My internship with BridgeYear is officially halfway over. As we find ourselves in the middle of a very busy July, we’re thinking about our current students and projects, but also about the future of the organization. It’s a daunting task, and while the co-founders are the ones doing the majority of the thinking ahead, us interns get to pitch in.
To rephrase, BridgeYear is the on-ramp to educational pathways and employment opportunities for individuals in low-income communities. We do this by designing Career Test Drives (CTDs) to increase career awareness and providing near-peer advising to support the crucial postsecondary transition to community college. It’s important to mention that due to the startup nature of the nonprofit, things are constantly changing. While our goal has always been to provide support to students who plan to enroll in community college, the how I mentioned above was not set in stone from the start.
Last summer, change to us came in the form of increased matriculation rates with our how being advising provided by college students. If we could successfully guide students through the enrollment process and get them to the first day of their fall semester, then we had some impact in defeating summer melt. As it turns out, with BridgeYear advising, 59% of recent high school graduates who participated in the 2016 pilot enrolled in community college (compared to the local rate of 30%). This meant that the program nearly doubled enrollment rates and the organization was heading in the right direction.
While this was all great news that told us we had the advising portion down, something was still missing. After advising and interviewing community college students over three months, BridgeYear realized that career clarity was a missing aspect of purposeful college enrollment, and in came CTDs. The idea behind CTDs was to get students to go to college not just because it was what was expected of them, but because they had strong reasons and future plans.
The first of the CTDs was Pharmacy Technician. Students got to pretend to be pharm techs in a fifteen minute simulation in which they filled prescription orders for patients. In that time, students learned hands-on about job responsibilities and the skills necessary to be successful on the job. Whether they loved the job or hated it, the good news was that they gained exposure. After that CTD was a hit, two more came into the picture: Medical Laboratory Technologist and Medical Coding Specialist. Today, thanks to CTDs, 91% of participants have become more aware of the daily tasks of new careers.
The process that comes before changes, in places like our how, takes many forms. Sometimes the process is countless hours of brainstorming on a whiteboard or giant post-it notes. Sometimes it’s talking to mentors and coaches who can share their expertise and help us better our strategies. Oftentimes it’s talking to the students themselves. At the end of the day, the ideas that seem small when thrown around our collaboration table are what allow us to continue innovating day in and day out.
The change itself comes in a multitude of ways too. Students enrolling in college at higher rates like previously mentioned is one way. Helping them gain career exposure is another. There’s days when change to me is students asking for my help without me having to nudge them. It’s all a part of the big picture.
As I wait for the next half of the summer to unfold, I will continue to contribute my part by leading the Advising Team to ensure that our students enroll into college and that lack of guidance isn’t a problem. The advising portion is still essential to our mission and is a responsibility I take to heart. Even if my role seems small on a weekday afternoon, I hope it will be bigger than I anticipate in the long run.
Hello fellow science lovers! Since my last blog post[i], I have been quite busy and have generated exciting and perplexing data. As a brief reminder, I am working within the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School[ii], focusing on hydrogen sulfide signaling using genetic knockout mouse models. In particular, I am focusing my research on a knockout (KO) mouse strain for the major hepatic (liver) endogenous hydrogen sulfide producing enzyme, cystathionine gamma lyase (CGL). When I wrote my last blog post, I was beginning to examine key gene expression and protein expression levels between wild type (WT) control mice and CGLKO mice by reverse transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR)[iii] and Western Blots[iv] respectively. I continue to rely on these powerful molecular biology methods, where I attempt to connect the dots between differential gene and protein expression levels. Recently, my data has lead me towards a nutritional framework, where I have been particularly interested in dietary-induced and dietary-resistant obesity.
Given the pervasive rise in obesity and diabetes within the United States (US), therapeutic targets for dietary-resistance to obesity are a “hot” research topic within the field of Endocrinology and Metabolism. In a special report published in 2005 within the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the authors predict “that as a result of the substantial rise in the prevalence of obesity and its life-shortening complications such as diabetes, life expectancy at birth and at older ages could level off or even decline within the first half of this century.”[v] This stands in stark contrast to human trends, where human life expectancy has steadily increased over the past thousand years [v]. Thus, the need for breakthrough research discoveries regarding obesity, metabolic disease, and diabetes has never been more imperative. A major research target in recent publications has been the heat-generating, master energy consuming mammalian brown fat, or brown adipose tissue (BAT) [vi].
In mammals, BAT is a major tissue site for chemical production of heat (thermogenesis) from fats, which has made BAT a promising target to induce weight loss[vi]. Traditionally, when exposed to cold temperatures, humans generate heat by shivering [vi]. However, mammals such as mice and human infants possess vast BAT depots, allowing thermogenesis during cold exposure to be driven by the chemical uncoupling of cellular energy production, oxidative phosphorylation [vi]. This chemical uncoupling of oxidative phosphorylation is achieved in part through expression of uncoupling protein-1 (Ucp1) [vi]. Additionally, white fat or white adipose tissue (WAT), the classic form of stomach fat we all attempt to minimize, can be induced into a BAT like state, known as “beige” or “brite” fat [vi]. This beige fat has thermogenic capacity, and because thermogenesis relies on the breakdown of fat depots in order to generate heat, beige fat has the ability to burn excess fat depots and promote a healthier metabolic system [vi]. Countless studies have demonstrated that “expanding the activity of brown fat, beige fat or both in mice through genetic manipulation, drugs or transplantation suppresses metabolic disease.”[vi] One such stimulus for expanding beiging of WAT is dietary control. Thus, because of the vast therapeutic potential of beige fat and BAT, I have been particularly fascinated by diets that can induce beige fat and or increase BAT activity. Such a diet could have broad reaching implications for metabolic disease, and could help reduce the estimated 300,000 deaths per year related to obesity [v].
Compared to my classroom studies at Brandeis, working in a biomedical research lab allows me to explore complex physiological topics that I would never confront in an undergraduate class, such as BAT and beige fat thermogenesis. After running experiments on RNA, DNA, and proteins extracted from both control (WT) and CGLKO mice, the results almost always spur me to read a slew of research papers and reviews, which guide me towards a holistic understanding of what is occurring inside my mice. For example, I have examined Ucp1 expression levels in my mice, leading me towards reviews regarding thermogenesis. This ability to read beyond only what is assigned to me is a wonderful aspect of research which is mostly absent as an undergraduate at Brandeis. I find this freedom allows me to become more excited about the material, and often causes me to gleefully share theories of mine with my co-workers, most of whom are post-doctoral fellows.
Similar to last summer, I am loving the environment of working in a basic science research lab. I am continually refining my molecular techniques, learning new assays weekly, such as the protein concentration quantification bicinchoninic acid (BCA) assay[ix]. With each data result or conversation with the post-doctoral fellow I work alongside, I learn new complex signaling pathways within mammalian physiology. After each biweekly lab meeting, I learn new elements of modern thyroid research, continually building upon my knowledge base of intricate thyroid endocrine regulation. These molecular biology techniques combined with novel biology concepts will serve me well both in my future Biology coursework at Brandeis and in my future pursuits in and after medical school. Who knows, I may even end up a practicing Endocrinologist and participating in BAT thermogenesis research! Only time will tell.
– Josh Lepson
[i] Brandeis University Hiatt Career Center. 2017. World of Work (WOW) Summer Internship Blog: Harnessing Science for the Common Good. Accessed on July 2.
[v] Olshansky, S.J., Passaro, D.J., Hershow, R.C., Layden, J., Carnes, B.A., Brody, J., Hayflick, L., Butler, R.N., Allison, D.B., Ludwig, D.S. 2005. A potential decline in life expectancy in the United States in the 21st century. N. Engl. J. Med.352(11): 1138-1145.
[vi] Harms, M., Seale, P. 2013. Brown and beige fat: development, function and therapeutic potential. Nat. Med.19(10): 1252-1263.
[vii] The Jackson Laboratory. B6.Cg-Lepob/J. Accessed on July 2. https://www.jax.org/strain/000632
[viii] Bartelt, A., Heeren, J. 2014. Adipose tissue browning and metabolic health. Nat. Rev. Endocrinol.10(1): 24-36.
[ix] ThermoFisher Scientific. Pierce™ BCA Protein Assay Kit. Accessed on July 2.
In her wonderfully complex book (and ambitious journey) My Jewish Year, journalist Abigail Pogrebin joins a comprehensive review of the most important Jewish holidays with her personal experiences and anecdotes. She takes a year to find meaning in the celebrations and customs of Judaism as she immerses herself in very different contexts and communities to explore her own Jewish identity.
In one of the chapters, called Activist Shabbbat: Friday Night with the Kids, she enjoys the traditional dinner in the company of a highly untraditional group: a dozen recent college graduates who have taken a year away from their careers, routines, families, and homes in order to fight poverty. The “kids” are none other than the Jewish Service Corps of Avodah, working in four cities around the country in organizations specialized in a wide range of issues, from homelessness to domestic violence, legal representation, counseling, and education. Avodah is providing them with a living and learning space in which the Jewish texts they explore and the constant observance of holidays serve as inspiration for their social justice activities.
It becomes more than a living space when you consider the symbolism of this new community they are part of. These are young people (aged twenty-one to twenty-six) who uproot their regular lives in order to work on the flourishing of other people’s lives. They grow new roots in an environment in which altruism and selflessness replace the infertile soil of possessive individualism that characterizes many of our contemporary societies. It is impressive and inspiring that they choose to do so. A day in the life of a Corps Member looks nothing like a day in most of our predominantly self-centered and self-absorbed existence. The average person will perceive themselves as charitable if they take a few minutes to donate on an organization’s website. These young people are not only “donating” a year of their lives, but they are boarding on a journey in which a few fundamental changes occur.
Through the commitment to give back to the less fortunate, they not only come to see that their contribution matters, but they realize how much it is needed. I think that a renewed awareness of how far-reaching and all-encompassing the pursuit of social justice needs to be is the most valuable perspective one can gain from such a program. It is hopefully a realization that can only make one dedicate their entire life to such a mission. Abigail Pogrebin quotes the mission of Avodah as stated by Cheryl Cook, the president of the organization – “Three Words in Deuteronomy, Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: Justice, Justice, Shall Your Pursue”. The Corps members choose to live by these words and I think the ultimate step of their mission would be making as many of us as possible ask ourselves why we choose not to.
I’m a firm believer in the power of art to enact lasting social change. I think that artistic expression has the ability to move hearts and minds, to motivate people to go out and change things for the better. This is why I’m so excited to be working here at Fiege Films this summer, because I get to have a real and tangible impact on working to bring about social and environmental justice through the art that I’m helping to create.
In an increasingly polarized society, in which it’s becoming difficult to even have a calm conversation with people of different political viewpoints, I believe that that art is especially important. We’ve seen that simply spouting facts and figures about things can have little effect on changing people’s perspectives, but I think what’s so compelling and powerful about art is that it transcend these biases.
I think often about how to bridge these ideological gaps and about how I personally can reach out to people of disparate political persuasions and understand their perspectives, and I think art is a perfect way to do this.
Take, for example, this piece that Fiege Films put out for Greenpeace. Called “Born on the Island,” it’s part of the series “Postcards from Climate Change” that uses filmmakers to tell personal stories about people affected by the radical changes our planet is currently undergoing.
Statistics and research can often be dehumanizing. They can make you forget about the real people that are experiencing them. But when you tell a story, when you put a face to a name, I think it makes things more powerful, and people are more apt to care.
Our last feature film, “Above All Else,” is another great, practical example of doing this: telling a personal story about a polarizing, broad issue.
It’s easy to hear about a story in the national news, and to be told to think one way or another about it, but when you get the chance to actually meet and spend time with people, to understand how they think and what’s important to them, and to empathize with their struggle, it becomes totally different.
