Post 3: Flexibility and Fun. My Takeaways from NCL.

My experience at the National Consumers League was incredibly eye-opening. It allowed me to gain a practical, tangible sense of what advocacy looks like, which was a priority of mine when I accepted the internship. As someone who entered college with the hopes of making a career out of social change, it is often difficult to pinpoint what kinds of jobs are available to me. My own interests are varied, and the concept of social justice work has always seemed broad and vague to me. Advocacy work always sounded intriguing to me, but it wasn’t until I worked at an advocacy group that I truly learned how such work operates and contributes to the greater machine of progressive action.

Working at an advocacy non-profit in DC gave me an invaluable perspective on how organizations like NCL interact with both like-minded organizations and the diverse political entities in the city. It also gave me a fascinating insight into the flexible roles that individuals play at non-profits. My own work at NCL was diverse and well-rounded- a perfect reflection of the organization itself. The majority of my work centered around programmatic duties for LifeSmarts, NCL’s consumer literacy competition for highschoolers. For LifeSmarts, I prepared a variety of resources- including study materials, question banks and exams for the 2020 final competition- for the upcoming school year.

Besides this work, the staff and director invited interns to participate in events and projects across the organization’s diverse range of issues. I attended NCL’s Health Advisory Council’s panel on immunization, a USDA dietary guideline hearing, several Congressional committee meetings and the historic passage of a $15 minimum wage bill in the House. I developed valuable skills that translate across industries by writing white papers, press releases and blog posts for NCL on issues ranging from cryptocurrency to fuel economy standards. With NCL’s Child Labor Coalition, I was also able to give lobbying on Capitol Hill a try, which opened my eyes to another exciting component of advocacy work.

After working at two non-profits, I am learning the value of open-mindedness and flexibility. In the hectic world of social justice work, new issues and assignments can pop up out of the blue. Staff often assisted co-workers with projects and jumped in to fill gaps or meet the organizations needs. My colleagues at NCL came from diverse backgrounds personally and emotionally, but all of them shared a passion for the work they were doing and a diligent, can-do attitude. Approaching my senior year, I feel prepared to take on the world of social justice work with the skills I gained at NCL and eager, open attitude to compliment them.

That’s a Wrap!

And that’s a wrap! As I type these words, I’m back on the beautiful Brandeis campus, having left NYC and said goodbye to Film Comment. Walking out on my last day (Monday), I felt a real sense of melancholy. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say the three months working for Film at Lincoln Center made up the best summer of my life.

But did I achieve my learning goals? Well, I’m not sure. I certainly learned a lot about the nuts-and-bolts of putting together a film publication. I made connections with a ton of people in the field I want to go into. I spent more time fighting with the Rotten Tomatoes website than I ever expected. But it’s not like after finishing this internship, I was immediately offered a paid gig as a film critic (not that that’s what I was expecting, but hey, it would’ve been nice).

Then again, I am headed right back to Lincoln Center in a few weeks. I recently secured press credentials to cover the New York Film Festival, which means I’ll be able to see two week’s worth of this fall’s hotly anticipated movies starting in mid-September. It’ll be my second year attending and writing about the festival, and I’m really looking forward to it! Of course, this is also a great opportunity to follow-up on all the connections I made this summer, and get coffee with my former bosses.

Also, on my last day, I was able to assist one of my bosses with writing the weekly news roundup. I can’t take credit for the whole article, but I wrote a bunch of the blurbs. Check it out!

I’m not sure there’s a specific thing I can point to this summer that I can say I’m most proud of – instead, some time around July I reached this kind-of New York flow that I’m really happy with. Juggling friends, an internship, a second job, and making time for my own writing was no easy feat, and I was a bit overwhelmed at the start of the summer. But by August, I was used to the revolving door my life had become. It’s a lifestyle I hope to continue at Brandeis.

In terms of advice for future interns or aspiring critics, I would say to be patient. Working at a place like Film Comment is like dipping your toes into a much bigger pond, and you can’t just jump into the deep end. For every day of archival monotony, there’s a day when you get a glimpse of an interesting upcoming article. Leaving this summer, I want to be a critic more than ever, and I feel like I have a better understanding of what that looks like on a day-to-day basis. I couldn’t ask for much more.

– Jonah Koslofsky

Post 3: Wrapping up at Tahirih Justice Center Baltimore

Overall, working at Tahirih was an extremely rewarding experience. I’ve gotten exposure to how a small-scale office functions, experienced frustration with getting through the government’s red tape and complex, shifting policies, and learned hands-on how to apply trauma-informed techniques working with mostly female clients affected by domestic or gender-based violence. I was definitely confronted with the experience of burnout, which is present in a lot of social justice work but particularly in an office that serves many victims of traumatizing sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. I was appreciative that Tahirih gives its employees tools for coping with burnout and practicing self-care; we even had a day where the entire staff left the office early to go to an aromatherapy shop together. I gained valuable exposure not just to legal work but also to individuals who can help mentor me in future paths: staff attorneys who practice immigration and family law, as well as fellow intern law students with varying kinds of masters degrees and experiences.

Flyer of resources I created for immigrant clients to prepare for encounters with ICE in Maryland.

My most impactful project of the summer was the Know Your Rights resources flyer I created and a Family Preparedness Plan toolkit. I hope that the office will be able to use these resources to give clients the information they need to defend themselves against immigration enforcement in Maryland. I even shared these resources with Tahirih’s DC office, which will be able to use them as templates for their locations across the country. The most personally rewarding experience was working one-on-one with a client on their VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) declaration. It emotionally impacted me to hear a client’s story firsthand, and to be able to use their story to help them get immigration status and a path to safety. Additionally, listening to the client’s story made me especially appreciative of Tahirih’s unique comprehensive model that gives its clients services in immigration law, family law, and social services. It is now difficult to imagine individuals reliving their trauma in the immigration system without the additional support of social services such as those that Tahirih offers.

Something I wish I had known before I started, which is something to keep in mind going into any kind of work with immigrant or victim clients (particularly domestic/gender-based violence victims), is to be conscious of the emotional toll this kind of work takes and how to cope with it. Anyone hearing these clients’ stories on a regular basis is vulnerable to experiencing second-hand trauma, and it is important to practice self-care by taking appropriate breaks, working from home as needed, getting enough sleep and finding activities at home that are calming. I wish I had known more about my own personal limits and what kind of self-care works for me prior to the internship, but I was appreciative that the staff members were supportive in helping me figure it out and making my schedule extremely flexible.

Working at Tahirih was an extremely positive and rewarding experience in which I learned about working with vulnerable immigrant individuals in a healthy, emotionally-supportive environment.

Post 3: Where to begin if I am interested in law?

The World of Work (WOW) fellowship supported me to pursue my summer internship at the Middlesex District Attorney’s office, an office that promotes justice. During my time in the Asset Forfeiture Unit, I observed people helping each other wholeheartedly, respectfully and closely. I was able to get comfortable with and involved in my working environment quickly. With my supervisor and team members’ assistance, I learned how to get work done productively and efficiently. I was able to help draft various types of legal documents such as complaints, motions to dismiss, and motions for default judgment. I was able to conduct legal research to find current statutes, languages of the statutes, and case law via LexisNexis, West Law, Google Scholar, and Hein Online, among others. I also assisted my supervisor with data reconciliation for transparency purposes. This experience as a whole has been very beneficial to me.

In this blog, I will give some advice to people who want to pursue careers in law but have zero relevant experience in related fields. Please note that I cannot speak for other interns in Middlesex DA’S office because we all were assigned to different places. Some are in district courts, some are in superior courts. Some are in the Woburn main office, just like me, but in different units. I can only speak as an intern for the Asset Forfeiture Unit. However, I do have various experiences working in different legal fields.

In summer 2018, I was an intern in an intellectual property litigation team in Allbright Law Offices in Shanghai, China, and dealt with civil disputes over trademark, copyrights, and other matters of intellectual property rights. In spring 2019, I worked for Senator Mike Barret of the Middlesex 3rd District in the Massachusetts State House and dealt with mainly legislative matters. In summer 2019, I am now working in the asset forfeiture group, which is part of the Special Investigation Unit in the Middlesex DA’s office. For those who want to pursue law as their future career, there are some tips based on my personal experiences. I will start by comparing my work in a law firm, the State House, and the DA’s office.

I. The Law Practice

Working in a law firm is very similar to working in the DA’s Office, as both require dealing with civil litigation–the former in intellectual property and the latter in forfeiture prosecutions that are related to crimes. Under this big umbrella, both trained me to be a “typical” paralegal. This means I was expected to do basic things that all paralegals know how to do, including tracking and maintaining client files, listing and analyzing case evidence and information, conducting legal research, and drafting legal documents.

II. The Legislative Experience

Working as a legislative intern, on the contrary, does not require one to know how to draft legal documents such as a motion to vacate, nor require one to be familiar with litigation or prosecution at all. The tasks for me were more administrative and legislative, and I was mostly assisting the senator’s staff with data entry, special projects, and constituent services. I sometimes researched policy issues related to the senator’s legislative proprieties. I regularly attend legislative hearings and events. However, I spent more time on administrative work than anything else. As a college intern, my ability to contribute to changing the language of bills was limited. Although I was eager to make a big impact on legislation, it was merely impossible.

III. The Legislative Experience vs. the Law Practice

In conclusion, for those who like politics or handling administrative matters, the State House is a good choice. There, you will learn about various things including, the structure of the government, how to select committees and what their roles are in passing bills, what the tensions are between the House and the Senate, and where the fiscal year budget comes from. For those who are more interested in law practice, I’d say either a law firm or a DA’s office would teach you a lot.

IV. The Law Firm vs. the DA’s Office

Then, what’s the biggest difference between working in a law firm and working in the DA’s office? How do I know which one fits me better? My answer is that as long as you like what you do, you have good supervisors, and there are adequate training and/or resources that allow you to acquire knowledge, then, it is a good one. I loved both topics of intellectual properties and crimes (all forfeitures in the DA’s office are related to crimes), and I was lucky to have a great supervisor each time. A big thank you to my current supervisor Paris Daskalakis, who has always been knowledgeable, supportive, and well organized. Both of my teams were small (2-4 people per team), which allowed efficient communications and cooperation among team members to happen easily. For those of you who are interested in law practice, try to do some research about the places you are applying for to see what their mission is, to figure out what a typical day is like, and to learn about the people who work there. For me, a  good working environment is more important than what field of law it is.

Most importantly, no matter what field of law you want to pursue, you always should have a fire in your belly that drives you and motivates you to serve people. I think that commitment and dedication are needed in all legal fields. And always seek justice, no matter which side you are on (i.e. the prosecutor v. the defense attorney). You should do the right thing to help people.

(The photo was taken by me in the early afternoon of the 17th of July, 2019 in front of the Waltham District Court. The court had fire hazards that day.)

– Carrie Sheng

Post 3: Where do I go from here?

I’m excited! I’m sad! I’m overwhelmed! I’m motivated! I’m feeling a lot of emotions as my internship comes to a close, knowing that the people I have been spending so much time working and growing with this summer will soon be dispersed all over the country. The work continues— but so do college schedules— and I am left with the same question I had when we began: where do I go from here?

On paper, the amount of things my reinvestment team and I were able to accomplish this summer is impressive: we were able to host a successful fundraiser and raise almost $2,300 for some amazing organizations (obliterating our initial fundraising goal!); we crafted a resource for students looking to start their own reinvestment campaigns; and we supported community organizations who have been dedicated to reinvestment work in Boston much longer than any of us have been in college (gaining knowledge and building relationships in the process). 

Photo taken by Sarah Jacqz

What have I gained from this? An in-depth knowledge of businesses willing to donate to silent auctions in Boston, for sure. But more importantly, a more nuanced view of how social justice work occurs and how it transforms. My first blog post talked about how progress is both concrete and conceptual. Coming out of this summer, I’ve learned more about my role as an organizer, and how to deal with the fact that I am one tiny person interacting with issues that constantly threaten to engulf me. 

Many times this summer I’ve felt as if I am a camera lens, zooming in and out to capture a picture that refuses to focus. As we organized our fundraiser, I was constantly doing work that was up front: calling venues, marking down contacts, and sending out emails for outreach. At the same time, my mind would wander to the ultimate vision we were trying to build by reinvestment: an economy that is regenerative, that nurtures instead of extracts, that uproots preconceived notions that isolate us, and encourages us to look forward. And it was a vague vision! If I sound like I have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s because I don’t. But the entire summer I continued on, doing concrete tasks in hopes of laying the foundation for a larger goal.

Photo taken by Sarah Jacqz

So… where do I go from here? How can I continue working towards the larger vision I’ve caught glimpses of this summer, without losing it all in the senior year frenzy? How can I balance zooming in on the important tasks of my life (like homework), and still find time to unfocus and try to capture the conceptual vision of progress. The first step, I think, is to continue building relationships. None of the work this summer would have been impactful for me if I wasn’t surrounded by incredible student organizers, whom I have been so lucky to learn from and to talk through my learnings with. The second step is to continue envisioning the way that life can be different from what it is now. Although society continues to tell me, a student, that I can’t change the way things are, I can! I have agency, I have a personal stake in this cause, and I have the guidance and support from others in the movement. The third step is to stop making step-by-step plans! Transformation is multi-faceted and can’t be organized in a linear way. And it doesn’t always give a good conclusion either.

This whole blog post is a half-formed thought, but I am leaving this internship full and inspired. Where do I go from here? Anywhere. I know I will find ways to enact the future I want to see wherever I end up.

Post 3: How does research apply to real life?

One of the most important memories I have when I go through my internship’s research assistant guide is under the FAQ section. Apart from the usual FAQ, this is a section filled with the questions our assistant usually encounters when we are trying to enroll the participant at the OB/Gyn clinical site. Women are a population with more vulnerabilities, and it is understandable that they want to know about the risk of participating in a study and talking about their personal experiences. One of the questions is related to how participants can benefit from the study. The way we usually phrase the answer is, “It is unfortunate that the study cannot really benefit the participants directly except the gift cards that we can offer. However, the study aims to benefit the whole society by gaining a general understanding of Chinese families living in the United States.” Research studies on human beings are not expected to be immediate, since society formed itself over hundreds and thousands of years. It is only normal that people want to see the direct effects of the study that they participated in, but it is our job to let them take a glance at scientific research and help them understand how important a piece of data can contribute to the whole study.

There was one time when I was walking one of the participants through the consent from and talking about the goal of the study.  She responded that she knew this is a study to improve the general wellbeing of immigrant women who live in Boston and that is the reason she really wanted to participate. I was so moved when I heard that, and I wish we could start some efficient program after we have a better understanding of this community.

Another aspect of this research that I really appreciated is the rapport we built with the mothers and expecting mothers. We conducted phone interviews with participants and, surprisingly, they usually open up with any topics that they are interested in when we are going through the interview packet. Some of them talk about how difficult it was when they first moved to the United States, and some of them talk about fun anecdotes that happened between them and their family. It is really satisfying when they show their appreciation of the time I spend talking to them and listening to their stories, and I will say that is actually a part of the social support our group wants to offer.

After we know the participants gave birth to their babies, we also send them hand-written congratulations cards to show that we really care about them in person, not only in the contributions they can offer as eligible participants. It is always a pleasurable time talking with the mothers about their updates in the new chapter of their life and learning more about their babies.

 

To wrap up the experiences I have had as a research assistant with social science studies, I am so lucky to work with a study that involves a direct connection with the participant. I realized how important it is to balance the position as a researcher and as a person who sincerely cares about the participant, which is really helpful for my future research experiences. If you care about them, they care about you.

Post 3: What I Learned From PEAR

The summer went by so fast! Now I am approaching the final week of my internship at PEAR. This is such a fun organization and I wish I could stay longer. Although the workplace environment is much less official and standard than I expected–locating in a house-like building at the bottom of the McLean campus–I really like the office culture here. People feel at home in the office and are close to each other. The senior staff members are easy-going and open-minded. We have brown bag lunch every Friday where people working in the office all have lunch together and chat. We shared a lot of laughter during this time. This friendly vibe helps me gain a sense of belonging and gives me the bravery to speak up and share any ideas I have that come up at the moment. Through my eight weeks working at PEAR, office culture has become one of the most important considerations when I choose my future job.

Three turkeys hanging out in front of our office.

Through my time at PEAR, I realize that funding is one of the biggest issues for most of the non-profit organization and social justice work in the world. Take educational injustice as an example. Some non-profit organizations conducting research on educational injustice have to wrap up their research project quickly as soon as they are able to create a report. They often do not get to the point of getting their research work published into the field because the budget is running. Many schools and after-school programs are not able to provide engaging social-emotional learning curricula and STEM education because of the limited educational materials and facilities. Some educational institutes have to give up sets of curricula because they cannot afford some materials required to run them. When I was designing the Clover social-emotional learning curriculum for non-profit programs, I took a lot of practical factors into consideration. I try to minimize the technology components and replace the teaching tool kit with more affordable ones without compromising the quality of the curriculum. I hope this could increase affordability of the Clover curriculum and allow more schools in low-income communities to implement the Clover curriculum set developed by PEAR.

At PEAR, I have developed a twelve session social-emotional learning curriculum manual from scratch, and now it is almost ready to be piloted. After spending seven weeks doing research, brainstorming, editing and formatting the curriculum, it seems like my baby now. I could not have achieved what I created this summer without collaboration with my supervisor, my fellow interns and other staffs in the office. I learned that collaboration is such an important piece at work. In most workplace settings, people are expected to work independently and be responsible for their own tasks. Everyone is busy working on their tasks and people don’t have the responsibility to help you. This dynamic is very different from that in a school setting. I find it harder to reach out for help at work than in a school setting where professors, mentors, and advisors are paid to help students and my fellow schoolmates get used to helping each other because we share similar goal or interest. It took me some time to learn how to appropriately reach out, speak up and get both my concerns and interesting ideas noticed in the work setting.

Another important lesson I learned was that I should build my work upon my strength. People have different personalities and working styles. Some of your colleagues might be more active or talkative, more humorous and come up with ideas faster than you, and that is OK. That doesn’t mean you are doing worse. You have your own strengths. You might be more organized, more meticulous, or better at creating things on paper. You are good as long as you are contributing in some way and always report your progress in time so that your supervisor is aware of what you have contributed. Don’t wait on presenting your progress until the last minute.

Our expressive art break after spending hours staring at the computer.

Now my internship at PEAR is coming to the end but I am not ready to say goodbye. I am grateful to everyone at PEAR and the WOW program for making this wonderful summer experience happen.

Post 3: A WOW-Filled Summer

The Legal Aid Society provides pro-bono legal representation to impoverished citizens of all five boroughs of New York City.

This week wraps up my eight-week internship in the Immigration Law Unit at the Legal Aid Society. In my eight weeks, I have completed around 280 hours of immigration work, assisted with around 50 cases, conducted a total of 35 DACA meetings, sent dozens of emails, and thumbed through at least a hundred files. As a result, I have experienced and learned so much.

It has been an absolute privilege to be a part of the Legal Aid Society community this summer. In my eight weeks with the organization, I have been able to work alongside, gain feedback from, and interact with selfless and intelligent attorneys and paralegals. I have completed work that has fulfilled me personally and professionally. Furthermore, I have learned so much about immigration law and about how to mediate between the emotional burden of such work and taking care of myself. 

Ironically, I am thankful that I was able to gain this insight during one of the worst periods in our modern-day immigration history. My time with the Legal Aid Society overlapped with many of the recent attacks on immigrants, including the confusion over adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, ICE raids, and President Trump’s new plan to bar Central Americans from receiving asylum. Despite this and the ensuing stress, I have witnessed the unit’s attorneys, staff members, volunteers, and interns continue to work tenaciously to provide the best support to immigrants in need. I now realize that I ultimately want to work with an organization and among individuals who exhibit that unwavering commitment to helping others–even in the face of resistance. Furthermore, I want to be an individual who promotes and inspires these characteristics, as well. 

A view of Central Park
As someone new to the bustling life of the city, Central Park is one of my favorite places to go to rejuvenate.

I weigh the value of my internship through the time spent and the work done here. But, beyond that, I prioritize the implications of how my time and work have shaped how I view myself and my surroundings. The biggest take-away from my internship is not the fact that I can fax, copy, and scan like a pro. Nor is it my expanded knowledge of immigration law and legal advocacy. It’s not even how much I have been able to directly assist immigrants. It’s the fact that, having gained all these newfound skills, I now feel confident enough, strong enough, and inspired enough to sustainably and skillfully pursue a career in such a critical field.

Times Square at sunset.

My advice to anyone who wants to pursue an internship with the Legal Aid Society or in legal advocacy is to take care of yourself and to bask in the opportunity to engage with individuals of different cultures and backgrounds. But my broader advice to anyone pursuing an internship in any field is to assess how the tasks you are doing, the community you belong to, and the people you are interacting with enhance your own feelings of competency and belonging. The world is a profoundly better place when its inhabitants are pursuing their passions, evolving with their work, and enjoying what they are doing. Any new experience or internship is an opportunity to test out the waters in a field that might meet this criteria. Each new opportunity, no matter how favorable its outcome, is a step in the ongoing, evolving process of finding what fulfills you. 

My internship was a step forward in this process, and I am grateful to have cultivated an even greater passion for legal advocacy.

Having the funds to live in NYC this summer allowed me to pursue an internship with the Legal Aid Society. It also allowed me to live near two of my siblings–as are pictured here.

I am so thankful to the Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Law Unit for allowing me to participate in such a meaningful and amazing internship. I am also appreciative of the Hiatt Career Center, the World of Work (WOW) Social Justice grant, and my WOW adviser Kim Airasian for providing me with the funds and the support to pursue an internship in NYC with the Legal Aid Society this summer.

-Alison Hagani ’22

Post 3: Reflecting on RepresentWomen

I helped write content for RepresentWomen during my time there as an intern. I wrote articles that went on the website and the Medium blog, and I also promoted them on social media. I think that my articles helped get RepresentWomen’s messages across by making arguments for increased women’s representation, providing information about fair voting systems, and helping people understand why these reforms are important and relevant to their own lives. 

I also got an article published in The Fulcrum, a new media outlet that focuses on reporting on democracy reforms. The article will go live on August 6, and is about the Fair Representation Act. The piece will hopefully get more people on board with the legislation by explaining how it will increase women’s representation.

I wrote articles for the Civically Re-engaged Women blog as well, to promote their Seneca Falls Revisited Conference. This event will commemorate the first women’s rights convention in the United States and bring together women leaders from across the country to discuss women’s participation in society and politics. 

