Worthwhile internship opportunities can inspire interns to reflect thoughtfully on how their experiences not only affect themselves, but the individuals, communities and instittions influenced by their work. Click on the pictures below to find out how the work previous student interns did over the course of their internships allowed them to become fully engaged in larger issues impacting the world around them.
Class of 2018
History and Sexuality, Women's
& Gender Studies
Class of 2019
Class of 2019
Simon Essig Aberg
Class of 2019
Mathematics and Economics
Class of 2018
Law, Jurisprudence & Social
Thought and Philosophy
Class of 2019
Class of 2018
Class of 2017
Class of 2018
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Class of 2018
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Special Topics in Internships Blog Posts
Intern Name: Alisa Bajramovic
Internship Organization: OutRight Action International
Internship Term: Summer 2016
My name is Alisa Bajramovic, and I am currently a junior, majoring in History and Sexuality, Women’s & Gender Studies. Last summer I interned for the non-profit organization, OutRight Action International, based in New York City. OutRight is an international LGBTIQ human rights organization that works with activists around the world to research, document, and develop strategies in order to tackle human rights issues. OutRight also works closely with the United Nations in order to create long-standing, international changes.
I was the Advocacy and Documentation intern for the Middle East and North Africa department. In this position, I conducted significant research, I read and edited reports, and I drafted my own reports and publications, all of which were concerned with LGBTIQ human rights issues in the Middle East and North Africa. I devoted much of the start of my summer to editing and helping finalize two very valuable and ground-breaking reports published by OutRight. The first report was about the human rights situation for lesbian women in Iran, and the second was about the human rights situation for trans people in Iran. These reports included transcripts from many interviews that OutRight conducted with lesbian and trans Iranians, who spoke in great and harrowing detail to what it means to be LGBTIQ in Iran. While it was extremely difficult for me to read many of the stories, I realized, in reading them, how passionate I was about these issues. What some of these people had to go through—physical, psychological, and sexual violence, estrangement from families and communities, arrests and prison sentences—is a testament to how important it is for organizations like OutRight to document these human rights abuses, and how much work there is left to be done.
In the latter portion of my summer, I wrote a significant research paper, which was a Country Situation Report on Afghanistan. Country Situation Reports are used by immigration officials and judges when evaluating the case of someone seeking asylum in the United States. The report I wrote will specifically be used to assist LGBTIQ Afghans in gaining asylum in the US. The report contains extensive information about the legal and cultural norms in Afghanistan, as well as how they affect LGBTIQ individuals in the country. If an asylum seeker is LGBTIQ, they likely faced significant issues in their country of origin specifically because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This is why it is vastly important that a Country Situation Report specifically address human rights issues in the context of sexual orientation and gender identity. In order to write this report, I conducted many weeks of research into the complicated Afghan legal system, Afghan society, Afghanistan’s history, and recent instances of human rights abuses in Afghanistan. The research process was particularly difficult to complete because the Afghan government has not been very forthright with the human rights violations occurring in their country. My report on Afghanistan included a discussion of the present internal conflicts in the country, the formal and informal legal and judicial systems, and local perceptions and stigmas surrounding LGBTIQ people. I emphasized that LGBTIQ Afghans are cut off from their families, fired from their jobs, and ostracized from their communities because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. I also discussed the extreme state of instability and volatility in the country, and how that plays a role into LGBTIQ issues.
The report I wrote about Afghanistan was difficult, frustrating, tiresome, but, most importantly, inspiring. The topics I researched were deeply saddening, and, many times, it was hard to fully process the human rights abuses I was reading about. However, thinking about the importance of the final product drove me to keep up my research. The Country Situation Report I produced will help LGBTIQ Afghans flee a country that is extremely unsafe for them to live in, and to build a new life in the United States. I felt so honored to have been able to work on a project with such valuable meaning behind it. My internship taught me that I want to devote my life to helping individuals and communities who are in some way marginalized or vulnerable.
My internship also opened my eyes to the complex world of non-profit organizations. OutRight relies on donors to do their extremely valuable work. If it were not for these donations, OutRight could not conduct research, document human rights abuses, petition governments and individuals, and empower local activists. Their work directly saves lives and creates important changes for the future; I wish that more people could see, up close, how much work non-profits like OutRight put into such meaningful projects.
Something I observed about OutRight, which is likely also the case at many other non-profits, is that every individual in the organization matters, and, more importantly, it matters that they work together. Every staff member and intern at OutRight has specific responsibilities and goals, yet no project could be completed without coordination among them. One way this manifested itself in the office was that there were weekly staff meetings, at which everyone (including the interns) would discuss what project they were working on, how it was going, and if they needed any help in completing it. I found the strong relationship among staff members to be such a crucial component of OutRight’s strength as an organization. The reason they are able to produce reports, such as those on the human rights situations of lesbian women and transgender people in Iran, is that the office works together toward a common goal.
These two aspects to non-profits—their reliance on donations, and the cohesiveness of their staff—led me to think quite a bit about the role of non-profits today. There are many types of non-profits, devoted to a variety of issues, such as education, the arts, the environment, and human rights. These groups do some of the most valuable and important work in the world, from helping sick and malnourished children, to teaching students in underserved communities, to keeping art museums free so that they are accessible to everyone. There are many aspects to our societies that exist because of the work of non-profits—something that I think people very rarely consider. I find this, therefore, to be a fascinating topic: if organizations like OutRight were actually companies that made profits, would they still do the same invaluable work? Is there something to the fact that it is a non-profit that makes the staff members find greater value, meaning, and pride in their work, and therefore exert more effort in their projects? I am far from knowing the answers to these issues, but I think this is a realm of questions well worth researching.
Intern Name: Hadley Dorn
Internship Organization: Center for the Integration and Advancement of New Americans (CIANA)
Location: New York, NY
Internship Term: Summer 2016
Over the summer I spent 10 weeks working at a small nonprofit in Astoria called the Center for the Integration and Advancement of New Americans (CIANA). CIANA provides services to immigrants from the Middle East, East Asia, and South America. Their services are tailored to individuals and their families, however most clients come in for weekly English and civics courses. My job was to run the organization’s social media accounts in order to publicize their services and share the stories of the individuals they served.
Prior to my arrival, CIANA had essentially no social media presence. Volunteers had occasionally been posting on Facebook, but no one had created a Twitter or Instagram account. I started off by creating accounts on these platforms and then began researching other NGOs who had similar focuses and consistently shared interesting posts. I quickly found that there was a prominent online Twitter community of immigration activists that I could tap into for advice and followers. I also looked on Facebook to see if there were relevant events happening in the NYC area that I could attend in order to network and gain an understanding of local issues. Immediately, I began sharing photos and articles related to immigration and laid out a schedule for days when I wanted to post content and days when I wanted to create my own content.
During my second week of work, the internet began to blow up with news of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. I quickly learned that the shooter had sworn allegiance to ISIS and was being labeled as a radical Islamist. Many of our clients are Muslim and face various forms of discrimination in their daily lives. I worried that this attack would spur undue aggression towards them and I was surprised and pleased when many community organizations (including ones that support the LGBTQ+ community) made posts in solidarity with the Muslim community. Many of them argued that the actions of one shooter did not represent the values of an entire group of people.
Later that week I was able to attend a town hall hosted by an Afghan women’s group in a Christian church where several Imams, LGTB Muslims, community leaders, and even veterans shared their perspective on recent events. Seeing such a diverse community come together in the face of tragedy was really powerful and I was glad that it happened to be my first experience live tweeting an event.
