The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Notes from the Field: Anne Smith '16

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Rockefeller Center-funded interns reflect on their experiences as part of our Notes from the Field series. The Rockefeller Center helps students find, fund, and prepare for a leave-term internship experience in public policy research, public policy analysis, issue evaluation, or activities which help shape and determine public policy.

Student Intern: Anne Smith '16

Internship Organization:
Office of the Attorney General of Massachusetts, Civil Rights Division

How would you describe your employer in one paragraph? What’s the elevator pitch?
The Massachusetts Attorney General serves two purposes: to defend the rights of the people of Massachusetts and to serve as the state government’s lawyer. The Attorney General works in various ways such as fighting financial fraud, eradicating organized crime, and protecting consumers. I work in the Civil Rights Division, which serves to protect citizens’ state and federal civil rights and liberties. The division acts to uphold equal opportunity and works to eradicate discrimination on the basis of race, sexual orientation, disability, and a variety of other categories. Citizens file complaints with the division when they feel that their civil rights have been violated. After reviewing the complaint, the office has three main options. First, it can refer the complainant to an organization specific to that complaint. Second, it can seek to mediate the dispute between the complainant and the respondent. Third, if mediation does not work, the Attorney General's office will intervene to enforce and defend the complainants’ civil rights.

What are your specific responsibilities in the organization?
As the intake intern, my main responsibility is to contact and interview people who have filed civil rights complaints with the Civil Rights Division. I present new complaints to the rest of the division in weekly intake meetings, and then we discuss the next steps that the office will take for each complaint. We decide whether another organization is better suited to help the complainant or whether we want to further investigate the complaint ourselves. I also help the Assistant Attorneys General, paralegals, and legal analysts with all of their work and investigations. For example, on any particular day I may be doing research for a particular topic that an Assistant Attorney General needs to know about for a case, or I may be investigating particular people involved in a dispute.

How did you feel on the first day of your internship?
I was so nervous on my first day! First, I had to wait 10 minutes for my train to arrive to my subway station, and I had not accounted for this in my schedule! However, I was able to power walk and make it to the office in time. Second, I was very nervous about making my first phone call to a complainant. I was nervous that I would be awkward on the telephone.

What is your favorite part of the internship so far?
The most rewarding part of the internship is how many different complainants I interact with every day. I feel like I am helping a lot of different people from all over Massachusetts. By working in the Civil Rights Division, I get to be a sympathetic ear every single day, and the Attorney General's office really helps those in need. Every day is different because I am speaking with different people and researching different problems. It keeps my internship so interesting and makes me look forward to work every day.

What challenges have you faced so far?
The most difficult part of my internship is speaking with complainants who are angry or unsatisfied with the office’s advice for them. I speak to many people who have very serious challenges and hardships in their lives and are very angry about their situation. I have learned from my coworkers that the most important thing to do in these situations is be very kind and sympathetic and explain that the office is doing all that we can to help them. It is also difficult to speak with people who think that certain laws are unfair, as I have to explain to them that the Attorney General’s office does not make the law. We enforce it.

Broadly speaking, what do you hope to achieve by the end of your internship?
I hope that I make a positive difference in people’s lives this term, whether through referring them to an organization that gives them aid or through assisting the legal staff with important civil rights cases. The division’s duty is to protect civil rights and defend equal opportunity in the state, and I hope to contribute as much as possible to this goal.

What have been some practical lessons you've learned in the day-to-day life of your internship?
I have learned that getting to know your coworkers makes work so much more fun! I love going to work every day not only because I enjoy my daily responsibilities, but also because I look forward to getting to know my coworkers better. It is important to not just stay at your computer all day, but to also incorporate personal interaction at the office! It is also helpful to know your coworkers’ professional histories because it is a perfect opportunity to learn about other offices and industries. Getting to know your coworkers is a fun and easy way to find professional role models!

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences