Opinion: I’m not my number of internships

DC is a hub of opportunity, and area colleges pride themselves on students taking full advantage of it. Georgetown University notes, “Our DC location opens the door to internships for students,” and George Washington University uses words like “your dream internship” when describing how easy it is for a student to find an internship in the heart of the capital. The American University similarly states, “One of the greatest benefits of studying in Washington, DC is the unparalleled access to internships.” Our shuttle stops, like those in front of Kogod, carry the high percentage of students who have completed internships .

These opportunities are a unique aspect of attending college in Washington DC and influence prospective students’ decisions about where to attend college. District colleges understand this influence and use it to promote themselves. Students are drawn to it, and rightly so, because it can boost their future careers. However, there is a culture promoted by these promotions that infects students’ minds and ravages their sanity.

A toxic internship culture grows out of impossible expectations and seeps into students’ minds until the aspirations seem inadequate. The hustle culture “revolves around the idea that working long hours and sacrificing self-care are necessary to be successful,” according to a blog post on BetterUp, a professional training and coaching organization. “The promise is that if you give your work your full attention, you can achieve anything and everything.” The toxic internship culture works the same way; If students collect and complete as many internships as possible, then they can achieve anything. Unfortunately, like the hustle culture, this comes at the expense of a student’s self-care and leads to constant negative feelings about themselves.

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While not every student experiences it the same way, there is a pervasive internship culture on campus. The pressure that students put on themselves sustains that culture, but that pressure comes from somewhere, and it starts somewhere at the top.

American University’s alumni Twitter page tweeted about AU graduate Charly Arnolt, noting, “At @AmericanU more than 9/10 students intern before graduating. @AU_SOC alumna @CharlyOnTV held seven.” The tweet follows with a link to an article written about the successful alum. The article “The Multifaceted Charly Arnolt’s Multimedia Success” shows a clear call to live by the hustle culture, stating that Arnolt “has taken that grind to the next level – by calling herself a ‘pro intern’ designated. The high school diploma with seven internships and a “stacked” resume shows the hardship of the students, but not the danger that comes with it.

Shortly after the post, other AU alumni took to Twitter to address the impact of the tweet. Many responded by assuring the students that they do not need seven internships to be successful after graduation. Hearing from alumni made me feel vindicated in my frustration at posts like this. While this post and other similar posts are not intended to make students feel less than they were in their college journey, the impact on students leaves that lasting impression.

There is nothing inherently wrong with completing multiple internships during college, but the ever-present pressure and constant sense of inadequacy of not being able to complete so many internships is unacceptable. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to one person’s success. It’s fantastic for the university to recognize the achievements of its alumni, but it’s equally important to share messages of support and encouragement for students who may not have the same experiences during their time at AU.

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The students themselves should also take a stand against this way of thinking, both internally and externally. It’s easy for me to tell the university that this pressure is detrimental to students, but it’s harder for me to break that mindset in my head. When I started at AU, I struggled with this belief system because all around me, peers and the university itself were telling me that this is how I should work and if I didn’t, something was wrong with me. I’ve needed time to heal my mind and I don’t expect students to never think this way, but the healing process is necessary for the health of campus culture and the health of our minds.

Mental health takes its toll on being part of the hustle and mental health takes its toll on being left out of the hustle. I hope that the AU will continue to support students, but in different ways. As other alumni pointed out, there are multiple paths to success and it is imperative that the AU take this into account. I also hope that students will recognize when this culture is permeating their minds and be able to take action. Alumni have shown that it is possible to achieve any type of success without joining this toxic internship culture. They have also shown how alumni and current students can support each other and tear down a culture that constantly makes us feel less than what we are while doing what is best for ourselves.

Anna Gephart is a junior at the School of Public Affairs and a columnist for The Eagle. This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Alexis Bernstein and Nina Heller. Edited by Isabelle Kravis, Luna Jinks, Natasha LaChac and Sarah Clayton.

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