June also happened to be the month of Ramadan and the month in which NYC celebrates pride week, so I spent a lot of time out of the office attending community Iftars and other celebrations. One thing I struggled with was learning how to avoid incorporating my own views into my online work. Although many people in our office were liberal progressives, the executive director wanted to avoid posting content that could be considered controversial. I learned to navigate what posts and articles would be seen as informative and neutral and what could be seen as too left leaning.
Throughout the summer, there were a lot of sites and accounts producing thoughtful commentary on Trump’s Islamophobic and Xenophobic rhetoric, but again I was unable to share most of it because it could be considered overtly political. Since most of our funding came from government grants, we had to navigate which boundaries could be stretched and which were set in stone. One issue that I came away with, and that I continue to grapple with, is the occasional conflation of factual analysis with political bias. I personally believe that it is possible to take a candidate’s statements and break them down for academic analysis without coming across as charged, rigged, or aggressive. However, we made it a general rule to avoid sharing anything that mentioned Trump or Clinton.
Aside from monitoring the Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook page, I also helped with planning fundraising events, canvassing, drafting press releases, interviewing clients, and occasionally assisting with classes. The last two tasks were my favorite because I had the opportunity to talk directly with the people that we were serving instead of spending time in front of the computer. Over the course of my internship I interviewed four people, all of whom had immigrated to the U.S. from either the Middle East or South Asia. They were all at various different stages of obtaining their citizenship status and we discussed what the process entailed and how they felt about becoming an American. Although I think there was some exaggeration, especially given the fact that I was an employee of the non-profit that was providing them with free services, everyone I interviewed seemed genuinely happy to be in the U.S. and to get to live in a diverse city like New York. Many of them expressed frustration at the lack of freedom and opportunity in the countries they were coming from and many of them lamented about having their families split between two sides of the world.
My last and favorite interview was with a woman named Khadija who emigrated from Bangladesh in 2010. I had only prepared questions for her, but she ended up bringing her daughter with her. I took a very backseat role as I watched them interact and discuss how they felt about moving and going to school in a new country. At times Khadija wanted to express something, but could only say it in Bengali, so her daughter translated for me and added on some of her own opinions. At the end, I asked to take a picture of the two of them together to put on Facebook and Instagram. They agreed and I quickly took some pictures on my phone. Although the quality wasn’t perfect, I was able to get a candid image in which Khadija is looking down at her daughter who has a big smile and is casually shrugging her shoulders. It was a really nice way to end one of my last weeks at the organization and, as an added bonus, the photo received the most reactions of anything I had posted all summer.
Going forward, I think there continues to be a lot of demand for helping immigrant communities. Although America is considered a melting pot, a lot of the recent rhetoric from politicians and on social media goes against this notion of inclusivity. Immigrants have so much to offer, not only in terms of the knowledge and experience they bring, but also because of the unique traditions that they are able to share and celebrate. This is not to impose a hero narrative on immigrant communities, as I know many are simply trying to continue shaping their own lives and have no intention of becoming harbingers of a renewed nation. I think the best way to help people coming into the U.S. is to provide optional avenues for furthering their education so that they can empower themselves and provide new opportunities for their families and their children.
Intern Name: Miriam Eickhoff
Internship Organization: Red Logan Dental Clinic
Location: White River Junction, VT
Internship Term: Summer 2016
This past summer I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work at Red Logan Dental Clinic, in White River Junction, VT. The clinic is a non-profit free dental care facility that provides free dental care to uninsured and underinsured adult residents (18 and over) of the Upper Valley who live within 30 miles of the clinic who are in need of basic care but don’t have the means to pay for it. The organization collaborates and cooperates with regional hospitals and health centers and supports initiatives to provide better care for the region’s population.
As an intern at the clinic, I was trained to be a dental assistant to the two consecutive Tufts dental students that each spent 5 weeks at the clinic while I was there. For a few lucky student each year, the clinic is a place where they can further their education and increasing practical experience outside their dental school. Retired dentists volunteer on certain days, and mentor the students and check their work.
Besides the basic duty to keep materials stocked, my responsibilities included “turning the operatory over:” disinfecting the room, sterilizing instruments, setting up tools for the next patient, and seating the patient. Most excitingly, however, was being the second set of hands during the procedure that anticipated which tool the dentist would be requesting, and were in charge of the “saliva ejector.” It was a lot of work, but long hours flew by, and I enjoyed the spare moments getting to know and appreciate my coworkers.
One of the issues I was painfully aware of was how income inequalities affect both healthcare access and health outcomes. This is a huge issue because White River Junction is a fairly depressed area in terms of capital and therefore a huge number of people don’t have the means to pay for dental care that many of them desperately need. Their lack of ability to have routine dental appointments leads them to have poor hygiene for exceedingly long periods of time with the addition of (often) little to no home-care on top- many don’t know how to correctly take care of their teeth, and the result is that they need the most help of all.
At the clinic, our biggest frustration was when people missed appointments. The knowledge of how many people are constantly on the waiting list to come in and be treated is unbelievable, so when someone wastes our time, we recognize that that wasted time is valuable and are disappointed, especially when those people who are on the waiting list are often in great pain and sometimes can’t bring themselves to eat.
A second frustration that I felt was the frustration of knowing that for some patients, the help wouldn’t make a difference in the long-run. There were some who didn’t want to make themselves healthier, they just wanted an aching tooth to be pulled so that the could go back to what was generally not a very healthy lifestyle.
One good next step might be teaching people of the community to do preventative home care. This doesn’t entirely attack the issue, and there’s no way to make sure that patients are taking their oral health seriously, but by arming them with a good knowledge of why and how they can take better care of their teeth may be helpful, and lead to betterment in more way than one.
Intern Name: Simon Essig Aberg
Internship Organization: National Center for Health Research
Location: Washington, DC
Internship Term: Summer 2016
This summer, I interned at the National Center for Health Research in Washington, DC. Whenever I explain what the NCHR does, I am at a bit of a loss. Should I refer to it as a think-tank, nonprofit, or lobbying organization? In reality, NCHR is a bit of all three. It is a think-tank in that some of the staff conduct original research relevant to medical device and drug safety. For example, one project underway when I was at NCHR dealt with the Food and Drug Administration regulatory process for the approval of medical devices with a large information technology component, as well as related safety concerns. The center regularly has this type of research published in academic journals. Second, the center is a nonprofit in that it maintains a health hotline to help people understand any health questions they have without having to turn to dubious online resources. Particularly, the center focuses on women’s health issues such as complications arising from ruptured breast implants. We receive dozens of calls a month and, free of charge, help these women get insurance coverage for the procedure to remove faulty implants. Another component of the non-profit aspect of the center is the articles we publish on our various websites. We synthesize academic research in an objective fashion in order to communicate important health issues to a lay audience. This is important because if health research goes unread by those it impacts, the research is without purpose. The third component of the organization deals with its work in lobbying congress. NCHR is committed to reforming FDA regulatory processes such that all drugs and medical devices are safe and effective. In particular, the center worked nonstop to prevent the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, which further loosens the regulations on medical devices and puts consumer health at risk in the name of faster approval. The Act did not pass the Senate, and is, at least for the time being, dead. Although these three branches of NCHR seem disparate, a common thread ties them all together: dedication to the objective communication of health information such that patient safety is maximized.
