update: my intern is refusing assignments because of her politics

Remember last week’s letter about the intern who was refusing tasks because of political objections? Here’s the (very interesting!) update.

I apologise for being so late in getting back to you. I had a family emergency and missed seeing that you had posted my question until after you had closed comments. Then I wanted to take the time to read through all the comments (1300+!) before replying. Please feel free to post as much – or as little – of this as you would like.

If I could clarify a few things: the politician in question is not a Nazi, literal or otherwise. He is a dyed-in-the-wool right-wing conservative with whom I disagree on virtually every issue. He is controversial in part because of his private life, which he has made part of his public persona – otherwise, I would believe that his private life is no one’s business but his. To avoid starting another firestorm, I want to make it clear that as far as I know, he has not been implicated in the #MeToo movement. He has, however, been repeatedly accused of cronyism and nepotism, and embodies the cliche of the “family values” politician who regularly trades in his wife for a younger model.

I find myself in the strange position of sounding like I am defending him, which I certainly am not – as I said, I have protested outside his offices before. But I feel compelled to point out that the wilder speculations about his identity and politics were incorrect, if understandable, given that I was reluctant to give any more details about him.

In part, that’s what surprised me so much about my intern’s response. I’m not trying to police anyone’s feelings, but her vehemence seemed disproportionate. What she actually said to me (as close as I can remember) is “I hate that guy so much. If you forced me to have anything to do with him I would keep punching him and punching him and punching him until he fell over on his stupid smug face.’” So, like many of your commenters imagined, it was a hyperbolic – and inappropriate – comment, but not one I viewed as a serious threat to anyone’s safety.

I also want to point out that there is a difference in our institution between a “private tour’”and a “VIP tour.” Again, a number of your commenters were correct when they suggested that the private tour was done for the convenience of everyone, and not as a statement of support for this politician. It is our policy to try and arrange these private tours (with no press or PR attention) for anyone who is in the public eye. And we do this not because it’s a special treat for them – although you could argue that it is – but because it minimises the disruption to everyone else. As much as it seems reasonable to suggest that this man buy a ticket and wait in line like other visitors, that would actually be a disaster. Having someone at his level of national prominence walking openly around with the public would be an enormous security threat (for which we would be responsible). Not to mention, it would completely destroy the chance for anyone else to enjoy the exhibition.

His office approached us to request the private tour. We would – and have – granted the same to anyone at a similar level, on either side of the political spectrum. We have also done this for local and national celebrities and well-known sports figures who want to see the exhibition. Again, I want to emphasise that these are NOT press or PR events; in this particular case, no one was aware of the visit outside of museum staff and this politician’s employees.

Several of your commenters suggested that I was interested in maintaining appearances over morality. I know those comments were intended as criticisms, but I was grateful for them because they prodded me to think more clearly about a point that I think I articulated very poorly before. Namely, that for me, it is very important to think of a museum as an institution that is open for everyone, even those I strongly disagree with. Being welcoming to everyone *is* a moral standard for me. We are a public institution, funded by the public, and should be open to the public. I’m not naive enough to think that museums will fix the world or that my work will transform every bigot who sees it, but I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I didn’t believe in the potential of art and history to change ideas and minds.

That said, I agree with you that there is a place where everyone must draw a line. I don’t know what I would do if I was asked to give a private tour to someone like David Duke or Nick Griffin. I can’t imagine that my museum would put me into such a situation, honestly. But if something like that were to happen, I would almost certainly politely step aside, and be willing to accept any consequences for doing so.

So here’s what happened with the actual situation I wrote in to you about. In my initial surprise at her response, I told my intern that she could bow out. As I said, the offer to be included in such a tour would be considered a perk by a lot of people starting out – not because of the person being given the tour, but because the interns get a chance to see more behind-the-scenes aspects of museum work. As such, I had a number of volunteers from the intern pool eager to step in and do the logistics work. I did the tour solo (with the exception of security people, of course) and it went smoothly.

But I did speak to my intern about her response and the “punching and punching” comment. I told her that that kind of comment was totally inappropriate in any work context, but especially in ours. She seemed surprised, and responded that she thought I was “cool,” which was why she felt free to say what she did. I told her that it had nothing to do with being cool, but with what is appropriate in a workplace, and that a comment like hers – along with her refusal to do the logistics work – could have ended in her termination. Again, she seemed surprised at this, but also seemed to take it in, and she thanked me for my input. Honestly, *I’m* not surprised at her. I have a lot of experience dealing with interns, and often they reach us at the ages of 27 or 28 towards the end of their graduate studies. Many times these interns have literally never had a job before, and they find it hard to adjust to an actual working environment, where they have to show up on time and do things they don’t want to. I’m not denigrating them at all, please understand that. It’s just that they are learning the “soft skills” of working far later than most people do, and I’m usually pretty patient with that while also setting firm expectations.

Anyway, I wanted to thank you very much for running my question, and for moderating the firestorm that it apparently ignited. I appreciated many of your commenters ideas and opinions, and apologise for missing the post on the day, and not foreseeing that this would be such a loaded question. Thanks again!

{ 614 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Please do not debate politics here. If you cannot discuss this letter without doing that, please pass this one by!

    Comments debating politics or attempting to guess the politician will be removed at my discretion (and I may close the comments if they get out of hand again).

    1. Snark*

      I’m not surprised that with this commentariat, in these times, with the news what it is, Feelings about politics are apt to rise from the sea at any time and go stomp around Commentville. But when Feelings start rampaging, fellow commenters can get squished under their mighty feet, and being gentle with each other isn’t a bad thing to keep in mind. Benefit of the doubt, no nitpicking, that kind of thing.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah. It’s notable to me that the two points I suggested at the top of the comments on the previous post (which I hoped might moderate some of the vehemence there) turned out to be true (that there was nothing indicating he was a Nazi, and that the purpose of the tour might not be to provide VIP treatment). It’s a good illustration of why, when people are tempted to post very heated comments about a situation, it’s worth remembering what’s actually in the letter and what’s just speculation.

        1. Snark*

          Quite! I’ve called it “advice column fanfic,” but it’s very easy, and occasionally fun and/or cathartic, to start filling in details and dynamics that make sense and have weight for you, but which actually aren’t a factor in the issue at hand.

          1. Gingerblue*

            Advice column fanfic! That’s the best summation of that particular dynamic I’ve ever seen.

          2. AnonEMoose*

            It can happen with anything people are passionate about. I’ve seen it happen with the convention I volunteer for. People get one piece of information, are upset about it, and rather than asking questions or looking for further information, they develop a whole theory about what’s going on and why, including assigning the worst possible motivations to the decision makers.

            And then they proceed to vent their spleen all over social media, which then leaves the organizers managing a social media storm. Which, 95% of the time, turns out to be based more on assumptions than actual information. And what actual information there was is usually incomplete at best. If there’s one phrase I’ve learned to hate, it’s “well, people in the know told me… [something completely wrong]”. (Why, yes, I do have Feelings about this – how did you guess? LOL!)

            Anyway, I think the OP handled this very well, and I’m glad the intern got the opportunity to learn this in a situation where the repercussions were less serious. I hope the intern can learn from this and move on.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              oh – if only there was a way to prevent this… I’m currently dealing with it at work and it’s driving me crazy.

                1. AnonEMoose*

                  I just did – only had time to read one article so far, but yes, this seems very, very on point. I’ve said for years that the motives assigned by others say much more about those others than they do about the organizers.

            2. AZ*

              This is making me wonder it you’re involved with a large fitness convention happening next week in Florida that I’m attending because it describes the social media dynamic of the attendees perfectly! It’s maddening!

                1. Jennifer Thneed*

                  Ah, yeah. I’m seeing that too, in a convention that I’m helping to plan. We’ve caught the attention of a local remora and it’s officially No Fun At All, especially since our organizers personally know women who got caught up in all the Gamergate mishegas. (I say mishegas, because it’s a fun word, but honestly it wasn’t just craziness because it escalated to items being sent thru the post office. So far my part is limited to reminding a friend NOT to reply on Twitter. )

          3. The Ginger Ginger*

            It’s a little like the concept of anchor bias in agile methodologies -meaning an agile team ends up focusing and relying on a single piece, or the initial piece, of information about a story when trying to estimate the scope of a task or piece of work. It’s something to be avoided there, too.

          4. TrainerGirl*

            That is the perfect term for it! There was a letter in Dear Prudence’s live chat this week about whether it was appropriate for someone to bring a friend as their +1 to a wedding. There were people who said that it was rude to bring a friend, that bringing a friend is making the wedding about YOU, that only SO’s should be allowed to be +1’s and then a few people implied that the LW didn’t actually have a +1 and was bringing an interloper, even though it was clearly stated in the letter that the +1 was included in the invitation. I mean…truly first world problem, but man was there projection all over that commentary.

        2. RoadsLady*

          I admire people on both ends of the political spectrum, though I’m probably in reality fairly moderate. I kept reading those comments, amusing myself with the notion of “what if this fellow is on the complete opposite of what Commentor thinks he is?”

          1. Needanewusername*

            I try to at least be open-minded with people who have different political views. You learn nothing in life by living in you’re own bubble and only surrounding yourself with like-minded people. I may not always agree with what’s being said, but the other person has a right to their opinion. Screaming, yelling, and have a hissy fit if they don’t see everything “your way” isn’t going to accomplish much of anything.

            1. Software Engineer*

              I tried being open-minded after the 2016 election, but I discovered that many of those with differing views are just outright racists or misogynists. There’s no reasoning with that, and I’m not going to accept a viewpoint that treats other humans as “lesser”.

              1. Needanewusername*

                Actually, studies have proven that liberals are less tolerant than conservatives. By your admission, you are tearing them as lesser just because you disagree.

                1. Sophie before she was cool*

                  This isn’t like me looking down on someone because my favorite color is blue and theirs is red. I am *absolutely* within my rights to look down on someone who believes that I am worth less than others because of my gender or skin color.

                2. pnw*

                  Actually, I just found several studies that show the exact opposite. Conservatives, especially those that are on the far right are much less tolerant. I’ll post a link.

                3. misc.*

                  Pretty sure being critical of those who are intolerant of intolerance is derailing the suffering people face at the hands of those “more tolerant conservatives”. Intolerance of intolerance is not being “less tolerant”, it’s adhering to the moral standards you expect of others.

                4. Julia*

                  I have no obligation to tolerate intolerance. Being tolerant of some things isn’t a morally superior stance, sometimes tolerating bad things is the same as apathy.

                5. name name*

                  If we say we tolerate everyone, and that ‘all colors are good.’ and someone says, ‘red is good. blue is not’. by tolerating this view, then all colors will not be welcome, and ‘red is good. blue is not’. will gain power.

                  in ten years, blue will not be tolerated. This will go against both our ideas of tolerating everyone, and that all colors is good.

                  So, to uphold the spirit of our views, we have to sometimes go against the letter of our views.

                6. Jennifer Thneed*

                  Yeah, we need citations here, and also are you contrasting liberalism/conservatism in fiscal areas or social ones or political ones? People conflate these a lot and confusion results. I actually think it’s more useful to talk about flexibility and rigidity, and I think that’s what your studies were looking at. Lots of people who have leftie ideas about how to run things are actually rather rigid thinkers and they have trouble accepting that ideas they don’t agree with might have merit.

                  I could be way off base here, and I welcome correction, but I’ve gotten the impression that before WW2, the main difference between conservatives and liberals was their ideas of how and where governments should spend money, and social attitudes toward race and class didn’t completely line up with those fiscal preferences. In other words, there could be anti-racist fiscal conservatives, and terribly sexist fiscal liberals.

                  With the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1950’s, the left/right ideas got attached to the money ideas, because a lot of liberals were saying that (1) government needed to spend money to protect all citizens, and that (2) protection needed to include assistance. Which led to some crazy ideas like NOT segregating schools, and the head-start program, and school lunches being provided (and nutritious), and requiring color-blind hiring by the federal government — these are all ways to try to balance some of the inequities in our society.

                  And I have more but I’ll put it in a separate reply.

                7. Jennifer Thneed*

                  My more:

                  Anyway, my understanding of current social liberalism is that it’s about tolerating everyone, and trying to learn from and about others as well. But a person could be very fiscally conservative and still agree with that ideal.

                  A lot of people think that a given political system is, by its very nature, liberal or conservative, but that’s just not the case. It’s down to who is actually in power, and people who want to be cruel can do it under any flavor of politics.

                  For example: Marxist communism was pretty danged radical but it was never a government system. It was a theory in a book. Russia and China used communism but that did not make those societies liberal — they were (and are) both very rigid.

          2. nonegiven*

            I kept thinking, “Would you say the same thing if the person turned out to be super liberal and the intern super conservative?” If you would, then, OK.

        3. smoke tree*

          At the risk of derailing, I’m reading a book that’s in part about cognitive bias, and it’s fascinating to see how this drive to fill in details based on personal experience plays out. Disturbingly, there have been a number of studies based on juries that show how common it is to make up details that support your initial reading of the situation and stick to that read regardless of what further information comes up.

          1. Turquoisecow*

            That definitely seems to happen in these comments a lot. People read part A from a letter and fill in part B from their own experiences and then end up giving advice that has nothing to do with the actual problem.

            I’ve seen it happen in advice columns as well, where the columnist gives advice based on a certain perspective that may or may not even be included in the letter itself!

            1. smoke tree*

              I think the really interesting/scary part is that for the most part, people don’t realize they’re doing it. They actually think those extra details were in the letter, and if they are challenged on that point, tend to double down about why their point stands anyway. (I say “they” but obviously we are all susceptible to this.)

              1. RoadsLady*

                The brain fills in what it needs!

                I remember years ago getting in an online debate and SuchnSuch was thrown at me.

                I think the person apologized after I asked them to quote me and they couldn’t find the information they were So Sure was there.

              2. tangerineRose*

                “for the most part, people don’t realize they’re doing it.” Yeah, that’s scary.

                Some people call it a “dirty lens”.

              3. Jennifer Thneed*

                And this is why when I’m making comments, I do 2 things:

                1. Check the original letter to see that I’m remembering it correctly (sometimes I am not)
                2. Research the subject to see if I’m correctly remembering what I think I know (sometimes my memory is at fault; sometimes there’s new-to-me information)

                I have certainly cancelled replies after doing these things, but see, I like to actually be fact-based in my thinking. I hate getting caught out by what are clearly assumptions in retrospect, in anybody’s thinking.

                1. Shadar*

                  Oh, if only EVERYONE did this!! Hurray for doing it right, Jennifer.

                  One of the traditional benefits of higher education was to ensure that people became conscious of their inherent biases and worked to escape them through knowledge, reflection and research. Unfortunately, I don’t see enough of that happening today, even among those who are supposedly educated.

                  Pretty hard to be optimistic about where this ends up if society continues on this path.

          2. Anonon*

            Would you mind sharing the book you’re reading? I’m working on expanding bias training at my organization and would like to read different perspectives to try to find different examples to appeal to the group. Thanks!

            1. smoke tree*

              It’s actually a book about con artists–The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova. But it does touch on cognitive bias quite a lot in explaining common cognitive and emotional weaknesses that con artists are able to exploit. The author has a background in psychology, which is probably why she takes this approach. It’s an engrossing/terrifying read.