Hopefully my writing impacts the organization by getting people’s attention and showing them why what RepresentWomen stands for is important. Words have power, and when used correctly, they can get people to care about and mobilize around an issue. 

I learned that in the world of social justice work, organizations can have a lot of admirable ambition but not always have the capacity to achieve everything they want to. They instead have to make priorities. If I hear about a project that’s lower priority for the organization but is of interest to me, I can try to be proactive by asking how I can help or getting started on it on my own. 

For example, sometimes I would hear about an idea for an article or blog post during a meeting, and then before I could get specific guidelines, the topic would change to another task. Even though less time was spent talking about the writing project, I knew my work would still be appreciated if I took the initiative to get started on it and let other people focus on projects that were priorities to them.

I wish I had known when I started that I would need to make a bigger effort to step out of my comfort zone and try something new. I very quickly fell into the habit of picking up tasks that were focused on writing because I knew that was something I enjoyed and could do. If I had known how easy it would be for me to get stuck in that rut, I would have pushed myself harder to ask for different types of tasks earlier on. 

The advice I would give to someone pursuing an internship at a nonprofit is to always ask for more to do instead of waiting to be given something to do. Delegating tasks takes a lot of time, and in a small organization, like the one I worked at, there is not a lot of that to spare. Don’t worry about “bothering” people by asking them for more to do, because you will be helping them in the long run by allowing them to use your time, skills, and effort in the most efficient way possible. 

Post 3: The End of My Journey at the Bronx ASC

This summer truly flew by. It’s crazy to think that this is my last post and my last week at the Bronx Adolescent Skills Center as my journey comes to a close. After all of my experiences this summer, looking back on my first-day jitters and my journey to learning how to participate in an office setting makes me laugh. I knew I would learn a significant amount about the world of work as a mature adult by diving head-first into a professional office environment. As I expected, I came to understand the effect of the chain of command as well as what is appropriate dress and behavior in the office, but I also learned about the field of Psychology, my major, what a potential career would look like, and what my interests are within the field.

The artwork on the ASC wall painted by current students.

But I have discovered that, as much as the ASC is an office, it is equally a home–not only for the students, but for the staff as well. The staff and students uphold their roles as support systems for each other every day in the office. Though the relationship between the staff and students is professional, I would also say the relationship is that of a family. The duality of these relationships is what makes the ASC so incredible, especially in my eyes.

My perception of the students and staff at the ASC as a family has changed the perception of social justice work that I held at the beginning of this summer. I entered the ASC understanding the social injustice that exists in this world with a motivation to fight and raise awareness while remaining detached from its effects, but since working at the ASC, I view social justice through a completely different lens.

Just two days before my internship ended, I entered the ASC office to find one of the students that I have been counseling as a peer waiting to talk to me. My supervisor explained to me that today was his father’s birthday and that it marks eleven years since his father passed away. When I met with the student, he explained that his father was shot in an attempt to protect him from being taken away. He was only seven. The student walked me through his thoughts, feelings, and emotions on this day when he mentioned that his father left him a note. A few years prior to his death, the student’s father wrote him a letter to be opened when he is eighteen, and this year, on his father’s birthday, he is eighteen.

As I listened to the traumas of so many students my age, I began to understand on a personal level how unjust this world actually is. My perception of social justice has changed through shattering the invisible barrier that has sheltered me from the effects of injustice. This is why the work that I have done at the ASC this summer–providing educational and vocational opportunities to students in low-income areas–means so much to me: it has opened my eyes towards the power of social justice.

Artwork on the streets of the Bronx outside my office.

I am incredibly grateful to have spent my summer working alongside the very intelligent, caring, and giving people at the Bronx ASC, as well as working with the students who inspire me to be a better version of myself every day. I will never forget this summer and everything that I have learned.

Lauren Lindman ’22

Post 3: White Coats for People of Color – Combating Racism in Healthcare

There are a few things in life that are truly black and white. Recently, a lot of issues surrounding racial identities have stirred the pot in terms of political affairs and the idea of what constitutes racism has dominated headlines. Growing up, I used to think racism and racists could be easily defined. It was simply good or bad, and anything that was racist would immediately be called out or challenged. It was part of the charm of living in an era with advanced technology and educational opportunities. It is unclear when I started to muddle the line between what is racism and what isn’t and began to see how prevalent it truly is in our society today.  Before my time at Project Healthcare, the process of delivering and receiving healthcare was much simpler for me. The last ten weeks have presented some of the most rewarding, challenging, and personally gratifying learning experiences that have completely changed my perspective on healthcare and how health is determined. 

Humans have a desire to have clearly defined boundaries and place things under categories. It is this same desire that lets us feed into the system that chooses to use our differences against us rather than embracing them. We set ourselves up to have implicit biases that inform our interactions with different people. Being aware of the biases we all hold is especially important for people working in health-related professions. 

To say that race could mean the difference between life or death is not an exaggeration. Because of systemic factors such as residential segregation, and past and present policies, members of ethnic minorities are at a higher risk of chronic health conditions. These same groups are less likely to receive the same level of preventive or equitable care as their white counterparts. Before this summer, these facts were just statistics. It was difficult for me to imagine how this could be true. Spending hours observing provider-patient interaction in the Emergency Department has made me realize how racism still persists in our system, even though everyone I have spoken to wants to see the opposite. 

A case study during a weekly Social Emergency Medicine course discussing a patient’s immigration status and implications for their healthcare.

 One of the biggest barriers to remedying the issues of race in our healthcare is a lack of concession in a healthcare setting. In the words of Dr. Kamini Doobay, a physician in Bellevue’s ED and a board member on NYC Coalition to Dismantle Racism, “We can’t attack something without acknowledging it. By not acknowledging the issue, we are perpetuating it”. Racism is a difficult and uncomfortable topic. Even saying the “R-word” makes people uneasy. We avoid holding each other accountable by not talking about racism;  instead thinking avoiding the issue helps solve it.         

Working with one of the most diverse patient populations in the state, it can be difficult to maintain a conscious level of cultural sensitivity for every individual. The healthcare providers I worked with this summer were some of the most empathetic and softhearted individuals I have ever met, yet many of them exercised unconscious changes in their stature and conversation that differed the treatment of patients of color versus white patients, which certainly had an impact on the quality of care individual patients received.  A lot of patients who came into the ED held strongly negative preconceived notions of the doctors that were treating them because of either previous experiences with healthcare providers, or the notion that their doctor is white so only prefers white patients. A common theme throughout the entirety of my summer was a desire for patients to see more providers of color. While changing the representative demographic of current and potentially future healthcare providers is an issue for the larger larger health system to deal with, taking the small effort to build bridges with patients of color and exercise cultural sensitivity will be extremely beneficial at the individual provider-patient interaction. 

         

Without a stethoscope around my neck or a white coat on, I appeared to be removed from the system that perpetuates racism, unknowingly or not. Patients felt comfortable telling me things they wouldn’t share with their doctor or nurse that were absolutely important for their overall well-being. Nearing the end of this experience, I am having a difficult time reconciling the idea that earning the qualifications necessary to help people with their health issues could change the perception of me as a person who genuinely cares about a patients well-being into an untrustworthy figure, even though the latter is false.         

Project Healthcare has given me countless memories and experiences to reflect on. From seeing brain surgery on my first day to the inside of a lung, my fondest memories are those spent speaking with patients and hearing their life experiences. Having the opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life is an incredible one, and something that I encourage every individual to seek out. Working with the other Project Healthcare interns as well as the providers in the Emergency Department, I am confident our small acts to combat racism in healthcare will not prove to be futile. A future with equitable healthcare is absolutely possible, but requires that all participants are actively holding each other accountable to create tangible change.

       

Project Healthcare interns bonding and getting some sun after a lunchtime picnic.

Post 3: A Thank You to the MCAD

At my cubicle with my two monitors, which was such a great way to work! Most of my work is confidential and cannot be shared with people who are not parties to the case, hence the pretty bare desk. This photo was taken by Angela, one of the amazing training interns.

Now that my internship is nearly over, I can say that every day at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has been unique. On behalf of the Housing Unit I have sent out hundreds of notices for position statements, rebuttals, evidence, and just about everything an investigator could need to help finish a case. I have reviewed several reasonable accommodation policies for housing authorities and condo associations so no one is unfairly denied an accommodation again. I have talked to dozens and dozens of people who felt discriminated against and wanted to file a complaint. In some cases, I wrote up those complaints for them.

There is always the important work of making sure that all of our actions are reflected in our data systems. Inaccurate data systems can absolutely derail an investigation and cause headaches down the road, so logging information is the most important step you can never forget. I co-authored the quarterly report and helped make sure that HUD paid the MCAD for the cases we investigated. Over the course of the summer, I saw how HUD’s shrunken budget made them unable to take on any new investigations, and our intakes grew and grew. What I have learned about the world of work is that your days will always vary. 

I’m told by my supervisors that I have been a huge help to the department and I am going to choose to believe them. Interns matter and the work we do is important. Many offices, including the MCAD, rely on interns to help keep the ship moving. I am incredibly grateful to have worked in a place that made sure I understood the value of the work I was doing. I oversaw so many case records, did so much writing, and answered so many complainants. I might never see the final results of my work, but I was undeniably a part of so many people’s journey through the MCAD. I am now armed with knowledge I would never have learned otherwise, and I will not stop fighting for fair housing. 

I did not take this internship to be thanked, but hearing it does makes me feel like I am doing something right. One woman began to choke up at the end of a forty minute call as she told me she did not know what was going to happen and she did not know why her landlord was being mean to her, but she thanked me for listening and said it felt nice to be heard. We won’t always be able to tell people what they want to hear, and the law won’t always be on their side, but you can treat people fairly and with the respect they were denied. You need to make them feel heard.

My advice for someone who wants to pursue an internship at the MCAD or in the field would be to listen more than you talk. Ask questions when you are unsure because I promise it prevents mistakes in the future. Ask questions when you are curious. Spend time with people working in other parts of the organization and see what they do. 

Most importantly, never forget who you are serving. Social justice work can burn you out and it happens to everyone. What helps is to remember the mission and remember you are not alone. Your work matters, it makes a difference, and you can do it. 

Post 3: Reflecting on My Time at the New York Attorney General’s Office

Overall, my time at the New York Attorney General’s office has been nothing short of amazing.  I have learned so much and had many new and exciting experiences. One thing that I learned about social justice work, especially in a people-facing role, is the importance of patience. For example, an older women came to our office and I was assigned to help with her intake. I sat down with her and explained what services we provided. She was very unhappy with her situation and talked about how nobody was helping her.  She was upset with her credit card company and was extremely skeptical that our office could help her. However, I walked her carefully through what the next steps were. I spent extra time handling her intake and talking to her about the case and also about her children and her job. I saw her slowly start to relax, and by the time the intake was complete she was optimistic. This experience, and many similar ones, taught me that sometimes being a good listener and giving people a little more time makes a world of a difference. It also showed me that you need a lot of patience because a lot of the people coming in are dealing with extremely difficult situations and may be very frustrated.

A photo of me (on the left), Attorney General Letitia James(middle) and fellow intern Kim Paradisis (right)

During my time at the New York Attorney General’s Office, I worked on dozens of mediation cases and I also assisted in legal research and outreach. Since my office was small, I was able to interact with everybody and was able to assist in many different areas. In some of the work I did, I saw an immediate impact. While I can’t give specifics, I saw research turn into legal memos and subpoenas. It felt good knowing the work I was doing was respected in my office. One thing that I wish I had known when I started my internship was how long cases take to resolve. I thought I would close out a few cases a week, but the reality of the process made resulted in only two cases during my internship. I was able to do dozens of intakes, but I didn’t know that for many of those cases I wouldn’t be able to see them all of the way through.

A picture of me and some of the Harlem Regional Office interns with former New York Attorney General and current New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood!

Lastly, if you would like to pursue an internship at the New York Attorney General’s Office, I have a few pieces of advice. Firstly, take advantage of all of the amazing opportunities the Summer Law Internship Program (SLIP) provides. The opportunities include speaker events, networking opportunities, and fun summer activities. Secondly, I would recommend that you work in a small regional office or a small bureau. This way, you can interact with everyone at your office and you will play a more vital role. And finally, if work isn’t coming to you and you don’t know what to do, don’t be afraid to ask your supervisors if they have anything for you to do. Make yourself available and show your office that you are there to help.

Post 3: Wrapping Up

This experience has been so many things for me in so many different ways, but in this post I will attempt to convey as best I can some of my main takeaways from the summer. This internship has opened my eyes in ways I could have imagined, but never expected.

Working with Restore Justice was my first formal experience with an internship in an established organization. The biggest thing that struck me right away was the passion and pride that these individuals had for the work that they do. Criminal justice reform is not a very popular public issue, especially in Illinois. The Illinois Department of Corrections is notoriously non-compliant and disorganized, and does not take kindly to groups that want to hold it accountable. Additionally, the population group that we work with is one that historically has been brushed under the rug. Because of the stigma attached to individuals who are incarcerated, coupled with the demographics of incarcerated persons leaning more towards people of color and people of lower socio-economic status, it is very easy for the public to be unsympathetic. Many think that these people have given up their chance to be treated with dignity and respect, and that they made the choice to become marked as a criminal and thus don’t deserve sympathy.

It is also very easy for people to choose to ignore the violations of rights that occur in prisons, both before, during, and after sentencing and incarceration. Simply put, people don’t care if it doesn’t affect them. This allows a great majority of individuals to turn a blind eye to what is happening, and the conceptualization of prisons as punitive instead of rehabilitative further drives this lack of empathy that the public expresses. Because of this, there is very limited opportunity to get enough public traction as well as legislative support to pass the policies that we want to see passed.

Against these odds and many more, the people at Restore Justice continue to see hope. They have helped me learn to celebrate any victory, no matter how small, because they see the bigger picture. They have also helped me understand the importance of narrowing focus in passing policy, but also in any work around social justice. Time and time again, I have heard my coworkers express the sentiment that, although they want to help everyone right now, they understand that it is more important to fight one step at a time, and that doing anything for even one person makes a world of a difference.

I am incredibly grateful to have been introduced to this community of people, and have met some truly incredible individuals. Being able to speak with men that have been incarcerated, are currently incarcerated, and family members of those men has been eye-opening and humbling. The hope that they retain in the face of being tossed aside by society and the passion they have for helping others that have been in their situation is astounding. It has made me a better person, helped me to see that there is a good in all of us, and that nobody should be defined by the worst mistake they have made.

I have made some incredibly meaningful connections and had truly insightful conversations. I have appreciated this experience in many ways, but most of all for the opportunity it has provided me to form my own understanding of this complex issue and all the players involved. Growing up with a father who works for the Bureau of Prisons in the federal system has given me one kind of narrative about the criminal justice system in the United States, and that narrative is extremely complicated in and of itself. But this internship experience has given me another narrative and opened up even more avenues and possible belief systems for me. I have been able to take each piece of information I have gathered and formulate my own thoughts and opinions on this incredibly complex issue.

Although I still have questions to explore and situations to unpack, this internship experience has given me clarity on one important idea: we are all people, and no matter what choices we make, we all have the potential to see the good in each other. We are all humans and we all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. That’s the bottom line. Thank you to Restore Justice Illinois for giving me this opportunity, and more importantly, for fostering relationships that I will take with me the rest of my life.

This is Derrick Jordan. I had an incredible visit with him at Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg, IL on August 1. Thank you, Derrick!

Post 3: Social Justice and Starfish

This summer I learned that doing social justice/ public interest work is NOT going home at the end of the day with the work being done and the injustices being solved. Rather, it’s going home every night knowing that these same injustices will still be a problem when you wake up in the morning, but still waking up and going to work each day in order to make some sort of a difference. Thinking of social justice work and my work at Legal Aid this summer reminded me of a story called “The Starfish Thrower,”originally written by Loren Eiseley, which has gone through many adaptations. The story goes like this:

An old man was walking along a beach the day after a storm. Along the shoreline, thousands of starfish had washed up on shore and were now baking in the hot sun. The old man began walking down the beach looking at the starfish when he soon came across a young girl. The girl was picking up the starfish and throwing them back into the sea. The old man stopped the young girl and asked “Young Lady, what are you doing? There are thousands of starfish along this beach. You can’t possibly make a difference and save all of them.” The young girl paused. She then bent down and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean. She then said, “Well, it made a difference to that one.”

This story above is what choosing to do social justice work is like. This summer at Legal Aid, I got to see this first hand. My previous internships were computer science-based and had definite end goals like publish this program, write this piece of code, build this webpage, etc. At the conclusion of the internship, my work would be done, and whatever problem or task I was given at the beginning of the internship would be solved. At Legal Aid, that’s not the case. The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia aims to “Make Justice Real” for those living in poverty in DC. This has also been one of my goals all summer. However, with a goal like that, there is no definite end. Social justice work like this has no definite ending or even an accurate measure of progress.

As my internship comes to a close in the next two weeks, I can’t say that I’ve made a significant difference in the larger problem of injustices facing those in DC, but I can say I have made all of the difference to at least some people facing them. My work at Legal Aid this summer has allowed me to assist individuals in being able to stay in their family homes, retain their home-health aide hours after they had been reduced, gain custody of their children, and so much more.

At Legal Aid this summer I have not only been able to do social justice work, but to do it in a city that is close to my heart. This summer, I feel like I’ve had a unique impact on my organization by being a native Washingtonian. The city I grew up in is very important to me and I like showing my unique perspective to others who might only see DC in one way. So much so that in my last two weeks I’m even leading a tour of one of the areas of DC that my middle school was located in, and I’m super excited to share my knowledge with everyone.

Here’s to a sweet last two weeks of my internship.

-Rolonda Donelson

Post 3: A Summer of Cultural Survival and Connection

Throughout my time at Cultural Survival, I have learned a lot about the realities of day-to-day work at a non-profit organization. One thing that has been reassuring to realize is that there are so many kinds of jobs one can have and still support social justice work, depending on your interests, strengths, and preferences. If you would rather work with numbers and money, you can. If you prefer to do event planning, you can do that too. 

Bazaar in Newburyport, MA July 20-21

Since Cultural Survival is a fairly small organization, with less than ten full-time staff working in the Cambridge office where I worked, I got to observe how each person was in charge of a different section of the organization on a daily basis. But there are also times where everyone came together as well. The bazaars, which occur in the summer and winter, are events where numerous indigenous artists from around the world fly into New England to sell their work. They are big, all day events, so it’s essentially all hands on deck. Even people who don’t do much work to prepare for the bazaars during the rest of the year still go and help out and do whatever needs to be done those few days. The bazaars are a real team effort.

Bazaar in Newburyport, MA July 20-21

During my internship, it has been an honor to be able to dedicate my time to researching and learning about all different groups of indigenous peoples and individuals doing advocacy work to benefit their particular part of the world. I then got to report back on what I learned and write articles about these news stories. I also got to lend a hand at the bazaar in Newburyport (on a 100 degree day no less), helping to set up and helping the vendors with whatever they needed, and making sure everyone got the water and breaks they needed. 

As a result of this internship, I have realized that I prefer doing work where I get to interact with people more, with more of a local focus. I enjoyed the work I did all summer, but the most meaningful moments for me were definitely attending and testifying at the hearing for the bill that would ban Native American mascots in Massachusetts public schools, and working at the bazaar and helping out the vendors. In the future, I definitely see myself pursuing more opportunities that allow me to work hands-on with people in my local area.

The advice I would give to other people interested in this field of indigenous human rights advocacy, and human rights advocacy in general, is to be open to any and all opportunities for connection with other people who share similar passions. There is a lot to learn from people who have been doing this kind of work for years, and they are usually also the people who would love to share a connection with you. I think another good rule of thumb is to focus on centering and lifting up the voices of people who are more marginalized than you. And only then, when the circumstances are appropriate, go ahead and don’t be afraid to speak up and use your own voice to support marginalized peoples.

Post 3: A Model Nonprofit

It isn’t easy to be a nonprofit organization. The state and the federal government have many layers of administrative requirements, deadlines, and qualifications. It is all with good intentions, but the bureaucratic maze is a challenge for many well-intentioned people who want only to do good in the world. During my time at United for a Fair Economy, I saw this dynamic play out and witnessed practices crucial to making the nonprofit structure workable.

United for a Fair Economy is a nonprofit organization with a pretty large staff capacity and a broad range of things that they do. While I was there, I experienced an audit, preparation for a 25th anniversary celebration, a fundraising push at the end of the fiscal year, and social media publicity to keep supporters informed of the work that was being accomplished. While this work is what took up most of my time, it was second to the economic and racial justice work that is the core of UFE.

At the same time that I was entering donation records into the database and asking Massachusetts businesses to sponsor our upcoming event, UFE was also hosting popular economics education trainings for movement organizers, fighting for $15 minimum wage in North Carolina, and mobilizing wealthy people to support just economic practices. In many nonprofits and as nonprofits grow, these two tracks become siloed into departments or individual staff positions that seem to be lightyears apart. At UFE, we incorporated three practices that prevented that siloing from happening.

Firstly, UFE values collaboration. No project proposal, organizing graphic, or appeal letter will make it out the doors without the input of multiple people in the office. From the conceptualization to the final edit, ideas are bounced around the room during lunch conversations or over Zoom meetings with the staff who work in multiple different regions of the US. It is crucial that throughout this process the folks that work in development are aware of and feel part of the community work that is at the heart of the organization’s mission. Equally important is that the education team knows how their work is being presented to donors and is part of the vision in keeping their work sustainable.

Secondly, it is important that all aspects of the work is framed in a way that values its equal importance to the organization. An example of this is demonstrated in the term, “wealth reclamation” this term is used to think about fundraising and donor relations which can be a very large component of nonprofit organizations. It helps us think about fundraising as returning wealth to the communities where it belongs which is a curtail aspect in an organization with a mission of economic justice.

Lastly, the mission of the organization must be reflected internally. At UFE, this means including healing justice in the nonprofit work environment, and respecting the lives and wellbeing of the people who make UFE’s work possible on a daily basis. It also means holding themselves accountable to their value of language justice.

Jeannette Huezo, the Executive Director of UFE, and I at the end of my internship.

During my time at UFE I worked as a development intern, but at no time did I feel like I was doing less interesting or important work. By integrating these aspects into more organizations, maybe we can make my experience a reality in the taxing nonprofit world. I know that my experience was unique, but it doesn’t need to be.

