Claremont College Students Furloughed in Washington

By Ambika Bist and Nadeem Farooqi

The government shutdown surprisingly felt a lot like New Year’s Eve here in the nation’s capital. No, nobody was popping champagne bottles or blowing noisemakers, but there was something exciting about counting down the seconds until the historic moment that the government officially shut down. “Shutdown’s Eve,” however, was also a disheartening experience for many, including several fellow Claremont College students on the Washington Program who were not deemed “essential” and are now furloughed.

Sierra Gibson CMC ’15, a furloughed intern at the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaskan Native Education in the Department of Education, says the shutdown could completely change the focus of her internship.

“I am disgruntled because I was working on a project that was going to help a lot of American Indians in post-secondary education,” Gibson said, “and now, that might be delayed until next year because my agency will be so behind on other projects.”

Many members of the D.C. community who have also been furloughed share Sierra’s irritation. Not surprisingly, discontent with the government shutdown has become the conversation of choice at anything from lunch meetings to networking events; everyone in the area keeps asking each other if they have been deemed “essential” or not. Indeed, when the government shuts down in a government town, many are left without much to contemplate other than when the government will be back open for business.

Richard Ahne CMC ’15, a furloughed intern at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, sees the shutdown as a wasted opportunity.

“It‘s frustrating because preparing for the program is a lot of investment,” Ahne said. “Not just financially, but also in terms of figuring out what you want to do. D.C. is supposed to be very fun, but the primary reason I was here was to intern here, and it’s frustrating to not be able to do that.”

While it has been a unique experience to see the ramifications of a government shutdown from an insider’s point of view (and without losing one’s internship), the opportunities for all students to learn as much as they can about the many intricacies of Washington D.C. – and the American system of government itself – have been limited as a result. Congress is not holding as many hearings as usual, which reduces their ability to oversee different agencies. The Smithsonian Museum, which includes the National Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the National Zoo, is closed – a very unpleasant reality of the shutdown, as visiting the museum is one of the highlights of coming to D.C. Our very own Washington Program is a bit befuddled, since half of the experience of the Washington Program is having an internship.

While it makes for good conversation material that will one day be shamelessly embellished – “I was actually there when it happened” – the government shutdown has certainly lost its luster to those of us interning in D.C.

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