the Committee to Elect Evandro Carvalho for District Attorney. I am working on this campaign since Daniel Conley isn’t seeking re-election this year.

Rep. Carvalho represents the Roxbury and Dorchester communities. I ended up working with Rep. Carvalho because a few months after my arrival in the U.S., a high school counselor spoke to me about Rep. Carvalho’s journey– how he went to UMass Amherst and Howard Law School and left a great law firm in Washington D.C. to give back to his community. My counselor told me that working with a successful Cape Verdean man at the State House would look good on my resume. I did in fact end up working with his secretary at the State House and enjoyed organizing paperwork (letters, budgets in spreadsheets, etc.) and opening/closing issues that people called about.

I wish I had the opportunity to actual work with him personally, but Rep. Evandro was always in meetings and/or section. Recently, he reached out to me about his candidacy and I jumped right in without thinking about the pros and cons of a campaign. I really admire his willingness to leave a prestigious law firm in D.C. to give back to the community in which he grew up. Therefore, it is a big deal for me to work for him.

My first day of work had me confused, as my letter of offer stated May 28 as the starting date. “But isn’t that Memorial Day?” I thought. I didn’t think I had to work that day but learned if you are a politician running for any office (specially the DA’s office) you want to be everywhere to interact with people and connect with the community. On Memorial Day, I was THE DRIVER and bodyguard for Rep. Carvalho, but it wasn’t bad at all. I got to be part of at least three Memorial Day events in Boston to demonstrate my appreciation to the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces.

Memorial Day at Cedar Grove Cemetery. 🙂

After that day, my tasks have been calling voters to explain what Rep. Carvalho stands for and his qualifications for DA. I have encouraged people about how much their support is essential for him to continue his job as a leader.  As I speak to the voters and gather support, I ask if they would like a lawn sign to be placed at their residency. Upon consent I drive to their home I place the signs in the lawn, fences or porches. I recruited many friends to volunteer. 🙂

That’s me putting up a sign on Adams St! 🙂
My friends and I supporting Rep. Evandro before a Debate at Saint Marks Church on Dorchester Avenue. #It’s_Time!

I also create events on Facebook and send them out to his supporters. As I continue to call and gather support from voters, I hope to assist Rep. Carvalho have victory on September 4 as the next DA. His victory is what I hope to accomplish this summer . #Carvalho_for_DA.

Post 2: A Global Experience at JVS

During my time at Brandeis I have had the opportunity to take many classes dealing with social justice issues. However, the experience that stands out to me the most was my participation in Global Brigades. This Brandeis club was comprised of two main parts: education while on campus about the culture and history of Honduras and a service-learning trip to Honduras during February break. Along with other students, I had the opportunity to visit towns across Honduras and to see what daily life is like there. I got to talk with locals (including patients and medical and construction professionals) in the context of both medical clinics and within their own homes. Although this experience in no way allowed me to completely understand what life in Honduras is like, it allowed me to catch a glimpse of a life that was simultaneously very different and similar to my own.

This experience opened my eyes to what life is like in Honduras, a nation from which many individuals and families are currently emigrating. At my internship at Jewish Vocational Services, we assist recently arrived asylees, refugees, and other migrants (some of whom come from Central America and Honduras itself). On a daily basis, I have the privilege to meet one-on-one with individuals and families from all around the world. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with people from Somalia, India, El Salvador, Haiti and more through this internship. Although my experience abroad in Honduras in no way represents the experience of all the people that I have been able to meet through JVS, I believe that it has given me a way to better contextualize the situations that those I work with are coming out of and my place in their journey to the United States.

I think that it’s easy in this kind of work to get swept up in notions of America as a beacon of hope for people from across the world who will be greeted with a better life here in the United States. While I think that this can be true, it is easy for people to forget, myself included, about the individual lives of the people that we are trying to help. What people often fail to consider are the lives and often family that these people are leaving behind in coming to the United States, lives that they may not want to leave behind. I believe that my experience in Honduras allowed me to better understand the bad as well as the good parts of life in many countries where people are now seeking asylum.

I feel that this understanding has allowed me to better help our clients at JVS to find the jobs and lives in the U.S. that are best for them and their unique situations. If nothing else, it has allowed me to better empathize with all they have been through on their journey to establishing themselves and their families in the U.S. after having to leave their home country and to better contextualize how different yet similar their past experiences may have been.

Post 2: From Brandeis to the State House to Washington D.C.

This past spring semester I had the privilege of taking Professor Stimell’s Advocacy for Policy Change class, which allowed me to explore the field of policy through a singular Massachusetts mental health legislation. This course allowed me to speak with professionals in legislation, policy, and mental health, and ultimately was the driving factor that inspired me to work on Capitol Hill in D.C. this summer. Now, instead of walking into the Massachusetts State House as an advocate, I am walking into Longworth House Building as staff, hopeful for the work coming my way.

My experience learning about the legislative process and seeing it through the eyes of an advocate has allowed me to translate that knowledge into my work for Congresswoman Katherine Clark. I feel as if I can better relate to constituents and advocacy groups because I have been in their shoes. I know what it is like to be an advocate fighting for social justice, and it has been eye-opening now being on the other side of the conversation. I feel much more well-informed in the process and I better understand how constituents and advocates are taken into account. At the same time, it is important to understand that, working for a Massachusetts representative, most of the time the constituents and the congresswoman are on the same side of an issue.

As a dedicated advocate to social justice, I am looking forward to continuing my journey working in Congresswoman Clark’s D.C. office, grappling with hot-topic policy issues and working hands-on with legislative work. Just this week, after working on a bill memo for H.R. 1298 – CT Colonography Screening for Colorectal Cancer Act, which would cover computed tomography colonography (CTC)–a less invasive colorectal cancer screening for medicare patients–they decided to sign my congresswoman on as a cosponsor. I was able to utilize my interest and passion for health in my work on the Hill.