Madeline Bisgyer ’20

Post 3: My Adventures in Cynicism and Caring

Empathy (noun): the action of understanding, being aware of, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another (Merriam Webster). Empathize (verb), empathically (adverb), empathic (adjective). Four different versions of the same word all trying to tap into a surprisingly complex human emotion. We are taught to empathize from a very young age, from children’s books detailing what people are feeling to at-length discussions in elementary school. Although people are designed to be around others, I believe that empathy can be taught. It is an ever-flowing feeling that can be absorbed, ignored, and expanded. After working in this hospital for the past ten weeks, I have seen every variation and level of empathy, from the nurse that will go above and beyond his duties to ensure a patient gets home safely to the social worker that curses out patients after they leave the office. I have seen residents roll their eyes when the same patient walks in twice in one day and cab drivers that are willing to take patients fifty blocks home for no pay.

A picture of the Bellevue gate while they were filming the TV show “New Amsterdam” at the hospital!

I always thought empathy was a given in the healthcare profession, something that innately went along with the job description. It turns out, it is far more complex than that. The first time we actively discussed empathy in this job was when we were given the scary statistic that the moment you enter your third year of medical school, your empathy starts to decline. This both made sense but also changed the way I watched medical professionals interact with patients. I still saw the diagnosis, the procedures, and the tests, but I was watching how they employed their empathy. Were they going through the motions or actually taking the time to understand the patient? And of course, like any difficult questions, the answer was mixed. On days when there were thirty patients and only two doctors, the team had to move like a machine; there physically was not enough time to sit and hear the complete story of the patient. And there were times when physicians would see and internalize the pain a patient was feeling, trying their hardest to alleviate this suffering through both care and treatment. But the hardest part about all of these interactions is that I began to feel myself experience the same see-sawing of emotions.

I went into the summer as a naïve, hopeful, and optimistic volunteer. I could not see the faults of patients, only how the healthcare system was harming the well-being of those it served. I could not see the never-ending demands of this job or the ways in which healthcare providers worked to maintain some level of sanity. I could see pain, suffering, and a lack of caring, all of which I vowed to alleviate in some capacity. And for some patients, I hope I did just this. Being the wide-eyed volunteer allowed me to sit with patients for hours on end, trying to absorb some of their pain. It gave me the ability to listen to their stories and give them the attention they so rarely received. But it also started to change how I view healthcare.

One of the diagrams presented to us while we were discussing empathy.

Although I have only been working at this hospital for two months, I already feel myself burning out. Empathizing is tiring. It forces you to feel things, good and bad, but it also drains you out. I came in with endless enthusiasm, empathy, and patience, but then began to realize that this was not a sustainable lifestyle. If I went into every interaction, exam, and procedure with the same level of empathy as before, I would burn out to no end. But where is the line? Where is the balance between understanding patients and taking care of yourself? How can healthcare providers protect their empathy while maintaining efficiency? Is our healthcare system even set up to answer these questions? These are the things that I have been thinking about from the moment I first saw a physician get angry with a patient, or when no one would explain what was happening to the trauma victim.

Working in a public hospital is by no means an easy feat; rather, it pushes you to the edge of your sanity and caring. Understanding that this is all a balancing an act–an immense game of juggling emotions, feelings, and treatment–has been my biggest takeaway from this entire summer. Knowing that I too will inevitably feel some level of burnout in my time in the healthcare profession is scary yet empowering, because I am ready for what is to come. I am ready to push myself to feel and control when I can no longer do so. I am ready to throw myself into situations with the same level of zest I have done this summer. And most importantly, I am ready to take what I have learned and carry it with me for the rest of my life.

Post 3: Reflections

This summer I interned at Partners for Justice, a non-profit organization that operates within the Delaware Public Defender’s Office. The work of this organization is centered around advocacy on behalf of our clients who face issues with access to housing, public benefits, employment, medical care and other civil legal needs. While we can imagine what it must be like to navigate these complicated bureaucracies with little to no agency, most do not experience this often frustrating and tiresome process first-hand. This summer, I was able to see the connection between involvement in criminal legal issues and civil legal issues. I was able to witness the detrimental collateral consequences that dig our clients further into poverty.

Through working directly with clients who are not only facing criminal charges, but civil legal issues as well, I learned the importance of early intervention, holistic defense and patience. Far too often, our involvement with our clients came too late–they already had lost their home, already had lost their benefits or already had been arrested. That is why early intervention is key to prevent further consequences of being poor and slipping deeper into financial and social instability.

While all of our clients are facing criminal charges, most are forced to deal with civil legal issues as well. This is why a holistic defense–one which serves clients on their drug possession charge as well as their housing eviction–combines criminal and civil law to best serve our clients. When dealing with a legal system that emphasizes punishment and control over justice, happy outcomes are rare and come only after weeks, months or even years of advocacy. This is where patience comes in. However, this constant advocacy is necessary for any change to be possible.

During my summer internship, I had opportunities to make direct impact in our clients’ lives, as well as a more general impact on the Partners for Justice organization. I was able to work on several different projects as well as working directly with clients in the public defender’s office. I conducted research on various housing options, expungement proceedings and mental health treatment in the Delaware area, as well as research into retrieving property from police custody. This helped inform the full-time advocates so they could better serve their clients. My client work included helping develop re-entry plans for people exiting prison as well as helping various clients receive essential benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). Some of my most impactful work included interviewing people for biographical information who were seeking a public defender to examine their case and to assess other civil legal issues they might be facing.

Much of this work is centered around resources. With a lack of affordable housing, job opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals, or quality mental health treatment, resources can often be challenging to find. At the beginning of this internship, I found myself often lost with where to go for help with clients. However, as the summer progressed, I was able to learn in great detail about where and how to find the best resources for our clients. By developing relationships with community partners, I was able to better refer clients to community resources.

For anyone who wants to pursue a career in public defense work or civil legal aid, I’d advise them to be persistent and to try not to get dismayed by the constant injustices in the legal system. This work is often entrenched in complicated bureaucracies. It is important to be persistent when advocating for a client because any meaningful change will not come easily. This work can often be depressing, frustrating and disheartening. However, with 80% of people without access to affordable legal representation, this work is more important than ever. We must not let the everyday injustices stop us from working towards a common goal of equity and justice.

Post 3: The 30,000 Foot View From DC, and Other Lessons

I have learned so much this summer–about judicial nominations, of course, but also about working in advocacy and all of the options that are available to me. Social justice work is more layered and diverse than I had ever dreamed of. I could never have imagined I’d meet so many people at different organizations who were all working on judicial nominations, for example. Being in DC has given me the opportunity to learn that I both don’t need to have it figured out yet, and that I can take everything I’ve done and still do so much more.

At Alliance for Justice, I got to work with a great, outgoing team that exemplified everything I would want in a workplace. We brainstormed out loud in our alcove in the office, we proofread each others’ emails, and my fellow interns and I were encouraged to ask questions and speak up in meetings. These small things helped me learn about the kind of professional environment I will thrive in after graduation. For me, that was incredibly important, especially because it wasn’t at all what I was looking for when I started my summer internship search.

Myself and my wonderful Outreach team on the steps of the Supreme Court!

I was also encouraged to network and grab coffees with people I met who were interesting, which has so far been one of the best and most educational parts of my summer. Networking wasn’t something I felt comfortable doing before this summer, especially as a student; it was intimidating to ask someone for their time when there wasn’t anything I could give back in return. However, these were the conversations that I’ll remember for the rest of my life because they helped me define what kind of social justice work I feel most impactful in. All this time, I’d wanted to work in policy in DC, only to learn through these chats that what I need is to be much, much closer to the communities I’m working with. A 30,000 foot view is way too far away for me (at least for now), but I’m glad I had the chance to figure that out.

I also implemented a series of brown bag lunches for our interns that happened almost weekly, where we learned about the different parts of our organization and also got tips on going to graduate school or law school, professional development, and social media management. These were not just mini-lectures or debriefs; they gave all of us interns a chance to speak, informally, with the staff at our organization. They helped to foster a sense of community and opened the door for one-on-one talks.

A room of people seated at a bookstore, with an interview happening at the front.
A full room at our conversation with Dean Strang, whose book stoked my interest in early radical labor organizing!

My advice for people who think they want to do nonprofit social justice advocacy is to open every door. There are so many different ways to engage with this work and all of them are vastly different. It isn’t about picking an issue or a job title as much as it is doing something that you enjoy and do well. You will have the biggest impact where you feel committed to the work you’re doing and happy to be doing it.

This was another site of learning for me, as I enjoy running events and building organizational relationships, yet I was seeking out opportunities to sit back and do research. More than anything, I’ve learned that I don’t need to have it quite figured out anytime soon; now’s the time for trying it all out and seeing what fits best. This summer was the next step on an unpredictable path and I can’t wait to see where I go.

Renee posing with a bust of Louis D Brandeis
Me and Louis Dembitz Brandeis himself at the Supreme Court!

Post 3: Ending my Internship with New American Pathways

This summer has been extremely rewarding and I feel as though I have gotten a valuable look into the financial side of running NGOs as well as a better understanding of what my life would look like if I decided to pursue a career working for NGOs. While I am grateful for this opportunity and enjoyed my internship, I discovered that I prefer the policy side of NGOs rather than the administrative side. I like doing research and I like having hands-on experience with the work organizations are based around. 

I have realized that social justice work is hard, and trying, especially within a state like Georgia. Additionally, I have realized that social justice work in the South is necessary and that I would love to base my career within this region. While the purple politics of Georgia yields interesting discourse, I want to dedicate my life to shifting that scale further into blue, without changing the socioeconomic demographics of the state too greatly. I don’t want Georgia to become the Massachusetts of the South, praised a liberal haven, but with mass gentrification and wage inequality. I would love to get involved with labor organizing here and will likely spend my post-college life doing research into NGOs that deal with this cause.

During my internship at New American Pathways, I have worked largely on organizing donors, asking local businesses to donate, and helping to write grants for the organization. Most of my work has been focused on the upcoming fundraising gala: Red, White, and NEW, which hopes to raise $250K in revenue to go towards New American Pathway’s many programs and initiatives supporting refugees. So far, we have at least 50 donations and at least 30 sponsors lined up for the event. I will help make sure the event runs smoothly and will enjoy seeing the results of my hard work.  

If I was to give advice to someone working with a refugee organization, I would say that you need to be empathetic above all else and that you should only pursue this field if you are willing to put a lot of work into it. Otherwise, you will not be successful instituting change. If someone was going into the financial side of an NGO, my advice to them would be to make sure they are truly interested in finance, grants, and talking to donors. I wish I had known I was not going to be pursuing as much policy work, which in hindsight I wish I asked about during the interview process. It was beneficial to experience the administrative and finance side of an NGO. In the future, I look forward to expanding my focus on policy change and research.

Post 3: Lessons from a Summer at UFE

As summer comes to a close, I’m thankful for the opportunity to reflect on my time at United for a Fair Economy. I like to think that I’ve done some important work at UFE this summer. When I first started my internship search, I thought I wanted to intern at a larger organization. As I reflect on my internship, however, I’ve come to realize that I’ve done important work in my time at UFE that I likely wouldn’t have been able to do at a larger organization. At a small non-profit, every member of the team, from the executive director to the summer interns, is integral and does important work. I had the opportunity to help plan the 25th anniversary event, researching several different online silent auction platforms and choosing the best one, monitoring ticket sales and sponsorships, and helping scope out the Old South Church, the location for the event.

This summer, I’ve also been able to learn a lot about how non-profits are financed. A few weeks ago, I went to the offices of Philanthropy Massachusetts with UFE’s grant writer. We looked for new funders for UFE, and since then it’s been my responsibility to research these funders, enter all relevant information into the database, and mark prospective funders. UFE is currently seeking out funding for a popular education project, as well as for general operations, and my work will help UFE’s grant writer know where to focus her efforts to increase UFE’s chances of getting funding. 

As cheesy as it sounds, when I started my internship, I wish I knew how much I’ll miss working at UFE. I anticipated growing tired of the 9-to-5 routine, but I haven’t yet. The work at UFE varies from day-to-day; while there are always daily tasks to complete (e.g. donation processing, responding to emails), I’ve had the opportunity to work on several longer-term projects, like organizing the thousands of photos on UFE’s server and planning the silent auction. It’s nice to be a part of longer-term projects like this, as I’m more motivated by long-term goals than short-term goals. Prior to this internship, I’d never considered working at a non-profit after graduation. After interning at UFE, however, I’ve realized that this career path is a good fit for me. I’m motivated by mission-driven work, and I’ve enjoyed learning more about development and communications. I can see myself working at a non-profit sometime in the future. 

Me, Madeline, and the rest of the UFE crew at a screening of The Lion King.

The most important piece of advice I’ve received in my time at UFE is to maintain a good work-life balance. In mission-driven work, where most employees are incredibly passionate about their jobs, it’s not always easy to recognize when it’s time to step away and enjoy some needed leisure time. I’ve been lucky in that UFE prioritizes the work-life balance of its employees. Everyone is encouraged to take time off when they need it, to use up all their vacation time, and to put their health and well-being first. Even with an employer that encourages maintaining a good work-life balance, it’s still necessary for everyone who works in the social justice field to engage in self-care. Self-care looks different for everyone; for me, many parts of my morning routine are small acts of self-care. On the train ride into work, I take time to read, listen to a podcast, or just look out the window. I have a twenty minute walk from North Station to my office in the Financial District, and I like to change up the route I take occasionally to see as much of Boston as possible. Since my office is right next to the Greenway, I make sure to go for a short walk when I need a break from the office. 

Post 3: What’s in your backyard?

The kind of social justice work the Main South CDC tackles is providing opportunities of housing, business, and programming to low- to moderate-income families of all races and ethnicities in the Main South neighborhood. The Main South CDC’s programming addresses the need for recreation, health/fitness, financial literacy, and early childhood development. The Main South CDC ensures programming is free, which prevents money from acting as a barrier for families. The Main South CDC partners with many Worcester-based organizations; therefore, if it does not offer a specific service they will try to connect you to one. There are many methods of fighting inequality to gain social justice. 

I played a role in ensuring the success of the programming–such as concerts and Summer Saturdays–through coordination and promotion. Without promotion, community members could have been blind to the blessings happening in what seems like their own backyard, because before this internship I certainly was. It is an amazing feeling to witness when all the preparation and behind-the-scenes work results in a great turnout. The Main South CDC’s staff is incredibly hard working and busy, so I am glad I was able to provide a helping hand and alleviate the load, if even by a little. 

Unexpectedly, I had a nice balance of work inside the office and outdoors. My office responsibilities included creating flyers, sending emails, posting on social media, and making direct calls to residents. My outdoor responsibilities included posting flyers on bulletins in Main South housing, setting up University Park for concerts, cleaning and packing up at the end of concerts, and engaging in in-person discussions with residents and business owners. Whether by signage or conversation, it all requires a skill of communication to get your message across in the most clear, precise, and professional form. Accent and language barriers can make communication difficult at times, which causes it to be the type of career where being bilingual or multilingual is essential. It is definitely a community-focused organization, so you must be comfortable communicating with community members. Additionally, by learning the demographic of the community, you will be able to organize events and programming that speaks to the demographic. 

This summer I grasped the importance of being an active community member. An active community member is someone who engages and participates in the improvement of their community, attending community events, neighborhood meetings, volunteering, etc. I did not know there are over fifty neighborhood meetings in Worcester each month, two of which are hosted by Casey Starr, my supervisor and the Director of Community Initiatives at the Main South CDC. Attending these meetings gave me the space to share my thoughts and concerns about the neighborhood while hearing from others as well. There is city staff, such as Worcester police and Inspectional Services, consistently present at meetings to address what is being said. 

I was lucky enough to have this experience to learn how to be an active community member, but for those who do not have such an opportunity, my simple advice on how to become one begins with learning about what is going on in your backyard. I am absolutely grateful for the Main South Community Development Corporation and all they do for the Main South neighborhood. A special thanks to Casey Starr, Julia Dowling, and the rest of the CDC family.

 

Final Thoughts on My State Department Internship

As I enter the last week of my internship at the State Department, the original goals that I outlined during my WOW application provide a good sense of how my summer in Washington D.C. has helped me to grow, personally and professionally. The academic goal that I had set for myself was to improve my research skills. During my initial interview, the deputy director of my office suggested research would be one element of my internship, and I was intrigued by the idea of improving upon that skill in a professional setting. While my internship was not research-heavy in the way that I was anticipating, one of my last projects was to write a report on the kafala work sponsorship program that exists in many countries in the Middle East. At what was almost the last minute, my original academic goal was met, and I grappled with the struggles of research outside of an academic institution where there is not a convenient library database to pull articles from.

My career and personal goals were more successful, which were to network with State Department employees and to see how I enjoy living in Washington D.C. Between getting to know the interesting people in my office and meeting employees in other offices and bureaus, I am ending this summer with an expanded network of professionals who I have been lucky enough to already receive advice from and who I know I will be able to reach out to in the future with career questions. I also loved my time in D.C. this summer! It feels like there is a never-ending list of things to do every weekend, which includes all of the fantastic Smithsonian museums that are always free. Two of the Smithsonian museums require getting (free) tickets in advance, and I have been lucky to attend these more exclusive museums. I visited the Holocaust Museum with a couple of my friends from Brandeis, and I visited the African American Museum of History and Culture when the closing event for the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom was held there. After this summer, I am strongly considering returning to D.C. after graduation, since this summer has shown me how much I enjoy living here.

A photo of the reception at the African American Museum of History and Culture that I attended!

This internship hasn’t necessarily clarified my career interests, but it has helped me realize how many different paths there can be to reach the same end goal. I know I want to help people and I would love to work in women’s empowerment, and I’ve been able to learn more about the ways those goals can be accomplished within and outside the State Department. For any other students who are interested in my internship or in working for the State Department, I would recommend exploring the many different ways that exist to get involved with State, which make you a more competitive applicant for a summer internship. I applied to be a Virtual Student Federal Service intern during the 2017-2018 school year, and I was able to assist the U.S. Embassy to Libya with their alumni outreach. I also participated in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, which is a State Department funded program that brings high school students overseas to begin studying a critical language. While NSLI-Y is only open to high school students, the Critical Language Scholarship is the college equivalent, and I strongly believe that nothing is as impactful as practical experiences overseas to familiarize yourself with whichever region of the world that you’re most passionate about.

The experience that I’m most proud of this summer started as the project that I felt most unqualified to handle. I was tasked with helping to organize the swearing-in ceremony for the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. That responsibility included drafting a speech for Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to give when he attends the swearing-in ceremony. Unfortunately, the swearing-in ceremony’s date was recently changed so I will not be able to attend and I’m sure Secretary Pompeo’s official speechwriters will change what I drafted. However, preparing a swearing-in ceremony for a high-ranking official in the Department and writing words that might be spoken by Secretary Pompeo was definitely one of the highlights of my internship.

Overall, I’m so appreciative of the opportunity that I’ve had this summer! Between the people I’ve met, the experience of working in the main State Department building, and the lessons I’ve learned, this summer has been incredibly informative and enjoyable.

Post 3: Wrapping Up My Summer at Avodah

One of many beautiful buildings I get to admire on the way to my internship.

It’s hard to believe that my time at Avodah is coming to an end. It feels like just yesterday my eyes were glued to Google Maps on my phone, trying to find Avodah’s building. Now, over two months later, I can confidently walk through downtown Manhattan while glancing at all the different buildings, food trucks, and sculptures it has to offer. My confidence and comfort has also increased in the workspace, allowing me to take on projects with more ease and independence.

In all aspects of my internship, I’ve realized self-sufficiency and ease do not come effortlessly. There are learning experiences, tutorials, and other hurdles to overcome to get to a certain level of confidence. When one of my supervisors, Amanda Lindner–Avodah’s Director of Communications–approached me about creating a social media status about Avodah’s Fellows, I was initially nervous. When I was tasked with editing Corps Member videos using WeVideo, I felt slightly discouraged with the website. However, I realized apprehensive feelings, asking questions, and encountering stumbles along the way are important. In fact, these aspects of the internship were the most valuable because it is where I grew and learned the most.

There’s always more to learn. Through being exposed to social justice work, I’ve realized one cannot expect immediate results. Social justice is not a field for results-driven individuals. It takes hard work, patience, and much energy to see change. That is why social justice and the people who work towards it are so special. There’s no easy fix to the criminal justice system, access to education, or immigration issues, yet people will spend years dedicating their lives to these issues. 

Most of the work that I completed contributed to larger projects. For example, I interviewed a current corps member about her recent bat mitzvah. This included coming up with questions, transcribing her answers, and then cutting down her responses to be more concise. My work would later be used to create a social media post about the bat mitzvah. On a larger scale, Avodah’s Instagram presence has grown 29% from last year. Although my contribution may be small, I hope the daily tasks I complete have been assisting in Avodah’s social media popularity. 

My intern friend, Nusaira, and I took pictures at the photo booth at Avodah’s NYC Service Corps graduation.

No matter the circumstances, change is always going to take some getting used to. There were some aspects that were hard for me, but these experiences helped me in thinking about possible career paths. As much as I tried to pay attention to the computer screen for several hours at a time, let’s just say that there are some things in life that you can’t be amazing at. I know now that working at a computer for most of the day is not something I can see myself doing. Through this experience, I’ve learned it’s okay to chat with an intern friend, take a walk, or blow some bubbles you find in the supply closet. There were many new obstacles this summer, but I’m proud of how I handled them and the work I’ve accomplished. 

Jolie Suchin ’22

Post 3: What I Have Learned From the World of Work

Perhaps the biggest takeaway I have from my time at the Massachusetts Sierra Club is that being able to spend your time working for a cause that you believe in is a privilege in itself. My supervisor has drilled into our heads time and time again that not everyone is in a position to accept a job that brings them fulfillment. Oftentimes, a major component of social justice work entails supporting underserved communities. Furthermore, many (though not all) of the people who work for organizations in social justice causes do not share the same backgrounds as those they are committing their work to. 

In my opinion, this shows that one of the most important character traits to carry in social justice work is to remain sensitive to the fact that your opinions should be subject to change based upon feedback from members of the community you are serving. This all being said, I should note that there are of course cases in which social justice work can be done within the community it is trying to benefit, but even then, there is an aspect of giving oneself up for the greater cause. 

When it comes to the general world of work, this internship with the Sierra Club has shown me that different offices can have wildly varied expectations of the amount of time and effort you put into your work. At the Sierra Club, I found that my supervisor was not too fussy about the specific hours I worked, nor the number of hours. She cared far more about how much we were putting in and getting out of the internship in terms of our level of commitment to our projects. She trusted us to get our work done, and when we didn’t, that was on us. 