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                This is how a lot of psychics/fortune tellers do their bits “I feel someone reaching out to me from beyond does the letter M have any significance to you?” Then the person fills in I have a deceased uncle his name was Martin, or aunt Susy passed away on a Monday, my brother Tom his favorite ice cream was Mint Chocolate Chip.

                I admire the skill (not the scam itself) people like that have because it takes a lot of training and learning human psychology to be a read others so well.

                1. BeautifulVoid*

                  I read something similar, and it pointed out that if you think about it, so many mega popular/widely used names start with either M or J – Mary, Michael, John, Jennifer, Joseph, etc., and that’s why the psychics almost always go with those letters. I’m sure most people here can think of someone in their life that has a name that starts with M or J. My own family has a ton of J names.

                  So, um, I guess if you go to a psychic hoping to hear from your late Grandma Zelda or Uncle Quentin, you might be disappointed because the psychic isn’t going to take that chance.

                2. ArtsNerd*

                  My Scientology experience (audit?) was like that. My partner at the time thought it would be a lark; it was just a really sad, awkward waste of time.

                3. smoke tree*

                  Yes, being able to read people really well is definitely a required skill to be a successful con artist. It’s actually very nuanced–apparently there are all kinds of techniques to draw information out of someone without letting them know you’re doing it, and to subtly influence the choices they make. It’s quite Sherlock Holmesian really.

            2. Jennifer Thneed*

              Another good book is called “Us and Them: The Science of Identity”. It’s by David Berreby and he does a really good job of showing how brain function predisposes us to this stuff.

          3. Dankar*

            I was shocked when other commenters here mentioned that the outcome of the “Ban the Box Initiative” may be even greater discrimination in hiring practices. I couldn’t believe that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, they assumed applicants of color had been convicted, but now weren’t required to disclose.

            Then, as Snark says, I thought about the state of affairs for 1.7 seconds and thought, “Well, it does sound about right, sadly.”

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              “People couldn’t possibly be that awful.”

              “Oh, wait. They totally are.”

              It’s a frequent occurrence these days.

          4. Lavender Menace*

            I have some friends who do research into memory, perception and cognition in juries and eyewitness accounts and…it’ll make you lose any existing strands of faith you may have had in the justice system.

              1. Coldbrewinacup*

                What’s really sad is how many convictions have been made solely on eyewitness testimony.

              2. Jennifer Thneed*

                INCLUDING COPS.

                Also “I can always tell when someone is lying”. No, actually you can’t, and people who think they can are more likely to get it wrong.

                I really recommend New Scientist magazine. It’s published weekly in the UK and has good science news and articles. (It was probably where I read about the lie detector research.)

        4. Annie Moose*

          That was frankly the weirdest thing to me about the comments–a large number of people were arguing in all seriousness about Nazis, as if there was literally no other option for a politician that people might protest against.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            I think that is likely because so many of us are still in utter disbelief that Nazis are even a thing that exists in this day and age.

            1. Annie Moose*

              I mean, I have a hard time grappling with that too, but I still don’t assume that every problematic politician that has been protested against is of necessity one of the Nazis in question. I certainly understand people raising it as a possibility, but there was so much discussion of Nazis/people who want other people to DIE/etc.–and so many people who appeared to consider these the only possibilities–that I was indeed quite surprised.

          2. scorpysuit coryphefuss arterius*

            Yeah, I agree with Detective Amy Santiago: it’s probably because a lot of people are now grappling with actual Nazis being increasingly present and vocal in public life. It raises questions like: How would I deal with encountering a Nazi in this or that situation? How *should* I deal with it? What are the options? And how should other entities – companies, non-profit institutions, public institutions – deal with them? Etc.

          3. Nea*

            I know! And yet I could think of half a dozen progressive politicians who fit the loose description we were actually given, including being picketed at their offices.

        5. AMPG*

          I think it’s worth noting that a lot of that speculation happened before you added those points to the top of the comments. I know I was definitely assuming VIP treatment instead of a private tour for security purposes (and I think it was a reasonable assumption for those of us not working in that field, who wouldn’t necessarily know that those sorts of private tours are a regular occurrence), but your note wasn’t up at the time I was commenting.

            1. Observation*

              I disagree with you. *Of course* this tour was VIP treatment. The politician in question does not have to purchase a ticket, stand in line with the hoi polloi, fight crowds to get an unobstructed view of the artwork, or pick a time to visit based on when tours are given. He gets it all handed to him on a platter. That’s the definition of VIP treatment.

              To be sure, this is not inconsistent with “security” also being a rationale for the visit. An action can be taken for multiple reasons, and an action taken for a stated purpose can have unintended consequences. But don’t kid yourself that this is VIP treatment.

              1. Shadar*

                Makes me long for Norway, where the idea of VIP treatment really doesn’t exist.

                If Americans weren’t so obsessed with violating everyone else’s security, perhaps they’d be less paranoid and in need of protection themselves.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            See, I would argue it’s a good example of why you shouldn’t make assumptions in areas you don’t know anything about. It was fine for people to preface comments with “If this is VIP treatment,” but people shouldn’t have jumped straight to assuming it definitely was when they don’t know how these things work and there wasn’t enough info in the letter.

            This is how a lot of discrimination happens inadvertently. People just project their own experiences into other areas. It’s human nature, sure, but I don’t think we can just call it “reasonable” and wash our hands of our responsibility to do better. And I’m not saying that’s what you’re suggesting btw. I just want to push back on the idea that the assuming instead of asking for more information is, by default, reasonable

            1. AMPG*

              Well, in the comment sections we usually only have the original letter to go on, and you’re right that the letter didn’t specify, but my point was that plenty of people wouldn’t even know that there was another, non-VIP private tour option, so it’s not as if they were just choosing the narrative that fit the way they wanted to respond. The first comments pointing that out came far enough downthread that they were easy to miss (and I appreciated Alison’s note, for that reason). I definitely agree that people need to leave room for the idea that they’re missing details, but you seem to be coming a little close to suggesting that people can only comment if they have direct experience with the field named in the question, and I don’t think that’s fair.

        6. Hiring Mgr*

          I don’t think many people thought he was literally a Nazi, as in being a member of the Nazi party or something. The fact tht he’s a “dyed in the wool right wing conservative” though may mean he’s anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti- women’s rights, etc etc.. So i think it’s pretty natural people would get worked up about that..

      2. Sara without an H*

        We sometimes forget that our fellow commenters are human beings who, themselves, have Feelings.

      3. tusky*

        I think, also, that the concept of “politics” can be very squishy. What counts as “political” (and whether it’s even possible to have an entirely apolitical discussion about anything remotely serious) depends a lot on who you ask. What feels like a neutral, apolitical statement to some might be highly charged to others. Or: the stakes aren’t always the same for everyone in the conversation. (As an aside, the ways that “rationality” and “objectivity” have tended to be weaponized against marginalized groups (especially people of color and women) mean that members of those groups may go into the conversation already on the defensive.)

        1. Genny*

          I think this is what I took away from the previous comment thread too. Everything is political. Everything helps or hurts people at some point, it’s all just a matter of degrees of separation. Not everything can be “THE WORST, MOST EGREGIOUS THING EVER” (and not everything is just like Hitler/Nazis/the Holocaust), but on the other hand, we do need to be considerate of those second and third order effects that real people are harmed or helped by.

        2. Observation*

          What counts as “political” (and whether it’s even possible to have an entirely apolitical discussion about anything remotely serious) depends a lot on who you ask.

          EXACTLY. Say that again. Many years ago, I was considering doing a PhD in political science. I remember one department’s brochure saying “no political scientist has ever said, ‘that’s a non-political question.'”

      4. Needanewusername*

        If jumping to conclusions was an Olympic sport, some people would be gold medalists.

    2. BRR*

      Thank you for posting this type of letter. I know the comments can be extra tedious to moderate but I really appreciate that you’ll answer letters that are relevant to contemporary issues.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Thanks! I’m hopeful that people might take this as a lesson to rein in the outraged speculation in the future (anyone?), but that may be wishful thinking.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I do think there is a difference between speculation and nuance though.

          If this situation involved a POC intern and David Duke, that’s a rather different circumstance than a non-marginalized intern and a run of the mill politician. Maybe not in terms of broad advice, but in terms of how the manager should approach it and be empathetic. At least, that’s the point I was trying to get across and how I read a lot of the comments on the original post.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I totally agree with that! My issue is with people assuming that it’s definitely one way, when we don’t actually know, and then arguing vociferously as if those things must be true and that anyone suggesting other possibilities is clearly naive/immoral/wrong.

            1. that lady in hr*

              And this is exactly why this is one of the only columns I read. Thanks for doing your best to support the letter writers!

            2. Lissa*

              Yes this is exactly my issue and why I stopped reading the comments – it almost seemed like people got *angry* when the idea that it could be a less outrage-causing situation, as though it not fitting their narrative was really frustrating.

    3. Anonymouse Librarian*

      Ironically, I am researching workplace violence for one of our patrons and have some experience both with workplace violence myself and with reporting someone for threats. The person that I reported was banned from the grounds.

      What the intern said sounds like hyperbole, but at my organization, it would have been reported to threat assessment. I am not saying that she would have been fired, but it would have been one data point to analyze her standing.

      To give context, since the research is fresh in my mind, for the U.S., OSHA estimates that nearly 2 million Americans per year report being victims of workplace violence and OSHA believes that that is an under-reporting of the true number of incidents.

      In addition, her comment would most likely fall between Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the Department of Labor’s levels of warning signs for workplace violence. Between “uncooperative” and “verbalizing wishes to hurt”.

      Having said that, the OP handled it beautifully, matching the DOL’s guidelines for meeting with the person and setting out what are acceptable behaviors.

  2. SoSo*

    OP, I think you handled this beautifully. I hope that your intern learns something from the experience and grows from it.

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      I agree – well done, OP! It sounds like it was a great learning experience for the intern, which is pretty much the point of being an intern.

    2. Wednesdayanon*

      Agree! You sound like a delightful person to work for and with. I really admire your patience with older interns just learning their way in the working world. I don’t think I would be as forgiving.

      1. tallteapot*

        Agreed! you sound like not only an excellent manager (esp for interns), but also a really thoughtful person, OP!

    3. Cassandra*

      Agree. As an educator in a professional school, I see folks like the OP’s intern more than I wish I did, and they can be remarkably hard to get through to. I would send one of my students to intern with the OP in a heartbeat (though I hasten to say, OP, that I wouldn’t automatically send our less-work-savvy students to you — that’s just unfair).

      Your intern owes you more than she probably can even understand at this point. I hope the circle closes someday; you deserve to have her thank you with full understanding of what a good deed you did her.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        She really does owe you big time. I’m surprised that someone who has been an adult for a decade still didn’t know that she can’t threaten to(repeatedly and violently) assault customers, even with limited work experience. Hopefully she will look back on this and cringe one day. Yikes!

        1. CatMom*

          Yeah, as a 28-year-old, I was shocked to learn she was in her late 20s! I was thinking she must have been more mid-college age. Especially because of the “cool” comment.

          1. Sneakys*

            It’s not so surprising given the OP’s line of work. I suspect the OP works at one of the handful of nationally prominent museums. Interns at these organizations frequently have a masters and are often working on their PhD. Many museum interns, particularly curatorial and conservation interns skew older than the average intern.

            1. Gingerblue*

              Even still. I was in grad school in my 20’s in a somewhat similar field, and this woman’s behavior boggles me.

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                It boggles me from what I recall of myself at eighteen. I can’t imagine threatening to hurt a customer, of any type at any workplace. I can totally understand loathing and feeling angry at politicians with serious moral failings (both professional and personal), and I might very well have asked to skip that particular assignment if I were in her place; but I’d have asked it in a very different way.

          2. Environmental Compliance*

            As a 27 year old, same. This is something I would have heard out of my peers at maybe 19…..not now. It also sounded like most of these grad interns had had no work experience prior to this internship, which boggled my mind. I went to grad school. I had jobs, in my field, even. How does one get to late twenties, even in school, and have absolutely no work experience? No summer internships? Volunteering?

              1. Environmental Compliance*

                Hell, I had a full ride and still worked.

                (But, I do know of one guy whose family literally bought a dorm for the campus, who I’m pretty sure never worked until his father deigned to allow him to join the family business, so there’s that, I suppose.)

    4. FuriouslyHappy*

      I agree — this response is so well written and it seems to me like you’re setting a great example for your interns to follow. I appreciated just reading your follow-up (and I had not read the comments on that original post), especially about how you had the conversation with your intern. It’s a good example for any of us who work in a public institution if this kind of situation comes up. So — thanks for the guidance you may be providing for some of us in future situations!

    5. AMPG*

      I agree. You’re a good boss, and I hope your interns realize how lucky they are to have you overseeing their first work experience.

    6. OP*

      Good afternoon, everyone! I’m the OP from the original post. Thank you all very much for your kind words; seriously, you’ve just made my day.

      I was also initially surprised at how relatively little work experience our interns often have. I had my first job at 14, and it boggles my mind that someone could reach 27 or 28 without ever having to work (and now I’ll stop writing in this vein of ‘kids today’ before I start shaking my fist and yelling at people to get off my lawn).

      I think it’s partially a result of my discipline, which is one that requires a lot of work and a corresponding amount of prestige, but with very little monetary payoff. That frequently means that many of the people who take up study in this field have significant private or family resources, although that’s by no means the case for everyone. Our institution is a very prestigious one, and our internships are highly coveted, so we often end up with the best-educated but, ironically, least-experienced interns. We are considering moving to a paid internship model (which I fully support), and my hope is that this will start to break up this pattern somewhat.

      Again, thank you all!

      1. Gingerblue*

        I hope you do move to paid internships! I’m in a field which sometimes funnels students towards museum studies, and internships really are a choke point for culling excellent but less advantaged students out of the field. It’s wonderful to see institutions having that conversation.

      2. YoungTen*

        LOL! I find it hard to be patient with kids who’s brains aren’t fully developed yet. So having to be patient with a 27 or 28 year old who doesnt have the maturity they should regardless if they’ve worked or not would be twice as hard

      3. OlympiasEpiriot*

        I heartily hope that your institution *does* move to paid internships. It will certainly broaden the pool of people who can be part of your work.

  3. JokeyJules*

    OP, I’m glad you were able to teach her a valuable and apparently overdue lesson in professionalism.

    Please consider yourself “cool” because you’re an open, understanding, and professional boss, which many don’t have.

    1. Catalin*

      Agreed. You sound so professional and gracious and I hope your interns appreciate having you.

          1. Anon today*

            Most of us didn’t work until our teens or early 20s, but managed to internalize a lot of life lessons without a paying job. Someone in their late 20s who still thinks it’s OK to express themselves that way? Yes, overdue.

          1. Artemesia*

            I remember my own child on her first full time job (and she had worked several jobs in hs and college) saying. ‘can you believe I have to get there by 7 every day and I don’t get to leave till at least 6 most days?’ She had grown up in a household with two working parents as well as working part time jobs. The world of work comes as a shock to most of us especially after we get used to scheduling late classes and skipping one if we feel like it and having fall and spring break and Christmas break and summer break.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              Even for an adult, 11 hour days are pretty long. Was she doing a 4×10 type schedule?

            2. Coywolf*

              I’ve been working for six years and a 7am-6pm day is considered a very long day! Especially for Mom-Fri. Although the longest I’ve ever worked was a 14 hour day so it’s not as exhausting as that.