While at the NCHR, I worked on a number of projects related to the three branches of the organization. A major project that I worked on was the organization and assessment of a three-day patient advocacy workshop. NCHR maintains the USA Patient Network, a group of patients across the country dedicated to advocacy regarding drugs and medical devices. Many of them have been harmed by an unsafe drug or device that did not come with proper warnings and whose clinical trials were rushed or mishandled. Twice a year, we bring a group of these patient advocates to Washington, DC, to train them in how to interpret and communicate clinical trial data. This is an important skill for a patient advocate because many of the health concerns relating to drug safety will not lead to regulatory change unless the patient voice is included, and well-informed. Aside from the logistical challenges of organizing an event like this, I helped assess the success of the event using data from quizzes and a survey at the end. I helped structure this data and conducted basic statistical tests to evaluate the learning of the patients. As a result of my report on these results, NCHR is able to modify the curriculum of the workshop to emphasize the most difficult concepts. Additionally, we were able to report back effectively to the organization that gave us the grant for the workshop such that we are able to continue the program. In addition to helping with the USA Patient Network workshop, I revitalized the website and created several info-graphics to distribute to the Network and beyond. These info-graphics draw from the most difficult topics from the workshop and present the information in a readable form. Hopefully at later workshops the distribution of these info-graphics will improve understanding of difficult concepts.
Another project that I worked on was an article to publish on the center’s website. I decided to research the extent of Adderall abuse on college campuses, which is obviously relevant to me, as a college student. My first step was to read and annotate all of the important academic research on study-drug abuse among college students. I found articles related to the extent of the problem, methods of distribution, and even the legal ramifications of the possession of Adderall. With the help of my supervisors, I synthesized and explained the findings of these papers into a succinct but informative article. An important part of this process was editing my article with the assistance of NCHR’s President. She helped me clarify and simplify my writing such that a lay audience could easily read my findings and come to their own conclusion. She also helped make my writing removed (as much as possible) from the biases of my own opinion on the subject. The article is unlike other news articles related to Adderall in that it highlighted some of the safety concerns of the drug and pointed out the legal implications of Adderall possession. After a few weeks of hard work on the article, I was able to publish it for the public to see. Hopefully the article has been useful to people interested in the safety concerns of the drug and the extent of the drug’s spread on college campuses. In fact, using website analytics, I was able to track how many people read my article. Had I written a similar article without the help of NCHR, I could not have reached as many people as I did.
One challenge that I faced while working at NCHR was that I needed to make sure to be proactive to ask for assignments or jobs, especially because it is difficult to work on, for example, an article all day. However, once I realized that the staff were more than happy to share with me the work that they were doing at NCHR, I found many interesting projects that I otherwise would not have. For example, near the end of my internship, I asked the Government Relations fellow if I could help on the lobbying front and he helped me write a letter opposing sections of the 21st Century Cures Act, which I then sent to my Senators. Although I will be doing vastly different work than I did this summer for the rest of my career, the proactivity skills that I developed while at NCHR will undoubtedly be invaluable. Regardless of what I do as a career, it will be important that I actively seek out opportunities instead of expecting them to fall on my lap.
Another invaluable experience from my internship that will be directly applicable to future career plan was learning how to work full-time in an office setting. Although this experience was not specific to NCHR, it was incredibly helpful to learn the frustrations of working 9-6, five days a week. In fact, after this experience, I am drawn towards a job that does not have such a rigid schedule, such as a job in academia. The complement to this experience was learning how to live alone in a new city. Living at Amherst College is, in many ways, different than living in the ‘real world.’ Learning how to cook (to an extent) and shop this summer was very important in my development as a young adult.
Finally, although I appreciate the work that I did on public health policy this summer, I do not think that work in a related field is right for me. I think that I am better suited for more quantitative work, as opposed to legislative or communication-based work. That could explain how my favorite part of my internship was analyzing and assessing the results from our patient advocacy workshop. I did not use as much economics as I had hoped this summer, which was definitely a challenge. Perhaps a part of the reason for this is that I did not seek out relevant projects early on in the internship. This internship has not, however, diminished my interest in the field of health economics. Hopefully, I will be able to combine the skills and knowledge I developed this summer with my economics skills to analyze public health from a new perspective.
Intern Name: David Ingraham
Internship Organization: New York State Division of Human Rights
Location: Rochester, NY
Internship Term: Summer 2016
This past summer, I interned at the New York State Division of Human Rights office in Rochester, New York. The New York State Division of Human Rights was created to enforce the New York Human Rights Law (NYS HRL), which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing credit, places of public accommodations, and non-sectarian educational institutions, based on protected classes including age, race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, and arrest/conviction record. The Division was designed as an alternative to the court system and provides individuals and employers the opportunity to negotiate settlements in order to resolve discrimination disputes. However, when the parties cannot agree on a settlement and a determination of probable cause is made, the Division will arrange for cases to be heard by an administrative law judge.
During my time with the Division, I was tasked with four primary responsibilities. First, I performed extensive intake work, both in person and over the phone, which entailed providing individuals with information about the NYS HRL and helping identify whether they have the right to file a complaint with the Division. Second, I attended fact-finding conferences led by investigators which included one or both parties to a dispute, and I was responsible for taking notes and providing detailed summaries for the investigators. Third, I wrote case analyses, which involved summarizing the positions of complainants and respondents and identifying what information, if any, will be necessary to make a determination for the case. Fourth, I drafted final investigation reports, which the Regional Director would eventually read to decide whether there is probable cause of discrimination for each case.
My experience at the Division made me acutely aware of the prevalence of discrimination against persons with protected characteristics as they are defined by the NYS HRL. While the United States has made significant strides in curbing discrimination through state and federal legislation, discrimination remains a persistent issue across the country and there is still much progress to be made in establishing equal rights for allUS citizens. In the following, I will focus particularly on LGBT discrimination and provide an overview of some recent research on this issue while highlighting recent developments regarding LGBT anti-discrimination law.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is a federal law that applies to all states, protects individuals against employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Thus, whereas race, color, religion, sex and national origin became “protected characteristics” after Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, sexual orientation and gender identity were evidently excluded from this category. More than fifty years later, this remains the case; as of 2016, there is no federal law that addresses discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite the absence of a federal law prohibiting LGBT discrimination, over one-third of states have enacted such legislation. Yet 32 states still lack legislation protecting individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 29 of these states lack also lack legislation protecting individuals from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
How does the absence of anti-discrimination legislation affect the lives of LGBT people? According to the Movement Advancement Project, 52% of the United States’ LGBT population lives in states that do not prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. That means that over half of the LGBT population could potentially experience discriminatory adverse employment actions – for example, being fired, not hired or denied a promotion on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity – and have few options for legal recourse. Moreover, research supports the notion that LGTB individuals do in fact suffer from this kind of discriminatory treatment. The 2008 General Social Survey, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, found that 42% of its nationally representative sample of LGB-identifying individuals had experienced at least one form of employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation at some time in their lives, and 27% had experienced such discrimination within the past five years. More recently, a 2011 study conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force yielded insight into the many forms of discrimination suffered by trans people in particular. Of the 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming persons surveyed in the study, 47% reported experiencing an adverse employment action based on their gender identity, 19% reported being refused a home or an apartment on the basis of their identity, and 53% reported being verbally harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation.
These statistics are quite discouraging and underscore the need for legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Fortunately, however, there has been recent progress in this area. On July 21, 2014 President Obama signed Executive Order 13672, which prohibits federal employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of gender identity – discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation had already been banned – and prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Progress has been made on the state level as well. On October 22, 2015, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo became the first Executive in the United States to issue state-wide regulations prohibiting discrimination and harassment on the basis of gender identity, as he expanded “sex discrimination” as understood under the NYS HRL to include discrimination based on gender identity. Prior to these regulations, only state employers were prohibited from engaging in such discriminatory practices.
Although recent surveys suggest there is significant support for LGBT anti-discrimination legislation among the American population as a whole, it is uncertain when – if at all – states lacking such legislation will implement prohibitions on LGBT discrimination. Fortunately, it might not be necessary to wait on states to ensure protection against discrimination for LGBT persons. In 2015, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline introduced the “Equality Act of 2015,” which, if passed, would expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, the passage of the Equality Act of 2015 would be another momentous stride in the pursuit of equal rights for LGBT persons by making clear the nation’s commitment to protecting the LGBT population from unlawful discrimination and harassment.