This is extremely different from how my past jobs and internships have been. In every other job I have held, we had to clock in and clock out at a certain time despite whether or not we were attentive to our work that entire timespan. I had far fewer collaborative projects, and less general freedom overall. While that method may work for some, I really appreciated our supervisor’s methods in this respect. I believe that her expectations for us fostered a lot of self-motivation and personal commitment, which are essential components when it comes to incorporating passion into your work life.

 If I could give my pre-summer at Sierra Club self or someone else embarking on their internship a piece of advice, I would say understand that people are, at the end of the day, only human. Though your boss or supervisor may be far more established than you are, there is something innovative and valuable that you can bring to the table as a young person in the workforce. Though I do think there is a line of professionalism that should not be crossed, the world of social justice needs to move forward and if everyone with new ideas remains silent, we will remain complacent. 

Post 1: Fighting for Asylum Seekers and Migrants

I became interested in working for American Gateways after I spoke with an attorney who was presenting a Know Your Rights session to individuals from the undocumented community and allies. Growing up surrounded by those who are struggling with matters of documentation and citizenship status, I wanted to gather the tools and knowledge in helping my family and friends. I understood that the only way to do so was by educating myself on the issue of immigration and the laws that might be preventing my family from prospering in the United States. 

After expressing my desire to work alongside the staff and attorneys, immediately American Gateways welcomed me with open arms and allowed me to come on board as an intern. My first weeks on call where filled with both anger and frustration as I saw with my own two eyes the struggles that asylum seekers and migrants experience while crossing the border. I was lucky enough to be given a variety of tasks that approached our organization’s mission in a variety of ways. I was able to translate powerful personal statements, to visiting the detention center where migrant families are being separated and held under ICE custody. I was not ready for the overwhelming sensations that filled me the times I visited these centers. Seeing these families separated from their children and significant others made me realize how privileged my family’s immigrant experience was, in comparison to those who are currently under custody. Even though my feelings while at the center were mixed with anger and sadness, I was also able to have heartwarming conversations and even shared some laughs with these children and women. 

I expressed my interest of one day becoming an immigration lawyer, and American Gateways gave me the opportunity to attend court and experience first-hand the intensity of an asylum-seeking hearing, as well as the process an attorney takes in representing their case and clients. In comparison to the migrants who were at the detention centers, these individuals were filled with hope as they reached for freedom. This opportunity made me realize how much I enjoyed being present in the court, and the overwhelming sense of responsibility it brought me. The attorney who I was shadowing even allowed me to do “intake” and other important paperwork in getting the case set up. Thus, allowing me to see the “behind the scenes” work that lawyers are doing. 

Currently, my city of San Antonio has been a destination point for many migrants and asylum seekers because we are close to the many detention centers and the national border. San Antonio receives about 200-300 individuals on the daily,  who are in desperate need of flight tickets to their final destination, meals, clothing, shelter, and even medical assistance. Which is my the City of San Antonio set up a center where we are providing the aid these individuals need American Gateways saw this as an opportunity to provide these migrants with an overview of their rights and important court hearing and ICE dates. After much consideration, the staff placed me as the one responsible to recruit and train individuals in order to go help out in the center. I enjoy this project because I have complete autonomy of my tasks and responsibilities. At times, I am the only one making sure that all 200 individuals receive training of their rights. Beyond this, I am able to come face-to-face with the people I’m helping, instead of looking through a screen or doing paperwork. All while having the ability to occasionally help these people out with meals or any other service they might need.  

My time at American Gateways has been a mixture of feelings. At times, I notice myself becoming tired and stressed, but I remind myself to take a moment and step back. I am only one person who can do so much. I remind myself that even if I am just meeting with one person, I am still changing their life for the better. And that’s what keeps me going every day.

Post 3: My Journey at a Nonprofit

 

My coworkers and boss during our lunch break

As I began the first day of my internship, I was apprehensive of the many possibilities: tasks I might complete, what the company looks like, and the co-workers I will meet.

The first week was fairly exhilarating, as I had fresh, new ideas to improve the Chinese-American Planning Council’s Education and Career Services Program. However, as the weeks continued, I began to realize that there are many challenges when doing social work. For example, my task was to create a tech program and work on fundraising initiatives; yet, upon designing my tech program, I realized there were many limitations in funding, staff, and resources to create this program and other existing programs at CPC.

With my particular work, I contributed to the organization by researching additional grants to provide CPC with financial stability and different resources to increase their funding for their underfunded programs. In addition, upon my arrival, I understood that there is not a great focus on technology programs and applications. Therefore, in understanding the imbalance between available tech jobs and people interested in tech, I understand the need for technology programs to increase interest towards the field. I even introduced my boss to many different marketing ideas, as well as ways to spread the message about the different fundraisers. While social justice work is extremely challenging due to limited resources and the constant need to seek financial stability, I will say with pride that I truly am fortunate to contribute to CPC and its mission to serve Asian Americans.

As my internship is coming to a close to, I wish I attempted to gain relationships with other co-workers and people who worked in the company at an earlier time. I wish I learned their stories, such as why they worked at a nonprofit, and what does CPC mean to them, to gain a better understanding of the people I am working with. It was only near the end when I got up the courage to meet many of these gracious, truly remarkable individuals. Had I to give someone advice who wants to pursue a field in the organization, I recommend being continuously curious about the work and the people and to constantly ask questions. It is also truly important to learn the history of Asian Americans and understand the background behind why nonprofits devote their resources to Asian Americans. By doing so, people can truly see the impact and understand why CPC is such an impactful nonprofit that continues to positively influence the Asian American community.

Throughout these eventful 7—almost 8—weeks working at CPC, I must sincerely close the chapter with CPC and thank them for igniting the beginning of my profound interest in education, for my humorous coworkers and boss, and for the many laughs shared during lunch breaks. And I must thank New York City for continuously providing me with a home full of adventure. My time at New York City, too, is coming to an end, and even though I am only a train ride or bus away, I will miss the rush, the culture, and the never-ending surprises—from witnessing the ticket parade to seeing a live summer performance. My city never ceases to surprise me with its effervescent beauty and its fortuitous events.

Ice cream break!
My surprise ferry around New York City 🙂

Post 3: The Mechanism for Social Justice

I aspire to educate women about their respective rights, as well as inspire future generations to continue the fight for equal conditions in both the private and public sector. I hope to one day represent women in the workforce in order to help them secure a better and more stable economic future, as well as help them break down age-old barriers disallowing equal access and opportunity. I am especially focused on promoting entry into non-traditional pathways for young women. Per these goals, I was fortunate enough to work this summer at the Women’s Bureau, an organization that is an integral part of ensuring women across the nation have the adequate tools to ensure their grievances are heard and addressed, as well as helping bring public attention to the issues of concern to women. 

My experience in serving the public exposed me to the dynamic and multi-faceted definition of “social justice.” Through my experience as a Policy and Research Intern at the U.S. Department of Labor, I utilized relevant skills, such as research, social policy writing, and marketing that enabled me to contribute to the mission of opportunity and access for all women. Moreover, my internship afforded me the chance to really hone in on the strongest aspect or core identity of social justice, which in my personal opinion is teamwork. By working with a multitude of different persons and engaging in conversations of policy, culture, economics, and issues across the board, I was able to clearly understand the fundamental, foundational work that must be attended to before great change can prevail. I also heard from other agency directors similar messages of community and interagency collaboration as key factors in their success. Although involving multiple partners on one issue can be inefficient or convoluted, it also helps identify the broader spectrum of issues persistent in various local communities.

During my time at the Women’s Bureau, I completed many projects, but my research on lactation and compiling a lactation toolkit for federal supervisors and employees served most beneficial, as the work was valued for illuminating the issues at present and in need of future attention. By helping create documents surrounding best practices in lactation spaces and scenarios for further discussion, I was able to help my organization pinpoint certain commonalities across regional offices and potential issues that may arise for nursing mothers in the workplace.

Quad in the JFK building

Before beginning my internship, I wish that I had a more sound basis of social policy work and what it entails. However, my supervisors were gracious enough to teach me the ropes and the inner workings of the federal government, and thus I was able to quickly pick up on the pace and style of this type of work. If you are looking to pursue an internship with the federal government or in public service, I would strongly advise taking a class on social policy, movements and/or change because the systems in place can either be confusing or complicated when first faced with them. Don’t forget, an excellent supervisor or co-worker can also show you the way if the path appears dark at first, but you must speak up and ask. 

Post 2: What is special about the Asset Forfeiture Unit?

Brandeis has taught me many things that encouraged me to apply and prepared me well for my internship in the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office. Among all, and in this blog, I would like to discuss how Brandeis helped me build a strong academic background; why it matters that much; and how it has contributed to my work in the internship site.

Entering Brandeis, I first majored in Philosophy and Studio Art, and then shortly followed with the third major in International Global Studies with three minors in Legal Studies, Art History, and East Asian Studies. The diversity of the courses that Brandeis provides and the flexibility of its academic curricula have encouraged me to explore different fields. I benefit from it not only as I have three majors and three minors, but also as I am able to connect all these fields of study with each other.

Among all the major or minor-related courses I took, some taught me to carefully read important texts to extract and evaluate arguments from them. Some taught me critical thinking skills such that I have formed my own ways of critically engaging with and building on the existing texts. Some taught me to develop creativity such as to extend theories beyond their original scope. Others taught me to conduct deep research in fields like history, art, and law. A part of my responsibility working in the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office (MDAO)-Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) is to conduct legal research, critically engage with the existing legal languages, and connect them with the philosophy of this office.  All these academic learning and researching abilities that Brandeis trained me prepared me well for my role in the DA’s office.

Besides academic learning and researching abilities, attending Brandeis also taught me many other important qualities, such as organizational skills, time management skills, and interpersonal and communication skills. Other than the majors and minors, I have three on-campus jobs. With my intense schedule and rich experiences on campus, I learned how to manage my time wisely, how to handle stress, how to be a good listener, a collaborative team member, a strategic thinker, and a resourceful leader. With that background, I was able to adapt to different situations and work in my internship’s fast-paced environment.

AFU is the only civil litigation part of the DA’s office; the others are all criminal litigation units. It deals with asset forfeiture; in other words, it deals with criminals’ illegally-gained property and monies. Therefore, a very common task of mine is to work on Excel charts, making sure the case numbers, the defendants’ names the property amounts, and the police departments that seized the property are right, and that they match with each other for transparency reporting purposes. I usually need to check various sources to make sure the information we have is correct, which includes but is not limited to the Mass Court Website, the MDAO’S own data management system, and the actual case files (the police reports, etc.). Once the basic information is verified, what I do next is to track the monies that MDAO has or has not received judgments on. All these tasks require the ability to concentrate for a long time, and strong research and problem-solving skills. For example, what if the information on the Mass Court Website does not match with that in MDAO’s data management system? Which information is the right one, and how can I ensure that piece of information is the accurate one? Good communication skills are also needed as communication and teamwork is always the key to getting the job done correctly. I have gained these basic skills and abilities prior to this summer internship at Brandeis, while this internship further developed these skills.

A snapshot of the Mass Court website

-Carrie Sheng ’20

Post 2: Applying Self-Care to Legal Advocacy

Being a full-time college student is enough to warrant exhaustion from any individual, but this is often coupled with extracurricular and social activities. It was during my “trial-and-error” period early in my freshman year that I learned the art of time management. In the classroom, this translated to how I divided up study hours between classes. With my extracurriculars, this had to do with prioritizing the activities that were of the most importance to me, while socially, this pertained to how I allotted time between friends and social activities. Collectively, this meant mediating all three facets of my life.

Brandeis’ Prevention, Advocacy, and Resource Center (PARC) offers confidential support relating to sexual and relationship violence, and practices self-care in the process. In its office, PARC has fidget toys for all members of the Brandeis community to use. (Photo credits to Juan Bordon.)

Somewhere in the midst of navigating time management, I also found myself learning a new lesson: the need for self-care. I learned that while I could probably find time for all of my commitments, it was also important that I leave time for myself, time to refuel so that I was not overworked and still had the energy to exercise my passions wholeheartedly. In short, I learned that I couldn’t just focus on allocating my time among my commitments, but had to factor in my wellbeing as well. I have been fortunate enough to have learned this valuable lesson from the amazing Brandeis professors, staff members, students, and institutions that have prioritized and encouraged this practice.

This is where the  Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Law Unit is located (and where I work!)

This lesson has been central to my positive experience as an intern at the Legal Aid Society. As an organization that helps impoverished citizens dealing with a magnitude of heartbreaking issues, the Legal Aid Society has no shortage of citizens in need of help and no shortage of things to do. I experience this even as an immigration law intern; my desk is often covered with files to go through and the DACA inbox I manage is always brimming with requests for appointments. Perhaps consequently, the busyness of legal advocacy also means that the work can be emotionally taxing. Many times when I thumb through a file, read immigration-related headlines, or meet with a client, my heart stinks due to the tragedies currently embedded in our immigration system. This makes self-care especially vital. There is so much baggage and responsibility that comes with being in a position like my own, but so much honor too. It is a privilege to engage with the stories of immigrants and to be able to assist someone in need.  Self-care is the catalyst through which that responsibility is the most efficient and one’s impact is the most sustainable.

This is where I take my lunch break. It’s my go-to spot because it faces both the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges!

Self-care and checking-in on myself is how I approach my internship and all the duties it involves. While this practice is unique to the individual, I have personally found my own healthy habits. For example, I do not check my work email outside of my internship hours; I have fun and explore Manhattan after my internship ends; almost every day I take my lunch break outside of the office; and I allow myself to slow down and take a break when needed.

My sister and I have visited many NYC attractions after work hours, including the Brooklyn Bridge as is pictured with me here.

I think that individuals, especially with the drive to help others, yield a lot of power. But we are in no way invincible, even when we are pursuing what we are passionate about and even when we seemingly have enough time to do it all. Checking in on myself and exercising self-care is not a substantial sacrifice nor is it the “be-all, end-all” factor for success, but it does go a long way. This lesson, taught to me by wonderful professors, staff members, and students at Brandeis, ensures that I can do the most for myself, the passions I hope to pursue, and the populations I seek to aid. 

-Alison Hagani ’22

Post 2: Coalitions and Team Building

As I transition out of college and into the brave new world of 9 to 5 workdays, I am consistently relying on the lessons I’ve learned in the field and finding ways to apply them to the nonprofit sector. At Brandeis, I am a member of the women’s soccer program, and have been for four years now. I’m also interning at a Chicago-based organization called Restore Justice (RJ), a criminal justice reform policy institution. While these institutions seem entirely different, they’re actually quite similar in the sense that they are rooted in the fundamental values of teamwork and coalition building. Here at RJ, we treat lobbying like sport. You have rules, teams, strategy, and all the action happens within a season or “legislative session.”

The summer for us is our offseason. This is an opportunity for us to regroup and prepare for the upcoming legislative session, when we get the chance to work on pushing our bills to hopefully become law. We meet with our lobbyists, do research, and try to write and rewrite language that we will then bring to members of the Illinois State Legislature to hopefully find a sponsor to push the bill through.

We are also working on finding more donors through fundraising to help fund our expansion and give us more opportunities to do the work that everyone in the small office wants to do. The summer session is treated very much like my offseason is for soccer in that it is seen as an opportunity to get better, stronger, faster. We aren’t put under the pressure of everything having to happen right now, and we have the opportunity to shop things, work on new techniques, or completely scrap something that isn’t working. We build on what we learned last season and work to take those lessons into our next season when the legislature comes back into session.

Another big thing that I have experienced is the very necessary job of understanding your own strengths and weaknesses. Brandeis soccer prides itself on having the mindset that every single player was brought here for a reason, and has something to contribute to the team. When we succeed, it is because of everyone’s efforts, and when we fail, it is on everyone to look at what they need to do better next time to help the team. Restore Justice thinks the same way. We wouldn’t be able to have the successes we’ve had if it weren’t for everyone in the office, and in times that we have failed, everyone has the chance to do better and play a part in the successes in the future.

We finally got the whole team in one picture! From left to right, Jobi Cates, our Executive Director, Marshan Allen, our Project Manager, Wendell Robinson, our fundraising apprentice, Jessica Genova, a graduate intern, Julie Anderson, our Outreach Manager, and myself.

Most importantly, it is vital that we recognize our own strengths and weaknesses. We all know that different individuals in this office have experiences in different ways, and we try as much as possible to play on those strengths, but also to get out of someone else’s way if we know a certain area is not our strongest. Understanding what you bring to the table and when you might do better to sit back and listen is key to having a team that works in harmony. I have always known that on the field, but it is a very important experience to be able to learn it off the field and in the workplace as well.

Post 3: Ending my summer internship

Over the past two-plus months at my internship, I have learned so much. I have learned a lot about suicide and addiction in Oregon, as well as the large group of people working in prevention to decrease the numbers and help those struggling with suicide or addiction. I have learned how many people are working alongside and with Lines for Life on this mission. There is a whole network of people who are doing prevention work in Oregon on different levels. By working together, they are making real change. 

I have learned that in the world of work, at least at Lines for Life, community is very important. It is crucial for the prevention team to know each other in order to work together effectively. I have also learned that social justice work is a very fulfilling field of work, and it draws a lot of inspiring people to those jobs. 

This is the heading for the Suicide Prevention Website I have been working on.

I feel that my biggest impact on the work that Lines for Life does is the suicide prevention website that I, along with my supervisor and OHA (Oregon Health Advisory), have been working very hard to create. This has been my biggest impact, but also my biggest challenge. It has been a huge learning experience for me to work with people outside of Lines for Life. I have learned how to communicate via email, phone calls, or meetings where some people are there and some are participating via conference call. Along with my work on the suicide prevention website, I have been a supporting person for the other prevention team members and have been able to support them in any of their projects.

 

I would give the advice to pick an internship that sounds interesting and will offer you a variety of tasks to do. I was choosing between two internships, and I am so glad that I chose this one as I have kept busy, as well as had the opportunity to attend many offsite events. Through this variety that my internship offers, I have had the opportunity for maximum learning and have created a strong connection with my coworkers. It has been crucial for me to have many different projects that I can go back and forth between so that I don’t get tired of one of them. My advice is that if an internship becomes monotonous and the same work over and over, it becomes less interesting. This has been very fulfilling and a great learning experience, much more so than sitting and doing paperwork all day. 

My advice for someone who wants to pursue an internship with Lines for Life is to be proactive, participate in all the available opportunities, and get to know everyone you are working with, because they are really awesome people. There are a lot of different projects going on at all times, so get involved, go to the meetings, and learn as much as possible. It has been a great experience and I would highly recommend this to anyone who is looking to learn more and explore a career in public health and prevention work.

Post 2: “saleswoman” or “researcher”?

When I was taking the course Clinical Practicum with Professor Cunningham, we talked a lot about the limitations we have as mental health helpers and the importance of self-care. Volunteering at a crisis hotline also helped me realized how different a conversation could be when you are using a different attitude or even a different way of wording. All of these skills equipped me to screen and keep up the study with new participants.

After a few trainings, I went to our coordinate site, South Cove at Quincy, to enroll participants. My first time doing subject screening was exciting and scary. I enjoy talking about our study with strangers and I enjoy the moment when they become interested in the study and agree to participate. Reaching out to women in the waiting room could be scary because I was not sure what their attitude would be or what kind of questions I would have to answer. My mentor went through the research assistant guide with me again and I asked all the questions that I was not certain about. She also offered a short orientation for me in the hospital and introduced me as the new research assistant to all the doctors and nurses at the OB/GYN receptions. They were all friendly and encouraging, which decreased my anxiety a little. They have the perfect attitude working with patients, especially pregnant women who are relatively more sensitive and need support. I believe that they are trying their best to create the most comfortable and reliable environment for the women, which I should mimic as well. I found it really helpful to stay calm when I am smiling and talking in a slow and light way. I also successfully enrolled one new participant after I approached four patients.

It is difficult to not the rejections personally, but we have to understand our limitations. Not taking it personally does not mean that we should believe that we are approaching it in the best way, we should definitely always ask for more advice and try to improve ourselves when we don’t feel confident talking with the patients. However, we also need to understand that the patients have thousands of reasons for not wanting to participate in the study. It is possible that you have introduced the study the best way you can and explain how important independent data is, but the participant still says,”I am not interested.”

I spent a semester trying to not feel guilty about not being able to decrease the level of sadness of my caller while working at the crisis hotline, and I found that attitude really helpful when I was trying to enroll the participants in person this time. My mentor pointed out that I should pay close attention to their body language as well, and I realized that this is something I overlooked while I was talking to the patients. Since I was eager to introduce myself and the study to them, it could be possible that I was “invading” their personal spaces. That is something I need to be cautious about, and the improvement will help me in daily life as well.

Besides the first-hand experience, I am lucky to have a really friendly and supportive group. Led by Dr. Cindy Liu, the group has a lab meeting every Friday and we share a lot about the study updates and how to deal with all kinds of problems. Everything is back on track now and we are looking forward to more data and results.

Post 2: Nonlinear Career Paths

It’s been an exciting four weeks interning with Divest Ed and the Better Future Project! My project team with reinvestment has split into two working groups: one focused on campus outreach and one focused on community outreach. Together we are working to close the gap between campuses that are looking to reinvest in local economies and the community organizations doing the work to allocate those funds. It’s been productive work! I’ve been learning so much about the Boston scene and seeing all these different organizations working to build regenerative economies through democratically controlled funds (check out the Boston Ujima Project, the Haymarket People’s Fund, and the Solidarity Economy Initiative while you’re here).

Solidarity Economy Initiative Logo
Haymarket People’s Fund Logo
Boston Ujima Project Logo

Although working with these different grassroots organizations has been an incredible experience, I’ve also had a hard time reckoning with my own career path in this work. Even though grassroots organizations are crucial agents for change, they are often underfunded and, as a result, don’t have many job opportunities to offer. That’s not to say it will be impossible to find a job within this area of work, but as a rising senior who isn’t pursuing a “pipeline internship” this summer, I’ve definitely been struggling with navigating my own career path. After all, I’ve only got one more year left of university, and plenty of “What are your plans after college?” interrogations to answer in the meantime. 

