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Panel focuses on ethics of unpaid internships

By Danny NikanderSPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE The Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) discussed the ethics behind unpaid internships during a Coffeehouse Conversation at the New Academic Building on Nov. 12. According to junior and history/economics major, Francesca Scaraggi, the history of unpaid internships dates back to 1947 when the U.S. Supreme Court held a case dealing with railroad workers who were trained without any type of compensation. This case set the terms for what an acceptable, unpaid internship is. Despite this, many students still disagree with how internships are handled today. “Everyone is hunting for internships,” said Mishaina Joseph, senior global studies, geography and history major. “These kids feel obligated to stay because they need it.” But with the high costs of transportation, especially into New York City, money reigns as an inconvenience for many students without compensation from an internship, including Joseph. She continued, “I have to turn down internships because I don’t want to have to spend $300 a month just to get experience out of it.” Although many students today are hired by companies as interns without payment, according to the United States Department of Labor (USDL), it is illegal to have an internship that is truly unpaid. However, there are criteria that can be used to maneuver around this law. Overall, a company can plead that a student is being “paid” in experience to avert any compensation. But how many of these unpaid internships actually provide career-worthy experience? Much of the time, the word “internship” is connoted with simple tasks like getting coffee or running errands. “I feel like the work you are doing when you are there is something they would pay someone else to do,” said senior Clara Schopf. Some students have expressed problems that stretch farther than not being paid. “You are not protected by the Civil Rights act, so you [interns] are not protected from sexual harassment,” said Scaraggi. “You think it is a basic right that would be protected.” According to the Office of Student Enrichment at Clemson University, interns at an unpaid internship are not always covered in the case of an injury in the workplace because they are not technically employees, which requires the worker to be compensated. The competitive nature of internships allows companies to weed through student applicants at their convenience. “You can be nothing but perfect in their eyes. They know that there are so many applicants that will take this [the internship],” said Sony Abraham, industrial engineering major. Students are faced with high pressures on top of their own schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Although internships can be argued to be very beneficial, the lack of payment and unfair treatment can become quite burdensome for students. “Students feel such a need to go to the next step,” Mishaina Joseph said. “These are the kids who started drinking coffee in middle school.” The associate director of Hofstra’s Career Center, Deanna Rodin hopes that students will ask for help when dealing with internships so they are not stuck in any uncomfortable or unpromising situation in the future. “It’s all about you. This university is nothing without its students,” said Rodin.

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