Post 2: Reflecting on my journey with Brandeis

Brandeis has taught me many things in the past three years that encouraged me to apply and succeed in Ashoka.

In my sophomore year at Brandeis, I made the decision to major in Economics and Sociology as I love both subjects and I thought they could be an interesting combination. In my junior year, I developed a strong interest in psychology, and though many people may think it’s too late to dig into another subject, my academic advisor convinced me to pursue my passion and now I have a minor in Psychology. Besides all these, I also got to take a lot of other courses outside of my field of studies such as music, history and philosophy. The diversity of the courses that Brandeis provides and the flexibility of its academic curriculum have encouraged me to explore so many different fields, and this allowed me to look at and understand Ashoka’s work from various perspectives.

Among all my major and minor courses, the Economics courses taught me ways different markets operate and quantitative skills regarding conducting scientific researches; the Sociology courses taught me the structures of societies in different cultures and critical thinking skills such that I have formed my own ways of critically engaging with and building on the existing texts; the Psychology courses taught me the scientific explanation behind human behavior and reasoning skills in the way that I should always look beneath the surface of things. All of these knowledges and skills are not only fundamental to my internship at Ashoka, but they are also significant in the way that they allowed me to become a more capable and well-rounded person.

Besides all the academic courses, I found the variety of study abroad programs Brandeis offers extremely valuable. Last year, I studied abroad in Nepal for a semester, and it was such an eye-opener for me. I got to live with a Nepali family for 2 months, learned about Nepali cultures and traditions and engaged in various local events. I also interned at a local non-profit organization called Tewa and learned a lot about gender inequality and women’s right in Nepal.  My experience at Tewa played an important role in why I wanted to pursue the field of social justice and why I applied to Ashoka this summer. Since Ashoka is a global organization with fellows from over 92 countries, the multicultural perspectives I gained from my study abroad experience helped me a lot when it came to understanding the organization’s scope of work and the role my project plays in it.

I want to end this blog by sharing a theory I learned and really liked from one of my sociology classes. In his book “The Burnout Society”, sociologist Byung-Chul Han suggested that “Unlimited Can is the positive modal verb of achievement society. Its plural form—the affirmation, “Yes, we can”—epitomizes a society’s positive orientation.” To explain it further, when people are driven by the word “can” instead of “should”, they become “actors”. This means that they are able to act independently and make their own free choices; they are capable of making changes, and they are part of the changes themselves. If each individual becomes an “actor”, the society will move toward a positive direction. I think this theory precisely coincides with Ashoka’s “Everyone a Changemaker” theory of change, and the word “can” is exactly what drove me to join Ashoka this summer.

– Jessie Zhu

(needs image) Post 2: The importance of collectives

During my time at Brandeis the past 2 years, I have learned that the greatest resources may not always be from the faculty, staff, or institutions but rather from my own peers. Building and investing in relationships with my classmates is one of the best things I could do during my time at Brandeis. There is a strong collective at Brandeis that push towards helping their own peers through the Mutual Aid funds. Unfortunately, this was created in response to Brandeis unable to fully meet all the student’s financial needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Certain students were denied funds and resources, so they took it upon themselves to create a mutual aid fund that works towards helping students at Brandeis that are experiencing financial burdens. At that moment, I realized that during crises like these, we only have each other to depend on and we just act as a collective to meet the needs of each individual. Learning this was significant to me because throughout time, I learned the power that we as individuals have if we work together towards an agenda, even if we feel like we don’t have the position of power to do so. Forming coalitions holds a lot of power than one thinks. 

Working at RAICES, we also have a community that is experiencing financial burdens and lack of resources as well. It may not be exactly the same struggles as those from college students, but we got a sense of the type of resources that the community needs. Mutual aid informs my thinking about my organization’s work because it shows what RAICES stands for and their mission. Because the state and national government is unable to help its immigrant community successfully, RAICES has to step up and provide these resources instead. They took initiative to help the community. Their missions and drive to educate, help, and provide to others as a non-profit organization reminds me of why I wanted to work at RAICES in the first place. 

The idea of a mutual aid changed my approach to my internship. I started to learn more about what RAICES really does for the community as a non-profit organization and how they do not capitalize off of vulnerable individuals unlike other institutions. RAICES mission is more than just providing legal services, but also basic services that everyone should be entitled to such as a home, food on their table, and a healthy life. Currently, we are conducting check-in’s with our community leaders to see if and how they are being affected by the pandemic and what type of support they need. After collecting the data, we will have a better understanding of how we, as a collective, can help each other during these struggling times.

Skillbuilding in a Virtual Internship

Before I knew that my internship was going to be virtual, I was looking forward to spending the summer in Gloucester. It’s somewhere I’ve never spent a lot of time and I was excited about being independent (I was planning on living alone in an AirBnB) and meeting new people. But I was also nervous about it. So when it was official that I would be staying home in California with my parents, I was disappointed to miss out on this opportunity to grow, but tried to stay positive by remembering that I’ll still have all the comforts of home this summer. I don’t have to worry about living alone or getting to know a new place, and I don’t have to cook myself dinner. I’ll have to look for growth in other ways! 

Working virtually has come with some challenges. The hardest thing about working virtually has been that I’m not in an office around co-workers, and it’s been hard to stay motivated in this work environment. I thought it would be more like school, since I mostly work independently on homework. However, this job doesn’t have many deadlines for work products, so I just have to get in my hours and try to finish my work as soon as I can. This is difficult when I’m at home alone. 

I also found that I didn’t have enough work to keep me busy with the two projects that my supervisor assigned me initially, so I asked to be put on another assignment. I will now be working on the marketing team as well. In this project, I am tasked with writing at least one blog post a week, which has been really helpful to have a specific assignment with a deadline, plus I can write more blog posts if I want and have extra time. The blogs will be published on the new Seaside Sustainability website which will be ready soon. I also will be helping another person with the monthly newsletter, which will be a great chance to work with other people. Here’s an example of last month’s newsletter.

This internship isn’t how I imagined, but I am meeting my goals in new ways and gaining skills I didn’t anticipate. I haven’t been able to work on events like I had hoped, but I am learning to be flexible and figure out how to make the most of the situation. One skill that I’ve been practicing that I didn’t expect is self-advocacy. In the first few weeks, I wasn’t getting what I needed from the first projects I was assigned. I spoke to my advisor about how I could do more work to help the organization and gain more of the skills I wanted. This practice of speaking up to negotiate better situations is an important skill anywhere, especially in future jobs.

Post 2: Flexibility

Ever since  high school, I have preferred classes that have unique structures. Whether it was studying abroad for a semester of 10th grade, or designing an independent study project to serve as an elective during 12th grade, I was constantly seeking educational experiences outside of a typical classroom. However, these alternative educational opportunities required extra work and flexibility on my part to not only create a project or raise money for the experience, but also to overcome obstacles that my school placed in my way, including persuading various administrators to approve my ventures.

I chose to apply early decision to Brandeis, partially because I understood that Brandeis encourages alternative educational opportunities, as opposed to putting up boundaries to hinder access, like what I experienced during high school. The ease of alternative educational opportunities has been one of my favorite aspects of my Brandeis experience. From taking courses with unique structures, such as Sociology of Empowerment and Psychology of Love, to serving as a teaching assistant, to studying abroad on a program with interactive experiences peppered into it, I have obtained academic credits in multiple creative ways. These experiences have taught me the importance of flexibility within a structure, which reflects Dr. Philip Kendall’s phrase, “flexibility within fidelity.”

For example, in Sociology of Empowerment, my professor followed a syllabus – like most other professors – that included readings, assignments, and guest speakers. However, he also included multiple class sessions where students would choose readings to be assigned and/or lead class sessions relating to the theme of the course. One of my fellow students assigned us to listen to a podcast that shined light on racial injustices and for us to watch the movie 13th. I organized our class to have a bystander training led by Brandeis’s Prevention, Advocacy, & Resource Center. This not only helps the class become more relevant to the students, but also it helps students develop independent and creative thinking.  

Employing flexibility within a structure is also a crucial factor of treatment and research at Rogers Behavioral Health, the organization for which I am working as an intern this summer. Rogers produces research and provides evidence-based treatments, but they do not keep to a strict structure when administering the treatments in order to maintain their “individualized approach [which] empowers patients, helping them gain control of their symptoms so they can develop effective lifelong coping skills” (https://rogersbh.org/what-we-treat/ocd-anxiety). They act flexibly based on each patient’s needs and they meet each patient where they are in order to treat them most effectively. This flexibility in treatment includes, but is not limited to, going outside the office with patients to conduct therapy, involving a family member, friend, or teacher in a patient’s therapeutic journey, or creating unique exposures (behavioral exercises to systematically reduce patients’ anxiety of whatever stimuli they fear). As part of the Rogers team, I am currently working with Dr. Martin Franklin on writing about flexibility within fidelity in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder in adults. This chapter will serve as a chapter in Dr. Philip Kendall’s book.  

At Brandeis, I have learned how to think flexibly while remaining in a structure. Now I can implement this skill in my research, and I will hopefully be able to also implement this in my future career as a clinical psychologist.

Dr. Franklin and I working flexibly together in our research meeting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Post 2: Pencils, history, and Avodah

Do you have a pencil nearby? Take a look at it.

What Makes a No. 2 Pencil Different?
It’s probably orange or yellow, with a friendly pink eraser and a sharp black tip. It’s one of the most ordinary objects imaginable. And yet, it’s also a bit of a miracle. Assuming the rubber in that eraser is not synthetic, it contains material from rubber trees, which are grown in tropical regions with heavy rainfall and high temperatures. Much like maple trees, rubber trees are “tapped” for their sap, which in this case is latex. The wood in the pencil usually comes from softwoods (like cedars) that grow thousands of miles away from the rubber trees. Pencil lead is made by pulverizing chunks of graphite and clay, then mixing the resulting powder with water in a big rotating drum for up to three days. That’s not even getting into the complexities of the metal band connecting the pencil with the eraser, or the manufacturing of the bright paint coating the wood.

All of this is to say, the modern world is almost unimaginably complex, and even something as basic and a pencil relies upon the specialized knowledge of countless people around the world. As a history major, I would say I’ve spent less time than most people would assume studying names and dates (although those are also important) and more time studying the growth of all these systems we take for granted. Not so much the pencil system, admittedly, but the development of methods of governing, taxation, child-rearing, religion, science and many other aspects of our world. I find studying history to be an incredibly humbling experience, a little like the off-kilter feeling you get when you look at a night sky full of stars. It’s the realization that you are a very small part of something very big, something you will never be able to understand all of but might, with any luck, someday understand a little piece of.

For seven weeks, I’ve been lucky to be a Development Intern at Avodah; I’ve met so many wonderful people, and learned a huge amount about the nonprofit world. One especially interesting part of the job is being able to sit in on all-staff meetings and see the nitty gritty of how a nonprofit functions. Development, communications, recruitment, operations, technology – seeing all these different departments work together to form a greater whole really does remind me of the kind of systems I studied in class. My tasks as an intern include researching prospective major donors, updating the Salesforce database, and writing newsletters, among other things. So much of the satisfaction I’ve derived from all of this has come from seeing how the small contributions I make can be used by others in the organization to work towards Avodah’s goals. No matter what I go on to do, I think this realization of the importance of a sense of shared workplace community and purpose will be relevant.

Since I started my internship, I’ve noticed myself perceiving the world differently. When I walk down the street and see a billboard, a car, a volunteer group picking up litter, I find myself thinking about all the teams of people behind what’s visible on the surface, and all the planning and coordination that had to happen for what I see to become a reality. When I’m looking at the world through this lens, even a humble pencil is a remarkable testament to the power of human collaboration.

Post 2: The Importance of the School to Prison Pipeline

The work I’m doing with Transition H.O.P.E. is directly related to the coursework in a legal studies class I took this most recent semester. This class was taught by Professor Rosalind Kabrhel and it’s titled “Juvenile Justice: From Cradle to Custody.” I believe this is the first course of this nature taught in the legal studies department at Brandeis. Across the country, the faults of the criminal justice system are becoming an increasingly discussed topic since we’ve seen the issue of mass incarceration becoming a controversial issue in politics. In this course, we discussed, in-depth, the school-to-prison pipeline and how early on it is decided on behalf of children what path they are destined to go down. The population of youth that are more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system, in a negative way, are youth who are involved with the Department of Children & Families (DCF), who are homeless or living in low income neighborhoods, who have family members who are already incarcerated or come from single-parent households, or who do not have the option to attend school in high-performing districts. The list goes on and on and on.

Alongside the history of how youth of color are disproportionately reprimanded and criminalized in their daily lives, I was also lucky enough to learn about the psychological damage to youth who have had interactions with the police, DCF, and/or or the Department of Youth Services (which is the Boston-specific department that works with juveniles involved in the justice system). I learned in this course about the trauma and triggering factors that negatively affect a specific population of youth every day. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many sources out there legitimately trying to help them. These youth are instead incarcerated until they they are no longer deemed a “threat to society.”

Learning this information directly helped me prepare for the work I am doing now. As I discussed in my last blog post, the youth I work with are system-involved. I’m sure that most people see them as “troubled kids” who can’t be helped, but I fully understand that most of the time they are misunderstood and simply victims of their own circumstances. “Juvenile Justice” has played such an important and significant role in better understanding the youth I am working with. However, at the end of the day, reading endless articles and books is nothing in comparison to actually having a direct interaction with the people you are trying to help. I’m grateful that the class I took set me up with enough understanding so I could better position myself to be an effective source of help for the program’s participants (but trust me, I’m still learning every day.) Along with a great deal of help from my boss, that class completely informed my approach on how to talk about school or personal lives with these youth. It helped me avoid potentially triggering youth and gave me a better clue as to the potential backgrounds they might have. 

