Sophomore Cassia Park’s summer internship at the HOPE Food Shelf in Addison County changed how she sees herself and her place in the world. The internship was part of her studies in the Privilege and Poverty Academic Cluster.
Park always knew she had an interest in the environment and food. But “being in nature, seeing where food comes from and how it’s grown and picked, how it comes to the food shelf, and then putting it out for clients, that’s really interesting to me.”
Working at HOPE has “helped me connect to the Middlebury community inside the town and not just the college,” she says. “It helps me put things into perspective of what I want from the school and what I want to do in the future.”
Now Park is an environmental justice major, who plans a career in place-based education. In summer 2022, she will take the next step on that journey as an intern at Shelburne Farms.
“Privilege and Poverty helped me see myself as able to be an advocate for others like my family who have sometimes struggled getting food,” Park says. “The internship helped me see how I can translate my interests into a professional career.”
A Learning Community
Park’s internship was one of 12 offered as part of Middlebury’s Privilege & Poverty Academic Cluster last summer. Administered by the Middlebury Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the Privilege & Poverty Academic Cluster is more than an academic program—it is a learning community.
Students explore the causes and consequences of economic inequality through over 160 courses offered by 20 academic departments. They also participate in discussions and events outside class, so they can connect with like-minded peers across disciplines. Students then take what they’ve learned into summer internships at organizations addressing economic inequality in their local communities.
The cluster is not a formal major or minor, but it is a program with coherence, relevance, and intellectual depth that complements any other major course of study. Participating faculty include a range of professors from across academic disciplines so that students study specific interests with depth, breadth, and connection.
Over the course of 16 years, more than 150 students have worked with communities addressing the causes and consequences of economic inequality in Privilege & Poverty internships. They have done so at 100 national organizations, and 10 local organizations in Addison County. In total, that amounts to nearly 50,000 hours in partnership with practitioners, community members, and peers, collaborating to confront issues of inequality with directness and empathy.
Interns work with organizations and communities around the world, but CCE also connects students with opportunities in Middlebury’s backyard. Former WomenSafe Executive Director Kerri Duquette-Hoffman notes that Privilege & Poverty interns allowed the Vermont-based program to “grow as an agency.”
“We learn so much from the students, who understand our work but also have an outside perspective,” she says. “The questions that the students bring are such a gift…in addition to the huge help that they give.”
All Privilege & Poverty interns meet weekly as a cohort with affiliated staff, faculty, and community partners. These gatherings encourage group reflections on individual work, intersections of experience, and insights on broader themes that emerge during discussions. This combination of theory and practice ensures that the learning community extends well beyond the classroom and individual internships.
More on the Privilege and Poverty Academic Cluster
Explore livable vs. poverty wage comparisons and other data in our online resource: “Places of Privilege & Poverty” The site, developed by P&P Academic Director Matthew Lawrence and Andrés Oyaga ‘23, is a growing online resource for data analysis, information, and resources on economic inequality at the local, regional, and statewide levels.
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