With Handshake and Lehigh Connects bookmarked on our internet search engines and Career Center appointments piling up, Lehigh students are preparing to endure the job search season, this time with the added pressures of COVID-19.
Getting a summer internship is no easy task, and doing so during a global pandemic and economic recession only exacerbates those difficulties.
And this frustration only builds when an eventual internship offer is accompanied by the word, “unpaid.”
For many, dedicating time away from academics to an uncompensated role simply is not an option.
While some are able to afford working a full time job with the sole objective of building their resume, those who don’t have that option are only further disadvantaged.
The internship application process perpetuates an inherently unfair playing field, favoring those who have a higher socioeconomic status.
It becomes so that the amount of experience on someone’s resume is not only a product of their qualifications, but also their family’s financial background.
Disparities that prevent equitable opportunity present themselves far before the search for a summer internship begins. Desirable resume traits like extracurricular activities and pre-existing work experience come as a direct result of finances. While many Lehigh students were able to grow up with the privilege of extracurricular activities or professional connections, most are not as lucky.
This creates an inequitable cycle in the work sphere.
Historically, the students who grow up with the most money have ended up receiving higher paying jobs due to circumstances that have allowed for more work experience, making them more hirable.
And in the U.S., socioeconomic status and race are often intertwined, which then presents issues of job opportunity at higher rates for racial minorities than for white people.
According to 2018 U.S. Census data, it was found that 25.4 percent of Native Americans, 20.8 percent of Black people, and 17.6 percent of Hispanic people, were living in poverty, whereas only 10.1 percent of both White and Asian individuals were at that level.
Recent results from the Programme of International Student Assessment, found that American education continues to be characterized by distinct racial inequalities not only in academic performance of students of color, but also in opportunities they have throughout their education.
Within a school population like Lehigh’s, that lacks diversity–out of 5,203 undergraduate students, 61 percent are white–we must be doing more to address the racial inequality in professional opportunities.
This issue is only furthered by the inequity in strategically planned, fast-tracked job opportunities across the three colleges at our university.
Thirty-seven percent of the school’s undergraduate population is in The College of Arts & Sciences, 24 percent in the College of Business and 25 percent in the P.C College of Engineering and Applied Science, yet the majority of job opportunities that Lehigh students see are focused in the business and engineering schools.
The career fair that Lehigh holds primarily hosts employers that cater to engineering and business students, so much so that arts and sciences students often view it as fruitless to even attend.
For many students at Lehigh, success is equated with the dollar amount on that salary check, which in itself is an extremely privileged mindset to have.
If there is already a sense of inequality in job opportunity across the colleges, it becomes an even larger issue for minority students at Lehigh.
Lehigh needs to divert its focus from helping already privileged students get the highest paying job possible, that they can boast about on their University Statistics page, and redirect it to increasing job opportunities for those who struggle to keep up with the competition through no fault of their own.
This is now all the more important with Lehigh’s newfound objective to become an anti-racist institution.
Where you’re from, how you look and how much money you have, should not be what holds you back from fair compensation and equitable opportunity in the workforce.