Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Letter to the editor: There’s more to the internship conversation

David Meni is a junior majoring in political science and vice president of the GW Roosevelt Institute.

The magic of Disney World might feel as far away from the sterile marble halls of Capitol Hill as one can get, but there is one thing hiding behind the curtains of The Magic Kingdom that is surprisingly similar to Congress: an army of interns.

Interns make up 50 percent of Disney World staff, according to Ross Perlin in his book, “Intern Nation,” making it one of the biggest intern programs in the world. Over-earnest college students take whole semesters off to work for the chance to network and gain vital skills in hospitality and entertainment. What they get instead are long, strenuous hours, often serving fast food and taking out trash.

While I commend Monday’s “Opposing Views” columns (Sept. 9, p.4) for opening the debate on internships, there was a lot of focus on the Fox Searchlight lawsuit that awarded unpaid interns for their hard work on the movie Black Swan back pay for their work. However, Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman – the interns involved in the lawsuit – graduated from college in 1991 and 2009 respectively with established industry connections, and were not paid for positions that ordinarily would have gone to permanent employees.

The more pressing issue is the economic divide that internships create, which turns some students into serial interns and leaves others with no internship experience at all.

There is a common critique that students from high-income families can afford to take unpaid internships and the connections that come with them, but the reality is even more worrying: According to the data company Intern Bridge, students in higher income brackets “through their preferences, social networks, and status, enjoy more opportunities at the largest companies, and are more likely to be paid.”

This trend may be perpetuating and widening inequality in the workforce—Intern Bridge also found that paid internships were more likely to be held by white males, and the possibility for a potential job offer from a paid internship is significantly higher than an unpaid position – 63 percent as opposed to 37 percent, according to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

There is also the relatively recent trend of “serial interns,” (which would include myself); many students are becoming used to the idea that jobs are something taken six months to a year at a time for little to no pay.

Not all internships have to be paid, but it is necessary for us to re-evaluate the standards by which we define them and their educational and professional impact. A good first step would be to revise and update the intern certification process in the Fair Labor Standards act, which has gone unchanged since 1938.

There also must be a significant effort made to both increase hiring rates from paid and unpaid internships, and encourage employers to work with universities to ensure a tangible education comes from an internship. On this front, Congress and large corporations should be better industry leaders, rather than relying on more and more temporary labor to boost their bottom line.

From the Senate to Animal Kingdom, college students pursuing a career shouldn’t have to suffer to be a part of the magic.

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