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 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.

Further Comments on “Film Comment”

WoW, these past two weeks have flown by! It’s business as usual over here at Film Comment, and our July/August issue recently hit newsstands. My name is on the masthead, which was pretty exciting! One of my main jobs these days is to update Film Comment’s Rotten Tomatoes profile, which is another example of a job that probably isn’t that exciting but I very much enjoy. Basically, I turn the full length reviews into snappy, single sentence summaries that sum up whether the critic liked the movie or not. I’m also spearheading efforts to archive Film Comment’s prior articles, which basically means spending a lot of time in a massive Google Sheets document. Thankfully, we’re almost finished.

One thing I’ve really come to appreciate about this internship is my fellow interns! Writing criticism is a pretty specific type of writing, and it’s not really something that’s taught within Brandeis. Sure, higher ed has given me a lot of tools and shown me methods of breaking down different texts, but it’s not like there’s a class on writing 400 word reviews or why popular criticism is a worthwhile discipline on its own. Meanwhile, my fellow interns here at FC have also spent lots of time contemplating this type of writing, and what makes it special and necessary.

Meanwhile, I’m really loving living in New York City. I had a few speed bumps when I first moved here (including one major, bug related problem), but it’s all smooth sailing here now. I’m from a small town in the midwest (Champaign-Urbana IL, also known as the greatest place in the world), so the hustle and bustle of NYC isn’t exactly what I’m used to. But… I love it! You sort of have to prepare for the worst at all times (and the city never cuts you a break when you need one), but at this exact point, I’m enjoying being on the perpetual hamster wheel. With a little help from my Maps app, I’ve had a ton of fun exploring this endless concrete jungle, and it’s nice knowing I could handle living here.

Between spending time with Brandeis friends, meeting up with other (read: older, wiser and more experienced) writers for coffee and advice, my second job, and my internship, I’m busier than ever, but that’s hardly a reason to complain. I really want to bring this energy back to Brandeis with me – right now, I’m constantly juggling different pieces and working on about six things at once, and I don’t plan on slowing down during my senior year. In fact, I’d better get back to it now!

Jonah Koslofsky

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: 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: 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!

Post 1: My First Five Weeks at the MCAD

The goal of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination is to eradicate discrimination based on race, color, creed, national origin, age, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, and many more categories you might not know you are protected under. Across the commission’s four offices, over 3,000 complaints are investigated each year regarding alleged discrimination in the workplace, housing, public accommodations, lending, and credit. Around 20% of those complaints are for housing discrimination, which is the particular field I work in. Eradicating discrimination in the Commonwealth is a goal as ambitious and necessary as anything a state does, so I am excited to be a part of this mission in as small a way as I am. The other reason I wanted to work in this field was just to observe how people interact with this part of the legal process. Many people, especially in housing, come to the commission without a lawyer and with no intention of getting one. In truth, you do not need one to go through the process and I am proud that the commission does everything to remove barriers of access.

The doors to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination on the 6th Floor of 1 Ashburton Place, Boston. Just beyond the doors you can see two intake rooms where complainants explain their complaint to a staff member that helps them write it up.

The complaint is what kicks off the entire MCAD process. The commission then serves the party that has allegedly done the discriminating and the investigator can do their own fact-finding with both parties. At the end of the investigation, they will write a disposition stating if it is more likely than not that discrimination occurred (probable cause), and I will be helping to write those this summer. If there is probable cause, there are various actions the MCAD takes depending on how the parties respond. The MCAD always brings parties in for conciliation so they can try and settle the case to avoid the more time-intensive and expensive public hearings. If successful, the complainant can be awarded emotional distress payment, lost wages, a reasonable accommodation, alternate housing, or whatever is the most appropriate for the case. I have seen this process a few times and the negotiations are endlessly fascinating to me. The MCAD also often requires respondents to attend training on the law they violated. These trainings are open to the public and do so much to prevent discrimination before it even occurs, helping thousands upon thousands to know the law in Massachusetts.

My work in the housing unit is primarily to help the investigators. I communicate with parties and try to get information that an investigator needs. I help keep the ship running by sending out notices, writing summaries of cases, and updating the case management system so future people can make sense of all the work we do.

The best example of small steps leading to bigger steps is the policy review I do. Disability is the most common protected category which complaints are based on at the MCAD. In certain settlements when the claim revolves around disability, and specifically denial of a reasonable accommodation, the Housing Authority or private owners need to come up with a reasonable accommodation policy, which they send to us for approval. I am the one to first read it and give feedback. I hope this helps to eradicate discrimination by ensuring people get better treatment in the future. Change is providing justice, discovering the truth, and then making sure we do everything to make sure discrimination ends. One case, one training, one policy review at a time.

Post 1: The Constantly Shifting World of Immigration & Gender-Based Law

Having worked for the past year at the Brandeis student-run immigration legal clinic, The Right to Immigration Institute (TRII), this summer I was excited for the opportunity to further develop my knowledge of the immigration legal system at a well-established, multi-city nonprofit: the Tahirih Justice Center.

From my first two weeks of training, I quickly began to realize just how different Tahirih is from TRII despite providing many of the same services, and what strategies I can take back to my work at TRII during the school year. The most obvious difference is that Tahirih only serves immigrant survivors of gender-based violence, and for the most part, only takes a handful of the more serious cases.

This means that any given client must be an immigrant who qualifies for a serious type of relief (i.e. asylum) and has also experienced violence because of their gender or sexuality. This results in a client base of mostly women who have experienced some very serious trauma, and some of them are currently undergoing trauma in abusive domestic relationships that our center helps them get out of.

Entrance of the immigration court building in Baltimore, just down the street from Tahirih’s office, where I will get to observe our clients’ hearings this summer.

Tahirih fills the wide gap of immigrant women who are often unable to get help because many immigration legal organizations are scarce in resources and therefore are not properly trauma-informed and don’t know specifically how to cater to women and individuals who have experienced traumatic gender-based violence. One way that Tahirih is trauma-informed and creates a safe space for survivors is its secrecy and selectivity. The small office is discreet and only accessible to employees and clients, and any potential clients are put through three rounds of phone screenings.

The training period of the first two weeks was extremely in-depth, conducted by the lawyers themselves and through webinars. I learned techniques necessary to help a client feel comfortable in our office and reclaim their narrative by giving them space to tell their story their way– something that is often disregarded in the highly invasive and re-traumatizing immigration process.

As one can imagine in this political climate, the world of immigration law is constantly shifting, which makes for extremely uneasy situations for our clients. Just last year, the attorney general released an unprecedented memo that advised judges not to grant asylum on the basis of domestic or gang violence, and revoked a grant of asylum in a domestic violence case. Last week, Trump tweeted that mass raids and deportations in major cities (including Baltimore, where my office is) would begin Sunday. These changes constantly arise, which keeps interns like me busy.

In response to the deportation threat, one of my projects this summer is to compile a trauma-informed resource guide/toolkit for our clients with families, to prepare in case of deportation. This will include instructions on how to designate another guardian for one’s child, emergency numbers to call, and know your rights guides. There are many family preparedness guides already out there, but most are not trauma-informed or gender-specific. Some of our clients in abusive domestic relationships or with abusive family members may need to create alternative safety plans for their children or prepare in different ways.

I know that my other responsibilities at the office–helping file immigration forms, conducting new client screenings, and meeting with clients, to name a few–help the office run smoothly for this summer. However, I am most excited about this deportation guide project because it will be a sustainable resource that clients can use for weeks and months to come. Nonprofits like Tahirih are so important as the government continues to make it increasingly difficult to navigate the immigration system and increasingly difficult for individuals like our clients to obtain status, especially without legal representation. Tahirih’s lawyers are extraordinarily committed and thorough in their work, and I am excited for a summer of being able to support their work and make their (very difficult) jobs a little bit easier in any way I can.

Eliana Kleiman ’21

Post 1: A Summer Working On Fun Curricula

The PEAR Institute is a nonprofit organization founded as a collaboration between McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School. PEAR partners with school districts, out-of-school-time programs, and youth-serving organizations to promote social-emotional development in the service of student engagement, academic achievement, and life success. PEAR is developing a set of social-emotional curricula for middle-school-age children building upon the Clover model of youth development for educational institutes such as public schools, after-school programs, and other education nonprofit organizations all over the United States.

As a psychology major, I am highly interested in the social-emotional development of children. My academic and career goal is to directly make a positive impact on the social-emotional development of children. As an intern at PEAR Institute, I am getting training regarding the Clover model of youth development and social-emotional development curricula developed by PEAR to understand how to improve the resiliency of high-risk children in order to help them develop effective strategies to overcome challenges in their social and academic life.

The Clover Model of Youth Development

Children in families of low social-economic status are more susceptible to mental health burdens and social-emotional challenges due to family instability, financial stress, and undermined collective efficacy of neighborhoods, while they have limited affordable resources available to overcome these social-emotional challenges throughout the course of development. Furthermore, due to the prejudice, social stigma, and impairment caused by social-emotional difficulties, children with mental health burdens are more likely to stay in low social-economic statuses when they become adults. To ameliorate this social injustice, the PEAR institute contributes to offering professional help to children in need, especially children who cannot afford individual therapy and support.

As a PEAR intern, I am responsible for further developing and refining activities of the social-emotional development curriculum program, which includes setting and adjusting goals according to the Clover model, conducting literature reviews on social-emotional development, and applying research findings and feedback from instructors. In the beginning, I received training on the social-emotional development curriculum and the Clover model of development to better understand how the whole set of curricula works. I will also refine evaluation tools for the curricula and maintain consistent structures of curriculum materials across the Clover groups.

Our goal this summer is to improve the flexibility and attractiveness of the activities in the curricula so that educational institutions with smaller budgets can still run the curricula while allowing more students to benefit from the curricula. With more institutions implementing these curricula, we will be able to observe changes and acquire holistic student assessment data for children who have taken our curricula. This feedback will allow us to refine the curriculum and to improve its credibility with evidenced-based research, both of which will enhance PEAR’s efforts to further promote the curriculum to additional communities and partners.

My internship just started this week and I had so much fun trying out the games and activities of the Clover curricula. I am definitely excited to continue exploring this field!

