Throughout this summer, we will be spotlighting the summer experiences of our IOP students working in politics and public service through their internships across the country and globe.
The Director’s Internship program has been a signature of the Institute of Politics for nearly 25 years and each summer the IOP works with more than 150 government offices, non-profits, and news organizations to provide internships for students who are looking to pursue careers in politics and public service. The IOP also offers summer stipends for rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors accepting non- or low-paying summer internships in local, state, or federal government, public interest groups, non-governmental organizations, political organizations, and political campaigns.
Maya Jenkins '21 reflects on her summer working with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.
What inspired you to pursue a public service internship this summer?
Working to support people who face systematic racial injustice and oppression has always been important to me. Doing so as a servant in the public sector holds great significance, especially when you consider the ways in which the United States government has used criminal justice policy to oppress Black people and other people of color. Working in government to remedy its own past, and present, wrongdoing is vital work, and it is work that I am devoted to doing. As an investigative intern with the Public Defender Service in the nation's capital, one of the most segregated cities in the U.S., I worked one-on-one with clients to support them and defend their rights from a system that often ignores those rights.
Can you share one specific project you focused on this summer?
Because I worked as part of a legal team representing clients, I am not able to provide a detailed account of any of the long-term projects I worked on. I can say that as an intern at the public defender service, I worked to support indigent citizens living in the District of Columbia. Given DC's population, and the fact that it is one of the most segregated cities in the U.S., the vast majority of clients are Black. Despite the fact that they faced challenges of all kinds, every client I met with was grateful to have someone fighting on their behalf. As part of my job, I interviewed witnesses, met with clients in the D.C. jail, canvassed areas, took photographs, did research, and requested documents of all kinds in order to support our legal teams. I was honored to work on behalf our clients. It is hard to capture with words the beautiful feeling of knowing that you have had a profound impact on the lives of others.
What are you most excited about pursuing a path in public service and government?
As a public servant, I have the opportunity to have a positive impact on systems whose policies and practices affect countless people on a daily basis. No matter what I do, I want to be able to work hand-in-hand with people who have faced systemic oppression, and advocate on their behalf using their stated needs as a guide. As a public defender, that means meeting with clients and prioritizing their rights and liberties. But, more broadly, it means placing impacted people at the center of your work, and following their lead to craft thoughtful policy, impactful arguments, and real change.
How has the IOP helped support your interest in public service over the course of your time at Harvard?
In many ways, the IOP has challenged me to think deeply about what public service truly means, and what it can be. I have had the opportunity at the IOP to translate my own thinking into action, and to craft programming that breathes life into static definitions.