Forum

Humanities students are worthy of pay

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If I had a dollar for every internship opportunity that had everything I was looking for until the fine print of “unpaid, academic credit available” — why, I'd probably be able to afford to take the job.

As a professional writing and English double major, I have never had a paid internship. My work, in and out of school, has never been paid. When comparing summer plans with my peers — coming from a variety of majors, mostly in the technical fields — their reactions are always the same: “Don't take the job, then! Hold out for someone who'll pay you. Isn't that technically slave labor?” And, unsurprisingly, my answer is always the same: “There are no paid, fulfilling jobs for me to take, especially in this economy.”

I may be biased, but I believe the problem of unpaid internships exists almost entirely in humanities fields. I have never witnessed a computer scientist forced to choose between a fantastic, experience-boosting unpaid internship and a boring, unrelated internship that pays them well. But this scenario is something my friends in the humanities must deal with. Internships rarely allow humanities students to have it all.

That fine print in internship ads can be a death sentence, particularly for those not from affluent families. Money always comes first; you can't pay rent with all the “experience” you get from an unpaid internship.

It's unrealistic for companies to think that their interns will be diverse when so many candidates don't apply simply because they can't afford it. Even more insulting is when companies offer a minuscule stipend below minimum wage, thinking that it will put them morally ahead of those that don't pay at all.

However, my main problem with unpaid internships is how pervasive they are within the humanities. The field is already the butt of many jokes — especially at Carnegie Mellon — so why add more problems for its students to deal with? When it already feels like your major is being questioned 24 hours a day, not having a company validate your skills with a paycheck is depressing.

To illustrate, during my search for jobs post-graduation, I filled out a [*careerbuilder.com*]((http://www.careerbuilder.com/) profile and signed up for email updates on jobs that matched my résumé and skill set.

The potential jobs I was matched up with? Office assistant, office manager, and secretary.

Out of hundreds of jobs on careerbuilder.com, the site couldn't find a single paying job that remotely matched my interests. Sure, the results might just lie with how the website’s algorithm works, but it’s insulting nonetheless. Meanwhile, when I widened my search to include internships, the world seemed to open up and I found plenty of unpaid opportunities waiting for me to take advantage of.

For me, the reasoning behind this situation seems to be simple. To companies, my skills are not worth paying for compared to those of my technically-minded peers. After all, the companies already believe they are going out of their way to so generously give me “experience”; how dare I ask for anything more?

To a degree, tech companies are able to pay interns because of how the economy currently works. But that does not excuse the historical precedent of the rampant unpaid internships for humanities students.

I spent the last four years honing my skills, trying to be a jack of all trades so I could become an irreplaceable asset who deserves to be paid. I can do more than just read and write — I can think critically, work in groups, lead teams, write persuasively using time-honored rhetorical techniques, evaluate what audiences want, translate complicated jargon into coherent and concise pieces, and use a plethora of software to create aesthetically pleasing designs, just to name a few of my skills.

These are the kinds of abilities that will help keep a company afloat — no matter its field. Successful companies balance both technical skills and communication skills.

But unpaid internships have become ingrained in society. Humanities students are willing to work for free because companies do not value their skills. And so, the vicious cycle began when students were grateful simply to land internships — no matter the cost — and companies realized how much they could get away with when hiring interns.

There is no clear solution to this issue. However, the solution will have to start with how society views the humanities and the value it places on the skills taught in the field.