The main project I’m working on for Transition H.O.P.E. is compiling the life stories of the program participants in order to put together a magazine. This magazine will eventually be used in college classrooms as an informative tool for students who are studying topics like social work, criminal justice, and psychology, so they can have a direct source of knowledge that isn’t a peer-reviewed article or a book by someone who has actually never directly worked with such populations.

Even though this will be used as an informative tool for college students, it also acts as a method of “narrative exposure therapy” for the students. Sharing their life stories through a creative outlet gives them the opportunity to not only experience a sense of catharsis but to be their own advocates in hopes that the people who read the magazine can join them in the attempt to change the systems that have hurt them and their respective communities. This project is similar to a book I read for “Juvenile Justice” titled It’s Not About Grit, which conducted youth-led storytelling through writing and video.

A sneak peek into one of the pages for the magazine I’m working on!

What I love about this project, tentatively titled the “SEED Magazine,” is that the students will also be able to receive residual income. All profits from the magazine go directly to the program participants as compensation for sharing their stories. This is important because by purchasing the magazine, the reader is reinvesting their money into the communities they’re studying and reading. Reinvestment in the communities hurt by decades of systemic and institutional racism and violence is equally important as educating yourself on the issues in the first place.

Post 2: Developing Remote Relationships in the Time of COVID

Moving from my hometown of seventeen years to Brandeis, over eight hundred miles away, was a source of anxiety coming into my freshman year. I felt conflicted about going from a place that I had known my whole life to an entirely new environment, but I knew it would be a source of limitless potential and new learning opportunities. I imagine many people have felt this way coming into their first year of college. I worried about meeting new people and slowly releasing the connections I had built at home. Established friends, teachers, and the like played significant roles in my life and, as for many people, acted as my support network.

Having a year under my belt now and reflecting on these unpredictable first two semesters, I found myself having many of the same fears and anxieties that I had then reoccurring today. I recently had a discussion with a close friend from Brandeis who shared these thoughts and feelings with me. While discussing making new connections and friends in the upcoming semester, they reminded me of how we met. They recalled how in the first meeting our economics class, I introduced myself to five or six people who were sitting around me, themself included. I had no memory of this occurrence and still struggle to remember anything like it happening. But from that point I had made the connection with them and, completely unknowingly, began what would evolve into an intimate and important friendship for me in my first semester.

In recalling this memory, I began to think of how difficult it has been to make connections and communicate extemporaneously in the remote environment we’re all working in. I believe it is fundamental that, in order to have a positive personal relationship with work, you must have positive relationships within the workplace, both professionally and personally. The barrier to entry in a new environment is especially low in a remote workplace. I’ve found that to be somewhat of a challenge, but fortunately the team I’m working with is a small, tight-knit bunch that communicates well.

Despite this, I find myself lacking the sort of personal enrichment and fellowship that one develops in a working team. In the last few weeks, I’ve committed myself to applying the same approach I took in that first economics class. I have begun reaching out to my colleagues and engaging deeper with them through friendly and personal discussions. I’ve found that we share similar hobbies and passions, but especially, due to the nature of our work, we think about similar issues. This experience has been a reminder to me that developing new relationships takes only a first step, even in a remote environment. While not all attempts will blossom into a fruitful friendship, at the very least I will have reached out to another person, which is an experience I believe we can all benefit from, especially in this unique time.

Post 2: How working at a Speech Pathology Practice has Informed me

In my Linguistics course entitled “Language Acquisition and Development” I learned about the spectrum of language development for infants and children otherwise. More specifically, I learned that though language development follows a common pattern in many children, there are always different development patterns in some. This understanding has allowed me to be conscious and considerate of learning and language spectrums as they may be  affected by things like speech impediments and autism. It is especially important to be conscious of the ways in which therapy is provided.  This was  important for my internship because all of the sessions I sit in on are speech therapy sessions with children.

Many of these children are on the Autism spectrum, and their parents seek out speech therapy to aid in strategies to aid their child’s language development. As stated by  Beverly Vicker, M.S., CCC-SLP, though students with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) may be verbal they may have verbal and communication challenges. Vicker continues on to describe how this may look for these individuals in the article below: https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/social-communication-and-language-characteristics.html

Sitting in on many of speech therapy sessions, I see both the general and individualized approach that my supervisor and her externs take. They are filled with questions and creative tasks that serve as markers to check for the child’s development or level of development. In addition, not every child comes to therapy for the same reason. While some may be having social communication issues others may be having trouble pronouncing glides.

Because My Speech Matters is a small private practice, I know that the level of attention and care they give to every individual who comes for a session is significant. As mentioned in my previous post, some of the children that get therapy from My Speech Matters receive it because their school does not provide it. Knowing these things allows me to approach my internship with clarity of my own goals.

I know that I want to be able to provide services to those who may not be getting served in the way they should be. In addition, I know that I want to be able to aid in someone’s path to wellbeing and clarity. This would be specifically by helping them reach acceptance of the things that may be impacting their language development and by working with them to find avenues where this thing that blocked them becomes a source of power.

Post 2: Investigating Cold Cases with the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office

In the spring semester of 2019, I took LGLS 142B: Law & Psychology with Professor Rosalind Kabrhel. I learned a great deal not only about the law, but also about the factors that shape public perception of the justice system, its legal actors, and the civilians who become involved with it. In Law & Psychology, we explored the intersection of the media and the law in depth, a topic that has always been of particular interest to me. I have also been long fascinated with “cold cases” — crimes that have remained unsolved for a long period of time with no new evidence, and have thus been considered low priority to the investigating agencies. These cases, however, are not considered low priority to the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, which launched an entire unit dedicated to investigating them (see Middlesex DA Marian Ryan creates cold case unit”). Under District Attorney Marian Ryan, the office has brought justice to the victims and families of a number of the county’s oldest unsolved cases, including:

A clipping from a September 28, 1969 article in the Lowell Sun about McCabe’s murder

Confidentiality is imperative in this job, and disclosing specifics can threaten the integrity of the investigations and the privacy of the individuals involved. One of my current projects concerns media coverage and unsolved homicides. After poring over decades worth of coverage, I have been reminded of what we discussed in Prof. Kabrhel’s course. The news media has often been referred to as the “fourth branch” of the U.S. government, and its impact on the workings of the criminal justice system cannot be overstated. While the media is an absolutely essential agent in maintaining our democracy, and it helps to hold our elected officials accountable to the people they serve, it can also create bias within the public. In jury trials for cases that the media has covered extensively, it is very difficult to satisfy a defendant’s 6th Amendment right to an impartial jury. News coverage also often includes evidence that will not be admissible in court, impeding jurors’ ability to rule based on only the evidence presented to them in the courtroom. A change of venue often helps in these cases, but when a case has received national attention, the challenge is greater.

One thing I have been thinking about a great deal, however, is the way the news media’s portrayal of the victims of homicide comes into play. In my research, I came across an article from the 1970s potentially linking the disappearances/murders of three girls in the area. While the point of the following description is to convey how serial killers select victims based on vulnerability, the article also paints a rather clear portrait of the victims: 

“[Victim #1] was a chronic runaway, a drug addict, a hitchhiker, and a child. [Victim #2]... was a chronic runaway and a child. And [Victim #3]...was a child known to talk to strangers.”

The terms used convey value-based assessments about the victims. When a victim has a history of running away, both the investigators and the public can easily write it off. People fear less for their own safety when they feel the crime could not have affected them personally, but rather was the byproduct of the victim’s decisions and character. These portrayals detract from the sympathy felt toward the victim and their family, which unfortunately can matter immensely in how an investigation is prioritized. Public pressure to solve the case diminishes and justice is never served. This effect can be seen in a later submission by a member of the public concerning the wrongful death suit Victim #1’s parents filed. The commentator harshly criticizes the parents for taking legal action because their daughter had a history of running away (and thus they did not immediately report her as missing). 

In my research, I also read an article about a victim whose family pleaded for anyone with information that might help solve the case to come forward, as the victim’s grandmother is terminally ill and her only wish is to find out what happened to her granddaughter. Homicide is more than just true crime podcasts and documentaries — it wreaks havoc on real peoples’ lives. The Cold Case unit plays a key role in furthering the MDAO’s mission to deliver justice to all those impacted by crime. Its successes not only mean that the person responsible is held accountable and no longer poses a threat to public safety, but also that a victim’s loved ones are provided answers that they have often waited decades for.

Post 2: Learning and Understanding the Impacts of Socioeconomic Burdens in a Community

It was not until I got to Brandeis until I started to consciously think about socioeconomic issues surrounding different communities. Before my studies as a Health: Science, Society, and Policy major (Public Health), I understood the basic concepts of first- and third-world countries, developed- and developing-communities. While at Brandeis I took classes introducing me to a wide array of global health issues affecting communities in the world. I learned about the impact that Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) programs and clean cookstove initiatives can have on low-income developing communities.  I knew since before I arrived at Brandeis that I was privileged to be raised with opportunities that kids my age in Uganda would never dream of having.

My internship with Love4Bukwo Hospital is at a point of organizational development with which they are not at a fully operational point. Although Love4Bukwo is already built and the structure of the hospital has already been created there is still much to do. Working at my internship I have been primarily tasked with working to create policies that will be implemented upon the opening of the fully functional hospital. As I have researched and curated policies administered at the hospital, I have been able to understand how my work will directly impact the people of Bukwo.

At the beginning of my internship, I researched the socioeconomic conditions that people of Bukwo faced. This allowed me to really understand what it is like living there. Through previous courses on campus, I began slowly understanding what sort of socioeconomic differences are typically found in third world developing countries, specifically in Africa. While researching those that affect Bukwo, I learned how these burdens affect the citizens of this rural town.

Before Love4Bukwo began working on building a hospital, on top of dealing with communicable disease burdens prevalent to Africa or the Global South (i.e. Malaria and HIV/AIDS) the people of Bukwo had no way to readily treat health issues they may run into. The organization that I am working with is bringing healthcare to these individuals. Once operational, mothers will no longer be reliant on uneducated neighbors to treat labor complications, workers will no longer have to sacrifice their work for being injured and not treated, community members will no longer be dying during transportation to a nearby hospital sometimes over two hours away in Kenya.

Love4Bukwo Hospital is creating a means to bring first-world solutions to a developing low-income third-world community. The Love4Bukwo organization is not the ultimate solution to address all of the issues facing community members of Bukwo, Uganda. However, being a part of this organization and creating a solution to address even just some of the socioeconomic burdens that face the individuals in Bukwo is satisfying. I know that the research that I do virtually during my time with Love4Bukwo will change the lives of many individuals in the town once the hospital is up and functional. I am happy that although I was unable to travel and experience the culture and what it is like to live in Bukwo over the summer that I am still able to be a part of the initiative that fuels the organization: bringing affordable and accessible healthcare to the people of Bukwo.

UEI Lab: The journey continues…

This internship has been a great experience during a very challenging time. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to contribute to the prestigious research of the Ultrasound Elasticity Imaging Laboratory (UEIL) of Columbia University. I am thankful that I was able to pursue an online internship this summer, especially considering that most internships were cancelled because of the COVID-19 outbreak. So far, this experience was drastically different than I had imagined. It taught me how to think like a researcher and it gave me an idea of what it’s really like to work in a lab. Additionally, this online experience enhanced independent work, which was something I wanted to get more comfortable with, since I never had the opportunity to work outside of a team setting.

Real life problems (especially in science) don’t always have solutions and it usually takes years to discover a method or a drug that works the desired way. Being part of an overall research but doing something very specific was an interesting experience for me. In college, the knowledge we acquire is organized and packaged within a well thought out curriculum. The questions that we encounter, for the most part, have been already answered.  In research, there is an infinite amount of unanswered questions for scientists to explore. One of the things I found hard was to select which question I was going to investigate as well as working towards this goal, while at the same time being on track with everyone else in the lab.

While working, I had the opportunity to observe the lab meetings and listen to the progress of various individual projects from people with a higher education level than mine, something that really opened up my mind. Even without being able to physically be in the lab, I have learned many valuable things the past four weeks. Most importantly, I acquired programming skills, which are a fundamental knowledge for every science field. For example, programming (Matlab and R) will surely be a useful skill to have for future internships and jobs, or master and PhD programs. Pretty early on, I realized that in a lab setting, while trying to answer the bigger question, secondary questions will arise, and you are expected to come up with your own answers through your research. This was something that I found very challenging, but it helped me be more independent, the importance of which I cannot emphasize enough. I was also asked to present my work weekly, which helped me develop my presentation skills, taught me how to organize and convey my thoughts, and how to use feedback and constructive criticism to progress. Those meetings also kept me on track with my goals for the summer.  So far, I have gained very useful skills from this experience, which I hope I will further improve in the remaining time in the lab. I am looking forward to continue exploring my abilities and learning throughout this summer.