            3. Myrin*

              You’ve mentioned this example before and I’m still not sold on it being as convincing as it’s probably meant to be – and 11-hour-workday is certainly not the norm and also just generally really long; I actually think it warrants a “can you believe?” from anyone.

            4. Hapless Bureaucrat*

              I’ve been a working professional for two decades now and an 11 hour day would surprise me, unless the schedule was 4 10s. It’s highly industry dependent.

            5. nonegiven*

              My niece worked 3 jobs at the same time in college and had another part time job in high school. At her first job after getting her masters, they’d give her crap for going home at 11pm after weeks of long days, because she was exhausted. I don’t think the long hours were unexpected, though.

            6. SS Express*

              As an adult with a professional career who is pretty accustomed to the world of work I find those hours pretty surprising, especially for someone in their first job!

          2. Tau*

            I was in this category*, and am very very grateful for AAM for being an effective crash course in professional norms! I started reading religiously around the time I submitted my thesis, and am very sure there’d have been a lot more stumbles on my part if not for the mantra of “what would Alison say?” Although I hope I’d have known threats of violence, even joking ones, are not appropriate in the office on my own.

            * well, sort of a privilege/disprivilege combo – my parents are well off enough that I didn’t need to work, and then I was struggling with a disability through university so that I felt I couldn’t work a side job even though I’d have liked to.

            1. TootsNYC*

              this is what my kid is going to be like–we’re pressuring him into work during the summers. But if we made him work even part-time at college, I think he’d flunk out.

              Then again, maybe he’d be better off w/ less free time!

              1. Tau*

                Yeah, in retrospect I think a side job might actually have been a good idea because it’d have given me more structure. But I didn’t know that at the time, and it seems logical that when you’re struggling with basic life tasks and missing lectures the last thing you want to do is pile more stuff on top.

                I wish your son luck in college no matter which way he ends up going!

              2. tangerineRose*

                I worked part time during college, and I think that was good for me. Then again, I wasn’t the most social kid.

                One thing I still think about now, when I’m having a bad day/moment, at least I’m not working fast food. Not that it’s a terrible thing to do, it’s honest work. However, you’re on your feet all day, the food isn’t healthy, some of the managers are kinda mean, and some of the customers treated us like lower life forms.

              3. WS*

                I was in a similar situation, and, while it was awful at the time, being (deservedly) fired from a low-stakes job was very, very good for me in the long run. If you think your kid would deal with that consequence okay, then I think it would be a good idea.

              4. Julia in Finland*

                I had to work during university. (Where I live, education is practically free (I paid $200-ish per semester) but you still have to pay rent, buy food, etc. and my parents weren’t that rich.) I did flunk out. Or rather, I had a part-time job where I eventually had the chance to add more and more hours until it became a real full-time job with a contract and a salary and everything. And work (practical! real world!) was so much more interesting than my studies (ugh, THEORY) and I just stopped showing up to classes and taking exams. So, long story short, I’m 47 years old with lots of work experience, and much of it even in the field I studied; but no actual degree.
                (I’m retraining right now in a different field, and in the program I’m in you study one day a week and work in a paid internship position in the field the rest of the week. Turns out that level of practicality and applicability-in-real-life is exactly what I need and this time, I actually might graduate. I have to work but the work is part of the degree! Whee!)

          3. Aeryn Sun*

            I mean, even beyond that I feel like working full time is a very different experience than part time jobs you have as a teenager / college student. I had student jobs and other part time things while I was in college, but I feel like the standards of professionalism between a student job and a “regular” job are very different.

            1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

              It is and they are. I had part time jobs and campus jobs but my real lessons in workplace professionalism came from my summer full time jobs. I was lucky enough to be able to do reception desk/office assistant for two summers and it was a world apart from my other experiences.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          exactly. OP is far, far more patient with this person than I would have ever been.

    2. Asleep or maybe dead*

      OP being “cool” in the perspective of the intern is key, because she trusts op’s judgement. Op, you’re a great boss.

      That said, I think calling this episode an “overdue lesson” may be too harsh. I know many people were horrified by the tasteless violence hyperbole, but I can see it flying in many professional workplaces… Like mine. As long it is not directly harmful to others, I see it as a culture thing that varies from place to place.

      1. JokeyJules*

        to me, it seemed like OP and intern worked for an established museum and I presumed that the intern would have some professional and soft skills before they started working there. This place doesn’t seem like a place that would fly. I’ve worked in places that it would, for sure, but this doesn’t seem like it. I guess that’s why I though Intern would already have known not to make comments about violence towards guests.

        1. asleep or maybe dead*

          Oh no, the museum doesn’t seem like a place that such a comment would fly at all.
          What I meant is that this kind of comment would not be absolutely unacceptable in every professional workplace, but it was not welcome at the museum, and that’s the misjudgement the intern made. It’s essentially a code-switch mal-function, and I can understand that.and

    3. smoke tree*

      The update is in line with how I interpreted the situation originally, that the intern was slightly naive and didn’t fully appreciate how she was coming across. She’s lucky to have a boss who’s understanding but who also was willing to give her a needed heads up about professionalism.

    4. PersonalJeebus*

      It is indeed very cool to advocate for museums (and other important cultural forces like journalism, literature, etc) being for everyone’s use and consumption regardless of viewpoint, and it’s very cool to take an active role in ensuring these resources are open even to people you disagree with. Even those you may despise. I hope you have that conversation with your interns at some point!

      To me, refusing to serve this politician would have been akin to pharmacists refusing to dispense birth control or medical abortion drugs when it’s the very definition of their job to do so. Your interns are probably old enough to remember when that was a major news story.

  4. Ramblin' Ma'am*

    Hmm. Based on the spelling of “apologise,” I’m guessing this letter writer is not in the US. I have to admit that didn’t even occur to me while reading the first letter!

    1. Justme, The OG*

      Me either! But I guess politicians are not that different in the US than elsewhere. Anyway, I commend the OP for their professionalism and teaching their intern a good lesson.

    2. Lady Jay*

      Something about the description of the politician as a “dyed-in-the-wool right wing conservative” struck me as British, too. I’d assumed a US worker, given the mention of the current prez in the original post, but perhaps not.

      1. RoadsLady*

        I remember musing slightly if this was a different country, but never did give it much thought beyond that.

      2. EmKay*

        Really, how interesting. I thought it was a very canadian idiom, but now I’m not so sure!

    3. Jack Be Nimble*

      I made the same assumption and had the same realization reading this letter! I had to Google one of the names the LW provided as examples, and it turns out he’s British, and not somebody I’m familiar with as a US-ian. You know what they say about assumptions!

    4. media monkey*

      i agree and think UK based – has anyone in the US ever heard of Nick Griffin that she lists as an example? (I wish I hadn’t!). i am now going to amuse myself for the rest of the day with mental speculation on who she might be referring to!

      1. media monkey*

        oh i think i know. hmmmm. if i’m right i would punch his stupid smug face too, but you handled it incredibly professionally OP! well done for being a great boss.

      2. fposte*

        I think there are US people alert to right wing presences elsewhere, and UKIP has been pretty significant.

        1. media monkey*

          of course. but it seemed likely that if he sprang to mind the situation was in the UK. Nick griffin is the head of the BNP, not UKIP (who are bad but not quite that bad!). although maybe I am reading you wrongly and you knew that rather than getting him mixed up with another objectionable right wing idiot, Nigel Farage.

          1. fposte*

            I forgot that he was BNP, so good catch! I basically agree with your point, but I think that in more globally aware circles in the US people are familiar with some big right-wingers in other countries.

          2. MsSolo*

            At this point, BNP and UKIP at much of a muchness – a lot of the BNP politicians jumped ship to UKIP when it started getting more popular. And UKIP just defended one of their Councillorss killing his wife with “these things happen, we’re equally sorry for both of them”.

  5. MuseumChick*

    So happy for the update. I saw this letter get picked up by a few museum professional FB pages (Center for the Future of Museums for example) so I hope the update will as well.

    You handle this exactly as you should have and I really appreciate you mentioning museums as public spaces.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      That’s very cool! I’m curious if it sparked as much debate on those pages as it did here.

      Great update, OP!

      1. MuseumChick*

        Not really, there was a pretty solid consensus that I detail below. There were of course voice of disagreement on both side.

      1. MuseumChick*

        Yes, there was. I’m a little hesitant to say what it was because I got jump on in the original post of voice the museum professional perspective. But, I think it’s important to get it out there so here it goes: Basically, the consensus was: “Bowing out is fine, not doing her other work is not fine, she needs some professional training/mentoring to learn how to handle situations like this appropriately. And, (as the OP says), museums are public spaces and thus have to serve ALL of the public even those we loath.”

        Here is the other thing, while we cannot expect museums to change everyone’s mind, they are VERY powerful centers of information. Out of all sources of information: TV, Radio, Newspapers, Websites, School etc museums are the most trusted and least challenged. So even if the tour didn’t change the politicians mind about anything, it might effect someone in his entourage. This is one of the many reasons it is a terrible idea to try and reject people, again, even those your loath, from your museum.

        1. fposte*

          That seems a pretty reasonable landing place to me. I do think that people who aren’t familiar with the library/museum public access mission don’t always realize how much it drives institutional action and tend to respond as if it were a more private facility.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I really liked that point in the update–that the museum is supposed to be a public institution open to the public, not only open to the “cool” members of the public. The latter is just a physical form of some internet comment boards: everyone agrees with everyone else, and then is shocked, shocked that election results do not reflect their comment board’s makeup. (80% strongly agree, 18% agree, 2% wrong.)

        3. ArtsNerd*

          Thanks for this! I don’t think I commented on the original post but I really appreciate[d] your perspective as a museum professional (which is not my specific arts field). I absolutely agree. I also seem to be in the minority in that I was wildly speculating to myself (my advice column fanfic! Love that, Snark!) about the exhibit and not the politician.

          I landed on the Smithsonian African-American History section, which I’m only mentioning because is amazing and I encourage everyone to visit it if they ever have the chance. (It’s also not as hard to access as it was when it first opened.) It’s hard for such publicized / in-demand things to live up to the hype but this one succeeds and then some.

          p.s. Years ago I definitely made a joke with my boss about a toxic political figure in my office (“He’s coming this way! Trip him!”) but even though it was very very clearly in jest, and in reference to a private event, it was still unprofessional.

          1. MuseumChick*

            Thanks ArtsNerd! I do think the intern here is going through a very normal process of entering the museum world, that I think is similar to those who enters the arts. They have this vision of doing amazing social justice/commentary/advocacy projects with lots of creative freedom only to hit the wall of Reality. We are much less Indian Jones and much more “I’m sick of looking at this spreed sheet.” and “Ugh, a special tour, when am I ever doing to finish that research request from last week?”

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Or that’s what you tell the interns, before leaving them with a spreadsheet and escaping through the ventilation shaft with your whip. Or so they suspect…

        4. Anon Librarian*

          I think museums and public libraries have a lot in common where that’s concerned. I found myself nodding along with all of the OP’s comments about needing to serve all, not just those we agree with. We’re in trouble if we become a service that is only supported by one political party. It can be a difficult line to skate when advocating for inclusion now sounds like a political stance, when it is just what libraries do.

        5. OP*

          OP again. Thanks so much for this, MuseumChick. I really appreciated all your comments on the original post, and we seem to be in total agreement about the situation, and museums in general.

          Also, I have to say, I legitimately laughed out loud to “we are much less Indiana Jones and much more ‘I’m sick of looking at this spreadsheet”‘. SO MANY SPREADSHEETS.

        6. PsychDoc*

          I agree with the importance of allowing everyone in. I always cringe when someone with similar beliefs to mine is rude, cruel, violent, or tries to shove their view down the throats of others. I would rather be viewed as a nice person, which may invite someone to have a calm discussion with !lol me, wherein I can explain my points and hopefully give them something to consider. Plus, studies tell us that if someone feels attacked in their beliefs, they will become more firmly attached to them even if they were previously on the fence. So instead, I try (though don’t always succeed) to be a positive representative for my causes.
          To clarify – I think peaceful protests are great. They are a way to rally support, build community, and can be helpful in showing how many people really do care about a cause (as opposed to the internet where a handful of loud people can drown out an actual majority). I *don’t* like the groups that engage in vandalism and violence, even if I would otherwise agree with their viewpoints, which is sometimes a real bummer.

    2. JuniperGlass*

      I wholeheartedly second this! Thanks for driving home the point that museums are for everyone to enjoy and can be powerful forces for good.

  6. Murphy*

    Wow, I missed what the comments turned into on the original post!

    OP, I think you gave the intern good feedback.

  7. esra*

    lolol @ “I thought you were cool.”

    OP, I think you handled this really well, and that’s coming from someone who would be firmly on the No Thank You side of giving this person a tour.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, I read that, and one part of my brain was like “lolololoolo” and one part of my brain was like “oh honey”

    2. SoCalHR*

      That statement in and of itself shows the level of maturity/professionalism of the intern. Kudos to you, OP.

    3. Muriel Heslop*

      I teach 8th grade and that’s the kind of feedback I get from my students when they are told to do something they don’t like or their is some discipline. I would expect an adult intern to have better soft skills so it was interesting to learn from the letter that it isn’t unusual for the field.

      1. Mathy McMath*

        Ooof, I teach 8s too, and my first thought was “Man, I’m pretty sure 97% of them would have been smart enough not to make that comment”. But maybe, it’s just because they don’t think I’m cool :)

    4. Dr. Doll*

      Yes, I ground my teeth a little at “I thought you were cool.” I do not think that word means what the intern thinks it means. Calm, collected, competent, unflappable, professional — THAT is what cool means. Not the verbal equivalent of showing up in pajamas and bedhead with a morning hair-of-the-dog in hand.

      I was just re-watching *Madame Secretary*…Nadine is “cool.”

      And damn, 27-28? Definitely old enough. I’d have fired a 20-year old student assistant for this without blinking.

      1. Augusta Sugarbean*

        The intern is straight out of Uncle Buck:
        Tia: You just can’t find any way to be cool, can you?
        Buck: You mean easy? No.
        Tia: I mean decent!
        Buck: You mean blind!

        You really did your intern a great service, OP. Thank you for the update.

      2. Jen*

        Yeah not to be weird about this, but I look at myself at 28 and most people I currently train are about that age and I have never experienced that kind of immaturity. Not cool.

        1. Blue*

          Yeah, I was in grad school until I was 27, and many of my classmates of the same age had fairly limited professional experience – part-time jobs, the occasional year or two between undergrad and grad school, etc. A lot of us interned or worked part-time in archives or museums since we were history students, and I can’t really imagine any of us making this kind of comment with a boss. I can, however, imagine them saying it to a friend at happy hour. Especially if OP is on the younger side, I wouldn’t be surprised if the intern found herself seeing it as more of a friendly relationship and didn’t quite grasp the difference between collegial-but-professional and pals. Hopefully this will be a good course-correction for her. Definitely lucky to have a supervisor who was sympathetic and dedicated to teaching her interns professional norms!

        2. Dankar*

          I had a momentary pause when I read that, but though, “Ah well, if she’s young, then…”

          Then I reread what OP had written and realized 28 is older than I am now. And I think the only time I might have said something like this was when I was 17! And even then, I like to believe I’d’ve been more professional about it. (Though I’ve never been shy about tactfully refusing things that felt morally or ethically iffy.)