Especially in this current political moment, we can get trapped in our own sociopolitical bubbles. It’s comfortable; we like to be around people and ideas that complement our own. But it’s not healthy. We need to be cognizant of other perspectives, to search out ideas that expose our own biases.
Art that is personal, uncomfortable, and compelling is more important now than ever. Well-told stories that transcend the usual narratives are essential to bringing about social change. By focusing on the marginalized, the overlooked, the forgotten, we as a society can make things better for everyone, and avoid the trap of being comfortably ignorant and complicit.
HIVE’s goal is to advance reproductive and sexual wellness for those affected by HIV in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the United States. To achieve this goal, HIVE provides many types of care to these communities. Whether it be medical, social, financial, or otherwise, HIVE makes themselves accessible for those who need care.
As mentioned in my first blog posting, HIVE does a lot of work online through their website, www.hiveonline.org. More specifically, the blog section of their website— www.hiveonline.org/hive-blog/ —is a space where contributors can share their experiences with HIV, sex, pregnancy, disclosure, and PrEP, among many others. The blog proves to be critical in HIVE’s mission because to see and read the stories of others who are experiencing the same things can be greatly affirming. For example, for someone who is living with HIV who is finding it difficult to disclose their status to romantic or sexual partners, it is helpful to read the stories of others who have experienced similar situations.
Aside from the blog, HIVE’s website hosts resources for those who are affected by HIV, as well as medical providers who support these communities.For HIVE patients, the resources can act as a supplement to the care they are receiving. But for those who are outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, or those who cannot access medical care for a variety of reasons, the website is critical in obtaining information that is otherwise unavailable. What is more is that the information that HIVE hosts on their website is presented in a warm and friendly manner. That is to say, in many cases, medical care can feel overwhelming and hostile and can be the site of incurring additional trauma, which is often not talked about. Actions such as misgendering individuals, committing racist or sexist microaggressions, and misrepresenting and devaluing one’s life experiences are all valid reasons for opting out of medical care. But HIVE recognizes the power of language and the assumed benevolence of medical care and transforms their HIV care in ways that are caring and compassionate. For example, HIVE worked with AIDS Foundation Chicago to release a series of videos on HIV and reproductive and sexual health. The videos feature real individuals and couples affected by HIV speaking about their real experiences and reproductive goals. The series is touching and poignant, reimagining what HIV care can look like. To watch, visit: https://www.hiveonline.org/chicagohivlovewinsvideoseries/
In sum, HIVE advances reproductive and sexual wellness for those who are affected by HIV by making care accessible both for those who are able to attend clinics and those who are not. For this reason, change and progress in HIV care looks like accessibility and having care be available for everyone. Taking a small step such as sharing one’s story or providing a platform to do so produces an effect beyond what one can imagine in transforming HIV care and reproductive and sexual health.
The day after Trump was elected was a hard one. I attended Professor Luis’s Sexuality and Healthcare course. We had spent the entirety of the semester discussing the systemic oppression woven into the American healthcare system, and the dark history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. It was painfully relevant. We discussed our fears for the future of healthcare in America under the Trump administration, and the implications for the queer community. The historical background I learned in that course, particularly of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, equipped me with the historical context of which our studies are grounded.
Activists had to fight hard to push policy forward that would allow HIV positive people to live longer, healthier lives. A key component in this process is research on prevention and treatment. Further, the Trump administration’s proposed healthcare plan has the potential to severely devastate the mentally ill and limit access to sexual health services. The American government is sending the message to LGBTQ+ and other marginalized people that they do not matter, a narrative that echoes President Reagan’s mishandling of the AIDS epidemic at its peak. As we discussed in Professor Luis’s course, conducting research is key to changing that narrative. At the height of this epidemic, this led to revolutionary outcomes like the development of medical treatments and prevention. While these developments were crucial in reducing the spread of HIV and allowing HIV positive people to live longer and healthier lives, the work is not done.
Taking Professor Luis’s course motivated me to seek an internship in psychological and public health research that is accessible, applicable and politically relevant in this critical moment in history where so many people’s healthcare is in jeopardy, particularly people who carry marginalized identities. This is a crucial time for psychologists, medical professionals and public health experts to harness their powerful role in producing research that helps push policy forward, to offer practical solutions to solving the issues unique to LGBTQ communities, and to give marginalized communities a voice in their own liberation.
An underlying theme that has emerged in the courses I have taken at Brandeis is that each person has a unique story that should be recognized and valued. Furthermore, people have the right to be heard and express themselves at every age. I have taken this idea into account as I work with a population that is often undervalued and not given the attention, respect and resources it deserves. The Vitalize 360 coach and I created an art class in which residents created dream/vision boards that represent their goals, dreams, and overall things they want to be, do or have.
With four residents seated around a long table in the art studio at Orchard Cove, the art session began. I started off by giving a short presentation on what a vision board is and the purpose of creating one. Then my supervisor explained how a vision board relates to the Vitalize 360 program and achieving WMM. Finally, we led the residents in creating their own vision boards. Magazines, inspirational quotes and other pictures were scattered around the table. The residents cut out pictures and words from the magazines that represented their vision, and then glued them onto a foam core board.
I found it so interesting how differently each person interpreted the art assignment. One resident started cutting out pictures and realized that a vision board did not properly describe what she felt she was creating, but rather a current state board which showed what she likes in her life now. Another resident, who writes poetry in her spare time, found that the pictures in the magazines did not speak to her as much as the words did. When I came over to check on her, I was amazed by the visually pleasing poem she had created using different cutouts from magazines and she read it to me.
Another resident had greater difficulty grasping the concept of the project, and I went over to help explain it to her. She had negative thoughts and feelings about the future and what her purpose was in the world. I felt a little discouraged because I was not sure how to engage her in the project. However, my supervisor had brought these small square pieces of paper with inspirational life quotes, which the resident found appealing. A woman next to her helped her glue the quotes to her board, and had a very positive attitude on life.
I was originally nervous about leading this project because I thought the residents may find it to be too fundamental or juvenile, but that was not the case at all. This project was a means of self expression and showed what is important to the individual. In helping to create and lead this activity, I realized the importance of the individual story and self-expression.
Orchard Cove promotes healthy aging, physically, mentally and socially. In Vitalize 360, the wellness coach takes each resident as an individual and seeks to help the individual lead their best life. At every age, people need to feel part of a community and everyone has something to offer.
This week is very exciting here at AJWS. One of the remarkable things about the organization is the involvement we have domestically and worldwide from our generous community of donors and staff. We are represented in four major cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and Washington D.C. Here, we have various people working within their respective departments collaboratively to ensure seamless communication and rapport throughout all the work we do. The excitement I feel today stems from the event planning I have been doing to bridge the gap between our staff members far and wide. Not only do we have people flying in from all our tier one offices, but we have specifically planned engagement retreats and events to give everyone the opportunity to spend time with one another, align the work they are doing and bond as a cohort of people working to achieve and accomplish the AJWS mission.
Tomorrow’s event is centered around one of the many things that makes AJWS so unique. Our study tour group leader training is designed to give our staff members an inside look into the energy, knowledge and passion required to carry out a successful travel/study tour abroad. Recently we have had donors and staff return from Guatemala which is where AJWS is “focus[ing] on ending discrimination against women, youth and indigenous people, and protecting the land and natural resources that farmers need to survive.” This study tour training is important as it teaches people like me who have never experienced anything like this the logistics required to capture the hearts of our donors and the people who we are helping in developing countries. The second event is only for the development department in which employees who work within this division can have an opportunity to learn more about each other’s learning styles, office attitudes and the way they perform within the work place. These activities and skills are key in creating a safe and productive work environment, one of which AJWS has but this is unique compared to other organizations.
Along with planning required for these retreats to be successful comes the lessons learned after putting something of this nature together. Since this is my first time working on a task like this independently, there is a lot of responsibility and attentiveness to detail required. When networking with caterers and venue representatives, the most important skill is professionalism and hospitality. While I’ve enjoyed my time out of the office, these meetings can often be stressful, although they do provide general world experience great for navigating future career moves. I am thankful that I have been given so much freedom and that these events are turning into my own prized possessions.
The biggest event I oversee is known as the State of AJWS breakfast in which our very own CEO Robert Bank makes an appearance and speaks on behalf of AJWS to our community about the work we have done and will continue to do this year, and the years to come. Robert is inspiring, forward thinking and a true philanthropist who cares deeply about the people and the issues at hand. I must thank my wonderful supervisors and colleges for helping me to perform to the best of my ability day in and day out. Working with members of the donor engagement team including Stefanie, Aliza and Neely has been eye opening, as these strong women are always working hard to demonstrate their love for the organization. Our team is special, and I will miss them dearly when I am gone.
It’s hard to believe this is my half way mark. I have already served as an intern for 4 weeks! I cannot imagine what else is in store for myself, the friends I have made here, the executives, the board and the people we support throughout the world.
Open Source Wellness officially began running their first event in October 2016 and their second event this past April. Considering it is an extremely young organization, the founders have many goals and milestones they want to achieve. Their main social justice goal is to reach more people in low-income communities.
The organization was founded by two psychologists, Liz and Ben, who came up with the idea behind Open Source Wellness while they worked in different health clinics in Boston. They continuously saw patients who were referred to them by doctors who told the patients that they needed to change their eating habits, exercise more, or reduce their stress to combat the chronic health conditions they were facing. Wealthier patients could hire a nutritionist, personal trainer, or join a meditation group. However, people who lived in low-income communities went back to their same lifestyle because they did not know how and did not have the means to change the way they ate or acted. Through these experiences, Ben and Liz decided to open a “behavioral pharmacy” to help people make major lifestyle changes at little or no cost. Their doctor could write a prescription to go to Open Source Wellness to get support in making lifestyle changes. Even though this is their mission, Ben and Liz have been struggling to reach this demographic.
Below are pictures of Liz and Ben:
To combat this issue, the other interns and myself have been reaching out to providers, including clinics, doctors’ offices, and community centers in low-income areas in an attempt to form a referral partnership with them. We have been giving them free spaces that are reserved for their patients in our month-long program upon their referral. By reserving certain spots for their patients, we are creating a scarcity of spaces that they can fill which will incentivize them to fill the spots. Hopefully, once they see how helpful the program is for their patients, they will start sending more people. Some of the clinics we have been speaking with seem extremely interested in our mission, so we started talking with them about running an event in their clinic. These would be solely for their patients or members and would happen in the clinics or centers. West Oakland Health Center and Project Open Hand are two of the groups that we have been meeting with.
If the clinics followed through with their pledge to get their patients to sign up for our July cohort, which starts on July 11th, that is what progress would look like. It would also include one or more of the new clinics or centers allocating money to OSW to begin an event in their building, exclusively for their patients.
Provider outreach has been my main long-term task as an intern at OSW. I have spent countless hours emailing, calling, and meeting with doctors and administrators to tell them about the program that OSW offers, and to speak with them about creating a referral partnership.
United for a Fair Economy (UFE) has been active for more than 20 years, but our cause has only been in mainstream conversation for 10. Though, it is important to note that things didn’t suddenly get bad — they’ve been bad. Ever since President Ronald Reagan introduced trickle-down economics, the wealth divide has only become deeper.
Thankfully, there are plenty of wealthy donors that we can pay homage to, but not every millionaire helps fund libraries and schools. Too many make irresponsible decisions; and even if we place taxes on gold or sports cars, we’d be punishing mechanics and jewelers — not the 1%.
Therefore, progressive taxes offer the only route towards a more equitable economy. Regardless of whatever counterarguments you may have heard.
One of my closest friends asked what a “fair economy” even entails, and it’s quite simple. UFE’s goal is not to have every bank account hold the same value; we are working so that everyone can live on a respectable income.
