On Tuesday, the doors of the National Museum of American History closed to visitors who won’t be able to view its extensive collection, including a piece of Plymouth Rock, ball gowns of the first ladies and the flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner.
But the doors are also closed to Smith College student Kathryn Hart, a member of Washington, D.C.’s community of interns – many of whom work in federal government departments and agencies and almost all of whom are among the furloughed.
“We’re going to have a ‘House of Cards’ marathon, maybe go to Mt. Vernon or Monticello, make some five-hour lasagna,” said Hart, a third-year Smith student and an intern for the National Museum of American History.
“I’m going to invite some friends over, hang out, and rant about classism,” added fellow American History museum intern Maris Schwarz, also a third-year at Smith. “And cry over my empty bank account.”
Though the government shutdown has left student interns, including those employed by the White House and offices on Capitol Hill, on an involuntary vacation, the time off won’t just be one long happy hour.
The political tug-of-war on Capitol Hill could have major consequences for the Smithsonian interns — and many others — who have to conduct research projects for academic credit in conjunction with their internship.
“My seminar professor is a federal employee, so she’s not technically allowed to teach class,” said Hart, who also plans to sneak into George Washington University’s library so she can continue research that she otherwise would have been done at the Smithsonian or the Library of Congress.
A prolonged shutdown may have longer-lasting repercussions for the interns since they cannot technically finish the academic term without completing their projects.
“We have to work a certain number of weeks, so if I can’t come in this week I’ll have to stay an extra week,” Schwarz said. “So I’ll either have to stay until Christmas or I’ll have to pay for another cross-country flight and find housing.”
Hart asked, “How will I finish this semester, how will I graduate, am I going to have to come back and pay for housing again so I can finish my internship?”
“It all depends on how quickly they can get things done,” she added.
As out-of-state students who have taken the semester to live and work in D.C. are forced to sit out of work, they’re finding themselves in the same unsettling predicament as Hart: “We’re paying not to go to work.”