Post 2: Lessons I take into my Internship with United for a Fair Economy

I moved to Brandeis University from the inner city of Chicago, IL. I lived in Chicago my entire life with my friends and family and never lived outside of the city. When I first arrived in Waltham, Massachusetts for Brandeis University, the new environment was completely different. There was an immediate culture shock. I was adapting to the Brandeis community, the Waltham community, and everything that made Brandeis so different from home. The new city, diversities, and classes all were overwhelming at first, but given the new environment and how overwhelming it felt, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in my time at Brandeis University was that cultivating relationships with my community members is key to being successful and comfortable in new environments. I’ve learned that when I take my time to share my story and learn the stories of others, we can cultivate a relationship of open communication where both parties are comfortable to continue to ask questions and be our authentic selves. Being comfortable with each other, we can learn how to communicate with one another and have the best opportunity for learning.

My supervisor, Morgan, and I during our weekly meeting!

This lesson is significant to me because it teaches me how to adapt to new environments without succumbing to intimidation. Learning what connects me to each and every person in my communities has been helpful to maintaining relationships where parties can potentially help each other out. I’ve found that peoples’ stories are significant to who they are and how they form their perspectives, so when I take the time to understand them, I further my understanding of communities globally, which help my goal of promoting social justice. These connections are essential to encouraging curiosity and asking questions so that learning doesn’t always end in the classroom. In this way, I’ve found that when communicating and being yourself, you can discover what connects you to each and every person and create a comfortable learning environment. 

This lesson informs my thinking about United for a Fair Economy’s work. When advocating and mobilizing communities for social justice, it is essential to understand the community members involved. I can see that relationship-building is a priority in the workplace and in United for a Fair Economy’s projects. The work is most efficient when the project participants trust one another and the team trusts one another too. 

This informs my approach to my internship because it taught me to prioritize meeting all of the staff to understand who they are, what work they do, and how our goals can intertwine. In this way, I have a connection to every person in the workspace and  I feel comfortable reaching out with questions and inquiries. I really enjoy the relationship-building aspect of my internship, because I am learning so much from them all!

Post 2: Resource Mobilization Theory and IfNotNow

As a sociology major and social justice & social policy minor, I am interested in studying why people get involved in social movements, the exigence for such organizing, and what makes organizers effective. This last semester I took Gowri Vijayakumar’s class on the sociology of social movements where I was able to explore these ideas and questions. One thing I learned in that class that feels relevant to my work with IfNotNow is the idea of resource mobilization.

This is sociologist I cite, Aldon Morris

The theory of resource mobilization is best stated by scholar Aldon Morris in his study “Black Southern Student Sit-In Movement: An Analysis of Internal Organizing.” He states, “social movements have no distinct inner logic and are not fundamentally different from institutionalized behavior. Organizations, institutions, pre-existing communication networks, and rational actors are all seen as important resources playing crucial roles in the emergence and outcome of collective action” (Morris 1981). In other words, social movements do not hold a fundamental difference in logical structure from other large social factions, so pre-existing structures can be mobilized by activists. He goes on to make the point that because outside people can provide resources (namely time, money, and participants), these resources can benefit the social movement.

Morris’ theory feels significant to me because it acknowledges that social movements do not have to start from the ground up. Rather, there are structures in place that can help the social movement build. Resource mobilization is strategic; it forces activists to ask each other, how can we efficiently move our agenda and utilize what resources we already possess in our favor?

As I enter my seventh week working for IfNotNow, I realize that this theory has informed my thinking around this organizing work. For example, when IfNotNow began in 2014, there were chapters, known as swarms, that started in communities that already had bustling Jewish communities. There were already Jewish people in these places who were interested in doing anti-occupation work, so it made the formation of the movement and subsequent swarms easier. Additionally, Morris’ theory makes me wonder how Jewish organizing groups can foster relationships with Palestinian organizations who also doing anti-occupation work. Primarily, resource mobilization theory prompts me to think about how IfNotNow can use its resources to help center Palestinian struggle and liberation.

Resource mobilization theory also informs the specific work I am doing this summer with IfNotNow Boston. First, knowing that there are people and structures in place already, such as synagogues, Jewish youth movements, and other activist groups, makes the work feel less daunting. When we need people in the movement to help out with phone banking, constituent meetings, or an action, we know there is a pool of people who are willing to commit their time and energy to do whatever task. Having connections to the existing Jewish community of greater Boston, there is a plethora of people who can help provide us with extra support when we may need it. Having a group of people who are in the IfNotNow Boston swarm makes me feel confident that our anti-annexation and anti-occupation work is strategic and meaningful.

Post 2: I Finally Talked on our Staff Call!

One of the biggest lessons I learned during my time at Brandeis is to challenge myself beyond what I believe I’m capable of. I think this applies to my classes, making friends, joining clubs, and connecting with professors and other adults on campus. In high school, I was often content to do the bare minimum I needed to do well and school was never all that exciting to me. Transitioning to college, I realized that every experience is only as powerful as you make it out to be. During my time at Brandeis, I came to understand that I have the ability to bring positive meaning into my life through the challenges that I push myself to complete. 

Some of our health team highlights this week!

I think that this has really applied to my internship with the National Consumers League thus far. I’ve helped on countless projects that I never would have otherwise and have learned so much more about public health than I anticipated. Every new request from my supervisor has been a new challenge for me and I love the feeling of accomplishment I get when I turn my work into her. Recently, my supervisor, Nissa, was out of town over the long weekend in July. Usually, on Mondays, we have a staff call where we share what each department is doing during the week and what they want to highlight for the upcoming work week. Nissa usually reads these on the staff call as I listen in the background. While she was away, she asked me to share the health team highlights for her on the call. I was really nervous accepting the request since I’d never really spoken on the staff call before and most of them don’t know who I am. I spent the whole weekend anxiously waiting for her to send me the highlights to copy and paste into the company document, and then double and triple checked that everything was in the right place. With the support of the assistant to the executive director, Adrienne, I had everything prepared and ready to go. The staff call went very smoothly and everyone complimented how well I did! Even though this isn’t really a big deal, just reading words off of my computer screen, I still felt really happy that I could help Nissa while she was on vacation and introduce myself in a positive way to the entire staff. 

The work that NCL does is challenging, to say the least. The health department has a unique position right now because of the COVID pandemic, so there are a lot more nuanced problems than there would usually be. The issues that we focus on, especially vaccine hesitancy, medication adherence, and health-related fraud are intensely amplified by the present conditions and lack of guidance from the current administration. We also just started working on how the opioid epidemic is impacted by COVID, which has proven to be a challenge too. Instead of doing the bare minimum for these problems, I know that now more than ever I need to push myself as much as possible to ensure that these issues are given attention by the public, government, and other NGOs. I need to do my best to support NCL in any way possible and encourage myself to stay focused. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the sheer weight of these problems, but I also know how critical it is that they’re paid attention to. With so many different areas that need work, it can be hard to feel motivated to keep at it. For me, this is the biggest challenge. I’m excited to push myself during the last two weeks of my internship and do everything I can to ensure that the health department is getting the most up-to-date research, statistics, and information possible. I’m looking forward to what the next few weeks bring!

Post 2: The Importance Brandeis Places on Bystander Training

There are many types of relationships a student may develop throughout their college career, including with roommates, friends, professors, teaching assistants, themselves, and romantic relationships with others. People in healthy relationships treat each other with respect, feel secure and comfortable with each other, aren’t controlling, abusive, or violent with each other, resolve conflicts satisfactorily, enjoy time spent together, and support one another, among other things.

Brandeis has many resources for students that lay the groundwork for the growth of healthy relationships at the university. There is SSIS, the Student Sexuality Information Service, which leads a mandatory session during orientation to talk about sexual health and appropriate sexual conduct. SSIS holds office hours, information sessions, and workshops promoting sexual health. There is also STAR, Students Talking About Relationships, which provides a face-to-face peer counseling resource for the Brandeis community. All STAR counselors are trained by professionals on topics including general counseling skills, campus resources and procedures, domestic and dating violence, rape crisis and sexual assault, pregnancy options and STD/STIs, alcohol and drugs, eating disorders and body image, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender topics, religion, mental health, and suicide and self-harm. In addition to peer-counseling, STAR hosts events related to mental health, self-care and stress relief.

In addition to STAR and SSIS, there is PARC, the Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center. PARC at Brandeis University is a confidential, student-centered resource serving all members of the Brandeis community who have been impacted by violence. This organization is particularly well-known due to the fact that they post flyers detailing their clubs mission on bathroom stalls all over the school. PARC offers a variety of ways to engage with students with programming focused on both the prevention of and response to violence. One of those methods is bystander training. Whether it is a Greek life or a community service organization, an athletics team or an a capella group, every student involved in student activities must attend a bystander training with PARC. Bystander intervention training is one of the most effective ways to empower students, staff, and faculty to address and prevent harassment on college campuses, and to strategically leverage students as change agents.

With Dinah this summer, I have been developing bystander training through a Jewish lens with the goal of sharing this program with Jewish organizations across the Philadelphia area. The program includes true/false questions about domestic violence, discussing and naming different types of abuse (including physical, sexual, financial, emotional/psychological, verbal, and spiritual/religious), and talking about domestic violence as a learned behavior. Additionally, the program includes talking about domestic violence and the threat it poses to victims in the Jewish community through terminology like Lashon Harah, Agunah, Mesirah, and Shalom Bayit. This bystander training will make all of these communities safer whether they are youth groups, synagogues, overnight camps, or Jewish life clubs at universities.

I feel incredibly lucky to attend a school that prioritizes sexual health, peer counseling, and sexual violence prevention to the extent that Brandeis University does. I have since learned that safer communities are communities that invest in programming in order to educate their constituents and recognize the unique role their identities play in this particular issue.

Post 2: Applying My Knowledge and Skills to Help Veterans

Several weeks have passed since my last post, and my internship at Brave for Veterans has been getting more and more challenging. However, once I found out that I possessed the skills necessary to complete my tasks, my confidence grew. My experience has also been more and more rewarding in terms of what I learned.

After the initial phase of making adjustments and preparations, I have begun to research potential employers that Brave can connect with and that plan to hire service members. I am primarily focusing on the list of companies in Business Roundtable, an organization consisting of CEOs of U.S. corporations vital to the economy, as they tend to create more job opportunities during re-opening. This is part of the project that Brave is planning to launch, in which Brave will charge a fee for providing talent search service to employers.

I constantly apply what I learned at Brandeis to assist with my internship. My role requires that I be familiar with the different branches within Brave. My supervisor recently sent me an Excel sheet containing financial projections about the coming years, which was complex and full of statistics. I realized that analyzing and interpreting data using Excel was what I did in my physics lab, in which I needed to write a report after each experiment. I collected data with my partners and used Excel to extract valid information. This helped with my data analysis skills and made me feel more comfortable with this kind of task in a working environment.

Because I will have to look into the employment market as part of my internship, many of my tasks are related to economics. Though I am not directly involved in making projections about future available job opportunities, I frequently encounter basic economics concepts that I was introduced to in my microeconomics class during my communications with my supervisor and in virtual meetings. For example, when making plans for the talent search project, we will look at the demand and supply of the workforce, which will impact employee wages and influence the price that we are going to charge those employers for our talent search service.

As I begin the process of identifying potential employers, I need to do a lot of online searches about these companies. I not only search for their hiring strategies about service members, but I also want to identify mutual benefits between them and Brave, as these will support a long-term collaboration. I keep asking myself questions during the process and filling the informational gaps by looking at more sources. This is clearly a task requiring integrated skills, but the habit of inquiry comes from my learning experience at Brandeis. I found the history class I took last semester quite educational in this respect, as I examined many historical sources and searched for answers to things I was confused about.

Browsing employers’ websites about hiring service members

Post 2: Complete Understanding isn’t the Objective

One thing that I was cognizant of before coming to Brandeis, but which has been reinforced over and over inside and outside of the classroom at the university, is that there are a lot of things that I don’t understand. My time at Brandeis has further instilled in me two very important things: one, that I must harness my resources to gain as much of an understanding of the world around me as possible, and two, that there are some things, despite all the resources in the world, I will never understand. That second truth is incredibly important in all kinds of work, but especially the kind of work in which you are interacting with people from different cultures and backgrounds than yourself. 

I do see this changing, but I think that people often feel that the only way to create change is to understand, through and through, the experiences of other people. In my mind, that is fundamentally damaging because it keeps people racing toward some unattainable goal in which they are the hero of their own story of triumph over the unknown. What it stops them from doing is accepting right off the bat that they will never understand in full the reality of someone else, and moving forward from that to a place of collaboration. Through all of my courses, but especially my classes that centered around the American healthcare system, the juvenile justice system and the global health mechanism, I’ve learned time and time again that saying “I understand” when one actually doesn’t is a step in the wrong direction. 

We have weekly intern check-ins at my internship, and we have heard from a few of the staff attorneys about their careers and their time in the field. We heard from one woman whose perspective I really appreciated. She said something along the lines of, “I will never experience the things my clients have experienced, our realities are completely different, and that is okay.” While I don’t have the experience or the involvement that she has, from where I stand, I agree. There are many aspects of the realities of the immigrant clients I engage with that I cannot control, and even fewer that I can fully understand. It is my obligation to do the best I can to listen, to be compassionate, and to center every conversation around them and their experiences. It is also my obligation to not minimize them or their experiences by saying that I understand. That is not the goal. And I see that belief echoed throughout the organization. 

An email with a client I have been interviewing. I try to be friendly and conversational without watering down her experiences. I believe saying “I understand” is a harmful way of watering down someone’s lived experience. I try to use words like “story” instead of “affidavit,” because what we are dealing with is someone’s life, not a series of facts.

