If you spend any time on Twitter, then you are probably familiar with the idea that every day the platform features one main character, the person who shares such an epically bad take it sends all of Twitter into utter chaos. See: Bean Dad. Yesterday, that person was Jane Slater, an NFL Reporter, who posted about an opening for an unpaid intern position. When confronted about the exploitative nature of such an “opportunity,” Slater pushed back, proudly stating that she worked three unpaid internships, double majored, and had a job as a student.
She made the all too common argument of “I suffered and turned out fine, so why can't everyone?” Disregarding this egocentric argument for a moment, if you are okay with someone else struggling simply because you did, I guarantee you are not fine. Further, what Ms. Slater failed to mention her grandfather financially supported her through school. Now does this mean she didn't work hard? Of course not, but it does mean that she was able to offer up her labor for free because she didn't have the added stress of paying her own bills.
Unpaid internships are for the privileged. I graduated from Georgetown University where I encountered levels of wealth I could not have imagined before that point. My classmates included a Schwarzenegger and the grandchildren of the guy for whom the School of Business is named. Not the building. The whole school. Like, what? This obviously wasn't every student's background, yet and still, unpaid internships were considered a rite of passage that many could not afford. The reality is the intern is usually the one paying for such an "experience.” On the low end, you're paying out of pocket for your lunch and transportation. If it's over the summer, then you have to include housing costs. On top of that, if you happen to be eligible to receive college credit for that internship, the school will charge you for those credit hours. So if you were already unsure of how you were going to pay your tuition bill, good luck!
This doesn't even touch on the fact that offering internships without pay is just another form of gatekeeping. Think about the industries in which this is still a mainstay — journalism, fashion, and politics come to mind. These are the rooms in which societal in-groups are determined and power structures are defined. Not paying their interns is a way to maintain the status quo by automatically weeding out many of those who don't have the privilege to work for free. It is also an “innocent” method to create the lack of diversity for which these industries are known. Ultimately, any experience an intern might have gained is negated by the sheer mental strain one suffers trying to survive amidst a system designed for them to fail.
Many times, as one ascends to a higher level of privilege, particularly economic privilege, they are more than happy to gain a seat at the oppressor's table rather than using their newly gained power to create a more equitable system. Fine if that's the life you're trying to live, but be clear: You're not valuing hard work or strong character as much as you are the growth of your own net worth. Parents often say that they work hard so that their children can experience a better, easier life. We should extend that principle to everyone's child. Becoming the supporter that we needed when we were younger rather than the tormentor that we may have had.