It’s simply not acceptable that the wealthiest 400 households can afford to buy a new car for every household in the country. And it’s not justifiable when $40,000 is a Bachelor’s degree for one person and a bottle of champagne to another.
Instead, we believe in an economy where each individual’s tenacity has real value — and not just the illusion of it.
For decades, UFE and its supporters have acknowledged that reliable infrastructure and social welfare programs are vital to a nation’s success. Those in office may sweep the issues under the rug or minimize the consequences, but our economy’s health lies in our collective well-being, not just that of major CEOs and heiresses.
We are constantly reframing and rephrasing certain issues, because with just this simple task, one would be amazed by how many people suddenly care. Politicians and academicians have created significant barriers to understanding the way our economy works, and UFE is devoted to creating a level playing field.
For example, there are still many low-income families that are against the idea of an estate tax because they believe that they would be negatively affected by it. In reality, you and I both know that an individual would need millions before the tax comes into effect, but many at the top feed off of misinformation.
And not only is jargon to blame. There are instances where it is clear that legislators are hoping to create a one-sided response. Take the Right to Work law for example. The document was made to sound like a basic virtue, but really, it gives power back to corporations. The law has defunded labor unions considerably and affected their ability to function effectively.
But again, that’s simply not clear, and those that are most affected by such laws simply don’t have the time to do extensive research. These are the individuals that are busy sustaining our country’s foundation, and we owe it to them to take such matters into our own hands.
Especially during times like these, UFE rallies progressive individuals in the top 5% and forces politicians to listen. And while these 5%ers are the ones receiving the most benefits, the need for a more sustainable economy trumps self-interest.
The goal of the MCAD is to investigate, prosecute, adjudicate and resolve cases of discrimination. This is accomplished through an in-depth investigative process conducted by each investigator to ensure that the correct determination is made and justice is served.
As an Intake Specialist, I initiate the 18-month process that begins once a complaint is filed with the MCAD. As a neutral organization, our role is to investigate possible discriminatory acts, and propose probable cause or lack of probable cause findings to the commissioner. This investigatory process includes review and analysis of the original complaint, a position statement from the respondent and often a rebuttal from the complainant. Additionally, for all cases except those that deal with sexual harassment, an investigative conference is held to produce additional information to support the case. In order to be deemed a “probable cause case,” the investigator must be able to illustrate how the case meets the requirements of the PFC- Prima Facie Case.
Not only does the MCAD investigate walk-in cases, we also have an entire testing department whose sole purpose is to uncover discriminatory practices within the community. This testing includes cold calling employment, housing and public accommodation facilities while posing with identities that fall under multiple protected classes. The goal of this unit is to asses these organizations and eliminate discriminatory practices before they affect the community.
Additionally, while the MCAD investigates singular discrimination cases, often we receive multiple cases against the same respondent. (Interestingly, we often see an abundance of cases against dental offices). In this instance, the overall benefit of the community is brought into perspective, as the MCAD holds the respondent accountable. Often, this means sending the case to court and refusing to settle in order to ensure that it becomes part of public record and is known to the larger community.
One aspect of working for MCAD that I enjoy the most is the team building environment that they promote. While there I am not just an intern, but an integral part of the larger mission and goals of the organization. The picture on the left below is of me and my fellow interns.
It is with their help working for the enforcement and housing departments that the MCAD is able to maintain their large case load. Underneath that is a picture of me with two investigative officers. We are all part of the continuous process towards accomplishing our social justice goals and promoting future progress towards eradicating discrimination.
This summer I will intern in the Boston Public Market. The Boston Public Market is an indoor, year-round marketplace for locally sourced groceries and specialty agricultural products, where residents and visitors can find fresh, seasonal food from Massachusetts and New England. The Market houses 40 local farmers, fishers, and food entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, almost a third of the Market floor was assigned to the KITCHEN, a teaching kitchen dedicated to public education, which offers many hands-on cooking demos, lectures, and is in collaboration with many community partners like Project Bread, Boston Children’s Museum and many more. The core of the Market’s mission is to educate “the public about food sources, nutrition and preparation”[i]. In my understanding, the core of this mission is to help the public regain their relationship to the origin of food, and to consider themselves as part of this environmental justice.
Another key part of the Market’s mission is to provide fresh, healthy food to consumers of all income levels. The Market is one of few year-round farmer’s markets that take SNAP purchases and participate in relevant city and state programs. As I mentioned in the last journal, one of the main focuses this summer is to help transit both customers and vendors to a new state program, the Health Incentive Program.
Picture achieved from https://bostonpublicmarket.org/blog/2983
The above is a brief description of the Market’s core value. If I were someone who had no knowledge in nutrition, food justice, community health, or environmental sustainability, I would most likely simply admire the staff’s effort and enjoy the vivid market place even more. However, from several classes I took at Brandeis, I now can look at this vibe in a new perspective. An HSSP elective “Diet and Health” discusses malnutrition, especially obesity, as a disease sourced in poverty. This class also gives me more insight on SNAP and several other US programs aiming to fight against hunger. Besides, in an environmental class “Food and Farming in America,” we discussed food deserts and sustainable agriculture. It was not until I started working in the Market that I realized the importance of factors such as supporting local community and seasonality of produces. I began to look for grain-fed meat in the supermarket, shopping more and more for in season food groups. I gradually started to apply knowledges from classes to real life. My previous experiences as a research assistant in Schuster Institutes opened my mind to nutrition issues in the US. One of the tours I programmed was inspired by my work experience here, which is designing a meal within limited budget.
A large portion of projects requires constantly (and repetitively) reading about the Market’s mission. After all, new programs are still designed around the central mission of the Market. This is when all the class knowledge came into play. On the other hand, engaging in the vivid environment of the Market also gives me more opportunities to actively learn from managers and vendors. In this way, I can maximize my learning during my interning process. Meanwhile, with all the background knowledges from Brandeis, not only can I finish my projects more effectively, but also am I able to interpret the Market’s core value better to visitors and tour groups. I believe community education is an important part of this internship, and of course, of social justice work. Although it seems that I’ve been doing all the smallest things, but they sum up to both my deeper understanding to the Market’s mission and better interpretation to the public.
Although occasionally it seems that what I have worked on does not relate to social justice issue at all, as long as I dig in deeply enough, I will always find the hidden link somewhere. Sometimes during a conversation with market manager, sometimes during a tour to a farm, or even in the middle of the researching a project, I always came across something inspiring. Social justice issue, at the same time, is also commonly seen. This active thinking process really strengthens my ability to think flexibly, and to make connections whenever I can.
[i] Boston Public Market Annual report 2015, 2015, Boston Public Market Association. Achieved from: https://bostonpublicmarket.org/WP/wp-content/uploads/BPMA-AnnualReport-2015.pdf
Conducting research on social justice issues may at times seem like a slow process that yields little change in the real world. Yet, through the process of research, social justice questions are answered and new social justice questions get asked. Research advances the way we think about social justice through knowledge as opposed to actions. While the change might seem slow, without research, there wouldn’t be awareness of many of the social justice issues currently being tackled by non-profit organizations and our government.
In research, change and progress can be seen through the different steps of the process. Immediate change might not be seen during the time of data collection, analysis, and writing, however, once publication is reached, the paper can tremendously impact the way of thinking on a specific social justice issue. For example, the research lab I am working at this summer spent months collecting data regarding immunization and fluoride refusal with the hope of finding a link between people who refuse them. During the time of data collection and analysis, not much changed regarding a social justice issue. However, once the paper was published and was read by more influential leaders as well as fellow researchers, it began gaining recognition for the breakthrough ideas it presented. Although progress is still taking place and follow up research is currently being conducted, the initial paper inspired change and further interest in the issue.
Throughout the process of conducting public health research and publishing a paper, there are many small steps that must be accomplished before tackling the larger ones. Reaching out to communities for data collection, collecting consent from potential participants, following up with research participants, distributing incentives to participants, managing the data, encrypting data and condensing the data are only some of the many tasks that must be taken prior to engaging fully with the data set and drafting the paper. Without these many steps, the research would likely be unethical, inaccurate and misleading both to the research participants and to colleagues reading the paper. These small steps enable researchers to tackle larger ones such as analyzing the data, reaching conclusions, writing the paper and submitting for publications.
Public health research is often conducted very similarly across different labs. At the University of Washington, it is no different. The process taken is often very similar, but the results can be different. The issues being investigated by the lab I am working for this summer might seem relatively small; however, once they fit in with rest of the research being conducted on the same and similar topics, it becomes clear just how valuable it is. Much of the published research coming out of the lab provides social justice leaders with new and interesting perspectives on topics previously covered, enabling for further discussion on ways of reducing the problems. The complexity new research brings to old and new issues allows for more accurate discussions and better understood solutions.
This past semester I took a class in which we discussed different aspects of ethical research. As part of this class we learned about the many ways in which people were abused and taken advantage of for the sake of research. Whether it be experimentation or lack of consent and privacy, throughout history many people have participated in research involuntarily. Conducting research in an ethical and respectful manner was a huge social justice issue that has thankfully been mostly addressed.
While in this class we learned that a key aspect of conducting research in an ethical and respectful manner involved protecting participants’ privacy and identity. While analyzing the data for the research paper I am in the process of writing, we encrypted the data, taking out the names and any other identifying information and instead giving each participant a numerical ID. By doing so, only a select few people have access to participants’ identity while for those working with the data, each participant is anonymous. As a result, participants are more likely to share information they want kept confidential improving the research along the way as well.
In my time as a research assistant I have had to analyze data regarding dentists’ perception of fluoride refusal. Many of the questions in the survey were controversial with opinions varying widely. For certain questions, dentists had the ability to write in their own answers, some of which could be seen as extremely demeaning. Although some of these responses will likely be published, knowing that individual identities were kept private allowed many dentists to express their honest, uncensored opinions.
From my observations of the research lab I am working in, privacy and participant consent are extremely important. Since social justice and equitable and honest research are so important to today’s researchers, many precautions are taken to ensure data collection and participation are done voluntarily. Prior to participating in data collection, dentists were asked to consent to their opinions being collected and published. Explanations on how the information collected will be used ensured participants agreed to the terms of the research and were aware of how their opinions might be shared.
Anonymity is often forgotten in today’s society where so much of our lives are shared publicly online. However, in public health research which often relies on individual respondents, to truly capture the public opinion on an issue, privacy and comfort are key. No one would want to share their private opinions on a controversial issue only to find that they are later ostracized due to the opinion being made public. Therefore, while it might seem laborious to take the many consent and privacy precautions modern researchers implement, one must remember the history of the many involuntary research participants.
One of the foremost social justice goals of the Center for Autism Research is to expand the scope of research, and along with it diagnosis and treatment, to classically underrepresented populations. Currently, CAR is working to accomplish this goal through the development and ongoing use of the response to name smartphone application. As discussed in a previous blog post, (which you can read here!) diminished response to name is a hallmark feature of autism. CAR has created this mobile app to record how various children, those with autism, children with developmental delays, and typically developing children, respond to their individual names. The goal of the response to name app is both to understand the differences in response to name in these different populations and to determine if it can be used as an early indicator of autism as well as to incorporate a more diverse participant pool into the research.
Here, change and progress mean taking a different approach to how research is typically conducted. Instead of participants coming into the Center for Autism Research office in Philadelphia, they are able to participate in the research project from home, the supermarket, or any other place that is customary to their everyday lives. This shift in the way the data are collected requires many small and larger steps that I have been able to be a part of throughout my time at CAR.
The first step was developing the app, which I was able to make my mark on several summers ago when I drew out the tutorial for how to use the application. This summer, I have worked on coding some of the pilot videos. I have watched numerous trials and analyzed them for any atypicalities in the way the child’s name was said and for the degree to which the child responded to his or her name.
