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Credit: Biruk Tibebe

As we approach the last day of classes, conversations around campus are shifting from final exams and projects to summer plans — be they family vacations, spontaneous road trips with friends, internships, or jobs.

In typical Penn fashion, where even discussions about sleep turn into full-fledged competitions about how few hours students have gotten, or how many all-nighters they’ve pulled, the world of summer internships and jobs has become its own resume-building Olympics.

While the general consensus seems to be that students should spend the summer doing something more meaningful than lounging around, the dissonance occurs when students with diverging views take it upon themselves to break down what exactly classifies as “meaningful.” In a world full of economic and racial injustice, some believe that we must spend our time doing social justice work. A College freshman went so far as to insinuate that her peers were hypocrites for taking summer jobs on Wall Street while claiming to “want socialism.” Her tweet spurred large debate, particularly in the black community, about Penn’s capitalist values. To her, and others like her, a job in the corporate world might as well mean working in Trump’s cabinet. If you’re pre-med, volunteer at a hospital. Planning on going to law school? Volunteer at a public interest organization. And so on. But there’s a fundamental flaw with this ideology.

Students searching for summer internships during on-campus Recruiting. (File Photo)

The truth of the matter, and what some, blindsided by activist ambitions, are so quick to overlook, is that having the ability to volunteer or take on an unpaid internship exudes extreme privilege. Many students belong to a household where the steady income depends on the contributions of more than just their parents, making a summer job non-negotiable in order to pay their daily expenses, not to mention Penn’s exorbitant and ever-increasing tuition. This in no way means they’re no longer radical, progressive, or even liberal. It doesn’t mean they don’t still question the severe inequity that our country was founded upon, and continues to enforce. It doesn’t mean they don’t care. It simply means they must prioritize their basic needs and those of their families. 

Believing otherwise is not only elitist, but extremely contradictory. If this judgement comes from a place of disgust at our current economic system, which doesn’t provide indigent people with enough opportunities to support themselves, how can one be surprised, let alone angry, that a large portion of Penn’s student body cannot afford to spend an entire summer without a steady source of income?

Maybe, instead of directing criticism at these students — many of whom would jump at the opportunity to volunteer to help those who are less fortunate — we can direct it at Penn’s lackluster financial aid and career services departments, which only provides internship funding up to a mere $4,000. And only for those who are “highly-aided.” And only for rising juniors and seniors. Not only does the University not guarantee aid for those whose financial situations put them in the unfortunate “sweet spot,” where they have more money than qualifies them as “highly-aided” but not enough to do without summer income, but it doesn’t offer, let alone guarantee, anything at all for rising sophomores. Additionally, the internship must be a minimum of 30 hours per week and at least six weeks long, which eliminates the option of obtaining paid work while volunteering.

So before we jump to conclusions about students’ morals and political beliefs based on the way they spend their summers, let’s remember that we, just like those who would benefit from our volunteering, are victims of a capitalist society that not only thrives off of, but cannot function without, inequality. And barring a revolution, there’s really not much we can do about it.

HADRIANA LOWENKRON is a College freshman studying Urban Studies and Journalism. Her email address is lowenkron@thedp.com. 

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