Post 1: Refugees in Georgia

I work at New American Pathways, which is an organization dedicated to serving refugees settling into the metro Atlanta area, specifically in Dekalb County. New American Pathways provides more than 5,000 refugees per year with the necessary tools to rebuild their lives and achieve long-term success. I chose this particular field for an internship because of my own personal and professional experiences. I come from a family of immigrants and also intern at Brandeis University’s The Right to Immigration Institute (TRII) where I work on policy and assist clients with the application process behind gaining asylum or refugee status.

At New American Pathways, I am less involved with the policy, but still hold an important position in the area of refugee and asylum work. I wanted this experience because it gives me a more diverse portfolio of skills and knowledge at nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as well as within the field of refugee and asylum work. I believe that refugee and asylum seekers’ safety and well-being is critical and should be prioritized in the United States, especially since our military and policies are often responsible for refugee crises.

New American Pathways helps people who have gained asylum or refugee status find affordable housing, jobs, and offers literacy training, job training, and resources for women and children in dire situations. New American Pathways offers distinct programs that all aim to help Georgia thrive while helping refugees merge into the general Georgian populace without assimilating away from their roots. There is a large emphasis on community pride at New American Pathways and the organization employs many people who are refugees and/or who come from similar backgrounds.

I largely work within the finance and administrative aspects of the organization. I am currently planning a gala and helping to find people to fund the important work the organization is doing. The gala is called the Red, White, and NEW Gala. It will take place at the Georgia Aquarium on August 17th.  This essentially entails pouring over spreadsheets, running errands, and contacting people who might donate an item or service for the silent auction, or who might sponsor a specific need for the organization directly.

My work helps fund the organization, as they need resources for many different branches to ensure they provide the best services possible to Georgia’s refugee population – including legal services, family care, therapy, and women’s outreach for their clients. Unfortunately, in a state like Georgia, refugees are a particularly vulnerable population, due to both a lack of financial security and xenophobia. 

I hope to continue my work with this organization for this summer and to develop professional connections I can maintain throughout my entire career.

Post 1: Advocacy and History – Starting My Summer With NCL

This summer I have the honor of working as an intern with the historic National Consumers League, or NCL. NCL is a DC-based consumer advocacy organization with a long and impressive history reaching back to 1899. The League was chartered by Jane Addams and Josephine Lowell, two of the most admirable social reformers and trailblazers in American history. Additionally, Eleanor Roosevelt was a lifelong supporter of the League, even testifying in Congress on behalf of the NCL and serving as the group’s vice president for a period of time. This is an interesting parallel to her role in the founding of Brandeis University in 1948. Justice Louis Brandeis himself had ties to the organization and its founding staffers. Working with the NCL has been a humbling glimpse into the long, interwoven timeline of social justice and reform that I have the privilege of participating in, as both a Brandeis student and this year’s Brandeis fellow with the National Consumers League.

The National Consumers League has been at the forefront of America’s ongoing struggle for worker and consumer rights, dating back to the establishment of eight-hour work days and minimum wage. The goal of NCL is to represent consumers regarding workplace and marketplace issues. The group focuses most heavily on matters of privacy, child labor, medication and food safety. While these topics are of deep importance to the health and success of all Americans, what I appreciate most about NCL is that they advocate on behalf of the unheard. I grew up in a diverse, working class city with a substantial immigrant population. Because of this, I witnessed firsthand how those who are most frequently taken advantage of also face significant barriers to speaking up. Such people often do not have the time, energy, education or opportunity necessary to fight the injustices they face everyday. The National Consumers League works tirelessly to represent all consumers, and I see their work as a vital aspect of remedying social and economic inequality.

I was drawn to NCL because it hones my passion for social justice in a tangible way. Their work creates social change through a variety of methods, both within and without the political system. During my first two weeks at the organization, I witnessed advocacy in action as staff supported the introduction of two major pieces of legislation and continued to work towards their passage. The NCL also has several long-standing programs that educate and protect consumers. One of these is LifeSmarts, a nationwide consumer education competition for high schoolers. Much of my work at NCL will be centered around creating resources for LifeSmarts, in addition to exploring ways to expand the program. I have been able to experience how NCL empowers consumers through my work on LifeSmarts. In addition to my work on LifeSmarts, I have the opportunity to do research projects on vital consumer issues and attend some of the fantastic events in DC on behalf of the organization.

As a Public Policy major interested in a broad spectrum of political and social issues, it is often difficult to pinpoint a professional outlet for my interests. NCL grants me an exciting glimpse into how I can translate my social justice foundation and Brandeis education into a meaningful career. I am excited to learn more about what advocacy, lobbying and policymaking looks like from the perspective of a non-profit while soaking up the excitement of living in Washington.

– Elaina Pevide

Post 1: A System of Injustice

Partners for Justice is a nonprofit organization that operates within the Delaware Public Defender’s Office. The organization’s mission is to prevent or limit the harm of collateral consequences of justice system involvement. We serve clients of the Public Defender’s Office, who are indigent individuals with current or past criminal justice system involvement. Partners for Justice staff serve as advocates to help clients navigate bureaucracies to improve their access to housing, public benefits, employment, medical care and other civil legal needs.

I chose this particular internship because I have always been passionate about the intersection between civil and criminal law and how the access and quality of legal representation can alter someone’s life completely. This internship serves as the perfect opportunity to learn the benefits of pairing civil and criminal legal representation and advocacy in order to best serve our clients.

In the United States, 80% of the civil legal needs of poor people are going unmet— creating what experts refer to as the justice gap. Without legal representation and advocacy, people in poverty face a greater risk of unjustly losing their homes, their children, and their public benefits. Often, the most vulnerable individuals among those in poverty are those who have been involved in the criminal legal system. With a single arrest, charge, or conviction, people who are disenfranchised face further challenges with complicated bureaucracies that can drastically alter their lives. Partners for Justice places advocates to work directly with clients and community organizers to help them obtain quality legal representation and prevent collateral injustices with the criminal legal system.

As an intern for the Public Defender’s Office and the Partners for Justice organization, I conduct client interviews to meet directly with clients facing criminal prosecution in order to obtain their case information and scan for possible civil legal issues that could arise because of their arrest. I also work directly with clients who are in prison, on probation, or facing possible incarceration to help them navigate court-ordered programs, find housing, employment, or obtain public benefits. Most of my responsibilities involve working with the advocates to meet clients in prison or in court to assist them with civil legal issues or bureaucratic challenges.

In addition to this client-centered work, I conduct research on affordable housing, employment opportunities, expungement processes, property retrieval and other services that can help our clients who are at risk of facing repeated injustices.

My work this summer helps the Partners for Justice organization better serve their clients and help them obtain the correct legal documents and qualify for life-changing services such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), Medicaid, or public housing. My work at the Public Defender’s Office helps assist low-income clients who are seeking legal representation for criminal cases.

Organizations like Partners for Justice are crucial in the fight for justice because they are taking smaller steps to advocate individually for underserved populations by providing direct representation. However, they are also taking bigger steps to fight for systemic changes that will help create a more just society moving forward. Partners for Justice directly advocates for criminal justice reform in the legislature, as well as increased affordable housing and other public policy issues that would benefit our clients.

Smaller change or progress comes in the form of a client obtaining a job, keeping their children, staying in their apartment or receiving necessary medical care. However, larger change comes in the way of policy changes that limit the number of arrests made in low-income communities or the ways we choose to rehabilitate instead of punish.

Post 1: Envisioning Progress

This summer I am interning with Divest Ed, a program of the Better Future Project, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit aimed at addressing the climate crisis and the rapid and responsible transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Divest Ed specifically focuses on training student organizers in order to resource, vitalize, and broaden the fossil fuel divestment movement. This past year I have been a participant of the 2019 Divest Ed Organizing Fellowship, and will continue to deepen my work on fossil fuel divestment-related projects throughout the summer with other organizing fellows in my internship.

The 2019 Divest Ed Organizing Fellows at the June retreat (photo by Jordan Mudd)

My experience in the 2019 Divest Ed Organizing Fellowship puts me in a particularly interesting position in terms of my summer internship. Unlike most internships, when I started my first day of work, I had already met all of my coworkers and had actually already spent a large amount of time learning, creating, and making decisions together as a team. The summer internship kicked off with a fellowship retreat, in which myself and other organizing fellows from around the country met for five days to get trained and participate in discussions centering our various fossil fuel divestment campaigns. During this time we practiced consensus-based decision making, learned about principled struggle (informed by the works of Adrienne Marie Brown and Charlene Carruthers) and other important topics, and also made life-long friendships along the way. Oh, and we kayaked too!

Camp Wilmot lake (photo by Shelby Dennis)

This retreat made it easy to transition into a workplace dedicated to imagining an eight-week summer project relating to fossil fuel divestment. Myself and the other fellows decided to split our efforts into two important summer projects: national escalation and reinvestment. Each project has a team of interns that are responsible for creating and facilitating a summer project centered around each topic. I chose to participate in the reinvestment team, and will be working to research reinvestment options and creating accessible resources for student organizers who wish to incorporate it within their divestment campaigns. So far it’s only been a week into our project planning, but we are already generating a running list of ideas to learn more about: financial arguments to engage in, local Boston organizations to start learning from, and a ton of resources created from community organizers who have extensive expertise in this area. It’s both overwhelming and thrilling to think of all the information we are going to be engaging with over the next few weeks, and I for one am grateful to have a supportive team by my side to do it with.

Reinvestment team at work (photo by Jessie Kinsley)

When I first dove into activism, I held the idea that progress looks concrete: laws being passed, resolutions being made, cities being re-envisioned and demands being met. I still do hold that vision, but my time with Divest Ed has taught me to look at progress in a new way. Not only does the work we do have concrete implications, but the way we do them continually encourages myself and others to enact the future we are trying to create. The team that I am working with on reinvestment practices horizontal leadership: recognizing the different skills that we all bring to the table and implementing each one to the best of our ability. My “boss” is very much not my superior, and instead a facilitator who is helping support our vision for our project. And my favorite part of our work culture is the genuine love we hold for ourselves and the work that we do. Envisioning a new, regenerative economy is difficult and stressful work, but my coworkers and I continue to approach each other with compassion and honesty, and the vision follows.

Group hug (photo by Anais Peterson)

I’ve spent the majority of my college career imagining my school’s fossil fuel divestment campaign winning, but I’ve spent very little time imagining what comes after. Through Divest Ed, I’m learning that we must not only envision a sustainable planet, but a sustainable culture that allows for people to form non-extractive relationships with each other and the earth. I’m excited to continue fostering that culture and seeing what it can achieve in the next seven weeks.

