An Empty Stadium

On a perfectly clear day in November, when the Louisiana heat finally begins to subside, it is easy to see the beauty in an empty Tiger Stadium.

Tiger Stadium looks eerily serene minus the fans.

Tiger Stadium looks eerily serene minus the fans.

On Saturdays, these stands are dotted with purple-and-gold clad fans of all ages, bellowing and clapping and shoving hot dogs into their face holes. They will cheer on the players, referee the game and drink lukewarm beer until they tumble down the stairs and end up in the hospital.

But today, the thousands and thousands of empty seats emphasize Death Valley’s vastness. The highlighter-green grass and the lingering ghost of buttered popcorn assault the senses. It is eerily quiet, almost serene.

But I did not find God in an empty Tiger Stadium. Chills did not race up and down my spine. My heartbeat did not quicken, and my palms remained sweat-free. I managed to suppress a throbbing erection.

Anyone with good eyesight can see that Tiger Stadium is beautiful. The architecture alone is a statement to the billions of dollars spent making this place a weekend destination for a million people.

But for football fanatics, this stadium means something. It is charged with emotion – great wins, insurmountable losses and drunken debauchery. For the fans that live and breathe LSU football, these are hallowed grounds. Death Valley is the temple of worship, Les Miles is the high priest, and the players are gods among mere mortals.

After living here my entire life, I get it. I really do. I just don’t see it the same way.

But I can appreciate what football means to so many people here, what it has meant to the South historically. I understand that for many students, football season trumps all other obligations. I see that for LSU and the local community, game days bring in the big bucks.

For the rest of us, football season is simply a big inconvenience. When I look outside my window on Saturdays, all I see are a bunch of drunk white people wandering around and cheering for something as intangible as the idea of glory. I see teenagers who are going to lose their lunch on the sidewalk in front of my apartment and Good Ole Boys in huge SUVs who are going to steal my hard-won parking spot.

For us non-fans, Tiger Stadium is not magical – it represents a culture we struggle to understand.

A Tale of Redemption

*names have been changed to protect the identity of guilty, guilty parties*

High school was an unforgiving place, especially for me – a graceless, acne-scarred urchin with bad eyebrows who had never touched a flat iron.

Despite my physical shortcomings, my “sisters in Christ” at my all-girls’ Catholic school embraced me. Each weekend my social calendar was full of events – cotillion dances, sleepovers, loitering in mall parking lots. I always scored the most elusive invites.

A sense of humor is social currency in high school, and I was rich.

A blurry picture of me at my high school honor's convocation ceremony circa 2011.

A blurry picture of me at my high school honor’s convocation ceremony circa 2011.

I would do anything to get laughs: swap my uniform for a Little Orphan Annie costume, trip down a flight of stairs, convince my art history teacher I was a practicing Jew. Whatever it took.

Popularity eluded me. I was studious, but so were the other over-achievers, and I certainly was not headed for the convent, so I took my rightful place as the class clown.

For 17-year-old me, humor helped me deal with crippling insecurity and the Catholic guilt that manifested from my new interest in the girls’ volleyball team.

Nearing graduation, the time came to nominate the Most Academic, Most Athletic, Most Attractive, Most Spiritual, Most Personable and Most Witty. I was unphased when I learned of my nomination for Most Witty. I imagined it would go down exactly as I had fantasized – me sporting an elegant pantsuit as Hot Volleyball Girl #1 crowns me, followed by Hot Volleyball Girl #2 feeding me chocolate cake.

Distracted, it took me a second to register the name beneath mine.

Julie Melancin. We had tied. There would be a run-off, and I could not allow Julie a victory.

Julie and I approached humor differently.

Coming to school in a cow costume and encouraging my classmates to milk my rubber udders was comedy gold to me. To Julie, singling out one person and making jokes at their expense (bullying) was more her style.

On the big day, we trotted single-file into the gym, shaky in our high heels and tripping over our white ball gowns, taking our seats alphabetically.

The ceremony played before me, but I was hardly attentive. In an attempt to squeeze into my dress, I had refused solid foods for two days, and I was paying the price with my rapidly decreasing blood glucose levels.

By the time I noticed 200 pairs of eyes on me, I was willing myself to the stage where Most Attractive and Most Spiritual stood clutching bouquets of roses and grinning ear to ear. I stumbled up the stairs, grabbed my roses and looked into the crowd. Through the blinding stage lights I could make out one face – that of my sworn enemy and tormentor, Julie Melancin.

It took me years to realize this event shaped me. A stamp of approval from peers is high school’s Holy Grail. But by graduation I understood their opinions held no weight. I still proudly boast my Superlative title, but I know that I am more than a neatly packaged high school trope. I only wish I had seen that sooner.

Overworked and Underpaid

Ashley Monaghan arrives to our interview almost an hour late. There’s a hint of sleep in her eyes as she apologizes profusely for having overslept. In spite of her malfunctioning alarm clock, she managed to show up perfectly coifed and styled, donning stylish ankle boots, a bowler hat and what amounts to a floral embroidered cloak.

Ashley Monaghan discusses her multiple unpaid positions.

Ashley Monaghan discusses her multiple unpaid positions.

It’s no surprise Monaghan has a hard time keeping her daily commitments straight; she wears many hats (figuratively and literally).

Monaghan, a public relations freshman, sometimes struggles to keep track of all her responsibilities. It’s understandable. She juggles being a full-time student with copy editing at The Daily Reveille, blogging for vintage boutique The Revival Outpost in New Orleans, doing PR work for Delta Literary Journal, interning at even

t company NOCCI and recently assisting with model coordination for NOLA Fashion Week.