In terms of my own conduct, I do a combination of things to honor what I have just laid out. I read everything I can get my hands on so I can contextualize the experiences of those I work with. I just read The Dispossessed; A Story of Asylum at the US-Mexico Border and Beyond by John Washington, which I recommend. Being able to contextualize and being able to understand are two different things. I try to choose my words wisely, always lend my ears, and never think or express to the individuals I work with that an understanding of their reality is something I can master. And that’s okay. I’m glad I am not fooling myself, wasting my time and hurting others by believing that I understand. 

Post 2: Environmental Justice on the Campaign Trail

A fundamental idea in my environmental studies education at Brandeis is that environmental issues do not occur in a vacuum. Rather, they are intimately connected to our world’s social, economic, and political challenges. Too often, environmental advocacy approaches climate change and habitat degradation solely through the lens of biodiversity loss, or the potential for extinction of plant and animal life. While this is important to consider, and we must make an effort to conserve and protect our planet’s valuable wildlife, environmental movements must also take human rights and social justice into account.

In the Fall of 2020, I took a Brandeis course titled “Nature, Culture, Power” (ANTH 151b), taught by Professor Richard Schroeder. This class offered an overview of a niche field of anthropology–political ecology–which studies how political and historical dynamics inform human relationships with nature. Each week introduced a different topic of political ecology, reinforced by case studies. One of these cases assessed conservation in protected areas, including national parks and nature preserves, specifically questioning how the protection of wildlife can interfere with human rights. We read about and debated the controversial “shoot to kill” policies in Kruger National Park in South Africa, in which the government encouraged conservation officials to shoot individuals caught poaching endangered species. Traditionally, environmentalists would argue that the wellbeing of wildlife in the national parks should not be compromised. Poaching often only occurs when political and economic circumstances restrict the livelihood opportunities afforded to local populations.

I was exposed to a similar dynamic the following semester while studying abroad in Cambodia. During the program, my classmates and I took a field trip to the rural providence of Preah Vihear, where we visited a nature preserve in Cambodia’s rainforest. While interviewing park rangers, we learned that armed conflicts sometimes broke out between conservation officials and local populations. Due to civil war, colonialism, and oppressive governance, local communities are restricted to low-paying agricultural professions and many families live in debt. Therefore, trapping and poaching wildlife, which can be sold for large profits to alleviate their economic hardships, is a common strategy, despite its illegality. Environmental activists advocating for the protection of Cambodia’s rainforest habitats and its native wildlife loudly oppose the local populations’ poaching from the parklands. However, with limited economic opportunity, conservation becomes more ethically complicated. It is impossible to make environmental policies without considering the socio-economic factors that lead to poaching.

This balance between environmental protection and social justice that I have studied in the classroom and in the field directly informs the work I am doing with Sierra Club this summer. As a political intern working for Erika Uyterhoeven, a progressive candidate for State Representative in Somerville, I have had the opportunity to organize for her campaign by recruiting volunteers, fundraising, and helping to craft aspects of her campaign strategy.

One of her top priorities, if elected to office, is the passage of a Green New Deal for Massachusetts. The Green New Deal is a broad piece of legislation that involves transitioning Massachusetts to 100% renewable energy, expanding access to clean public transportation, building green, affordable housing units, and creating new, union jobs in sustainable industries. While it primarily focuses on mitigating and reducing the impacts of climate change, the Green New Deal is holistic, ensuring that public health, economic justice, and human rights are centered as well. Advocates for the Green New Deal recognize that environmentalism and the conservation of wildlife and their habitats do not go far enough on their own. Environmental policy must take into account environmental racism and the disproportionate impact that climate change will have on communities of color, Native peoples, low-income populations, and migrants. Simply passing policies that protect our planet without protecting people fails to recognize the underlying political and economic causes of the climate crisis we are now facing. While policy makers must take decisive action to defend ecosystems and the species that inhabit them, this cannot come at the expense of people’s livelihoods and wellbeing, especially for our most vulnerable populations.

Learning about instances where environmental stewardship and human rights were at odds with one another has informed my experience this summer by highlighting the importance of advocating for candidates and policies that find a balance between these issues. Sierra Club and Erika’s campaign have deepened my understanding of the interconnectedness of the environment with social justice.

Post 2: Key Lessons on Time Management at Jane Doe Inc.

My excitement to come to Brandeis involved many different factors, but one of the biggest was this: I was beyond ready to write more essays.

You read that right! I went to a very STEM-focused high school, so my four years involved numerous chemistry lab reports, physics and calc problem sets, and biology tests. Being someone interested in the social sciences and humanities, I knew lab research and test-taking was something I wanted to avoid as much as possible in college. And avoid it I have. Most of my classes at Brandeis have involved term papers and oral presentations. However, my transition to papers was not glamorous. I may not have to sit in a classroom for two hours and take a test, sure, but there is definitely a time constraint. Brandeis students are all too familiar with the “last minute” papers: the ones that, admittedly, should take you three weeks to research and write and are 20% of your final grade, but end up getting written five hours before they are due with the strongest espresso drink the Starbucks in Farber can offer.

Before Brandeis, I had always prided myself on my time management skills, but now I recognize that is not one-and-done. Mastering time management is a constant process, and it’s a skill we’re always working to develop and retain during our four years. Very quickly, I also realized that consistent and effective time management is not something that gets utilized just in academia. All our teachers and professors are right when they say managing the way you spend your time in college prepares you for life after. Even though I still have two more years at Brandeis, my internship this summer has given me a taste of what time management in a professional setting really looks like.

The event flyer, which will center around the question above: “What do the 2020 elections mean for survivors of sexual assault, particularly those that are young and/or first-time voters?”

With Jane Doe Inc., every day is a busy day, and no one day looks the same as they next! My work ranges from helping the outreach and communications coordinator create social media posts to refining de-carceration write-ups for the Policy Team to turn into talking points for JDI’s member organizations. I’ve learned to pace myself, set goals to stay on track, and keep myself accountable to the work. Acquiring time management skills during a global pandemic is especially hard, with our workspaces and co-workers all contained to a computer screen. One great tool JDI uses to aid in this process is Asana, which is an app designed to help organizations and teams organize, track, and manage their work. I’m able to separate my projects from one another, and upload tasks, assign them to people, and give them specific due dates. This has been incredibly helpful in developing and planning for my biggest project of the summer. 

One of our incredible speakers: Monika Johnson Hostler, who belongs to the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Titled “Multiple Truths: Survivorship in the 2020 Elections,” this virtual panel event will address the intersection of sexual assault and elections and highlight sexual assault survivors’ identities and voting decisions in the 2020 elections. Coordinating an event completely virtually has transformed the way I thought about time management. At JDI, time management involves updating your coworkers on your progress and asking for help when you need it. Streamlining the planning process by involving as many helping parties as possible has been crucial for the event. Now, just four weeks away, we have a full panel of speakers whose discussion I will be moderating. The event will also incorporate accessibility features such as an ASL interpreter for the full duration and closed-captioning in English and real time for the virtual audience. From a mere idea to nearly a full-fledged event soon to be held (August 6th! Mark your calendars and register here!), time management was one of the most important elements in bringing it together.

I will be moderating the panel and hopefully shed perspective on the targeted audience: young people and college students!

While I emphasize the importance of time management within my internship’s workspace, I’ve also learned this skill extends to after internship hours as well. Setting boundaries for myself is critical. This means avoiding checking my work email after I have clocked out for the day and finding ways to spend my time in the afternoons after work in a way that is personally fulfilling. Most recently, I have been turning this time into catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a while, finding new farmer’s markets, and enjoying the best views Boston has to offer.

Post 1: My First Month at Avodah

Apply to the Jewish Service Corps [Avodah]

This summer, I am thrilled to be interning with Avodah. Avodah is a nonprofit that aims to develop Jewish social justice leaders through programs like the Jewish Service Corps, the Avodah Fellowship, and a wide variety of community engagement. Avodah’s Jewish Service Corps allows young people to contribute to leading anti-poverty nonprofits across America while living communally. Much like Brandeis, Avodah exists at the intersection of Judaism and social justice, emphasizing the importance of concepts like tikkun olam in today’s world. These elements combine to form a truly unique and valuable environment for young aspiring social and economic justice advocates. 

Salesforce - WikipediaAt Avodah, I am the Development Intern, which means I work with the development team to nurture relationships with current and potential donors. My primary task is to research potential major donors in order to ascertain whether they would be interested in supporting Avodah’s mission. Additionally, I update Avodah’s synagogue database, compile comments from former corps members and fellows for future use, and I’m also helping create a newsletter that will be sent out to major donors in late July. While I only started the internship a few short weeks ago, I’ve already become much more comfortable with Salesforce, a software I use to research donors and update records. I’ve also learned about NOZA, a very useful database that helps with prospect research. I’m lucky that the bulk of my work is not dependent on in-person interaction; I am able to do so much remotely, and I’ve been continually impressed at how streamlined and organized Avodah has made my internship is despite the obvious difficulties caused by COVID. 

Development is an absolutely essential component of any nonprofit. After all, without funding there’s no way for nonprofits to do all their incredible work! I was interested in this internship because I am deeply concerned about America’s ever-widening economic inequality, and because I love doing research. Development for an organization like Avodah seemed like the perfect way to combine those interests. What I couldn’t have predicted was how warm and friendly absolutely everyone at Avodah would be, and how fascinating it would be to observe how a major nonprofit functions. 

While it’s early days yet, something I’ve already learned at Avodah is how incredibly complex a nonprofit is. Seeing all the teams of people that have to coordinate (now though Zoom calls, no less!) and use their particular talents to contribute to a greater whole is pretty amazing. This dynamic, I think, reflects a greater truth about social justice work in general: it’s the result of the collaboration of many individuals doing their part, not a burden to be shouldered by any one individual. Sometimes the problems in the world can seem overwhelming, but this more realistic, down-to-earth view of what progress looks like is heartening to me. To do real good in the world, you don’t have to be some superhero from a Hollywood movie; there are countless hardworking people around the world using their particular skills to contribute to a brighter future. 

 

Post 1: My internship at Boston Medical Center

This summer, I am a research assistant for Dr. Amy Yule in the Department of Psychiatry at Boston Medical Center. Dr. Yule works with youth ages 14 to 26, alongside their families, with substance use disorders and co-occurring psychiatric illness. Apart from clinical care, she is also involved in clinical research. I chose to work with her this summer because I am interested in learning about conducting research in a clinical setting and because the work that I am doing is related to substance use disorders. As of now, I am working on various projects, including identifying which screening tools and questionnaires have been translated into Spanish and Haitian Creole, assisting with Spanish translation. My work will improve screening for substance use disorders in behavioral health.

The screening tools are also part of the National Institute of Health HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) initiative. This is an effort led by the NIH to speed scientific solutions to stem the national opioid public health crisis. I am also working on a systematic literature search focused on screening for substance use in behavioral health clinics and assisting with a systematic review of substance use disorder treatment outcomes among adolescent girls.

Boston Medical Center is driven by a commitment to care for everyone by providing traditional medical care and offering programs that enhance overall health. This supports the mission of the hospital, which is to provide exceptional care. Physicians know that research is crucial not only for the information they learn about what treatments work better than others, but also for what they can learn about risk factors, long-term effects of treatment, populations trends, and outcomes. This all ties in with work that I am doing this summer.

The hospital has many Spanish and Haitian Creole patients who may go untreated or misdiagnosed because they don’t speak English and are not able to fill out screening tools that are not available in their language. As a result, they don’t have access to health care like English speakers do. It is the main reason why we’re working to decrease health disparities between non-English speakers and English speakers. Additionally, there is no gender-specific treatment that explores options for adolescent girls. Since this is an area in the field that is lacking, we are trying to dive into the literature and find ways to bridge this gap. By translating screening tools and questionnaires into Spanish, we will be able to diagnose and treat more patients.

There are many small steps we are taking that will lead to bigger steps. For example, by translating the screening tools–part of the systematic process of validating the tools–into Spanish, other researchers will be able to use them after we are finished with our ongoing HEAL project. We are currently working on a systematic review that we will use to get a better sense of what is out there, which will inform future research that may eventually lead to the discovery of better gender-specific treatments. With these efforts, the Department of Public Health will also be able to make more informed decisions in terms of policies for medication management in residential treatment programs.

For us, progress will be having other people give us feedback on the screening tools and, once they are validated, using them to treat more patients.

– Maria Estevez

Blog post #1

Since May 11, 2020, I have started my internship with the New York Police & Fire Widows’ & Children’s Benefit Fund (also known as Answer the Call), which is a non profit organization based out of New York City. With Answer the Call, the mission of the organization is to support the families of New York City Police Officers, Firefighters, Port Authority Police, and EMS Personnel who have been killed in the line of duty. In terms of supporting families of fallen first responders, the organization works to provide financial assistance and a support network for families to connect and honor their loved ones who were killed in the line of duty serving the City of New York. Answer the Call serves nearly 600 families. Personally, I chose this organization because of its values of honoring those who served our city and put their lives on the line for my safety. Furthermore, I have been exploring the potential career of going into law enforcement. It’s a calling for many, not just a regular 9-5 job. Just from my time with the organization, I have been able to see first hand (virtually) how the families are connected and stay connected to honor their loved ones. The organization has helped hundreds of families since the start of it which was during the mid 1980’s. 