Luckily, however, I’ve been reminding myself of a lesson I first learned at Brandeis, which is that life isn’t linear (and you shouldn’t plan it to be). When I first came to Brandeis, I was sure that I was going to be an English and biology double major. Three years later, I’ve taken one English class in my entire Brandeis career, and am now most excited about studying computer science in my remaining time here. Coming into Brandeis, I had no idea what fossil fuel divestment was, and now I spend 21+ hours a week working on it through my internship. My Brandeis career has been anything but predictable, and I’m grateful for it! It’s led me to so many new discoveries about myself and the world.

As I’ve been worrying about my future career at my internship, a new discovery has made its way into my nonlinear vision. Our community outreach working group has decided to throw a fundraiser for the community organizations we are learning from, and through this process I’ve discovered I’m really interested in grassroots fundraising! As someone who already has experience in fundraising for larger institutions, I never expected to make a career out of it, but seeing the power of moving money has really inspired me to reimagine what fundraising can do. Comparing what a thousand dollars can do in one of these community controlled funds versus what it would do in a large corporation is really eye-opening, and it motivates me to think of ways I can move money in my personal life along with the general public.

Where does this leave me? A senior who doesn’t have the most coherent resume in the world, absolutely. But also, a potential grassroots fundraiser in the making. I’ve already taken some personal steps into learning more about grassroots fundraising as a career, but until then I’m hard at work planning a fundraiser for our reinvestment team. We’ll see where my career path takes me in the meantime.

Post 2: Communication

Over the past two years at Brandeis I have learned how to better communicate with people who are different from me and have different life experiences. I feel that the skill of communication is a skill that can never be fully mastered, but through my involvement with Brandeis I have continued my learning and it has pushed me to grow into who I am today. I have recognized the varying communication skills I use to talk to different people. With a peer I use casual language, I put less thought into applying a filter, and I am not afraid to say what I am thinking. In a more professional setting with a professor or colleague, I am aware of what I am saying in a conversation. I contact them through email rather than text and observe their email signature to better understand how they want to be addressed. 

I have learned communication skills through my work at Brandeis as a peer advocate at PARC, Prevention Advocacy Resource Center. I have learned how crucial it is to be aware when talking to someone that they have different experiences than me and I need to be conscious of that. Through my work at PARC I have learned skills to show I am listening without judgment. Through mirroring language and letting someone tell me as much or as little of their story as they want to, I try to make them feel comfortable and heard. I have learned how important it is to acknowledge my own biases and privileges in order to be more accepting and empathetic when talking with someone about a tough topic. 

Through my internship at Lines for Life I have learned that communication is key in more than an advocate role. The topics of suicide and addiction are often tough topics to talk about because of the personal connection and devastating effect they can have on someone. Prevention work requires communication with lots of different people; it requires professional communication through email with the conference presenters and those helping to put on conferences, as well as with those who are collaborating on a project. Communication is required in face to face meetings with people and at events. It also requires communication with the community to teach them about suicide and substance use and abuse. Prevention work cannot make a change from an office; it must be a group effort working with the community.

I have learned that many people get into prevention work because of a personal experience or the experience of a loved one. Because of this, I have learned how crucial it is so be aware of the language I use so as to be respectful of a person’s relationship with the work. The communication skills I learned at Brandeis have informed my thinking by making me aware of what I am saying and being aware of the language I use. It has also helped me to consciously continue to learn more about how to best communicate with someone either through face to face or through written exchanges. 

Post 2: Celebrating Diversity at the Bronx Adolescent Skills Center

When I think about what I have learned throughout my time at both Brandeis and at my internship, I realize that appreciating diversity is crucial to my success in every environment. I am overcome with this realization whenever I enter the Adolescent Skills Center (ASC) office, which is filled with bright, friendly, and unique faces. A central aspect of the work that we do here is that everyone comes from a different background and no one’s story is the same. Most people are afraid of the unknown and are made uncomfortable by new environments. To some extent, I am too, but at my internship, I learn about new people, places, cultures, and how inequality and oppression can affect a group of people. 

I come from a privileged, predominantly white suburb of New York where I would never encounter most of the struggles of teens in areas like the Bronx. Growing up, I never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from or whether I would be able to graduate high school. I chose to immerse myself in the world of these Bronx teens because I believe it is important to understand different perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds. 

My first year at Brandeis was influential in shaping my perspective on diversity. I originally fell in love with Brandeis because of the institution’s appreciation of diversity, whether racial, cultural, or intellectual. Brandeis is a place where students are eager to learn about and support each other. This is the attitude that I bring to the ASC office every day. 

Pictured: The desk where I do most of my work and reflect on my discoveries

I am incredibly grateful to have this knowledge and perspective of diversity as a result of my experiences at Brandeis. Understanding how to respect differences has helped me navigate the more difficult and troubling interactions that I have had with students at the ASC. 

Last week, I met with one of the three students that I am advising this summer to discuss his progress on his vocational, educational, and social-emotional goals. He spoke to me about an incident that had happened to him in the past week in his neighborhood. He told me that he was walking down the street with his friend when a white woman started screaming at them about the texture of their hair. She screamed that they shouldn’t style their hair and that it is “awful.” When I asked the student about how he responded to this attack he said he and his friend “just ignored it and walked away.” When I asked him about his thoughts and feelings after the incident, he told me that it didn’t bother him because he knows that there will always be “people like that” in the world and that he is “proud to be black.”

Though I know that people experience attacks like these regularly, my student’s story was particularly hard to hear because it happened to someone that I know and support, as well as someone that is my peer. I realize that hearing of this attack was so disturbing because it would never happen to me, but it happens so often to so many other people. This is the moment where the concepts of diversity and oppression go hand-in-hand, which is exactly what we are combatting through our work at the ASC. Through my eye-opening experiences at both Brandeis and the Bronx Adolescent Skills Center, I am able to positively contribute to our fight against oppression.

Post 2: Reflecting and Getting Geared for the Gala

This summer I am beginning to recognize how my experiences in community causes at Brandeis helped shape the goals I created for my internship, and how my internship and club activities are both playing a critical role in helping me form new goals for graduate school and my career.

At Brandeis, I have focused my time outside the classroom on being involved in community causes. During my first week at Brandeis, I joined several clubs, including the Right to Immigration and the Brandeis Labor Coalition. The Right to Immigration is both a club and a nonprofit organization that exposes undergraduate students to the immigration field and assists those who are seeking asylum or refugee status in the United States by providing them with pro-bono help in completing applications and preparing for immigration interviews. The Brandeis Labor Coalition is a student group that uses our status as “paying customers” at Brandeis to leverage our interest in the school’s contracts with the worker unions on campus. For example, the graduate students were able to reevaluate their contract with our support.

My involvement in clubs on campus helped me realize that active participation in social movements can really make a difference, regardless of one’s level of expertise in a particular area. Additionally, as I hope to one day go to law school, these clubs have exposed me to interesting areas of law I might pursue in the future. The first is immigration law, specifically helping people who are applying for asylum or refugee status in the United States. The second is labor law, with a focus on helping to represent individuals who would like to discuss better labor contracts with their employers or unions who seek support and guidance in suing their employer.

Learning about these two branches of law has been monumentally helpful to me in pursuing a career path. Additionally, my newfound experience in these two fields has allowed me to feel more comfortable doing my own research into these topics and develop well-informed opinions on the issues at hand, namely labor practices in America and America’s immigration policy.

This summer, I decided to further explore America’s immigration system by working for New American Pathways. This NGO provides employment, employment resources, housing, education, child care, and women’s empowerment programs to immigrants who recently have been settled into the greater Atlanta area after gaining asylum or refugee status. This is, essentially, an organization that works with refugees after they have successfully navigated the process of migrating into the country, independently or through an organization like the Right to Immigration. 

My job at New American Pathways is not policy-heavy; rather, it is administrative, which exposes me to a broader scope of work. I am largely in charge of fundraising, which means I must convince donors about the importance of their contributions to our work.

My club and community service experiences at Brandeis have proven to be invaluable for my internship. For example, I already know how important it is to streamline the process of settling into the United States for new immigrants. Further, my experience working directly with refugees allows me to represent their voices and stories to donors. Now, when I am instructed to help organize and dictate the “stories” of the immigrants at New American Pathways, I believe I can do so with more understanding and tact than I could have before being this deep in immigration-oriented work. 

Currently, I am focusing on organizing a fundraising gala

I hope that the experiences I have taken with me from Brandeis will continue to allow my work to be fruitful and efficacious as I move towards the date of the gala.

Post 2: Understanding Intersectionality and Structural Violence

In the class “Anthropology of Power and Violence” with Professor Ferry, we learned about various sociological theories about power, violence, and how they materialize in the real world. Some of these theories and terms included intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, and structural violence, from Johan Galtung’s work.

Intersectionality is a crucial aspect of any social justice work since acknowledging that each person has interconnected identities and experiences is one of the first steps toward effectively supporting that individual. An indigenous woman is both a woman, and indigenous, so the marginalization she experiences would be informed by both of those identities simultaneously. This is a concept commonly used at Cultural Survival. Most of the interviews conducted with indigenous people invite the individual to discuss how their other identities intersect with their indigenous identity.

Indigenous men and women are both indigenous, but women are bound to have different life experiences because they are women, and acknowledging that with the tool of intersectionality makes it possible to adequately get indigenous women the support they really need. Even when a group shares something in common, like being indigenous, respecting differences within that group allows each person to feel fully seen for who they are.

Structural violence is another incredibly relevant concept to the work Cultural Survival does. It is violence that is embedded in government policies and practices, where a social institution prevents someone from getting their basic needs met. Colonization brought with it structural violence toward indigenous peoples. Some examples of violence are requiring indigenous children to enroll in schools where they must learn English and are not allowed to speak their native languages, and also governments forcing indigenous peoples off their lands and onto new lands that do not provide the same resources that the community would need to sustain itself. Another example is the use of caricatures of Native Americans as mascots for schools and sports teams. On June 25, there was a public hearing at the Massachusetts State House where one of the potential bills was one that would ban the use of Native Americans as mascots for public schools. This is an issue that Native American communities have been fighting for decades, but the governing structures have yet to enforce this ban. 

The Joint Committee on Education public hearing on June 25, 2019.

Generations of structural violence have led to many indigenous communities struggling with poverty and unemployment. One thing Cultural Survival does is provide small grants and assistance for communities that submit project proposals. The aim is to help provide indigenous peoples with the monetary support that structural violence has prevented them from accessing. Lack of funding is a major problem communities face when they are the victims of structural violence. Cultural Survival also helps provide monetary support for community-led radio programs that are trying to get off the ground. The purpose is so the indigenous people concerned have full control over their content, and they can discuss topics that are relevant in the language that is most fitting for their community. Cultural Survival is there to help the community get access to equipment and get on the air, which are things that structural violence can prevent. 

You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand, and social problems are generally bigger than what any one person can solve. Conceptual tools like intersectionality and structural violence help us understand the large-scale issues so that we can better address them.

-Christy Swartz

Post 2: Become Something New Everyday

“Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.“ -Michelle Obama (Becoming, 2018)

This is a quote I read while doing my daily reading on the Metro. I found it so profound that I had to read it a couple more times, and eventually  it caused me to reflect on my brief career path thus far. I originally wanted to be a computer science major, but things have changed.

When I first arrived on the campus of Brandeis University in fall of 2016, I was sure of two things. The first was that I would be need a good winter coat because New England winters are much harsher than what I was used to back home in DC. The second was that I would major in computer science. My high school was heavily STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) focused. Every student had to choose a STEM track of study, as well as completing five math classes and other additional requirements. I chose the information technology track with a concentration in computer science. Throughout my four years I took computer science classes and had some amazing opportunities. I was able to learn about cybersecurity, including obtaining  a certification, participating in computer science internships, and learning the basics of coding. Naturally, at Brandeis I believed majoring in computer science would be the path I followed.

Ain’t No Makin’ it by Jay MacLeod was on of the books we read for the class

However, once at Brandeis, I enrolled in “Wealth and Poverty,” a class offered by the Heller School for Social and Policy Management taught by Professor Tom Shapiro. In this class, I learned about the systems of wealth and how these systems are creating and maintaining inequality in modern society. I always knew these systems of inequality existed because I saw myself and the people around me affected by them. But I didn’t think there was a way I could actively be involved in working to dismantle these systems until enrolling in that class.  I then became more interested in policy, and mid-semester decided to drop my computer science class and focus on fulfilling the requirements for my current majors of politics and international and global studies. The person I was in high school would have never dreamed of becoming someone interested in studying law, but that’s who I have become today. I became interested in something because it affected me and the community I come from, so I wanted to become someone that could best serve my community. This summer, I see this same shift happening at Legal Aid Society.

Interning at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Colombia, I have seen how the organization has gone through countless changes to become what it is today. In the past couple of years, Legal Aid has created special projects including the Re-Entry Justice Project and the Immigrants’ Rights Legal Services Project. The Re-Entry Justice Project aims to help individuals facing discrimination as a result of having a criminal record, while the Immigrants’ Rights Legal Services Project helps provide resources to those in immigrant communities. These projects were created because there was inequality happening in the community that needed to be addressed.  Legal Aid is also involved in advocacy and, on occasion, cases in the DC Court of Appeals in order to create systematic changes. Although the organization has been around since 1932, it has continued to grow and become new iterations of itself every day in order to fulfill its mission of “making justice real” by working to provide the tools the community needs most.

Speaking of learning my internship site took us to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture as part of a racial justice learning experience.

I was inspired by this mission and the ongoing work that the organization does, and that’s why I choose to intern there this summer. I was expecting it to be a typical legal internship for undergrads. However, I wasn’t expecting to be able to use my skills in HTML to help work on the online intake form.  I thought computer science and coding was something I left in the past and I had become someone totally different than my high school self, but I’ve realized that the world of work is not linear. Sometimes it involves twists and turns, or in my case, returning to a skill that one might have thought was long forgotten. As First Lady Michelle Obama said, growing up is not finite. One day we might be one thing, and the next day become something different. I’m excited to see what the rest of the summer reveals to me about the organization’s constant change and the change within myself to, in the short term, become an attorney, but in the long term who knows what the future may bring because we never stop learning and growing.

-Rolonda Donelson

Post 2: Systems in Shambles – Healthcare, Hospitals, and Homes

Did you know that Medicare has parts A to L, each with a different purpose? Did you know that despite being a public hospital, Bellevue still sends a bill to each of its patients? Did you know that 30 million people in this country do not have health insurance? Do you know what the differences are between an HMO, PPO, PSO, and EPO? There is no denying that the US healthcare system is one the of least accessible systems in our country, yet it is still objectively one of the most important. It has been a hot topic in political debates and the news, but I would argue that very few people fully understand these discussions. I am one of the few lucky people to understand the different numbers and acronyms on my health insurance card, but I am by no means an expert. Even my beginner level of proficiency took a college-level class to impart this knowledge, one that is rarely accessible to most of the population.

Our poster and interactive materials (including models of livers) on substance abuse disorders for the health fair, which is an event for the public focused on public health education.

In all honesty, the woman living in a shelter who was bounced from hospital to hospital needs to know this information more than I do. The man who decided to leave AMA (against medical advice) because he did not want to pay for his care needs to know this more than I do. The elderly gentleman who needs an assisted living home but does not have insurance needs to know this more than I do. I am not discounting the importance of my education, as I think that everyone who wants to go into the healthcare industry needs to know how our healthcare system works.

What about the millions of people who use our healthcare system daily? They have more than just a right to know; they have a right to be educated. I think that health care professionals need to capitalize on their role as educators rather than just providers–teaching patients both when to take their medicine, but also what a co-pay means and how much they are going to get billed for their visit. In reality, however, most physicians know little more than the patients when it comes to our healthcare system. It is seemingly impossible to wade through the layers and layers of bureaucracy, the mountains of paperwork, and the thousands of exceptions to truly understand this system.

How are we supposed to give our healthcare system the facelift it so desperately needs when there is no clear answer? We are stuck in this ever-draining and difficult system of insurance, administration, and government battles all speckled with inefficiencies. Doctors can still treat the patient with high quality medical care and comfort, but the healthcare system and hospital are not set up in a way to benefit the patient.

Watching how the hospital system functions has been one of the hardest things to comprehend this summer, as it does not seem to have the patient’s best interests in mind. I am not discounting the amazing work all of the healthcare providers perform, as the individuals clearly want the best for their patients. In fact, I have met some of the most passionate and empathetic people in this job, and they are the reason I can keep returning to work. But how can I just sit in this hospital and deliver clothes to the man I know I will see shirtless the next day? And when a patient walks in with an infection contracted from their homeless shelter, why is discharging them to same shelter all that the physicians can do?

My group for the health fair! We worked to contact organizations for pamphlets and education materials, while creating fun games!

When I reflect on my experience (which I do a lot), it is not the mysterious sickness or intense trauma that stands out to me; it is the never-ending cycle of abuse from the patients to the hospital and back again. In all honesty, many of these patients know how to work the system. They know what to say to the doctor, they know the rules to qualify for a detox bed, and they know how to ask for the social worker. If this is all the hospital can do for them, they might as well make it part of their routine.

Having been there for over a month now means that I am officially part of their routine, both good and bad.  Providing someone with their first hot meal in three days is one of the better moments, even if I know I will see them next week. Treating a patient with benzos (medicine for alcoholism/withdrawal) only to see them intoxicated the next day is one of the worse moments. Our healthcare system is so focused on the short-term it is impossible to see through the presenting symptoms and try to fix the problem at hand.  Who is going to spend the time to implement more stable housing initiatives through the hospital when it is so much easier to continue as is?

Again, I do not blame any individual for the way this hospital or this healthcare system is run; it has been built upon years and years of complicated policies and bureaucratic nonsense. But watching how it trickles down all the way to the patients is beyond painful. I am at a point in this internship where I am unsure if I could ever work in a hospital. I am at a point where I feel myself becoming numb to these issues, and that scares me more than anything. At this point, all I can do is continue asking questions, criticizing our systems, and craving answers. You have given me the ammunition to push myself into this system with a critical eye and an open heart, and for that, Bellevue, I thank you.

Post 2: Critical Perspectives on International Non-Profits

This year at Brandeis, I took a sociology class entitled “Gender, Sexuality, and Globalization,” which explored sexual identities, gendered labor practices, sexual practices, and queer and feminist social movements from a transnational perspective. In this class, I had the opportunity to read critical perspectives on the employment of non-profit and non-governmental organizations as vehicles for social change. I have learned through that class and through my own personal research how NGOs serving the global south that are based in or funded by the global north frequently bring their own interpretations of social issues to the places that they serve. Unfortunately, because of this, the work of many non-profit organizations in the global north involves entering countries in the global south and essentially instructing local populations on what they should do to improve their own countries.

For example, international NGOs dealing with LGBTQI+ issues often utilize a Western understanding of sexuality or gender when serving non-Western communities. In a study I read for Gender, Sexuality, and Globalization, “The Queer Time of Death: Temporality, Geopolitics, and Refugee Rights,” (2014), Sima Shakhsari writes about how international human rights organizations frequently view sexuality as a “fixed universal sexual identity” (Shakhsari 2014, 1005). However, individuals being served by these NGOs often have an entirely different narrative of their own sexuality. Non-profits and NGOs can thus be both positive and negative forces of social change.

When searching for an internship with a focus on international development and human rights in the non-profit sector for this summer, it was important to me that I keep in mind what I have learned about the role of non-profit organizations in the global south. I found that American Jewish World Service, the non-profit where I am interning this summer, has a vastly different approach to their work in the global south. To me, AJWS’s strategy of providing grants to human rights advocates in developing countries, where activists on the ground can make a difference, is extremely effective. With a focus on marginalized people and communities, AJWS utilizes local experts who can identify and implement social change in a way that they view as being most beneficial to their community. This, combined with AJWS’s advocacy in the US government to adopt laws and policies that benefit people in the global south, is why I believe that AJWS’s model of social change is particularly beneficial. I admire AJWS’s unique approach as well as the values that motivate their work, and this is consequently why I am so delighted to be interning with them this summer.

Post 2: The Importance of Public Spaces

My experiences at the Main South Community Development Corporation (CDC) and on campus at Brandeis University have taught me about the importance of public spaces. If you read my first blog post, you know my role at the Main South CDC is centered around community organizing, which means I will be planning and coordinating free family-friendly activities in public spaces in the Main South neighborhood. 

On the first day of my internship, Casey Starr, director of Community Initiatives at the Main South CDC, handed me a book called How to Turn a Place Around by Kathleen Madden. How to Turn a Place Around is a handbook about creating and improving public spaces with a chapter dedicated to explaining why these public spaces are important to cities. Reading this book moved me to reflect and appreciate the public spaces at Brandeis University.

Before I share the answer to why public spaces are important and break down the thought that goes into creating public spaces, I should define it. A public space is a place indoors or outdoors that is generally open and accessible to people of all backgrounds. When we think of a public space our minds tend to immediately go to parks or squares however, the definition informs us the extent to what qualifies as a public space is broad. 

Public spaces unite the community. It is a gathering point for celebration through concerts and festivals. Celebration brings a sense of spirit and pride like no other in a community. Along with its collective uses, there are private reasons to enter a public space that are not limited to dog walking, jogging, biking, reading, picnics, and playing. It is multipurpose with an ability to simultaneously cater to the specific needs of many because not everyone has a quiet place to read, money for a gym membership, or a backyard for their children to play. Not to mention how different spaces carry different atmospheres. Parks carry a lively atmosphere while libraries carry a quiet atmosphere. Each space fills a unique role and purpose. 

Students especially require multiple public spaces on campuses to accommodate for population size. Observing Brandeis University’s spaces, I realized it works to cover the demand for learning/study environments (Library and Shapiro Campus Center), green spaces (the Great Lawn and Chapel’s Field), and expressional spaces (Intercultural Center and Spingold Theater Center). Brandeis knows how essential each space is for its students, which is why it devotes resources to ensure comfort and safety. 

Comfort and safety is what allows people to enjoy a public space. I will even go beyond that statement to say it is what draws people to public spaces. On Wednesday, July 10, the Main South CDC had its first concert of four at University Park. It was a great turnout that took lots of promotion and outreach. It is a beautiful, large park and the city recognizing this continues to devote resources to ensure comfort and safety so community members utilize it to its full potential. Coordinating events like the concert creates the lively atmosphere and improves the perception of the park in the eyes of the community.

Post 2: Brandeis to NCL

As a rising senior, I have accrued plenty of knowledge and skills over my last three years as Brandeis student. Above all, I am most grateful for the flexible, proactive approach to opportunities that I have developed since my first days at Brandeis. My college career started a little unorthodoxly when I received my acceptance letter to Brandeis as a midyear student. As a high school senior, I had daydreamed of walking to class in the beautiful New England fall. I never imagined that I would be moving into my freshman dorm in the dark, cold month of January after spending the fall at home.