Some other work I was able to do this past week was to go to a hearing and a briefing on health-related topics. I went to a hearing on reducing the costs of health care in America, where four different advocates from various roles in the medical field explored ideas that may help the critical problem of increasing healthcare costs. It was fascinating hearing their ideas developed from their first-hand experiences, and hearing how the senate committee reacted and commented. For example, one doctor suggested the need for price transparency in order to help the consumer better understand what they are paying for, as well as increase competition. In response, a senator suggested that it would only work if there was a quality evaluation paired with the prices, because otherwise consumers would constantly make the mistake of assuming expensive equals quality. The briefing I had the privilege to attend was about Community Living Centers (CLC) for veterans that received low, one-star, ratings. The purpose of the briefing was to explore the reason for these low ratings and discuss the effort being made to reverse them.

Both of the events were in Senate buildings, so I also took the opportunity to explore my way from House to Senate in various ways. Below is a picture of me taking the underground Capital shuttle from the Senate building to the Capital! I’m still working on not getting lost, but the exploration never seems to end!

 

 

In both my experience at the hearing and the briefing, I was able to take in the information from the speakers and members both as a staffer and an advocate alike. There were people in the audience filling various roles, and we were all there for the same purpose: a better understanding of the information. It was an opportunity where I was able to combine the roles I’ve played in advocacy, and continue my journey working for social justice and the topics I am passionate about.

Post 2: Thoughtful Social Justice Work and Providing Tools for Self-Sufficiency

 

A wide variety of programs offered at the San Diego IRC office (source)

What I love about the Health: Science, Society and Policy program at Brandeis and the compliment it provides to the Biology program is that it allows me to think about both biomedicine and the sociological perspective of health. In the class Sociology of Health and Illness, I learned about the distinction of illness and disease, where a disease is the biological mechanism within the body causing symptoms while an illness is the symptoms and how the person experiencing them feels. A disease is seen and measured in a doctor’s office, while an illness is the lived experience and how a person manages the condition in their day-to-day life.

This distinction has guided my work with Intensive Case Management at IRC because I am focused on the day-to-day life of my clients and their lived experiences. While a client may have diabetes, I am not focusing on their blood sugar level or their insulin dosage; instead, I am focusing on making sure they have access to food, transportation to doctors appointments, and an interpreter to allow them to share concerns with their doctors. As someone focused on medicine at Brandeis, this has been slightly difficult for me because I am interested in the blood sugar numbers as a mechanism to allow me to understand what is going on in the client’s body to then dictate their treatment. What I would miss there would be that I am not thinking about the client’s lived experience and how they are managing their symptoms along with other trials of adjusting to a new country and way of life.

Refugee resettlement at IRC takes on a holistic approach by considering clients’ physical, emotional, and psychological needs during the resettlement process. The services during the first ninety days include multiple trips to the refugee health clinic for health screenings, signing up for health insurance, cash aid, food stamps, enrolling children in school, a cultural orientation, and finding and furnishing an apartment. While these services are required by the federal government, IRC goes beyond this by offering my program as well as an anti-trafficking program, and various employment programs to aid refugees in their transition to the U.S.

These extended programs and the IRC philosophy of “building programs that rebuild lives” works to do just that — help to build a better life for the whole person, not just medically. With their variety of programming, IRC is helping refugees and recognizing their many identities as parents, farmers, children, teachers, providers, and, most importantly, as human beings. It might be easier to sign people up for services and not teach them how to utilize those services and advocate for themselves, but IRC, like the sociological perspective of health and illness, recognizes that it is essential to focus on the lived experience and how to make the day-to-day events possible.

The proverb, “You can feed a man for a day by giving him a fish or feed him for a lifetime by teaching him to fish,” sums up the importance of helping people towards self-sufficiency. People, no matter what circumstances they have overcome, are still individuals and should be treated as such. In social justice work, it is important to refrain from grouping people into the category of “oppressed” and taking the stance of a “fixer” to fix all of the problems of the “oppressed group.” Providing resettled refugees with the tools and support to become self-sufficient and recognizing and celebrating their identities allows IRC to do social justice work in a thoughtful and holistic manner. IRC prioritizes these ideas while making a real difference in the lives of the individuals with whom they work.

– Maya

Post 2: Getting into the swing of things

My Brandeis coursework and work/volunteer experience is focused on achievable coexistence through social action and cross-cultural communication. I am involved closely with the Brandeis PAX (Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies) program and other on-campus groups that support these ideals. Nonviolence International is a perfect fit for me, as it seeks to use elements of social action and education to work towards peaceful resolutions. In that sense, almost all of my coursework has relevance to my organization. I have taken some incredible courses at Brandeis, with Professor Fellman and others, that have discussed the importance of compassion, empathy, and humility in the conflict resolution process. On a programmatic level, these lessons have been paramount in my understanding of my organization and its mission.

Through the research I am conducting, I am learning an incredible amount of information about the history of Israel/Palestine, and how the current situation is, in part, a reflection of history. My time at Brandeis has been significant in a variety of ways, but most importantly it has taught me two main things that are applicable to my time at Brandeis. First, in every class, for every paper, we as students are always asked to think critically about the subject matter. In context of this internship, critical thinking is SO important! When I sift through news headline or watch videos about the subject of Gaza and the Great March of Return, and in turn reading Facebook posts from my Brandeis friends, there is always a hint of “fake news.” Many media sources focus only on how much trauma and emotion is deeply engrained into this conflict, and publish stories that cause “outrage” or emotional reactions for the reader. While this tactic does get views, clicks, and shares, it also adds fuel to the fire by further polarizing the “sides.” Therefore, I have had to utilize critical thinking when conducting my research.

Second, on a more social level, Brandeis has also taught me about the Jewish community and about the cultural and religious symbol that is Israel. With this in mind, I am able to somewhat contextualize details and situations that can be viewed as one-sided. However, I also encourage myself to evaluate accountability. This is such a divisive, complex issue, and there is fault and also victimhood on both sides. Being a Brandeisian allows me to cast a both critical and compassionate eye on the ever-developing situation.

