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Internships can be fun — they can also be a lot of hard work — but they’re ultimately supposed to give you experiences that will help you going forward in life. However, requiring someone to labor, usually for a minimum of 20 hours, and not paying them for that labor isn’t fair. Unpaid internships are gatekeepers for people who can’t afford to labor for free and create unfair advantages for those who can.

When I graduated from high school, I didn’t have much to do so one of my friends roped me into interning with her. It was an internship for someone who was running for a political office, and it was unpaid. That summer, I was also taking summer classes and working a part-time job, now on top of having to perform a minimum of 20 hours of labor for this unpaid internship. 

As soon as fall semester began to approach, I quit that internship and it felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I didn’t realize how stressful it was, especially being a political internship. I remember I used to spend whole days walking around neighborhoods, knocking on tens of doors and hoping that I wouldn’t get snatched or shot. I remember having to call people and convince them to vote for the candidate I was working for, which got me cussed out a few times. I never got paid for any of the work I did and that wasn’t fair.

[bf_image id="qg1ybp-4vna48-dsreyo"] Looking past my own story and at the big picture of unpaid internships, they are inherently classist and racist. Typically, those who go into unpaid internships, especially if they require a lot of time, are people who have the privilege of laboring for free. These unpaid internships therefore lend experience and exposure to these people, giving them a higher chance of landing paid internships, jobs or promotions. 

Statistically, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) typically don’t have the privilege of being able to labor for free. So this forces this group of already marginalized people to pick up a job while they do this internship, or just not participate in the internship at all. And by not taking the internship, they lose all of the experience and exposure that could’ve further helped them in life.

I know that for a lot of us students, we’re hesitant about asking questions about pay, but it’s important that we do. We don’t owe companies or organizations anything, but they need us since we’re the workforce they’re going after. If they actually care about you, they’ll pay you for the labor you perform instead of expecting you to be able to get by without it.

Mahreen is currently a senior studying Political Science, International Relations and Pre Law. In her free time she enjoys reading books about politics and watching foreign films. She is passionate about helping people, social justice and self care.
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