December 6, 2019
The "Wheaties in the World" MyWheaton blogs feature students' internship experiences over the past summer.
Wheaties in the World: Abby Key
Abby Key '21 is a history major. In this MyWheaton blog post, Abby shares about her experience this summer interning with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault), an organization that provides survivors of sexual assault with a variety of free legal services.
Where was your internship? Do you think your location heavily affected your experience?
Over the summer, I worked at Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault (LASSA) Project of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Dallas, Texas. Our office accepted clients from over ten different counties. Since we were a legal aid, one of the conditions our clients had to meet to obtain our services was to be at or around the federal poverty line. This condition, coupled with our large service area, meant that we worked with both the urban indigent and rural indigent. Working in a major city brought clients to us from all different demographic backgrounds.
What were your day-to-day responsibilities?
At the beginning of the summer, I was responsible for organizing and maintaining hard and digital case files for three attorneys. Throughout the summer, my supervisors honored my diligence and they allowed me to do work usually reserved for law clerks (current law students). This included communicating with clients and witnesses, attending court hearings and trials, drafting court documents, and whatever else the attorneys needed to be done.
What was most challenging about the experience?
The most challenging part of the internship was knowing we could only help with our client’s legal issue. Every client must meet three conditions: be at the federal poverty line, have a family law issue (usually a divorce or a protective order), and someone involved is a survivor of sexual assault. Because of my day-to-day responsibilities to manage the files of each of our cases, I became deeply familiar with the details of our clients’ stories and trauma. One of my supervisors warned me against taking the work home with me, reminding me that “their trauma is not our trauma.” Moreover, I grew to accept that our office was only qualified to address and remedy the legal issue of our clients’ lives. I think it is easy to see the ever-growing mountain of suffering and feel as if you must address every aspect of the grief. We are to steward our gifts and trainings well, which will leave some of the work unfinished, but this allows us to partner with others. We don’t have to complete the whole of the work, but we can’t abandon it either.
What was most influential to you, both for the rest of your time at Wheaton and beyond?
One of my supervisors told me toward the end of my internship when we were discussing law school that the only advice she gives is “know your why and your how.” Your “why” refers to why you are attending law school; your “how” refers to how are you going to manage the stress and demands of school and eventually of the job. I think this phrase encompasses my experience at my internship, Wheaton, and beyond well. I was reminded of my “why:” participating in God’s work of shalom in the midst of suffering. Justice and mercy are the heart of God. A part of my vocational calling is to fight systemic injustice, but this is coupled with the call to all of us to fight daily injustices. My “how” becomes clearer every day. Being a part of community refreshes me after long mentally and emotionally exhausting days. Furthermore, I know that in order to be able to continue through the trauma-filled work, I have to be involved with a counselor or someone that can sufficiently process the information with me. God calls us into our work, but He does not call us alone.
Do you think you’ll pursue similar workplace experiences in the future? Why or why not?
I would love to. The office I worked in happened to be all women—not by design, but by chance. I was able to learn from strong women who have experienced and combated harassment and discrimination throughout their time as attorneys. All levels of the staff modeled grace, compassion, and an unwavering sense of purpose. The office was full of cultural and ethnic diversity which created a space of constant learning. My supervisors encouraged me to ask questions throughout the process and rewarded quality work. The environment was filled with encouragement and joy in the midst of pain-filled work.
Lastly, what was your favorite part?
My favorite part was the overall sensation that I was a part of something that mattered. The work I was doing as an intern was crucial to the function of the law firm, and more importantly, the work we did there had a significant impact. Prior to coming to our office, our clients’ daily lives were absent of peace. Updating files was a part of bringing peace. Reaching out to witnesses was a part of bringing peace. Sitting next to a client in court when they saw their abuser for the first time was a part of bringing peace. Writing an application for a protective order was a part of bringing peace. I was able to play a small role in God’s overall work of reconciling all things to Him.
Find out more about Wheaton’s internships at the CVC.