Currently, several summer interns including myself are part of a new project called the summer screening study that is aiming to recruit more individuals to use the response to name app. We are doing this in order to determine who actually participates in the study and to ensure that the participant pool is in fact demographically and socioeconomically diverse. Later, when a larger study is conducted, researchers will be sure that the application is truly reaching people of diverse backgrounds.
As one of the interns working on this project, we visit a primary care practice at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and recruit patients from the waiting room. We explain the complete study to the families, help them through the consent process, and download the smartphone application with them. This is an exciting and more hands-on way for me to participate in the research process!
I have really enjoyed the process of watching the response to name application study unfold as it attempts to capture a more representative sample. I am excited to see the next steps and where the research and data collected will go as well!
Five painted pictures sit on the brown countertop, each hand-crafted by a different camper, and each marked with considerable effort and thought. Scrawling black sharpie accompanies each of the paintings, proclaiming the creator. For two weeks the paintings sit there waiting to be given to their respective owners—owners that will never return for them. These are the sad remnants of some of my campers, and a sad example for many of the families in domestic violence shelters everywhere. Owners who never return for their paintings, and residents who never return to the shelters. Sometimes, we know where they have gone (some transition to shared WINGS housing, others find family to stay with, and a few continue on to referred programs). Sometimes, however, families say a quick goodbye and leave without informing anyone of where they are going, leaving only the worst to be unbearably assumed. Those five children still have not returned to camp; and, when inquired about, sad smiles and hopeful words answer.
It is hard for victims of domestic violence to leave their abuser and the control and fabricated stability that the abuser presents. And, while WINGS staff wants to ensure that no one returns to their previous unstable situation, there is nothing that can be done. This is the harsh reality for many in shelters across the globe. WINGS supplies women, men, and children with tools to safeguard themselves and attempts to ensure that no one will return to such conditions. WINGS does this best through offering housing, support, advice, and knowledge to the patrons of the shelter. And, while I do not directly work with most of the adults, my job—providing both children and parents with an escape—is just as important.
Since camp has started; parents, staff, and other women have approached me exclaiming just how great the camp has been for both parents and children. While the children get to have fun, play games, and do crafts; parents get a respite and are able to work on crucial matters whether it is applying for transitional housing or taking a much-needed nap. The environment in camp also provides a safe space for children to talk about and discuss things from their favorite superheroes to their feelings to their innermost thoughts about the situation their family is currently in.
I have spent the past two years taking various education and childhood development classes and, thus, have briefly studied the impact violence and broken homes have on children. At WINGS I, unfortunately, witness the outcomes first-hand. In the camp, each child presents themselves in different ways. Some who are initially quiet and reserved, must first become comfortable with everyone in the room before interacting with anyone. Others, who are silly and wild, will lash out—both verbally and physically— at the smallest of irritants. Through this internship I am learning how to better navigate children who were raised in these situations. During my training, we discussed how oftentimes younger children are more impacted by the violence then their older counterparts, and through the camp I have seen that the younger children are often the first to become aggravated and physically aggressive, while the older children look for different outlets such as removing themselves from the situation. Nonetheless, all the children have a bright outlook when it comes to their futures; a future we all pray isn’t marked by a leftover painting and a sad smile.
Statistics, facts, and additional information about domestic violence can be accessed here.
My organization, Umby, a peer-to-peer microinsurance startup, has a vision of ending poverty around the world. This is definitely an ambitious goal, but the hope is that microinsurance has the power to do just that. By allowing individuals living in poverty to invest in savings, education, and new ventures, microinsurance can break the poverty cycle and help whole generations of families.
While Umby is certainly not in a position to end poverty all by itself, we do have the opportunity to raise awareness of people living on less than $4 USD a day – the realities of their lives and, most importantly, what their needs are. In the US, we certainly have to face the reality of poverty in certain ways: walk down the street in any urban area in the country and you will see people living outside, many of whom are asking for our help. But it is still easy to ignore what poverty is really like for those that experience it, especially those that are living in a context that is vastly different than the one here in the US. I think one of the most valuable aspects of Umby’s work is the peer-to-peer aspect. The eventual platform will allow people with the resources to provide support to directly connect with those who would be receiving the microinsurance. This allows for powerful connections. It will raise awareness of the realities of international poverty to those of us who have the immense privilege of living in the US.
This has also been my role. As I reflected last week, my role as a Marketing Intern means that I am in charge of informing people who’ve never heard of microinsurance, as well as trying to bring to life the realities of living in some of the poorest countries in the world. I believe that this ties into the idea of raising awareness, and hopefully will lead to people making donations to support microinsurance for families experiencing poverty.
This is a small step towards ending international poverty. Of course, a simple raising of awareness is not going to be enough to end poverty, especially in countries where there is a lack of infrastructure and/or a corrupt, unstable government. However, I believe that getting privileged people interested in these conversations and issues is a wonderful step on the way towards reaching a poverty-free world. The more people are willing to work together to address these problems, the faster they will be eliminated.
Every day when I head upstairs to the human resources area of Americares, I am greeted by a saying on the wall stated by the organization’s founder, Bob Macauley: “The fact that you can’t help everybody doesn’t mean that you can’t help somebody. So do whatever little you can—or as much as you can.” To the founder, performing any small good deed is considered helpful, a sign of progress. Bob Macauley may no longer be alive, but his ideals live within the company and are always prominent. Based on this standard, progress could be defined as simply doing a good deed for another, or encouraging others to pay it forward and perform a good deed for someone else. Although the goals of the organization have evolved under the care of Michael Nyenhuis, the CEO of Americares, the ideals of just helping one person better their community and those around them still exists today.
In the context of these core focuses, progress comes in the form of increased impact. Specifically, this means providing aid to more people, whether it be through utilizing the services provided by the Americares Free Clinics (AFC), responding to humanitarian crises quickly and efficiently, or rebuilding and expanding local health facilities in order to strengthen the health care of the community. An organization like Americares would always like to see the number of people it helps or the number of humanitarian crises they are able to respond to increase, but those who work at the organization know that they have done their job if they were able to make a difference for at least one person.
In order to make Americares programs successful, donations are imperative. Donations are the building block that allow Americares to fund its free clinics or any other programs it decides to initiate. Most specifically, the donors themselves are the keys to success in any of the Americares programs. Through their contributions, the organization is not only able to maintain the success of its current programs but also expand those successes to encompass more people from more geographic locations previously untouched.
Although progress can be initially achieved with increases in donors and donor contributions, it would be impossible without having the strategic focuses previously mentioned. Americares would love to be able to help every person that ever got hurt, injured, or in need of aid, but realizes that the quality of the work performed might be diminished with too wide of a scope of care. Therefore, what makes Americares a great organization is its ability to make progress and successes attainable for anyone lending a hand while also recognizing that quality is just as, if not more important than, quantity.
As a Philosophy major, there isn’t much I’ve learned in that department that translates directly into what I’m doing this summer at the DC Public Defender Service [PDS]. That said, the type of thinking I’ve come to develop at Brandeis has been crucial for my investigatory position.
Much of what I’m doing is problem solving – whether it be navigating the bureaucracy of the US Marshal Service or figuring out how to charm myself into getting a statement from a witness in the field. Some of the internship also involves critical thinking in the sense that we need to figure out, under the circumstances, how best to defend our client.
The most common theories of defenses we pursue fall into one of a few categories: fabrication, misidentification, mere presence, or self-defense. Depending on the evidence, we’ll choose a theory and present that as our version of the case events to the judge and/or jury. There’s no doubt that my experience in the Philosophy department has prepared me well to think about and make effective arguments. Being able to apply those skills on the ground in a way that effects people’s lives is a remarkable opportunity.
The social justice issues I’m learning about – mass incarceration and criminal justice reform – are topics that I’m only now, at PDS, starting to grasp. While the organization is not policy-oriented, interning here has allowed me daily exposure to some of the injustices that plague the criminal justice system. One area that has particularly interested me is mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug crimes. It’s something that’s been discussed – how draconian these minimums are, how much discretion they remove from the hands of judges, and how they disproportionately affect the African American community. Of course, not every drug case is negatively affected by these minimums, but learning about them has certainly allowed me to contextualize much of the work that I’m doing.
Mass incarnation is another issue I’m becoming particularly passionate about as a result of my learning and experience at PDS. Until I started doing research, I had no idea how extreme the issue really was. Did you know that the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world? According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 2.3 million adults are currently incarcerated in the US – about one of every 110 residents. It is a number that has more than quadrupled since the War on Drugs was first waged by President Nixon in the 1970s.
What’s worse, felony convictions don’t disappear after a convict has served his or her time in prison. To the contrary, such a conviction stays with people for life, and prevents them from accessing many fundamental services and being full-fledged members of our community. Just to get an idea, convicted felons can’t live in public housing, receive public social benefits, vote, or travel abroad. What this effectively means is that a ten-year sentence doesn’t end after ten years. I’m not sure if it ends at all.
Having these ideas in mind, many of which I first heard of at Brandeis, has allowed me to realize the vital role PDS plays in the criminal justice system. Without public defenders, there’s no doubt the system would be far less just.
On June 30th, 2016, a manila envelope arrived at the BridgeYear Headquarters (aka a townhouse living room set up to look like an office). Inside were a couple of pieces of paper that the BridgeYear team had so anxiously been waiting for. The first sentence read:
We are pleased to inform you that upon review of your application for tax exempt status we have determined that you are exempt from Federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the International Revenue Code.”
At first glance, this may seem like an odd sentence to get excited about, but for a team of ten that had been working for a month to build something from nothing, it was the kind of confirmation we needed. We had been approved for 501(c)(3) status, meaning we were officially operating under nonprofit status!
It’s been a year since that day, which means BridgeYear is officially one! Last Friday, on the organization’s birthday, the team celebrated with some cake and a photoshoot. As I stood there and watched my coworkers laugh hysterically at our co-founders standing behind the camera yelling things like “Give me more sass!” and “Yes, that’s perfect!” I couldn’t help but reflect on the last year. So much has changed about the organization, and in the process, a lot has changed about me too. After my first summer of interning, I realized that education was the field I saw myself in the most. While I didn’t come to that conclusion then and there, subconsciously, I built my class schedule around topics that I believed would best prepare me to serve in this sector.
Upon my return to Brandeis for the fall 2016 semester, I took a course called Latinos in the US with Professor Madeleine López. There, I learned about the generations of Latinos before me whose efforts to attain social justice in education are the reason I get to attend a school like Brandeis today. Professor López taught me to analyze history in a way that I hadn’t been taught to before – she showed me that the inequalities experienced by Latinxs in our education system today are rooted in the history of this country. With her words always in mind, I’ve been able to trace back the reasons for the low rates at which Latinxs enroll in and graduate from higher education. When a whole population experiences de facto segregation and is denied of resources for decades, the systems in place are anything but fair. I think about this a lot as nearly 78% of BridgeYear students today are Latinxs from low-income communities. It makes the reasons behind my work in college access and success 100 times stronger on a good day, and 1000 times more powerful on the tougher days.
While my class with Professor López gave background to my work, Spring 2017 brought with it a massive amount of knowledge through the class Critical Perspectives in Urban Education. It was one thing to learn about segregation before Brown v. Board of Education in 1964, and it was another to talk about its existence in 2017. Professor Derron Wallace taught me to recognize the evolving forms of racial, economic, and social exclusion that place students in urban areas at a disadvantage. With BridgeYear I get to go around the city and into high schools where resources are scarce and out of reach for those who could benefit from them the most. Because of Professor Wallace, I’m able to better understand the complexity of issues affecting local public schools and then critically think about how I’d like to tackle them in the future.
