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Harpur program aids Asian-American community

By : Ingrid Husisian

Participants from Harpur College’s Asian and Asian-American Studies Community Internship program share their experiences as interns in New York City last summer.
Tanya Dasgupta will never forget babysitting three young children in a Queens courthouse as their mother, a battered wife, fought to flee an abusive marriage.

However, it was all part of a day’s work for the University senior, who spent last summer as a legal advocate and domestic violence crisis intern at Sakhi for South Asian Women.

The internship, coordinated by Harpur College’s Asian and Asian-American Studies Community Internship Program, involved answering the crisis hotline and attempting to help the women on the other end of the phone. She also worked as a Bengali translator.

Dasgupta was among seven University students who last summer participated in the internship, which provides valuable work experience and serves a growing population.

The internships, which are unpaid, are each related to an Asian-American experience and located throughout New York City. Students must have at least a 3.3 gpa and write an essay explaining why they wish to participate. Only after acceptance may a student apply directly to an organization.

While Dasgupta said her work was rewarding, she also found it very difficult. She recalls the problems and emotions the battered woman’s children faced while their mother went to court.

“They understood something was wrong but they didn’t know why,” Dasgupta said. “They kept asking questions. They just wanted their mother to be happy.” Overall, the experience changed Dasgupta’s career plans. A political science major who plans to attend law school after graduation, she said her internship introduced her to a different career option, one that would allow her to make use of her internship experience.

“I had been leaning towards corporate law but now I want to do women’s rights and family law,” Dasgupta said.

Though being bilingual is not required, most used their native languages on the job.

Amy Lam worked for the Chinese-American Planning Council, one of the largest providers of social services for Asian Americans in the United States. The junior helped clients find day care, literacy training and English as a Second Language classes. Wei-Ee (Katie) Cheng ’05 and Keiko Murabayshi ’04 were both at the Asian American Arts Alliance, which works to increase recognition and awareness of Asian artists throughout New York City. They updated the organization’s online directory, which lists contact information of art and cultural organizations and individual artists, Cheng called the project an “eye-opening, learning experience.”

“A lot of work goes into promoting and making a not-for-profit organization run,” she stressed. Michael Hung ’04 and Melissa Wu ’05 interned in the office of Councilman John C. Liu of Flushing. They both heard the concerns of Liu’s constituents. Hung remarked that he “loved going to City Hall.” Wu had the responsibility of creating a final presentation of all the summer interns’ contributions. “It sharpened my organizational and leadership skills,” she said.

At the Asian American Federation of New York, Millie Zhao ’06 helped provide assistance to those affected by September 11. She researched grants for the organization to continue helping people and participated in writing case studies.

John Chaffee, professor and director of the Asian and Asian-American Studies Program, credited Lisa Yun, assistant professor of English and associate director of AAASP, for not only getting the internship program off the ground, but placing the students in settings that make best use of their talents.

“It is thanks to her vision, her large network of friends and acquaintances in the Asian-American communities of New York City, and her tireless work over the past year, that the program has been the success that it is,” Chaffee said. “As a measure of that success, Asian-American programs elsewhere in the northeast have begun looking to it as a model to be emulated.” Fran Goldman, AAASP acting associate director, said while the interns have different majors and career plans, they all have a deep interest in serving Asian Americans.

For more information on the program, to hire an intern or to become one, contact Goldman at 777-4938.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08