      3. Genny*

        I’m a little surprised a 27-28 year grad student has no work experience. Most students graduate from undergrad around 21-23. Grad school is typically only 1-2 years. there’s still about a three-year gap (maybe she filled the gap with fellowships or extending traveling or something?). Anyways, I commend OP, because I wouldn’t have been that lenient on a 27-28 year-old, but your intern probably learned a better lesson from you than she would have from me.

        1. FitLadyCerevisiae*

          It depends what type of graduate work it is. A PhD in the US takes 5 – 7 years and the majority of the time you can’t have a second job. My contract for my PhD specifically prohibited it.

          In Europe, my understanding is that you spend 1-2 years on a master’s, and an additional 3-4 years on a PhD. So it’s perfectly reasonable for a newly minted PhD to have minimal “real world” job experience. In addition, academia can often have completely skewed and more casual norms than a typical office job, which can also affect this intern’s perception of how to act in their first professional job.

          1. Marion Ravenwood*

            A PhD can take up to six years in the UK if you do it part-time (it’s closer to three years for full-time). That’s on top of three years of undergrad and one or two years (again, depending if you’re studying full- or part-time) for a master’s, so in theory you could not work until the age of about 25/26 if you went straight from undergrad through to PhD. However most people I know who’ve done PhDs did them as part-time, alongside a part-time job, because of the cost.

        2. HQetc*

          Sadly, PhDs are more on the 5-7 (or 8, or 9, or…) end of things. At least in the US. I think in many places abroad, they can be more in the 3-4 year range, but even there they can run longer.

        3. Genny*

          That’s a good point. I read “graduate work” as Master’s, but it could encompass Ph.D work as well. I’d typically call that post-grad, but I can see why LW might not have, especially if it’s normal in her field to combine the two.

    5. Jen*

      Yeah, there is this impression a “cool” boss is a lenient one. That is not how that works at all.

      Intern needs to learn this or they are in store for a very rude awakening.

    6. Liane*

      Yes, that deserved an LOL.

      OP, I do think you were “cool” (Just not the way Intern meant it!) about handling the intern. You didn’t go ballistic and give her a screaming lecture (optional “You’re outta here!” ending). You explained what she’d done wrong, why it was wrong, and the right way to deal with this kind of thing.

    7. Seriously?*

      Yeah. The intern completely missed the point. It isn’t about not offending the OP, it is about what is generally considered acceptable behavior in the workplace. Making jokes about violence, even when not alarming or personally offensive, is a super bad idea at work.

    8. blackcat*

      Dude, that’s what a student said to me when I lectured him on email etiquette.

      He was 16. He got a pass (with a lecture, of course).

      I was 22, fresh out of school, and knew damn well that “coolness” has no place in determining workplace behavior. I suspect my age was the entire reason for him saying I was cool. I was 10+ years younger than his other teachers. I am entirely *not* cool. I am about as square as they come.

      1. Nea*

        Thank you so much for that lecture. I worked at one point with a group of people who were all about “being cool” to the major detriment of being professional. No, you don’t get to put profanity in the briefings “because that’s keeping it real”!

        Not a day went by when I didn’t have to actively stifle the urge to scream “I’m so sorry the cheerleaders wouldn’t date you, but you’re in an office now!”

    9. Alton*

      I got the impression that “cool” in this instance might have meant that the intern picked up on the fact that the OP was on the same side as her, politically (or at least assumed she was). Not necessarily that she saw the OP as “cool” in the sense of being lenient. It sounds like she didn’t realize that the way she expressed herself was unprofessional regardless of whether the OP was sympathetic to the sentiment.

    10. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Ditto to this.

      [I also want to say thank you to the universe that my teenager has a non-academic, competes-with-other-people-for-the-position, summer job both this year and last and will possibly have a part-time job during the school term — all of which are teaching those “soft” skills in addition to other useful things. I don’t want them to be coddled until graduation and then suddenly have to learn all that. I suppose that there’s lots of ways that can happen, but I find the idea of being 27 and not having those skills already terrifying.]

    11. OP*

      OP once again. The cool thing made me laugh, too, and I almost burst into laughter when she said it to me, which wouldn’t have been great in the context of our larger conversation. But it was such a plaintive lament: ‘I thought you were cool…’.

      1. Marion Ravenwood*

        I can actually imagine the tone of voice in my head, like a slightly whiny popular-girl-type character in a bad teen movie.

    12. mimsie*

      I think the OP handled the response very well! I really don’t know if I would have been able to give such a composed, level, *cool* answer.

  8. Cordoba*

    I’m surprised that ~8-10 years of college hasn’t taught more skills that would transfer to a paid job. “Show up on time and do things you don’t want to” are part of most undergrad and graduate programs, right?

    I would expect that the occasional rare intern would not have picked up on this, but not that it’s something that comes up “many times” with them.

    I don’t doubt that the LW’s description of this is accurate, but I’m amazed that people can spend so much time and money on an education and not pick up these sorts of fundamental things.

    1. Snark*

      You’re not wrong, but a grad student is usually much more in charge of determining their area of interest, making their own schedule, working when they want, and so on. Nobody cared when I came and went from the lab, and I was there because I wanted to be.

      1. Emily K*

        Yes, it took me 5+ years in the professional working world to attain the same degree of autonomy and flexibility I had enjoyed as a graduate assistant, where I set my own hours, worked from any location I chose, and had unlimited vacation days, so long as my work (primarily data analysis) was completed on time and satisfactorily.

      2. Amber T*

        Didn’t go to grad school, but I feel like I learned a lot of those things in undergrad? Like, I didn’t want to take a literature or a science class, but they were part of the gen-ed requirement, so I had to. I didn’t really want to write a term paper on a topic I had no interest in, but it was due by the end of the semester, so I had to. Really didn’t want to take that 8:10 class three times a week my senior year, but it was the only available one and I couldn’t graduate on time otherwise, so I had to.

        1. Snark*

          Based on my observations as an instructor, you were probably one of the more conscientious and self-aware undergrads. Lot of my students just….didn’t show up, if they didn’t feel like it. And half-assed their way through any class that didn’t thrill them or wouldn’t get them a job.

          1. sarah*

            Agree, of course there are lots of conscientious students! But there are also plenty who coast through college on the type of behavior that would get someone fired from almost any job–like, it’s one thing to miss work (most jobs have some type of PTO) or be late on a deadline, but I don’t know of many jobs where it would be acceptable to skip work without ever notifying your boss, only to turn up 4 weeks later and assume you can get a “do over.” Or where you can not only be late on deadlines, but do so without ever communicating with your boss about the situation ahead of time, and skip some work all together.

            What does surprise me here is that I don’t assume these are the students going on to graduate school…

          2. Observation*

            And half-assed their way through any class that didn’t thrill them or wouldn’t get them a job

            ^But that’s rational behavior. I was doing cutting edge political science research as an undergrad, to the point of getting cited by some big names. I concurrently had to fulfill my natural sciences requirement, which I did by taking a course in geology. I will quite openly say that I half-assed my way through geology in favor of my areas of academic interest. It was the right decision and I don’t regret it for a moment.

        2. Emily K*

          Most of us who end up in graduate school ended up there because college was very easy for us. It was my experience as a straight-A honor student that I barely had to show up to class to be able to ace the exams, and I could throw together papers half-assedly the morning they were due and still get an A. Sure, I still did things I didn’t want to do and all that stuff, but generally speaking I coasted through college and didn’t develop much self-discipline.

          Graduate school was harder, but it was still the kind of environment where I had a lot more flexibility, autonomy, and negotiating power than an entry-level professional usually has.

          (I also worked retail and food service throughout high school and undergrad, so luckily college/grad school wasn’t the only thing I had to rely on to have taught me work skills.)

          1. AMPG*

            I found when I was in grad school that you could tell who had come straight from undergrad and who had spent at least some time working full time first, just based on how highly they prioritized “real world” deliverables.

          2. uranus wars*

            These are basically my thoughts. I did well in undergrad and (mostly) went to my classes, but I still created a schedule that allowed me the ability to sleep in at least 3 days a week and to work most nights in food service. One semester my junior year I only took classes on Tuesday/Thursday…it’s just so flexible, even fitting in the requirements.

            I went back to grad school after 13 years of FT professional work, went to 20 hours a week consulting so I could finish my degree in a year and flex both schedules as needed. I graduated 3 years ago and while it’s better now I have to admit I struggled going back to a traditional 7:30 – 4 office job.

          3. Falling Diphthong*

            This is a good point–I coasted through high school getting As with no effort, and then in college abruptly had to develop study habits. Which based on my straight A nerddom observers might have assumed I had, even excelled at. I love my kids’ high school (which is a lot like a small college) because they can’t coast and had to learn how to have study habits a lot earlier than I did.

        3. Muriel Heslop*

          My undergrad had an attendance requirement, if you can believe. My advisor said it was so we would all learn to get up every day and go where we are supposed to because that is what our jobs would expect.

          1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

            The classes I teach have attendance requirements too- lots of students simply don’t show up sometimes.

            1. blackcat*


              I use clickers for big classes, so it’s super easy to take attendance and count it.

          2. Alton*

            At least in the US, I think the main point of undergrad attendance requirements isn’t to teach students dependability but because it’s one metric by which to measure if someone has actually earned a diploma from that institution. It’s the same reason a lot of universities have a cap on the number of transfer credits they’ll accept–they can’t justify issuing you a diploma if you received hardly any credits from them–and why open online courses that anyone can sign up for and follow along with virtually aren’t usually taken as seriously. Necessary or not, receiving instruction from a professor and participating in class are seen as necessary components of earning a degree.

        4. Emilia Bedelia*

          But you can also just show up and do the bare minimum in school, with few repercussions. I fully admit to dragging myself to 8 am 300-person Chemistry I lectures and reading Reddit through all of them. I did pretty badly on a few homework assignments, but the only person who cared was me – there was no boss coming to me saying “60% on this quiz is not acceptable, please redo”.

          Even my on-campus jobs throughout college prioritized my classes. It was very easy for me to call out on days when I had an important exam or something.
          The level of external accountability is really quite different between a job and school.

      3. Business Cat*

        Yeah, I have an interesting perspective on this currently. My husband is finishing his PhD and it required him to move to a new location for a year of internship (specific discipline requirement). We already moved, but he hasn’t started yet, meanwhile I’m working remotely for my existing corporate job. So currently both me and my husband are working remotely, even using similar tools as I’m a data analyst and he is working on the data analysis for his dissertation. All that to say, our days look so different. He can wake up whenever, while I keep standard business hours. I’m in meetings every day, where for him, its rare and considered more annoying. My husband is an agreeable and competent guy, so he could make the transition to industry successfully if he wanted, as could a number of other people in his program…but, there’s a good number of his cohort for whom it would be a much rougher transition, especially since often people self selected into the academic work environment for a reason, and for everyone it would still be a transition.

        1. Jen*

          My spouse has his PhD but also works in industry. His is a very practical heavy field and he has learned from experience to be wary of PhDs who have never had any kind of work outside of academia such as an internship or similar. Actual work experience is crucial and he has worked with a few people who are in their 30s and only been in the academia bubble. A lot of them don’t work out.

          1. Jen*

            To be clear, in his particular field (a specific type of engineering) the difference between academia and practical work is HUGE and it is very very common to take on interns/co-op in both college and graduate school for fully paid positions. My spouse comes from a low-income background and co-op was how he afforded college.

      4. Tau*

        I remember that when I started working after my PhD, it seemed like the weirdest thing ever. I’d spent close to a decade at uni that point, i.e. working in an independent and self-directed way with very little external oversight or direction. This being something that did not come easily to me at all, but I grit my teeth and persevered and struggled and managed to write, submit and successfully defend my thesis all the same. At which point, having proved I could handle this super-self-directed work if I had to, I started a job where it was “OK, you have to be here between 8:30 and 9:00 am and leave between 5:00 and 5:30 pm and take at least half an hour lunch break” – more external structure than I’d had since high school! It felt so backwards.

        1. Observation*

          And yet despite all this No Good, Terrible, Very Bad Lack of Structure in academia, our academic institutions are world-leading and produce amazing, commercializable research.

          Perhaps companies would do well to emulate the academic environment. Indeed, I commend companies like Netflix that practice “holacracy” for this very reason.

      5. Triple Anon*

        Yes. And I think the consequences are often different. It would be unusual to get kicked out of school for being habitually late to class or making emotionally-infused comments about politics. But you can lose a job over those things.

    2. There is a Life Outside the Library*

      I’ve known a few people who “spend so much time and money on an education” almost in order NOT to “not pick up these sorts of fundamental things.” That is definitely not the case of everyone- but I have definitely known people who are eternally students because they can’t face the real world.

      1. Emily K*

        This was absolutely me. I applied for grad school when the idea of working a 9-5 office job seemed unbearable to college me. I dropped out after two years without getting my degree, but I did get something else out of my time there – two years of grad school made me ready to finally leave academia.

        While I loved the flexibility and unlimited vacation, I was also overworked and spent a lot of weekends/vacations working – suddenly, a 9-5 job went from “omg I can’t bear the thought of being trapped somewhere for 40 hours a week” to “gee, it will be so nice to have evenings and weekends where I’m not obligated to work on anything!”

        1. Tau*

          It took something like a year for the reflexive guilt to fade, for me. Saturday evening, my hindbrain starts up “why are you lounging around playing video games, you should be-”

          Me: “I should be doing what, exactly?”

          Hindbrain: “…er…”

          Me: “I have a 9-5 job and it’s outside working hours right now.”

          Hindbrain: *shuts up*

          Best part of working regular hours, for me. I think I went years without guilt-free time off.

          1. Blue*

            Allll of this. I left grad school after year 5 (got an MA but bailed on the PhD), and I found that the rigid structure of office life was both the best and worst thing about the transition. I missed being able to do errands and things like that in the middle of the day – that flexibility was always a major perk of life as a grad student. But the lack of balance, the working around the clock, the feeling of guilt when I did something fun instead of working, etc. really, really wore on me. Once I got over the guilt, being able to walk away at 5:00 was THE BEST and totally worth getting in at 8:30 everyday.

          2. Environmental Compliance*

            ^Yes. It took me a few months to feel okay with just doing….whatever. I didn’t need to check my email for student questions, or be up until 2AM regrading because Prof changed something in the answer key, or responding to student texts, etc. etc.

          3. Emily K*

            Too funny – I actually developed a sort of Pavlovian guilt response to consuming alcohol for similar reasons. I couldn’t distinguish between feeling intoxicated and feeling guilty!

    3. Lady Jay*

      I was a little surprised too! I have my master’s degree, worked in higher ed for seven years, and am returning for a PhD this fall. And wherever I am, the requirements are pretty much the same: fill out paperwork, teach the course assignments I’m given, follow departmental/workplace expectations without going rogue, be polite to people. Given that higher ed is increasingly sensitive to identifying and dealing with violence and sexual harassment in the wake of Michigan State and #MeToo and Missoula, the intern’s comment about “punching and punching and punching” would nothave gone over well with any supervisor or superior worth her salt.

      1. biobottt*

        In my experience of academia, filling out paperwork (on time), following departmental expectations (what expectations?) and being polite were not at all requirements.