Post 1: First week with BWH

I finally start working at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as a research assistant! I am particularly working under the instruction of Dr. Cindy Liu and my mentor Emily with Women’s Emotional Life and Livelihood Study (WELLS):  Psychosocial Health and Well-Being in Chinese Immigrant Women. I was really attracted to this research because there were such few studies targeting the mental status of pregnant women, especially Chinese immigrant women. I was so excited to learn that there are a group of scientists trying to support this voluntary group and I can be a part of it. SoI am here and ready to go!

The purpose of WELLS is to characterize the psychosocial experiences of Chinese immigrant women from Boston’s Chinatown and South Cove in Quincy; to test the moderating effects of social support and resilience on the association between social status and acculturation, and depressed mood and stress. to examine the associations between social status, acculturation, and maternal specific outcomes, including maternal self-efficacy and fetal attachment among women during pregnancy. We already collected data from 60 participants by interviewing them through phone and by asking them to fill out the questionnaires.

Emily said this is MY office :DDDD

For the first week, we were basically focusing on the on-boarding process of the hospital. Emily walked me through the protocol of WELLS and showed me the place to lock all the information that needs to be kept confidential. Through CITI (Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative) training, I got a thorough understanding of the history and the importance of the IRB (Institutional Review Board) approving process, which made me respect more about how precise psychology research can be. I attended the first lab meeting, and learned more about my coworkers and more projects we were working on in the lab. It was really fun to learn about all the interesting findings in the process.

For the second week, I started working on transcribing and translating the interviews of the participants. The work was more difficult than I thought because it required 100% accuracy from the audio, so I needed to go back to the audio again and again. It was really interesting to listen to the experiences shared by the moms who are expecting because you find yourself starting to be compassionate with them when you are doing the work. This experience made me more excited to go to the site and start the real enrollment. Before the enrollment, Emily and another RA Ge helped me go through the script of screening the participants at the site and shared their own experiences about how to address sensitive questions.

The next step for me is to be more familiar with the scripts and going to the site to enroll the participants. The first two weeks went really well and I think I like working as a research staff in a hospital setting.

Post 1: Summer at RepresentWomen

The organization I am working at this summer is a nonprofit called RepresentWomen. A branch of FairVote, this group does advocacy and research focused on systemic reforms that will help more women get elected to public office. I chose this field because I believe that for the United States to be a representative democracy, its government must reflect the experiences, demographics, and values of all of its people.

RepresentWomen is addressing the fact that women, and especially women of color, are underrepresented at all levels of U.S. government. Their strategy is to focus on rules and systems reforms, such as the implementation of ranked choice voting, gender quotas, and multi-member districts. RepresentWomen also does research, like the Gender Parity Index (GPI) and International Report, to track the progress of women’s representation and to figure out which reforms are most effective.

So far, I have taken on the tasks of updating and redesigning the “Women’s Representation by the Numbers” graphic and scaling it for different social media:

I also make other graphics occasionally, such as for the RepresentWomen Twitter page and for a summary/handout I compiled on the International Report.

I also post from the RepresentWomen Twitter account when I am in the office.

I also helped Cynthia, my boss, write and edit a chapter she will be contributing to a book. I wrote about the disadvantages women face when running for office that stem from sexism in the media and in campaign finance.

In celebration of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, RepresentWomen is helping run this year’s Seneca Falls Revisited, which will feature a number of fascinating speakers and guests. I was assigned to write blog posts about a number of these individuals and will be interviewing as many of them as possible. They will be released online leading up to the convention. I have also been helping to update some of the research, including in the International Report, a report of multi-member districts, and soon the GPI.

I will be working on creating audio content in the form of a podcast, largely by interviewing members of RepresentWomen’s board, but also others. For example, I am in the process of setting up an interview with the hosts of Pantsuit Politics. I also will hopefully have the opportunity to use my editing skills to create video content.

I think my work will help further RepresentWomen’s mission by turning their messages into content that people can understand. Everyone takes in information differently, and the more ways I can show people that these reforms to our electoral systems are crucial to the United States being a representative democracy, the more people will support RepresentWomen’s cause. Progress very broadly looks like more women in government, but before we can get there we have to see districts adopting ranked choice voting, political parties and PACs changing their recruitment and funding strategies, and the introduction of gender quotas into U.S. politics. There is a lot that needs to be done, but that also means there are a lot of possible solutions at hand.

Post 1: Bellevue Beginnings – A Tale in Humanity

As I walk the seven blocks to the hospital each morning, I pass the same faces time and time again: the Vietnam veteran sitting under an awning of subway station asking for money and prayers, the man sleeping on a box across from the hospital, and the double amputee bumming cigarettes while holding all of his belongings in a single black duffle bag. Consistency is a foreign topic when it comes to emergency medicine, and these faces have become the only thing I can expect to see on my way to work. Although this is hard to admit, my interactions with these people involve nothing more than averted eye contact and a quick side-step, followed by my own anger for this instinctive reaction. I have been conditioned by society to ignore and even fear these people. But the moment they step into the hospital, everything changes.

Bellevue Hospital is the oldest public hospital in the United States, steeped in history and medicine. It was the first hospital to treat tuberculosis, open a psych ward, and in recent news, take care of an Ebola patient. With over 100,000 ER visits and 460,000 outpatient visits each year, this hospital sees all sides of New York–the good, the bad, and the ugly. But arguably one of the most impressive things about this hospital are the patients: 80% of the patients in Bellevue are from medically underserved communities, and 25% of the patients are either currently experiencing homelessness or have experienced homelessness in the past twelve months. This hospital treats everyone who walks in their door with the same quality of care from the woman sleeping in a shelter to a visiting diplomat.

Homelessness is truly an invisible epidemic, one that Bellevue works so hard to treat with every IV placed or meal provided. Patients have come to rely on this hospital for primary care, a roof to get out of the rain, or just a familiar face. Bellevue has garnered the reputation around the city as the hospital with all of the crazy people, but what people forget are the hordes of healthcare professionals, social workers, and administrators who are dedicated to providing a level of care no other hospital does. Despite this mission, the emergency department is not immune to societal stigmas and assumptions about the “frequent flyer” experiencing homelessness who comes to the ED (Emergency Department) three times a week for a hot meal. Regardless, these are the patients who I will never forget.

One of the oldest gates in front of Bellevue Hospital, dating back to 1890!

As a volunteer and patient advocate in the Emergency Department, I won’t bore you with the details of the grunt work I perform, but my main role is to speak with patients, listen to their stories, and ensure that they receive the care they deserve. What this means is that I blindly approach patients with a smile and hope that they are not in too much pain to speak with me. I have been used as a punching bag (figuratively), a shoulder to cry on, and a confidant. In fact, as I am writing this blog post, a patient whom I have seen in the ED three times over the past two weeks just walked by the window of the café I am in! But it is these interactions that have changed how I view homelessness.

First day in the hospital while getting a tour of the OR! This is by far the most comfortable outfit I ever get to wear!

Remember the Vietnam veteran outside the subway? Well, the moment that he steps into the hospital, he is no longer just a face, he is a story. He is the man I spent three hours with trying to navigate our healthcare system, find the only pharmacy in all of NYC that can fill his prescriptions, and help him obtain a metro card. He is the man who tells me about his travels when he was my age and his first love. He is the man who tells me he would rather be sleeping in a park right now than in this hospital any longer. He is the man who I know I will see again both in and out of the hospital. But in the moment, he is the man to whom I can provide a smile, a conversation, and small moment of clarity in this crazy, complex system.

The intersection between homelessness and emergency medicine is a never-ending cycle that bounces people between the street, the hospital, the shelter and back again. It is well understood that one’s health is dictated by more than just access to healthcare. Ideally, providing someone with stable housing will improve overall quality of life, decrease health costs, and break this cycle. Although this is well understood within the healthcare industry, it is much harder to carry out than providing basic healthcare. Bellevue is working alongside different hospitals and organizations to address this epidemic through housing-first initiatives, which work to find stable housing for patients alongside treating their major health concerns. Working within Bellevue has shown me the impacts of homelessness far beyond the street. I am slowly beginning to understand the system, and hopefully my small contribution to this organization will be just enough to bring joy to one person’s day.

Post 1: The Strive Towards Innovation

This summer, I am an intern at the Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC), a social service organization that ensures the accessibility of resources and opportunities for over 60,000 Asian Americans. Its mission is to promote economic and social empowerment among Asians, immigrants, and underprivileged communities. CPC has over 30 locations and over 50 (and counting!) programs that continue to serve the community, including education to provide adults with opportunities to learn English, family support such as health services, and community empowerment programs used to help individuals plan their career paths.

As a disadvantaged Asian American, I chose this particular field of internship due to its support of Asian Americans. As an active leader in the Brandeis Asian American Student Association, I have a strong determination to improve the injustices that Asian Americans face. There are many Asian families who do not have access to government-funded programs due to the misconception that Asians are the “model minority,” and therefore do not need help. However, companies like CPC support Asian Americans with the understanding that Asians, too, need resources, and I want to be one of the collaborators in reducing the inequalities Asian Americans encounter daily and to better improve CPC’s Education and Career Services Program.

At CPC, my responsibilities are proposing fundraising initiatives and organizing events to increase its sponsorship so that this nonprofit organization has the financial means to continue executing its mission: to assist other Asian Americans in need. The additional donations will help fund CPC’s underfunded programs and contribute toward the new programs. For instance, due to CPC’s lack of inclusion of technology, I determined the need to design a program to further strengthen the education curriculum and expand CPC’s Business Exploration Student Track (BEST) to include a greater focus on technology. In addition, other projects I will take charge of include marketing CPC’s mission to other companies and developing strategies to create lasting mentors for the students.

The small changes in hiring interns and workers with different perspectives lead to greater changes to improve CPC’s assistance to other Asian Americans. As an intern, my small steps of discovering new challenges and problems that this nonprofit does not address will lead me to propose nuanced ideas on how to further develop this company. In terms of CPC, progress occurs when there is an initiative taking place to improve the current programs and develop new projects, extend the audience CPC reaches, and increase sponsorship from different companies. In general, progress occurs when there are assessments made by the company to determine where the improvements should be made and the implementation of these evaluations. Progress even begins when there is a nuanced version of completing an activity or the incorporation of a new rule. The simple act of changing the way someone accomplishes a task or goal will slowly lead to larger changes being made in the upcoming years and, hopefully, the advancement of a company.

For more information on CPC, please visit https://www.cpc-nyc.org.