Mubarak Awad

I included a photo of my organization’s founder, Mubarak Awad. He is a Christian Palestinian who is a first-hand participant in nonviolent action and civil disobedience in Israel/Palestine. He is an extraordinary individual, and I learn so much from him every day!

Post 2: The Importance in Standpoint Theory as ASDS Testifies at NYC Council Hearing For Birth Equity

Hey everyone!

Its been another busy week at Ancient Song and we’ve made many great strides. Last week, Ancient Song’s founder and executive director, Chanel Porchia-Albert, testified at a City Council hearing at City Hall. Chanel Porchia-Albert advocated for bills on reporting on maternal mortality, assessing the need for doulas for folks who are pregnant, and evaluating how available low-cost to free doula services are (a testimony that I was super excited to have co-written!).

During this testimony, Chanel described the valuable and important work of Ancient Song in providing doula services and accessible maternal care to marginalized communities, highlighted the trauma and oppression within the history of black and brown people in medicine and health care, and emphasized the importance of community-based and culturally relevant doulas and birth workers to be experts and key sources in addressing the racial disparities in maternal health.

The testimony was particularly impactful because it gave Ancient Song the opportunity to speak on a matter that Ancient Song has been tackling for over ten years, but has only just recently gained the attention of the council members of New York City. It made me think of a concept I was introduced to in a previous course I took at Brandeis with Professor Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman called Black Feminist Thought. One of the many concepts she introduced to me was the standpoint theory. First described by Patricia Hill Collins, the theory acknowledges the knowledge that stems from social positions and the importance of theorizing from “below” (in terms of class, nation, sexuality, political need). It highlights the fact that often seemingly objective or “scientific” accounts of something may ignore the perspective and experiences of marginalized identities. This is why we must prioritize the perspective of the most marginalized identities to inform the objective.

This connects back to why we think it is crucial to have community-based and culturally relevant birth workers at the forefront of the movement towards birth equity. It also drives much of current community-based workers’ concerns in NYS Governor Cuomo’s proposed Doula Pilot Program. How is the government going to effectively address racial disparities in maternal health without having a holistic understanding of the needs of those most affected?

Before the hearing began, Ancient Song held a rally for birth equity in front of City Hall where birth workers, reproductive justice advocates, and members of the community attended and spoke on their experiences. This reminded me of the importance of making this information as accessible to the communities most affected as possible. A lot of folks from these communities are not aware that these hearings are taking place and how much of a difference their voices can make. This is why the work we are doing around community outreach is crucial to achieving birth equity.

Thank you all for reading, I can’t wait to update you all again next week!

Post 2: Four Weeks at Community Psychiatry PRIDE

During my three years as a member of the Brandeis community, I have been deeply absorbed in and profoundly impacted by the Brandeis culture that values diversity, equity, and inclusion. Brandeis considers social justice as one of its central missions, aims to involve students in this just and inclusive campus culture, and encourages students to become active citizens in this multicultural world. I am grateful that I can experience such campus culture while going through the stage of my life where I am establishing values and building self-identity.

Through social norms and expectations, we grow up to know about social identity categories such as socioeconomic status, race, gender, and sexual orientation. Such learned social identity categories can be the roots of discrimination and bias, as people are often defined and confined by these categories. One morning during this summer when I took the commuter rail from Waltham to Chelsea for work, I noticed the diversity in the carriage of people from different cultures with different jobs. I was struck by the fact that I never felt labeled based on my race, gender, age, or any other social identity categories. In that carriage, I did not feel like I was labeled as an Asian or a girl; I was just a person who was ready to start another day of life like everyone else in that carriage. After all, we are all the same after stripping off the identities society imposes on us. Regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, and other social identity categories, we should all be given the same opportunity to pursue our dreams. The world we are now living in is far from perfect. In fact, it is unfortunately full of inequity, bias, and discrimination. When I think back, I feel extremely grateful that the Brandeis campus culture and the people I am close to have given me the reassurance to disregard the identity categories the world tries to impose on me and the confidence to stand as equal to pursue my dreams.

Lee Anne Bell (2013) defines social justice in Readings for Diversity and Social Justice as “full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs.” While I am lucky enough to have such a supportive environment and the resources, such as a college education, to reach towards my dreams, many people are not given the same opportunities to meet their needs. There are many poor communities suffering from the reverberations of perpetual imprisonment, sustained violence, and family instability. Each year, tens of thousands of inmates are either released from Massachusetts correctional facilities or are serving probation sentences. The high risk 17-24 year old young men are the target population of Community Psychiatry PRIDE’s interventional model. Because of the way resources are allocated in our society, these young men in poor communities are disadvantaged in terms of education, more vulnerable to mental health problems, and more prone to crimes. The problem progresses as there is lack of the resources necessary to keep themselves from re-offending and returning to jail. More efficient programs are needed to give them the chance to change behavior, keep a job, and break the cycle of incarceration and poverty.

Community Psychiatry PRIDE’s local community partner organization aims to build transformational relationships with high-risk young men through outreach to those who suffer from reverberations of crime and poverty. Community Psychiatry PRIDE hopes that by engaging these young men in stage-based programming, they can provide resources necessary for these high-risk young men to break the cycle of incarceration and poverty. Community Psychiatry PRIDE’s role in this program is to develop an evidence-based treatment of cognitive behavioral therapy tailored to the community’s specific struggles. We hope this program can help high-risk young men to move out of violence and into jobs.

-Bingyu Xu ’19

Post 2: Brandeis and BridgeYear

My experiences at Brandeis have altered my perspective in numerous ways. For this particular internship, my role as a coordinator for General Tutoring (GT) had the greatest impact. It provided me with the skills and exposure most closely tied to the work I do at BridgeYear.