    4. Jack Be Nimble*

      Working in universities insulates you from the “real world” to an astounding degree. It’s a very different culture, and a certain amount of eccentricity is almost a given, even if you work in administration (and miles away from anything particularly academic). I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but the professional norms are wildly different!

      When I worked in university administration I had a coworker who regularly laid on the floor during meetings and sometimes cried openly…

      1. IJustWorkHere*

        This a good point. I’ve also found that as I’ve advanced as a grad student, the roles of professors/mentors/colleagues/friends have become more and more blurred. I can see how someone who has spent a lot of time in academia might mistake where the line is between “this person is my supervisor and I have to be professional when speaking to them” and “this person is my mentor/friend and I don’t have to censor myself so much around them.” Hopefully the intern will learn from this; not all supervisors will be as understanding as it sounds like the OP was.

        1. Dankar*

          I remember the first time I went out for drinks with my professor and cohort. That was eye-opening for someone who still called her mentor Dr.[Last Name].

          By the end of the program, we were all going out after class every week, and the line between professors/mentors/colleagues/friends was obliterated. I had an incredible grad experience, but I do think that someone less entrenched in professional norms would be disadvantaged by seeing that sort of a dynamic on a regular basis.

          Thesis defense at the local bar was incredible, though!

      2. Rock Prof*

        While working at a university certainly has its quirks, including those different professional norms and expectations of astonishing levels of flexibility and autonomy (which are certainly sometimes exploited by faculty and staff), it’s still 100% the real world.

        1. uranus wars*

          Which is the exact opposite of what I experienced at one of the institutions I worked in. I was in administration but our director literally stood in the lobby every single morning and commented if you walked in the door at 8:32. Lunch ran over by 10 minutes? – you either stayed 10 minutes late or left 5 minutes early and took 15 minutes of PTO. (she would actually work late with you to make sure you didn’t skip out at 5:07 instead of 5:10)

          It was crazy pants.

        2. Jack Be Nimble*

          You’re absolutely right! I threw quotes around “the real world” because I hoped to indicate a bit of a facetiousness, which clearly didn’t come across! Universities are very much real world, even though there are different norms and expectations.

      3. Blue*

        What?! I work in higher ed and have some stories, but that’s next level. I used to work with a woman who – before my time in the office – had a back injury and once laid on the floor in the back of the room during an all-staff meeting because sitting or standing was too uncomfortable that day, and people STILL talk about it.

        I do think that everyone in academia, especially faculty, should be required to work in a non-university setting for a minimum of six months before working in higher ed. (I’m kind of kidding about this, but only kind of.) I’ve known some students who were pretty out of touch with reality who wanted to go straight into grad school and on to academia, and I strongly urged each of them to at least get professional internship experiences while a student so they’d have some exposure to actual work norms (and then I crossed my fingers that they had supervisors like OP, who’d actually teach them things!)

    5. sleepwakehopeandthen*

      Yeah, my PhD advisor cares not at all about my work schedule as long as I get things done at a somewhat reasonable rate (and his idea of a reasonable rate is lower than mine, because I want to graduate while he is less concerned with the speed at which that happens). I haven’t set at alarm for work in at least a year, except on the rare occasion that I have a weird-timed experiment. I just—go to work when I go to work (this week I’ve been showing up around 9-10 and have been beating my labmate by literally hours). And if you aren’t in a lab-based grad school, you can often have even more flexibility (as in, I still have to GO to lab, because I can’t work elsewhere, and many of my experiments have specific timelines, but I know non-lab based grad students who can and do work anywhere). It will definitely be a transition when I start working a real job, and need to do things like ask for time off (instead of just informing people) and show up on time. (Which, like I am prepared to do these things, but I did not have to learn any of them in grad school).

      Also, I was far more scheduled regularly in undergrad, because classes had specific times, but after 5 years, I’ve lost the habits a bit.

    6. Sara without an H*

      Depending on the program, it could be quite possible for a graduate student to create a cocoon in which she interacted mostly with people who shared her own views. If her financial support was adequate, she might not have had to take a paying job that would force her to mix with people who weren’t part of the academic community.

      When I was in grad school, I worked for various temp agencies, which kept my office skills current and got me out of the grad school bubble on a regular basis. Looking back, it was the best thing I could have done.

    7. Cassandra*

      I teach undergrads and (professional-program) grad students. There are quite a few reasons professionalization and workplace socialization might not happen in the course of higher education:

      * Assumptions that “they know this already; we don’t have to teach it.” Lurking underneath these is often an unspoken “teaching this is Beneath Us, Great Brains That We Are.” (The program I teach in is better than this, but we’re… not as typical as I wish we were. I’ve been a student in programs that were just the worst for this style of gross snobbery.)

      * No-win catch-22, commonly from alumni: if we do explicit professionalization in our classwork, we’re “not rigorous enough,” but if we don’t, we’re “not setting students up to succeed.”

      * Student free will crossed with (I’m sorry to say this, but I have indeed seen it) Dunning-Kruger syndrome in some students regarding their work-readiness. We can’t always make them take the coursework or do the out-of-class professionalization work (e.g. attending resume/cover-letter clinics) they most need. (“Make everybody take it!” is not a solution because many students don’t need it, so requiring it wastes their time and money.)

      * Widespread disdain for academic internships. This is actually pretty common from the AAM commentariat — “how dare higher ed charge tuition money for an internship?!” (My answer: locating suitable internship sites, convincing them to take on students, making matches, communicating expectations both to sites and students, handling problems when they crop up, being agony aunts, doing behind-the-scenes professionalization advising — all of this is work, and all of it is done by people we pay.)

      We could be doing better than we are. We can always be doing better than we are! But this one isn’t as simple as it may look.

    8. Canarian*

      Higher education is often theory based. Contrary to your comment, I’d actually expect a person who had spent 8-10 years in an institution that encourages and nurtures critical thinking to have problems with “show up on time” for example if “on time” is an arbitrary time of day that doesn’t really affect the quality or timeliness of the work. That’s not to defend them necessarily, but to say sometimes in spending a lot of time and money on education you pick up so much beyond fundamentals that you can very easily lose sight of fundamentals.

    9. Biuwee*

      Showing up on time was much, much important at school than it is at work. As long as I put in my 8 hours, it doesn’t matter when I show up. Everyone at my office comes to work at a different time every day and this was true at my previous job, too. In high school (not in the US) I would get penalties for being late.

    10. Oxford Comma*

      1. A lot of undergrads and masters’ level students today have actually not amassed as much real world experience as you might think. And of those who have, a lot will never have worked in an office.
      2. Some college programs do teach professional behavior. In my experience, those tend to be for professional degrees (e.g. pharmacy, business, nursing). I don’t think the standard academic programs offer this.
      3. Even if the students are taking those courses or are being told that information, it doesn’t mean they retain it or know that it applies in other circumstances — their brains are still developing until what? their very early 20s? I work with a lot of graduate students. They all have written at least one academic paper as undergrads and probably several in high school, but it’s like the lessons they learned have been sucked from their brains and they’re doing this stuff for the very first time.

  9. Granny K*

    Great update. I’m a bit floored at the end of the letter, where the OP writes that some of the graduate students don’t have a real job until they are 27-28… Granted I only got a BA but I’ve pulling a paycheck since I was 16. (FYI: I’m from a middle class family and didn’t get any allowance so if we wanted anything outside of what my dad was willing to pay, we had to pay for it ourselves.)
    It’s kind of hard for me to wrap my mind around this… !!

    1. Snark*

      It’s not uncommon for a grad student to be on a teaching or research assistantship, which pays a stipend, so they may have had jobs and work study and so forth. But I’m not sure why it’s hard to wrap your mind around.

      1. Murphy*

        Yeah, grad school is VERY different from having a job.

        I certainly had jobs earlier in life, but they were student jobs. I didn’t get my first “career” type job until I was 27, and prior to that my only office job experience was a summer internship where I really didn’t get any direction or mentoring.

        1. Snark*

          And, and!, you’re also working with academics, many of whom have….uh…..underdeveloped….soft skills.

          That was a nice way for me to put it.

          1. Murphy*

            Indeed! I work at a university now, so still dealing with that in fact! I haven’t had anyone threaten to punch anyone else, but I’ve definitely received some high school level excuses and requests for exemptions from the rules.

          2. Gloucesterina*


            I have actually learned a lot of ‘soft’ skills in the course of my graduate work, which speaks (1) to the low level at which I started; and (2) to the value of the various jobs I had off to the side from research, like teaching 18-year-olds how to college, as well as other more admin/consulting-skills-centric roles.

            1. WS*

              Yeah, the admin work that I did for the university while doing a grad degree was probably the most valuable work experience I got overall – the tasks themselves were easy but dealing with the top tier academics was hard, hard work!

          3. Jen*

            In law it is also extremely rare to have someone come out of law school without some kind of internship or legal job. You would be extremely skeptical of someone with no experience at all.

            1. Snark*

              The equivalent in academic science would be lab or field studies, which is valuable scientific experience, but which doesn’t prepare you AT ALL for a regular workplace.

          4. ArtsNerd*

            Your diplomacy is commendable. (Thinks back to graduate fellowship work; shudders.) It was so bad, I actually resigned from my fellowship, which was unprecedented but an excellent decision. Especially once I realized they were misleading us about the tuition remission being tied to the work component… it wasn’t.

    2. Anon Accountant*

      We were both writing at the same time.

      AAM- not to derail the thread or go off topic but can there be a post discussing why students should have jobs while in school to teach some work skills? Even if it’s just a lesson if “do your work and communicate politely when you disagree”?

        1. Lady Jay*

          Depends on what you count as a “job.” My teaching assistantships have always seemed very like a job to me, and taught the same lessons that early-career jobs teach.

          1. Snark*

            Mine too, but a lot of programs don’t offer those – museum studies interns might just be on funded RAs, or just doing student loans, for example. And it still felt like a sideline to my “real” work.

            1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

              Well, even TAs- I was head TA of a course for several semesters before I got an RA, and it’s just astounding how many TAs just blow off requirements and get at most a warning that if they screw up too many more times their pay *might* be docked. And even that depends on how much the actual instructor cares to follow up with TPTB. My friend is head TA for another course where nobody gets so much as a warning for *not showing up to grade exams*. It’s hit or miss.

              1. Lady Jay*

                That’s so weird to me. In my field at least (rhetoric and writing), being a TA is equivalent to being a teacher, and there would be Trouble-with-a-capital-T if I blew off requirements, made up my own requirements or course syllabus, or didn’t grade exams. Basically, the course wouldn’t be complete without my work.

                1. Libervermis*

                  I’m with you on it being unthinkable to just not show up or blow off requirements when TAing/teaching, but I will say that a number of my grad-school colleagues are not particularly effective teachers and my program has very little orientation or oversight unless you specifically request it. So in some ways my complaints would be a half-step up in terms of how foundational to be a Working Adult they seem to me – my colleagues show up on time and turn in grades, but are unable to give feedback without condescension, for example, or take feedback themselves.

                  When I taught in rhet/comp there was a lot more orientation and oversight, thank goodness, but also a programmatic allergy to considering outcomes in any way when assessing and a tendency to assume that if you Thought Deeply about something it was probably a good idea.

                  Sounds like your experience might be different, which gives me hope!

                2. Lady Jay*


                  My MA program included some teacher training, including partnering new grad students up with established instructors (usually not TT faculty but nevertheless very stable departmental features). We met with them to have our lesson plans reviewed, and before we turned back our first batch of papers, somebody else had to look at them for us, make sure the feedback we were giving was okay. So there was a good amount of oversight.

                  That said, I failed miserably at teaching in my first year. Many of my colleagues did great. I didn’t, and wound up basically teaching myself to teach that summer and over the next few years working at a small college in the midwest.

                  In retrospect, my master’s institution was likely stronger than most. We had a great cohort of graduate students who supported each other and were willing to come into my class and give me feedback when I was having trouble. Plus, there was no PhD, only an MA there, so we got a lot of faculty attention. I think more robust demonstration of basic teaching skills, such as writing feedback and designing rubrics, along with some debunking of teaching myths (e.g. giving lots of low grades is a sign of a hard, good teacher) would be helpful.

                  I’m too new to the PhD at my new institution to tell how teaching is handled there, but based on my interactions with current students, I’m hopeful? Fingers crossed, since first-year comp is my love.

        2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          Just as an aside, I’m a graduate student and we’re barred from seeking employment without the direct approval of our PI.

          1. Asleep or maybe dead*

            Yes, thank you.
            My fiance has been in research labs since undergrad. They do research and occasionally teaching assistant for classes minimally related to their field.
            One of the conditions on their contract is that he cannot hold any kind of parallel job, not even part time, else they must refund all the money. I’ve never seen a funding contract without this clause in my country.
            They’re 30 and never held a non-academic job. That’s fairly common.

          2. Anon Accountant*

            That’s interesting. I’d never known anyone who was under similar requirements.

            1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

              From what I understand, they’re very common in PhD programs (maybe research-based masters’ programs as well?) They don’t want us to have our priorities divided.

            2. Lynn*

              Law students are not allowed to hold jobs during their first year in the vast majority of schools. A lot of older students ignore that rule, but it’s still in place.

            3. Marion Ravenwood*

              In the UK, Oxford and Cambridge don’t allow undergrad students to have part-time jobs during term (or at least not when I applied, but that’s over 10 years ago now). That said, they also have shorter terms – eight weeks rather than 10 – so the workload is more intense and focused over a shorter period of time.

          3. Anonymosity*

            This must be funding-specific. I went to grad school for a few years (education program), and I worked full-time while attending evening classes, the same as I did in undergrad school. The only thing that would have kept me from working was student teaching, but I quit before I got to it. But I had loans and a few grants, not fellowships or anything like that.

          1. Snark*

            Some do. But making it a general requirement would be a nonstarter. I did field and lab work year-round.

          2. Emily K*

            I would wager you’re probably in a sort of applied program? Something that makes you more employable outside of academia?

            Those applied/working professional degree programs are very different from the ones that groom students for academic careers. In the academic-oriented programs you typically take 15 hours a week of credit hours, which comes with about 30 hours a week of studying/homework, and a 15-20 hour a week research assistantship for which you are paid enough poverty wages that they can make you sign a contract agreeing not to take on outside work.

            1. LaurenB*

              “Grad school” is a pretty useless term and this discussion illustrates why. There’s a big difference between a professional master’s and a PhD (I actually found my library science degree was more like my undergrad experience than my MA) and it’s pointless for people working in labs to be arguing with M.Ed students about who has time to work.

              1. biobottt*

                I think it must also be field-specific. In my field, grad school was work. You had to be in lab full time to get the data on which to build your thesis. It would have been bizarre if we were expected to have another job outside of that.

              2. ArtsNerd*

                +1,000. Even in my professional program it varied based on personal situations, loans, etc. Some of my classmates worked full time; some didn’t hold any jobs until after their degree, figuring the practical classwork was good enough. With my fellowship, I could have scraped by without working off-campus during the school year but didn’t* and I’m so glad I was able to make all the fuckups I did when I was still in school.

                *much to the chagrin of my father, who seems to think the best education-to-employment track is founded on the student never holding a job while they are studying, ever. Was this ever true?

        3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Huh, that’s interesting. I think graduate programs vary widely in whether it’s appropriate/possible/a good idea/etc. to work during them.