Post 1: A Good Work Environment Makes a Difference

If an organization is able to live up to its core values even in the busiest of times, you know they are doing something right. United for a Fair Economy (UFE) is doing something right. I couldn’t think of a softer landing into a 9-5 office job than my last two weeks. I flew into the organization at a busy time: it is the end of the fiscal year and the team had just held a training and retreat in the weeks before Zach, a fellow intern, and I began. Despite the hubbub, the office feels like a community. People care that others take time for themselves, they check in on each other, share stories about life outside the office, and the work that we do is done in collaboration.

This atmosphere is important because United for a Fair Economy is an organization built on a long-term vision of challenging the inequitable concentration of wealth in the US, with an eye to the race, gender, and power dynamics at the core of this inequality. UFE understands that this long-term vision can only be accomplished if the people at the forefront of these issues and movements care for themselves and each other. The organization does this by training community organizers in healing and transformative justice techniques, but it also does this by integrating these practices into the ethos of the organization. For me, this was a breath of fresh air.

Zach and I after a skills and goals art project.

Healing justice is a newer addition to the work of UFE, but in September, United for a Fair Economy will be celebrating 25 years of movement-building for economic justice. They do this work through popular economic education, training of movement leaders, creative communications such as infographics and accessible publications on the racial wealth divide, a Responsible Wealth program that mobilizes the wealthy to advocate for economic mobility, and more. I am excited to spend my summer with such a driven, value-based organization that has been successful in turning that vision into tangible skills and action to move efforts forward in a broad, long-listing way.

Our to-do list and inspiration board getting updated by Sara.

I was drawn to UFE because of my studies and movement work in the area of economic justice, not only because it aligned with my personal and academic interests, but because the economic analysis and the broader picture have been missing from much of the individual campaign work that I have been involved in. The work that I will be doing this summer will largely be development work: helping to process donations, preparing for the anniversary celebration, and doing grant research, among other things. I am learning a lot about how an organization like UFE functions, which comes with valuable skills that I will take with me into other work environments. By interning at United for a Fair Economy I am able to support the work of an organization that is invaluable in a national effort for economic justice, an organization that I believe in.

Post 1: Hope Happens Here – Beginning My Journey with Vibrant

Hope Happens Here. I didn’t truly understand the meaning of this slogan until I first stepped into the Bronx Adolescent Skills Center (ASC) of Vibrant Emotional Health. Vibrant provides services to support all people who experience mental and emotional stress in every aspect of life. In addition to Vibrant’s various programs to emotionally support the community, this organization runs the largest national suicide lifeline promoted through the song “1-800-273-8255” by Logic, a famous and talented rapper.

Underneath the umbrella of Vibrant, the Adolescent Skills Center is a home base for students ages 16-21 with emotional or behavioral issues that prevent their educational or vocational success. The clinically-trained staff at the ASC provides numerous resources to support students emotionally, mentally, and academically.

In the few weeks that I have spent as an intern at the ASC so far, my entire perception of mental health has changed. I began my journey by reading through the charts of all the current students either pursuing their high school equivalency diploma or utilizing the vocational services at the ASC in order to get a job. I learned about what seem to be the infinite diagnoses of the DSM-5, as well as the emotional distress and disadvantages of so many people my age.

Within my first week at Vibrant, I shadowed an intake interview with a young girl–almost two years younger than me–who is battling PTSD from being stabbed in what she described as a “gang retaliation” incident. There is no experience more harrowing than learning about the trauma of someone that is so similar to you, and yet, so different.

Though mental health is a concept that is difficult for anyone to master, you can imagine how difficult it must be for a young student from a low-income, high-crime neighborhood to manage their emotional trauma, academics, and career paths simultaneously. On the most basic level, students in low-income areas of New York City are not provided the same educational or vocational opportunities as students in other areas. Vibrant’s ASC battles this social injustice head-on every day.

Pictured: A mural painted in the hallway leading to the ASC office

With each morning that I step into the ASC office, I am stepping outside of my comfort zone just the right amount to encourage and inspire the ASC students as a role model, a friendly face, and a support system as a peer. My personal contribution to the fight for the prosperity of our students is advising three specific students as a peer advocate. I look forward to spending my summer learning the stories of my students and understanding how I can best encourage them to continue on their paths to success.

Mental health, as I understood previously, is a complicated concept. However, since I started my journey at the ASC, I am learning that mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes and that it can completely control–and in some instances damage–a person’s entire life. In tackling the overwhelming concept of mental health, I expect to have many uncomfortable yet inspiring experiences, and I can’t wait to share them with you.

-Lauren Lindman ’22

Post 1: What is Environmental Justice?

Since coming to Brandeis, the need for environmental justice has become increasingly apparent to me not only through my studies, but through conversations with friends, and in passing thoughts. Yet, the reality remains that I do not have a solid definition for what environmental justice means, nor do I know my role in how to best support those suffering most from environmental injustices.

When I embarked on my search for summer internships, I was confident that I wanted to find an organization where I could develop my understanding of what environmental injustices look like, and how to become an ally rather than a bystander. When I came across the Sierra Club’s mission statement, I was immediately drawn to the last line in particular: “to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment.”

A key aspect of the Sierra Club’s objective is to take a stance on both conservation and preservation, and on human rights. While Sierra Club continues to hold outdoor activities, emphasizing the physical and mental health benefits of getting outside, the organization is equally as eager to involve itself in campaigns regarding zero waste and green transportation.

My supervisor, Aileen Kelly, made clear that in recent years, the Sierra Club has received criticism for attending events such as the Women’s March and for participating in rallies for immigrant rights and abortion rights. “They tell us to pick a lane,” she recounts, and follows by announcing to the group that in order to be an ally for people facing environmental injustices, you have to recognize the plethora of other injustices these very same communities face. You have to educate yourself on who will be most impacted by the effects of climate change in the imminent future, and you have to create lasting relationships with people outside of your immediate circles to do so.

One thing that has struck me thus far about nonprofit work is that a lot of it is in constant flow. The Sierra Club’s Massachusetts chapter includes only five full time staff members, and therefore they rely on volunteers and interns to help out. In these past three weeks, I have been assigned an array of projects ranging from researching the amount of solar on rooftops in various communities, helping to launch a letter to the editor campaign on the topic of protected land, and event planning.

Moreover, the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club allows the interns to attend hearings at the statehouse and the staff has been extraordinarily kind in allowing each of us time to sit down and speak with people throughout the office who work on specific areas of individual interest.

I am grateful and excited to learn more about how to be an ally for those facing environmental injustices in my time to come at the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club. And, just as importantly, I will now go forth in my pursuits knowing that no good can come from staying in your lane.

Post 1: How Bellevue Project Healthcare is Breaking Down Barriers

Bellevue Hospital, famously known for its psychiatric ward and colloquially termed as the “loony-bin” by many New York city residents, has an interesting and complicated story. Commonly used in popular culture to derive eerie and gothic backdrops such as in The Godfather, Bellevue has a number of misconceptions surrounding it. Inextricably linked with New York’s history, Bellevue has been a pioneer in the medical field and has served the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich. It has been home to a number of medical firsts and has trained physicians from Columbia Medical School to NYU Langone. Bellevue has impacted countless lives from immigrant families to patients who were turned away by other hospitals. Guided by its “no one be turned away” philosophy, Bellevue has been a haven to some of the most critical patients in New York. For me, Bellevue is home to Project Healthcare.

Project Healthcare provides a comprehensive look at emergency medicine to expose non-medical students to an immersive clinical setting. The program’s biggest goal is to empower students to make well-informed decisions regarding their career. Furthermore, the program aims to curate future healthcare professionals who are well versed in the social determinants of health in order to effectively treat and prevent large-scale health issues. The Bellevue Emergency Department serves a unique and underserved population in Manhattan to reduce healthcare disparities in the state. The hospital treats the highest percentage of  incarcerated, impoverished, homeless, and minority individuals each year, nearly 80% of the state’s underserved population.

Taken after a FDNY ambulance ride along with EMTs Bruno and Danny. We celebrated a busy, yet relatively easy night with quesadillas near midtown.

Project Healthcare interns adhere to a strict schedule of clinical rotations throughout various departments in the hospital. Our primary responsibilities lie in the Emergency Room where we assist doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers with tasks such as EKGs, listening to patients needs and concerns, and monitoring the quality of their stay in the hospital. One shift in the ER, a patient came in with his thumb partially amputated as a result of an on-site construction accident. I spent the majority of this shift speaking to him about his children, tattoos and favorite netflix TV shows to distract him from the hand surgeon suturing his thumb back together. Though the patient was in a great deal of pain, gentle reminders to breathe and the distraction of our conversation improved his experience, as well as aided the physician in his primary goal. Experiences like these have helped me further my personal goal of refining my interpersonal skills in highly stressful situations.  

Project Healthcare interns learning how to run EKGs during our Stop the Bleed! seminar.

In July, Project Healthcare interns will host a community health fair. My health fair topic is aimed at increasing awareness of Breast and Cervical cancer in order to educate the community on the importance of self-examination, early screenings and yearly physicals. My group has adopted a holistic approach to our topic and will provide resources for nutritious food and clinics that can be utilized by the unique patient population at Bellevue. The hope for the annual health fair is to empower underserved patients to make their health a priority and to bridge barriers in accessing health care services.  

Every Tuesday,  I survey a variety of Public Health topics as part of a social medicine course. The lecture series analyzes a variety of real-life situations seen in EDs all over the country to determine the sociological reasons for why they could have arisen. Weekly meetings and discussing case-studies is inherent to the healthcare field. The Social Emergency Medicine course is led by a variety of guest speakers from NYU and Bellevue faculty, staff, administrators, residents and medical students. These meetings are one of my favorite parts of this program and I strongly believe more healthcare providers should become versed in Public Health topics in order to improve the United States’ healthcare system as a whole. For example, the healthcare system has one of the largest  impacts on our environment. By simply educating providers and administrators on the impact of their practices, cognizant steps can be taken to reduce waste and emissions in order to improve the quality of life for millions of people.

Dr. Kelly Duran during her seminar: Homelessness in the ED. This figure is representative of the number of homeless people in the US on a single night in January 2018.

I frequently think about the kind of healthcare provider I want to be. Developing cultural competency is of the utmost importance to me. I want to be able to provide unbiased and accurate care to patients of all backgrounds and identities. Knowing where a patient comes from is incredibly important for addressing their health concerns and bettering their quality of life on a larger scale. Through my experiences in Bellevue’s ED, it is clear to my peers and me how health is socially constructed beyond simple biological factors.