Writing this reminds me of how lucky I really am. I’m able to work hands on in something I’m passionate about. I get to turn theory from my classes into practice at work and the scholar inside of me cannot get over how magnificent this feels. With six weeks left of the internship, I’m eager to see more of my Brandeisian lessons appear in my day to day work.
In the spring 2017 semester, I took a class called “Rock and Roll in American Culture.” In this class, I learned about how social movements have influenced rock and how rock has influenced social movements. For example, rock music and rock musicians played a big role in the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. To my surprise, this is a parallel to the organization I’m interning with, To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA).
TWLOHA began eleven years ago when the organization’s founder sold t-shirts at a rock show to help pay for a friend’s rehabilitative treatment. The vocalist of the band playing that show noticed the t-shirts, emblazoned with what would become TWLOHA’s logo, and wanted to wear one of them while performing on stage. Overnight, hundreds of people sent in messages to the TWLOHA MySpace page. Soon after, TWLOHA joined Vans Warped Tour, a traveling music festival featuring mostly rock bands. Since then, TWLOHA has sold t-shirts, started conversations, and disseminated mental health resources at dozens of music festivals around the country, even expanding to other genres outside of rock. Many different musicians have worn TWLOHA t-shirts on stage, and a large portion of the people who know about the organization learned about it from these musicians. TWLOHA is deeply connected to music, especially rock music, as a platform for social movement .
I experienced this connection firsthand, as I had the opportunity to work at the TWLOHA booth at Warped Tour in West Palm Beach, Florida. A band I like, Movements, performed while I was there. Before their set, they invited to the microphone a man who shared his struggles with addiction and urged people struggling with addiction to seek help. Later in the day from behind the booth, I could hear another band’s vocalist talking about how hard it is to have a loss of hope, trying to convince people struggling to stay alive, saying, “It’s okay to not be okay.” Hearing and seeing these musicians use their performances and popularity as a platform to promote social justice reminded me of what I learned in “Rock and Roll in American Culture.”
Recalling the discussions we had in this class, I was reminded of the power and importance of art as a method of promoting social justice. The moments I witnessed at Warped Tour are a few of many examples of art being a catalyst and platform for social change. This connection reminds me of TWLOHA’s roots in rock music and how music has catalyzed this organization’s ability to promote social change in mental health.
As a Health: Science, Society, and Policy (HSSP) major at Brandeis, I have learned and studied the health inequalities that are present within the United States. Two classes at Brandeis that I took that especially focused on this topic were “Health, Community, and Society” taught by Professor Peter Conrad, and “Sociology of Body and Health” taught by Professor Sarah Shostak. These classes caught my full attention when the topic of health inequality in the United States was brought up.
Both classes examined healthy food access and the consequences that arise when healthy and affordable food is not accessible. In “Health, Community, and Society,” I was given the task to interview various people about how they viewed their own health. I was given the flexibility to create the questions for the people I interviewed, so I focused my questions around food access and made sure that the people I interviewed were from a diverse array of socio-economic backgrounds. After conducting these interviews, I noticed that the ways in which people viewed their health tended to vary amongst socio-economic classes. People that I interviewed from a lower socio-economic class tended to feel that they had less control over their health compared to people from a higher socio-economic class. This is due to a lesser amount of opportunities to live a healthy lifestyle.
In “Sociology of Body and Health”, I was given the task to interview the person in charge of buying groceries from two different families. I interviewed my mother, whose home is located in a food swamp, and I interviewed my friend’s mother who lives in an affluent community. A food swamp is an area that has too much access to unhealthy and cheap food. These areas have a large amount of fast food restaurants in a small space and are generally found in low-income neighborhoods. This is much different than an affluent neighborhood that has less access to unhealthy food and greater access to healthy foods.
As you can probably imagine, the two interviews were drastically different. My mother focused more on foods being cost-effective and convenient, whereas my friend’s mother had the freedom to buy essentially anything that she wanted for her family. There are many grocery stores in her neighborhood and a Whole Foods nearby. Her neighborhood did not have nearly as many fast food options as my mother’s neighborhood which is swamped with options.
My experiences interviewing people about health and food in these courses motivated me to obtain an internship with a focus on creating healthy and affordable food options for everyone. Thankfully, the Massachusetts Public Health Association focuses on just that. They have secured $6 million for the Massachusetts Food Trust Program, which “provides loans, grants, and technical assistance to support new and expanded healthy food retailers and local food enterprises in low and moderate income communities. This could include grocery stores, corner stores, farmer’s markets, mobile markets, community kitchens, food co-ops food truck commissaries, indoor and outdoor greenhouses, and food distribution hubs.” This is so important because what you put into your body plays a huge role in your health in the future. It is harder for some people to prevent diseases that happen due to poor diet (heart disease, diabetes, etc.), therefore it is necessary to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity of eating healthy and therefore preventing these diseases.
Since I have all of this previous knowledge that I gained at Brandeis, I am very excited to work with MPHA. I will have the opportunity to interview people about how MPHA has positively impacted their lives, and I am very excited to hear about the great things that MPHA has done for people in low-income communities in regards to unequal access to healthy and affordable food. Because of the knowledge that I’ve gained as an HSSP major, I will feel confident conducting these interviews and will have the ability to acquire answers and experiences from these people that will then be published for many to see and, hopefully, be inspired to participate in ending health inequalities.
On the second day of my internship at Avodah, I helped organize the final event of the organization’s New York Fellowship Program. The main goal of this social justice initiative is to provide networking, mentorship, and learning opportunities to young professionals interested in giving back to their community through social work.
Ruth Messinger, Stosh Cotler, and Jill Jacobs were the three panelists invited to speak at the closing ceremony. They articulately addressed issues such as the contribution of the Jewish community to causes related to poverty alleviation, and the role of women in leadership positions, particularly in the world of activism. The panel was moderated by Avodah’s Executive Director Cheryl Cook. They also talked about sources of inspiration they found in their journeys, as well as the importance of making such social justice journeys visible to the rest of the community, in the hope of inspiring new ones.
(The panel of the Fellowship Closing event, organized in the innovative and unconventional location of JCC Harlem)
One of the reasons why I am so interested in the work of the above mentioned activists and the entire team at Avodah is that I have explored only the theoretical side of these issues through my classes at Brandeis. As an aspiring Anthropologist looking to specialize in cultural studies, with a focus on group dynamics and the identity of disadvantaged groups and minorities, I chose the Social Justice internship at Avodah knowing that it would be an invaluable experience. I have spent the past two semesters studying the politics of poverty, group exclusion of the cultural and socioeconomic ‘Other,’ and social identity theory through the works of Clifford Geertz, Henri Tajfel, Barbara Ehrenreich, Michel Foucault, Philippe Bourgois, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and my professor, Janet McIntosh. However, as an undergraduate student, I do not yet have access to the research opportunities of an actual anthropologist, which is why I chose to pursue the experiential learning process of this internship.
Unlike Philosophy or Political Theory, Cultural Anthropology is a descriptive discipline of human nature and culture, meaning that ethnographic fieldwork is essential. At Avodah I am able to observe the community living arrangements administered by the organization, meet with members and fellows of their Jewish Service Corps Training Program, who are learning practical ways in which to address the same issues I am theoretically interested in, and listen to the fascinating stories of activists such as the ones who took part in the above mentioned event.
I’m back this week to answer the prompt: What have you learned at Brandeis that informs your thinking about your organization’s work?
Answer: At Brandeis, I learned about how the Federal Housing Authority and the GI Bill systematically excluded Black and Brown families from the growing American middle class. Learning how the U.S. government leveraged housing discrimination and loan programs to exclude Black and Brown communities from the American middle class helps me understand the communities I am working with. It helps me understand the financial insecurity a lot of folks face. It helps me understand that the fight for equality is a never-ending battle against a system built on discrimination.
Federal Housing Authority & Redlining
In 1934, Franklin D. Roosevelt founded the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) as part of the “New Deal” effort to bring the United States out of the Great Depression. The FHA was created to issue and regulate mortgages and allowed millions of Americans to afford a down payment on a house for the first time. Unfortunately, millions of Black Americans were shut out from the dream of home ownership due to a discriminatory practice called redlining.
The FHA created “residential security maps” like the one shown below to determine which neighborhoods were eligible to receive low-interest loans. Low-income majority minority neighborhoods were outlined in red ink indicating that they were “high risk.” High risk neighborhoods were outright denied loans or were only eligible to receive high-interest, short-term mortgages. A 1938 FHA manual even explicitly instructed banks to steer clear of areas with “inharmonious racial groups” and pushed local governments to create zoning laws that enforce racial segregation. In the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Ghetto is Public Policy.”
The GI Bill is credited by many experts as establishing the American middle class by providing a number of services to veterans including generous low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans, unemployment compensation, job training programs and college tuition and fees. Overall, the bill was a tremendous success, helping over 16 million veterans attend college, receive job training, start businesses or purchase their first home. However, in the words of historian Ira Katznelson, the GI Bill was “deliberately designed to accommodate Jim Crow.”
Take the state of Mississippi: By October 1946, 6,500 former soldiers had been assigned jobs by the state employment service. 86 percent of the skilled and semiskilled jobs were filled by white people and 92 percent of the unskilled jobs, by Black people. Between 1945 and 1960, only two of the 3,200 loans provided were given to Black veterans.
Homeownership has been the primary path for millions of Americans to accumulate private wealth. Today, seventy-three percent of white people own a home, compared to only 45% of Black people. The average white homeowner’s house is worth $85,000 compared to only $50,000 for the average Black home. The average Black household has only 6 percent of the wealth of the average white family. These disparities are an inevitable result of the discriminatory implementation of the GI Bill and the Federal Housing Administration.
At NYCC I work with community members who are fighting back against “urban renewal” or “redevelopment” plans that accelerate gentrification. The progression of these projects is pretty formulaic: First, a corporate real estate developer funds a local politician’s campaign or otherwise buys them off. Next, the politician gives public land and taxpayer money to the developer to build luxury condos in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. For an example of this phenomenon please read this report on the Bedford Armory Development project in Crown Heights.
What I learned at Brandeis helps me understand that these gentrification projects are not a new phenomenon. They are merely another manifestation of state sanctioned racial housing discrimination. People in power will always uphold the status quo unless pushed to do otherwise.
In my Research Methods and Laboratory in Psychology course at Brandeis University this past spring, we spent some time discussing representative sampling and the importance of recruiting a diverse population. This is essential in order to achieve external validity, the extent to which the results of a study can be generalized to other situations or to other people. (If you would like to learn more about representative sampling, click here!)
Representative sampling is often a concern in autism research including at the Center for Autism Research. Many of the families that are able to bring their children in for various assessments and research projects are affluent Caucasian families, and this can potentially confound the data. Since the studies mostly involve these certain groups, researchers cannot know whether the results are generalizable to a larger population or whether they are solely consistent with that particular group.
The Center for Autism Research is aware of this issue and is trying to combat it through various new projects such as the Response to Name app. Diminished response to name is a hallmark feature of autism that can potentially serve as an early indicator of an autism spectrum disorder. Researchers at CAR have developed a mobile smartphone app that prompts a parent or guardian to stand behind their child when the child is engaged in an everyday activity and to call their name. Thus, families don’t need to come into the lab to participate. The app then video records the response and uploads the file to a secure network. Parents also rate whether their child responded to their name. (More information about the pilot run of the smartphone app can be found here.)
This past week I have been watching the videos (about 30 trials per participant!) and coding them for certain information including whether the name calling bid was typical, if the child was in view of the camera, and if they responded. It has been very interesting for me to observe the different ways that children with autism, children with other developmental disorders, and typically developing children respond to their own names. This phenomenon was not something I thought much about before, but now the distinctions are becoming clear to me and I better understand the importance of studying this trend.