          I worked 15 hours/week during my (full-time, prestigious) graduate program (MPP). I don’t know how many of my fellow students also worked, but it certainly wasn’t an oddity that I did. My husband, in a different field (MBA), could not possibly have worked while attending his full-time, prestigious graduate program.

          1. HRM*

            I actually did my MBA part time while working and it was TORTURE for 3 years. Just finished 6 weeks ago. I can’t express how much more free time I have and how much less stress I am under.

        4. Tau*

          I don’t believe anyone in my cohort worked during their PhD with the exception of tutoring. I’m not sure we were allowed to take unrelated side jobs at all, and I’m certain my supervisor would have been deeply unhappy with me if I had.

          Disclaimer: my PhD was in a STEM subject, and the general rule of thumb I heard was that if you were good enough to be doing a PhD you’d be good enough to land a fully-funded scholarship. Self-funding was frowned on. I got the impression this worked out differently in the humanities, which often had less funding available.

          1. Lady Jay*

            Humanities academic here: We’re told *very strongly* not to go on for graduate work without a full ride, and in my experience, most people who go on have funding.

            (That being said, funding is paltry as usual, especially for master’s students.)

      1. J.*

        When I was a grad student, I had a clause in my fellowship contract that prohibited me from taking outside work. I did it under the table anyway, there was no way I could live on my stipend alone, but if I’d been found out it would have been a problem.

        Not to say that a fellowship isn’t work, but TA and RA and other academic jobs are different from the usual type of office environment that’s typically discussed around here.

      2. Dragoning*

        A lot of full-time students don’t have time for jobs…and I did have time for a job in college not-that-long ago, and they weren’t exactly hanging off trees.

      3. Kate R*

        “Even if it’s just a lesson if “do your work and communicate politely when you disagree”?”

        TBH, I don’t understand why students aren’t learning this in K-12. Even before I went to college, I was expected to get to school on time (and be there all day), complete my work, and communicate respectfully with other students and teachers. I get why everyone thinks holding a summer job is so important, but really there is a whole lot of life that should be teaching you responsibility and “soft skills”.

        1. Luna*

          Exactly, and also even though many faculty don’t have great soft skills themselves, you better believe most of them expect to be spoken to politely by their grad students.

      4. TootsNYC*

        or to develop some sort of professional references?

        High school summers are the best time to start–it’s one of the things I screwed up as a parent. I found it hard to envision my kid getting a job, here in NYC. All the grocery store baggers are grownups, etc. I seldom see high-school students working. (Maybe I just don’t go to the mall enough)

        1. Anon Accountant*

          I used my grocery store manager as a “professional reference” when applying for my internships and a post-college job. They wanted references from a supervisor and he fit the bill. :)

      5. pleaset*

        I has a fellowship for my first masters degree that was ostensibly worth a lot – full tuition plus a small living stipend that almost covered rent. I only had to do my schoolwork, and that was pretty independent. So apart from being a good speaker in classes that valued participation, there were no “work skills” involved.

        My second degree I paid for myself, with a small fellowship covering a little of tuition. But in that program several classes had serious group work where, even if it wasn’t the same as reporting to a manager, we really had to perform in terms of good communication/collaboration skills with each other and the professor.

        These were both professional degrees BTW. And the school pushed internships while at school, so that would help with professional skills.

        In academic degrees, I think grad students in the sciences and social sciences who are either working in a lab or collaborating on projects or studies get some practice on collaboration that could be quite useful.

      6. Oxford Comma*

        That won’t work with many many graduate level programs.

        They aren’t supposed to hold outside jobs, and I think in some cases, they can be booted from their programs for doing so without permission.

    3. MamaCat*

      Depends on the degree program, frankly; some don’t leave time for many paying jobs. Mine took a lot of evenings and weekends, so I only ever had paying work during the summers. Luckily my evening projects could go on my resume, at least.

      1. QA Mini*

        This was my program too. I was never able to be in school and work at the same time. That said, I was lucky to have jobs in the summer break. I say lucky here because I do think it’s worth remembering that during the recession (2009-2011ish) in many places there just were not jobs for students around. There are lots of cases where people just chose not to work but that is not the case for many of my friends who would now be the same age as the student worker in this post.

    4. Wet Bacon*

      Same here. Never knew there are people that are almost 30 and never ever ever had a job before? That’s weirdly interesting.

      1. April Ludgate*

        I think it depends on the degree field. I went to grad school for an MBA and HR, all of the classes were at night, and it was pretty boring without a job. Most classmates had jobs and were returning to school after working for a while. I went straight from high school to undergrad then to grad school. I had a job while in undergrad, and also started another one toward the end of grad school.

      2. blackcat*

        My brother is 34 and has never had a job.

        He “works” in an artistic field and does some freelance work. He is 90% supported by my parents. They paid for his MFA (which took him 6 years! in a 3 year program!). He would totally balk at showing up on time. I suspect he would have used almost identical words to this intern if he was expected to do work for a similar politician.

        These people exist. Many of them have wealthy parents who subsidize them.

        (FWIW, I didn’t have a job in high school, also b/c my parents were happy to pay for things I needed. But I volunteered starting up a non-profit for 2 years at the end of high school. I volunteered 15-20 hours/week during the school year and ~40 during the summer. I ran events, organized volunteers, met with donors, etc, and generally hid my age per my boss’s requests–I looked older than I was if I dressed right. While I was highly competent, it didn’t look good to have a 17 year old the only other person running the org for a while. By the time I started college, I had brought in enough $$ to fund a FT replacement for myself. So there’s a HUGE range of “never worked.”)

      3. Holly*

        Some fields require more schooling than others. Even doctors do not start their “real job” until 30 or later – they do 4 years of medical school, 3 years of residency, and often another 1-3 years of fellowship or more!

    5. ArchivesGremilin*

      I didn’t have a full time job until I was 30. I worked part time jobs (sometimes more than one, like in grad school) but I didn’t get my first full time job until after grad school. So it’s not uncommon, especially for some of the humanities type degrees like museum studies, or library science

    6. LawBee*

      I have a friend whose now-20s children have literally never held even a part-time after school job, and for no reason that I can determine. They’re going to be shocked when they enter the workforce.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I live in a place where there really are no part-time after-school jobs. Travel from school took so long that there wasn’t any time left, really–and he’d have had to travel to the job too! And I had a kid who struggled with staying focused on homework, so I wasn’t going to junk his evening up with more distractions.

        But I do wish I’d realized what was happening, and insisted on summer jobs of some sort. There just aren’t so many obvious ones for 16-y-o’s in NYC (all the baggers at the grocery store are adults; I think I assumed they would never hire kids).

        I’d even forgotten, really about my having part-time jobs through my Office Studies classes in high school, and a paper route, etc. None of those options existed in my and my kids’ world.

        1. Carlie*

          It’s really tough in some parts of the country. There are so many workers compared to jobs where I live that most part-time positions have raised their minimum age to 18, so high schoolers aren’t eligible at all. Then at college-age, nobody hires for summers only so kids home for the summer miss out. In college, they’re stuck on campus so if they don’t snag a campus job (which all the students are trying to get), out of luck there too.

    7. Academic Addie*

      I think the OP is probably using “job” as in a job where you show up, get told what to do, and do it without much arguing. Most graduate students have worked for pay. Perhaps they were teaching assistants, where they might run lab sessions with basically no oversight, or research assistants, where they might have freedom to set their own schedule and determine appropriate experimental procedure. About half of my graduate program had never worked retail or in an office, or whatever. Individuals’ educational attainment is still often predictable by their parents’ educational attainment, and many of my peers were from wealthier backgrounds than I, and never needed a job for pocket money or to support themselves in high school or undergrad.

    8. SLR*

      This stood out to me as well Granny K. I too had my first job at 16, worked part time either on campus or someplace else all during my university years. To get to the age of 27, regardless of whether you’ve gone directly from undergrad to graduate studies & NOT ever once having any kind of job shows either the absolute privilege of these particular students or something else I can’t quite place. I knew plenty of kids at my university on full scholarships who had some kind of job, especially while on summer or winter breaks. The idea of being 27 or 28 with not even that is difficult to me as well to comprehend.

      1. medium of ballpoint*

        A lot of times it’s privilege, but sometimes it’s not. For example, I know a fair number of students whose loans drive their educational decisions. You can defer your loans while you’re in school and while a lot of people would like to get some work experience between undergrad and grad school, they can’t afford the loan payment in the interim with a bachelor’s degree salary. Sometimes the best thing to do is sprint straight through as quickly as they can, which doesn’t always leave room for a job, and wait for a terminal degree job to start paying those loans back.

      2. Book Badger*

        I talked about this upthread, but in my neck of the (literal) woods, having any kind of job requires a car: there’s no public transit and no sidewalks (or things within walking distance at all, really). That means you need the money for gas and repairs, as well as the car itself. I’ve never had a car, because my family can’t afford even a cheap one for me.

        And at my university, only the poorest kids got campus jobs, because they were required to. Having a campus job was part of your financial aid package, like scholarships or loans. You could technically apply for campus jobs independently, but all the slots went to the kids to which they were assigned first; the only job that was open to anybody was artist’s model.

    9. blackcat*

      There have been many articles recently about how many fewer teens (of all income levels) are working than in the past. I will look for a link, but I do know this has changed significant even since I was a teen (I am 30).

      1. blackcat*

        Bureau of labor statistics to the rescue! Teen employment fell of a cliff in 2008 and hasn’t recovered. Someone who is 27ish was likely still in high school then. I suspect that this is a big cultural difference between older Millennials and younger. Summer/after school employment was the norm for folks now in their early 30s, and not for folks now in their mid 20s.


        1. Emily K*

          This is really fascinating and something I’d never given much thought to. I’ve always thought the biggest difference between my old Millennial cohort and the rest of the Millennials was that we got lost driving around without GPS as teenagers, but this is a real contender.

      2. AdminX2*

        Which just makes sense if you look at the factors- malls and former typical teen job places are closed so there’s a lot less available, a lot of older people are getting jobs to supplement retirement and other financial hardships from the crash so they take the ones left, teens are expected to overwork and overstudy and overactivity so there’s no time, a lot of places have curfews which hinder options, plus a strong thread of parents living up to their own expectations of providing everything for the kids.

        All of which continues to push “full maturation” further and further, which is fine in theory given life expectancy rates continue to rise, but not so much when people keep asking why youngins aren’t having houses and cars and kids and expected to support in ways previous generations did even though those generations dismantled and mangled the support systems which enabled those to exist in the first place.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I think it’s worth noting that one kid in a family can be very reliable, or spoilt, or some other adjective that you think has to do with Sound Parenting, and then you meet their siblings and it turns out one kid is an outlier. People can have the same broad experience and draw different things from it. Or as my spouse put it re a hobby, you can have 20 years of experience, or 1 year of experience 20 times.

    10. AdminX2*

      I’m a more lower class background but it was taken that my (over) achieving in high school to get a full ride plus was my job cause there was no other way I’d be able to go to college. It probably would have behooved me to do SOME intership or real job during undergrad, but I didn’t need to cause I had my full ride plus so I just enjoyed being in a place that finally appreciated people thinking and asking questions for the first time. So heading out at 22 I was very scared and clueless to leave the ivory tower bubble.
      I’m very glad now I got out when I did and I’ve been fine, but I understand the process.

        1. Jen*

          It’s funny because I was raised by two highly educated parents and both pushed working. My Dad had joined the Navy to pay for medical school and my mom taught to pay for graduate school.

          I was expected to perform well in school, but also they were very clear that they paid only a certain amount and anything over that was to come from me (from my college jobs and some loans). I ended up working a lot of evening jobs which meant I mostly missed out on the partying.

          1. CMart*

            My highly educated parents also pushed working. Plus I wanted to be able to blow $20 on a stupid concert poster without having to justify my purchases, ha.

            But in my family’s case the implication was “school is not that difficult and should not take up a majority of your time–what else are you going to do?” Which was the truth for me and my sister (even up through terminal degrees) and part of the reason I’m always a little bemused by the “school is your job” mindset. School was an easy and often tedious part time job at worst, I never had enough school work to fill my days full time even if I wanted to.

    11. Greg M.*

      keep in mind I’ve worked retail for like 10 years and there are people who would say I’ve still not had a real job. I actually had one customer ask “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and I was 28.

  10. Anon Accountant*

    They’ve never had a job before and they’re about 27 years old? Sorry my brain is fixing on that.

    LW handled this very well for such a coaching moment. Good job!

    1. Snark*

      Come from an affluent family, just did work study and retail or whatever through college, got a stipend through grad school, in a PhD program so that’s 5 years….it’s not atypical in academia.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        just did work study and retail or whatever through college

        But those are jobs.

        1. Snark*

          Sure, but they’re not really professional, career-track jobs where you’re going to learn the art of office politics and perception management.

          1. Observer*

            Well, in retail you will certainly learn at least some key things: Show up when and where you are told, do what you are told / your job, and be polite – which includes not making stupid comments about punching people out – even when you don’t feel like it.

            1. Snark*

              Sure, but “your shift starts at 7:45” is a simpler and fundamentally different concept than “even if you personally disagree with a politician’s politics, you can’t just refuse to work when he’s there on principle.”

              And maybe I worked weird retail, but jokes about punching people out were not uncommon where I was.

              1. Turquoisecow*

                Yeah, I worked retail for a looong time and violence tinged jokes were not uncommon, not jokes about what we wanted to happen to certain unpleasant customers or coworkers. We all knew enough (or learned quickly anyway) not to make those jokes in front of the person we were joking about which, honestly? is not a thing you need to work retail to learn, you can probably pick that up in middle school.

                OP’s intern didn’t make the comment in front of the visiting VIP, she made it privately in front of coworkers. If she had made it in front of someone who would pass it on to the visitor, I’d think she was an idiot and OP would probably be obliged to fire her. Maybe a comment about punching him repeatedly was a little out of line but I also probably wouldn’t think she would *actually* do it. If she wasn’t otherwise a violent person, I’d probably say, “uh, tone down the violence a little?” but not consider her an actual security risk.

                1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  Agreed. I’m honestly a little baffled that so many people are taking the intern’s comments as a credible threat of violence, rather than inappropriate hyperbole. How many people have joked about, say, Martin Shkreli’s infamously punchable face?

              2. Aurion*

                I’m with Snark here. I didn’t work retail, but I worked in a grocery store, and turnover was so high that if you were minimally competent, showed up on time, and didn’t do anything egregious like falsify your timecards, you were pretty solid. I was a pretty model employee, but I definitely tussled with fellow employees (poked and prodded as jokes, not all out brawl on the floor) and made inappropriate wisecracks and no one even raised an eyebrow at me.

                Brilliant jerks can get away with a lot of stuff in a lot of places but academia definitely seems like a place where they get more leeway, and not having other professional jobs to temper and round one out definitely gets…noticeable.

              3. Iden Versio*

                And maybe I worked weird retail, but jokes about punching people out were not uncommon where I was.

                This, absolutely. Jokes about punching someone or fill-in-the-blank assault were made all the time at my past service/retail jobs — even by the managers! Retail and fast food are fantastic ways to start gaining professional soft skills, but unless you happen to work in a place with high standards of professionalism, you are not going to have the same experience as you would in an internship or office job.

