This week the Hofstra Pride has been roaring, calling for action on an issue weighing heavily on some students’ bank accounts. With 799 signatures as of Monday night, an online petition has created dialogue in the community about a policy idea that would pay for students’ transportation costs when commuting to New York City for an internship. The petition was started on Nov. 9 by Alyssa O’Brien, a senior public relations and global studies major who is the chapter head of Roosevelt at Hofstra, the university’s chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, which focuses on “working to redefine the rules that guide our social and economic realities,” according to the institution’s website.
The petition calls for a policy that would allow a portion of students’ tuition to pay for transportation to required internships. The petition states, “If our internships are registered with Hofstra, we should be able to use our tuition dollars to pay for transit.”
O’Brien feels that Hofstra’s current internship program is unequitable. “It privileges students with more disposable income and gives them more opportunities to intern and perpetuates systemic inequality,” she said.
Zachary Kizer, a senior public relations major, commented on the petition, “I’m signing because my income shouldn’t determine if I accept an internship or not.”
Most students utilize the Long Island Rail Road to commute to the city for their internships. A round-trip ticket between Hofstra and the city will run a student $23 per day during peak times. Students can also opt to buy a peak 10-trip for $115 or a monthly pass for $252, according to the website of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
Taylor Wilson, a 2015 alumna who graduated with Bachelor of Arts in public relations, said that these added costs take their toll. “When I interned spring [semester] of my junior year I didn’t get to eat lunch. I was spending all my money on the train; I had to give up my campus job because I didn’t have enough time, which in turn made it so I could not return working there the next year. I couldn’t use my meal plan in the city and I didn’t have enough money to buy lunch,” she said. “I was constantly asking my poor parents for money just so I could get to the internship I was required to be at.”
To earn a degree from the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication, students are required to take three credits of internship hours. This means that students have to pay for those credits and pay for transportation on top of all other university costs.
It is not just required internships that pose a financial burden for some students. According to junior theater arts performance major Richie Dupkin, Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) drama students, like himself, also have to take classes in the city. “As BFA actors we are required to take two semesters of a city class in which we travel into the city on Saturday mornings for a film acting class,” he said. “This cost is a burden because not only are we paying to take the class credits, we also have to pay our way in and out of the city when this type of class could easily be brought to the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication. As BFAs we already have to go over the credit limits most semesters and if you are trying to minor in anything it only gets worse from there.”
O’Brien took advantage of President Rabinowitz’s open office hours on Oct. 27, using it as an opportunity to discuss the issue. “President Rabinowitz listened respectfully and offered the solution of organizing an auction to use student and alumni funding to raise money for students currently interning. I don’t think that this is sustainable because it is a program, not a policy and would not structurally remedy the issue,” she said.
She noted that after her meeting with President Rabinowitz, Vice President for Student Affairs W. Houston Dougharty set up a meeting with Senior Associate Dean Marc Oppenheim of the School of Communication and the Career Center Director Gary Miller to discuss the issue.
In a letter to the editor of The Chronicle, Dougharty expressed gratitude to O’Brien for bringing the issue to the administration. He also clarified that he asked Oppenheim and Miller “to look carefully at Alyssa’s recommendation, to meet with her and to strategize about possible ways to address this growing challenge.”
According to O’Brien, the administration has been trying to remedy this issue but so far she does not feel that there have been any sustainable outcomes. “The 7Bus that the university had last fall was a good example of this. Programs are not going to fix this problem, but allocating tuition for transit might,” she said.
As one of the nearly 800 members of this community that has signed the petition, Wilson does not think the administration will take action in the near future. “I think they will say that not enough majors require an internship for them to make the change. I really hope they do, I hope they hear our voices and listen and see how much the cost of transportation affects their students, but if I’m being honest, I don’t think anything will change,” she said.
In his statement, Dougharty explained the administration’s approach to the issue. He said, “As we made clear to Alyssa as she left the meeting and in a follow-up e-mail, our desire is for positive change to come from this productive collaboration.” Dougharty said, “There is likely no single effective answer to this issue and the more ideas that can be generated – both short- and longer-term – the better. Like our students and faculty colleagues, the University administration sees the great advantages to experiencing an internship as a part of some of our academic programs. We want to do what we can to facilitate internships, whether they are on campus, in the local communities, in the city, or beyond.”