My internship with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) and the Massachusetts Child Welfare Coalition has greatly informed my continued interest in working in a job related to advocacy. I learned that the world of work differs from a college student’s life in relation to the schedule, purpose, and goals.
One difference between college and the world of work are the stakes of the assignments you are given. While time and effort spent on projects impact your personal grade and GPA in college, projects in the world of work impact the overall goals and deadlines of your department at your organization and possibly other departments as well. In the world of work, you are communicating with the same people from your team constantly and it is important to always do your best in order to maintain the trust and confidence of your coworkers.
I have learned that it is important to be patient, specifically in the social justice world of work. Legislators are sometimes not on the same page as advocates and those who have been impacted by harmful policies. Legislative change and social change can take years and you cannot let your frustrations about the pace of change distract you from reaching your team’s goals.
As an intern at MLRI, I made a difference at my organization in a supporting role by being the notetaker at meetings. This allowed me to hone my focus on the discussions about the cases each lawyer, social worker, or advocate was discussing and future strategies or projects that they could work on regarding policy changes. I also helped keep the Coalition members informed on upcoming child welfare webinars and news articles through the weekly newsletter.
Working with MLRI and the Coalition reminded me of the importance of continuously staying informed about the social issues that I am hoping to fix. There are so many resources to learn from whether it be podcasts, articles, books, or webinars. For example, for my project about mutual aid, I listened to an episode of Jonathan Van Ness’ podcast with professor and trans activist Dean Spade. These resources can be used to learn about the history behind a social issue, related policies, and personal experiences of impacted people. In addition, I wish I realized the impact of the tasks that might seem small. Generally in the nonprofit world, and also the social justice world, people may be asked to do a lot of different tasks, and if you can take a little off an employee’s plate, it can be super helpful. You should value all projects you are doing, big and small.
I would advise other students who want to pursue a career related to advocacy to find a particular social issue that they are passionate about and find internships or clubs that will help them learn about that industry or topic from other people. Social change and legislative change can be slow and frustrating. As an advocate and ally, one needs to keep up to date on the news and not be afraid to ask questions from peers and people with experience in the field.