                1. AMPG*

                  And your point about the managers making those jokes explains why the intern thought “But I thought you were cool” was an appropriate response to being reprimanded.

            2. Anon Accountant*

              Sure do! Worked at a grocery store for 5 years including while in college. It taught a lot of valuable skills although not a typical professional environment. Our manager was strict but we learned a lot of workplace skills.

            3. CMart*

              Agreed with the first half of your statement, especially given the OP’s statement that these groups of 27-28 year olds “find it hard to adjust to an actual working environment, where they have to show up on time and do things they don’t want to.”

              Pretty much the ONLY requirements of a lot of retail/service sector jobs, in my experience, are “show up on time and do things you don’t want to do.”

              Other “soft skills/office politics” things, sure. The bars and restaurant kitchens I spent my first 15 working years in are certainly not models for the standards of behavior expected in the corporate office I now work in. But I still at least got “show up on time/do things that are asked of you”.

          2. Emily K*

            Yes, and tenured academics are famously “eccentric” (read: dysfunctional) so they aren’t really modeling the best professionalism a lot of the time.

            In my graduate department it was not exactly rare for professors to get into a heated argument and start shouting and slamming doors, and much the same way a gifted student can often get away with a lot of things a poor student couldn’t, professors who were publishing a lot and bringing a lot of prestige to the department could get away with a lot of misbehavior, too. The message I received throughout my academic stint was, “If you’re brilliant enough, you can do whatever you want to whoever you want.”

            1. Asleep or maybe dead*

              There are a few professional environments in which that would fly as well.
              We have A LOT of people at my place who “the company can’t afford to fire them, we will crumble without them”, no matter what they do.

            2. Observation*

              Yes, and tenured academics are famously “eccentric” (read: dysfunctional) so they aren’t really modeling the best professionalism a lot of the time.

              Thanks for stereotyping.

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            No, but you are going to learn someday you will be told to do something you don’t want to do, and you’ll have to do it anyway. (And honestly, that’s going to happen pretty quickly in retail. :-P) You are going to (hopefully) learn just because your boss is “cool” doesn’t mean she’s not your boss. This intern wasn’t lacking some inside-track, born-with-a-silver-spoon finesse. She was missing some pretty basic concepts involved in any type of job.

          4. Former work study student*

            Disagree. My work study job was at the campus recreation center. On our first day of orientation it was made very clear to us that we could wear our Rec Center t-shirt (e.g. uniform) to classes – as we may be working shifts between classes, but it was absolutely not appropriate to wear it to the bar, or be seen doing less than stellar things in it. It was ingrained in us that when wearing it, we were representing not only the the Rec Center, but the University, and we had better be on our best behavior. We were also expected to show up on time, pick up extra shifts, and take initiative. Within the Rec Center I worked as a lifeguard and we were definitely expected to be aware of how we were perceived to the student body/rec center users as well as to the other work study positions at the Rec Center.

      2. post-it*

        Honestly you don’t need to have come from an affluent family in order to not have done a high school job (particularly as a 27-28 year old millenial). As a kid in the 90s-00s with two parents who worked in public sector jobs (not doctors or school administrators but staff level professionals in similar contexts) and living in a small town in a low-cost-of-living area, I know that my solidly-middle-class friends and I tended not to have jobs during the school year and some also did not during summer times.

        Times may have changed with increasing inequality, but there are swaths of the country and population that didn’t need to be born with silver spoons in their mouths in 0rder to miss out on this comment section’s supposedly critical first job at age 16.

        1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          Yeah… My family could not afford to have me on our car insurance (very high rates in our area) and we didn’t live close enough to anywhere I could walk to to work, so I didn’t have a high school job. There are lots of reasons to not have a high school job, and not all of them are silver spoon.

          1. Turquoisecow*

            My mom’s rule for any high school job I got was that she would not be my primary means of transportation. I didn’t have my license and public transport was limited, so that greatly limited the jobs I could get. I was lucky enough to get one where I could walk (but usually got a ride), but if I didn’t? I’d have been out of luck. Also, I lived in a solidly middle class town, and a lot of my classmates didn’t have jobs. No silver spoons, just busy parents, extracurricular activities (sports take up all your after school hours), and no transportation options.

            1. Anonymosity*

              That’s not a bad rule–it forces the kid to come up with their own means of getting to work, which is also a thing employers require. “Do you have reliable transportation?” is a common question I’ve gotten even for office jobs.

            2. Observation*

              I also think this “must have a job at 16” attitude is ridiculous, at least when it comes to things like fast-food jobs/retail. The reality is that those environments differ quite substantially from office type jobs that they allegedly prepare students for. And in terms of future collegiate — and by extension, career — prospects, high school students are much better off focusing on their grades and extracurricular activities where they can assume real leadership positions.

              The exception would be if you land a job or internship that represents a real feather in your cap; in that case, my advice would differ.

              I realize that this comment embodies some degree of privilege, of course; some high school students work because they have to.

          2. Alex the Alchemist*

            Yep. My family couldn’t even afford to have me get official driving lessons and, by extension, a driver’s license, until I had graduated high school. We lived in a very rural area as well. I got my license two weeks before I left for college in a town where everything was within walking distance.

        2. AdminX2*

          My older sister was the same- constantly bewailing how lost and overwhelmed I would be because I never had a real job as a teen. Was I needlessly ignorant of money and adult process issues going into adulthood? Absolutely. But I’m also a smart cookie and most of it isn’t that hard- and what is is hard for everyone.
          Which IMO is the best takeaway from the letter- people need guidance and growth. State your boundaries clearly when needed but support the process.

        3. medium of ballpoint*

          This is a great point. I grew up in a poor and rural area and there just weren’t jobs to be had in a place that small. And I didn’t have a car for the 30 minute drive to the nearest town with employment, not to mention that I would have spent most of my paycheck on gas. I focused on school instead and worked hard so I get could get a full ride, because there was no way my parents could afford sending me to college.

        4. blackcat*

          Above I linked to a BLS study showing that teen participation in the labor force fell off a cliff right around the start of the great recession. So folks who are my age (born in the late 80s, teens in the early/mid oughts) experienced a significantly different norm than folks just a bit younger (born in the early 90s, teens in the late oughts/early 2010s).

        5. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Not to mention the “extracurriculars are what will get you into college” crowd (/raises hand) who weren’t working because we were involved in every club, sport, and/or activity we could make time for.

          I didn’t work, but I did jazz band, marching band, community choir, Spanish club, fencing club, GSA, school theater, private music lessons 2x a week, all outside of school hours. I barely had time to do homework or sleep, let alone hold down a job! And most of my classmates were doing the same.

          1. Turquoisecow*

            My ivy-league attending sister didn’t have a job in high school; there was no time for it!

      3. Tau*

        Or, y’know, just did college in college because your affluent academic family thinks good grades are the most important thing and you shouldn’t be distracted from your studies (or, in my case, you’re struggling a lot thanks to undiagnosed disability and the last thing anyone thinks is a good idea is to lump another obligation on your plate).

        I do think it’s likely most grad students will have had at least some tutoring/TAing experience, but I don’t think that really teaches a lot of the professional norms people are looking for.

    2. LDN Layabout*

      It’s not as rare as it should be. An acquaintance of mine did the kind of degree which requires a lot of internships/work experience if you want to work in the field.

      She did none.

      After she couldn’t find a job, she did a masters…in a field which requires a lot of internships/work experience if you want to work in the field.

      She did none. And had reached the age of 26 with no work experience.

      Surprisingly she’s now stuck in a low paying job with barely any paid leave that she hates…

    3. Catwoman*

      Yeah, it’s slowly changing but museum work is a classic ‘old money’ field, especially in the UK. This doesn’t surprise me at all.

    4. Book Badger*

      American here: I’m almost 25 and I’ve never had a job. I have had one paid internship and a lot of unpaid internships, which I suppose are technically “work experience” but don’t really seem like it to me. I know how to show up to places on time and if anything I’m too deferential to superiors, so I do have those skills (and I’m really good at being able to take customers yelling/crying/emoting in front of me, ask me how!), but a lot of stuff I know I don’t know yet.

      Though my situation is a weird mix of privileged and not privileged – we can’t afford a car to take me to work and we’re in a rural area where it’s impossible to walk and there’s no public transit, but not so poor that we wouldn’t survive without that summer job.

      It is a bit weird to me that the person is almost 30 and acting like this, but frankly I went to law school with a lot of people who acted like undergrads despite being older than me.

      1. Oxford Comma*

        It’s good you’re open to learning. And it’s good you’re here on this blog because the advice you’ll see here is invaluable.

        I had a lot of retail type experience before my first office job, and while some of that translated really well, I had a huge learning curve when it came to how to conduct myself in an office.

    5. Logan*

      In countries where education is publically funded there is less push to have a job at every spare moment, and instead more focus on the education. Having a job during uni is a big thing in the US, and yet I remember being discouraged from it (I had summer jobs, and was encouraged in general to get work experience, but it wasn’t due to financial pressures in the way that seems prevalent in the US).

  11. Kate*

    OP, you seem extremely thoughtful, open-minded, smart and passionate. The museum is lucky to have you.

  12. Amber T*

    Thanks for clarifying a lot of things, OP! That comment section definitely got heated, including some of my own comments. A lot of us imagined we were passed our breaking point lines already and reacted. I had imagined your intern standing up for what she believed in… and while it sounds like we probably have similar views in the world, she does sound pretty immature. That said, you handled it really, really well!

  13. Zip Silver*

    Regarding the last paragraph, I find it amazing that people make it to their late 20’s with no work experience. Even working in fast food or a grocery store at 16 gives you soft skills work experience.

    1. Snark*

      You know, I had a very informal internship at a science museum through most of my undergrad years, went straight to grad school, and got TAs and RAs that paid my stipend all through those 5 years. Arguably, I’m one of these folks who didn’t have a real job till I was 28 or so, though I did work retail in high school and early college, so maybe not. But still: I can understand the dynamics that might lead to someone having to bust hump and work real jobs from 16 on, and I recognize how my life diverged from that, and I can empathize with those whose life reflected those realities. Could those of us on the other side of that divide extend the same courtesy?

      1. swingbattabatta*

        I don’t understand why you keep equating retail with “not a real job”. Retail workers presumably have an interview, are hired, have hours and a schedule, have coworkers and a boss, and have to abide by whatever rules the store/brand sets forth or you may be terminated. It is a real job.

        1. Jen*

          It’s also the idea of pushing through unpleasant tasks and doing them anyway. I consider that a hard skill applicable to any job.

        2. Snark*

          I mean “real job” more in the sense of a position where someone is more likely to be confronted with an ethical or personal dilemma much like the one in the letter, and have to know how to resolve that dilemma in a professional fashion. High school retail jobs and academic-adjacent internships are not as likely to demand professionalism and judgement to quite the same extent, and don’t prepare one as well to make the transition to a position where those attributes are more important and tested.

          1. bonkerballs*

            I would think retail workers deal with that kind of thing all the time when people who are bigoted come into their stores/restaurants and you’re expected to provide them with customer service. As evidenced by the commenter above who mentioned having to deal with being called the n word during his time in retail.

            1. Snark*

              In my retail experience, which was admittedly fairly limited, unless someone was being actively awful in the moment, you didn’t really know or care what their beliefs were. You just rung them up and sent them on their way. You didn’t have to interact with them beyond rote pleasantries. Admittedly, I am not a POC, so the commenter above has experienced things I have not, but usually, bigot or saint, all I needed to do was make change.

          1. Snark*

            I’m being facetious and self-deprecating, and while I’m dismayed that’s not clearer, I’ve also clarified it several times now.

      2. Just Tired*

        Just to confirm, are you referring to retail work as “not a real job?” I have re-read your comment and another upthread a couple of times, and I can’t tell. A job is a job is a job. It might have different norms, but if you go someplace and do work and get paid, it is a job. For some, retail is a career-track (I have a friend who started selling make-up at a counter and was eventually a buyer for a large department store). And there are always lessons to be learned any place you work regarding diplomacy, tact, and appropriateness whether you are working in an office building or making hamburgers/ringing up people’s purchases. In my life I worked a full-time retail job starting in high school (becoming a manager supervising people forty years my senior by the time I was 18), then moved into non-profit, and it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I went to grad school, during which time I had an assistantship that still required me to do work, show up to places on a schedule, and supervise people. After getting my degree, I went back to nonprofits.

        I was also surprised at the comment that some people haven’t had a “real job” before 27-28, but (1) if it’s another country, I don’t have any information about their school system or the typical age; (2) people obviously have very different concepts of “real jobs.” Our cultural norms create our experiences and reactions.

        1. Snark*

          I meant it in a self-deprecating sense, and note that I also included my internship in that category. Of course they were real jobs, and of course they taught me important things about the working world. But if, or rather when, I attempted to carry the norms of those positions into my first stint as a federal employee doing oversight and project management jobs, I wrongfooted myself, because there were higher and different demands on my professionalism and the extent to which I could take my casual, jokey, profane hiker-nerd persona into work was different.

          1. bonkerballs*

            For anyone who works under someone else, there are higher demands on their boss, but that doesn’t make their job any less of a real job. There are differing professional norms between the industries of retail and federal employee, but there are also differing professional norms between the industries of federal employee and neurosurgeon, federal employee and astronaut, federal employee and rabbi. Your job is not more valid or “real” than anyone else’s.

    2. CR*

      I have friends who have never had that kind of job – they’ve never been waiters or baristas or worked retail. They went from high school to undergrad to grad school to their careers, thanks to the generosity of mom & dad. It blows my mind.

    3. Allison*

      Ehhhh yes and no. I worked retail before my first internship and it’s helpful, but the norms and standards are different enough that you can do one thing well for years and then be totally clueless in the other.

    4. Doe-Eyed*

      Well, an issue in this economy is that the types of jobs that kids used to get (grocery store and fast food) are more often being taken by adults working multiple part time jobs to try and make a living. It’s harder for kids these days to find jobs. A coworker’s son has been trying to find a PT after-school job for over 6 months now.

      1. Tara R.*

        Yep! I’m 21, got my first job at 16 after *over a year* of looking. I was in a small town, there were a tiny handful of businesses that were willing to hire high school students (the ones that were open past 5 or on weekends and could actually schedule us…) but gave preference to people with more open availability. Lots of people from my high school didn’t work, and not because they didn’t want to! This was a town where almost everyone was lower middle class or middle class, fwiw.

    5. MLB*

      The fact that she stated these people are in their first job at 27-28 was less surprising to me than the fact that at that age (regardless of work history) she would think it’s ok to talk about punching someone in the face at work if she were forced to interact with them, as well as refusing to do her job because she doesn’t agree with his politics. Not fully understanding the ways of a professional work environment is one thing, but at that age and level of maturity, she really should know better.

      And OP was “cool”…because intern wasn’t fired on the spot.

    6. Jessica*

      I’m from the US but I lived in Spain for a year when I was 22. I hung out mostly with a church group of Spanish young adults, ages 25-40 (who I later realized were generally upper-class). Many of them hadn’t worked a job yet — after-school/part time jobs aren’t common for high schoolers in Spain. They almost all still lived with their parents. Many of them spent 3-5 years after college studying for an exam in order to qualify for a government position. I had gotten my first (part-time) job at age 15, and in talking with a Spanish friend who was 37 at the time, we realized that he started working only a year before I did!
      All this to say, typical starting age for your first job can vary quite a bit by culture.