General Tutoring is part of a larger program called Waltham Group, which is the umbrella organization for about twenty smaller groups tackling various issues in Waltham. Members of Waltham Group are exposed to the range of social issues existing in the community and the ways in which one’s program and individual role fit in. Being part of an organization focused on community service allows me to draw connections with nonprofits in terms of budgeting, advertising, recruiting, and collaborating with the stakeholders involved.

General Tutoring specifically is related to BridgeYear in many ways. GT aims to provide free tutoring for K-12 students from the Waltham community. We do this by matching student volunteers from Brandeis with a tutee, according to the age and subjects volunteers prefer to teach. By leading a program in the education sector, I witness the struggle students face when they are unable to keep up in school and cannot afford a tutor, as well as their gratitude when they receive that help. As an advisor for BridgeYear, this has contributed to my understanding of students facing similar adversities in terms of lack of support and direction for their post-high school plans, which enables me to guide them better.

General Tutoring’s organizational structure is interesting and shares similarities with a nonprofit startup. Although GT has existed for a number of years, the coordinators are continuously changing as they graduate, which constantly recreates the program’s leadership, strategy, and focus. The program serves over four hundred tutees and is run by a small team of five to six coordinators, which means each member plays a crucial role. GT was one of my first and longest experiences being in a leadership position, and made me realize that I enjoy working in a role in which I can implement changes, make decisions, help and guide my team members, and have an impact on the future direction. Similarly, at BridgeYear, I work alongside a small team in which interns receive opportunities to lead meetings, handle individual projects, and become a critical part of the organization’s functions and strategy.

My project management and collaboration skills improved immensely as a coordinator, which helps me with the work I do at BridgeYear. At GT, as in BridgeYear, we are responsible for various individual projects to advance the program. We also handle operational tasks such as matching tutors and tutees and contacting them, planning events, and communicating with stakeholders. I need to be efficient in organizing my time, as both aspects of work require equal attention and time. Being both a part of GT and BridgeYear has helped me realize I get the most enjoyment and work my hardest when I see purpose and meaning behind my efforts.

Post 2: A Regular Day at the Office = Parole Hearings and Prison Visits

This summer, I have been working a lot with the social worker for our office’s JD department (the higher crimes division) and I was recently asked to participate in a prison visit with him and an attorney. On Tuesday, we took a trip up to MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, CT to meet with a client of theirs who is up for a parole hearing within the next few weeks. In case you are unfamiliar, parole is the practice of releasing sentenced prisoners from custody if it appears “that there is a reasonable probability that the inmate will live and remain at liberty without violating the law and that such release is not incompatible with the welfare of the community,” according to the Connecticut General Statutes.

View from the parking lot of MacDougall-Walker (phones are not allowed inside)

The inmate that we went to visit has been incarcerated since he was sixteen years old and continues to maintain his innocence to this day. Now in his thirties, he is hoping to build a meaningful life for himself outside of prison, in a world that he has not lived in since the early 2000s. My role during this visit was to create and ask questions in a mock interview to prepare our client for his hearing. Meanwhile, the attorney and social worker took notes and wrote down critiques to advise him on how to best answer questions he will be asked.

The sign at the entrance of the prison grounds

Thanks to the United States Supreme Court cases Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama, it is now deemed unconstitutional to sentence juvenile offenders, like our client was, to life sentences without the possibility of parole. While helping out with this case, I have been able to consider some of the classes I have taken while at Brandeis. One of the most relevant has been “Investigating Justice,” a class I took last fall with Professor Rosalind Kabrhel. During this class, we spent a unit focused on the juvenile justice system and had the incredible opportunity to learn alongside students from a juvenile detention facility. Every week for a month, three students from the facility came to Brandeis and attended class with us. We learned about the pitfalls of the system and new programs currently being implemented to help support and rehabilitate juvenile offenders in order to ensure their success upon reentrance to society.

The inside of one of Connecticut’s juvenile detention centers

Much of the time, kids like these do not have the same privileges or family supports that many of my classmates and I have been fortunate enough to grow up with. Many come from low-income communities where high rates of violent crime cause great stress for children and usually lead to ongoing mental health issues throughout life. During this unit, we learned the importance of providing resources for children and adults living in these communities, as well as for currently sentenced offenders to ensure they can go on to live productive lives upon their release. Thanks to this class and others I have taken, I am very cognizant of the many negative social consequences the criminal justice system can create. Now through my internship, I am learning what can be done in real time to help individuals on a case-by-case basis.

While these supports may not have been in place for our client at the time of his arrest, his lawyer, social worker, family, and many others have been working for years to help him get out and go on to live a meaningful life like everyone deserves.

Post 1: My Summer Internship at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

My first day of work!

This summer, I have the great opportunity to intern at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau in Cambridge, MA. Founded in 1913, the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) is the oldest student-run legal services program in the country. The Bureau is committed to responding to the legal needs of low-income and marginalized populations in the Greater Boston area. Providing free quality legal representation, their free legal services encompass varied areas of law including family law, housing law, wage and hour law, government benefits, and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status matters. As one of Harvard Law School’s clinical programs, the Bureau is comprised of eight clinical instructors and nearly fifty students. During the summer, the Bureau has a summer counsel consisting of twenty fellows who are all in their first or second year of law school. HLAB aims to train student attorneys who will advocate vigorously for their clients and respond to cases in a manner that addresses the systemic inequalities that are the causes of poverty. Through HLAB’s invaluable work, individuals in the Greater Boston community are able to access quality legal representation, regardless of their financial status.

The Bureau

As an intern at the Bureau, I have a variety of administrative responsibilities and tasks. I am responsible for answering all incoming calls and directing callers to their destinations, as well as sorting mail and recording correspondence. As a Spanish speaker, I am also called upon to assist in translating documents and interpreting phone calls and meetings with clients. Additionally, I assist counsel members in any legal research they may need for their cases, retrieve court records as needed, organize and file records, and enter record data into our database.