 However, civil rights claims might be possible in some cases.
 http://www.hrc.org/blog/new-hrc-poll-shows-overwhelming-support-for-federal-lgbt-non-discrimination; https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/news/2015/04/07/110523/millennials-overwhelmingly-support-comprehensive-lgbt-nondiscrimination-protections/
Intern Name: John Michael
Internship Organization: Book & Plow Farm
Location: Amherst, MA
Internship Term: Summer 2016
I spent ten weeks of the summer of 2016 working at the Book & Plow Farm located at Amherst College. The core site of the farm sits atop Tuttle Hill, a beautiful little slope with a scenic view that is within walking distance of the main part of campus. It is by far one of my favorite spots on campus, perfect for the occasional picnic during the day or catching meteor showers at night.
The farm was co-founded four years ago by farmers Tobin Porter-Brown and Peter McLean (Pete). Over the years, it has expanded and is now run by a group of five passionate and dedicated full-time farmers, including Tobin and Pete themselves, who work tirelessly rain or shine with a relentlessly evergreen cheerfulness about them. The farm prides itself on an adherence to organic practices and a focus on educational farming, exemplified by its continuous association with student workers and volunteers.
I interned at Book & Plow along with 7 other students from Amherst College. As interns, we worked 8 hours every weekday, from 8 am to 5 pm, with an hour’s lunchbreak from noon to 1 pm. Our daily routines exposed us to many aspects of vegetable farming. With the guidance of the core team of farmers, our daily tasks included high tunnel construction, systems development, crop caring (cultivation, weeding, and watering), harvesting, and post-harvest handling (packing and delivery).
It goes without saying that working on a farm in the summer definitely takes some getting used to. Even for someone who was born and raised in a tropical country like myself, the scorching heat and uncomfortable humidity were not easy to deal with to say the least. Nonetheless, getting used to the summer we certainly did and the first week was by far the hardest week of the internship. Credit has to be given to the core farmers, though, for their sensitivity towards the well-being of everyone working. The farmers would often surprise us during the toughest part of the day with cold treats like popsicles. It does sound trivial when written here, but you have no idea what a popsicle can do to pull farmers through the day.
I cannot decide between the glorious task of transplanting and the underrated but thoroughly enjoyable job of cutting grass with the weedwacker as my favorite task on the farm. A lot of the vegetables on the farm are transplanted. The plants are first seeded and given time to grow in optimal conditions in a greenhouse. After germination, they are then ready to be transplanted on one of the fields that the farm operates. The transplanting is done using the multi-purpose, ever-reliable Kubota tractor that the farm owns. Two to four people would sit behind the Kubota close to the ground so that their hands are within reach of the soil. The tractor would then slowly traverse over a row of a field. While the tractor moves, it sets the irrigation drip tape, lays a plastic cover over it, bores holes into the ground for the plants to be transplanted into, and finally fills those holes with fertilizer, all in one graceful motion. It truly is a miraculous piece of machinery.
The task of those behind the Kubota would be to place the plants in the freshly-bored holes. It is a straightforward task in theory, but in reality the Kubota can move very quickly from the perspective of the people behind it (although from afar it can appear almost hilariously stationary). The ensuing flurry of activity involves making sure that we successfully place a plant in each hole. In the process of transplanting, we come into direct contact with the fertilizer in the ground. In keeping with the organic practices of the farm, the fertilizer used is fish oil. It smells just like what you think it would smell like – like fish. It was not pleasant, especially when some of us would make the grave mistake of rinsing our muddy hands with the water dispensed by the tractor’s tank, forgetting that the water is actually mixed with fish oil. I know that I am making a very bad case for transplanting, but it was sincerely one of the most fun tasks I had the opportunity of doing at Book & Plow. The smell of fish oil can be washed away, but the fond memories will always remain.
I got to use the weedwacker several times throughout the ten weeks. Tuesdays at Book & Plow were chore days, when we would spend the last couple hours of the day performing chores that basically keep the farm from transforming into a jungle. Chores include grass cutting, tool sharpening, vehicle cleanups and greenhouse sanitizing. My favorite was by far grass cutting with the weedwacker. The lawnmower, though a more powerful machine, simply made things too easy for it to be fun. I would put my headphones on and listen to my favorite albums, oblivious to the revving noise of the weedwacker as I devour the grass that stand in my way. At the end of each session with the weedwacker, my hands would feel like a piece of vibrating rubber band. It is an odd sensation, one that I still do not know how I feel about.
Coincidentally, the summer of 2016 was one of the driest summers that the farm has had to deal with. The drought that made its way well into the fall season without a doubt affected vegetable production. The farmers had to resort to irrigating the plants using the town’s water supply more than they usually do to keep the plants growing healthily. From my perspective, the drought gave me a deeper appreciation for the work of farmers. There needs to be an impressive combination of technical knowledge and experience for a farm to be run successfully, especially in the face of unpredictable weather conditions that is becoming more prevalent these days. Farmers constantly have to plan ahead and take risks given the mountain of variables that they deal with.
Favorite tasks and the weather aside, the one thing from the summer that I will cherish the most would be the relationships that I had formed over the course of ten weeks. Admittedly, most of us knew very little of each other before starting the internship. But towards the end of the tenth week, there was a tangible sense of sadness at the farm as we realized that we would soon part ways. From the hours of hand weeding together, to having crew lunches on top of Tuttle Hill, to the deep discussions we would have over Friday afternoons we aptly call “Peternoons” (named after Pete McLean himself), the whole internship was retrospectively one long teambuilding exercise, and it formed one of the most memorable summers of my life.
Intern Name: Allison Ogawa
Internship Organization: AIDS Healthcare Foundation
Location: Washington, DC
Internship Term: Summer 2016
This past summer I interned at the Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) in Washington, DC. AHF is an international organization that provides support of all types to people living with HIV/AIDS. The organization operates in 15 states and 36 countries. The support they offer encompasses all areas of life from free testing and linkage services to treatment, medication, mental health care, and housing/living support. While most HIV non-profit organizations created in the 1980s focused on policy and awareness (at the time of their creation, an AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence) AHF has adapted alongside modern treatments to be one of the only organizations that works on a policy level while also operating clinics in local communities. AHF is amongst the most successful organizations working in HIV care and much of this is due, as I learned this summer, to their unparalleled commitment to supporting all aspects of a patient’s life.
Before I started work at AHF, I was worried that I would be joining an organization whose thinking was focused only globally, but what I stepped into was a community whose engagement with its patients created a true home. During my first few days, I was struck by the depth of the bonds I saw between the patients and staff. People would stop into the clinic sometimes just to talk and update us on their lives. I remember one day a patient walked in, tall and confident, with a gait different than any I had seen on them before. “I have an interview in an hour and I’m too nervous to be alone,” they confided in us at the reception desk. Without pause, we catapulted into a conversation about the pros and cons of black pants, a conversation that seems strange now, but was exactly what they needed to relax and take a few deep breaths. With a hug and a few words of encouragement they were off. No sooner had I looked up from my work again did I see their beaming face in front of me. “I got it…. I was early and everything went perfectly and they hired me before I left!” Enthusiastic joy rushed over our faces and I realized this was the essence of the AHF community: a place where people don’t have to hide, a place where people can be at home.
