Discrimination Law 101: Educational Presentations

I cannot believe that it is halfway through my internship already! The summer is really flying by.  Since my last post, a lot has developed in terms of my responsibilities at the Mass. Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD).

When I first began calling human services organizations, it was a bit frustrating because it was not always easy to reach the right person, or sometimes anybody at all! After a frustrating day of unsuccessful calls without feeling like I was truly connecting with people, I tried to have more natural conversations with program coordinators and directors.

Soon, I began to schedule many presentations, which gets to the heart of what my responsibilities are as a public education and outreach intern. Now, I have given six presentations, and I have over ten more scheduled for the upcoming weeks.  Each presentation that I give is different depending on the population; the settings are as varied as ESOL classes, youth programs, and homeless shelters, just to name a few.

The presentations are really fun since they are interactive and the audience often becomes very involved.  It is nice to be able to see how much more comfortable I am giving these presentations—now I don’t need to use the notes much at all, and I know the right questions to ask to engage the people listening.  I’ve also become more accustomed to fielding difficult questions and determining the appropriate responses.  My public speaking skills have certainly improved from all of these phone calls and presentations.

Probably the best part, though, is seeing how beneficial these presentations are for the people attending.  While it can often be a bit upsetting for somebody to realize that they were not only treated unfairly, but were discriminated against, it is really inspiring to see people taking notes and asking questions so that they can be better equipped to stand up for their rights.



Explaining the four types of discrimination during a presentation.

I have also been able to expand my own knowledge and understanding of the legal proceedings that take place at the MCAD.  My supervisor has been especially helpful in this regard.  All of the interns get to observe various parts of the complaint process, and I was able to sit in on a public hearing and an appeal hearing last week, both of which involved some very interesting cases.  I have attended a few lunches with commissioners and hearing officers, where I’ve been able to ask specific questions, and learn about interesting cases that the MCAD has received. This is a great way to see how the law is continuously progressing and being redefined.

Even though my internship duties are focused on outreach and are more informational than involved with changing the laws, I’ve realized that I am more interested in policy change as opposed to its enforcement. 

I have also recognized though, that even if a particular law is in place, education is essential in ensuring that the law is enforced, and that people actually benefit from that law’s protections.  Many of the people I have spoken to at these presentations did not even realize that illegal actions may have been taken against them, because they were unaware of their protections under the law. 

Thus, it is not simply enough to create a law for it to actually make change. I hope that I will use this knowledge in the future if I decide to pursue a career in policy change, and will remember the importance of spreading education and awareness in bringing about a law or policy’s full potential.

 I am looking forward to the next few weeks of my internship, and I am very excited to see what else I will learn!

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Helping answer a question regarding housing discrimination.

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Kelley answers a question about whether a particular scenario might be discrimination.