Despite this unexpected twist, being accepted as a midyear was one of the best things to happen to me. When I began in January, I was surrounded by a cohort of midyear students who were mature, adaptable and ambitious. We each had diverse paths during our fall semester, but we all began our college years shaped by our experiences and eager to jump into campus life. Although all Brandeis students are passionate and inquisitive, I believe that midyears are exceptional in their open mindedness and initiative. Midyears are open to challenges, see opportunity in the overlooked, and are ready to hit the ground running.

My exposure to other midyears and integration into the Brandeis campus cultivated the flexibility and resourcefulness that had enabled me to take advantage of my gap semester. The Brandeis community has so much to offer, both on-campus and resulting from its location in the bustling Greater Boston area. Being immersed in a student body that is passionate and eager to learn taught me the value of reaching out and keeping your eyes peeled for opportunity everywhere. This is how I found my summer internship at National Consumers League. I saw a listing for the WOW pre-approved fellowship while going through my clogged Brandeis inbox. Going through my emails with diligence is one habit I’ve adopted at Brandeis, since you never know what random opportunities may be nestled into a message from Hiatt or a club listserv. This instance was no exception; National Consumers League seemed like a perfect fit, and the WOW stipend made moving to D.C. a financial possibility. Much like my choice to enroll as a Brandeis midyear, I decided to move to a new city and take on whatever it had to offer me.

Since arriving at National Consumers League, my adaptability and Brandeisian initiative has served me well. Although I am mostly working with LifeSmarts, NCL’s consumer education competition for high schoolers, there are always additional projects and events for interns to take advantage of. I’ve been able to write blog posts about environmental policy, work on press releases in support of lifesaving legislature, attend hearings on the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines, and sit in on several congressional committee hearings (including one where Alexandria Ocasio Cortez gave a rousing argument in support of Obamacare). I would not have been equipped to participate in these experiences if it wasn’t for the ability to bounce between projects and jump in wherever needed and be proactive. These strengths, cultivated on the Brandeis campus, have allowed me to make the most of my time at NCL and in D.C., a city with countless cultural, professional and educational experiences to take advantage of.

Myself and several other NCL staffers standing with Presidential candidate Jay Inslee at a protest outside the U.S. Customs & Border Protection building.

I see a similar open mindedness and passion in National Consumers League itself. The organization has four main priorities–Health, Privacy, Labor and Food–but often shows flexibility in the work it takes on. The NCL understands that many other issues are interwoven into these topics. They show a well-rounded commitment to the consumer through collaboration with other groups and a willingness to speak up on issues beyond their immediate scope. One perfect example of this occurred last week, when the staff attended a protest organized by educators’ unions to call for better conditions at the border. Although NCL does not have an official focus on immigration, the staff understands that immigrant rights are inextricably linked to many issues within our labor department. It is inspiring to see the intersectional nature of social justice work firsthand at NCL.

It has been eye-opening to see how national nonprofits like NCL and other like-minded groups interact. When doing social justice work, it is essential to remain flexible, collaborate and find solidarity wherever possible. I believe that the adaptability, can-do attitude and proactivity I have gained as a Brandeis student and NCL intern will be an asset to me in the future, inside and outside of the nonprofit sector.

Post 2: The Historical Link Between Slavery and Mass Incarceration

During my sophomore year at Brandeis, I took a class with Professor Mischler called “A  Global History of Prisons” that examined the historical link between slavery and mass incarceration we see today. As part of my work with Partners for Justice, I often visit the prisons in Delaware to meet with our clients facing issues with mental health treatment, re-entry services, or case outcomes. As I speak with our clients and observe the prison floors with hundreds of inmates dressed in all white, it is clear that the majority of those in prison are people of color, have mental health issues and/or come from a low socioeconomic background. 

Howard R. Young Correctional Facility is a level 5 prison in Wilmington, Delaware which houses approximately 1,500 inmates.

It is imperative that we understand and recognize the true nature of our nation’s history of crime and punishment of people of color and low-income people because the parallels today are disturbingly apparent.  Through a misguided war on drugs that disproportionately targets people of color, we have increased criminality as a means of oppression and enslaving people of color behind bars. According to Michelle Alexander, more black men are behind bars or under the supervision of the criminal justice system than there were enslaved in 1850. She writes that, “…denying African Americans citizenship was deemed essential to the formation of the original union.  Hundreds of years later, America is still not an egalitarian democracy.” Whether through convict labour or mass incarceration, under the guise of crime prevention, we have continued for almost two hundred years to rationalize the bondage of poor black men and women. The evidence is so clear and the damage so deep, yet we have not mustered up the will to acknowledge and change our criminal justice practices. History continues to repeat itself.   

When thinking about this history, it is easier to contextualize how mass incarceration plagues this nation today and how organizations like Partners for Justice must respond to these injustices. Principles of due process forbid us from physically shackling prisoners to walls, but solitary confinement and other penal practices allow us to metaphorically shackle prisoners inside their own minds. This devolution reflects America’s shortsighted and reactionary penal policy, as well as a general disregard for the welfare of the people (disproportionately men of color, many of whom suffer from intellectual and psychiatric disabilities) who populate our prisons.  This is why organizations like Partners for Justice and the Delaware Public Defenders advocate for systemic change in the criminal justice system. 

As I think about my internship, I try to consider the historical influences which has made today’s legal system so oppressive. Following the end of chattel slavery, Southern states looked towards incarceration as a mechanism of bondage and suppression. In order to incarcerate large numbers of newly freed black people, Southern states had to increase criminality through the use of black codes. As part of these black codes, vagrancy laws were enacted to increase criminality among black populations. Of course, these laws that increased criminality were justified as a war on crime. Vagrancy laws and convict labour were not only economically beneficial, but an extension of the bondage aimed at preventing any rise in black political power. As Michelle Alexander notes in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, convict labour and vagrancy laws were used to “…protect their economic, political, and social interests in a world without slavery.” We see a similar system of oppression and exploitation in our criminal legal system today. It is up to groups like Partners for Justice and Public Defender Offices across the country to fight for an end to increased criminality and unjust punishment. 

Post 2: Breaking Free of History – Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination

While working in the Housing Unit at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, I bring the historical frame of reference and the ability to critique that I developed at Brandeis. 

A public service announcement on the Green Line about what the MCAD can do.

I first became aware of racial housing discrimination, specifically redlining, when I was still in high school. Redlining changed the way America looked forever and through the government’s support of efforts to lock families of color out of white neighborhoods, the most steady and reliable method of wealth accumulation was denied to them. The racial homeownership gap remains a persistent feature of the racial wealth gap, although closing it is not sufficient to close the wealth gap.

The first time I studied this in college was during Professor Knecht’s class where we examined redlining through the lenses of capitalism and gender. I came to work at this agency with an understanding of American legal history that Professor Willrich and Professor Cooper helped me develop. They helped shape my views on legal marginalization, the history of dispute resolution, and what an agency like MCAD should do. Beyond that, my time at Brandeis has just further fleshed out why people discriminate in housing. Brandeis has helped me examine things in a much wider scope through a more comprehensive lens. This is something I owe to my peers as much to my professors. I can thank my work at The Right To Immigration for giving me the experience of listening to peoples’ story and helping them navigate a system completely unfamiliar to them. This is another really crucial skill at the Commission. 

Now, the Commission will occasionally see cases of steering, mortgage discrimination, and discrimination in lending, but housing discrimination is actually much bigger than that. Failure to grant a reasonable accommodation for a disability is one of the leading complaints the commission receives. If you are a potential renter with children, landlords sometimes will not rent to you out of a desire to avoid the de-leading process, or the desire to not even check if there is lead. People who receive rent assistance or social security disability insurance often face landlords who refuse to rent to them, oftentimes out of ignorance for what the law actually says.

One complainant told me that she knew landlords discriminated against her all the time because she had a housing voucher, but this one landlord happened to say it in an email, so she just had to bring it to the Commission. This then makes us stop to think, even if someone did not know they could not refuse to rent to someone because they had a housing voucher, why did they think they could in the first place? Where did their preconceptions about people who need public assistance come from? Why did this landlord not believe the law would protect them? If they knew about the law, would they still have done the same thing or did they simply think they could get away with it? And what about all those cases where the landlord does not make it obvious? Or all those people who do not believe reporting will do any good? This is where the difficult work of education, direct action, and systematic change begins. 

Brandeis prepared me for what I would see at the Commission but it also maintained my blind spots. I am grateful to be coming back to school with a better idea of what I want my education to mean and what I want to do with it.

Post 2: Rose and Thorn

Through my academic work at Brandeis, I have learned that curing psychopathologies is rather difficult. Even after recovery, patients might still relapse. Therefore, early intervention and support on social-emotional learning are important.

People don’t just have mental disorders all of a sudden. They might start with a small concern or bother and then it gradually progresses into an affliction. With professional support, patients can better handle those concerns and keep them from growing into a blaze, which can prevent further difficulties in the future.

Despite this information, we rarely talk about early intervention in the classroom. Therefore, before my internship this summer, early intervention was only a vague concept to me. I did not really know how it is developed and carried out. To me, it seemed like a magic stick and somehow it was developed by some professionals to save children from mental distress in their futures. That is until recently, when I took over the role as a social-emotional learning curriculum developer at PEAR (Partnerships in Education and Resilience) for early intervention, which exposed me to how complex the process is.

The past few weeks of my time at PEAR have been a mixture of fun and struggle. In the first couple days, I received training on the Clover Social-Emotional Development Model and pretended we were middle-school kids as we tried out the activities and games in the curriculum manuals. It was a lot of fun. But as I started to do the actual work to further develop other manuals for this group of curricula, I realized that I underestimated the hard work required to develop such a fun and audience-specific curriculum for the early intervention of mental disorders.

I have sat at the desk all day for weeks conducting literature reviews, and looking for evidence provided by researchers to figure out what mechanisms and practices would be effective to support different populations of students at early adolescence with different needs for mental support. At times, I felt my research findings were never enough and that many research findings were inconsistent. Furthermore, deciding which practices should be implemented in the curriculum manual to guarantee effectiveness has not been an easy task, beyond also making the curriculum kid-friendly and engaging.

Me with my colleagues

Fortunately, my colleagues and supervisors are very supportive. Every week, we brainstorm potential activities for the curriculum based on the research finding. I also carry out field test experiential of those activities to keep refining the curriculum manuals according to feedback. Even though I am working on intervention of mental health burdens, my focuses are not limited to dimensions that a certain population need support on. Kids are very complex. Kids who need mental health support do not just have a combination of several symptoms. In order to help kids balance among different dimensions of abilities, we need to take both strengths and weakness into account. Even though this process contains a lot of twists, turns and frustrations, I am glad that I am working on intervention curriculum that will make a direct impact on children, especially those who are in low-income communities.

Post 2: Combatting Savior Narratives at Tahirih Justice Center

Particularly within the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department at Brandeis, my classes this past year have compelled me to think a lot about the savior narratives that many organizations tend to have towards women and girls transnationally. Classes such as Professor ChaeRan Freeze’s WMGS 5A and Professor Harleen Singh’s Postcolonial Feminisms had me thinking about campaigns that reinforce the idea that women and girls of color in largely non-Western countries need saving from their patriarchal culture and the men in their culture. This kind of narrative degrades women by portraying them as helpless without the aid of Western non-profits or service workers. Particularly within the immigration context, it is easy for asylum-seekers to feel re-traumatized and as if they have lost control of their autonomy/story/narrative in the immigration system. This savior narrative, which is driven by many non-profits that serve refugee populations, acts to take away individuals’ narratives even more.

Admittedly, I was a bit nervous when I first heard about the Tahirih Justice Center (which primarily serves women and girls who are victims of domestic and gender-based violence), as I thought it would be another organization to reinforce this harmful narrative. However, since working at Tahirih, I have found that they do all in their power to combat this savior narrative and actually empower their clients to take control of their lives and stories. In fact, on many Tahirih advertising and informational materials, they describe their clients as “courageous immigrant women and girls who refuse to be victims of violence.” The efficient services that Tahirih provides–including pathways to immigration status and social services like therapy and help finding housing–allow clients to take control of their lives again. This is particularly important for victims of domestic violence here in the U.S. Many of our clients are completely reliant on their abusers when they first seek our services, and Tahirih does everything in its power to provide them tools to lead independent, self-sufficient lives.

This mindset of empowering clients (even in an immigration system that does a lot to disempower them) is what I am thinking about as I start assisting on one of our lawyer’s VAWA cases this week. VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act, was put in place specifically to protect immigrant victims of domestic violence and give them a pathway to status that may otherwise be barred by an abuser. I am looking forward to sitting in on an interview with the client and the lawyer, during which the lawyer will ask questions that will help us write the client’s declaration. I will be observing the ways that the lawyer phrases questions so as not to re-traumatize the client, but rather to give them space to tell their story exactly how they want to tell it.

Tahirih Justice Center’s 2017 Impact Report.

I am also excited about a project I am working on that is a resource guide with information about how to prepare for ICE immigration raids, with information about knowing your rights, hotlines to report ICE raids, hotlines for domestic violence, and family planning guide. This user-friendly resource contains information that is catered to our clients and is meant to give them the resources they need to stay safe during potential raids.

It has been inspiring to see that Tahirih is truly working towards the mission to empower its clients–who are made up largely of women and girls. It has been a valuable learning experience thus far to partake in work that supports this mission.

Ellie Kleiman ’21

Post 2: Learning about Language Justice

I had the opportunity to go to the Lights for Liberty protest in Boston Common on Friday, July 12 to stand in solidarity with immigrants jailed at the border

One of the most important skills I have learned at Brandeis is how to write concisely and accessibly. Last semester, I took Professor Vijayakumar’s “HIV/AIDS, Society, and Politics,” course. One of my first assignments was to write a 2 to 3 page analysis of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in a country of my choice; I chose Brazil. In just 2 to 3 pages, I was expected to include data about Brazil’s HIV incidence, HIV prevalence, the social groups most affected by the epidemic, how the Brazilian epidemic compares to epidemics in the wider geographical region, and what progress Brazil has made in addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Along with everyone in the class, I found it challenging to distill all the necessary information down to 3 pages, and my task wasn’t made any easier by the sheer amount of data that exists about Brazil’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The experience of writing the data analysis taught me how to write concisely and accessibly and extract relevant statistics from large data sets. With a maximum word count, there is little room for superfluous data or flowery language. In addition, Professor Vijayakumar emphasized the importance of taking your intended audience into account when writing a data analysis and making sure it’s accessible. 

In the first few weeks at United for a Fair Economy, I’ve found that they, like Professor Vijayakumar, stress the importance of making all of your writing accessible to your intended audience. You cannot claim to work for economic justice while simultaneously making your work inaccessible to the people you claim to be helping. UFE works with many people who don’t have any postsecondary education and who don’t speak English, and UFE makes sure everything they produce is accessible to these audiences. They discourage the use of jargon and acronyms; a rule of thumb in the office is that the average tenth-grader should understand all of our communications. In addition, UFE is very conscious of the marginalization of those who don’t speak English and is committed to language justice. All of UFE’s communications are published in both English and Spanish and UFE conducts bilingual (Spanish and English) Training of Trainers for activists and organizers. 

Last week, Madeline and I had the opportunity to write a blog post about immigration policy for UFE’s website. This blog post gave me a chance to put UFE’s commitment to language justice into action. We started the blog with a history of US immigration policy, an overview of the multitude of problems with America’s current immigration policy, solutions that have been proposed so far, and UFE’s idea of what a humane solution to the immigration crisis looks like. At nearly 2,000 words, I’m not sure that the blog can be called concise. However, we made sure that it’s free of academic jargon and superfluous information. Our piece assumes that our readers have some knowledge of the US immigration system, but aren’t versed in all of its intricacies. While it currently exists only in English, it will be translated into Spanish before it goes up on the website. In addition, Madeline compiled a list of organizations advocating for immigrants’ rights locally and nationally. It is important to keep in mind that while learning about the roots of America’s current immigration crisis is necessary, such learning is useless if not coupled with action. 

Post 2: Teamwork at Avodah

This past year at Brandeis, I learned the value of team effort whether it be in academics or extracurriculars. The non-cut-throat environment that Brandeis facilitates truly works in everyone’s favor. When my friends make study guides for tests, they would share them with me. As I am called the Quizlet Queen, I would complete my royal duties of sharing my quizlets with them. We are all reaching for the common goal of attaining a certain grade, so why not spread the joy of study materials? When it comes to extracurriculars, my a cappella troupe displays to me the value of working together. Although a test grade won’t validate teamwork, ears will surely do the job. If we haven’t individually practiced our parts, the cumulation of music will not sound correct. Additionally, the troupe has different roles such as music director, president, business manager, and even birthday celebration coordinator. The responsibility of each of these roles are crucial to a smooth semester of music and performances.

What could resemble teamwork more than the US Women’s Soccer Team? I stumbled upon their parade on Wall St. on the way to my internship last Wednesday.

This idea of working together has been prevalent at Avodah, but in a more professional way. Teamwork is especially shown every two weeks during staff meetings. It is here where I see the meaning of team effort at its finest. The meetings entail a more holistic experience, and they are not solely business and numbers. Last meeting, Executive Director Cheryl Cook decided to start out by asking each staff member, “What is a talent that you have that is not utilized at Avodah?” After answers such as boardgames and baking, topics got a little more serious. Subjects included budgets, goals, updates, and what Avodah stands for. Cheryl will steer conversations and do a lot of updating herself, but a great chunk of staff meetings involve hearing about the work that everyone’s been up to. This usually follows with some variation of validation ranging from a smile to “amazing job.” Additionally, everyone gets the chance to talk. After every update, questions and comments are greatly encouraged. Often, follow-up questions bring up a new topic or something that hasn’t been thought about that can potentially push forward progress and the organization.  

My work of updating long lists of donor information or doing research may not seem crucial to the organization’s stability, but there have been ways in which my work is acknowledged. For the data component of my internship, one of my projects was to look up individuals associated with Jewish Experiential Education. I came up with a list of names and information. Once that list was finished I received emails from the D.C. branch of the non-profit appreciatively reacting to my work. For the communications aspect of my internship, I do varying tasks. My supervisor is the director of communications and part of her job is to order merchandise for Service Corps Members and Fellows. She asked me to research websites that make sustainable and customizable items that people will likely use day to day. One of the items I found were reusable, bamboo utensils. A week later the utensils came in and they were a hit. My supervisor got countless compliments of the utensils and I know I attributed to that in a small way. I have found having a supportive network can truly make a difference of what one puts into the job.

-Jolie Suchin ’22

Post 2: Seeing Vulnerable Populations in a New Light

The word jail immediately brings to mind images from a first-grade field trip to my town’s holding center. A group of sodden-looking seven year olds walked through a row of cells under an overhang of harsh fluorescent lights. Afraid to step too far to the left or the right, we walked past cells with people’s heads hanging low to avoid making eye-contact with the curious, small faces cautiously peering in. Even as a first-grader I remember having a pit in my stomach as I passed through that long hallway. Automatically associating the jail with terrible crimes and people my parents told me to avoid at all costs, my insides churned at the idea of imprisonment. On a separate occasion, a driving instructor directed me to a high-security prison. Eyeing the silvery barbed wire and high gates, the instructor commented, “I wonder what you have to do to end up in there,” sending chills down my spine and my hand to place the gear into reverse. 

The concept of vulnerable populations was first introduced to me in Sociology of Body and Health. Some populations, such as pregnant women, the elderly, or racial minorities, made sense to me, and others, such as the incarcerated population, caused me to raise my eyebrows. 

How can a population that is known to illicit violence and unrest among the community be considered vulnerable? Working in Bellevue’s Emergency Department (ED) and learning more about Riker’s Island, the largest jail in the world, has taught me a great deal regarding the circumstances surrounding incarceration in the United States and in particular, its intersectionality with race and gender. 

Riker’s Island Jail, home to New York City’s main jail complex.

Riker’s Island, home to New York City’s main jail complex, has recently been under fierce debate. Known to house up to 15,000 inmates, and notoriously known for the violence and corruption within its walls, it has been proposed to close within ten years by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The plan, though highly controversial, aims to reduce incarceration rates by 25%, create a more humane environment within smaller jails, and provide inmates with more opportunity for growth and recreational activities. Studies have shown that providing inmates with educational and therapeutic socialization, as opposed to traditional solitary confinement and violence, is indicative of a positive return to citizenship and a lowered re-incarceration rate. 

Part of a doctor’s job is to release patients back into a safe environment, but what happens when that environment is a vague and misunderstood idea? Healthcare providers often fail to fully comprehend the true conditions that incarcerated individuals are released into. Oftentimes, inmates are mistreated, abused by other inmates or guards, and are constantly being disrespected. Learning more about what it is like to live on Riker’s Island, I realize that my uneasiness surrounding the idea of imprisonment isn’t necessarily placed on the prisoners themselves–rather, on the unrealized dangers surrounding the prison system in the United States that has turned what is meant to be a system of rehabilitation and reform into a grossly violent and unjust environment. 

Kailef Browder, a teenager held at Riker’s Island for three years without trial was eventually released with dropped charges.

Take Kalief Browder, a sixteen-year old African American boy at the time of his arrest. Browder was held in solitude for over three years at Riker’s, without trial, for stealing a backpack. Ultimately, the trauma of abuse and confinement led Browder to commit suicide when he was released back into the custody of his parents at age nineteen. Browder’s trial had continuously been delayed by the courts until they decided to drop his charges, but at too large of a cost.

Graph depicting the racial disparities in incarceration rates. Data is taken from Prison Policy Initiative.

It is not a secret that incarceration rates disproportionately affect people of color. African Americans are more likely to receive longer, harsher sentences than their white counterparts and are more likely to become incarcerated in the first place. There is little evidence to indicate that either race is unequally committing the same crimes, so why does this discrepancy exist within our jails? Imprisonment is a life-changing event. Having a criminal record makes it extremely difficult to obtain employment in the United States because of the stigma surrounding incarceration, regardless of the crime committed. 

This stigma is something I personally encounter at Bellevue. Incarcerated patients treated at Bellevue come from Riker’s Island. Nearly 85% of inmates at Riker’s are still awaiting trial. The liberty of “innocent until proven guilty” is something that I consciously have to remind myself of when I see a patient handcuffed to their stretcher or a corrections officer hovering in their corner. Making an effort to remind myself that this person could be in for anything, from subway fare-evasion to multiple homicides, has helped me come to the rationale that it is not my place to judge or fear them. Their basic human right is to receive the same quality of healthcare that is given to every other patient that walks through the ED. 

