Catherine Kruse '11
My Johnson Opportunity Grant allowed me to take an unpaid internship at the National Women's Law Center in Washington D.C. As an English major with a minor and strong interest in Women's Studies, the grant allowed me to step into a world of strong women and strong advocacy that I had never dreamed of. Every day, I was surrounded by a whirlwind of health care costs, Title IX statutes, child care questions, poverty concerns, reproductive rights fights, and other dilemmas that I had never even thought about that affect women every day in personal, life-changing ways. I met senators, civil rights leaders, and saw Nancy Pelosi speak less than 100 feet away. I even met Birch Bayh, the Senator who introduced Title IX in 1972. Without the Johnson Grant, I never would have been able to spend a summer thirteen hours away from home working at an unpaid internship.
The National Women's Law Center specializes in women's issues related to education, employment, family economic security, and health. I worked in the Outreach Department, and spent the summer learning how to publicize the Center's research on the Internet. I read feminist blogs to get a sense of what other organizations were working on, blogged for the Center, and proofread e-mails that went to mass groups of supporters. I sat in at all of the Staff meetings to get a better sense of what the Center did on the whole, and was struck by its ability to work on so many different issues so efficiently. Each division had its own set of legal counsel, special research, and outreach members to ensure a group effort on every front. The women working at the Center were as inspiring as the issues themselves. Working with the Outreach Team, even as a lowly undergraduate intern, I felt a great sense of camaraderie and kindness extended my way. I didn't feel like an intern, but rather like an integral part of the cause.
One of the most exciting things that I got to do over the summer was sit in on women's coalition meetings about the confirmation hearings for Justice Sonia Sotomayor. I took notes to give to my supervisor, and in the process learned how the organizations mobilize for information and how they are able to reach every state to ensure a group effort. I also sat in on meetings about the health care bill, and took notes about what was being determined for the bill. This, especially, was interesting as it was a bill that has enraged or inspired most of the country. I had a firsthand account of how a bill takes shape, the effort it takes, and the vast amount that it can change, even in a couple of days. I was also able to go to many student lunches all over the city. I heard lectures from civil rights lawyers, advocates for cervical cancer awareness, attended Congressional hearings, and got to have lunch with the women working in the Center.
As much as I would have liked to spend my weekends fighting for women's rights, they did not encourage it. Thus, I spent hours doing what I love to do: painstakingly scaling each museum in D.C. until there was nothing left to read, taking walking tours with a handy set of maps compliments of my mom, and enjoying D.C. culinary delights (like frozen yogurt!). At the Center, I met people from all different types of backgrounds and from places around the country, and we spent every free moment exploring the city. We learned how to ride the Metro and Circulation buses, watched the fireworks over the Mall on the Fourth of July, and relaxed with Jazz in the Sculpture Gardens on Friday Night. Most of the attractions were free, and the experience is unforgettable.
I left the Center and the city knowing a lot more about women's issues that I thought that I had been familiar with, but also with the optimistic sense that I could make change in the world, and that there were people around me who felt the same way. Sometimes, in a negative culture of apathy, you forget that change is possible. I know that there are currently over fifty well-qualified women in Washington D.C. who believe it. To be surrounded by the lawyers who made Title IX possible (Marcia Greenberger and Nancy Duff Campbell, the Co-Presidents), who essentially wrote the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, who fought to integrate women at VMI, and have engaged in a constant battle for reproductive rights, I was inspired. I was awed by their greatness and by the milestones that they had worked through. After having worked at the Center and become more aware of iniquities, I am ready to fight, too.