A large part of my personal contribution to AHF involved work in “patient retention” which basically meant connecting with patients to get them back into care. For some patients this was a simple call to schedule their next 3 month blood work appointment. For others, this was a process of scouring medical records to figure out transfer of care, what type of appointment the patient needed next, and what the best way to approach the conversation was. Although seemingly simple, sometimes this included contacting patients who had fallen out of care for some reason or another. It was so important to go into those cold calls with an open mind and agility. Sometimes people welcomed the idea of coming back in, but other times it was a very sensitive topic. More than anything, I learned the importance of knowing the people you’re serving on a level deeper than any medical chart can convey. I left armed with the conviction that the best doctors and providers intimately know, or at least unassumingly strive to know their patients. This, more than anything, is what I will carry forth into medical school.
While I deeply enjoyed the opportunities I had at the clinic, I also benefitted from the experience of shadowing the lawyers and lobbyists who help to keep AHF financially stable and working. This summer 340B was a pressing topic at AHF. 340B is a law that allows safety net providers to access drugs at a discounted price, and with those savings provide life saving care to people and areas that insurance doesn’t cover. Without 340B, AHF could not provide care to its over 641,000 patients. While the legal battles and logistics fascinated me, it reaffirmed my desire to work with bodies instead of laws. It also shocked me just how much control a single law can have over a person’s health. It made me so thankful for the policy work done to maintain support for local clinics.
While I came into the internship expecting to learn a lot about medicine, HIV drugs and complications of care, I left with a greater understanding of what health care could, and should look like in the United States. AHF operates as a Ryan White clinic, meaning that it acts as a safety net, providing care to all patients, despite their status, ability to pay, or insurance. Because dealing with payment is not a fundamental aspect of the patient’s experience with AHF, health is viewed with a more holistic approach. When a patient tests positive, we take them by the hand to meet the doctor. When we receive a new patient, we have a special linkage coordinator who meets them, offers to drive them to their appointment, and acts as a guide to the somewhat foreign world they are about to enter. At their first appointment (and many after!), we have case managers, and coordinators who help patients navigate insurance, housing, mental health counseling, food and transportation costs. At AHF they understand that HIV medication is only one component of health. As I learned in my first few days, “Drugs? That’s the easy part. The hard stuff is everything else… it’s the life that gets in the way when you’re not looking.”
This is exactly what helped me to reaffirm my intentions of working in health care. As a sociology major, I look to the context of peoples lives to better understand not just who they are, but the situations and conditions in which they survive and thrive. I strongly believe that a discussion about a person’s health cannot exist in isolation of a discussion of the context of their lives. AHF gave me a model for care that addresses both medicine and context, a model that represents a type of care that creates a community instead of just a medical gaze. That being said, this type of care is not always easy. When you take into account the uncertainties and realities of peoples lives, care becomes a lot less simple, but a lot more effective.
In total, this summer was an opportunity to enter a situation without any expectations and learn to navigate a community to which I did not innately belong. While it showed me a lot about the type of healthcare I hope to one day provide, it also taught me about the importance of everyday interactions in creating a community geared toward healing. I feel so grateful to have spent time at AHF and I hope to one day be able such a healing community in my own practice.
Intern Name: Daniel Piscatelli
Internship Organization: Office of Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro
Location: New Haven, CT
Internship Term: Summer 2016
The Amherst College Internship Fund allowed me to have the life changing experience of working for Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT D3). Going into my internship, I had no idea what to expect. I had the general understanding of the functions of Congress, but beyond that, my knowledge was limited. On my first day in the office, I quickly came to understand that the duties of the United States Congressmen and Congresswomen extend well beyond their seats in the Capital. In fact, Congressmen and Congresswomen are responsible for understanding the problems of their constituents and discovering the ways in which the Federal Government can fix them. Therefore, I was tasked with helping Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and her Congressional Aides understand the problems of her constituents and find solutions.
One of the most meaningful and interesting duties I was assigned during my internship with Rosa DeLauro was to assist Rosa DeLauro’s Veterans Liaison Official in completing casework. Although veterans would come to the congressional office for a wide variety of reasons, often they came to the congressional office seeking assistance in receiving medical attention from the local VA hospital or to receive the medals they earned fighting overseas. But before we were able to help the veterans who contacted our office, we first needed to understand the issues they were having and all of the relevant information pertaining to their claim. We did this by completing constituent intakes. To complete a constituent intake, we would have an in depth conversation with the veteran about the issues they were having and how our office could assist them. Often, our assistance took the form of acting as a mediator between federal agencies and our constituents. For example, if a veteran came to our office because he lost his discharge papers, we would construct a written request to the National Personnel Records Center for a replacement and include all of the information needed. The National Personnel Records Center would then respond to our request and we would rely the information to our constituent. Therefore, our office facilitated the claims process between constituent and federal agency.
Acting as a mediator between Rosa DeLauro’s constituents and various federal agencies gave me the opportunity to interact with a wide range of individuals working for the Federal Government. On a daily basis I would reach out to the Department of Veterans Affairs to check-in on a VA claim or contact the Department of the Army to clarify a question. This gave me the opportunity to learn a great deal about the Federal Government and the ways in which it supports its citizens.
Although establishing communication between veteran constituents and federal agencies was meaningful in its own regard, it paled in comparison to the many jaw-dropping stories I heard from the veterans of my community. For example, one veteran contacted our office with a simple request to check the status of his eligibility for a war medal. After thirty minutes of talking with this constituent, I came to realize that the medal he was referring to was the Purple Heart. During his time in Vietnam, this constituent had shrapnel from a grenade imbedded in his arms. However, since he did not want to be separated from his platoon, he told the medical examiner that his wounds were mosquito bites. Now more than 40 years later, this veteran is working with Congresswoman DeLauro, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the National Personnel Records Center to receive the medal he earned fighting in Vietnam. I encountered a great deal of inspiring stories from the veterans of my community and was thrilled to be able to assist them in receiving their honors and remembering the sacrifices they made for our Country.
Beyond completing constituent intakes and acting as a mediator between constituents and federal agencies, I also had the opportunity to help Rosa DeLauro’s Veterans Liaison Official begin a project to honor and remember Connecticut’s veterans. To begin this project, I was tasked with reaching out to all of our district’s VFW and American Legion Posts to see if they had any members who were interested in participating in a video where they would share stories of their time in service. This project had two goals. First, it was meant to serve as a permanent record of the experiences of Connecticut’s veterans. Second, it was meant to provide a forum for veterans to communicate and connect with one another. Although I completed my internship before the videotaping process began, I am positive that it will be a major success seeing as there was immense support for the project from the veteran community.
My internship with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro also brought me to many interesting events and ceremonies. The most memorable ceremony I attended was a dedication service for the State Veterans Cemetery. The ceremony announced the opening of an expanded cemetery that would provide a final resting place for thousands of Connecticut’s veterans. This ceremony held great value because it was an extremely emotional event that had terrific support from the entire community. I will never forget the tears of pride and joy I saw running down the faces of the veterans who attended the ceremony and stood in the rain to hold up the American Flag during the opening remarks. At that moment, it became clear that the work I did during my internship with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro had a significant impact on the lives of the veterans I assisted. What I viewed as a simple letter of correspondence to help a veteran receive care from the VA hospital or obtain a military medal held significant meaning in the lives of these veterans. I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to intern with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, which was made possible through the stipend offered by the Amherst College Internship Fund.
Intern Name: Mohamed Ramy
Internship Organization: Bellevue Hospital/Project Healthcare
Location: New York, NY
Internship Term: Summer 2016
In my sophomore summer, I chose to intern as a volunteer at Bellevue Hospital Center. I found my ideals about health care aligning with those of Bellevue: the hospital accepts patients into the emergency room (ER) regardless of their ability to pay, which translates into it treating eighty-percent of New York City’s medically underserved population. I sincerely believe healthcare is a right to everyone. Because this patient population poses the added challenges of barriers to communication, through Project Healthcare (PHC), the volunteer program, I was able to practice cultural competence while learning of the different medical fields and what fosters a positive health care culture.
