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Pay Your Interns: It’s the Right Thing to Do

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a LinkedIn post that started the debate of whether or not interns should be paid or unpaid. As a college student who, due to the pandemic, will begin her professional career competing with those who have been in the industry for years, the answer was more than obvious. However, to my surprise there was a shocking number of comments that debated my instinct and argued that since companies were using time and resources to provide job experiences to these interns, these young adults should be grateful and that their “payment” would simply be the aforementioned experiences. 

No. Just . . . no. 

I stared at my computer, more puzzled than anything, wondering how anyone could be so blatantly ignorant to the toxicity of this mindset. Not only does this completely ignore the value that interns bring to their respective companies, but it also fails to acknowledge the privilege that is required to accept unpaid internships, further contributing to the exclusion of those from marginalized communities. 

At first I was confused, but that confusion soon changed to anger and fear. I came to the realization that these individuals likely worked with interns during their career, and I feared that this savior complex would lead some impressionable intern to devalue their worth because they’d think their company was doing them a favor by having them there. 

If you’re an intern, read the next few lines very carefully: 

You are worth it. You are not just an intern and you have so much value and potential. The value that you bring into the space is unique to you specifically and your work matters. 

I was so lucky last summer to intern at a female run non-profit organization that paid me a fair wage and respected the contributions that I made in the workplace. These women empowered me to take up the space that I did and to run with it because my work mattered. As I continue into my college career and finalize exactly what I want to do in my future, I am reminded that my time is worth something. I am a working adult contributing to a collective goal on my team. My thoughts, opinions, and decisions have value. It’s only fair that I be compensated fairly for my time. 

Pay your interns. Perhaps I could end here with a powerful statement that leaves readers with something to think about. Perhaps I could end here and my closing sentence could leave it up to those commenters from the LinkedIn post to reconsider their decision. I’m not going to do that. I don’t want to leave any room for wonder. Instead, I leave you with something plain and simple: pay your interns because it’s the right thing to do. 

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Anna Dao

U Mass Amherst '23

Anna Dao is a junior at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, majoring in Legal Studies. She hopes to use writing as a platform for comedic relief, raise awareness for mental health, and short rants on citrus fruits. Follow her on Instagram @anna.dao and Twitter at @annadao19
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