It is the hope of the Center for Autism Research that in the future, the data collected from this app will be used to better understand “response to name” and aid in the early screening and potentially diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. The use of the mobile app is extremely valuable in the effort to get a wider range of families to participate in research. With the introduction of the app, there is greater accessibility to the study which hopefully will be a step towards more accessibility to diagnoses and treatment for underrepresented groups.
One of my favorite classes so far at Brandeis has been UWS—a favorite that I’m definitely in the minority for. The University Writing Seminar is a required class that all Brandeis students have to take, and each class has a different theme that students write about. My freshman UWS was called “The Decay of the American City,” and was about exploring urban planning practices in America.
Even though I didn’t really volunteer to take the class, I ended up discovering a whole subject of study that I didn’t know existed. I’d never before given much thought to how urban landscapes are developed, or really investigated the underlying ideas about how we put together the spaces where we live.
This past semester, I took a different class that approached these same ideas from a more literary perspective. “The Novel and the City,” a comparative literature class, explored the development of both novels and cities over the past three centuries. Again, I got to study how cities and societies are formed, and the social concepts that dominate how we construct our physical and social environments.
These two classes—my two favorites so far—have been excellent precursors for my current internship. For my internship this summer, I’ve been spending a lot of time researching urban spaces on the Gulf Coast, specifically in Southeast Texas and South Louisiana, and putting these ideas into practice. From my time at Brandeis, I’m now able to more critically investigate communities, to look at how they’re put together and how people live in them.
The Gulf Coast hosts both people and petrochemical plants, and often they’re uncomfortably situated in close proximity to one another. For example, in the Meadowbrook/Allandale neighborhood of Houston, Texas, there’s Cesar Chavez High School, which is located less than a quarter-mile away from a Texas Petrochemicals refinery, a Goodyear plant, and an Exxon-Mobil chemical facility. The dire situation is detailed in this excellent Texas Observer article, which says that “a major accident at any of the three plants, by the industry’s own estimates, would injure or kill many Chavez students.”
Looking at this physical space from a critical perspective, we have to ask tough questions about it. For instance, why was this high school built so close to a refinery? Might it have to do with the respective racial and income make-ups of the neighborhood?
When we look at these two maps below, sourced from 2010 Census data for Meadowbrook/Allandale, the situation becomes more distressing.
Meadowbrook/Allandale, and its adjacent neighborhoods, like Manchester and Harrisburg, are living examples of the disparities in how our society treats both the poor and minorities. They’re why films like In the Air need to be made, because any society that treats its citizens so poorly needs to be called out.
My time spent at Brandeis, too, has helped me with my internship in that I got to learn about the subject of urban planning in theory and now I get to see it in practice. I’m excited to help tell the stories of these marginalized communities and to help fight for justice to be done.
During the spring semester at Brandeis, I took the course Narcopolitics with Professor Brian Fried. Through this course, I learned about the correlation between drug use and incarceration rates. A recurring issue that we discussed throughout the course was the elevated rates at which children of formerly incarcerated persons are likely to be incarcerated when compared to children whose parents have not experienced incarceration. This comparison shocked me at the time. Currently, I am witnessing the reality of this fact and it is extremely unsettling.
Many of the individuals I work with at Alameda Point Collaborative, a low-income housing community, were previously incarcerated or homeless. The people who attend events through Open Source Wellness are mainly in their fifties and sixties, and many of them have older children who have also been incarcerated. One of the women who regularly attends our events explained her experience with incarceration. She described her long struggle to move past this difficult time in her life because of the legal, social, and emotional restrictions she experienced. Now, her son faces a long prison sentence. She spoke about her inner struggle about the best way to support him, and if she chooses to support him at all. She does not know if she can deal with the responsibility of trying to get him released early or if she is willing to support him when he is released because she feels she put a lot of effort into trying to break the cycle of incarceration. She said she understands that it is more likely for her children to be sent to prison, because she did, but she hoped her children would break the statistic.
Above are pictures of the community garden and kitchen where the residents of APC grow and cook the food that they serve at our events.
Many of these individuals have been incarcerated for drug offenses. There are strong genetic links and environmental factors that influence drug use. The children of parents who have drug or alcohol addictions often begin their lives with a hereditary vulnerability in addition to the impact of their parent’s drug addiction. Additionally, the loss of parental role models for long periods of time during a parent’s absence due to imprisonment negatively impacts breaking the cycle of incarceration. I recently read an article about recent research that proposes that 40%-70% of people in the prison system have Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) which the researchers contest has a strong genetic link, further adding to the cycle of incarceration.
In Professor Fried’s course I learned about the unfairness of U.S. drug laws and the impact they have on the cycle of incarceration. With this knowledge, I am more informed about the challenges facing individuals who were incarcerated, especially the difficulties encountered in breaking the cycle of incarceration. My role at the Open Source Wellness program, is to help run the weekly event by facilitating a group discussion in a weekly women’s circle. I feel as though my increased understanding of incarceration in the U.S. is helping me support these women in a way that is meaningful and helpful to them.
For this post, I will be talking about the effect studying at Brandeis has had on how I approach my internship.
Besides the fact I was fortuitous enough to be able to apply for this internship through Brandeis’ Handshake Program, I also see my social justice work through the important lens of a Politics/Psychology double major. And as Politics/Psychology double major, I’m often asked about the relevancy and intersection of my two majors to my life view.
The connection between them isn’t always obvious–hence the dearth of cross-listed classes compared to other disciplines. But the way I’ve always seen it is that both seek to understand and generalize behaviors writ large. Politics is understanding systems. We talk about the ways other nation states interact with each other, and how they straddle the line between order and anarchy. Psychology, on the other hand, focuses on individuals and to the extent to which human behaviors and predispositions affect our perception of the world.
I’ve found an interconnected approach is an important part of organizing. Because, specifically relevant to IWJ, while talking with the religious congregations, organizations and corporations, it’s important to know the right people to target. An action is as successful as the allies you acquire and the extent to which you are able to quantify and exhibit successes. Having demonstrable goals makes victories relevant to the cause of social justice.
A few weeks ago, I participated in Seminary Summer, straddling the middle ground as a participant and observer. I learned about the variety of inequalities faced by individuals in the labor market and the way non-profits and religious organizations are speaking out.
One example stuck out to me. We were given an issue of wage theft and were given time to brainstorm with a partner the most effective way to address this injustice, and how to incorporate religious communities. Knowledge of political science helped me to vocalize what systems I should be targeting and what structures were in place to encourage, or more often than not discourage, systemic change. But knowledge of psychology made me think what would be the most effective way to approach people for my desired result.
(Some of the reading I’ve done at work. Learn more here.)
Since Seminary Summer, I’ve spent time putting together details for our National Convening. In this, I’ve drawn upon my extracurricular experiences at Brandeis. Being a debater and learning how to speak succinctly and persuasively has aided me in crafting scripts to message and interact with IWJ donors and affiliates about our upcoming National Convening–in particular, encouraging allies to come to a photo exhibit we’re hosting with the work of David Bacon.
If you haven’t seen his phenomenal and moving work as a labor activist and photojournalist, his website is available here.
The following is one of his powerful images:
Overall, I’m grateful that Brandeis has improved my analytical and persuasive abilities and I have them come to play as I prepare for the next major event of my internship.
This past semester, I took a course titled “Economy of Race and Gender.” While the course tracked the disparity amongst racial groups in the US, primarily White and Black, in an economic perspective, it provided insight to other racial groups. With discrimination and gaps in income, the not so privileged group(s) tend to do worse in life.
I can use this knowledge and apply it to my internship as many of these clients begin with nothing. They navigate the American lifestyle knowing little to no English and with a limited budget. Language barriers and limited to no knowledge on how to work with basic home appliances make living in the United States hard, I would suppose. I remember a story of one family that thought turning off the air conditioner means to push the lever down, which turned out to have an opposite effect of what they had hoped for. The next day, many of the young children suffered from colds and had to be taken to the doctor’s office. Hearing these stories really touch your heart. We must be appreciative that we know how to handle and work with these appliances and amenities, while people from other countries do not know how.
Additionally, the course at Brandeis discussed closing the educational gap where poor and underserved students through Affirmative Action are given preference in admissions. This made me think about my own background as a first-generation college student and how I was able to attend Brandeis. I never thought of leaving my city until mentors from a program that provides college readiness services encouraged me to apply out-of-state to universities like Brandeis, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania. Information about the program, EMERGE-HISD, can be found here. During a short meeting with my supervisor, I brought up the idea of possibly developing a curriculum that encourages high school seniors to apply to need-blind and full-need universities and colleges. I would like for these clients to take advantage of the high-quality education that the United States offers so that they can become future leaders in the United States and the world at large.
As research has shown, minority students who enroll at these large, prestigious universities are known to return and serve underserved communities. Likewise, perhaps with these individuals, supported by the refugee agency, they will make an attempt to attend such universities to help bring change to their lives, the lives of their family members, and the lives of people around the world. Similarly, my goal and hope that all clients utilize and take advantage of the benefits of Medicaid will help close the gap of health care disparity both in terms of medicine and dentistry. The findings in this article are relevant to the work I will be doing within the next few weeks. Through my work, ranging from organizing client files, developing a curriculum, to educating clients, I hope that what I do purely reflects my attempt to give access to these individuals who might not know of such opportunities. With these resources, it is of my greatest interest to help inspire their lives and bring positive changes.
The Refugee Services of Texas (RST) serves refugees, asylees, individuals with Special Immigrant Visas, Cuban-Haitian entrants, Central American minors, survivors of human trafficking, and other vulnerable populations. RST is a social-service agency dedicated to providing assistance to refugees and other displaced persons. A list of the different services that the Houston office offers can be found here. Through its many services, it aims to build a welcoming environment for these underserved and vulnerable populations. The office of the agency is located on the fifth of six total floors of a square building surrounded by other office buildings and apartment complexes. Upon entrance, one may feel that he or she is in a clinic. Chairs are lined up against the wall and against each other in the middle. Toys for the children are stacked in the corner.
Upon my entrance into the office space on my first day, I was greeted by a large number of employees and interns. I felt extremely welcomed and happy to have landed this internship opportunity with RST. It’s not the beauty and aesthetics of the office that makes this agency special, it’s the work that impresses me and pushes me to do all that I can do to better the lives of the clients and the employees here. My work, which may evolve over time, mainly focuses on promoting oral health. My goal is to inform all clients of the importance of keeping good oral hygiene. I will be creating a curriculum for the volunteers to use while they welcome and orient the clients.
Although each client has Medicaid, clients of ages 20 and younger are only eligible to receive dental benefits. Thus, clients of over the age of 20 will have to pay out of pocket, depending on income. More information about this policy can be found at this website. The agency hopes that each client will end up having a dentist to serve their oral health care needs. This will allow for the clients to receive great health care that is vital and of much importance.
My work will be part of the cultural orientation given within the guaranteed 90 days of service that the agency provides for its clients. As of now, the agency informs all clients of health care opportunities and information, but does not do so for dental care. I am happy to help start this new program and service for the agency. I believe that my work will further help make the clients comfortable in their new lives as residents of the United States.
By summer’s end, I hope to learn about the different policies that govern how refugees, asylees, individuals with Special Immigrant Visas, Cuban-Haitian entrants, Central American minors, survivors of human trafficking, and other vulnerable populations arrive to the United States. As a child of parents who were once refugees, I want to learn more and connect with what it means to be a refugee, as well as the hardships that must be tackled. I hope to learn the many different ways that individuals can become settled into the States, and how present-day government policies affect the lives of these vulnerable populations. I also hope to become more comfortable with interacting with people of different backgrounds and traditions. The employees working in the office, a total of nearly 20, speak a total number of 30 languages. Thus, I am positive that by the end of my internship, I will be able to learn more about different cultures and customs.
