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Student As Intern

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Your role as a student in the organization affords you several advantages. First, in pursuing internship opportunities you may create a "wish" list of the most desired organizations to work in and begin using your personal contacts, friends and relatives, or direct telephone calling and/mailing to find out the appropriate person(s) to discuss doing an internship. This is the advantage of being a student and looking for an internship as opposed to being unemployed (even a college graduate) and looking for a job. As a student it is acceptable and appropriate to make such inquiries and pursue such learning opportunities, whereas it would be considered inappropriate to do so as a job applicant who would be asked to follow formal standard procedures.

The role of student intern continues to apply when seeking to set up an interview with a potential site-supervisor. As we have emphasized, the main objective is to obtain the best learning situation you can find that will provide a stepping-stone to future opportunities. This means that you will want to be sure these conditions are met. Thus, rather than being in a position of dependency as you might in a job interview, it is possible to approach the site-supervisor as someone who is there to learn and is looking for an appropriate match between what the organization has to offer and what you can contribute to it.

This approach to the role of the intern can be carried through to the internship itself. As a learner you have the right to insist that you be provided with opportunities to take to develop new skills and take on significant responsibilities. The organization has an obligation to meet these needs just as you are obliged to fulfill them as best you can. Consequently, you may press your site supervisor in ways advantageous to you that an employee might be reluctant to do because they occupy a different formalized status and role. 

Please note, however, that this process should be approached with professionalism and sensitivity, particularly if you are pursuing an internship for the Diversity and Social Justice concentration.  Entering into organizations that are designed to work for social justice presents unique possibilities and challenges.  Because much of the work around social justice focuses on groups that are marginalized in one or multiple ways, the student’s approach to seeking the internship and fulfilling its duties should be careful. 

It is very important that students recognize and evaluate their own race, class, gender, sexual identity, ablebodied privileges (among others), implicit biases, and/or ideas about “helping those in need”, particularly if the student does not share the experience(s) of inequality with the organization’s members and/or constituents.  As such, students should follow the guidance and vision of the organization with regards to the role they play in the organization during the internship. 

Students should respect the self-determination of the organization, its members, and constituents while also being sure to apply sociological perspectives to their work in the organization.  For example, students should be aware of the multiple levels on which inequality exists and avoid deficiency theory or paternalistic approaches to viewing the organization and their role in it.

While internships are learning opportunities and students want to maximize that, students should be careful of an approach to a social justice organization that is driven by their desire to extract benefit.  This is especially important if the student is seeking an internship in an organization that serves marginalized communities; groups which have a history of race and class privileged elites extracting empirical, material, emotional, and psychological resources from their communities.  In many ways, the process of seeking an internship in DSJ might be analogous to gaining entry into an ethnographic field of study.  Access must be negotiated, the status of the student as “outsider” interrogated, and the social location of the organization members and constituents recognized and respected.

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