While it may appear to be a minor task, filing and entering record data is instrumental to keeping the Bureau running smoothly. As graduating students transfer cases, it is integral that the next student attorney assigned to the case is able to understand all parts of the case so that they may advocate for their client to the best of their ability. Filing is a large part of my role at the Bureau, and I am currently undertaking a sizable filing project. This entails sorting through case files and checking to see that all necessary documents are in place, inputting them into our database, and finally filing them in our deposition room.

Notable alumni at the Bureau include Michelle Obama, Deval Patrick and Supreme Court Justice William Brennan

While several of my duties at the Bureau are administrative, by working closely with summer counsel members, I am gaining great insight into what it truly entails to be a lawyer and a student in law school. It has been fascinating to learn from my exposure to legal documents and other components of casework. As a student who is interested in immigration law, it has been the most interesting by far to see supporting documents sent from the Department of Justice on behalf of clients for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status matters.

By performing various tasks and administrative duties, I work to support the Bureau and assure that our organization runs with ease. Working to ensure that the logistics of the organization are well maintained, the Bureau is able to run efficiently and fulfill its mission. Through supporting marginalized populations of the Greater Boston area by providing free legal representation, the inequalities among these populations will be reduced drastically. If we can address these cases from a systemic viewpoint, we can begin to understand the systemic inequalities that drive the legal needs of these populations and perpetuate poverty, and we can ultimately work to create lasting and effective change.

Danielle Bertaux ’20

Post 2: Families Belong Together! My Time at the ACLU of Utah

Even though I still have three more years at Brandeis, I have already begun to learn many critical concepts, theories, and ideas that apply to the real-world. Legal studies, one of my favorite departments so far, introduces the principle of due process as a basic protection that is consistently violated by the court system, police officers, and school administrators when a conflict arises. Due process is a legal requirement that the state must respect all the rights owed to a person. During my freshman year, I analyzed cases under the framework of due process to determine how a judge’s language or court conduct could better protect the fairness and constitutional rights of the person involved. This same strategy can be found here at the ACLU of Utah. 

Under the banner of the Know Your Rights campaign, the ACLU of Utah strives to make the Bill of Rights accessible to everyone. No matter who you are, you should know your rights as a student, as a protester, as a voter, or as a prisoner. Due process is a key component of how the government treats people who express their constitutional rights. From the treatment of incarcerated persons to the restrictive legislation that inhibits a woman’s reproductive choice, the desire for fairness and impartiality influences our everyday thoughts. 

With all of this in mind, I have been investigating reproductive rights for minors, specifically Utah’s judicial bypass statute for parental consent and notification if a minor seeks an abortion. What may seem like a simple and expedited process can in reality expose a frightened minor to unnecessary embarrassment and humiliation at the hands of biased judges and incompetent guardians. Jane’s Due Process, an organization that aids minors in legal representation and spreads awareness on judicial bypass, exposes the difficulties that minors experience when seeking an abortion without parental consent and or notification. Many states will make what is commonly known as the “escape route” as complicated as possible. In Utah, the majority of teenagers have no knowledge of their options or ability to bypass parental involvement. By researching the tools other states employ to connect with youth, I am compiling strategies that the ACLU of Utah can use to launch a future Judicial Bypass Project. 

However, reproductive rights for minors is not the only issue that encounter constitutional roadblocks. The ACLU of Utah organized a rally to protest the Trump administration’s new immigration policy to separate children from their parents if they cross the border illegally. This policy is also being applied to families seeking asylum at the southern border, which triggered an ACLU lawsuit earlier this spring. For asylum seekers, this new policy of family separation violates their rights to due process; they are not being treated the same as others seeking asylum who cross the border at a different location. Other examples of due process violations include unreasonable searches such as entering a home without a warrant, limited access to a competent attorney, and cruel or unusual treatment by the corrections system. 

#FamiliesBelongTogether Rally on June 1, 2018; Photo courtesy of ACLU of Utah

While examining all of these issues and their relation to due process, I realized that when one group’s rights are restricted, everyone is at risk. It’s important to combat all forms of private and public forms of discrimination in order to hold judicial agents accountable in keeping all processes equitable. 

Recently, the ACLU of Utah participated in the annual Salt Lake City Pride Festival and Parade. During the march, a large group of ACLU staff, interns, and volunteers walked together in solidarity for LGBTQ rights. I was able to act as an ambassador for the ACLU of Utah by volunteering at the festival and answering questions and handing out fun ACLU of Utah swag!

Selfie of me and my sisters after marching at the Pride Parade with the ACLU of Utah!
ACLU leading the Pride Parade! Photo courtesy of Utah Pride Festival

Post 1: Seeking Justice in Worcester County

My name is Andrea Bolduc and I am a rising sophomore studying Politics, Legal Studies, and French Language. This summer I am interning at the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office in Worcester, Massachusetts. I am working in Community Outreach and have also been paired with an Assistant District Attorney.

The DA’s Office has two missions: to seek justice for the victims of crime through fair prosecutions and to prevent crime through community outreach programs.  The DA’s Office prosecutes felonies and

This internship is especially important to me because it is a way to serve my community in Worcester County.

misdemeanors, such as arson, homicide, domestic and/or child abuse, gang activities, and financial crimes. Several specialized units, led by Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs), work together to prosecute cases in court.  The DA’s Office is active in community outreach programs and offers quality victim advocacy efforts.

 

 

For community outreach, myself and several other interns contact schools and police stations across Worcester County and try to establish outreach programs for all age groups on topics ranging from bullying prevention to the opioid crisis. This past week, we traveled to a local Boys and Girls Club and helped the Outreach Coordinator give a presentation on bullying prevention and cyber safety to several groups of kids.

It was interesting to see how, even though the message (follow the Golden Rule, telling a trusted adult is not the same thing as being a “tattle-tale”, never disclose even seemingly insignificant information about yourself to a stranger online, etc.) was consistent across age groups, the delivery evolved as the audience matured. This demonstrates the importance of reaching out to community members of all ages as a means of prevention. By establishing a positive relationship with the community, the DA’s Office is able to equip even the youngest child with the tools to keep themselves and others safe.