A personal goal of mine, after learning more about Riker’s Island in particular and observing the care given to incarcerated individuals, is to distance myself from the ideas I was taught surrounding imprisonment. Realizing that there are many factors that determine incarceration beyond simply committing a crime, I have shifted my view on prisoners to see them as capable of redemption and of having a second chance in our society. Changes in my body language and time spent speaking with prisoners, reflective of how I interact with other patients, helps incarcerated patients recognize my positive take on their current state.  

The incarcerated is a population that I will inevitably encounter as a future healthcare provider and I am so grateful to have interacted with them in a healthcare setting as my career is just beginning to develop. I understand their positions as a vulnerable population better. Following this experience, I want to educate myself more on the vast number of issues surrounding mass incarceration and I stay hopeful that proposed criminal justice reforms will begin to stabilize the inequalities that permeate our justice system. 

I recognize there is a much larger societal movement needed to address vulnerability among our groups, particularly the incarcerated, and so I leave you with some food for thought: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman because it often results in physical death.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

Post 2: Discovering Popular Education

Last semester I spent three hours every Wednesday in deep discussion about the future of the US and the policy that is going to get us there. My professor, nine graduate students, and I analyzed proposals from policymakers and economists, but we also put forth our own proposals. The course, “Political Economy of the Welfare State” at the Heller School, provided a new learning environment that I embraced.

Sara, my coworker, and I in solidarity with a coalition of organizations pressuring Fidelity Charitable to stop funneling money to hate groups.

I was taking the class with students who had life experiences to build from. Unlike most undergrads at Brandeis, I had a classmate with a baby at home who was experiencing the necessity of accessible childcare. I had a classmate who had bought a house and realized it was the worst decision she had ever made. Through sharing personal stories with each other, we were able to develop ideas for long-term policy that would benefit us.

Not long after I finished the class, I was seated at the Newtonville Diner with my advisor talking about the year and my ideas for the thesis that I am preparing to write in the fall. My advisor gave me a few words of advice: 1) find patterns in what you are told not to study and lean into them, 2) find what inspires you, but also what makes you angry, and 3) think outside the box, as fresh, new ideas are valuable. I left invigorated by her open perspective and her trust in me. My conversation with her helped me to understand why I liked the Heller class so much: it helped us tell our own stories, learn from them, and develop solutions that would work for us.

United for a Fair Economy fosters a similar environment through popular education. Popular education is an educational methodology that incorporates lived experiences and critical analysis with a race, class, and gender perspective in order to challenge systems of oppression and bring about social change. UFE supports movements for economic and racial justice by holding popular education trainings where organizers can develop facilitation skills, collective knowledge, relationships, and movement strategies that can be used to strengthen justice efforts nationwide.

Participants in a popular education and healing justice Training of Trainers retreat that I was able to attend at the beginning of my internship.

Popular education incorporates personal experience into learning environments so that the content is relevant and the knowledge that participants already hold is shared and valued. This is done by sharing stories, looking for patterns, and challenging norms. This is ultimately what my classmates and I were doing as we talked about policy.

My internship at United for a Fair Economy has helped me find clarity. In many ways, it has helped me to build upon the knowledge that I have learned through my studies of labor and employment policy as well as my movement work for economic justice. It has helped me to value long term efforts such as education, healing justice, relationship building, and constant dialog. I am thinking about all of these components as I develop a plan for my thesis, and this understanding and knowledge will only continue to grow as I continue in this work.

-Madeline Bisgyer ’20

Post 2: Opportunity at The New York State Attorney General’s Office

One of the most important things that I learned at Brandeis was to take every opportunity presented to you because you never know where it may lead. During my sophomore year, I had a class called Immigration and Human Rights with Professor Doug Smith. In this class, we learned about immigration systems and practices in the United States and around the world; the international treaties and institutions affecting migration; and the history of immigration policy and rhetoric in the United States. Over the course of the semester, I became more and more interested in immigration law. During one class session, two Brandeis students came in to discuss a new club they were forming and asked if anyone in the class wanted to join. My first thought was that I was too busy and had many other commitments. However, I thought about it and decided to go to the first club meeting.

A recent press release from Attorney General Letitia James

After that first meeting, I went to every subsequent meeting of the club, which is called The Right to Immigration Institute (TRII). TRII helps immigrants navigate legal issues through consultation, workshops and legal representation. In this club, I am being trained to represent asylum seekers and non-citizens through immigration proceedings. I host drop-in hours every week where I help with client intakes and assist clients through every step of the immigration process. In addition, I am now on the E-Board serving as the community relations director. In this role, I help publicize TRII and help it reach a wider audience. My passion for immigration work and helping people who have limited resources is what led me to the New York State Attorney General’s Office internship and I think is part of what made my application stand out. Overall, taking advantage of the opportunities you are presented with is something that I learned at Brandeis and will continue to practice throughout my life.

One of my fellow interns, Rosie, handling a mediation call at her desk.

At the New York State Attorney General’s Office, one thing that I continue to notice is that opportunity is not always available to many of the people that we serve. This is why it makes it even more important to try and help these people using all the tools the NYAGs office has to offer. For me, it is an opportunity to help people in need and it is also one of the few opportunities our constituents have to solve some of their most pressing problems. I am a mediator, which means I try to make both parties involved in a conflict come to an agreement. I treat every case like it is the constituents’ last chance to solve their problem. This approach helps not only the people I serve but helps me better develop the useful skills needed in negotiations and the mediation process in general.

Post 2: The power of coalitions, from our campus to our courts

Alliance for Justice is a coalition organization. In our work, we seek to be collaborative in finding the best strategies for crafting a progressive court. The work is more than just having 120 organization names that we can put behind our work. In my time at AFJ, I’ve sat in on huge meetings, gone to protests, set up calls, and hosted events, all designed to foster greater understanding between us and the groups we work with.

A prime example of this was the census decision. While at AFJ, we deal mostly with nominees, so many of our partners in the fight for fair courts were deeply invested in ensuring an accurate and fair census count. When the decision came down on the last Thursday morning in June, we were on the steps of the Supreme Court walking the picket and supporting the important work of groups like Common Cause, The Leadership Conference, Casa, and more. 

5 interns with signs from Alliance for Justice standing in front of the Supreme Court.
A group of AFJ interns at the Supreme Court the morning of the census and gerrymandering decisions.

In my work organizing at Brandeis, whether it be for transgender rights, gun violence prevention or civic engagement, I’ve learned that working in coalition like this always, always strengthens a movement, for a few reasons. First, having a broad base of support simply means your issue reaches more people. On a college campus, that means you’re able to talk to more groups of students that may never have thought about your issue until then, or you can activate communities into causes closely related to what they’re already doing. At Alliance for Justice, and in the world of national political organizing, it means more people are talking about your issue. When it comes to the courts, that is essential, because so many people don’t realize how much is at stake.

But more importantly, working in coalition means that you can learn from your partners. Here, we brought in reproductive justice organizers to give a training on making the movement for a progressive judiciary inclusive of queer and trans folks. Reproductive justice, especially questions around abortion access, is often a top-line issue in federal court fights, given the fragility of Roe v. Wade. By making these discussions more inclusive, we can start to change the conversation so that public opinion, legislation, and court decisions start reflecting these attitudes as well. 

Now, while organizing both at Alliance for Justice and at Brandeis, I plan to always ask myself what other voices could I bring to the table on this, or what voices have I not yet heard. Being in DC gives you so many opportunities to see collaborative work, from the small discussions we have in our conference rooms to the Jewish- and immigrant-led protests against deportations at the House buildings.

A group of protesters at the Spirit of Justice Park in Washington, DC.
A group of protestors (including me!) waiting to enter the House Office Building to protest the inhumanity of our government’s treatment of immigrants.

The most central lesson I’ve learned since being here is the value of realizing that I will always be learning. Becoming an organizer is a continuous process with no set end. Everyone that I’ve talked to here has mentioned that they are always learning, and being in coalition with so many groups willing to educate is a boon to that mission. It’s a privilege to be able to learn from so many different sources, and I will continue to do so as I develop as an organizer.

Post 2: The Truth Behind the “Unneeded” Help

Meet my team: Kevin (my boss) and Rachel (one of my coworkers)

As an underprivileged Asian American, I continuously fought for my opportunities. Opportunities did not come easily to me because of the many barriers in place due to my ethnicity. In particular, Asian immigrants—like my parents—face xenophobic stereotypes assigned to them like the “forever foreigner” narrative that causes great discrimination for Asians in the job market. This means Asians cannot access similar programs available to other minority groups like welfare due to the expectation that they are successful, so they do not need help. While I acknowledge my family’s experiences, I have never known it was a collective feeling amongst the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community until after my first semester in college.

When I took my first AAPI course—Introduction to Asian American Studies with Dr. Day—I understood that my truth is also other people’s reality. As I left my first lecture, I remember the crinkles from my furrowed eyebrows. I was unable to fathom the treacherous stories that lie within each scar of an Asian American’s hand: the marks of anguish for being refused by their own country—America, the cries of sacrifice stoned in their souls, and the lashes of alienation marked in historical novels. This class taught many topics: the stereotype of the “model minority” myth,  Asians’ forever foreigners narrative, and the sacrifices from the AAPI community. Because the perceptions of Asians as the model minority are deeply entrenched in our history, little attention is devoted to the AAPI community.

Therefore, my passion for assisting other Asian Americans arose because of understanding this information. I began to realize the many limitations and lack of opportunities provided to Asians to advance themselves, despite being born in America. This information explains why CPC (Chinese-American Planning Council) provides a positive impact and is crucial to the AAPI community: it combats common misconceptions. Through understanding the AAPI’s deep history with the US, I finally comprehend the significance of CPC’s mission: it provides services to the AAPI community that the government denies.

Understanding the importance of my contribution to CPC’s overall mission, I maintain my resilience through adversity. At times, it is difficult to establish fundraising initiatives and coordinate events as there are many restrictions—financial difficulties and understaffed workers to name a few. However, despite enduring several adversities, I am devoted to using these challenges as my motivation. I would execute creative, alternative solutions when there is a lack of resources for the bar fundraising event and when building the new tech program. I ensure, though, that with these modifications, my plans still align with CPC’s mission. I even take the initiative to research other grants to guarantee that CPC’s underfunded programs and lack of staff will not be an issue after the summer concludes. CPC’s mission and its influence throughout the AAPI community are what motivate me to continue instead of asking for an easier task. My greatest respect for CPC and the knowledge I gained as a first-year are the reasons I am confident and proud of the internship I am in.

My work desk

If you are interested in seeing a day in my life as a CPC intern, click on the URL link: https://youtu.be/oP3d9xouklw! Enjoy 🙂

Post 2: A Cog in the Wheel

Over these past two years as a student at Brandeis, it is fair to say that I’ve realized my college experience is defined just as much by my learning experiences outside of the classroom as it is by my experiences within a lecture setting. Perhaps the most important skill I’ve built since becoming a Brandeis student is the ability to take what I have learned from my coursework and incorporate that knowledge and understanding into how I live my life. The entire purpose of learning, in my opinion, is not to merely memorize facts and figures, but to gain an enriched perspective through the lens of a given person’s field of study. Bridging this gap between life and information learned from class is certainly a feat in itself, and potentially the most valuable skill I have attempted to master thus far.

As an intern at the Sierra Club, a lot of the work I am receiving is a small cog in the works of a much larger project. Therefore, it can oftentimes feel challenging to understand how what I am doing is significant in combating climate change and climate injustices. For example, one project I am working on with a fellow intern will ultimately involve creating a map to display disparities in solar installations per capita in predominantly white neighborhoods as compared to predominantly black neighborhoods, predominantly LatinX neighborhoods, predominantly Asian neighborhoods, and neighborhoods without a racial majority in six cities around the country. The goal of this project is to have a visual display, which can relay that regardless of class and regardless of solar potential, white neighborhoods are the most likely to have the greatest solar per capita.

While the project as a whole is extremely exciting and seemingly rewarding if we are able to succeed, the fact remains that these past few weeks have mainly consisted of me and my fellow intern collecting all sorts of data, merging files, and spending lots of time performing simple math equations. With projects like this one, it is quite easy to feel frustrated by a lack of obvious progress towards our overarching objectives.

Throughout the early stages of these sorts of projects, I have thought back to my time at Brandeis in classes such as statistics and biology. In these courses, I learned about valuable scientific discoveries, discoveries that I could connect to my own life or to the world around me. At the same time, I oftentimes received works that seemed far from tangible or meaningful to the bigger picture. But I came to grasp that these smaller steps of understanding are just as integral to creating great change.

If nobody focused on the more monotonous sides of work–the data collection, organizing the Excel sheets, calculating averages–the larger scale goals could never be reached. My time at Brandeis has taught me that there is always a way to bridge this gap; it all depends on your mindset. So, during my time at Sierra Club, I am choosing to view my internship tasks as a step in the direction of a seeable difference, but I am also trying to understand that not everything I do is going to be a part of the next great breakthrough in climate change-related disparities.

Post 2: The Vehicle of Change

JFK and his journey to fight for change. P.S. I work in the JFK building, where this picture was taken.

Thus far, my Brandeis experience has allowed me to set and achieve both communal and intrinsically individual goals. Aside from my academic accomplishments, I began to shape and perfect the goals I wished to accomplish outside of the classroom and vice versa. The considerable advantage of the Brandeis experience is how the classroom and community complement each other, pushing individuals like myself to stretch our goals to the furthest boundaries and spheres of the college experience.

Some may call it a self-awakening, or an epiphany of sorts, where you suddenly see the rudimentary elements of a passion for one subject develop into something more. No, this passion did not develop from the news or the textbook, but rather from my sophomore year Business Law course. Torts, contracts, injury, discrimination—all of it gripped me as relevant and controversial, not merely historical fact or minutiae. Professor Breen engages his students with an intellectual experience rather than the tedium of spit-back textbook verbiage. The fictional cases assigned for us to argue in an essay format made me feel as if I was defending someone’s livelihood or business. I wrote with vigor and true conviction, trying to best present all the facts and assumptions succinctly and with precision.

Throughout the semester, I would arrive at Professor Breen’s office hours with a list of questions to further clarify the complicated UCC (Uniform Commercial Code), Supreme Court precedents, or any other mysteries of the law. As the semester progressed, the national news became a hotbed of discrimination lawsuits and hearings. I listened to the testimony and judge rulings, feeling empowered in that I could now comprehend the myriad legal jargon. I suddenly realized my college experience had come full circle. My knowledge in the classroom began to enhance my understanding of the surrounding world. The exhilaration I felt did not dissipate in the coming weeks but rather laid the foundation for my newfound passion for social justice and the rule of law.

After working at the Women’s Bureau for over six weeks, I have begun to piece together the nuances of different issues in light of the sociocultural norms we experience every day, especially as women in the workforce. My courses as a legal studies student at Brandeis allowed me to approach my internship from a sharply legalistic lens, but also within the context of the world we inhabit. Issues are complex and cannot be solved on a whim but it is important to be persistent or else one will not invoke change.

The women who I have the pleasure of working alongside at the Bureau embody this and have motivated me to see the positive, yet slow-moving, aspects of change. We cannot always look forward and project our hopes and dreams for a better future because of the immense heartache it may create but we should always strive to look back and feel a sense of pride in our journey. As I finish my internship in the coming weeks, I realize I may have only made a minuscule impact on the lives of working women but this is the truest source of comprehensive change.

Post 1: The kickoff to my internship at Avodah

These past few weeks I’ve learned a bunch: to pay attention to subway signs so that I do not end up in Brooklyn, sleeping by 11p.m. is vital to my well-being, and most importantly, the value of social justice.

This summer I am the data and communications intern at Avodah, a Jewish social justice nonprofit organization. Avodah’s mission is to work to improve the causes and effects of poverty. This is done through a year-long service corps where young adults are placed into different organizations. These placement organizations serve a multitude of causes such as education services, health services, housing, hunger, immigration, legal services, and more. This wide variety of injustices Avodah fights against is what initially drew me to the organization. As an undeclared major that is leaning towards Health: Science, Society, and Policy, I felt that a nonprofit working with health services organizations gave me the opportunity to explore those interests and possible career paths.

There are two components to my internship: communications and data. For the communications half, I develop social media marketing, work on the Avodah Spotify account, and organize and compile emails. The data aspect of my internship entails mainly working with Salesforce, a database that breaks down information from donors. My job is to make sure their information is up to date. I do this by researching individuals and their affiliations (usually a synagogue, congregation, or university) to see if they are currently working there. If they are not, I update their information. Additionally, I’ve been researching Jewish Experiential Educators for the prospect of them building a relationship with Avodah. Although my data work may seem robotic-like at times, one of my first days here I had a meeting with Jill Hertzler, the Director of Individual Giving & DC Community Director, that changed my perspective. Jill stressed the importance of my work and data hygiene, especially for a relatively small organization that relies on their donors. For example, clean, specific data allows for more personalized emails. Only through clean data will an organization be able to continue making those multi-dimensional connections to more and more people.

I’ve learned about many technical, tangible skills such as customer relationship management systems (aka CRMs), but also the importance of work culture. The people I am surrounded by at work definitely have an impact on the work I put in. I’m very lucky to be working at Avodah because the work culture is very welcoming. One of my first weeks here, I had a meeting with the Executive Director, Cheryl Cook. She displayed the importance of a friendly work environment. For example, there is an Avodah award passed along to a different staff member every staff meeting to commemorate the work they are doing. It’s amazing to see staff supporting each other and validating the work they’ve done.View from the rooftop looking over the East River into Brooklyn.Avodah playlist – take a listen!My desk space.

– Jolie Suchin

Post 1: First Weeks at Restore Justice Illinois

The Restore Justice Foundation is a nonprofit based in Chicago that works to promote criminal justice reform within the Illinois Department of Corrections. I found this organization through my mentor that I was connected with through the Brandeis Athletics Mentorship Program. After doing research on the organization, I decided that its mission was something that I am passionate about and I want to pursue further. The Foundation is committed to ending inhumane and unconstitutional practices in all facets of the criminal justice system, working on issues from sentencing reform to prison conditions to re-entry policy. The organization hosts events in the community such as advocacy trainings, prison visits, and lobbying days at the state legislature. It also meets with legislators in session and works on getting bills passed into law in order to help reform the criminal justice system in Illinois.

Their most recent accomplishment was getting HB531 passed in the last session. That bill, which is now law in Illinois, outlawed juvenile life sentences without the possibility of parole, which had been the case since 1978. HB531, which is now Public Act 100-1182, allows individuals seeking review the right to an attorney and the Prisoner Review Board. This bill had been worked on by Restore Justice for the past six years, and was passed right as I began working for the organization.

Restore Justice Illinois does most of its policy work while the state legislature is in session, so while the summer is not necessarily pushing policy work, it is a time for the organization to do important work in preparing for the issues we want to push during the next session. One of my biggest jobs for the summer is to work on restructuring our website. I am working with our new communications hire on restructuring the website, as well as creating new content for it. Our hope is to be able to create more resources for the public to be able to come to our site and learn about the background of the issues we have chosen to pursue as well as more about the structure of the Illinois prison system. I want to bring the skills I have learned at school in terms of research, writing academic work, and my passion for these issues to help the organization create a space for the public to learn about the fight we are engaging in, and hopefully draw support (both in sentiment and in monetary donations) to keep doing the work we are doing and to be able to expand our reach.

I am one of three interns we have working currently. I started at almost exactly the same time as Wendell Robinson, who is at the organization doing a 14-week apprenticeship in order to figure out if he wants to pursue this field as a career. His focus is on fundraising and financial support for the organization. As a nonprofit, we rely on donors to help us have the resources for the work that we do. The picture is of him and I and was featured in the monthly newsletter for the organization. Overall, I love the organization and the people I am working with and I am excited to learn and grow in my skillset and my activism over the rest of the summer.

Post 1: First Week at American Jewish World Service

This week, I began my summer internship at American Jewish World Service in their development operations division. American Jewish World Service, or AJWS, is an American nonprofit organization with their headquarters located in Manhattan. Their mission is to end poverty and promote human rights in the developing world. They have five main focus areas: civil and political rights, sexual health and rights, ending child marriage, disaster response, and land, water and climate justice. The organization is structured as both a grant giver to its partners in nineteen countries (Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Liberia, Senegal, South Sudan, Uganda, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, and Nicaragua), as well as an advocate in the United States for certain laws and policies that support its mission. To me, one of the most interesting things that I’ve learned about the structure of the organization is that it is both a grant recipient and a grant giver, unlike other nonprofits that I am familiar with. As a development operations intern, I will hopefully have an inside look into some of the grant processes.

I began my first day feeling quite nervous, not really knowing what to expect as I walked into the office building in midtown for the first time. It didn’t help that I had some trouble finding the entrance to the building, nearly making me late for my first day. When I came in and was directed to a conference room down the stairs, I was delighted to see that there were already about seven other interns who looked about my age, waiting with looks of excited and nervous anticipation that matched my own feelings. It made me feel better knowing that there were several others at the same stage that I was. After a brief orientation and tour of the office, we were placed at our desks in our departments. As I got settled into my desk and began reading the organizational materials that had been given to me, other employees from the office began approaching my desk to introduce themselves. The multitude of smiling faces helped make me feel so comfortable on my first day.

After receiving preliminary training in Raisers Edge, the database that AJWS uses, I could begin some of my assigned projects. This week, I helped clean up some constituent profiles on the database, in preparation for AJWS switching to a new database. Later, I did a little research on prospective donors. On Friday, I began updating the board’s profiles. However, mostly this week was filled with slowly getting to know the office and the people in it and becoming more comfortable in my new routine. I’m looking forward to being able to get involved in more and more projects throughout the summer. Since this a field that I am considering pursuing after college, I am excited to learn more about the different facets of the not-for-profit sector through this internship.

– Mayan Kleiman

Post 1: First Weeks at the Legal Aid Society

There are many benefits of living in New York City: breathtaking sights, delicious $1 pizza, and…free legal assistance to citizens in need.

My friends and I enjoying NYC’s iconic $1 pizza!