My participation in this program has exposed me to populations that have been systematically neglected and fallen through the cracks of the healthcare system. My hope is to learn how to build bridges with this population and learn how to proactively create an inclusive and accessible environment for patients of all identities. This optimism is shared with my Project Healthcare peers, who are just a subset of the future healthcare providers. Developing cultural competency and learning how to sensitively interact with patients who come from different backgrounds early on is essential for breaking the cycle of systemically neglectful care that has been impervious to our system from the get-go.

Similar to the breaking down the misconceptions surrounding Bellevue Hospital, it is important to realize when stereotypes and misnomers are at play during patient care. Often times, there is more to the story than the first glance. Simple courtesies and an effort to get to know a patient’s personal history does wonders for their care and experience as a whole. Recognizing when unjustified biases are at play will bring the medical community closer to addressing health inequity and strengthening ties with their patients—something I encounter nearly everyday in my position at Bellevue.

 

Post 1: Pushing the Agenda Forward For Wage-Earning Women

The Women’s Bureau was Mandated by Congress in 1920!

The Women’s Bureau is a voice for working women. The Bureau was created by Congress in 1920 to promote the welfare of wage-earning women. The Women’s Bureau has been meeting its mandate by identifying, researching and analyzing the topics working women care about most; pioneering innovative policies and programs to address them; and enhancing education and outreach efforts to raise awareness on key issues affecting women in the workforce. Their two main goals are to reduce barriers that inhibit or prevent women’s access to – and retention in – better jobs, and to ensure women’s fair treatment in the workplace.

My coursework as a legal studies student has exposed me to a wide range of controversies regarding the discriminatory treatment of distinct interest and minority groups. As I dived deeper into my studies and independently read books about systematic workplace discrimination, I developed a profound interest in employment law. Soon thereafter, I realized my passions not only consist of advocating for improved conditions and equal opportunity, but also some day sharing my knowledge and advocacy skills with minority and low-income workers so they can acknowledge a situation of discrimination and subsequently self-advocate. Education and advocacy are entangled, and crucial to banish discrimination in the workplace and achieve economic stability and security. Hence, my goals coincide with the mission of the Women’s Bureau because they publish educational materials that are both concise and comprehensible to the average worker and employer.

Moreover, they empower women by aiding them with the proper tools to self-advocate in the face of discrimination or inequality. Additionally, the Bureau hosts multiple community outreach events and focus groups to understand the impact of modern cultural dynamics on issues concerning women.

I am responsible for assisting on specific project initiatives by drafting policy memorandums to underscore issues concerning women in the labor force, including maternity, childbirth, and postpartum policies and rights. I help compile research and data on current sociocultural and economic issues to support policy initiatives, refine methodology, and expand upon the outlined agenda. Additionally, I attend legislative hearings, interagency workgroups, and community events to understand regional constituent concerns and provide information on upcoming initiatives. I am also expected to collaborate with other regional offices to formulate solutions for community-specific issues.

I have recently been asked to look into issues concerning lactation spaces in the workplace by observing federal buildings, hospitals, and private businesses. By conducting this research and analysis, I am able to discern best practices in lactation spaces that should be implemented to help new moms feel supported during their breastfeeding experience. After addressing these best practices and my research with other regional office coordinators, we were able to refine the objective and ultimate goal of my project. My work will hopefully help the Bureau encourage management and other personnel to create effective and comfortable lactation spaces for nursing moms. Additionally, by devising a best practices/educational fact-sheet for supervisors, I hope that this will encourage dialogue and more training surrounding lactation rights provided under the law.

I look forward to continuing my work on this project and also helping the Bureau in some other areas of focus, such as occupational licensure reciprocity in various states. I hope the preliminary research and analysis I conduct this summer will help the Bureau continue to advocate for change and push the agenda forward long after my internship is over!

Post 1: The Start of My Summer at United For a Fair Economy

 

A view of 184 High Street (the building on the right), the location of UFE’s office

This summer, I’m interning with United for a Fair Economy (UFE). My discovery of UFE was pretty serendipitous; I was browsing the list of WOW Social Justice internships and came across the posting for this internship. Even though I have relatively little prior experience working for economic justice, as a student from a working-class background, UFE’s mission is incredibly important to me. My grandparents worked on dairy farms, in paper mills, and in shoe factories. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any organizations like UFE aiding them in the fight for fair pay, progressive taxation, and a more equitable economy. I hope that by interning at UFE I’m able to advance the cause of economic justice and help workers like my parents and grandparents.

According to their website, UFE “challenges the concentration of wealth and power that corrupts democracy, deepens the racial divide and tears communities apart.” UFE takes a multi-pronged approach to the fight for economic justice; their three main programs are Economics for Everyone, the Responsible Wealth Project (RWP), and the Inclusive Economies Network. Economics for Everyone uses popular education to equip people with tools they can use to identify and fight economic injustices. One of UFE’s most important popular education initiatives is the Training of Trainers Institute, which is held biannually and is targeted at organizers working against economic injustices. I haven’t yet gone to a Training of Trainers, but I hope to attend one at the Highlander Center in Tennessee this fall.

In addition to holding trainings, UFE also publishes infographics, reports, and books. One of their most important reports is the State of the Dream Report, an annual report that deals with a topical issue and its relationship to economic justice. The 2019 State of the Dream Report details how the US disaster response system fails economically disadvantaged people and worsens economic inequality.

The Responsible Wealth Project connects high-income earners to fight for economic justice. In the past, members of the Responsible Wealth Project have lobbied for more progressive individual income tax rates, fought for the preservation of the federal estate tax, and filed more than 100 shareholder resolutions to hold corporations accountable.

Unlike Economics for Everyone and the RWP–both of which are based in Boston–the Inclusive Economies Network is based in Durham, North Carolina, and is fighting to increase the state minimum wage to $15/hour. 

The cover of UFE’s 2019 State of the Dream Report

As a development intern at UFE, a large part of my job so far has been processing donations, entering donor information into the UFE database, and brainstorming ideas for UFE’s 25th anniversary celebration (on Friday, September 13th from 6-9 pm at Old South Church in Boston!). I’m especially grateful for the opportunities to learn more about nonprofit finances, as I’m interested in working at a nonprofit in the future. UFE is unique among nonprofits in that it receives a very large share of its money from individual donors, and not from grants.

Learning more about UFE’s finances has really underscored the importance of cultivating and maintaining donor relationships, especially for an organization that relies mainly on individual donations. My role in cultivating and maintaining donor relationships is the primary way in which I have furthered UFE’s mission so far. A donor who feels valued is far more likely to contribute to again, and a healthy, growing donor base is needed to run a successful nonprofit. 

Overall, my first week at UFE was pretty great. I’ve been really impressed with how accessible and thoughtful the UFE staff have been. Madeline (the other UFE WOW intern) and I had meetings with most of the team members during the first week, and they were all incredibly welcoming and willing to answer any questions we had about their work. They take their mission to fight economic injustice incredibly seriously, but they’re also able to have fun and not overwork themselves. If my future workplace looks like UFE, I’ll be more than satisfied. 

My Last Month at Columbia

Towards the end of my time at Columbia, a lot of my boss’ and my energy was put into a paper that she was working on for an academic journal that is based in Cuba. It was focused on International Relations and Cuban Studies in the United States. In order to best depict the essence of the work, the abstract is as follows: “This essay examines the development of the field of International Relations and the major analytical frameworks and paradigms employed, together with their influence in Latin America including Cuba.   The paradigms most commonly employed are realism, liberalism, constructivism, Marxism, feminism, The English School, and non-paradigmatic constructs.  The most influential universities and scholars in the US and Latin America are noted, as are major debates, including the role of International Relations in analyzing foreign policy related to Cuba.”

 

My last couple of weeks at Columbia were absolutely bitter sweet. I worked a lot of extra hours at my boss’ home, sorting through her personal library. The first photo below was taken one evening at my “desk”, (her dining room table), where I spent a lot of my time.

The second image is a screenshot of a page of data that I put together that was ultimately put in the final publication that was mentioned above. I was so happy and excited to see my name at the bottom in the fine print!

 

I will miss my boss terribly and am forever grateful for this experience and for the wealth of knowledge she has given me. Thanks to Hiatt and the WOW/EL fellowship, this experience has truly solidified my desire to pursue a career in academia and specifically, a PhD in Latin American History or Politics with a focus in Cuba. Although I have done several internships in different cities and across different fields in the past, this summer has most definitely been the most instrumental to my personal and professional growth. It was incredible to work solely on projects that I am passionate about and can see myself pursuing in the future.  I would recommend applying for this fellowship to anyone and everyone who has a passion! Many thanks to Hiatt!

4: Law as an Instrument for Change

During my time at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, I have learned a tremendous amount. I have expanded on my knowledge of the legal system, and have learned a great deal about myself and others. In working at the Bureau, I have interacted with many individuals, of varying backgrounds and in diverse situations. I have gained perspective on the realities faced by many of those who are in need of legal aid, and have realized just how significant the need for legal aid truly is. My firsthand experiences with our clients’ difficulties and frustrations has taught me how to be persistent, yet patient and kind while helping others.
Through conversing with and assisting student attorneys, I have gained valuable insight into the legal field and what law school entails. Ever since I was a little girl, I have always dreamed of attending law school and becoming a practicing attorney one day. Up until this summer, I had never really understood the significance of my childhood dream. My limited exposure to law and the legal profession created a vague and unclear understanding of what it meant to be a lawyer, and as a young undergraduate student, I had yet to figure out what it meant for myself. While I have always viewed law as an instrument, a catalyst for change, and a means to protect and improve the lives of others, my perspective was still limited. Through my work at HLAB, I have finally come to understand what it genuinely means to be a lawyer.
In many forms of media today, whether it be a movie or a classic television show, it can be observed that lawyers are commonly portrayed to be bossy, pushy, aggressive and elitist. Some of the most infamous stereotypes of lawyers suggest that they are power hungry emotionless beings who thrive on pointing fingers and arguing for argument’s sake. Despite these negative portrayals, I was fortunate enough to see the rare and scarcely highlighted attributes of a lawyer, the honest ones that media is not clever enough to feature. The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau displayed a very different image of a lawyer. At HLAB, our practicing student attorneys and attorneys engaged in law from a client-centered stand point. Quality legal representation is frequently a privilege, only accessible to those who are fortunate enough to afford it. At the bureau, individuals of all socioeconomic backgrounds were given access to quality legal representation. The organization presented legal services in a different light, one which assured that quality legal representation was accessible to all, and given in a manner which supported and empowered our clients.
I have assisted student attorneys with various tasks on numerous cases. I have seen clients go through the process at HLAB from start to finish; from seeking legal aid, to eventually going to trial and receiving a judgement or reaching a final agreement. Whether it is a mother regaining custody of her child, or a family who was about to be homeless regain tenancy, I have seen for myself how law can be used to change lives for the better.
My time at HLAB has highlighted my passion for pursuing a career in the legal field. It has confirmed my desire to go to law school and eventually pursue a profession in public interest law. Until I had first-hand experience with cases and clients, and had witnessed how lawyers can use law to change the lives of their clients, I had not understood the true potential or depth of law as a means for change. One day, I aspire to take an integral role in using law for such positive change.