Josh Feld wearing mask
Recent nationwide fundraising effort in which donors would receive a mask for donating to Answer the Call

In terms of social justice issues that the organization is addressing, the organization honors the lives of fallen first responders and their families in numerous ways. Members of the New York City Police Department, Fire Department, Port Authority Police and EMS put their lives on the line everyday and some sadly have not had the opportunity to come home at the end of the day. This is known as a LODD or Line of Duty Death. The organization works with family members who lost loved ones in the line of duty to ensure they are receiving support via events, social groups and financial support. As of 2020, Answer the Call currently serves nearly six hundred families. First responders are usually forgotten about after a crisis as they are tasked to hold many different roles when responding to an emergency. 

With Answer the Call, my tasks vary based on the needs of the organization. Annually, Answer the Call hosts an in-person gala which honors fallen first responders and raises funds for the organization, but due to the extenuating circumstances of COVID-19 the organization is exploring virtual methods of hosting the gala. Some of my day to day tasks include researching various vendors to host different parts of the gala, creating agendas, and interviewing potential partners. Furthermore, Answer the Call also hosts an annual golf tournament up in Westchester, New York. The golf enthusiast came out in me as I am an avid golf player. For this, I have been tasked to collaborate with various vendors, and work on prizes. 

With COVID-19, Answer the Call has been nothing but helpful during the transition to a virtual workspace. Collaborating online is obviously different but weekly meetings helps me to build bonds with my colleagues. I’m looking forward to working with the families and the team down at Answer the Call

 

Post 1: My Experience With Social Justice Organizing (So Far)

This summer I am working for IfNotNow, a movement led by young Jews to stop Jewish-American support for the Israeli government’s occupation of Palestine. There were many things that brought me to this work, but the sense of duty to justice, Jewish and Palestinian people, and the global community helped me realize it is imperative for me, a Jewish woman, to do this work. The phrase, “no one is free while others are oppressed” emulates what is at stake for me and these communities.

Like I said, IfNotNow works to end Jewish American support for the occupation, but my work this summer has centered around the upcoming annexation of the West Bank. This annexation, illegal under international law, codifies the existing conditions that Palestinians live under. Under occupation, or “de facto” annexation, Palestinians have limited access to water and electricity, must go through excessive checkpoints to leave or enter their towns, are subject to land grabs from the Israeli government, and are forcibly removed from their homes which are destroyed for settlements. To address these injustices, IfNotNow works to educate within the Jewish American community about these issues to encourage action against annexation- de facto and permanent.

This summer I am leading IfNotNow Boston’s anti-annexation campaign. Thus far I’ve been responsible for coordinating constituent meetings with elected officials, running call-in campaigns, and organizing Jewish youth groups.

Last Friday I coordinated a constituent meeting where my fellow IfNotNow members and I discussed the upcoming annexation of the West Bank with Rep. Pressley and her team.

A recent highlight is that I helped facilitate a constituent meeting with Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who actually showed up to our zoom meeting. To fulfill my responsibilities, I’m usually sending emails or talking with my someone from my cohort, made up of people leading electoral and political education work.

This is my workspace- my porch.

We are hoping to influence congress and our local Jewish communities to support conditional aid to Israel, as it has historically been effective in preventing Israel from extending human rights crises. We also hope to bring information about the realities on the ground to the Jewish public because often, people just don’t know what is happening. Through education, we are furthering our mission of ending Jewish-American support for the occupation by creating an active opposition to it. Through advocating for consequences to the Israeli government to Congress and the Senate, we’re looking at furthering our mission through legislative change.

The small steps to justice look like full email inboxes, having one on one conversations with fellow organizers, and lots of zoom calls. But the progress looks like a vibrant Jewish community that stands for freedom and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians. I am excited to continue my work into this summer and as annexation creeps closer and closer. Having begun my first foray into the non-profit world I am determined to keep fighting and learning how to be the best advocate and organizer I can be.

-Miranda Sullivan

Post 1: Interning with The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office

In the fall of my senior year of high school, I was in what should have been a fatal car crash caused by a driver operating under the influence of alcohol (OUI). Between 2016 and 2019, I made seven court appearances to testify in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ prosecution of the driver. During this time, I worked with Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs), Victim-Witness Advocates (VWAs), and support staff in the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office (MDAO). A jury ultimately found the defendant guilty. The entire experience was a major source of physical and emotional trauma. Though being asked to relive the event and its aftermath in front of a room full of strangers was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do, I also saw how the criminal justice system can aid in victims’ healing. It was through this experience that I learned firsthand the impact those working in it can have on individuals’ lives. 

Less than a year later, I applied for and was offered a summer internship with the very same agency. I first learned of the program my sophomore year in a conversation with one of their ADAs. This fall I spoke with a representative/Brandeis alumni at Hiatt’s Government & Public Service Fair. 

The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office prosecutes over 34,000 cases a year in the 54 cities and towns that make up the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ largest county. Its staff investigates and prosecutes each case to the fullest extent, and tirelessly advocates for the victims impacted by crime. However, the office is equally focused on crime prevention and intervention, partnering with social service agencies, medical professionals, and law enforcement officials to promote community safety. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that my role in meeting these goals will be entirely done remotely, I am confident that I will continue to get valuable insight and experience. 

I began doing work a month earlier than the official program began. This proved a fantastic opportunity to (virtually) meet a variety of different people within the office. I have been working with the IT department doing data entry and receiving training in disposition paperwork. I have been helping one of the district courts, submitting evidence discovery requests to police departments and distributing the files to the defense. I did research for how to best implement High-Risk Domestic Violence trainings virtually for police departments. I am still in the process of reviewing thousands of minutes of audio evidence for a trial court case and compiling logs and notes on the files. I was able to gain all of this experience remotely in less than a month.

Criminal justice reform is extremely important to me. The degree to which our nation’s legal system disproportionately involves and incarcerates people of color is a social injustice I am committed to helping correct. This social injustice begins to affect members of vulnerable populations during childhood. This summer I will primarily be working with the Juvenile and Young Adult Diversion Program and Community Partnerships division. One of my primary responsibilities will be following up by phone with the young people participating in the diversion program on how they are doing complying with the terms of their plan during the COVID-19 pandemic. Diversion programs are completely voluntary alternatives to prosecution for young offenders. Successful completion will leave the participant with no criminal record.

Data has shown that while some young people do commit crimes that warrant a secure setting, most of the cases involving juveniles are for relatively minor, nonviolent offenses. Early involvement in the justice system can be devastating to an individual’s life outcomes, labelling them a “delinquent” before they even set foot in the real world. Conviction can jeopardize someone’s ability to go to college by making them ineligible for financial aid and can make it difficult for them to get a job when the time comes. It also does nothing to improve the young person’s situation; they likely ended up involved due to circumstances beyond their control, including under-treatment for mental health conditions. 

My apartment in Waltham has also become my office for the summer.

In addition, I have been working with Middlesex County’s nine Domestic Violence High-Risk Assessment and Rapid Response Teams (HRTs), virtually “sitting in” on meetings. An HRT uses risk-assessment tools to identify cases where evidence points to an increased likelihood of victim lethality. After identifying these situations, a team composed of District and Superior Court ADAs, VWAs, community partners, and law enforcement officials collaborate to monitor the situations, share case information, and implement specific intervention plans designed to decrease danger to the victim. It is important to note that while the office recognizes that “survivor” has increasingly been used in place of victim to recognize the courage and strength of those impacted, using this term in relation to criminal law would minimize the potential future risk the abuser poses that the system is working to mitigate.

I am also currently finishing up a memo on cultural competency. Cultural competency is the ability to connect effectively in cross-cultural situations where one encounters another person who has different life experiences, identities, beliefs, and values. The point is not to ignore the differences between ourselves and others, but rather to recognize and appreciate that these differences exist and consider how they might affect interactions with that person.

The process of correcting injustice within our criminal justice system will not happen overnight. However, intervening and engaging youth with programming designed to prevent future offenses and help them start adult life with a clean record is a significant step in the right direction. Domestic violence also disproportionately affects our most marginalized populations, and the criminal justice system has a history of failing many of these victims. The system is meant to protect all members of its community. I am encouraged by the office’s commitment to realizing this goal. One thing that has stuck with me throughout this process is the degree to which one never hears successful prosecution referred to as “winning.” The office’s job is not to “win” cases; those that work in it do not take potentially depriving someone of their liberty lightly. Everyone I have encountered views the office’s only goal as achieving the most just possible outcome in each case, which often is not a guilty finding.

Here is a link to some of the MDAO’s Domestic Violence programming.

Post 1: My first few weeks at RAICES

The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Legal and Education Services (RAICES) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees. Services provided by RAICES include affirmative, defensive, and litigation services to low-income immigrants and social services such as case management, resettlement assistance, a national hotline to connect migrants with local community resources, and transit support for recently released migrants. RAICES works tirelessly not only providing services to those who do not have access to them but also advocating for immigrant rights through campaigns, protests, and lobbying tactics. 

My role as a community outreach intern is to assist in the development of outreach strategies and engagement plans for community partnerships and community members, to assist staff in scheduling community events, and to develop packages for outreach events. Additionally, I took the initiative to join the lobbying committee at RAICES for one of their local campaigns that aims to end the 287(g) agreement that enables local county sheriffs to act as ICE agents, which leads to racial profiling and lack of trust between the community and police officers. Through our organizing tactics, we hope to influence the judges and commissioners who are in charge of renewing programs like the 287(g) agreement that are a threat to the undocumented community. 

RAICES’ mission is to promote justice for immigrants. Currently, there are racist programs in place like the 287(g) agreement that harm the immigrant community. Though the judges and commissioners are the ones that have the power to end it upon its renewal date, we do our part by lobbying and getting the media’s attention. RAICES took it upon themselves to invite the conservative county judge, Judge Whitley, out for lunch last year and have a civil conversation about why he should suspend the program. Though he turned his back against the immigrant community and voted to extend the program, RAICES fought back by bringing in community members at the commissioners court and speaking on why the program should end. Attached below is a picture of three young women who spoke at the commissioners court on why the judges should end the 287(g) program. 

Abolishing ICE out of the county jails is a small step towards abolishing ICE as a whole. In fact, abolishing ICE also ties in with defunding the police, which is another movement that has gained support recently after police brutality has increased throughout the past few years. Black and brown communities, like the ones I am advocating for, are in danger under law enforcement. Instead of protecting the community, they are harming them and killing them through racial profiling, hyper-surveillance, abusive stops, problematic searches, and unwarranted detention. I’ve worked this summer and will continue to work to accomplish my organization’s mission by amplifying immigrants’ needs, which are often basic human rights. Progress for the RAICES community looks like starting programs that aid the community and suspending programs that harm the community. The DACA program renewal on June 18 was an example of success for the immigrant community. Although we won the DACA renewal battle, we still have a long fight ahead of us. The battle does not end here. 

Post 1: Disseminating Research to Fuel Effective Treatment

I am a remote research assistant for Rogers Behavioral Health in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Rogers is a national “not-for-profit provider of behavioral health services and is nationally recognized for its specialized psychiatry … services” (Rogers’ Website).  Rogers has 18 locations that work to fulfill their mission: to provide evidence-based treatment to children and adults who are suffering from mood disorders, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive and anxiety disorders.  In addition to providing intensive therapy and partial hospitalization, Rogers also produces research.  As a research assistant, I work to disseminate information about how to help people with mental disorders–a population that society often stigmatizes and overlooks.  Most published health research concerns physical health, while mental health is usually ignored.  Mental health is equally as important as physical health, so I strive to further research methods of improving mental well-being. 

Schomerus et. al (2018) distinguishes the difference between the social stigma versus the structural stigma of mental illness.  Their research suggests that social stigma decreases individuals’ likelihood to take the “initial steps of help-seeking when persons have not yet fully identified” with a specific psychiatric disorder.  The structural stigma serves as an additional barrier to overcoming mental illness by decreasing the availability and distribution of treatment.  Schomerus et. al (2018)’s research also indicates that spreading knowledge about mental health treatments will help reduce the stigma.  Therefore, my research on treatments for mental disorders will help reduce stigmas attached to people who have these disorders.  

The studies I am analyzing include data indicating the benefits of evidence-based therapy.  Publicizing the efficacy of evidence-based treatments helps counter the common misconception that medication is the sole solution for mental illness, in addition to helping decrease the negative stigma.  As a researcher and future therapist, I want to work to help individuals who are struggling, but I also want to actively serve as an advocate for equality and to reduce stigmas.  

I am working directly under Dr. Martin Franklin, the Clinical Director of the Philadelphia Rogers center.  This is my third summer working with Dr. Franklin.  Last summer, I worked with him on a meta-analysis regarding treatments for pediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which was published in Current Treatment Options in Psychiatry in January 2020.  This summer, we are further publicizing evidence-based treatments by writing chapters in manuals and books.  The chapters Dr. Franklin and I write will be included in completed works, alongside chapters written by psychologists worldwide.  

One of our two chapters involves OCD treatments for adults.  OCD refers to when an individual has an intrusive thought that causes anxiety (an obsession), and then the individual takes some sort of action that decreases this anxiety (a compulsion).  The compulsion causes temporary relief, but ultimately will result in the obsession and then the compulsion happening again.  Thus, the OCD cycle repeats itself.  Obsessions and compulsions are irrational, and often the individual experiencing them realizes this irrationality, but cannot break the cycle.  This disorder is very impairing and regularly misrepresented in popular media.

