Raise your hand if you had an internship during one of the last three summers. Now, keep your hand raised if you’re leveraging that internship into a job right now (in other words, keep your hand raised because you and I both know that internship is on your resume). Finally, whether or not you were a summer intern, raise your hand if you think it’s a damn shame that some of our classmates didn’t have the opportunity to be one.
If you had your hand raised at any point (hint: you did), click here.
As more and more students attend college, and as grade inflation devalues the degrees those students earn, employers are increasingly looking to non-academic indicators of employability, particularly internships, when making hiring decisions. In order to set yourself apart from your peers, a 3.8 GPA doesn’t cut it anymore because, well, more people have 3.8 GPAs now. Instead, you need to be able to show that not only can you do professional-level work, you’ve already done it. That means that an internship with a newspaper, non-profit or hedge fund (depending on your desired field) is far and away more valuable than the extra time you put in to get A’s in IPHS and Intro Italian freshman year.
So while college is becoming more equal in terms of getting people in, it’s becoming increasingly unequal in terms of getting people out. While every Kenyon student has more or less equal access to good grades, they do not have equal access to attractive, often unpaid, internships. For starters, many of them are acquired through already-wealthy parents. Additionally, even if you hear about/apply for/are accepted to one of these internships, you have to be able to afford to work for free for three months, often in a city with a high cost of living (New York, Washington, Los Angeles, etc.).
There’s been a lot of talk recently about how unfair and exploitative unpaid internships are. I disagree: By and large, unpaid internships aren’t unfair to the people who willfully take them; they’re unfair to the people who can’t afford to apply for them.
Enter the Senior Challenge.
As Ryan Stewart ’08, Director of Class Giving puts it:
An anonymous donor has issued a Challenge to the Senior Class – if the Class of 2014 reaches 60% participation this year, an additional $10,000 will be given in their name to support the new Summer Internship Stipend. This gift can open doors that financial challenges have shut for your fellow students. Its impact would last their entire life.
In other words, kick in five bucks and one of your classmates has a chance to become more employable.
The donation would provide money for food, lodging and travel expenses for a small number of students with high financial need as they seek the same internship opportunities that a majority of Kenyon students take for granted. As Leslie Martin ’14, a member of Alumni Leaders of Tomorrow (ALOT) put it:
I believe giving back to Kenyon is a way to help other people experience the great education that I have received in the past 4 years. I know it seems that a dollar or even ten doesn’t matter but it really does.
The financial pitches we’re going to get after we graduate won’t be nearly this nifty: chip in the value of an order of mac and cheese wedges and a huge chunk of money could go towards an uncontestably great cause.
Of course, as with all promotions conditional on volume of participation, there’s always the criticism that it would be immoral/hypocritical for this anonymous alumnus to withhold the $10,000 donation if not enough seniors participate. Fine, but that’s no reason for you as an individual to turn your nose up at the chance to empower your classmates. Furthermore, if I had $10,000 to spend, I wouldn’t want to spend it on a community that didn’t care about making itself both more equitable and more employable at the same time.
Also, when you donate you get to declare where you want your money to go (financial aid, faculty retention, athletics, etc.), so don’t tell me that you’re not doing it because “they’re just going to spend it on more buildings.”
In two weeks, Gambier, Ohio is going to get national attention when the Center for the Study of American Democracy brings some of the biggest names in the business to talk about what we can and should do to mitigate the causes and effects of economic inequality. Well, the Senior Challenge is something you can do right now. Or, if being social is more your thing, ALOT will be collecting donations during tomorrow’s Senior Night at the VI.
If you’re serious when you say that structural socioeconomic inequality is a bad thing, or if you have ever taken advantage of opportunities unavailable to your peers, then you have no excuse. Do it.