The real intern scandal: working without pay privileges the privileged
As the Obama administration tightens intern rules, the rise of unpaid internships is giving a leg up to those who can afford to work for free.
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The technical term for this in my family is “building character,” and it’s filed alongside stories about walking to school uphill, both ways.Skip to next paragraph
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In the fundamental first several years out of college many young people are forced to decide whether it is possible to pursue their dreams or not. Unfortunately, if there’s no family money to keep you afloat, you are forced to take jobs miles away from your desired path. College passions become foolish ideals and the class system wins.
I was grateful to have the support of college funding to make my internship possible.
I can remember working at high noon in Patagonia, Ariz., on the border of Mexico at a seed conservation farm. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I was hoeing beans. I was an unpaid intern, and I cared about my job.
Everyone at Mount Holyoke College seemed to have summer opportunities like this. The air there made me believe anything was possible, and I was willing to go for it with little or no money in my pocket.
Through financial aid in the form of the Frances Perkins Program, the college funded three years of summer internships as part of my research to fulfill my independent major. Without that funding, I would never have been able to accept the volunteer positions.
These experiences are still opening doors for me. They provided the narrative for my first articles and video projects, building the portfolio to get the contracts I make my living with today.
Those internships granted me the privilege of “experience.”
The issues we face, from war to poverty and environmental catastrophe require serious skills and creativity in developing solutions. What ever happened to mentorship? Who’s going to step up and offer interns some real learning opportunities that will result in innovative leadership for the next generation?
Students must remember that the benefit of these internships is your personal narrative – who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve worked on. People get the impression that you are committed to your work. In some circles it’s a credibility badge – a key. The tragedy lies in keys being passed between the same people with every generation. We have the collective resources to change this fate.
If it weren’t for my unpaid internships I highly doubt I would be in a position today to make my living as a freelance writer, producer, and campaign consultant. It was the internships that qualified me for my first couple important entry-level jobs in the nonprofit world, which have given me the skills and experience to do what I want now.
Danielle Connor is a former intern who now codirects Rough Mountain Studios, a creative communications group producing videos and publicity campaigns for mission-driven projects.