The second chapter we are writing, “Treating Trichotillomania and Trichophagia,” will be in a book titled Applied Behavior Analysis: A Comprehensive Handbook.  Trichotillomania is considered a related disorder to OCD, but trichotillomania involves hair pulling from the head and/or various other body parts.  Pulling can be automatic or intentional, but it is repetitive in all forms of the disorder.  Pulling also is “not triggered by obsessions or preoccupations … [but] may be preceded or accompanied by various emotional states, such as feelings of anxiety or boredom … [or] preceded by an increasing sense of tension or may lead to gratification, pleasure, or a sense of relief” (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition).  Trichotillomania is mentally impairing and in some cases, physically impairing too.  One physically impairing form of trichotillomania is trichophagia, which is characterized by eating the hair after one pulls it out. 

Writing these chapters will help educate therapists and laypeople about the research-based treatments for people who have OCD and trichotillomania, and the completed works that these chapters are in will spread treatment options for a variety of other mental disorders.  Education fuels effective treatment, which is the main pillar of Rogers’ mission, as well as one of my personal goals as I pursue a career in psychology. 

Post 1: What’s Preventing Diversity in Tech?

This summer I have the privilege of working with the Charleston Digital Corridor (CDC) in Charleston, SC. The CDC is focused on advancing Charleston’s tech economy as well as creating opportunities for a diverse set of entrepreneurs in the region. I was born and raised in South Carolina and have lived in Charleston for the bulk of my life. I’m incredibly passionate about advancement here in the south and the CDC has been an integral part my city and state becoming a thriving tech hub. The CDC’s unwavering commitment to the region is in large part why I chose a fellowship with the organization.

I have the unique opportunity of guiding and structuring the majority of my day-to-day work. The central goal of my fellowship is to fully develop and launch a non-profit organization before the end of the summer. Over the last four weeks, my time has mostly been occupied with research and phone calls. My research has largely focused on the racial and gender disparities in the tech industry, especially as they pertain to computer science. While I have always maintained a consciousness of the overall lack of diversity in tech, never has the issue seemed so apparent to me than now.

For example, white and Asian men dominate the computer science (CS) field and make up more than 82% of CS undergraduate degree recipients. This reflects glaringly in the working pool where women make up only 26% of all tech sector employees, and Black and Latino employees make up less than 15% combined. These numbers pushed me to look deeper into the root cause of these disparities, where I found that, despite having a greater interest in CS than white students, Black and Latino students are restricted by a lack of access to resources.

The case for women tells a different story. Myths about STEM pipelines and inherent interest have often pervaded the narrative. However, unconscious bias, not pipeline issues or personal choices, push women out of STEM and contribute to a pattern of discouragement. For instance, almost two thirds of women in STEM with children say their commitment and competence were questioned and opportunities decreased, especially after having children.

In an effort to further reinforce these stories, I’ve spoken with a diverse range of entrepreneurs, programmers, and engineers about their experiences in tech. These conversations have been personally enriching and deeply insightful, and I hope to share these as I move forward this summer. This period of learning and reflection has been integral to understanding just some of the issues preventing the diversification of the tech sector.

I aim to move towards tackling these issues in the coming weeks and months, and sharing the knowledge and ideas I develop along the way.

Post 1: My first month with the National Consumers League

Since early June, I have been working with the Health Policy department at the National Consumers League. NCL aims to “protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad” through a variety of programs and branches. I work with the department on a variety of issues, especially related right now to COVID-19. We’ve been working on several different projects surrounding vaccine hesitancy and opioid usage during the pandemic, among others. I chose to work with this particular section of NCL because I believe that right now, health and health care should be a priority of every American and every American government official. The current pandemic shows no signs of slowing down, and it’s become obvious that the people most impacted by the coronavirus are Black and BIPOC communities. The COVID-19 issue is a racial issue, a health issue, an economic issue, and ultimately a social justice issue. It appears that health and health care have not been made a priority by the U.S. government, so it’s important to have groups like NCL that are looking out for consumers and their best interests at this time. 

I’ve been working with NCL for almost a month now. In this time, I’ve written a blog on vaccine hesitancy and the unique challenge of COVID-19, done research on health-related issues that NCL is working on, and have assisted in multiple Zoom webinars either hosted by NCL or including remarks by NCL’s executive director, Sally Greenberg. I also helped in the steering committee that determined the winners of NCL’s “Script your future” challenge, who will be announced in the next couple of weeks!

Through this work, I’ve come to learn the way that the National Consumer’s League addresses the issues that they prioritize. For example, when it comes to vaccine hesitancy, NCL submits comments to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, who will then submit their official comments to the CDC. This will inform both organizations what NCL thinks about the impending coronavirus vaccine, and how they should approach immunization. NCL’s opinions are important since they directly voice the concerns and prioritizes of consumers around the nation. 

Over the course of the next month, I’d like to take on as much work as possible to help NCL further their goals. Since the government directly controls the “victories” in this particular area (health and health care), celebrations can be few and far between. I would like to help my department be as best informed about these issues as possible. My next area of research will be on state reopenings and their subsequent spikes in cases. We’ll be tracking three states in particular, and looking at how their case spikes are leading to more shutdowns. To me, these small steps mean ensuring that NCL has all of the tools necessary to ensure that the American public is well informed about the virus and all of its implications. I think the biggest “victory” would be to see another aid package pushed through the government, and a safe and effective vaccine developed. These are obviously huge goals that would be huge accomplishments, but I believe that with bipartisan support and prioritization of the health of the American people, they would eventually be possible.  

(This is not a health-related image, but here’s just one of the many “offices” I’ve adapted since starting my internship! While I wish I could be working in person, it’s been nice to be remote and be able to work anywhere. I’m lucky that my house and neighborhood have some great outdoor spaces to be in).

Post 1: Interning for The Right to Immigration Institute

Hello. My name is Wenjing Wynne Qin and I’m a rising senior at Brandeis University. This summer, I am interning for The Right to Immigration Institute in Waltham. The Right to Immigration Institute (TRII) is an independent 501(c)(3) organization that trains and supervises students and community leaders to represent immigrants in immigration proceedings, trials, and appeals, and immigrant communities in human rights causes, including but not limited to housing, employment, health care, education, hate crimes, and domestic violence.

I was originally fascinated by the ambition of TRII to provide a platform for undergraduates to participate in the legal system. After learning from students who work for TRII, I made my decision to apply for this internship because of my personal connection to its mission and my confidence that I could maximize my utility as an intern. This has been a tremendously difficult time, especially for the immigrant community, who will likely be disproportionally impacted by the pandemic. Therefore, any kind of help I can give to alleviate the burdens they are suffering from would be my primary goal for this internship.

During the pandemic, with all the courts delaying opening, many of the cases the institute was working on were frozen. Therefore, I have not been doing what I expected to do originally, including getting first-hand experience observing immigration lawyers dealing with immigration cases. Instead, I have been helping more with the general operation of the institute in relation to fundraising and administration.

The specific work I have been doing so far mainly involves research, including how minority–i.e., immigrants–communities have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic, and on the recent lawmaking change proposals of regulations regarding asylum. For the purpose of my research, I have attended several virtual trainings hosted by Hollaback. I tried to identify how Asian-Americans are being affected by hate crimes stimulated and further perpetuated by the pandemic, and what those discriminations look like. This research will be used by the institute to better understand how racial minorities have been affected by the pandemic. 

Slides from anti-harassment training

I have also been assigned the task of conducting research on the recent rule-making change proposed by the Department of Homeland Security. And, I have been doing research on future asylum seekers who would be negatively affected by the rule change, in order to help the Institute prepare its response. My research results will be used to form critical comments on the rule change and be reported back to the Department of Homeland Security.

 

Training slide from Defending Asylums in Court training

Because of the pandemic, everything has been out of the schedule, and there have been some communication problems here and there between me and my supervisors, I am trying my best to keep the schedule going forward. And, hopefully, I can be more involved in client-specific cases in the near future. There have been recent cases the institute is handling in regard to immigrants’ housing problems, and I plan to get involved in cases like this when any new case comes in.

Post 1: Political Activism with the Sierra Club – My First Weeks as an Intern

For the past several years, I’ve known that I wanted to work as a professional environmentalist. More than anything, I love being outdoors and find significant value in spending time in natural spaces. The idea that human behavior is driving climate change, and permanently altering the face of our planet – destroying ecosystems, exterminating wildlife, depleting natural resources, and making our communities unlivable – is deeply disturbing to me. However, I quickly discovered that protecting the environment for the sake of nature alone is impossible, and often problematic. Social issues including economic and racial injustices, access to healthcare and housing, and political participation are intimately connected to the environmental challenges our world is facing. Marginalized and oppressed populations are systematically exposed to greater environmental harm, have less access to environmental benefits, and as the effects of climate change worsen, they disproportionately bear the burden of our degraded world. Combating these injustices requires wide-scale political change, and the passage of progressive policies that simultaneously protect the environment and human rights.

Sierra Club is the largest grassroots environmental organization in the country, with nearly 100,000 members and volunteers in Massachusetts alone. They create environmental educational opportunities, promote access to nature by running outdoors trips for their members, and engage in political activism for issues relating to environmental justice. Most importantly, their mission is to “protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment,” centering human rights and social justice in their activism.

This summer, I’m working for the political arm of the Sierra Club, at their Massachusetts chapter, based in Boston. Their team and its members engage in political advocacy through several mechanisms, including organizing rallies, lobbying in the State House, phone banking and canvassing, and endorsing local politicians who reflect their values. As a political intern, I was assigned to work on the Erika Uyterhoeven campaign, a Sierra Club-endorsed candidate who is running for State Representative in the 27th Middlesex District, representing Somerville.

Erika Uyterhoeven’s endorsements, including Sierra Club. (This is a graphic I designed for a fundraising campaign).

Erika is a young, first-time candidate for elected office who is running on a progressive platform of structural reform, fighting for affordable housing, single-payer healthcare, fully-funded public education, a transparent democracy, and–most directly relevant to the Sierra Club–a Green New Deal for Massachusetts. She believes in a government that works for the many, not the few–referring to the powerful corporate interests that control our political systems and create social and economic injustices that leave marginalized and low-income populations behind. She is a grassroots activist for environmental causes, and her values and legislative aspirations closely reflect those of the Sierra Club. Therefore, as an emissary for the Sierra Club on her campaign, my role is to provide her with additional resources to help her win, ensuring that a progressive, environmentally-conscious candidate is elected.

My remote summer workspace

Due to the fact that State Representative races are typically small-scale and low-budget, Erika’s campaign staff is limited, and she relies heavily on volunteers and political organizations to assist with the leg-work of campaigning. This means that I am fortunate enough to play a fairly large role in the day-to-day work of the campaign. My tasks have included curating her social media strategy, organizing fundraisers and volunteer recruitment, engaging in phone banking (the primary form of voter contact, due to the constraints of COVID), drafting policy platforms, creating content for the campaign’s website, applying for additional endorsements, and participating in daily organizing calls with the campaign staff. The diversity of work I have been assigned, in several different policy areas, has already given me a well-rounded understanding of the dynamic challenges faced by a candidate for public office.

I have been given an opportunity to have hands-on exposure to environmental and political advocacy, and I have been made to feel as though my work will have a tangible impact on electing a candidate whose platform I truly believe in. Although the fast pace of politics has definitely involved a steep learning curve, I am grateful for the experiences this campaign has offered me, and I am learning that the seemingly minor tasks I am doing day-to-day are substantive contributions towards creating policy change.

Post 1: Building an “Everyone a Changemaker World” with Ashoka

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others” this quote from Martin Luther King has inspired me so many times throughout my life and is the reason why I chose to participate in the field of social justice.

This summer, I am interning with a non-profit organization called Ashoka. Compare to other organizations, Ashoka has a rather unique mission and theory of change, that is, to build an “everyone a changemaker world”, and all of their programs and work revolve around this. Through establishing programs in more than 90 countries, Ashoka tries to accomplish its mission from 3 main approaches:

  1. Finding and supporting social entrepreneurs around the world by providing financial help, connections and consulting; Ashoka enables these entrepreneurs to make changes and address social issues such as unequal education and women’s rights.
  2. Partnering with major corporations, helping to evolve their organization model, culture and governance through various workshops, assessments and training. The goal of this is to make companies a powerful source of social change.
  3. Assisting the next generation to have critical skills regarding initiating social changes and social innovations through various programs such as Ashoka University and Ashoka Youth Venture.

I was drawn to Ashoka almost immediately when I saw it during my job search. To build an “everyone’s a changemaker world”, a world where all citizens are powerful contributors to positive changes, is something I’ve always envisioned but didn’t know how to realize. I chose to intern with Ashoka because I was impressed by the diversity of their programs and the scope of their impact. There are a lot of non-profit organizations focusing on addressing one specific issue, and I definitely do recognize and appreciate the significance of them, but I’ve never seen any organization like Ashoka. Many may think Ashoka is being too ambitious, but in my perspective, great ambition is the first step toward great change.

Ashoka’s internship programs are very well-developed. Firstly, the interns working under the same branch/department of the organization will be put into a team, and they will be assigned a supervisor. You may think that since there’s a team, the team must be working on one project together, but that’s not the case in Ashoka, and that’s what I love about the organization. Even though the team meets several times weekly to share progress, everyone in the team actually got assigned their individual projects.