Post 5: What I Have Learned

What have I learned about social justice work?

Activism is the keystone of social justice work, but there are so many layers to being a good activist. You have to be patient. You have to be open-minded, motivated, hard-working, sociable, emphatic, and organized. You have to be good at communicating. These are the characteristics I knew I had to have to be a good activist before I started working at Interfaith Worker Justice. I did not, however, have the chance to see if I had them and if not, work on them before.

Sarah, my supervisor, thinks that there are a few skills and qualifications that are important for this job: ability to motivate and persuade people, particularly people of faith to join the fight for worker justice and motivational speaking skills.

I saw my capacity to be a good activist at Interfaith Worker Justice. I acknowledged my weaknesses and strengths.

I acknowledged the power of religion in mobilizing people. I saw the option of having religion and religious people in the action space and the conversations. I saw how significant religion and its message could be.

What kind of impact did I have on IWJ in the time I have been there?

At IWJ, I constantly engaged in conversations about activism with my colleagues and my supervisor. What I believe I added to the conversation is the experience I had in Turkey. Pointing out the differences between the two practices and explaining how and why activism is the way it is now in Turkey was what I brought to the table at IWJ.

This I believe was also important to show and highlight the peculiarity of  practices in the action space in the United States–almost like a reminder to the people with whom I engaged in conversation.

What do I know now that I wished I had known when I started? 

I wish I had known how difficult it would be to travel in Boston using public transportation. I wish I planned better and payed less to UberJ

Boston’s public transportation is neither fast nor easy to manage but planning ahead of time would definitely help.

What advice would I give to someone else who wants to pursue an internship or career in my organization or field?

It will sound cliché but learning and getting the most out of IWJ is up to the person who is working. IWJ provides you with opportunities and it is up to you to get something out of it. My suggestion for the next intern would be solely “do and learn as much as you can!” Educate yourself, go to talk to people, ask questions, read and think about the power dynamics!

On top of preparing intellectually, I would recommend preparing mentally and physically. Be ready not to have a fixed schedule. Be aware that you will not be able to make spontaneous plans. Keep in mind that you will travel a lot to go to meetings and congregations. Thus, organize and schedule your time wisely. Prioritize your health. Know that IWJ prioritizes its workers health.

– Ece Esikara

Post 5: Reflection

This summer internship was extremely eye-opening and rewarding. From meeting with TriMet leadership to grassroots organizing to arranging and managing events to raise public awareness, I’ve learned where resistance in social justice issues can arise and I have learned the dependency of these issues have on big decision-makers. Many social justice issues involve educating the public, as many people may not be aware that these issues exist in the first place, and education is the first step in almost any issue. People must be aware or admit that it is a problem before anyone can start the first steps to move forward to make change.

I have seen the power that education can have on a community, as my internship revolved around discussing the problems of diesel in Portland to individuals, writing Letters to the Editor to educate news-readers, testifying in front of the committees of TriMet to discuss their role in leading Portland to reach ambitious climate goals, and in return, others educated me in many ways.

My internship was essentially a cycle of spreading awareness — educating individuals, gaining support, and then educating TriMet leadership of this support for electric buses and decreasing diesel emissions in Portland.

While no final decisions about committing to battery electric buses will be made until this coming year, I know that more people are aware of the diesel pollution issue in Portland. It is rewarding for me to know that there is a movement in the minds of Portlanders, and individuals are able to make a difference in their day-to-day lives as well.

The only advice that I would give to someone who is pursuing an internship in this field is to learn. Do your own research until you understand front-and-back whatever it is that you are campaigning about. When teaching business owners with businesses located along bus routes about diesel emissions, I received a multitude of varying responses and questions. I realized, sometimes the hard way, how essential it is to be prepared. Sometimes I didn’t know how to answer questions. Having straightforward and clear answers to each question or concern shows that you really care and in turn leads to more confidence, which is essential in grassroots campaigning and any discussion with people who are working with you. It is essential to speak up when leaders may attempt to work around answering the question instead of being straightforward, and that takes knowing what you’re talking about front-and-back to be able to speak up in front of others and have the confidence to know what you’re talking about.

People can see through you if you don’t care about your campaign, and no social justice issue can be ameliorated unless you really throw yourself into it and are passionate about it.

– Mahala Lahvis

Post 5: Final Reflection

What have you learned about social justice work?

With one of the younger Samsungwon children

It’s sometimes hard to completely explain what one’s gotten out of an experience; however, with this internship, it’s different. The students call me 선생님 (sungsaengnim, teacher), but I’m the one who’s learning. My time with the children at Samsungwon will end after breakfast, but I’ll always remember their faces, their kindness, their humility, and their love for one another. Explaining all I learned about social justice work would take me well over the five hundred word limit, so for now, I’ll say that social justice work is HARD, but one hundred percent worth any troubles. Our work helps others – what more could we ever ask for?

With YeJin

Impact on internship organization?

My direct supervisor has repeatedly emphasized that without my presence, running Dream Camp would be impossible. The three board members (our president, chief administrator, and a general member) visiting Korea had other business matters to attend to besides the Dream Camp. That left me to create the foundation for the budget, camp schedule and details. Of course, everything went through my supervisors, but I was tasked with all the research. It was a lot of work, but so rewarding. As I write this, the camp starts tomorrow (August 6 in Korea) and I’m so excited to see everything we’ve planned for the past two months come to fruition.

With a partner organisation’s college scholars & KKOOM college scholars
With college scholars from Samsungwon Orphanage, one of the two orphanages KKOOM most closely work with

What do you wish you’d have known?

Thanks to having experience running other events, there weren’t too many things that shocked me. Planning multiple-day events takes a lot of kindness, patience, and flexibility. To anyone who is planning a camp for the first time, the suggestion I’d stress the most is to go into it with an open mind and an open heart. You’ll meet people who have very different ways of thinking and planning and sometimes, their way is better than yours; other times, the reverse is true.

Advice to others?

Little things make big connections. I’ve learned a lot from interacting with our different board members. Our president, Aimee, has most of our connections in Korea, and she made them by choosing to explore the world beyond the one created by her Fulbright program. Our chief ambassador, Grace, has the gift of being able to strike up conversation with anyone around her. In America, every taxi ride we took, she handed out a business card. in Korea, she always managed to bring up the work and why she does it while riding from place to place.

Aimee (president), me (intern), Grace (chief administrator), Bill (board member)

I’ve had the opportunity of meeting several representatives from our partner organizations. I’ve also met a few former KKOOM volunteers. Listening to their stories and learning from what they share provides invaluable new perspectives.

With any organization or field, especially if one enters without prior experience (or even with experience), it’s crucial to listen more than talk.

Working abroad is no easy task

Volunteering or working abroad is not an easy task. You find yourself stepping out of your comfort zone, traveling miles before reaching your workplace, communicating with people who do not understand your language and all of that might seem very hard.

The two months I spent in the Ivory Coast have been the best two months I have spent working at an internship. My two months were full of experiences and a dream come true. I found myself being challenged emotionally and physically everyday.  Due to certain conditions, I was forced to think fast because mistakes cost too much. I found myself challenging some of the people in the hospital to treat people/patients in more humane ways no matter what their social status was.

There were many times when everything seemed difficult to manage; like waking up early enough to reach work before 8:30am when commuting is about an hour and thirty minutes.  Or the many times when I left the hospital feeling like I had not done enough for a patient. However, this journey was the most rewarding experience. One of the many important things I have learned this summer is that “an act of kindness does not need to be big , the smallest acts count a lot.”

Four of the medical students I had the honor to work with

During my stay, I met a woman at the hospital who needed care for her newborn son . Her little daughter was there, too. I greeted them and told her daughter I liked her braids.  A couple weeks later, I was heading home when I saw the same lady with her kids on my street. It turned out that we live in the same area. Her daughter, Atta, approached me days later and said she wanted to wear my white coat when she grew up. At that moment, my goal here in the Ivory Coast was met. That’s all that mattered to me, “inspire and be inspired.” I was inspired by many doctors, but mostly inspired by female doctors. These woman fight stereotypes and sexism everyday in the workplace and outside of work. As a woman, I have also experienced many sexist comments. The popular belief is that women do not belong in a hospital, or if they do, they should be seeking positions like nurses and other  administrative jobs. There are not many female doctors in hospitals and during my two-month stay, I met only 3 in both hospitals I worked in. So seeing a little girl look up to me reminded me the many reasons why I decided to take part in this internship, and I could not be more grateful.

As my journey continues, working in an environment where social justice work is needed, I have learned important things about social justice work:

  1. Everyone can help someone: No matter what you do in life, there is enough room for your contribution .
  2. It is important to practice self care because we can’t help or make change if we do not take the proper time to care for ourselves.
  3. Treat people how you would like to be treated. It’s important to learn how to respect boundaries and communicate in building effective and long lasting relationships
  4. Practice self-reflection and understand the complexities of relationships.
  5. Allow yourself to be vulnerable: it is important to be vulnerable in order to understand, promote and accept change. Putting yourself outside of your comfort zone and in situations that are not very comfortable expand your experience. But most importantly speaking up when we see injustice is the most effective way to educate people on social justice and raise awareness.
  6. Active listening is key to building trust.