Of these six positions, only two pay.

Monaghan recognizes that she is one of the lucky ones. Her parents help her out financially so that she’s able to do the work she loves for no pay.

“It would be so different if I was on my own,” she said. “I could not live this life if I was on my own.”

Monaghan’s story is a familiar one to the many college students who pour hard work and countless hours into internships, often for little to no pay or course credit.

According to a 2010 study by researchers at Intern Bridge, 75 percent of college students complete internships before graduation. Another study by Intern Bridge in 2012 showed that more than half of college internships are unpaid. For many students, taking on an unpaid internship is a financial impossibility.

Numbers gathered by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, or NACE, show that 60 percent of paid internships result in job offers, while only 37 percent of students with unpaid internships are offered jobs. Students who participate in paid internships while in college are more likely to get jobs in their field following graduation. So why are unpaid internships still so prevalent?

Graphic design senior Roland Parker said he turned down a number of unpaid internships for one that was paid. He spent the summer working for Young & Rubicam in New York City as an art director for the ad agency’s creative department. During his time there, he worked on developing ideas and drawing storyboards for ad campaigns. He got paid $10 an hour.

Roland Parker spoke about his internship experience at Highland Coffees.

Roland Parker spoke about his experiences with unpaid internships at Highland Coffees.

“I’ve turned down a few [internships],” Parker said. “One of them was really hard to do because one of them was The Onion, actually. It was unpaid. I don’t have money to go live in Chicago and just support myself to work for a company that I would love to, even with the prestige.”

For Parker, it’s a matter of self-worth. He said he feels strongly that students should get paid for work they do during internships. Parker suggests that companies should differentiate between job shadowing and interning and adjust payment accordingly.

“People are doing hard-earned work,” he said. “Why should they not get paid?”

Parker and Monaghan speak highly of their internships. Parker worked on print ads for Colgate at Y&R, while Monaghan learned about public relations through working at a New Orleans-based event company. Both agree that making connections within their fields was invaluable.

Yet, both also agree that good work merits pay, especially for Monaghan, who trekked back and forth from Baton Rouge, La. to New Orleans for most of the summer.

“If you do good work, you can demand to get paid for it,” Monaghan said. “If you’re going to go into an internship and fucking kick ass, you should get paid for it.”

Many students across the United States agree with this sentiment and have taken legal action against companies who abuse interns. Stories of interns suing companies that exploited them have been cropping up in the media in the past few years.

More recently, two former Condé Nast interns sued the media conglomerate for backpay. As a result, the company ended its internship program.

While some interns may face exploitation, students still take on internships, often at the behest of career counselors and professors.

Kayla Kucharchuk, Experiential Education advisor at LSU’s Career Services, said that students benefit immeasurably from internships, paid or unpaid.

She spoke of the importance of internships in general for students who want to get ahead in their field while still in college. However, Kucharchuk acknowledges that for some, unpaid internships may not be within their budgets. LSU Career Services is working to amend that.

“Whenever employers come to us and want to create an internship opportunity, we try to suggest to them how to in whatever way possible at least have a stipend that would be equivalent to minimum wage because it’s tough for students,” she said.

Kucharchuk noted that while students may be “pinching pennies” to afford unpaid internships, the experiences they gain are priceless.

“It’s an opportunity cost, essentially,” she said. “If the student’s not participating in that unpaid internship, then they limit themselves to having higher pay once they do graduate because they have experiences directly related to their fields.”

Kucharchuk said that when it comes to unpaid internships, students need to sit in the driver’s seat. To avoid exploitation, students can work with Career Services or their internship supervisors to make the best of their experience. Further, she said, there are laws in place to safeguard against abuse.

“The Department of Labor did put out six stipulations to try to protect students from some of these larger companies offering these types of opportunities,” she said. “I think within the press we’ve seen some advancements in the students’ favor.”

The Department of Labor outlines six guidelines that internships must follow to be defined as such. The internship must be similar to training that a student would receive in an educational environment. It must be for the benefit of the intern. An intern must not replace existing staff, but work under their close supervision. The employer should get no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern. The intern is not guaranteed a job following the internship. And last, the employer and the intern agree that the intern is not entitled to payment for their time spent interning.

In many cases, one or more of these guidelines is not met by internship programs as shown in cases like Condé Nast along with others like Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film distribution company recently lost a case in which interns sued for backpay and won after working on the set of “Black Swan” unpaid. Courts are beginning to uphold the laws on the books.

For some, like Monaghan, more regulation of internships could mean payment for the three out of six jobs she currently works without pay. As for Parker, he is one of many who have chosen to stand up to a practice that is often likened to indentured servitude.

Positive changes may be on the horizon for LSU students. Career Services hopes to work with development teams across campus to offer some type of scholarship to help students offset the cost of unpaid internships, Kucharchuk said.

For many, that may not be enough. An unpaid internship, however promising, is not in the cards for those financially struggling.

“People who have those dreams and can’t afford them, that’s the most terrible thing I’ve ever heard,” Monaghan said. “It’s the most terrible thing to tell early college students, especially ones that have bright and bold futures. Usually the ones who are most creative are the ones that can’t afford it. It’s the most unfortunate thing.”

Parker echoed the sentiment.

“I think that either way, paid or unpaid, you probably have the same prospects of getting a job in the future, which is why I sort of see unpaid as slave labor almost,” Parker said. “It’s kind of something that makes me feel a lot of our generation is being taken advantage of.”