The project I’m working on in Ashoka is called knowledge management, that is, to develop a space for my department on Confluence, the internal platform Ashoka is using.  The process of developing the space involves designing a structure for the layout of materials, organizing all the existing internal decks and building out individual pages. Since Ashoka is a global organization with offices around the world, internal communication between different offices becomes especially important. With that being said, the purpose of the space I’m building is to provide a knowledge base where all materials are organized and shared logically, and the staffs can utilize the space to work more efficiently and effectively together. Even though my project is not associated with any of Asoka’s external facing programs, I do think there’s a significance to working on internal development as it’s the backbone of every well-functioned organization.

Though due to the Covid-19 crisis, my internship in Ashoka was entirely remote, I have learned so many important skills and gained so many inspirations in the past 4 weeks. I believe the knowledge and lessons acquired here are broadly applicable to every aspect of my life and will benefit me enormously in the future.

Post 1: Helping Veterans Find Jobs Regardless of COVID

Recalling the moment when I submitted my resume at a virtual career fair, I realize that more than three months have passed. After I secured my internship opportunity, I tried to envision my tasks in the future, but the fact is that since the start of this internship, my experience has been truly unexpected and interesting.

The organization I am working for is Brave For Veterans Inc. It is a non-profit organization whose core mission is to contribute to veterans’ well-being by helping them secure self-sustaining employment. Brave closely collaborates with the state government, research institutions and other organizations to identify and provide career resources and services. Brave is also planning to launch business projects that gather funding to better support its own sustainability and fulfillment of its mission.

When I applied for this position at Brave, I was unsure about whether I could be offered the chance to work. However, I was pretty sure about why I wanted to give it a try. I have always wanted to apply what I learn to making an impact on society. Not only are veterans honorable individuals who I would like to support, but I can also relate the work at Brave to my major, which is economics. Researching the employment market can be meaningful and educational to me. In fact, as the virus continues to cause job losses across the country, finding employment has become a growing challenge for many, and it can be especially hard for veterans. Therefore, I hope what I am doing now with my colleagues at Brave can be helpful in this special time.

Screenshot from the current website

Currently, Brave is taking actions and trying to restructure its strategies according to the situations that are continuing to change due to the virus. We are looking at various data and statistics to predict the future and prepare for it. One thing we see is that as the economy starts to reopen, there will likely be an increasing demand of labor from the employers, but the competition in the labor market can be fierce. Many branches of Brave are working to further our mission in different areas of focus, including legislation, research, and communications etc.

My main task is to connect with potential employers that may be interested in hiring veterans, learn about their needs, and identify mutual benefits, while marketing the employment services that Brave provides. Through my work, I hope to help Brave form long-term strategic affiliations with employers.  My other task at the moment is, as Brave plans to rebuild its current website as a major platform for resources and promotional materials, I will help select information that will be posted on the website to maximize the marketing effect, which includes information about employers and strategic partners. We hope that this can assist in Brave’s core mission of helping veterans secure jobs.

Post 1: My Internship at United for a Fair Economy

This summer, I am interning at United for a Fair Economy. United for a Fair Economy is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that supports social movements working towards a resilient, sustainable, and equitable economy. United for a Fair Economy addresses the social issues of economic inequality and the uneven wealth distribution that deepens the racial divide, tears communities apart, and corrupts democracy. The organization uses popular economics education, trainings, and creative communications to address these issues. United for a Fair Economy works closely with communities and specifically uses three programs to help support their mission: Economics for Everyone workshops, the Responsible Wealth Project, and the Inclusive Economy Project. Economics for Everyone workshops use the popular education methodology to engage movement leaders to democratically and collectively develop political analysis. The Responsible Wealth project engages business leaders, investors and people who fall within the top five percent of income/wealth in the U.S. to advocate for tax fairness policies. The Inclusive Economy project uses the Living Wage Network to connect and uplift employers who pay a living wage, and Raising Wages NC–a coalition of working people, unions, community organizations, faith leaders, and policy advocates–to help advocate for raising the minimum wage to a living wage for vulnerable communities. 

I choose to work at United for a Fair Economy because I agree with the mission and understand the importance of economic inequality and its detrimental relationship towards upward mobility. Having experienced how economic injustice and unfair policies negatively impact lives,  I am passionate about economic justice and would like to continue to work towards social justice in the nonprofit sector. I value education, community building, and political advocacy as important pathways too. I found UFE to be a model nonprofit organization that holds the same values that I do. I admire the organization’s work and how they put great emphasis on working with communities. I believe that through an internship with United for a Fair Economy, I can learn more about the development and planning it takes to work towards economic justice. 

Jeannette Huezo, the Executive Director & Popular Educator, and I during our meeting!

This summer, I am the development intern working closely with the fundraising and operations associate, Morgan Cowie-Haskell, and the resource mobilization director, Sara Sargent. I am primarily tasked with managing the database and tracking donations, making thank-you calls to donors, writing blog posts, and assisting with website updates. My work this summer will help further the organization’s mission because, as a nonprofit organization, donations and visibility are extremely important to operations. As I help increase visibility for UFE and help with database and donations, I help UFE better organize their operations and fundings. 

I enjoy working alongside all the team members and learning more about the workplace environment. I am excited to continue working with United for a Fair Economy this summer!

 

The team and I during our bi-weekly staff meeting!

Thank you Brandeis University’s World of Work fellowship for allowing me to do this work!

-Jermeelah

Post 1: Interning at Speech Pathology Private Practice

I am interning for My Speech Matters, a speech therapy private practice for adults and children. I have aspirations to become a speech pathologist and would like to get insight into the working of a private practice and how they cater to NYC students. However, those who might have access to these things are still slighted. According to “NYC’s Special Education Crisis” written by Kevin Mahnken for The 74 Million, 50,000 NYC students were denied “students were denied special education services to which they were legally entitled in the 2016–17 school year.” Mahnken goes on to note that this is ¼ of city children who ultimately did not participate in the programs they were meant to take part in.

IEPs, or Individualized Educational Programs, is a document developed for each U.S. public school child who needs special education. Mahnken continues to give figures on just how many schools have IEPs and implement strategy from initial consultation. They note that 180,000 of NYC’s 1.1 million schools have IEPs. However, 23% of those are partially receiving those services and 4% were not receiving them at all. Though these numbers have grown compared to previous years, they have not grown enough. 

At My Speech Matters licensed, speech therapists have extended knowledge in the field and provide speech services to students attending DOE schools and private schools. While this does not completely correct the insufficient care that some may be receiving inside of their schools, it does work to acknowledge the need for a better IEP program overall. Parents are not directly involved in in-school sessions between students and therapists. These sessions may also be group sessions in which students may not be catered to individually.

The questions of why isn’t every student who is in need of the services being evaluated properly through IEPs, and why are some students not getting the services they need are still present. There is also worry about the quality and timeliness of the services that students who are “fully receiving” services recommended through IEP receive. In the 2016-2017 school year “4,500 students had to wait more than 60 days — roughly one-fifth of a 10-month school year — for an IEP meeting after an initial evaluation.” Students who have learning impediments such as ADHD, autism, deafness, and speech related conditions miss out on the services that can be significantly aiding in their learning. 

In recent news, amidst the pandemic, schools have naturally curtailed many services as the transition to virtual classroom learning in its initial stages are presented to be arcane and challenging. Special education programs have bared the brunt of these cutbacks. It is important to acknowledge that many students do not have access to technology at home as they would in the classroom. Just how services like occupational therapy and speech therapy will now be provided remotely has been under consideration. According to Alex Zimmerman in “NYC Gives the OK to shrink special education services amid coronavirus upheaval” for Chalkbeat some were concerned as to how meticulous educators will be about special education programs granted they were not obliged to replicate the classroom setting. 

Some child sessions with My Speech Matters are essentially, outside-of-the-school sessions for students whose schools do not have in-house speech therapists. Most of the IEPs that these young children come to sessions with are watered down, and do not genuinely reflect the unique needs of the students. We can look towards the overwhelming need for supplemental educational services and underwhelming, unmatched supply. During these times My Speech Matters has been giving teletherapy sessions to all, and while they may not look 100% like in person sessions, they work to continue this need despite the shutting down of schools.

I have been able to sit in on many of these sessions with children who attend public NYC schools and take notes on the session basics, cataloging any questions that I may have. Issues with technology will always be an issue, but the sessions I observe work to further the organization’s implied mission of bringing the appropriate services to those who rightfully need them. 

My Speech Matters is continuing to have speech therapy sessions through telecommunication.
My Speech Matters is continuing to have speech therapy sessions through telecommunication.

I will continue to observe these sessions which have been supplemented by collecting information on parent groups, and school speech pathologists in the area in hopes of piecing together my introduction into this internship. These are only small steps. The real change will come once the DOE takes IEPs seriously and once the services provided are all encompassing and do not turn away students based on bias or perceived lack of need.

Post 1: Virtually Building a Hospital in Bukwo, Uganda

This summer I am interning at Love4Bukwo Regional Hospital in Bukwo, Uganda. For years, the people of Bukwo have had to travel more than two hours into Kenya to seek out healthcare in hospitals. However, sometimes they would be unable to make it all the way to the hospital. The founders of Love4Bukwo have made it their mission to create a hospital bringing accessible services and healthcare workers directly to the town. No longer would the people of Bukwo be required to (sometimes unsuccessfully) drive two hours on treacherous unpaved roads. They would instead they would have immediate access to hospital health services in their own backyard.

Love4Bukwo Regional Hospital

I chose to intern at this organization for a few reasons. I am a rising senior majoring in International and Global Studies as well as Health: Science, Society, and Policy, and combining international work and community healthcare was very important to me. Another reason I chose to work with this organization is that after graduation I hope to be a Community Health Volunteer with the Peace Corps. Working with Love4Bukwo would allow me to combine my two courses of study and provide me with valuable work experiences applicable to being in the Peace Corps.

My main project is to work on developing an extensive set of policies and procedures for the hospital to use when it is fully operational. However, there are many issues that need to be addressed for the hospital to be operational, so I am assisting however I can virtually. Already, I have contributed to the application for the USAID Limited Excess Property Program, a program designed to support overseas development and humanitarian aid programs. As individuals in Bukwo have been working to continue construction onsite, I have begun posting daily updates about the work they are doing there.

Although I am unfortunately not in Bukwo this summer as planned, the work that I am doing will greatly impact the organization. While COVID has greatly affected life globally, it has been particularly difficult for the people of Bukwo, as they typically rely on having open borders with Kenya to get resources from their neighboring country. Facility construction on site had to be halted for an extended period due to the closed border because of COVID. Right now, my job is to work on projects that can be implemented virtually while also helping out wherever my supervisors need help.

The video is from a volunteer able to travel and help with the hospital.

Building a fully operational hospital is difficult. Contributing to the development of building a fully operational hospital thousands of miles away definitely has its difficulties. However, I know that the work that I am doing for Love4Bukwo will be beneficial for when the hospital opens, as it will address many socioeconomic issues in Bukwo. Progress takes a long time and Love4Bukwo knows it, but complications like COVID will not stop the hospital from opening. Love4Bukwo Regional Hospital is focused on the long-term effects of opening the hospital and the lives that will change with having access to healthcare in town.

Post 1: Compassionate and Creative Counsel at the Legal Aid Society

The Legal Aid Society is a nonprofit organization that offers legal assistance to indigent clients in the city of New York through myriad practice areas. LAS works to help clients through direct legal representation, legal advocacy, and partnerships with many internal and external social services. Speaking more abstractly, LAS represents, in my opinion, the best of what legal aid can be: a holistic approach to counsel that puts the client in the best position to not only win their case, but to feel supported in other aspects of their life during, and often after, the period in which their case is being fought. This means that clients are connected to any number of social services they may need, including medical, physiological, housing, and  monetary support. Lawyers may call to just check up on the client–and really listen. Employees constantly push each other to be the best advocates they can be, through trainings, talk, and honest conversation. This holistic and compassionate approach to counsel is what I love about LAS, and why I was so excited to intern here!

I am working for the Immigration Unit at LAS. The first two weeks were spent in trainings, which really shows how dedicated the organization is to ensuring that every part of the organization is operating to the best of its ability. We got crash courses in all types of immigration-related topics, as well as trainings on case management and ethical lawyering.

I have two supervising lawyers who give me all different sorts of assignments. Like you’d expect, some of my time is spent filling out paperwork. It is less tedious than it sounds, as that means I get to call clients and ask for information, which is great practice. This also allows me opportunities to check up on them, which I enjoy. I am also working on a creative video project for an asylum case. This includes corresponding with the client and her family, editing the video, and writing a memo to document the legal precedent for such evidence. I am also interviewing a client for a Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) petition, a special type of protective immigrant status, and writing her affidavit. Additionally, I am working to compile evidence to demonstrate how the Chinese government contributes to the negative treatment of citizens with mental health issues. As a side project, I work to help clients answer their unemployment-related questions, and I will soon be working on DACA applications. Other than that, it is just small tasks here and there.

Like any nonprofit, LAS is very “all hands on deck.” In that way, every task I do helps the organization run as smoothly as possible. I definitely don’t feel like my work is getting lost in the mix. Everything I do feels like it has a direct and concrete purpose.  I hope I am furthering the mission of the organization by showing clients compassion, patience, and care during our interactions.

Progress doesn’t look like any one thing. Progress takes form in getting a client on Medicaid, or gaining enough trust to have them open up about really painful things. Progress takes form in the constant email chains on the LAS server where advocates push each other to be better. Progress is also a Supreme Court decision like that of DACA. Progress means combating negative changes to immigration laws, and in doing so creating a better future for all immigrants and native-born Americans.

