Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica Spierer ‘18

The Art of Listening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica Spierer ’18

The Process of Eradicating Discrimination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica Spierer ’18

 

My first weeks at the MCAD

“Why don’t you tell me why you are here?” This is the question I ask each person as they sit down in the intake room at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). As a neutral organization, the role of the commission is to investigate claims of discrimination and if need be, transfer them to a higher court for judgment.

For the past three weeks, I have been observing and training to be an Intake Specialist. As an Intake Specialist, my role is to interview each individual who enters our doors and determine if they have a legal basis for a discrimination claim. My most significant role as an Intake Specialist is to write up the formal legal complaint that becomes the basis upon which the Commission investigates each case. This requires strong interpersonal skills and an ability to concisely convey the alleged injustices of each individual.

This past week have finally been cleared to begin conducting the interviews on my own. What at first seemed like a daunting and somewhat scary task, has become the best part of my days. With each intake I conduct I gain more confidence and realize the extent to which I am truly making a difference in each interviewee’s life. Whether we take their claim or not, I provide a sympathetic and unbiased ear for them to express their anger, sadness and frustration.

Each intake I conduct is extremely different. The Commission has jurisdiction over education, housing and public accommodation cases. Therefore, each case I receive is unique and requires deep analysis and attention. It is safe to say that I am never bored at my job! A typical intake last about 2 hours, as it is my job to ensure that I receive all pertinent facts of the case. While the work is emotionally taxing, the relief I am able to provide is extremely rewarding. While I was expecting to learn about law and the ins and outs of government work, as an Intake Specialist I have become proficient at the important skill of successful customer service.

When I am not conducting intakes, I have been assigned certain cases to investigate. This is a tremendous responsibility and a unique opportunity to get first-hand experience working directly with other attorneys. My overall goals for the summer are to become a proficient Intake Specialist, as well as learn as much as I can about law and advocacy.

As a triple major in English Lit, Anthropology and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, I have always been unsure of my career track, as I have many paths to choose from. These past few weeks at MCAD has focused my interests and influenced me to consider a career in law and advocacy. Working alongside law students and attorneys, and viewing their passion and commitment to eradicate discrimination has been an extremely inspiring and eye-opening experience.

As the summer progresses, I am looking forward to taking on more responsibility at the Commission and continuing to contribute to their social justice fight against discrimination.  Through a combination of hands-on learning and educational training sessions and lectures, I am confident that I will leave this internship with an abundance of new knowledge and skills that I can add to my educational toolbox.

Learn more about MCAD their mission and history.

Jessica Spierer ‘18