As a Project Healthcare intern, I mainly served as a patient advocate during clinical rotations in Bellevue Hospital’s Emergency Department (Urgent Care, Social Work, etc.). My duties included listening to patients’ narratives, monitoring their length of stays, acting as a liaison between them and the medical staff, and providing them with information about their status. Also, I assisted the emergency room doctors, nurses, social workers, and administrators by making up stretchers, stocking supplies, transporting patients, and conducting clinical research.
Bellevue’s patient population is extremely diverse: its patients are often prisoners, homeless people, non-English speaking individuals, people with complex biopsychosocial conditions and needs, and those without insurance. Many of the patients are unable to afford primary care or a visit to a clinic; they rely on Bellevue for almost all of their medical needs. As such, I had some assumptions about the patient before even dealing with her. Hence, there was a challenge to let go of stereotypes and to focus on providing whomever with the best possible support. I educated myself on any patient’s background through politely asking questions before making hasty conclusions. During their tumultuous transitional period, I aimed to give patients a voice and my complete care. My interactions with various patients have had a lasting effect.
I remember distinctly my Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program shift. I sat on an interview with a nurse practitioner of a lawyer. A white male, Jim (not his real name), felt he was being held against his will. He had tried to commit suicide because of societal pressure and constant altercations with his boss. In his interview, he spoke of his sanity, intelligence, and his boss. He seemed presentable, as society would say, yet unfocused. In a burst of anger, he said, “I’ll have you know, I am a lawyer! I refuse to be here, and I just want to go back out there. You can see that I'm not trying to commit suicide right now, and I promise I won't if you release me. I'm different from all these people!” I noticed his tone and posture. Jim was irascible, and the interviewer had pushed him when he made Jim realize the mistakes he made.
I learned from that one interview that if we place our worth in our occupation, then our self-worth becomes dependent on something as fickle as the New England weather. Our occupation does not determine our sanity; psychiatrists do not either. Our body and our mind's impulses do. Where there is suffering, there is a lack of self-care. When I was in the first Egyptian revolution, I nearly snapped from the heat, lost my voice, and was bombarded with tear gas bombs. In my moment of despair, I chose to listen to the chants of my people, “Belrouh’, beldam, nefdyk ya balad!” (With our souls and our blood, we will sacrifice for you, our homeland!) I chose to gain my strength from others because my own had faltered. I, however, will say that in certain situations, this is difficult – if not impossible.
However, I am more interested in my failures – about the moments I forgot to be kind. Frankie was a Spanish-speaking man of maybe forty years old. I was working in Urgent Care and had been asked to escort him. He said, I think, he wanted a metro card from Social Work, but they were unavailable. He continued to move his hands trying to communicate to me what he wanted. Frustrated, I said in a loud and angry tone, "What do you want?!" Another patient entering the ED remarked sharply, “He wants what we all want: To be treated with respect, empathy, love, and compassion. Talk to him slowly and calmly.” To be human is to err. I apologized to Frankie. I told him I would bring someone who speaks Spanish to help him and that he should wait for me near the door. I went into the ED, found someone who spoke Spanish, and when I was walking towards the outside door, I noticed that Frankie was gone. I took a moment to reflect on this failure. I took a moment to remind myself why I loved being a volunteer: I loved helping people and making their day better. For a moment, I forgot my passion and drove a then-homeless, Spanish-speaking man into the cruel city of New York. There is an Arabic adage that says, “Patience is beautiful.” It is, but it is also necessary.
These experiences are but a shallow overview of what I was affected by. The program also made us manage Bellevue’s annual community health fair. I believe there is a fundamental connection between personal illness and the societal, political, and cultural determinants of health; hence, through this opportunity, I wanted to raise awareness and to educate the community about the patterns that underlie health disparities whatever my research topic is. I was assigned Prostate Cancer. Honestly, I did not know much about the topic but after intense research I learned about that African-Americans were affected to a greater extent by it. I learned how some health insurances don’t cover certain necessary tests for this potential disease that affects a great population of men of the age above 65 years.
After the health fair, interns were to address either the topic of smoking or diet in a multimedia project. A volunteer and I chose to address the topic of smoking using video. We called the video, “The Lucky One.” There is this belief that if you turn over a cigarette, and save it as your last one of the pack, that smoking that turned-cigarette will bring you luck. However, it could very well be your last one. Essentially, that was the message of the video. In my opinion, our way of addressing the topic of smoking was effective because it was short and laconic.
As part of the program, interns were also required to attend a weekly team meeting and a public health course taught by one of the attending physicians. Through these opportunities, interns investigated the practical problems that hospitals, patients, and medical staff encounter in the healthcare system as well as explored how culture and health intersect. From my experiences at Cairo Medical Center and knowledge of the Egyptian healthcare system, I brought an international awareness of healthcare to these meetings to make discussions more rewarding. I initiated dialogue around health disparities resulting from social injustices and socioeconomic differences when I had the chance.
Ultimately, Bellevue continues to provide humane and equitable health services to those who speak a different language or are from a different culture, which is a mission in line with my values as an aspiring healthcare provider. I had initially felt like I was working hard without recompense, but as the summer progressed, I began to understand that the hard work intrinsically offered its own compensation. I grew to love the hospital, where nervous patients, whom I am meant to soothe, taught me compassion. I have helped people in the most vulnerable moments in their lives and have been humbled by them allowing me to do so. I recognized the immense value of people and volunteers using their unique skill sets to pursue their passions in dedication to servicing the common good of their fellow humans. In the process, I discovered that the social facet of medicine presents a challenge matching the inherent complexity of the body. For these reasons, I aspire to one day utter the vow of doing no harm and to become a great doctor.
Intern Name: Maria Scala
Internship Organization: The Advocates
Location: Hailey, ID
Internship Term: Summer 2016
My name is Maria Scala and I spent the Summer of 2016 as an intern at a local non-profit organization in Hailey, Idaho called The Advocates. This community based group works against issues of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in the interest of helping women build and maintain healthy relationships. The organization also includes a Women’s Shelter that houses 1,500 adult nights in shelter and 1,741 child nights in shelter on average each year. The Advocates employs three main branches of the organization to help individuals of all ages, even men and children, to “build safe lives”. Through education and prevention outreach, The Advocates aims to inform local youth about forming healthy relationships and the warning signs of danger in relationships. The prevention education team has developed a program known as “Green Dot Bystander Intervention” that aims to prevent any act of violence from bullying and sexual assault to stalking and teen dating violence. Staff members visit elementary, middle school, and high school classes throughout the year and lead workshops surrounding themes of dating violence, healthy friendships, and bullying prevention, catered to each age group. Through the Women’s Shelter, The Advocates is able to provide a safe space for victims and clients seeking sanctuary from any dangerous situation without cost. The Shelter welcomes mothers, children, women with pets, and those alike. As one of the only women’s shelters in the local area, this Shelter services many surrounding counties as well as a large population of both documented and undocumented immigrants. Finally, the survivor support is at the hands of an amazing team of case managers and client advocates who work with survivors one to one with a myriad of things. From citizenship status to finding a job to filing for divorce, the case management team utilizes the community’s resources in tandem with power based violence education and extensive professional training to help women recover and rebuild.
My day to day was comprised of anything someone on staff needed me to do. It was a general role that spanned across all departments, especially across the administrative staff and the Shelter staff. I split my time between the “Office” and the “Shelter” over the course of the summer. On the office side, I worked with the development team to coordinate the annual “Soiree”, creating graphics, putting together a performance piece, and functioning as a problem solver day of. I worked with the prevention education staff, teaching in local middle school classes, putting together informative pamphlets, and working on a “coaching cards” program that helps athletic coaches integrate some of this education material into the season with their athletes. I also created the comprehensive excel workup of all of the data needed for the annual report. Lastly, I consulted with the CEO on her role in raising funds for the organization and wrote a few grants myself.
