"Bold, beautiful, Barnard." These words remind us of the ideals that we seek to uphold for ourselves, the college, and feminism in the twenty-first century. But what do they prescribe? The 1960s Women's Liberation Movement presents an ideology of female autonomy which promotes the image of a woman who not only can have it all, but is expected to. But this vision of a successful woman ultimately overwhelms rather than supports women in their pursuit of equality. Today, such an expectation persists on our own campus.
At Barnard, it's time to examine the question: How does our community define success for its female student body? While a commitment to academia is of primary importance, internships have increasingly become a qualifying component of our achievement metrics. Because of Barnard's location in a major metropolitan market, its students have year-round access to internships with companies of all sizes. Barnard students recognize the benefits of internships and subsequently have developed an "internship culture" in which their résumés are far more fleshed out than those attending many other urban or rural academic institutions. In the process, their plates tend to overload with responsibilities. So all things considered, what aspect of our community expectations prompts this?
As the preeminent female college in the United States, Barnard maintains a legacy of female autonomy through academic excellence. Barnard's students pursue their studies with the intention of fulfilling a definition of success, extending beyond the classroom and into Manhattan. But classes often become the point of compromise in students' struggle to achieve a balance as internships are competitive and time-consuming. With our plates full and academia sometimes coming second to professional advances, the possibility of failing to sustain academic integrity arises. At the other end of the spectrum there are ways that interning reinforces commitment to academic integrity. Interning provides a view into the accountability that professionals are expected to maintain in the workplace; this can strengthen work ethic in a way that is applicable to school.
To be "bold" is to be reminded of the ideals for female-gendered autonomy—in the tradition of a liberal arts education, women should freely choose how to develop their academic and career interests. We should consider the opportunities that Barnard's unique urban setting offers while understanding that a student's schedule should be defined by their interests rather than their community's expectations. The student's choice to intern is a form of practice for the "having it all" model promoted by the women's liberation movement of the late 1960s. On the one hand, interning can be interpreted as working out insecurities of post-grad success; on the other, it is logical and practical preparation for life after college.
So the elusive goal of interning is to find a position with a company that sufficiently relates to your academic agenda and reinforces the experience as a real-world application of the concepts raised in the classroom. Were this only the case. In many instances, interning requires next to none of the skills acquired after four years of brutal academic training in high school, followed by however many high-pressure years in college. Many internships seem to be nothing more than training grounds for future domestic service involving going out for coffee and sandwiches, sometimes followed by arranging for ground transportation and purchasing birthday gifts for your employer's loved ones. This type of low-level responsibility racks up to "paying your dues", but its tax on time and spiritual solvency are undeniable. At the other end of the spectrum is the rare internship that calls upon your full creative powers and stimulates your intellectual curiosity. The norm is somewhere in between, where the burden is upon the intern to discover what is both intellectual and curious in what they are asked to do.
Stated simply, a Barnard student should feel that they have the choice to intern during the school year but not the expectation to do so. Being an intern is a privilege just as is being a student at Barnard. Part of what makes Barnard students such incredibly good interns is their commitment to integrity. In making the decision to intern you are committing yourself to two roles, so it is vital to consider if the experience strengthens or undermines your integrity. Independently choosing whether or not to intern is an opportunity to take the management of expectations back into your own hands and out of society's.
The author is a Barnard College senior majoring in economics and film studies.
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