To anyone who wants to volunteer abroad, go for it. Be yourself and dive into it.  Walk with confidence, however, be very humble. Be ready to learn from anyone, even the little children. Be as curious as a kid, ask questions, and always be prepared to run in case of an emergency. Be open minded and no matter what your background is, you are learning from these people so be humble and you will have the best time of your life. I hope to reflect and use my skills at Brandeis University and the outside world. I am looking forward to the fall semester, where I will have the opportunity to share my skills with my friends. I am confident that I have grown and I hope to offer my strength  as I continue in my journey of learning, inspiring and being inspired.

Neurosurgeon at Abidjan hospital

– Awa Soumahoro

 

Take Aways from My Time at the Hartford Public Defender’s Office

This past Friday, I completed my final day as an intern at the Hartford Public Defender’s office. While I am excited to enjoy the rest of my summer and prepare for my semester abroad to Peru over the next month, I am a little sad to be leaving behind an office that I have grown to love.

Logo from the Connecticut Public Defender’s website

Through my time here, I have learned a great amount about the criminal justice/legal system in our country and the great inequities that continue to exist within it. As far as social justice work goes, I have learned that it takes a lot of patience and willingness to make sacrifices. It can be hard at times when I consider the future career paths I would like to take, but also the reality that those paths typically involve being paid a great amount less. While there are many lawyers that work in the private sector making at least 3x the amount as the public defenders in my office, the lawyers I work with choose to do the work they do because of their passion for the job. Additionally, I have learned that it requires you to learn and work with people who often come from different backgrounds from your own.

View of Hartford from inside the courthouse

Something that I wish I had known when I started working at this internship last year, now having worked there for two consecutive summers, is the amount of emotional labor that goes into the job. Everyday I would hear stories from our clients and the people I met in lockup, telling me about their circumstances and how they ended up in their situation. I can be a very emotional person so it was hard at times to hear these very painful stories, or hear about the very little means many of the families in Hartford live off of. It was also hard at times as I learned some of the people I would talk to would often lie to myself and other interns if they thought it would help them have a better outcome in court. This was hard because while I have a great desire to help others, not knowing whether some people were being truthful or not made the job incredibly difficult at times.

If I were to give advice to someone else who wanted to start interning at the Hartford Public Defender’s office or at another public service law firm, I would tell them to come in with an open mind and ears. Most of our clients struggle just want to be heard as they often feel they have little voice when it comes to their case. By giving our clients an opportunity to talk to myself and the other interns at court, I hope it allowed some to feel they were listened to and valued.

Picture of the outside of Hartford Police Department during a visit I took while delivering a subpoena with one of the investigators from our office.

For people accused of criminal charges, it may feel like they have no one to support them and that they are looked upon as less than because of something they may have allegedly done. For many of the reasons I have discussed over the course of this summer, I believe the work done at the public defender’s office is some of the most important work done in the legal field. While I am sad to be leaving this office and its amazing staff behind, I look forward to visiting everyone in the future and continuing to do social justice work throughout my career.

Thanks for a great summer!

– Olivia Kalsner Kershen ‘19

WOW Post #1

My name is Devorah Meyers and I am a rising junior at Brandeis University majoring in education. This summer I wanted to find an opportunity to be in a school environment which led me to become an intern at Westchester Day School, a Jewish preschool through 8th grade day school in Westchester, New York. I will be specifically interning and shadowing the principal of the middle school. Westchester Day School is a  modern-orthodox, co-educational school which values both the values of Jewish culture as well as the American culture and be able to infuse them.

This first week, I experienced and saw many aspects of a school which I was never exposed to as a student. I was able to sit in on meetings with individual teachers and the principal as well as grade meetings with teachers and administrators where they talk about what is going on in that grade, ways to help certain students, and challenging things that happened recently. Because of confidentiality of the administration, teachers, and students, there are many things which I cannot share about these meetings. These meetings gave me a new view of being a teacher or administrator. The middle school staff was so united and all brainstormed ways to help out each other. Additionally, I was able to sit in on some of the meetings which the principal had with some students to discuss aspects that they want to change in the school, as well as social and academic issues. These meetings were very surprising to me, as when I was a middle school student I was terrified of my principal and would only go to the office if I was in trouble. Sitting in on these meetings showed me a different way to be a principal in a school. The principal that I am shadowing wants to have a positive relationship with the students and the students as well want to have a positive relationship with her.

Additionally, I have covered many classes in the past week. I did not feel comfortable enough teaching a lesson to the students, so instead, with the permission of the teachers, I gave them work which the teachers gave me ahead of the class period. Although I was not teaching the students directly, I had the opportunity to be in the classroom with the students. This gave me the opportunity to see what a middle school classroom is like, how it functions, the challenge of controlling the behavior of the  students, and seeing the different personalities of students both socially and academically. This is extremely valuable for me as an aspiring teacher to be in the classroom with the students and begin to develop a relationship with a handful of them. I am very thankful for this opportunity and believe that it was very valuable for me to be in the classroom with students.

This is Westchester Day School

In addition to covering classes, I have also had the opportunity to observe classes and teachers. I have seen different ways and methods used by the teachers to teach different subjects and specific students. I have also had the opportunity to talk to the teachers after observing their classes to hear the reasons behind the strategies they use, the students who need more help and attention, and how to give them what they need. This was also very valuable for me to see and do because I was able to see the students and teachers in their environment and observe how a classroom functions. It was also very helpful to debrief with the teachers after the classes so I was able to understand why they repeated certain things, the abilities of the students, and the methods which work best for the class.

I hope through this summer and my projects I will be able to reach my goals of learning about the “behind the scenes of education,” including curriculum development and planning, scheduling, administrative work, hearing teacher’s feedback on their classes, and professional development.

Post 4: Communication is a Skill

Naming every skill I’ve gained in the past eight weeks would not fit in this blog post, and the skills I’m aware of make up probably only half of the total skills I’ve attained.

That being said, my skill that I can confidently say has improved the most throughout the summer is communication/public speaking, both in-person and in writing. This is a skill that fascinates me; it is a skill that is extremely important to have, especially in today’s world with technology and social media when you must stand out from everyone hiding behind a keyboard. You can read for hours, but you can’t master this skill by reading. You can practice time and time again. You can know everything about a problem, and you can know a solution, but if you lack conversational skills, you lack the skills to succeed in many ways.

I’ve met hundreds of strangers in the past two or three months, and the impression that I make on these strangers will either lead to success or to resistance. I’ve learned how to converse with all different kinds of people about the same thing, and in so many ways. In just the category of business owners, I’ve communicated with people from all education levels in regards to electric buses. I’ve also been reaching out to students, chairs of neighborhood associations, TriMet professionals, and other environmental groups. I’ve spoken in a number of meetings and in front of small and large crowds.

Here’s me speaking at the “electric bus happy hour” event that I organized at a local brewery

I’ve learned a crucial point to effectively converse with others is to listen to them. I’ve been in many meetings where I just listen. I’ve attended TriMet meetings, Oregon legislative committee meetings, and I’ve listened to people who have questions or concerns. I’ve learned that each interaction is unique, and the way for someone to understand you is for you to make an effort to listen and understand them.

As a result of this internship, I now feel confident speaking in front of people and approaching strangers and starting conversations. Having strong conversational skills is important for just about everything. For any path, creating and maintaining good relationships is a fundamental skill for success. Developing listening skills is important for school, for jobs, and it is a skill that many people lack (especially in today’s world). Today, it seems like everyone argues but no one listens.

I’m eager to have more life experiences to enhance my communication skills, and I strongly believe that this skill will only grow if you are thrown into uncomfortable situations, like I have been this summer. Staying in one place or engaging with a just a select group of people will limit your ability to grow socially, and I’m inspired to go out of my comfort zone to talk with people who have varying sorts of stories and perspectives.

Last post: Overall internship experience

Interning at The Center Houston during this summer has helped me achieve academic and career goals. Marketing has always been something I had an interest in, along with not-for-profit work. The Center gave me the opportunity to combine two of my passions and become more knowledgeable.

The Center is constantly fighting for social justice. I have come to learn that social justice is something that should be present in every field. However, the reality is that sometimes things are not as we imagine. The Center brings equality and opportunity to grow for adults with disabilities. Coming to work has never been so fulfilling as it has this summer, because I understood the true meaning of social justice and how it plays out in our society. I have learned that The Center fosters social justice by bringing people together! Social justice can be done in multiple steps and the most valuable one is helping someone gain a skill to break away from the injustice.

During my internship, I was assigned multiple projects. However, my favorite project was contributing the idea of hiring a job coach. I believe that teaching skills to clients to obtain jobs is as important as teaching a client the process of a job interview. This idea was something that I contributed to by making a presentation and being part of hiring someone, which was exciting.

The whole idea behind obtaining a job coach is to teach clients how to dress and answer questions during a job interview. We also keep in touch with clients because we want to make sure that they not only get a job, but also maintain it. It’s very fulfilling when a client obtains a job because of all the hard work he or she put into it.

This was my supervisor Breanne Subias

Before starting my internship, I never worked on writing a press release that was going to be read by 11,000+ people. I wish I had known how to write one; however, at the same time it was a good learning experience to grow and learn from the professionals around me. Organizing volunteer events is something I wish I had known before, because of the details and time each one takes. During my internship, I had the opportunity to meet several volunteers whose stories were amazing and who were passionate in giving back to The Center.

Interning at The Center was a very rewarding experience for me. The level of professionalism you are exposed to makes you adapt to a fast pace of work, while recognizing the things you need to work more on. The support system from the departments was something I loved, as well as how my supervisor was always teaching me something new. The staff is welcoming and you are free to work on any project that will help you achieve your academic or career goals.

A career in marketing can be very competitive, but working for a not-for-profit organization with experienced professionals in that field can be rewarding when starting. The network that you are exposed to is large, which means you can reach out to potential mentors who are eager to help you succeed.

This opportunity would not have been possible without the WOW Social Justice fellowship and for that I am very thankful!

Lesbia ‘20

Post 4: Social Justice, But Not for Everyone

For the past week, I have been working at a public hospital in Abidjan called the CHU. It’s a bigger public hospital that has all services. This time I am working in the neurosurgery department, a career I want to specialize in after medical school.

The CHU has its problems and is not perfect. The CHU is bigger and has more space for its patients, but it lacks resources. People with financial burdens usually go there because they can’t afford hospitals like the military hospital, which is a semi-private hospital. Being exposed to and having to adjust to many of the issues that different hospitals face, I have learned important skills. One that I think was very important is interacting with patients, especially in an area where the population is not very well-educated. At first, I saw that doctors tried explaining things to patients but being so overworked and busy, they explained little. Patients were sometimes left confused about their conditions. Before I went home after work, I would go back to the patients to explain medical information that was given to them in clear ways that they were able to understand. Some patients were not very fluent in French. I used my language skills and translated in Madigo for those patients (thanks to my parents for teaching me their language).

hospital
The hospital where I began working.