The exterior of the Worcester County District Courthouse.

 

I also serve as an aid to an Assistant District Attorney. Their job is to prosecute cases on behalf of the Commonwealth. My ADA focuses on cases that appear in the Central District Court. Each ADA will be assigned around 200 cases per year, so there is a lot of work to do to prepare for each one. I assist my ADA in pretrial preparation, where I help them organize discovery (police reports on the incident, relevant documents and information about the defendant), and evidence. Because a fair trial is essential, the prosecution and defense are in constant communication with one another during preparation. If my ADA doesn’t need any specific task done at the moment, I can assist other ADAs, which means that I have been getting exposure to a breadth of different cases. I can also observe different proceedings around the courthouse, such as arraignments, trials, and sentencing. The amount of work that goes into ensuring a fair trial for each defendant, while also maintaining a commitment to the laws that make our society safer, has given me a greater appreciation for our legal system.

My goal for this internship is to develop an understanding of how the law works in practice. By helping lawyers conduct research for their specific cases, it is my hope that my time at the DA’s Office will also provide me with some direction in terms of the careers through which to pursue my interests. I have always wanted to be involved in an actual case, and this summer I have the opportunity to immerse myself in legal research and trial preparation.

Stay up to date with the work that the DA’s Office does in the community and read up on cases currently making their way through the court!

 

 

Post 2: My Second Week at The Quad Manhattan

While at Brandies, I have felt an emphasis on the lesson that “fair does not mean equal.” Every person has different sets of strengths and challenges that affect how they are able to maneuver the world around them. More than that, Brandeis has taught me that it is not okay to just understand that fair does not mean equal; you have to do your best to create an environment where everyone can meet their highest potential. I am consistently inspired by my fellow students coordinating rides to every Women’s March, posting about rallies calling for the end of ICE separating children from their families, and general support for each other on campus.

This lesson is extremely relevant at The Quad Manhattan. All of the psychosocial interns have spent the last two weeks pouring over each child’s file and reading all possible information to give us the best sense of what each camper’s goals and strategies should be for the summer. Everything from DSM diagnosis to favorite books is noted by staff to create a personalized plan for each camper. As we have been setting up classrooms, we look into therapy notes to see what type of “fidgets” or other sensory tools will help each child, as well as what type of visual aids or strategies will be most useful. The reason every aspect of The Quad Manhattan is so personalized is because of this idea that fair does not mean equal. If the program was less personalized and gave each child with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ADHD the same accommodations, the program would be equal but not fair, and wouldn’t give each kid the same chances of success.

Handmade Zones of Regulation sign for my classroom

This idea of fair does not mean equal allows me to contextualize my work in terms of social justice issues because it doesn’t just speak to allowing the kids to thrive within The Quad Manhattan, but helps us teach them how to have the best life possible when they are not in a specialized program. This idea of fair does not mean equal allows our kids to take not only their personalized strategies with them, but the ability to advocate for themselves. Once they graduate high school and either enter college or the work force, the understanding that it is okay to ask for extra help and the knowledge of what type of extra help they need will help these Twice Exceptional kids live their best lives possible.

One of the ‘Nooks’ that is in each classroom. Each is filled with bean bags and ‘fidgets’ to give kids a place to calm down when they are having a hard time.

I have loved the opportunity to create this personalized “fair does not mean equal” based programming for The Quad Manhattan, not only because I believe it is the right thing to do, but because it has given me a crash course in the world of practical psychology. I have learned so much about how to take general information from multiple sources that often times have conflicting information and create an action plan. We have our first day of camp on Monday and I am looking forward to learning how to adapt the plans we have made based on the new information we learn in person about each of our campers.

Post 2: Fighting Education Inequity with 826 National

As an Education Studies major, so much of what I learn in my classes is reflected in the work 826 National does. Education inequality takes many forms, and 826 National has taken a writing-centered approach to improving overall education outcomes for their students.

The Ed Studies department loves to talk about “gaps”. In particular, we frequently discuss both the achievement gap and the opportunity gap. At their core, these terms refer to the ways inequality and inequity manifest themselves in our education systems. The achievement gap refers to the unequal distribution of educational results — test scores, general grades, ultimate level of education — between groups. The opportunity gap is the inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities — access to experienced teachers, rigorous coursework, safe environments — that create the achievement gap. From a social justice perspective, these inequities in education serve as the foundation for so many other social injustices, from the effects of the school-to-prison-pipeline to cycles of poverty.

There is much debate about the best ways to approach closing these gaps, but I’m going to focus on the strategies 826 National has incorporated into their work. As a primarily writing-centered program, they focus on creating curriculum that is challenging AND engaging for students who often do not see themselves or their cultures reflected in traditionally white, eurocentric lesson plans. When educational opportunities are actually engaging students, the learning comes far more naturally.

Image credit to Afterschool Alliance

One of the many inequities facing students actually happens outside the classroom. After school opportunities like extracurriculars and tutoring are typically only available for those who can afford them. This after school time is important for long-term in-school achievement, and many kids are pushed out of school because there is simply no safe, engaging space for them after school closes. For this reason, 826 programming is free. Free access to fun, safe, research-based tutoring and workshops for students in underserved communities helps ensure that these young people are not left behind as more affluent students head to their private tutoring sessions.

Additionally, research shows that individualized student attention enhances student outcomes. In the media, we hear about this as the need for smaller class sizes. And while low student-teacher ratios is a goal we should certainly be working toward, 826 National recognizes that right now this is not possible, especially in urban school settings (where it is arguably needed the most). Instead, 826 chapters commit to low student-volunteer ratios in their after school programs and workshops. Even if a student is one of thirty-five in the classroom all day, at their local 826 center they work with a volunteer in groups of one or two students per volunteer. This individualized attention in the afternoon re-engages a student in their work and gives them the time and resources they need to succeed in school.

