Towards 'socially just' pedagogy for internships in the social justice sector

Year: 2019

Author: Valiente-Riedl, Elisabeth

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In an era where internships proliferate, the ethics of such arrangements – particularly of ‘unpaid’ internships – is increasingly called into question. The relative benefits for interns and providers are debated, as are the roles of educational institutions in promoting and fostering such arrangements. Little attention has been given to the Australian context and in particular, to this phenomenon within the social justice sector. Not-for-profit social justice organisations present a unique form of ‘internship provider’. The sector has a long history of relying on internships, with interns often dually articulating as ‘activists’. Providers operate in a unique business context mandated to prioritise the needs of marginalised program beneficiaries within a heavily resource constrained environment. This complicates the ethical terrain for such internships. However, it also underscores the importance of shedding light on practices within this sector, both in terms of returning benefits to interns but also achieving an organisations mission goals. Importantly, from the perspective of educators, the issue of ‘socially just’ pedagogy emerges as the interests of two vulnerable stakeholders – students and an organisations program beneficiaries – intersect. On the one hand, the rich learning that occurs within internships – entailing direct mentoring from practitioners – comes with financial costs that effectively exclude many students from accessing such opportunities. On the other hand, these arrangements have potential consequences for an organisations capacity to achieve its social justice mission. Internships regularly serve as a recruitment pathway in this sector, and for organisations in the social justice sector in particular, the diversity of staff affects capacity to ‘speak with’ and not just ‘for’ those they seek to support, reinforcing the need for socially inclusive internship offerings. Drawing on experiential learning pedagogy, as well as complimentary literatures on ‘work-integrated learning’ and ‘interdisciplinary learning’, this study puts forward key considerations for pedagogy that endeavours to support both the educational needs of interns and the needs of organisations working with marginalised populations. It draws on the direct experience of an internship educator, internship providers and student interns to begin a conversation on what makes for a ‘socially just’ internship.