This summer, I am interning at the Legal Aid Society in their Immigration Law Unit (ILU). The Legal Aid Society provides pro-bono legal representation to impoverished citizens of all five boroughs of New York City. In my opinion, the Legal Aid Society and its positive relationship with NYC is an exemplary model of legal practice that other states and cities should adopt. Not only is it fundamentally just to provide an avenue for individuals of all walks of life to access adequate legal support, but it contributes to a more socially just world. For one, it helps disrupt the criminalization of poverty that often leads to the incarceration of individuals of lower incomes who are, consequently, disproportionately of certain races. In this way and many more, the Legal Aid Society stands at the intersection of social justice and law. 

I chose to intern with the Legal Aid Society because of how the organization applies the social justice lens to its everyday legal practices. Furthermore, I chose to intern specifically with the Immigration Law Unit because of my prior experience in and passion for working with immigrants through The Right to Immigration Institute (TRII) in Waltham, MA. I have loved interning in the ILU. The Unit works with a wide range of immigrants under a wide range of circumstances, including asylum seekers, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) recipients, and individuals facing deportation and inadmissibility charges. The vastness of circumstances this unit specializes in conveys the magnitude and complexity of immigration law. That’s one thing I love about this line of work–everyday I am learning something interesting and new.

I have completed many trainings at my internship, including webinars on DACA (pictured here), immigration court proceedings, trauma-informed immigration practices, and more!

The Legal Aid Society traditionally only offers internships to law students, so my experience as the only undergraduate makes my internship, in many ways, unconventional. For one, I am working alongside a paralegal rather than an attorney. As a result, I am understandably more distanced from casework and have yet to be in a courtroom. So far, I mostly meet with DACA recipients to renew their status. I have around two or three of these meetings every day. Despite my frustration with the current state of DACA and the responsibility that comes with conducting renewals, this is my favorite aspect of my work here. I love directly helping and interacting with immigrants. When I am not doing renewal meetings, I am often inputting client data into a system called Law Manager or completing projects that attorneys or paralegals need help with. For example, I completed a criminal history chart for the attorney-in-charge of the Unit. That was a new experience for me and was a great way to ask questions of someone very knowledgeable in the field. 

My internship is right near a pier where you can see the Brooklyn Bridge!

I have already learned so many important things at my internship, some pragmatic and some personal. Even though my internship is only eight weeks long, I believe that the knowledge and lessons acquired here are broadly applicable to every aspect of my life. Sure, knowledge about immigration law is more useful in some contexts than in others, but my deepened empathy for immigrants and any American who is stigmatized, underrepresented, and neglected solidifies my own personal desire to continually fight for civil rights and equal treatment. This has implications in every facet of my life and can manifest in many forms, including combating everyday micro-aggressions, improving the political sphere and public policy, and promoting empathy in my interpersonal relationships and in educational discourse. By practicing empathy in my day-to-day life, I know that even after the conclusion of my summer internship, I will be exercising the Legal Aid Society’s greater mission and carrying on their legacy.

-Alison Hagani ’22

Post 1: Revitalizing the Main South Neighborhood

Main South is a vibrant, diverse inner-city neighborhood located in Worcester, Massachusetts. However, it deals with its fair share of challenges, such as a plague of gang activity, drugs, and prostitution, which has taken a toll on its social-economic status and physical condition, from abandoned lots to fire-damaged buildings. On a mission to revitalize the neighborhood, the Main South Community Development Corporation (CDC) is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization that provides quality affordable housing and economic opportunities for low and moderate-income families. 

The Main South CDC has developed over three hundred units of housing, has sold sixty-eight houses to first-time home buyers, and currently manages two hundred affordable rental units. The Kilby-Gardner-Hammond Neighborhood Revitalization Project, one of the many projects of the Main South CDC, has helped to create Clark University’s athletic complex and a new Boys & Girls Club facility. With each improvement, the Main South CDC hopes to change community members’ perceptions and the overall quality of life in the neighborhood. Throughout the process, the Main South CDC has involved many members of the community, and, as a member myself, I desire to be a part of such an important mission. 

This summer I will be assisting Casey Starr, Director of Community Initiatives at the Main South CDC, with place-making and the activation of public spaces. Our goal is to plan and coordinate free family-friendly activities in public spaces in the neighborhood. Main South CDC aims to “take back” spaces deemed unsafe by community members, such as parks and vacant lots. To “take back” a space means to create functionality and comfort in a public area that is struggling with a spoiled reputation because of illegal activity.  Often in inner-city neighborhoods, these spaces are vital because not everyone has a backyard. Not to mention, the Main South CDC hosts monthly neighborhood meetings to address community members’ feedback and concerns with a city elected official and police officer always in attendance. I plan on attending a few neighborhood meetings during my time with the Main South CDC.

The Main South CDC programs are what we like to call Summer Saturdays, which are multiple activities and programs held on Saturdays. The various activities target an extensive age range starting at age zero with the Worcester Family Partnership Early Childhood Playgroup to the predominantly elderly presence at the Farmer’s Market. The Summer Concert Series held on Wednesday nights at University Park  is a community favorite event with cultural music that speaks to the diversity of the community. Additionally, the newly renovated Castle Park programs fitness circuits run by the YWCA, Recreation Worcester Summer Camp, and capoeira on Saturdays as well. All programming works to create a safe and lively atmosphere.  

To ensure community members are aware of the many different activities, Julia Dowling, my co-intern, and I will promote programming through social media, emails, flyers, direct calls to residents, and signage on bulletin boards. It is essential to get the word out because these programs are implemented to accommodate the needs of children, adults, and low-income families.  In this day and age it is safe to say social media is an important tool for promotion, which is why I will also be responsible for managing the Main South CDC’s Facebook and Instagram. As I attend programs and events, I will make sure to capture the fun and share it on both platforms.

Post 1: Learning our Courts with Alliance for Justice

How much do you know about our courts? I’m not talking about just the Supreme Court, but our district courts and circuit courts, too. Almost every week, new judges are confirmed to the federal courts for lifetime terms, able to exercise their judgment on workers’ rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ discrimination, and more. And very few people are paying close attention.

Alliance for Justice, my internship site for this summer, is focused on ensuring our courts are fighting for people’s protection, and does so in two important ways. First, our team researches the records of every federal judicial nominee so people understand who they are and can oppose them if necessary. Then, more generally, we work to increase the visibility of the courts and their importance at every stage of our political process.

Working with the outreach team this summer, I have been responsible for making our mission better known to our partner organizations and those that want to work with us. Alliance for Justice represents over 130 organizations on issues of justice in the courts, but not all of them are engaged in this issue. This summer, I will be bringing them further into the fray of the work we do. Through webinars, lunches and other events, I’m hoping to bring our organizations closer to our work and empower them to speak up with us when harmful judicial nominees are presented to the Senate. We’re also going to other organizations to encourage them to talk about how the courts affect their work.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) speaking at the Center for Popular Democracy’s Stronger Together DC Benefit.

We also want to engage everyday citizens in this work. Most people don’t understand the power of nominating federal judges–but the current administration certainly does. To bring some power back to the people, we hold events in the community like book talks, lunches, and, most recently, trivia!

In June, we’ve held events on and offline to raise awareness about the intersection of LGBTQ+ rights and the federal courts. So many landmark decisions about LGBTQ+ discrimination started in the courts, and so many of the nominees to the federal bench today have atrocious records on LGBTQ+ rights. Our trivia night highlighted judicial powerhouses in protection of LGBTQ+ individuals, some horrendous nominees, and other activism in the spirit of Pride month.

Because the judiciary is the least well-known of the branches of government, half the battle is getting people to know, and the other half is getting them to care. Fighting against the tide of horrible judicial appointments is certainly an uphill battle, but Alliance for Justice has been influential in opposing, and in some cases halting, the appointment of conservative judges. The small steps of holding trivia nights and courting member organizations leads to a broader coalition of people paying attention, which leads to strong opposition to nominees like Matthew Kacsmaryk, a recently confirmed nominee who has implied that transgender people are “delusional” and that Obergefell v. Hodges, which established marriage equality, was poorly decided.

One of our employees posing at our well-attended Justice Trivia night!

In the past two weeks since starting here, I have learned so much about how we can fight to protect our courts. On my first day, someone said, “Even if we can’t prevent these nominees from being confirmed, every day they aren’t on the court is a day someone’s case is decided more fairly.” Everything we do to stall a confirmation protects an individual who would not have otherwise received fair judgment. Those wins are just as important as getting a nominee to withdraw entirely. That is how we make the change we want to see.

Post 1: Lines for Life, Preventing Suicide and Substance Abuse

My name is Kaya Bothe and I am a rising junior studying Health, Science, Society & Policy and International & Global Studies. This summer I am interning with Lines for Life, a nonprofit in Portland, Oregon that focuses on preventing substance abuse and suicide. Lines for Life has many different crisis lines (youth line, military helpline, suicide lifeline, alcohol and drug helpline, and senior loneliness helpline), as well as a prevention team. I am interning with the prevention team, which works to combat many social injustices that the residents of Oregon experience. Suicide and drug addiction affect different groups of people disproportionately, and Lines for Life works to support all groups of people, as well as to work with the broader community to change policies and educate the public and health professionals.

Throughout my internship thus far, I have not stopped learning and I am responsible for many different tasks and projects. In the first two weeks of my internship I was given lots of tasks right from the get-go helping to finalize and plan the Oregon Opioids + Other Drugs, Pain + Addiction Treatment (OPAT) conference. I was invited to attend the conference and listen to the speakers as well as help to put it on during the third week of my internship. The week before the conference I read the book Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, who was the keynote speaker of the conference. I got to meet him as well as help sell his books at the book signing. Along with attending a large amount of presentations over the three-day conference, I also was able to learn about what it takes to put on a conference of this scale and was able to help with registration and other day-of needs.

This is a photo of my coworkers from Lines for Life and I with David Sheff, the author of Beautiful Boy and keynote speaker from the OPAT conference

Now that I am back from the OPAT conference, I am focusing on research to create a website for the state to provide statistics and resources to Oregon residents on suicide. We are going to separate the website into different pages. We will have information for health care professionals and teachers, as well as different high-risk groups such as Native Americans, elders, youth, people of color, veterans, the LGBTQ+ community and more. I have a huge role in this project as I have been asked to research these different groups of people and find Oregon-specific statistics. I will then eventually create a fact sheet composed of all my research. I am also in charge of gathering resources that will be added to the different pages. After I have finished the research, I will compile everything and write it up into something that eventually be put on the website.

Along with research and helping my coworkers with their projects, I have been invited to many different events and outings. For instance, just today, I went to a press conference where Congresswoman Bonamici spoke about the new legislation, The Safe Disposal of Opioids Act, just passed by Washington County, the first county in Oregon to require pharmaceutical companies to provide a safe and accessible way for people to dispose of unused and/or expired prescription opioid pills. This was really interesting to me and I got to see many important people, along with the CEO of Lines for Life, speak in front of people and news crews. This legislation is a huge step for Oregon, as hopefully other counties will follow and the whole state can in the future provide safe drop boxes. I have learned that there are so many different steps that need to be taken to end the opioid epidemic, and this is just the starting point with so much more work to be done.

Throughout all of this, I am learning more than I imagined I ever could at this internship, and my interest in the field is continuously growing as I see the inspiring work Lines for Life is doing to combat suicide and the opioid addiction epidemic.

Post 1: Legal Life Against Crimes in the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office-SIU-AFU

The Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office (MDAO) serves the largest county in New England. It prosecutes more than 39,000 cases a year divided among 12 district courts, 4 juvenile courts, and 2 superior courts across 54 diverse cities and towns. Its core mission is to protect and serve the people who work, live and raise their families in Middlesex County. Interns work directly with Assistant District Attorneys, Victim Witness Advocates, Paralegals and others to pursue this mission through exhaustive investigations, unassailable prosecutions and compassionate victim advocacy.

MDAO can be generally divided into five units: Appeals & Training Bureau, Child Protection Unit, Elder & Disabled Unit, Homicide & Unsolved, and Special Investigations Unit. I was assigned to the Special Investigation Unit (SIU)-Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU). This unit deals with asset forfeiture, which is a powerful tool used by the Commonwealth against criminals and criminal organizations to seize their ill-gotten gains or their assets connected to criminal activities. AFU is a part of SIU, which investigates and prosecutes organized crime such as public integrity, corruption, cybercrimes, and drug trafficking.

My major tasks for the summer are to: (1) Draft legal writings such as complaints, motions to dismiss, motions for default judgment, oppositions to motion to vacate, and draft and respond to discovery requests; (2) Reconcile/audit data through DA’s office files, MDAO’s data management system, and Mass Trial Court Website; (3) Conduct research, draft and update 50-state-survey on asset forfeiture; (4) Assist trial attorneys with casefile storage, trial preparation, and general administrative support; (5) Request, track and update receipt of case-related documents; and (6) Review reports and evidence, i.e. 911 calls, turret tapes, video recordings, and jail calls.

Sometimes, other units in the DA’s office would “borrow” me for other projects, such as jail call monitoring and translation. In addition, as a non-legal intern, I have also done two mock trials for legal interns, one time as a witness and the other as a juror. What’s more is that all the interns in the office, no matter legal interns or non-legal interns, will receive training on a regular base. So far, I have received training in Asset Forfeiture, Victim-Witness Advocacy, Children’s Protection, Juvenile Prosecution, Reflections on Policing, and Appeals Court Training in selecting cases, drafting and finalizing opinions, and selecting judicial clerks.

Among all of what I do, my favorite part so far is to do forfeiture intakes. Each intake includes a police report, and each report contains the narrative of the story. It is interesting to read those stories (a large portion of them are of drug dealers), some exciting and some terrifying. I am shocked by what people have done and what people could do when I see the list of the crimes they committed based on the defendants’ criminal history. I feel sad and heartbroken when I see stories such as child abuse. However, I know my sad feelings will not stop or prevent these things from happening. All I can do is keep doing what I am doing, including but not limited to what’s listed above.  I believe that every single step matters in serving better justice.

-Carrie Sheng ’20

Post 1: Supporting the Survival of Indigenous Peoples

Cultural Survival is an organization that advocates for indigenous people’s rights to their cultures and self-determination. It works to support indigenous communities internationally by supporting community radio programs, hosting bazaars where artists can sell their work, and publishing articles about the work indigenous people are doing in a quarterly magazine and online.

This organization addresses the systematic oppression that indigenous peoples have continuously experienced worldwide by helping to support avenues for indigenous people to express their voices and protect their right to live, and doing so in the ways that indigenous peoples choose.

One project I’ve done so far is to write a short article about the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, which, once a country ratifies, is a legally-binding law that protects the rights of indigenous peoples. In addition to this, I have been transcribing interviews with indigenous people talking about the work they do, so that articles can be written about them. I’ve also been doing some data entry for applications for the small Keeper of the Earth Fund [KOEF] grant.

The KOEF is a fund Cultural Survival uses to support indigenous-led advocacy and community development projects. The projects are submitted by indigenous-led organizations all over the world, and address a range of topics such as land rights, food sovereignty, and language revitalization. The KOEF provides grants between $500 and $5,000, and there have been over 150 applications. Reading through and doing data entry for all these applications, although a small step, is a necessary step to provide funding for these projects. I am learning a lot about the kinds of projects that indigenous communities are working on around the world.

Since I am working in the research and publications department, a lot of what I will be working on this summer will revolve around helping to amplify the voices and stories of different indigenous people and the work they are doing, mostly through doing interviews and publishing articles. Indigenous voices have been systematically silenced over centuries, so writing articles and using Cultural Survival’s platform works to amplify those stories. This helps spread information about the work indigenous people are doing to advocate for themselves and resist oppression, both to non-indigenous people and to different indigenous communities internationally.

These projects and articles are all relatively small steps that are working toward larger change. Ideally, in the future, an indigenous community that is looking for funding to develop a food sovereignty program for their community will eventually not need to look externally for support, because they will have the resources they need already. Hopefully, one day, indigenous voices will not be silenced by governments and corporations. But for now, it is possible to organize, to provide financial support to marginalized communities in a way that works for them, and to amplify the voices of indigenous people.

-Christy Swartz

Post 1: My first week at Massachusetts Interfaith Worker Justice

For the past month, I have been working for Massachusetts Interfaith Worker Justice (MIWJ), an organization based in Jamaica Plain dedicated to building bridges between faith communities and the labor movement. We work in solidarity with a number of important campaigns in the state, including, but not limited to, the elimination of sub-minimum wages for tipped workers, the reinstatement of a progressive income tax in Massachusetts, the prevention of exploitative practices such as wage theft and unfair scheduling, and the protection of immigrants working under Temporary Protected Status. In working with MIWJ, I’ve learned a lot about the special role that faith communities can play in supporting workers rights, by sending faith delegations to company management and utilizing the already existing community networks established by churches and other religious groups. 

Last week I attended a State House hearing to support the end of sub-minimum wages for tipped workers.

So far, my time here has prompted a serious education for me in community organizing, with my responsibilities including attending rallies at the State House, representing the coalition in larger grassroots coalition meetings, and reaching out to congregations to participate in our programs. A couple of weeks ago, MIWJ hosted its annual Faith and Labor Breakfast, where we brought together a number of folks from different congregations, unions, and other social justice-oriented organizations for a celebration of workers and to honor the outgoing director of the New England Jewish Labor Committee. In addition to this, I also had the opportunity to represent Mass Interfaith Worker Justice at a larger grassroots coalition meeting consisting of union organizers, community organizers, and racial justice activists. Attending these meetings and events alongside a wide range of activists and organizers has allowed me to see first hand the intersections of social justice. 

I also feel that I’ve joined the organization at a critical time in which it is seeking a younger, more diverse group of members and partners. For this reason, much of my work here has been centered around connecting the organization with new members and communities. I have also been tasked with helping organize one of our signature programs, Labor in the Pulpits/Bimah/Minbar, where we work to bring workers and community organizers directly to faith communities, often times during services, to speak about their experiences and show people how they can help. With this task, and the broader task of strengthening and diversifying the group’s membership, I feel that the work I’ll be doing for the rest of the summer will be deeply impactful. I’m thankful that I’ve joined the organization at a time where I can make a significant, positive impact on the work they do and the health of their community network. I’m looking forward to what the rest of my time here has in store.

Post 1: From the City/For the City

It’s my first all-staff meeting, and per tradition I have to introduce myself with my name and a fun fact. I rise and say, “Hello everyone, my name is Rolonda and I’m a fourth generation Washingtonian.” That means that my great-grandfather, grandfather, mother and I were all born and raised in Washington DC. In four generations, you would think the city has changed quite a bit, but even in my short twenty years of life I’ve seen the city go through rapid transformation.

New grocery stores, high-end restaurants, and condos are springing up all around the city as a new strategy of “urban development” is being implemented. But with all new structures being created to enhance the new vision for DC, elements of the culture of DC like gogo music, mambo sauce, and even the DC accent are being wiped out completely. Historic residents who are primarily people of color are being rapidly displaced, and DC has become one of the most segregated and gentrified cities in America.

This summer I am interning at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. Legal Aid’s motto is “Making Justice Real.” Legal Aid is an organization that provides a variety of legal services in the areas of housing law, domestic violence/family law, public benefits law, and consumer law to low-income residents of DC. This includes direct representation, legislative advocacy, and education and outreach.

At Legal Aid, I am based in the organization’s intake unit. So far, this has included taking calls from potential clients, having them summarize their legal issue for me, and either referring them to outside organizations or inviting them to intake interviews. I have also been to the district courts in order to file paperwork for attorneys in the clerk’s office, in addition to doing some HTML coding to help the launch of Legal Aid’s new online intake portal. Legal Aid aims to make justice real for those living in poverty in DC. I’m helping contribute to this organization’s mission by being their first point of contact through the intake department. One thing at my internship that gives me joy is seeing one of the people who I spoke with on the intake come in for an interview and have their case accepted by one of our attorneys, and finally get representation.

Quote about justice adorn the walls

To me, progress is little things such as someone having legal representation who otherwise might not have it, and who can now get much-needed repairs on their homes, retain their public benefits, or gain custody of their children from abusive partners. My career goal is to work as a public interest/poverty law lawyer in DC and this internship is the first step on that path.  I have only been at my internship for two weeks, but I’m amazed at what I have been able to accomplish in that time and I cannot wait to see what the rest of the summer brings. I’m working towards making justice real for the people of the city I call home.

Also, for those of you interested in linguists here is an article about the DC accent!

-Rolonda Donelson

Post 1: My Start at the New York State Attorney General’s Office

The view from my office!

I am currently interning for the New York State Attorney General (NYAG) at the Harlem Regional Office. As a Legal Studies minor on the Pre-Law track, I chose to work at NYAG to learn more about public interest law. The New York State Attorney General’s Office’s mission is to serve as the guardian of the legal rights of the citizens of New York, its organizations, and its natural resources. The attorney general is the “people’s lawyer” and the state’s chief legal officer. The current officeholder is Attorney General Letitia James. The office consists of 650 assistant attorneys general and over 1,700 employees that serve in various locations across New York State. With only two attorneys, the Harlem Regional Office is one of the smallest. However, its size does not stop it from handling hundreds of complaints a year and litigating high profile class action lawsuits. Another plus of the office is the great view!

Attorney General Letitia James

At the Harlem Regional Office, my job is to help some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers in two distinct ways. The first role I help with is mediation. Mediation occurs when a consumer comes in with a complaint about a business or a landlord and my role is to try to resolve the case. Each case is different and provides me with new experiences. One example of a complaint the office deals with frequently is landlords not returning security deposits. I get to interact with New Yorkers and learn about different areas of discrimination and the many ways that fraud can occur. The second part of my work at the NYAG is to help conduct research for the two staff attorneys. The research I do is confidential, but what I can say is that the work I do helps the lawyers investigate and prosecute alleged patterns of unlawful discrimination and fraud in a variety of areas, including employment, housing, credit, education, and places of public accommodation. Any research I do, no matter how inconsequential I think it is, helps the lawyers with their lawsuits and ultimately leads to the people of New York feeling safer.

Judge Alison Nathan

Another exciting part of my internships is the speaker series the NYAG puts on. So far, I have had the opportunity to hear from Orelia Merchant, Chief Deputy Attorney General for the Division of State Counsel; Judge Alison Nathan, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York; and former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams. I was also able to hear the inspiring remarks from the New York Attorney General Letitia James when she introduced Judge Alison Nathan! (see photos). Each of these speakers has provided new insights and perspectives about public interest law. Overall, I am excited to continue learning and experiencing new and exciting things at the NYAGs office. I am looking forward to the upcoming speaker series and going to court with one of the lawyers!