To anyone reading who is able, I urge you to submit a comment ( by July 15th) to tell the Administration that the newly proposed asylum regulations, aimed to dismantle asylum as we know it, are disgusting and despicable. To learn more, look here, and to comment, look here.

Post 1: Building a Better System for Survivors at Jane Doe, Inc.

This summer, I have the privilege of remotely interning with Jane Doe, Inc. in Boston, MA. Jane Doe, Inc. is a non-profit that seeks to create change by addressing root causes of domestic and sexual violence, as well as promoting justice, safety, and healing for survivors. JDI has three strategies in tackling the injustice of gender-based violence: advocacy, collaboration, and innovation. JDI advocates for state and federal legislation and funding that benefit the lives of SA/DV survivors, as well as for public and private systems to improve access to services, resources, and justice. Right now, they especially focus on protections for incarcerated survivors in MA during COVID-19, and intersecting economic and racial justice for marginalized communities in the Greater Boston area. JDI also promotes collaboration between member organizations to create innovative solutions and improve the lives of survivors. JDI works alongside partners like the ACLU of Massachusetts and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. This coalition works towards common goals to break down institutional barriers that survivors face. Some preventative projects that JDI has worked on with partners include the #ReimagineManhood campaign, the #MeToo initiative, and #RESPECTfully in collaboration with Mass.gov. 

During my walks around the city, I usually end up at one of my favorite spots: Quincy Market!

Like other WOW Social Justice Fellows, I was interested in joining an organization that was committed to promoting solutions for issues between society and individuals. At Brandeis, I am majoring in Politics and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and minoring in Legal Studies. I wanted to find an organization that covered the intersection of my academic course of study: advocating for women’s rights within legal, public policy, and social justice fields. JDI is a perfect combination of all my academic and personal interests. They also go beyond these areas to cover all the complex intersections of attaining gender equality, such as race, economics, housing, immigration, and others. The inclusive environment of my (virtual) workspace is incredibly uplifting. As an Arab-Muslim woman, working in this type of professional setting was highly important to me during my internship search. 

Here’s my workspace for the summer. Remote work calls for lots of natural light and a good view!

Throughout the first month of my internship, I have been working on numerous projects within a variety of departments. With the support of the rest of the team, I plan to dedicate my time and energy to working on two main projects while at JDI. One is researching and crafting an op-ed on the sexual abuse to prison pipeline and the necessity to reallocate Massachusetts state funding towards decarceration. I am also developing a panel event  on multiple truths in sexual assault survivors’ identities and voting decisions in the 2020 elections. This event arose from my frustration regarding the political injustice and degradation of survivors in conversations around the upcoming elections. Before coming to JDI, I had no idea how to craft substantial change on this issue. Now, within my role, I am working to host this virtually later in the summer to validate survivors’ experiences at the polls and beyond. Alongside these projects, I collaborate with other members of the JDI staff on smaller-scale projects, which are more long-term and work towards permanent progress. These include tracking domestic violence-related homicides in Massachusetts, writing personal narratives for each victim with the Director of Communications & Development, and updating JDI’s Civic Engagement Toolkit with the Policy and Advocacy Team. 

Stocking up on Modern Pastry’s cannolis!

Although my internship this summer is remote due to COVID-19, being a WOW fellow has enabled me to experience this incredible opportunity while living in Boston’s North End! When I’m not working indoors, I’m out taste-sampling cannolis at various bakeries, shopping at Italian grocers, and taking long walks around the city. To settle the age-old debate: yes, Modern Pastry’s cannolis are better than Mike’s.

Post 1: Barriers to Combating Intimate Partner Violence During COVID-19 Are Even More Prevalent in Jewish Communities

“Domestic violence is a sign of anger issues.”

“The safest thing to do in an abusive relationship is just to leave.”

“Violence and abuse don’t happen in loving relationships.” 

These statements are some of the countless beliefs held by many people about intimate partner violence. In fact, domestic violence is about power and control, not anger. The most lethal time in an abusive relationship is when one party tries to leave. And violence can occur even when two partners truly love and care for one another.  

Dinah is a nonprofit organization founded in 2018 that trains volunteer attorneys to work with Jewish clientele to handle myriad legal matters associated with intimate partner violence. Dinah educates communities on how to be a better first responder to domestic violence and advocates to leaders inside and outside of synagogues to best support community members in need.

There are many different types of domestic violence, and intimate partner violence is only one of them. This abuse can take many shapes such as physical abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and spiritual abuse.  While there are many organizations around the world that focus on helping victims of intimate partner violence, very few provide a particular intervention method designed for Jewish women suffering the effects of such violence. In addition, The Jewish community in general experiences domestic violence at the same rate as the national average (about 25%), but Jewish survivors stay in relationships 5-7 years longer than the average. This is partially due to the fact that Jewish women are “the least likely of any ethnic or religious group to utilize available resources or implement self-help remedies such as women’s shelters, support groups or social services,” according to Adam H. Koblenz writing in the Maryland Law Journal. 

The America that we see ravaged by COVID-19 is uncharted territory for everyone, including organizations, both Jewish and secular, that work to prevent domestic violence. Across America, many family courts and supreme courts are open, but they conduct most cases remotely and in general are hearing limited cases. Jewish law requires divorced couples to get a get, or a Jewish marital divorce contract, but many Batei Dinim (Jewish legal courts) are putting gittim on hold until the pandemic is over. In my short time working for Dinah so far this summer, I have gained a greater understanding of how COVID-19 further complicates the issue of domestic violence in both the religious and secular worlds. I am currently working on the organization’s social media presence and creating programming about healthy relationship practices for middle school and high school students.

Anyone from any walk of life can experience intimate partner violence, but Jewish women often face unique challenges when seeking help. Jewish tradition dictates that the social and religious realms belong to the man, whereas the hearth and home are the realms of women, and thus women are to perform the tasks that maintain the family’s health and happiness, and to support the growth of the children. There are so many more barriers to leaving abusive relationships in both religious and secular Jewish communities, including laws surrounding Shalom Bayit or peace in the home, Get refusal, and Mesirah or getting other Jews in trouble and stigmas such as lashon harah, or being labeled as a shonda. With these barriers in mind, Dinah works to ensure that no Jew is alone when facing domestic violence. 

Post 1: Working with System-Involved High School Students in Boston

This summer, I am grateful to have the opportunity to work for the H.O.P.E. (High Expectations, Opportunities, Purposeful Pathways, and Encouragement) Institute with the Boston Mayor’s Office Director of Strategic Initiatives, Janelle Ridley. This is just one of the many incredible projects for Black and Brown youth in Boston that Ridley has spearheaded.  This program, implemented by the Office of Public Safety, is still in its nascency. However, it makes a major impact on at-risk youth in the Boston area. All forty program participants are referred to us by the Boston District Attorney’s Office. This program works with youth who individually are identifying challenges and barriers that they see as stumbling blocks along their journey. Each student works both independently and collectively to bring forth solutions and strategies based on their personal circumstances. These particular youth, who are faced with challenges, traumas, and conditions, are directly effected by environmental and generational disparities and systemic oppression. This program gives disadvantaged youth a special opportunity they may not otherwise receive. 

Through this program, each student will gain both professional and academic skills, in addition to their personal development. The H.O.P.E. Institute has partnered with faculty and staff from seven Boston-area institutions (including the Heller School at Brandeis) that will create and lead workshops such as learning about the social determinants of health, ethics and morals, and community building through storytelling. 

By the end of the program, students will be given the opportunity to become research assistants and lived-expert interns with the colleges they worked with all summer. Finally, the students will receive training from the Northeastern University Center for Sport and Society in the Mentoring in Violence Prevention (MVP) Curriculum. The primary goal of the H.O.P.E. Institute and the Office of Public Safety  is to institute violence intervention and prevention programs and policies in Boston neighborhoods, and this program is starting where it can make the most impact: with the youth. They’ll be able to share what they learned and give back to their communities in an effective manner once they’ve completed the program. 

As an intern, I assist with the overall development and oversight of the program alongside my boss. I meet with the other interns, my boss, and our partners weekly to discuss plans for the program while ensuring that they meet the standards we’ve set. I also designed the podcasting project the students will conduct throughout the duration of the program. Furthermore, I assist with scheduling, planning, and coordination among all parties involved, since communication is essential to a large operation like this. Finally, I help in any way I can. For example, a project I was tasked with recently was creating an informational flyer to present to the District Attorney’s Office that could be distributed to the parents of the program participants. At the end of the day, whatever my boss needs me to do for the program, I take care of it. 

The informational flyer I created that was presented to the Boston District Attorney’s Office!

I wanted to work for this program this summer because it is making a legitimate change in the world. Even if it is on a small scale, and just in Boston, you never know what the participants of the Hope Institute will do after the program is over. They might become doctors, lawyers, Nobel Prize winners, or scientists. The possibilities are endless. What I love about this program’s mission is that it’s giving the students a chance at something bigger than their neighborhoods in Boston. I’ve quickly learned over the last few weeks that the willingness to cooperate is the first step that leads to change on a larger-scale. There are many offices, organizations, and universities that are involved in making this project successful. Every party’s full effort and desire to make a difference will undoubtedly lead to the change the program sets out to make. What does that change look like? In this particular setting, you’ll see it by the end of the summer or in a few years when the program participants are accomplishing great things in this world.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a Wrap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jonah Koslofsky

Post 3: Wrapping up at Tahirih Justice Center Baltimore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I. The Law Practice

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

II. The Legislative Experience

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

III. The Legislative Experience vs. the Law Practice

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

IV. The Law Firm vs. the DA’s Office

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

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

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

– Carrie Sheng

Post 3: Where do I go from here?

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

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

Photo taken by Sarah Jacqz

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

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

Photo taken by Sarah Jacqz

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

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

Post 3: How does research apply to real life?

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

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

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

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

 

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

Post 3: What I Learned From PEAR

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

Three turkeys hanging out in front of our office.

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

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

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

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

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

Post 3: A WOW-Filled Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Times Square at sunset.

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

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

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

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

-Alison Hagani ’22

Post 3: Reflecting on RepresentWomen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The artwork on the ASC wall painted by current students.

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

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

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

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

Artwork on the streets of the Bronx outside my office.

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

Lauren Lindman ’22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

         

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

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

       

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

Post 3: A Thank You to the MCAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post 3: Wrapping Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post 3: Social Justice and Starfish

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Rolonda Donelson

Post 3: A Summer of Cultural Survival and Connection

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

Bazaar in Newburyport, MA July 20-21

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

Bazaar in Newburyport, MA July 20-21

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

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

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

The End :)

It’s already come to the end of my summer internship at Blueport Commerce and I have to say, I’m definitely going to miss it. Through the people I worked with, the technology I used and the great work atmosphere I was a part of, I have learned a lot and I am grateful to have received this opportunity.

My first learning goal for the summer was to learn a new programming language. Through debugging and implementing automated tests written in c# and built on Selenium as well as repairing defects to an MVC web application, I was able to dive into this new object-oriented programming language.  Along with C#, I was able to work with SQL and Powershell by writing stored procedures for automated tests as well as creating tools to help debug these tests.  Through C#, SQL and Powershell, I also learned the essentials of software testing and automation techniques. I knew that testing code was vital to programming but it was nice to dive into it and use advanced testing tools.

Team Product Demo! (with ice cream 🙂 )

My second learning goal was to connect with more people in this field. I think this internship has greatly strengthened my professional relationships. Blueport has a strong collaborative atmosphere so I had the opportunity to work with a variety of mentors which allowed me to learn the best practices in coding and agile development. Along with this, I was able to learn about my colleague’s career paths and how they came into this field. It was nice to hear that everyone’s path was different. In fact, many people had not taken computer science during their undergraduate experience! Hearing about everyone’s experiences exposed me to more possibilities for my career path.

Also, I can say, impostor syndrome is real and at school. I have always felt like maybe I’m not meant to major in computer science. However, having real-world experience has definitely made me feel more secure in my major and has clarified my career interests in software engineering.  I’ve also learned a lot about myself this summer as well as the importance of soft skills in any career field. I used to be scared of asking questions and being the person who didn’t exactly know what they were doing but working at Blueport has shown me that no one has all the answers and everyone is learning from each other. All that matters is that you have the willingness to learn and try. I guess one piece of advice that I would give to students interested in interning at a software company is to not be overwhelmed by everything you don’t know at first because through practice and asking questions, something that you once thought was impossible will soon be easy to you. Companies are always looking for a fresh and unique perspective and you have the capability to bring that to the table!

Paint night!!

I am really proud of what I have accomplished and I am excited to continue to use what I have learned. To everyone at Blueport, thank you for an amazing summer and everything it taught me! With the daily stand-up meetings, the monthly events, playing card games at lunch and especially the office dogs, I had an amazing time! 🙂

Finn visited us at work!

Post 3: A Model Nonprofit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madeline Bisgyer ’20

Post 3: My Adventures in Cynicism and Caring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post 3: Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post 3: Ending my Internship with New American Pathways

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

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

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

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

Post 3: Lessons from a Summer at UFE

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

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

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

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

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

Post 3: What’s in your backyard?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final Thoughts on My State Department Internship

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post 3: Wrapping Up My Summer at Avodah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jolie Suchin ’22

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post 1: Fighting for Asylum Seekers and Migrants

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

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

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

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

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

Post 3: My Journey at a Nonprofit

 

My coworkers and boss during our lunch break

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post 3: The Mechanism for Social Justice

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

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

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

Quad in the JFK building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A snapshot of the Mass Court website

-Carrie Sheng ’20