One of the best, if not the best, classes that I have taken in my Brandeis career is Prof. Derron Wallace’s Sociology of Race, Gender, and Class. The course holds these identities “as influential, interlocking dimensions…that shape institutions, dynamics, processes, and cultures.” One’s identity affects the ways in which they interact with institutions, as well as the way that institutions interact with them. Sociology of Race, Gender, and Class relied heavily on Kimberlé Crenshaw’s idea of intersectionality as a lens through which one can analyze systems and hierarchies of power. Professor Wallace’s class, through his emphasis on intersectionality as a critique of institutions, taught me to never take experiences at face value, as they are informed by systemic modes of oppression.
This interrogative energy fuels much of HIVE’s work as they are committed to more than just medical care. HIVE not only provides medical care, but also intensive case management because they recognize that one’s HIV status also intersects with other facets of one’s identity. As I noted in my previous blog post, HIVE holds HIV as an identity that coexists and intersects with other marginalized identities; for example, the ways in which people of color and folks with lower incomes are disproportionately affected by HIV. To read about how HIV intersects with other identities, visit: https://www.hiveonline.org/black-queer-woman-sex-education-advocate/
Every week, the HIVE team meets to discuss updates on patients’ medical, social, financial—and many other—situations. For example, the HIVE social worker might note that a patient who needed emergency housing was able to stay with a friend for a couple of days. Or a patient who was struggling with depression was referred to and attended an OB psych appointment. Taking the time to discuss the needs, the successes, the trials of patients each week signals that HIVE recognizes that each patient’s experience is unique, dynamic and cannot be singly categorized by their HIV status. They are experiencing so much outside of their health that subsequently informs their health.
More than this, HIVE recognizes the barriers to healthcare, not only limited to initial access but also barriers to retention in HIV care. Much of HIVE’s work is dedicated to keeping patients engaged in HIV care postpartum. There are many obstacles that might stand in the way of someone being engaged in care, with one of the biggest barriers being access—financial, geographic—to medical facilities.Other barriers include mental health and familial and social complications, among others. HIVE recognizes specifically that trauma can act as an obstacle in engaging in medical care and can keep someone from continuing medical care. To watch a video HIVE produced on caring for women with a history of trauma, visit: https://www.hiveonline.org/caring-women-history-trauma/.
Ultimately, HIVE is marked by their holistic and comprehensive approach to HIV care. The HIVE team is deeply dedicated to advocating for women and couples whose lives are affected by HIV and whose HIV status is compounded by their other lived experiences.
People often ask me, “where are you from?” to which I reply, “Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Most of the time, those who ask are shocked to hear my response. While New Mexico is (contrary to common belief) in the United States of America, it is difficult for some to conceptualize why someone my age would be drawn to an opportunity like the one I’ve chosen to take on. This opportunity I am referring to is my work with the leading Jewish non-profit human rights organization in the world and living alone in a five-story walk-up apartment complex in Midtown West Manhattan, spending my summer 2,000 miles away from home. The appeal is more than the independence I have in this beautiful city that I am experiencing every day. The appeal is more than the sights, sounds, tastes and smells that are so unique to Manhattan.
The appeal comes from the lessons I am learning about myself, and the responsibility and the work I’m doing here at AJWS that contributes to the greater good of people who are living around the world. The attraction comes from the idea that ambition is self-guided, and it only takes one person to have the confidence within themselves to know where they come from, and where they are headed.
That is what motivates me to wake up, strap on my heels, walk to the subway, grab my coffee and indulge in the meaningful work AJWS promotes daily.
The motivation behind my decision to come to Brandeis was built on the idea that social justice is fostered by generations who take pride in advocating and fighting for others. I am very passionate about finding innovative ways to network with people and learn more about where they come from and what they stand for. The work I am responsible for here is relevant to the AJWS social justice model: “[Advocating] for U.S and international laws and policies that help overcome injustice; [conducting] research to learn about and strengthen our work and advance the field of human rights; and [using] strategic communications to amplify our grantees’ voices and influence policy makers in the U.S and around the globe.” Through networking and communication, we can build stronger connective bonds that allow us to understand one another and strengthen our relationships. These conversations, presentations, proposals and travels are the crucial pieces that make up AJWS. The transparency and fluidity within each of the departments is what fosters the success of the organization.
Similarly, at Brandeis, we as a community use inter-connectivity to make our community stronger. If we as a community, nation and world are open-minded and tolerant of other points of view and perspectives, we can begin to open a dialogue that is positive and meaningful. Words are powerful, but so are actions. Regardless of our backgrounds, our hometowns, or our soon to be destinations, we are all traveling and living in this world together. Peace, love, unity and respect are the four elements that make up a successful thriving community and if we continue to instill these values within ourselves and those who come after us, we will uphold the social justice model and build a better future.
The knowledge that I gained at Brandeis that has been most helpful in contextualizing the work I am doing is not something explicit that I learned through one of my classes, but rather is a general awareness of how differences in opportunity and privilege affect our lives and our ability to succeed. I think that many of my peers would agree that one of the most eye-opening and meaningful experiences one gains by being a student at Brandeis is exposure to people who come from different backgrounds. Prior to coming to college, a lot of my peers were raised in fairly homogeneous communities in terms of socioeconomic status, race, and religion. Attending Brandeis has increased my awareness of how certain populations encounter more difficulties than others in pursuing educational opportunities and in attaining financial stability.
Awareness of this issue and the desire to help combat differences in opportunity is part of what motivated me to apply to this internship, and has also been very important to keep in mind as I complete my work here at MUA [Mujeres Unidas Avanzando, or Women United Advancing]. However, while at Brandeis I have been exposed to people who are from different socioeconomic, racial, and religious backgrounds from myself, I have come to realize that simply being at a university means that we as Brandeis students have certain privileges in common. Despite our many differences, we all have at least professional working proficiency in English. Many of the students who I have encountered and worked with at MUA do not share this privilege. Learning English as an adult is an incredibly daunting task, and yet it is very difficult to get by in America without being able to speak English.
It’s important to consider English-speaking privilege and how it contributes to other social injustices. Non-English speakers encounter greater difficulties gaining access to education, healthcare, and criminal justice than are English speakers. Furthermore, due to a wide range of social customs and stereotypes, non-English speakers are perceived as less intelligent, less educated, and more violent than are English speakers.
We work to combat this significant gap in privilege due to language at MUA. Whether it be by teaching English classes, helping students find affordable housing options, or providing job certification services, MUA works to help combat this particular social injustice.
As time has gone by interning with my organization, Green Map System, it has become apparent to me that community is at the core of the nonprofit’s social justice mission. Since 1995, Green Map System has worked continuously to expand the demand for healthier and more livable communities. What’s so interesting about this goal is that Green Map System is able to connect with so many distant communities on a local level- in Asia, South America, Africa and beyond – despite being based in the United States.
In order to achieve this goal, Green Map System has supported a network of mapmakers through its regional hubs. Green Map System supports these hubs with tutorials, workshops, and direct training, which help them to run their own branches and create maps to be shared with the entire Green Map community.
In addition to its mapmaking network, Green Map System is in constant communication and collaboration with other organizations and institutions in the New York region and beyond. With this approach in mind, Green Map System’s founder has been arranging diverse and unique opportunities for me to interact with other organizations throughout my internship. From my past work with LES Ready, to this past week meeting the directors of the Pratt Design Incubator Lab for Sustainable Innovation, I have had really great opportunities to learn from and communicate with other groups to learn how community plays into different aspects of sustainability. At the Pratt Design Incubator Lab, I saw how today’s designers are incorporating sustainability into clothes and fabrics through reused and recycled materials. In addition, Green Map’s founder and the incubator’s directors discussed opportunities to co-produce events and attend unique programs related to community design and GIS. Green Map System’s founder’s philosophy is that great innovators can best achieve their goals by discussing and learning from others, and this meet-up reflected that idea generation and discussion.
Finally, Green Map System has had over 120 interns over the years, and has encouraged each to employ mapping to the communities and sustainability issues they care about the most. This approach has been important to my own internship experience, as Green Map System has allowed me to dedicate one of my main projects for the organization this summer to mapping out Green Spaces in my own community, the Northern Valley suburbs of New Jersey. When completed, the map will feature the nature reserves, park spaces, and farms in my community and will offer residents and visitors insight into areas where they can purchase fresh foods, play sports, and enjoy nature. With these spaces mapped out, community members will be more aware of sustainable businesses and recreational hubs in the region and will be more likely to utilize them.
Overall, the different aspects of Green Map’s approach to sustainability on the local and individual levels show me that collaboration, innovation, and personalization are the key to Green Map’s global impact. I am excited to continue and complete my Northern Valley of New Jersey Green Map Story and to continue learning from the broad network with which Green Map System collaborates.
I am a Waltham Group coordinator at Brandeis. I help run the Hunger and Homelessness program, which serves food at the Waltham Community Day Center and holds drives each semester to collect food, clothing, and personal care items for individuals experiencing homelessness in the Waltham and Boston area. The Waltham Group is the most incredible organization at Brandeis, and I have learned so much from being a part of this program. I also got the opportunity to take a Community Engagement Practicum, reflecting on my work as HnH Coordinator in an academic setting. In this class, we focused on centering the population we’re trying to serve: listening to their voices, involving them in the planning and administration of our programs, and never patronizing them just because they have less societal privilege than we do.
I have been thinking about Waltham Group, and this class specifically, lately during my internship. A great aspect of most microinsurance companies is that they are often formed in response to needs from community members. This gives community members the ability to explain what they need and what would actually help them. This is powerful; it gives agency back to individuals experiencing hard times. This is what I want to do when considering the blog posts and promotional materials I am in charge of developing.
So far, I have been building up a collection of blog posts about microinsurance, fun facts about umbrellas, and more. (Right now, the website is just a landing page with basic information; the section where my blogs will be posted isn’t there yet.) The basic message of most of these posts is about doing good and being kind to the people around you. I love this central conceit, but I have also been trying to focus specifically on people around the world who are looking for agency and power in very difficult times. Many have lost jobs, homes, and family, but they continue fighting for a better life for themselves and their children.
By focusing on the stories of these real families, I hope not only I am personalizing microinsurance and international poverty issues, but that I am letting individuals experiencing poverty tell their own stories as much as possible. As we learned in my Community Engagement Practicum, there’s no need to be a “voice for the voiceless”. People aren’t voiceless unless you’re speaking over them. I hope my work with Umby uplifts and centers these voices in every blog post.
For the past month and a half, I have been working as a research assistant at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, in the Department of Oral Health Sciences. Leading up to my internship I was both excited and nervous. Up until two days before I started working, I didn’t know what I would be doing and how involved I would be in the research process. To my surprise, my first task on the job was to write a literature review which would then be used as the introduction to a manuscript submitted for publication. I hadn’t received much guidance, other than that the topic of the paper was going to be dentists’ perception of fluoride refusal. With that in mind I started researching the topic on PubMed, looking for any previously published paper regarding fluoride refusal.
As I learned more about fluoride refusal in dentistry, I began to understand the impact fluoride has on various communities. Water fluoridation typically has a larger impact on lower income communities and communities with little access to adequate dental care. Since fluoride is used as a preventative measure aimed at reducing dental caries, it is most prevalent in areas with worse tooth decay. As a result, refusal of fluoride, specifically water fluoridation can have severe impacts on some of the more vulnerable populations.
Learning about and better understanding some of the many issues and consequences regarding fluoride refusal has exposed me to the impact preventative public health measures have on underserved communities. Opposition to fluorides is a social justice issue that needs to be addressed. Fluoride refusal negatively affects those more vulnerable, creating health disparities among those receiving fluoride and those unable to. Fluoride refusal often stems from misconceptions regarding its impact on health. Similar to immunization refusal, the reasons people refuse fluoride are often unfounded, leading to a potentially more dangerous public health outcome. Since dental caries are more prevalent in underprivileged communities, this paper will hopefully bring awareness to opposition of fluorides as an important social justice issue that needs to be addressed by mainstream media and government.