Access to resources, individualized attention and help, and the right to explore one’s creativity are the cornerstones of success for 826 National’s students. Understanding these principles is essential for the work I do at the National office. My tasks involve working with the local chapters to provide the support and the resources they need to adequately engage students. So while I am not working directly with these students myself, I would not be able to properly work with other chapters without an understanding of the educational barriers that our students face nationwide.

-Katie Reinhold, ’19

Post 2: Lessons of a Budding Activist

Social justice and the values that naturally accompany it were rarely on my mind before I came to the Brandeis campus. I thought that being giving and kind in my own life was enough to help make this world a more just and peaceful place. However, Brandeis has removed the white privileged wool over my eyes and showed me the various ways I was complicit in the oppressive structures upon which my world rested. It was a difficult transition realizing that good intentions were not enough. Having to check myself for my unconscious biases and confront the guilt that came with the epiphany of my willing ignorance was overwhelming, but it also lit a flame under me. I was led to advocacy, activism, and for the first time I felt that I could actually be a part of a lasting solution.

Working at the North American Indian Center of Boston this summer forced me through another reexamination of my privilege in terms of becoming an ally. My desire to become a part of the solution and to right the wrongs of my ancestors was met with a wall formed by generations of built up distrust. Humbling as it was, this experienced awakened me to the unforgiving opposition this organization and the whole of Indian Country faced. After colonial wars, slavery, assimilation camps, broken treaties, and marches to ever-shrinking reservations, over five hundred Native American tribes have still survived but at a heavy cost.

The result of our colonialist history has led the Native American community into another losing battle against a government and people who think very little of the struggle they face.  After over hundreds of years of resources, land, and cultural identity being ripped away from the tribes, they have been forcibly reliant on government assistance. In the new administration, for example, NAICOB has to fight against other Native American tribes and non-profit organizations for the same money to provide support for their communities. Under this new structure, tribes can no longer sustain themselves in the manner they had before the colonization of the Americas by European settlers. The sovereignty of which Native American communities have full claim is hollow to the government that implicitly controls them.

It was difficult to observe the heartbreaking history and current struggles my coworkers at NAICOB and their communities had to live with. At times I wondered if my existence working with them was an extension of the colonial perpetrators, infiltrating my way into the Native American community as some sort of white savior. However, I recognized there was a balance. I could be a part of the solution, not by preaching, but by listening, absorbing the stories, and setting fire to the neutral ignorance in my community. I can bring back all of my experiences to Brandeis and share with my fellow students so as we move forward with social justice we can be more aware of our place and our role in creating a better future for us all.

Appeal to the Great Spirit by Cyrus E. Dallin           (American, 1861–1944)

Post 2: Connecting Knowledge with Action at BridgeYear

 

BRIDGEYEAR

One of the biggest realizations I had during my time at Brandeis came while taking Professor Wallace’s class, Sociology of Race, Gender and Class.

The class used a variety of media to analyze how race, class and gender as axes of identity and inequality create, and even recreate, forms of domination and subordination in schools, labor markets, families, and the criminal justice system. It was in this class that I was able to learn about the term intersectionality.

As most of you probably know by now, intersectionality, in its most straightforward form, refers to the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. After quite some time of self-evaluation, I was able to own the word. Intersectionality is more than just a buzzword; it is a way of life, and one of the only things I can do is to accept it and help others realize the strength that comes from that word. Under-represented students currently facing the effects of their unique, personal intersectionalities need to understand that there are resources out there for them.

I don’t mean to sound preachy or anything like that; I know I am not the only one who has had this realization. However, it is important for me to provide under-represented students with the tools to succeed in our current society. I feel that I was very fortunate during my high school years to have been guided throughout the entire college enrollment process. I am also aware that not every student is presented with such an opportunity.

This is the reason why I believe BridgeYear’s work is truly important. At BridgeYear, rather than concentrate on the overly supported top 25% of students, we place our resources on the other 75% of students. These are the students that are often times forgotten because they do not take AP classes, perform the best on their tests, or participate in a number of clubs. Through personal one-on-one advising, we make sure our students understand the exact steps necessary in order to either enroll into community colleges or partake in apprenticeship programs.

Even though I have only been advising students for about a month now, I already feel like I am having an impact on them. A good number of our students have been very grateful for the tips and reminders they receive from the BridgeYear team of advisors. I am delighted to say that I feel as if I am walking the same steps my mentors took in order to guide me to where I am now. My only hope is that the students I am advising realize their potential and become the kind of young professionals our society truly needs.

Post 2: Lessons in Social Justice From Brandeis to NCL

My first semester with the Brandeis Hoot newspaper opened my eyes in many ways, but the most important thing it taught me was that information is useless unless you can communicate it well. Last year, my first year at Brandeis, I studied a variety of class subjects. After experimenting with these different interests, I learned many lessons that have helped me better understand National Consumers League and my role in their social justice efforts. Specifically, the networking and communication skills I learned at Brandeis, as well as the political awareness I developed, allow me to make an impact with the League.

The lessons I learned about networking came from my observations of the inner workings at the Hoot. Newspapers like the Hoot need help from sources to stay relevant. Whether we learn information from fellow students or administrative leaders at Brandeis, our network helps us inform people in the community who would otherwise have trouble interpreting the latest campus events.

In similar ways, contacts within the government, businesses, and nonprofits help the League accomplish social justice goals. Social justice cannot be a individual effort. Our partnerships enable us to have a wider reach. Among other assignments, I have worked on connecting with NCL contacts like Further with Food, an organization fighting food waste. I also observed the depth of the League’s connections while researching food labels for my policy memo and watching our executive director talk with partners.

If advocates want to successfully change people’s lives, they must spread the word. Catching the attention of community leaders who can mobilize people or execute tough plans is also essential to succeeding in a social justice mission. Advocacy involves more than just telling people your ideas – it requires getting them to actually listen.

