In the real world


The chronicles of inequity are stacked high at fourth-year Leo Gertner's seventh-floor office on South Michigan Avenue. With titles like "Criminal Justice," "Housing," "Transportation," and "Education," the binders on the city of Chicago's racial discrimination could be daunting, but for Gertner, a Human Rights Program summer intern with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA), the work is "delightful." Gertner helps compile the Chicago section of an alternative report to the federal government's U.N.–required biannual statement on racial discrimination. A national network of nonprofits, including the JCUA, will ultimately put together a final report to highlight details omitted from the official U.S. statement.

Through his work, Gertner "has been able to witness a lot," he says. "The job has put me in contact with people who are agitating to change their lives." He's met with neighborhood residents, community leaders, and nonprofit workers to gather information about racial discrimination. The job has also taught him to be "better at negotiating and more aware of people’s interests when trying to reach toward goals," says Gertner, who plans to pursue a career in human rights.

Chicago gives aid to students in their search for a future career, funding or organizing hundreds of internships. One of 32 Human Rights interns, Gertner appreciates the extra help. "It’s a real program, not just funding," Gertner says. "People support you along the way." With the assistance comes more responsibility. "The Human Rights Program added a lot of legitimacy, knowing that I’ve already been screened by human-rights experts at the University of Chicago," he says. "The internship comes with a lot of weight in Chicago. After three weeks at my job I had to break it to my employers that I am not an expert in human-rights law, despite my internship title."

Ethan D. Frenchman, '08

Photo: Fourth-year Leo Gertner works at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs this summer.

September 5, 2007