A Valuable Internship

My time interning at RG has been fulfilling both personally and professionally. Unlike other internships, my work at RG allowed me to be creative and take initiative of my own projects.
One project I found particularly engaging was working to put RG’s book Classified on the web for download. Mike Gast gave me a copy my first day, and I went to a coffee shop down the street to read it. I will admit, I was initially skeptical of the book. The cover said it was about, “how to stop hiding your privilege and use it for social change.” First off, I thought the book didn’t apply to me, because I didn’t think I was someone with privilege. And secondly, as someone that volunteers regularly and has done several mission trips overseas, I assumed that I had probably already learned and done most of the things the book had to say…  I was wrong on both counts.
I began reading Classified with the idea that I am not a young person with privilege. I live in an average looking two-story suburban house, ride the bus to work because I don’t own a car, and wear fake ray ban sunglasses I bought in Mexico, so how could I be privileged? But as I read the first chapters, my understanding of my position in society began to shift. Suddenly, I was reexamining myself and realizing that I had a lot more privilege than I thought. The turning point of this realization happened when I looked at an illustration that “declassified” privilege (page 44 and 45).
Things like a great smile were the result of expensive dental work, and confidence was because I was always told “you can do anything,” and having a good resume was the result of being able to take unpaid internships to build job experience. I now understood that privilege extends beyond owning private jets, and that having privilege can be as simple as being a white male and having health insurance. I thought, so what now then? The book helped me realize I was privileged in more ways than I thought, but what am I supposed to do about it? I can’t give my race to someone else, and I can’t take back my expensive dental work. Fortunately Classified had me covered again.
So far, the biggest thing reading Classified has helped me to do is to start discussions with my family about our finances. Growing up, my parents never discussed their income, their investments or anything like that. I only found out my family’s annual income when I had to fill in a box about household income for my college application. And even then, the box I checked covered a wide range. I also remembered at age 18 being presented with a paper I had to sign concerning a trust fund. Up to that point I didn’t know I had  a trust fund, so it came as a bit of a shock. My parents explained to me that every year, money would be added to my trust fund, and I would have to sign a paper acknowledging I knew what was going on. The underlying implication was that I should sign the paper once a year and forget my trust fund existed the other 364 days of the year. And that is exactly how things went until I started interning at RG.
Because of Classified and the work I’ve done at RG, I began trying to engage my parents more about my trust fund. My parents both grew up in households where money wasn’t talked about, so this really pushed their comfort zones. After two months, the doors began to open a little bit, and honest conversation began to arise between my parents and me. This is a dialogue that has taken twenty years to begin, so it certainly has a long way to go. But the important thing for me is that there is communication now between my family and me about financial information.
One positive thing that has come out of that conversation is that my father and I are working on shifting a small piece of my trust fund into a social justice fund. While it’s a modest investment, it will serve as a test run. If all goes well with the test, there may be much more to come. This is also a big step because it is the first time my family has allowed me to control a piece of my trust fund.
On the whole, working at RG this summer had been a really enriching experience both personally and professionally. Professionally, I was able to go behind the scenes of a non-profit and see how it works. I also was able to learn data entry and website editing—other useful skills for the future. On a personal level, working at RG has helped me better understand my position in the world, and has helped me to look for ways of leveraging my privilege towards social change.