Another thing some people fail to realize is that they will not change anybody else’s mind without finding ways to connect with them. My university writing seminar, which seemed tedious at the time, actually equipped me with the strategies to approach an argument and analyze different situations. Words can have more power than you think if you use them properly. This tenet of social justice helps me better understand my role in the world and my ability to help people in need.

A picture out front of the School Without Walls Senior High School
I ended up near my high school last week with NCL at a panel. This picture from the GWU Hatchet brings back fun memories, but also reminds me that my time at Brandeis will be even better.

The biggest change I approached at Brandeis was the social difference. At my small magnet school in D.C., I developed dozens of close friendships, while I only have a few Brandeisian friends. Starting over socially forced me to improve my communication skills and understand how I interacted with people before I knew we were going to be friends. I had to communicate clearly and respectfully, while also initiating conversations instead of waiting for them to happen to me.

Brandeis taught me the importance of reaching out. For example, if I want more work at the League, I cannot just wait for my colleagues to offer something. They are busy changing the world!

Politics are ingrained in American society, but more so at liberal arts colleges because they are full of ambitious and outspoken young people. One League-backed initiative in my native D.C. surprised me because I did not read much into the issue and heard only the other side’s points. However, I later learned that the opposition was pushed by an industry without its own employees’ best interests in mind. This event confirmed what I had learned at Brandeis about the value of knowledge and awareness.

A sunny view of the Washington Monument standing tall behind the White House.
A throwback to my favorite view ever. The White House and the Washington Monument from the Hay-Adams roof.

Overall, these lessons help me put my social justice work into perspective because I am able to see how far I can make my ideas go, but also how much help I will need to turn them into realities.

Post 1: Massachusetts Interfaith Worker Justice

I started working at Mass Interfaith Worker Justice right after finals week.

On May 9th – my first day at work- I walk to the office wondering anxiously how I am going to start a 9 AM to 5 PM job again. The memories of the administrative work from my previous office jobs come to mind as I am invited in to the office by several people. The office of Mass IWJ looks genuine, I think, as I compare it to my last summer internship in Downtown Boston among huge plazas and professional looking people.

Sarah, my supervisor, comes to greet me and immediately offers to go out to get coffee at somewhere nearby. We walk to a close coffee house and sit. She slowly explains me what IWJ does and each campaign and issue it is working on. There is so much to digest. But as she explains further and further, I do feel that the information starts to sink in.

What/ Who is IWJ? What Does It Address?

Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) is a national network that builds collective power by advancing the rights of workers through unions, worker centers, and other expressions of the labor movement and by engaging diverse faith communities and allies in joint action, from grassroots organizing to shaping policy at the local, state and national levels. It welcomes people of good will from every faith tradition who are committed to proclaiming the dignity of every working person and securing the well-being of all working people.

http://www.iwj.org/locations/massachusetts

Founded in 1997, IWJ supports and advocates for a living wage, health care, safer working conditions, rights to organize and bargain, and protection under labor law both for U.S.- born and immigrant workers. IWJ condemns discrimination, harassment, intimidation and retaliation in and out of the work place. Overall, IWJ’s goal is to advance fair and just participation in a global economy that promotes the welfare of both domestic and foreign workers.

How Does It Address These Issues?

IWJ addresses these issues through a network of unions, worker centers, faith and labor organizations, guilds and NGOs that have similar agendas. By organizing congregations for campaigns around these issues, IWJ strengthens the working communities.

Grassroots worker centers, faith-labor allies and other groups in our network support workers and lead their communities and states in shaping policy and advocacy. The network includes more than 60 faith-labor organizations and worker centers across the country.

After explaining what IWJ is and what it does, Sarah talks about some of the campaigns that they have been working on.

Tasks and Campaigns

Raise Up Massachusetts

One of the main campaigns that I will work on is Raise Up Massachusetts (RUM).

Raise Up Massachusetts is a grassroots coalition of community organizations, religious groups, and labor unions committed to building an economy that works for all of us. An economy that invests in families, gives everyone the opportunity to succeed, and creates broadly shared prosperity.

RUM works towards two ballot question: 1) paid family and medical leave, to provide up to sixteen weeks of protected and paid leave to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, to care for a new child, or to meet family needs arising from a family member’s active duty military service and 26 weeks to recover from a worker’s own illness and/ or injury. 2) $15 minimum wage – to increase the $11 minimum wage by $1 each year until it reaches $15 an hour in 2022.

https://www.raiseupma.org/

 The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

One of the other campaigns I will work on is The Poor People’s Campaign(PPC). Starting May 13 and ending June 21, PPC will engage in collective action and nonviolent civil disobedience across the United States to combat systematic racism, discrimination, segregation, the war economy, environmental destruction and poverty.

PPC is bringing together people across the country who are organizing to build a broad and deep national moral movement—led by the poor, impacted, clergy and moral agents and reflecting the great moral teachings—to unite our country from the bottom up… to begin to shift the distorted moral narrative of our nation; advance common demands for transformative change; and build power to continue this fight long after June 2018.

https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org

Labor in the Pulpits/ Bimah/ Minbar/ Meeting Space

Another main event that I will work on is Labor in the Pulpits/ Bimah/ Minbar/ Meeting Space, which is organized by Mass IWJ. The event involves inviting workers to give a speech in a worship space to celebrate low-wage workers in the community, learn about the issues that impact workers most, and encourage conversation around practical solutions for workplace problems.

I learn from Sarah that other than these campaigns and events, I will help organize, mobilize, provide general support and attend actions for the workers’ rights campaigns.

http://www.iwj.org/resources/plan-labor-day-service

How Will I Work to Further Mass IWJ’s Mission?

I learn that I will make phone calls, craft e-mails and meet with community and religious leaders and union representatives to mobilize and organize for campaigns, events and actions. As Sarah tells me that I will spent my time in the field mobilizing and attending actions more than I will spent time in the office, I feel a huge relief. This is not a regular office job!

As Sarah finishes her last words there is one thing that I am sure I want to accomplish this summer:

to get to know the action networks of Massachusetts and to take action against the injustices in the labor world.