Making the Most of What D.C. Has to Offer

by Attayah Douglas '18.5
July 9, 2017

Marjorie Pang '18 reflects on her time in the Brown in D.C. program and shares her top tips for civic engagement.

Q: Briefly describe the work you did in D.C. through the program. 

A: I interned at the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), an organization dedicated to achieving socially just public policy that enables the extremely low income in the US to have affordable and decent homes. I was attached to the research team and I worked on producing memos that summarized the latest research reports on poverty/housing for the weekly newsletter. I also worked on producing a statistical analysis report to analyze the profile of the extremely low income in the U.S. I used the statistical software, SPSS, to do this data analysis.

In addition to the internship, we had two classes – a diplomacy class and reflection seminar. The diplomacy class enabled me to better understand the current political happenings and we discussed the actions taken by the current administration to see how it violates or supports international diplomacy theory. We also discussed international current affairs, giving me a better framework to analyze global happenings. The reflection seminar was broad based, with a different focus on various societal issues each week. It provided many perspectives and made me think deeper on many important issues, such as rights of Native Americans, supreme court implications, women’s rights, international development and aid and others.

Q: What unexpected experiences did you have?

A: One of the first events we went to was a Politico event, where the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, was interviewed. Listening to him speak with much evasiveness and seeing how good he was at defending his proposed problematic policies was eye-opening because it showed me how politicians can sway voters easily with their empty words and promises. This is scary because politicians have a huge influence on the lives of citizens and having a party that further marginalizes the vulnerable threatens the social fabric of society.  

However, that being said, I think it is important to hear from different perspectives in order to understand where others with different opinions and beliefs are coming from, and not to alienate them. I attended various events, such as the State Solutions conference, which gave me the chance to hear from both Republican and Democratic senators. Hearing first hand from some Republican senators has made me better understand why people voted for Trump. I think this was useful in shaping my understanding of the political climate in the U.S.

Q: What was your most memorable experience?

A: Participating in the housing conference organized by the NLIHC. The housing conference brought together low income residents, state partners, experts on affordable housing and other champions of affordable housing to discuss the challenges and solutions of affordable housing. It was inspiring to hear from passionate individuals and to feel the strong collective spirit in the room. Many speakers emphasized the importance of collective action and it was heartwarming to hear the state partners and residents share their experience organizing around low income housing. There was a palpable sense of resolve to fight for the right to housing for the low income and it made me feel hope for social progress with the kind of commitment that various advocates have toward getting more affordable housing.

Q: Why should people apply to this program and who should apply for this program?

A: This program provides students with the fantastic opportunity to live in D.C. There are so many events going on in D.C., and hearing from different stakeholders is so enriching. This program also allows for experiential learning, with field trips to museums and government buildings, which are as valuable as they are eye opening, and it makes me reflect on important social and political issues.

I think people who are interested in politics and government policy should apply for this program. Being in D.C. allows you to be in the heart of political action (e.g. going for hearings on the hill) and it awakens your political sensibilities. This program is especially helpful for those who hope to get into politics in the future, as it gives you a taste of how the federal government operates. Additionally, I think that people who want a change from the usual academic environment in Brown should also apply to this program, because this program provides a good mix of real life work (internship) and school work. The internship has allowed me to experience working in an NGO that focuses on achieving socially just policy, and seeing the ways in which in they achieve that goal, as well as speaking to my passionate colleagues, have been so enriching.

Q: What advice would you give for anyone interested applying and to the new cohort of students participating in the program?

A: Make the most out of what D.C. has to offer – go for as many events as you can, but also take time to relax and soak in the atmosphere of D.C. Chilling at parks on weekends, going to the various free museums and going to cafes/bookstores (especially Busboys and Poets) for book readings, open mics and checking out their collection of books is awesome.

For the internship, try to pick an organization with a mission that aligns to your beliefs, and I think knowing who your mentor is going to be is important, because who your work with heavily influences your learning outcomes from the internship.