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Unpaid Internships perpetuate inequality between rich and poor students

 – Photo by Edwin Gano

Some believe unpaid internships are merely resume boosters for the rich.

With competition in the job market on the rise, internships are becoming an increasingly important experience for students to have. "Test-driving” a new career, potential college credit and networking are three of the many benefits that students accrue from an internship, according to CNN. 

But what may seem like a great opportunity at first glance may have more serious implications when it comes to accessibility and equal opportunity.

Unpaid internships often come with a hefty price tag: travel costs, paying for college credit, a new work-appropriate wardrobe and, in some cases, rent and food.

Stephanie Arronis, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she had to put off her unpaid internship until senior year, although she was given the option to start at the beginning of her junior year.

“My parents and I came to an agreement that they pay for half (of the tuition), and I pay for (the other) half,” she said. “I have to have a job the entire school year that pays a good amount, so that I can pay tuition monthly on my payment plan.”

About 52 percent of students had completed an internship during their college years, and only 52 percent of those internships were paid, according to a survey of 2011 graduates conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Internships provide a great learning opportunity that can open doors to entry level jobs, said Teresa Boyer, an assistant professor at the Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations. It is for this exact reason that they should be made accessible to everyone.

“Unpaid internships are problematic from two perspectives: They require students who do not have other financial resources to pass over the opportunity for further training and advantage in their field for the needed paycheck to be able to get by, and they exploit the labor of those working in them without pay — regardless of their personal financial status,” she said in an email.

Unpaid internships have always had their critics and Condé Nast may be one of the most prominent examples of unpaid internships gone wrong. 

According to an article in The New York Times, Condé Nast had to end their program after former interns sued over lack of fair compensation for their work.

It is unfair to discount the learning opportunity and work experience provided by internships, said Sanika Shastri, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. 

She noted that she can see why they might be considered unfair by the “underprivileged (who) are looking to gain experience and earn money at the same time,” but that the argument should be made on a case by case basis.

“There are some people who go specifically for the experience, irrespective of whether they are paid or not,” she said. “I don’t think we should take that opportunity away from them.”

As long as there are students willing to work without pay that opportunity should be made available, Shastri said. At the end of the day, companies should use their discretion in determining whether they pay their interns or not.

This issue comes up at a time when interns at the United Nations are advocating for their own just pay, according to The Washington Post. 

After an intern took to living in a tent in order to save money, U.N. interns sought the support of the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon by penning a letter on Quality and Fairly Remunerated Internships Initiative.  

The official Global Citizens website notes that unpaid internships can, and do, often perpetuate inequality and unfair advantages for the rich.

“If we’re not getting paid, the least they can do is to pay for the internship credits or give us something in return, like a guaranteed position after we graduate,” Arronis said.

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