One of my favorite parts about my education at Brandeis has been the opportunity to take so many amazing interdisciplinary classes. As a Sociology major with Legal Studies and Social Justice and Social Policy minors, all my classes connect with strong foundational themes of advocacy, social justice, and working to identify and combat inequities in society. While these classes have been terrifically informative and engaging, they have often left me wondering what action steps there are to take. These classes may prepare me to analyze and understand structural issues, but genuinely participating in the change has always felt lacking from an academic standpoint. I am involved in several student groups that partly fulfill my need for tangible involvement, but my time at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has allowed me to be further involved.
One specific example of an experience where I have learned something at Brandeis that has impacted my approach to my work at the MCAD was the opportunity to create programs as an undergraduate representative (UDR) for the Social Justice and Social Policy program. Through this opportunity and experience, I was able to take all the important lessons and themes that I had learned through my classes at Brandeis and apply those teachings to the development of programs, such as a panel discussion with Brandeis professors and the student body in regards to the ongoing ban on abortion in states throughout the United States. This experience allowed me to take the content and topics that I was passionate about from courses at Brandeis and create a space for others to learn and engage with that content. This same approach is how I have looked to work in my position at the MCAD, taking the foundations of Social Justice from my academic interest, and applying them to my efforts to engage and assist community members who are experiencing alleged discrimination.
One of the ways I am able to do this is through my job as an intake specialist. For the Commission to be effective, it needs to be made available to all people alleging discrimination, whether they have the means to afford attorney representation. As such, pro se litigants—people representing themselves without attorneys—call the Commission to share their story of alleged discrimination in hopes of their experiences falling under the jurisdiction of the Commission to merit an investigation. As an intake specialist, I am trained to receive those phone calls, hear the stories of the people alleging discrimination, and draft an official complaint of their narrative as a starting point to be inspected for jurisdiction and potentially start an investigation.
As my internship has progressed, I have been trusted with more opportunities to be on intake and draft complaints, which has allowed me to hear the stories of many more people. On intake, I hear allegations ranging from disability discrimination, to racism, to the denial of proper accommodation, to harassment, and countless other situations. At times, these calls can be long or difficult to hear, but the opportunity to be the starting point in many of these people’s journeys to justice and compensation for the discrimination they have endured is powerful, and has provided me with that sense of involvement and action that I have sometimes felt is missing in the academic setting of Brandeis classes.