Throughout the summer I will be working on finishing up writing this paper with the hope of submitting it for publication. I hope that by publishing this paper there will be a better understanding of the importance of fluorides in preventative dentistry. In order to do so, I have analyzed data sets, researched the topics further, and begun writing the results and methods sections of the paper. By learning how to write a research paper at the level needed for publication, not only will I gain tremendous experience and knowledge regarding the research and writing process, but I will also contribute to the work of my mentor.
As the halfway point of my internship nears, I can already say I have gained an immense amount of knowledge and appreciation for the work needed to conduct and write a research paper. During the second half of my internship I look forward to gaining a better understanding of the steps required to achieve publication as well as learn more about data collection, analysis and research. By the end of the summer I hope to have gained the skills needed to delve into future research projects with ease and confidence. I look forward to working on further research projects aimed at reducing health disparities in dentistry.
“Why don’t you tell me why you are here?” This is the question I ask each person as they sit down in the intake room at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). As a neutral organization, the role of the commission is to investigate claims of discrimination and if need be, transfer them to a higher court for judgment.
For the past three weeks, I have been observing and training to be an Intake Specialist. As an Intake Specialist, my role is to interview each individual who enters our doors and determine if they have a legal basis for a discrimination claim. My most significant role as an Intake Specialist is to write up the formal legal complaint that becomes the basis upon which the Commission investigates each case. This requires strong interpersonal skills and an ability to concisely convey the alleged injustices of each individual.
This past week have finally been cleared to begin conducting the interviews on my own. What at first seemed like a daunting and somewhat scary task, has become the best part of my days. With each intake I conduct I gain more confidence and realize the extent to which I am truly making a difference in each interviewee’s life. Whether we take their claim or not, I provide a sympathetic and unbiased ear for them to express their anger, sadness and frustration.
Each intake I conduct is extremely different. The Commission has jurisdiction over education, housing and public accommodation cases. Therefore, each case I receive is unique and requires deep analysis and attention. It is safe to say that I am never bored at my job! A typical intake last about 2 hours, as it is my job to ensure that I receive all pertinent facts of the case. While the work is emotionally taxing, the relief I am able to provide is extremely rewarding. While I was expecting to learn about law and the ins and outs of government work, as an Intake Specialist I have become proficient at the important skill of successful customer service.
When I am not conducting intakes, I have been assigned certain cases to investigate. This is a tremendous responsibility and a unique opportunity to get first-hand experience working directly with other attorneys. My overall goals for the summer are to become a proficient Intake Specialist, as well as learn as much as I can about law and advocacy.
As a triple major in English Lit, Anthropology and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, I have always been unsure of my career track, as I have many paths to choose from. These past few weeks at MCAD has focused my interests and influenced me to consider a career in law and advocacy. Working alongside law students and attorneys, and viewing their passion and commitment to eradicate discrimination has been an extremely inspiring and eye-opening experience.
As the summer progresses, I am looking forward to taking on more responsibility at the Commission and continuing to contribute to their social justice fight against discrimination. Through a combination of hands-on learning and educational training sessions and lectures, I am confident that I will leave this internship with an abundance of new knowledge and skills that I can add to my educational toolbox.
This summer, I will intern in Boston Public Market. Boston Public Market is a non-profit organization. Its mission is “to provide fresh, healthy food to consumers of all income levels, nourish our community, and to educate the public about food sources, nutrition, and preparation”. This internship is a multi-factorial internship. I will focus on many different projects, including helping low-income people gain access to nutritious foods, giving tours to summer camps, visiting farms, interviewing vendors, help with market management, etc. There are two main projects that I’m very excited to work on: Switching into HIP program and educating youth of public health issues.
In order to give people of all income level the equal access to food, vendors in BPM accept SNAP/EBT for all eligible market products. Currently, a statewide program, Massachusetts’ Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), is replacing the Boston Bounty Buck program, enacted since June 1st.
There have been some complications in the switch of programs. Previously, EBT card holders will come regularly to the market in order to match their SNAP purchase by making a $10 SNAP purchase, then the market will give them back $20 Boston Bounty Bucks (BBB). These bucks can be used as currency to purchase all eligible food items. However, after the switch, vendors no longer take Bounty Bucks. In addition, only vegetables and fruits purchase will be matched. Therefore, though still accepting SNAP purchase, many vendors who previously accept BBB now are no longer active in participating program. It’s also not hard to imagine how unhappy EBT card holders would be if they have voided leftover bounty bucks. As a small part of this new state-wise program, there really isn’t much we can do to improve the situation. I can tell that this program aims to further encourage low-income people to purchase food of one specific category—fresh products which are more nutritious—rather than just any category of foods. My role in this program switch was very simple: understanding the new program myself, writing a summary sheet, and answering vendors’ questions while distributing the program packages.
The other project I will work on the entire summer is programming summer tours. Educating the public about food source has been the mission of Boston Public Market. One of the intern assignments is to program the tour for different summer camps. All programming starts with theme brain storming. Most of the interesting themes address on important public health issues. We have come up with a few theme ideas. For example, pretend you have $10 to make a meal from ingredients at the market. List what you’ll make, the ingredients you’ll buy, and how much each ingredient costs. This is an amazing idea, since ingredients that are in season and local will cost less. As I have learned from my public health classes, limited access to nutritious food and lack of nutrition knowledge lead to obesity and other health issues among low-incomes. Planning meals within a limited budget will help kids gain more insight on meal planning as well as nutrition knowledge.
Another very interesting theme is to keep track of the distance each vendor’s farm or source from the market. All vendors in the market are sourced in New England. I try to map out the location of each vendors, which can help the kids to start considering issues like carbon footprint, seasonality, etc. From a global perspective, health is really more than someone’s own well-being. Staying healthy means not only to eat nutritious food, but also to eliminate agricultural waste, to reduce carbon footprint, to help maintain agricultural sustainability, which is the mission of the market. “Eating is an agricultural act. Eat responsibly,” writes Wendell Berry. I always consider eating and growing food as responsibilities. However, nowadays, people lost their connection with the real origin of food. Indeed, when you can buy everything you want in a Stop & Shop, you will have no idea why seasonality and locality would make such a huge difference. While a year-round indoor market place really serves to connect people back to the most sustainable way of living. I still don’t know enough to draw a conclusion, but as far as I know, if people can be more aware of these factors, the money they save by supporting local agriculture will eventually benefits the entire community, both themselves and the low-incomes.
Overall, by assisting the operation of HIP program, I will also be able to gain more insight on how a market place make fresh and more nutritional-balanced food more accessible to low-income people. It’s well known that low-income people only have very limited access to fresh food. Very few markets in Boston area, especially farmer’s markets, accept SNAP, and BPM is one of them. Through tracking and managing user’s account, I will be able to qualitatively understand the real effect and value of enabling SNAP usage. By participating in the summer tour programming, I will gain more insight in nutrition issues and how each farmer interprets them from their perspective. Eventually, I hope this way of thinking will benefit my own lifestyles, and will help me in following and spreading idea in my future idea.
I may be a little late to the game, but I have just completed my first week interning at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch! Public Citizen is a non-profit public advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. founded by Ralph Nader in 1971. Public Citizen (from its mission statement) “serves as the people’s voice in the nation’s capital” and is comprised of five policy groups, including Congress Watch, the Energy Program, the Health Research Group, Litigation Group, and Global Trade Watch, the division in which I will be working this summer. My first day was an exciting one, and I had the opportunity to attend a Global Trade Watch staff and interns meeting at our Penn Ave office as well as an all-Public Citizen meeting at the main office in DuPont Circle. I was able to meet and introduce myself to the director of the Global Trade Watch division as well as the president of Public Citizen!
Global Trade Watch’s main focus at the moment is campaigning to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, with a trade deal that is more beneficial to the working people and plays less into corporate power. “At the heart of NAFTA are rights for thousands of multinational corporations to sue the U.S., Canadian and Mexican governments before a panel of three corporate lawyers, who can award the corporations unlimited sums to be paid by us, the taxpayers.” (From the Replace NAFTA website) Global Trade Watch organized a delivery of Replace NAFTA petitions outside of the US International Trade Commission building, attended by several labor organizations and U.S Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)! Later in the week Public Citizen also played a role in protesting outside of Trump’s $35,000 a plate fundraiser for his 2020 presidential campaign.
I am really looking forward to learning more about public advocacy, trade, and political action during my time at Global Trade Watch this summer. As a career goal, I hope to explore the world of public consumer advocacy and law and figure out whether it is something I would like to spend my life doing. I have always wanted to make a difference and fight for the underdog, and Public Citizen seems like a perfect introduction to this world. I also hope to make meaningful connections with my supervisors, other interns, and possible mentors that could serve me well in the future. I hope to make these connections and learn about the field in my day-to-day interactions around the office, and by making a good impression on my employers! I am excited to see what this summer holds.
Awareness. Looking back, one of the biggest lessons this internship has taught me about the world of work is the importance of awareness. I’ve learned that with awareness – both awareness of self and awareness of others – comes transparent communication, cohesive teamwork, and an overall better work experience. With increased awareness, one also sets realistic expectations and meets problems with grace rather than frustration.
With today’s technology, it is easy to be aware of current events around the world. Thanks to accessibility of international news at the touch of a fingertip, we know how to handle certain situations by watching what did or did not work for others. For example, a physician or liver specialist who is aware of hepatitis B treatment guidelines may update a patient’s medication based on EASL recommendations. Besides awareness of the world, being aware of coworkers goes a long way, too. For instance, you may make your coworkers feel well supported if you inquire periodically about their project progress or do quality checks on their work. Additionally, being aware of people’s strengths and weaknesses can be handy for delegating responsibilities and ensuring efficient completion of long-term goals.
At my internship organization, self-awareness is essential in order to avoid burn out. I learned this lesson personally through my daily commute of 3-4 hours. Although health care is all about serving others, you cannot forsake taking care of yourself. For physicians at the Health Center who are pressed to give 15-30 minute examinations, they may experience a toll on their stress levels, mental well being, and physical health. Similarly, research associates and health educators also need to realize their own limits. Although deadlines for government documents, grants, and research proposals may not budge, they need breaks as well. Awareness of one’s shortcomings may lead to personal growth as one learns from mistakes, tries new approaches, and/or asks for help.
Speaking of self awareness… the following are some things that I have learned during this internship:
1. A NJ-NYC commute is tiring; ideally, it is best to live closer to your work site.
2. I work best when I make a tangible list of goals to accomplish everyday.
3. Speak up during meetings, respect others’ time, and take initiative to help out. Build a relationship with everyone you encounter. Be positive and work diligently without complaint.
4. What I appreciate about the Health Center is that outside of doing research, I’ve gotten to shadow a few health care professions. After much soul searching, I’ve finally settled on pursuing a career as a doctor of optometry (O.D.) – a fulfilling balance of one-on-one patient interaction, problem solving, and clinical care. I’ve had an inkling of interest from my own experiences with vision treatment/eye health. In the picture below, I saw a glimpse of how I might be able to serve the Asian American population in this field through shadowing an optometric physician at Charles B. Wang Community Health Center.
I’ve also picked up a skill or two:
1. The ability to conduct research surveys and strike up conversation with strangers. Data analysis using Microsoft Excel’s “filter” function and abstract writing techniques.
2. Confidence in brainstorming and proposing ideas during meetings, writing emails, and planning public health press conferences.
3. Increased fluency in Mandarin.
Looking ahead, I am excited to further advance my Mandarin skills and apply all that I’ve learned to my future endeavors.