On the Shelter side, I met with clients as an advocate and case manager on a daily basis. I shadowed the Advocates’ legal consultant and attended legal proceedings with my clients. I led morning meetings and taught morning yoga as a positive activity for the shelter residents to being their day. I gained a first-hand understanding of the complex network of individuals, immense time, and meticulous attention necessary to maintain a well-run shelter.
The more independent and creative component of my internship consisted of my own study and photographic exploration of these issues that the Advocates works against. I aimed to use visual imagery to criticize how contemporary media platforms exploit female sexuality which perpetuates society’s dismissal of domestic violence and sexual assault. In the mass of problematic imagery, especially with photographic media, the relevancy of women’s issues and power based violence dissolve. In tandem with my work on campus in the interest of women’s rights and sexual respect, my photographic project took themes from the Advocates and the lessons I gained from my time there to create a cohesive examination of how violence against women manifests in photographic imagery. I had a two-pronged approach that on one end developed promotional and campaign material for the organization to use as material in their own interests. On the other end, I opened up my photographic spread to be a more creative and personal interpretation of women’s issues and sexual respect. The overall goal in complementing my internship with this project was to relate the work of the Advocates in the small community of Hailey Idaho back to the Amherst college community. I hoped to show how interwoven these issues are across contrasting communities, essentially examining the question: How can Amherst College as a community integrate and reflect the vital work of the Advocates in the context of a broader fight against power based violence and sexual assault?
The importance of this study and issue is actually reflected in the question at hand. In the chaos of being a college student at Amherst College, consumed by work, friends, social life, and other activities, the relevance of sexual respect and women’s rights in a male dominated environment can go unconsidered and dismissed. My aim was to bring that consciousness back to Amherst.
I experimented with the archetypal campaign photography often seen in PETA or other nonprofit promotions. Writing on naked bodies (often female sexualized bodies) has become a canvas that draws in the spectator with the shocking image of a hyper sexual naked woman. In my study, I found this to be problematic and actually counter intuitive for organizations that employ such imagery in the interest of fighting against the same kind of exploitation. When constructing campaign and promotional material for The Advocates, the team I met with helped me think about imagery that still grabs the attention of a viewer, but holds less controversy. We came up with the “I am an Advocate” portrait project that featured portrait shots of everyone from staff members to consenting clients. They each held up signs that were used in the Soiree that displayed a different service that The Advocates provides to show the breadth of influence this one organization covers. The signs read things like “Legal Services” to “Economic Education”. I compiled the photographs into a video and overlaid the song “Till it Happens to You” by Lady Gaga. This final work shed light on the faces behind the actual work who make a difference every day. Rather than an artificial and sexualized image of a woman with writing all over her naked body, this project reimagined the face of a cause as the actual agents who initiate change. In maintaining the creative and artistic elements, the message remained true and evident without the sexualized and mediatized tropes of some non-profit photography.
Investigation into an ongoing, breathing issue is never limited and should be as constant and ongoing as the fight for healthy relationships and safe lives. I would be curious to see a similar campaign through the lens of the Amherst community and the agents of change that exist below the surface of our campus. Who are the faces of at Amherst College that would hold a sign as they fight to implement change? One day, I hope it would be everybody.
Intern Name: Elias Schultz
Internship Organization: Council for Court Excellence
Location: Washington, DC
Internship Term: Summer 2016
This summer I worked as a policy intern with the Council for Court Excellence in Washington, DC, as small non-profit focused on improving access to justice for the DC community. It primarily focuses on local issues, including criminal justice reform, juvenile justice, and policy reforms in local courts. The office has only 6 full-time employees but has a 250+ member board of directors that includes judges, partners at law firms, and a DC Councilmember. The CCE is a rare nonprofit that frequently works closely with the institutions it influences and has ever since its advent in the early 1980s by leaders of the DC legal community. Over the summer I was able to attend DC council hearings at which CCE employees and board members testified in favor of bills to reduce juvenile jail and prison placement in adult facilities and bolster language accessibility.
The primary project I worked on with the two other undergraduate interns in the office was a comprehensive evaluation of the disciplinary codes of DC’s 62 charter schools and their potential involvement in a number of harmful policies commonly referred to as the “school to prison pipeline.” We read through the student manual for each school numerous times and created qualitative and quantitative data points that allowed us to measure changes in disciplinary codes since 2013, which were addressed in a previous CCE report entitled “Equity in School Discipline.” Specific policies we identified included the prevalence of zero-tolerance provisions, which enabled charter schools to expel students after one instance of certain violations. Another aspect included quantifying schools’ complex due process procedures. A challenge during this process was establishing consistent thresholds for evaluating the presence and robustness of appeals processes, disciplinary hearings, adequate and accessible notifications, additional provisions for students with disabilities, and language accessibility, among others.
With this data we constructed a memo that detailed our methodology and conclusions, as well as a presentation that we delivered to a DC educational authority agency at the end of our internship. Our primary conclusion was that while charter schools as a whole improved considerably in some aspects, there was still much reform work to be done in areas like language accessibility for student handbooks and zero-tolerance policies, which can have especially harmful effects on the lives of young children. We even found charter schools for preschoolers that included zero-tolerance provisions.
Challenges I addressed during this project included reverse-engineering the statistics published in the previous 2013 report in order to align our methodologies for calculating updated versions for 2016. While doing this I identified a critical error that led the previous intern team to over-report the percentage of schools with zero-tolerance policies by a significant margin.
The individual project I got the most from over the summer was researching post-conviction civil rights restoration policies by state, specifically the right for people previously convicted of felonies to serve on juries. This specific area of criminal justice had little attention. I identified a few important scholarly papers on the subject and compiled data that I used to construct a memo to the executive director and board of directors. I confirmed the data by researching jury exclusion policies in for all 50 states. It was sometimes a challenge to find current versions of state laws, which change frequently, and comprehend them in the context I needed to, as this was my first extended exposure to reading and analyzing statues themselves.
In constructing my memo, I learned about writing to professional audience and also got to discover some striking trends in jury service rights throughout the United States. Because of widespread restrictions on felons from serving on juries, over one-third of African American men in some counties in states like Georgia are unable to serve on juries. This policy deprives the justice system of a critically valuable perspective needed on its juries – the perspective of having been through a process similar to the one the defendant they observe is. The papers I identified also featured a widespread and fervent rejection of the justification used almost exclusively for these laws – that previously incarcerated persons hold biases against the court system and prosecutors, and will disproportionately side with defendants in criminal cases. Research done on the subject suggests that this population actually has less bias in either direction than people who normally serve on juries, and that their perspective and knowledge of the criminal justice process would be valuable to have on juries.
I also contributed research and editing to an audit the CCE did under contract of DC’s Office of Administrative Hearings, a centralized court tasked with adjudicating disputes between citizens and several of the city’s largest industries. The court has experienced numerous growing pains since its advent in the early 2000s, many of which the CCE addressed in a comprehensive report which it presented to the Office at the end of the summer. I researched DC’s language accessibility laws to evaluate compliance, statistics for judge employment and changes over time in various other metrics, legal relationships between the OAH and agencies it adjudicated cases on behalf of, and various other metrics. I also constructed data visualizations of key statistics, highlighted quotes for interviews the CCE conducted with OAH litigants, lawyers, represented agencies, and judges, and reviewed and made legal footnotes.
The issues I got to work on this summer with CCE were central to my career interests in public service and it was a great learning experience to gain exposure to DC’s legal and legislative community, as well as the type of legal and policy research I wish to pursue after college. It also gave me an important perspective on graduate school and the career opportunities afforded by different post-undergrad paths.
