This is a recoccuring column from a few select writers that will feature issues that pertain to CSB/SJU such as religion, race, gender and politics.
By Anne Gleich – [email protected]
and Hanna Pioske – [email protected]
During the course of their four years at CSB/SJU, many students will take part in an internship of some kind. The vast majority of these internships, especially those for students in the humanities and social sciences, are unpaid.
Both of us have had unpaid internships at nonprofits and similar organizations—internships that helped us to grow as students of political science, boosted our resumés and gave us confidence in our abilities to enter the professional world after graduation.
We were able to afford these experiences through a combination of our own savings, scholarships and assistance from family. However, not all students can afford the luxury of an unpaid internship.
Unpaid internships perpetuate systems of inequality, devalue the work of entry-level employees at organizations that hire unpaid interns and are ultimately unsustainable, both for the interns themselves and for broader society.
Although there are regulations on unpaid internships, not all organizations abide by the letter of the law. The United States Department of Labor stipulates that unpaid internships must be educational and for the benefit of the intern.
Crucially, they also state that “The intern must not replace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.”
Essentially, volunteer interns cannot do work that an organization would regularly pay someone to do. The competition for paid internships is steep, and many organizations have shifted away from offering paid internships and entry-level work. Students are thus often encouraged to take positions that are unpaid “for the experience”—but what of those who cannot afford it?
Students from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds are often unable to afford these experiences, which ends up perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality when they graduate with less experience than their wealthier peers.
Many students and faculty justify the practice of not paying interns by saying that unpaid internships are valuable for experience. However, these experiences may not always have the intended effect.
A study of the graduating class of 2015 conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that students who took paid internships were more likely to get a full-time job after graduation and to be paid more in those jobs.
Before advisers encourage students to take unpaid internships, they should ask themselves the question: are these experiences truly valuable in terms of postgraduate outcomes?
Beyond the issues of inequality, privilege and questionable end worth, unpaid internships devalue the work of entry-level employees. In many offices, tasks that would traditionally be completed by paid entry-level employees are being completed by unpaid interns.
In one of our internships, all the work that we did was also done by the lowest level staffer—mailing, sending out letters to constituents, handling phone calls and sorting paperwork. We were simply doing his or her job, but with no benefits.
Not only does this seem to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the law, it also devalues the position of the staffer. When they see an unpaid college student doing their job, what does that reflect about the value of their work? While we are grateful that we were able to afford at least one unpaid internship each, it only reflects the privilege we are lucky to have.
When we enter the job market, we will have a leg up on many students unable to do what we did, due to their financial circumstances. We believe that these unpaid internships, which many offices rely on for their labor, are unjust, perpetuate systems of inequality and are ultimately unsustainable.
This is the opinion of Hanna Pioske and Anne Gleich, CSB seniors