As a person who is committed to social justice, I also found myself advocating for some patients who needed immediate attention. I loved listening to the patients and empathizing both intellectually and emotionally with them. It made it easier for me to understand their problems and propose solutions while staying professional. Sometimes, I would received text messages from my colleagues on my days off telling me that some patients asked after me and were looking forward to our “end of the day” conversations.

I hope to take the skills I have learned to Brandeis University and advocate for the lives of the underserved and the marginalized. My goals are to receive an education, become a doctor and use my professional platform, or even as an undergraduate student, to be a catalyst in the fight for human rights. I can start this by first going around the world to provide quality healthcare to the underserved.

I am definitely for the idea of making the world a better place. I have access to quality health care any time I want, so I believe these people deserve to have the same opportunity I have. This is very important to me, especially because I lost my aunt at a very young age for the same financial reasons that some of the people on the Ivory Coast are facing. She could have been saved if someone helped her or at least advocated for her life.

I hope to become a person who is grateful enough to give back to the community. I will take my public advocacy skills to Brandeis University which will allow me to fight for human rights, especially for the marginalized groups around the world.  I refuse to feel guilty every time I see someone in need of treatment. I want to sustain a responsible and fair society, and the most powerful way to do so is to study the wonders and miracles of science in my pursuit of a medical career.

– Awa Soumahoro

Some medical students I have met there. Here we were shadowing a doctor in his consultations.

Post 4: Progress from the Desk Space

At the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club I have been gaining much insight as to how non-profit activist groups organize themselves and create real change.  I came in expecting lots of protest organizing and direct, politically charged outreach. While this is a large portion of what members of the Sierra Club take part in, it does not cover what happens behind the scenes in the office. At my work site there are lots of educated, driven, determined, compassionate people all striving towards a common goal: protect the earth and protect the people.  First and foremost each of them has taught me how to take my frustration on a social justice issue and use that to fuel each step we take in reaching towards a better future.

On a more technical note, I gained much valuable knowledge on what needs to happen in the office in order for it to function smoothly and efficiently. These include, but aren’t limited to, skills in Excel Spreadsheets, data analysis, professional communication, organization, and time management.  Sometimes it felt like I would be working on the same spreadsheet for days at a time, and to what end? I admittedly got frustrated because at times it felt like all the hours spent in the office didn’t amount to any actual progress on the important issues. I eventually realized my place in it all, however, would not be solving every hard case of bureaucratic gridlock that plagues this country.

My personal desk work space in the office

Climate change is not going to be reversed any time soon or by any one individual. This took some grappling with in order to come to terms with, but when I finally did I understood that I had so much to gain by simply doing the seemingly mundane paper pushing tasks. All of them make my bosses’ jobs easier, and on top of that the skills I gained will be relevant in almost any future job setting. Some of the more important takeaways included learning about equity and inclusivity challenges as well as being conscious that no organization is perfect, even social justice oriented non-profits.

Ever since I arrived at Brandeis I have been wanting to get more involved with all the social justice activism present on campus, and I think now that I am more familiar with a wider range of what that justice means I can do so with more confidence and capability. Specifically, when I get back on campus this Fall I plan on getting involved with S.E.A. (Students for Environmental Action). As far as personal revelations, this summer I’ve learned that a desk job isn’t my strong suit, though someone has to do it. Furthermore, I’ve learned that I’m passionate about protecting the environment, and I never want to forget to take the time out of my schedule and fight to protect our planet.  While this doesn’t align perfectly with my neuroscience major, I’ve realized that it doesn’t have to. These issues at hand are more important than ever and need everyone’s attention.

Post 5: Looking Back at a Summer with the Sierra Club

In my last post I expressed some of my angst regarding the nature of social justice work in an office setting, but this made me realize the necessity of every small cog and gear in a system. Similarly, with social justice one must advocate not just for their own liberation and welfare but for everyone around them who may not even have the privilege or opportunity to make their voice heard. Every voice matters, so use yours and use it effectively.  With each story of a marginalized experience that you can bring to light, your cause becomes stronger in solidarity and authenticity. There is power in numbers, and the trick is to make sure those numbers, even if large, are representative of the relevant and diverse struggles that require constant awareness and action to address.

At the Sierra Club I have learned much about grassroots efforts specificaly.  They are so powerful because of the amount of voices (the Lone Star Chapter alone has 22,000 members). Similarly, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has increased awareness of systemic racism in the United States as it gained momentum with more and more stories being shared, especially through social media.  #BlackLivesMatter is very distinct from the Sierra Club, however, in that it has no hierarchal structure for organization, purely the voices that choose to use the hashtag.  Such a decentralized movement thus loses the weight of beurocracy and becomes much more focused in its goals. As an intern at my site, I felt like a very small gear in the system, but by now I have learned that the small gears don’t just help the system function, they are necessary for it to function whether there is a central organization scheme or not. My desk work, while semi-mundane depending on the day, made my superiors’ jobs easier as they had less of the number crunching and media reading on their plates. Furthermore, I believe it was a valuable opportunity for my coworkers, because through teaching me the basic ins and outs of the organization and the daily work they do, they got to practice communicating these issues in layman’s terms.  In the office, I provided an increase in demographic diversity as the youngest person (and especially one not thoroughly educated in environmental issues). This lead to many insightful discussions relating the Sierra Club’s work to social justice as a whole, and I genuinely believe was a learning experience for all parties involved.

Sierra Club Clean Energy Coordinator speaking in San Antonio (from @TexasSierraClub Twitter)

If I could go back in time, I wish I had come into the internship with more knowledge of the business and legislation side of environmental justice.  All of the policy and lawsuit side of things blindsided me, and when I first got on site I had a lot of research to do on the current political climate in Texas surrounding environmental issues. To anyone considering an internship with the Sierra Club or other environmental justice organizations I would advise to be aware going into it that you are going to take many losses.  It can be a discouraging field at times, but you’ve got to keep your head up, continue to fight the good fight, and believe in every part of what you are doing.

Post 4: Reflecting on my experience in Berlin

During my time here I have been asked many times about the purpose of my stay. Explaining that I am an intern often invites questions like “Why here?” and “Is this a requirement for your studies?” So I had to ask myself the same questions. Over the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time working independently and have had a lot of time to reflect on my experience and the decisions I have made. Naturally, I experienced many moments of doubt and frustration where I felt the work I was doing was minor and fruitless. In these moments, I had to remind myself that nothing is achieved overnight and small steps can lead to major change. If I am asked now, towards the end of my internship, if I made the right choice, I would undoubtedly say yes!

I came here with certain expectations that were not met professionally, but I feel I have grown in other ways. I learned to become much more mobile, adaptable and patient. I learned that not everything can be accomplished quickly, especially when working with others. I also learned how to work on my own with a lot of freedom.

To be frank, I have yet to discover the magic of time management and what it would be like to actually work within a timeline or stick to a deadline (hence I am submitting this post late!). But navigating that has also been part of the adventure. I was certain that I am not the type of person that would ever work a conventional nine to five, but I have found that there are disadvantages to working remotely in a freelancing type of way as well.  I realized the freedom I was allowed at my work space required me to become a lot more self-disciplined and that freedom was at times restricting because I was unable to use my time wisely and productively.

My view working in Monbijou Park last week

On a personal level, when I decided that I would move to Berlin and work with my internship remotely, I had no idea what to expect and I was thinking that my work life and my social/personal life would be very different. However, the type of work I am doing with refugees has opened my eyes to so many different ways of viewing and experiencing German society as a whole. Whether in a big city or a small town, it has been fascinating to observe the different groups of people who live here and the ways that their lives collide.

The city has also offered me great opportunities to network and meet people from all over the world who are involved in similar work. I have also enjoyed the opportunity to hear from refugees in Berlin and to listen to their stories and think about the different integration methods in a big city versus smaller communities.

Working remotely has proven challenging yet rewarding. I look forward to the adventures yet to come and the experiences not yet lived.

PS: if you ever find yourself in Berlin and want to find co-working spaces here are a few of my favorite places  where hipsterism is at its best:

Betahaus

St. Oberholz

Post 3: What Progress Looks Like

The last couple of weeks have been milestone weeks! Eighty-four businesses have signed on stating they are in support of a fully-electric bus fleet, thirteen neighborhood associations in Portland have signed on, and we had our first happy hour event about electric buses last night at a local brewery! Momentum is picking up, and at a meeting that we had with TriMet yesterday morning, I discovered we might really be getting somewhere. A twenty-two-year, detailed plan for TriMet to transition to a fully-electric fleet may still need revisions, but it will be proposed to the TriMet committee and board in upcoming weeks.

While there are a few complications and logistics that need maneuvering, it’s really encouraging to see a plan, and to see people who work with TriMet and people who don’t–mostly environmentalists–responding to public support around electric buses and creating an in-depth proposal. Now, more than ever, it’s important for me to reach out to the community and communicate between Portlanders (individuals, business owners, neighborhood associations, and other leaders who care about clean air in Portland) and TriMet that this plan is something we must agree to and then follow through with.

Here is a picture from the happy hour event last night. This is the Multnomah County Commissioner, Jessica Vega Pederson, talking about the urgency  of electric buses in Portland

For me, there’s a large spectrum of what progress looks like. Getting a single bus-line business to sign on is progress, but adding up all of the small grassroots work and events and sharing it with TriMet is what might lead to the bigger successes that I’m looking to achieve down the road. And, frequently, change doesn’t come right away and it definitely won’t stop once this campaign is achieved. Getting TriMet to ditch diesel and go electric will hopefully just be a small stepping stone leading to other big things that, when combined altogether, will have the biggest outcome. Since it takes legal action to get private organizations that are major contributors to our diesel pollution to reduce their emissions, it is best to push for a public organization that really cares about how the city views them. These organizations will see TriMet following what the public is pushing for, and hopefully that will result in changing practices for them as well. The local change we are hoping to create could thus factor into  national change and possibly global change. But everything starts small.

It’s important to have big goals and big dreams and hope to achieve things that some might think are impossible, but it’s also important to recognize that some big changes need to start small. You cannot expect that you will make progress and change right away, and sometimes you have to be patient.