Intern Name: Savannah Sutherlin
Internship Organization: ServiceNet Pathways
Location: Amherst, MA
Internship Term: Summer 2016
Diminishing the stigma against mentally ill individuals
This past summer I interned in the health industry at ServiceNet Pathways. The Pathways program is a milieu therapy program for children (ages 8-18) who have been referred by the Department of Mental Health as being a good fit for the program. Milieu therapy is a form of psychotherapy in which a client’s social environment is controlled with the aims of creating a safe and supportive environment. Over the course of my work with the children I realized that they are heavily stigmatized and I strive to know why people stigmatize children with mental illnesses and how we can put an end to this.
When I first discovered that I had gotten the internship I was very excited and began to share the news with friends and family. To my dismay, many of them didn’t have the same reaction that I did. They were worried about my safety since I was going to be in close quarters with “psychos” and “crazy people”. This thought had never crossed my mind; I was too occupied with the idea of having the opportunity to help children. But why did it cross theirs? How did children go from being cute and innocent to crazy and violent with the simple addition of two words: mentally ill?
To my relief, the children were just that- children. I never once felt threatened or endangered by any of them. I found them to be sweet and kind, despite their previous hospitalizations and rough backgrounds. I connected, to varying degrees, with all of the children and am happy to say that I met each and every one of them. They were not defined by their illnesses as some would think. In fact, I couldn’t even figure out why some of them were in the program until I read their case files towards the end of the summer. With the combination of medication and therapy, they were just like anyone else.
As an intern, my main job was to learn. I watched how the counselors (the people with the PhD’s) interacted with the children and dealt with their arguments, tantrums and shut downs. I caught on quite quickly and learned each of the children’s strengths, weaknesses and triggers. I wouldn’t always know what to expect, but the more I got to know the children the more I knew what type of behaviors they would exhibit. My other responsibilities consisted of opening up in the mornings, helping to make lunches and researching projects and activities the children would enjoy. I also helped to create bulletin boards and materials for activities. More than anything though, I gave my undivided attention to the children and tried to make it clear that I was someone that they could talk to. They continually impressed me and I learned just as much from them as they did from me.
It deeply saddens me that people assumed that these children would be violent and were beyond my ability to help them. A mental illness is just like any other illness and should be treated so. People should not be judged for saying they have depression any more than saying they have a cold. Because of this stigmatization people are afraid to come out about their mental illness which can make matters even worse. In my opinion, education is the best way to change people’s minds about the mentally ill as much of the stigmatization is based on false assumptions that are reinforced by books and TV shows that inaccurately depict illnesses. If only everyone could see what I saw, which is bright, creative and talented children who simply need guidance to work through their difficult upbringing.
Intern Name: Lauren Tuiskula
Internship Organization: Office of Congressman Jim McGovern
Location: Washington, DC
Internship Term: Summer 2016
This past summer, I had the privilege of working in the Washington, D.C. office of Congressman Jim McGovern. Congressman McGovern represents the second district of Massachusetts, which includes both my hometown of Leicester and Amherst. It was exciting to see the ways in which our office addressed issues pertinent to the two places I call home and to take part in that process. My hands on work in such an influential office gave me better insight into the inner workings of our political process and comprehensive knowledge of the communication between the electorate and their public officials. As an English major hoping to pursue a career in journalism, or a similar communications based field, working firsthand to communicate directly with constituents was one of the most interesting aspects of my work. I found that the communication channels between our office and the voting public were ample, giving constituents myriad opportunity to be involved in the political process and voice their opinions.
Before diving into the specifics of my work, I think it’s important to delineate the various roles that different offices supporting each member are tasked with. As an intern in the Washington, D.C. office I was able to work closely with the various pieces of legislation that were pending consideration on the House floor. The majority of my work centered on communicating with constituents about information directly related to the legislative process. Congressman McGovern’s local offices, based in Worcester and Northampton, typically work more with individual issues related to constituents, oftentimes assisting them with problems of casework. Despite this standard balance of responsibility, I was pleased to have opportunities to truly and directly serve and inform my community. The information I provided helped lead to a more informed electorate and to uphold the standards of democracy that allow our government to thrive.
One of the most interesting ways that I interacted with constituents was through my work giving tours of the Capitol building. Community members from our district are able to book a special tour of the Capitol building through our office, providing them with an exclusive experience and giving them a chance to interact with a representative from our office. Giving tours proved to be one of my favorite parts of the job, as I had a new experience each time dependent on the group that was visiting. Despite the unchanging elements of the tour, such as the sites and historical information that accompanied them, each tour I gave was unique. I found this to be one of the most effective ways to interact with constituents and give them a better sense of the role of our office. Oftentimes younger children on the tour would express their interest in politics and ask me about our work. Most of these kids expressed a newfound desire to potentially enter the world of politics after the tour. I loved the interactive nature of these tours and having the brief but important opportunity to shape both young minds and adult minds regarding our political process and the importance of being engaged. These face-to-face interactions undoubtedly cleared up lingering ambiguity regarding the nature of government work and helped the visitors to understand the importance of their involvement.
Another crucial component of my work was aiding in constituent response efforts. This did include some menial work, like sorting through and batching emails, but these logistical tasks did prove to be informative and interesting. A crucial element of this constituent response was helping to research and write letters replying to questions posed by members of the district or responding to their explanation of their stances on certain issues. Researching the issues at hand, often bills that had been proposed or were pending further consideration, gave me incredible knowledge of the political process and the ways that some issues gain concrete traction while others might not. I was also able to track how Congressman McGovern’s views on certain issues have progressed over time. While his commitment to specific issues proved unwavering, the nuances of specific problems clearly transformed over the course of his long career in office. Serving essentially in the role of an intermediary between our office and the electorate, my communication skills were crucial, as I was tasked with ensuring that the Congressman’s thoughts were comprehensively represented in my responses. This mode of communication, while less personal, did provide constituents with clear, quick and concise answers to crucial questions.
The final main element of my work was again serving as intermediary, this time fielding phone calls from constituents to our office. In addition to email, many constituents chose to voice their opinions with a phone call. I was both impressed and surprised to see that every single phone call that came through our office and was from a constituent was logged and tracked. This process was just one of the many ways that the office ensured the voices of the people in the district were fully being heard and that Congressman McGovern could best represent their views. I was tasked with processing the concerns of the constituents and attempting to provide them with as a many answers as possible. Once again, I enjoyed this task because of its directness and personal nature. I was speaking immediately with voters and helping them to let their concerns be heard. This work ensured accessibility of information and that constituents enjoyed a more engaged role in the process.
As an aspiring journalist, consistent and accurate communication is something I care deeply about. There rests a lingering dissatisfaction with politics throughout our communities, and part of this dissatisfaction stems from an imagined lack of communication, or miscommunication. After seeing the ways that our office (and many other offices throughout the House of Representatives) communicates with the people they represent, the inaccuracy of this sentiment became evident. It’s crucial for representatives to inform their districts, and Congressman McGovern’s office is an example where this task was effectively achieved. Messaging was always clear, and members of the staff were always extremely accessible. After spending a summer wearing many hats in the office, I think that the question of transparency rests more so in inadequate knowledge about ways to contact representatives and the political process itself. A more informed and engaged electorate necessitates a full understanding of the functions of the role of each component of the government. By comprehensively informing the public we can ensure that the political process fully executes its intended goals.
My time spent working in Congressman McGovern’s office was truly incredible and eye opening. I’m so fortunate to have had the opportunity to see the inner workings of government firsthand and am looking forward to continuing to apply this newfound knowledge to the field of communications in the hopes of working toward a well informed public.