    7. Holly*

      I had work experience in my late teens/20s (temp in an office) and literally me simply doing the work was reason for high praise, because everyone else was incompetent. Now I’m in a job where navigating office politics and being a “good” employee is extremely challenging. I’m not surprised something as complex as balancing work and your political believes is something this intern is learning later in her 20s.

  14. Foxy Hedgehog*

    “Being welcoming to everyone *is* a moral standard for me.”

    OP, I think you are “cool,” even if your intern doesn’t. Well done.

    1. Catwoman*

      This is so important, and I’m so glad OP made this comment. This is even more the case in the UK where there are no entrance fees to many major museums. In the US, it would be like not allowing someone to borrow a library book. Art and culture is public funded and access is seen basically as a right as a citizen, which I think is so beautiful. I wish we had more of that in the US.

    2. Lissa*

      I loved this line too! People often assume that people who aren’t reacting to Thing A with outrage are not being as morally strong as someone else, but it could well be they are, just in a different way. Of course others can disagree with those morals but it’s not the same as just not caring.

    3. Leslie knope*

      This is such white moderate drivel, though. I’m sure her guest isn’t as concerned about that as she is.

      1. Needanewusername*

        I can’t imagine saying something like this to my boss and then try to brush it off with calling him “cool.” There are clients I don’t like, and I suck it up and do my job. I may not like it, but I do like getting a paycheck to pay my bills.

      2. HQetc*

        Isn’t that part of the point the OP is making, though? Maybe her guest isn’t, but you don’t change his mind (or, more likely and more importantly) the minds of his supporters by barring him entry into what is supposed to be a open-to-all institution, especially since the OP has clarified that this isn’t an egregious actor like a Steven Miller type. (And let me clarify that I understand that “traditional” politicians can do an astounding amount of damage, but I also think that those of us who want an open-to-all society need to walk the walk when it comes to tolerating those with whom we disagree. That doesn’t mean we need to tolerate their *views*, but we do need to tolerate them as humans. Which is to say, allow them into museums, and ask them to leave if they start being un-inclusive, and disagree when they say un-inclusive things. (And one further parenthetical, I’m talking specifically about maintaining the open-ness of an institution like a museum. Protests/social justice work/your own dinner party are different contexts, and in those contexts, and probably lots of others, exclusion can be a useful/necessary tool.))

      3. Courageous cat*

        Yeah – like, I get it, but I don’t really agree with it. Hypothetically (depending on the person in question), I think rejecting oppressors from society should always be a higher/more necessary moral standard than making sure the museum is accessible for everyone.

        1. Anonymouse Librarian*

          Which is why you are not in that profession. I am in the allied profession of librarianship. I may disagree with everything you stand for and believe, but I will fight for your right to have information.

      4. Lissa*

        I disagree it’s “drivel”. It’s a different moral standard than you have, but that hardly makes it drivel. And in many cases, when it comes to my own personal morals, they exist regardless of whether or not another person is “as concerned” as I am.

  15. Bones*

    26 year old woman here, I kind of feel bad for people around my age who make these kind of foot-in-mouth mistakes. The people criticizing her here were young and dumb once, too.

    1. Observer*

      Actually, at 26 it is perfectly possible to not act this way. The behavior described by the OP is not “young and stupid” but “childish” which is a different thing.

          1. Bones*

            I don’t think it’s ridiculous and self-centered, I think it’s a mark of youth and being in her first job. It doesn’t make it right but nor does it make her a monster or an idiot deserving of condescension by someone who was simply too smart and good for that kind of thing when THEY were young.

            1. savethedramaforyourllama*

              The argument is that, yes, most of us have done stupid things, but 27 is not “young” by a lot of people’s definitions. And really, the harsh criticism is at the way reacted to her boss’ discussion of her behavior. The original behavior is a somewhat-excusable-chalk-it-up-to-naivety slip of the tongue, but to double down when you’re corrected is what makes this worse.

              1. asleep or maybe dead*

                Did she double down on what she said, though?
                “she seemed surprised at this, but also seemed to take it in, and she thanked me for my input.”
                What I understood from this is that she was caught off-guard, but did take the feedback graciously.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t read it that way (and think that’s overly personalizing the discussion here). We talk about professional behavior here, so this kind of thing is really relevant.

    2. Justin*

      “punch and punch and punch and punch” or whatever isn’t exactly a gaffe, though.

      I said dumb stuff at work… and I got in trouble. She’s really lucky she didn’t.

      1. Bones*

        I’m not saying she shouldn’t have been spoken to, I’m saying the condescension from people who undoubtedly did equally stupid shit at that age is frustrating. Like good job, you’ve shown how much better and smarter you are than the 27-year-old….

              1. Bones*

                Copypasta from below….

                Maybe I’m especially sensitive to it because I am a young woman, but there is almost always a degree of condescension & need-to-be-better-ness when an older person corrects you when you make a stupid mistake at work. It would be condescending and rude if I did it to an older person who didn’t have as much experience with computers as I did, and I firmly believe that courtesy needs to go both ways. There’s also the general idea that people on the whole (even here) tend to be a lot harsher on women (especially young women) for mistakes than they would be on a man or someone older. Again, I’m not saying it wasn’t a dumb comment to make to your boss.

                1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  There’s a difference between not knowing how to use a new piece of technology and not knowing that it’s inappropriate to joke about physical assault at work.

                  In any case, the appropriate response from a manager in either case isn’t condescending. It’s corrective.

                  It’s also ok for the manager to be privately frustrated, without sharing that frustration with her colleagues. If her frustration turns into prejudice — from “UGH, I’m so tired of old people! They never know how to use computers.” — that’s when it becomes a problem.

                2. Bones*

                  @Victoria- you could make the argument that it’s not at all new technology, and the ~20 years that computers have been available to the public is ample time to learn the basics of how to use one. I would argue that in 2018 it’d be roughly equivalent- both are basically “you should really know this by now.” Sometimes people don’t. People are weird and sometimes get things wrong way past the point when you think they’d know.

        1. Justin*

          Literally who is saying they’re better than an adult person who made some bad decisions, rather than saying “those decisions were bad?”

          1. Bones*

            Maybe I’m especially sensitive to it because I am a young woman, but there is almost always a degree of condescension & need-to-be-better-ness when an older person corrects you when you make a stupid mistake at work. It would be condescending and rude if I did it to an older person who didn’t have as much experience with computers as I did, and I firmly believe that courtesy needs to go both ways.

            1. Bones*

              There’s also the general idea that people on the whole (even here) tend to be a lot harsher on women (especially young women) for mistakes than they would be on a man or someone older.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I’ve seen young men be pretty harshly criticized here for similar type mistakes (see: intern dress code petition, “I got fired for attending a conference that I wasn’t invited to,” “CEO’s wife ruined my job prospects,” and more). I don’t disagree with you that it’s a wider societal trend, but I don’t think it’s what’s happening on this letter.

                1. Justin*

                  Yeah it’s happened to plenty of men here. It might be that more women/nonwhite men choose to write in here in the first place though, but not that AAM’s advice is harsher to these groups.

                2. Vicky Austin*

                  We don’t necessarily know that those letter writers were male, however. You do, because you have their email address, but all we have is the text of their emails.

              2. Observer*

                In fact, if the intern were a guy, my fist reaction would actually be harsher. It’s probably not fair, so I hope I could temper this. But this is totally NOT about the intern not being “feminine” enough, or not “agreeable” enough.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          I’d agree with you if we were talking about a 17-year-old, or even a 22-year-old just entering into post-college adulthood. But 27-year-olds have nearly a decade of experience of adulthood. The “young and dumb” excuse just doesn’t seem to apply.

          1. Bones*

            Speaking as a 26 year old who knows a lot of other 26 year olds…. you’d be shocked at how often these “holy shit, you didn’t already know not to do that???” moments come up. Of course it’s more understandable from a 17 year old; it’s also understandable (from where I’m standing) from a 27 year old.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think that’s actually pretty unfair to 27-year-olds; most of the ones I know and have known have a pretty decent grasp on professional norms by that point, especially around the basics.

              1. Bones*

                In my experience, it’s both. They for the most part they have a good grasp on professional norms, but they really don’t know what they don’t know. As most are still in the beginning of their careers, it makes sense that there would be things they wouldn’t know (don’t know if I’m articulating myself clearly…)

              2. Bones*

                I just asked a handful of friends (now I’m curious) if they could see themselves making this kind of mistake. Most said yes (or said not this particular mistake, but certainly an equivalent one). It could also maybe be a generational thing?

                1. Doe-Eyed*

                  Yeah I was going to throw in that “punching xxx” has become the “So-and-so is going to kill me” for the younger crowd. It’s not unusual to see people on Facebook saying “I’d rather punch myself in the face than xxxxx” or “I got stuck behind a slow walker, I just want to punch her in the face” etc. It’s extremely hyberbolic and is supposed to be humorous due to the hyperbole.

                  That’s why it was so bizarre to me when people were reading the interns comments and exploding about how she Threatened Violence — I read it as completely non-serious just as I would the above.

              3. HRM*

                I do think there is a pretty big divide here. I’m 27 but I work in management, have an MBA and have worked in professional settings for 8 years (while attending college, and now after) but I also have friends who are entering their first professional jobs or are still in their first year or two. I have friends still working on their first BS/BA and working retail or food service who are a few years out from entering professional type work. There is something to be said for this age range and the varying degrees of experience in professional jobs.

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              At 27 I had been married 5 years, spent 2 years in Africa with the Peace Corps, and just left my professional editing job to start free-lancing after the birth of my first child.

              So while I’m with Snark on understanding that people have different paths and learn different things–for me that means I consider some 16 year olds more reliable than some 46 year olds, age be damned–I am not remotely resonating with anything you’re writing about what everyone does when they’re young and dumb at 27.

            3. Environmental Compliance*

              I guess I have friends then that act older than the 27/28 years of age we all are.

            4. Pollygrammer*

              Bones, honestly I think the condescension is actually coming from you. To broadly paint women in their mid-twenties as the intern’s level of foolishness is belittling.

              I was a professional woman in my twenties and I would have been deeply insulted to have someone tell me I could/should be held to lower standards than my older peers.

              1. Tara R.*

                This. I’m 21, getting my first “real” professional work experiences in internships. If I majorly misstepped like this, I would hope the reaction is “What on earth? This isn’t the sort of behaviour we expect from you”, and I could express proper mortification. If it was like “Oh, she’s so YOUNG, she just doesn’t know better!! We can’t expect normal professionalism from her!” I would be super embarrassed.

                I don’t think OP’s employee should be crucified. I see where her mistake came from, and I can see people that I like and respect who are a bit naive about workplace norms making the same one. But to me, this is like the common “Oh, that software engineer dude is rude with his coworkers, so are all engineers amirite? What more can we expect?” It’s not helpful to the person in question, and it’s a pretty serious insult to all the male software engineers out there who are more than capable of professional, polite relationships with colleagues.

                Lack of experience makes her behaviour a bit more explainable; it doesn’t make it acceptable, or mean that you should treat it particularly differently.

              2. Environmental Compliance*

                +100, as a 27 year old professional woman.

                TBH – I would have been a little insulted at 20 to be told I have lower standards of professionalism than older peers. Having more understanding is appropriate. Lower standards? Not really, no. You should be at the same standards, but expect that the standards are explained in more detail.

              3. asleep or maybe dead*

                That’s not what bones said at all.
                Also OP themself said they are not surprised. They tell us that, holding the intern against her peers, the way she acted was not uncommon. Of course, what she did was not ideal and was corrected, but it was not such a extraordinary horrend carreer ending mistake as many are painting it to be.

                1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  Has anyone said that it’s a career-ending mistake? I didn’t read all 1600 (or whatever) comments on the first thread, but c’mon — that’s not the tone folks are taking at all.

                  People are reacting to the way some commenters are casually dismissing this as something that’s to be expected because the intern is “young and dumb.”

                2. Bones*

                  I wasn’t aware that saying “you’d be surprised at how far people can go without knowing things you’d think they should know” is patronizing everyone my age. Go figure.

            5. Lucille2*

              I think in OP’s context, it’s less about age and more about “professional age.” She mentioned that for most of her interns, this is their first experience in a professional setting so there is a fair amount of development needed. For me, age 27 was several years into my career after constantly having held jobs since the age of 15. Even though many of my younger years jobs were low-wage service type work, I still learned a lot about working with people in a professional setting and conflict resolution.

          2. asleep or maybe dead*

            I understand what you mean, but this argument assumes that every 20 something year old has had a fairly monolithic life experience up to that point. If you pick a handful of people from different backgrounds what is obvious to some is not to others.
            If we add in that OP is not even from the US, we are engaging in some wild speculation here at the comments.

        3. Tara R.*

          She’s 27, not 18. She’s a little past the “at that age” stage and I think it’s actually MORE condescending to act as if she shouldn’t be expected to have some grasp on the very basics of workplace etiquette simply because she’s young-ish.

        4. Yorick*

          I really don’t think 27 is that young. If she were a 20yo undergrad, I’d be more understanding. But even then, I would’ve been corrected in high school or earlier if I said I wanted to punch and punch and punch someone.

        5. Student*

          Many of us learned professional norms long before hitting 27. Acting as though a 27-year-old is a child is holding the 27-year-old to an incredibly low standard of behavior. I understand that the OP seems to get this a lot. I strongly encourage OP to try to recruit interns from a different pool of people than their org currently does. Wherever you are recruiting from, this is NOT normal behavior from all graduate students, nor from all 27-year-olds. There are many young people who’d love an opportunity to intern in a place like the OP works, and it’s sad to hear that the opportunity goes mostly to incredibly immature folks.

    3. smoke tree*

      I don’t know that her age is terribly relevant here. I think there’s a pretty wide spectrum of professional experience one might have by age 27-28 so it’s hard to make generalizations–apparently it’s common in this field, but some 28-year-olds might have held professional jobs for a decade. Although the intern could find that at her age, some people might not be as willing to cut her slack for professional gaffes as they would be if she were 20.

      1. Bones*

        I think it’s relevant in that her age could be (and as far as I can tell, is) a major factor in her making the gaffe in the first place.

        1. smoke tree*

          Well, I think it is relevant for her, and apparently relevant in her field, as the LW notes. But I’m not sure we can draw any relevant trends based on age from this letter, since there are many fields in which it would be typical to have more professional experience by this age. For what it’s worth, I’m close to the same age and have been working in professional jobs, at least temporary ones, since I was 19 or so.

      2. admit several*

        yeah, I’m in in my 30’s in a well paid skilled labor/technician role, working with impressive hospitality/customer service people (my boss called one a “a five star review machine”), and we say much, much, MUCH worse when clients aren’t around. Professionalism, in my context, means that you can be trusted to know what’s appropriate to say around clients, and to do so 100% of the time. Behind the scenes, anything goes (other than personal attacks on your colleagues). The violent comments, and “I thought you were cool” could easily come from someone with plenty of successful experience in a field like mine.

        “Professional norms” have heavy overlap with general middle class norms about not showing too much emotion. I was reading a sociology book that said more emotional, unfiltered communication is not just tolerated in working class jobs and communities – it’s often enjoyed as a source of entertainment and often has a deliberately performative, over-the-top quality. This is my experience!!! Even if you have professional-level skill, autonomy, and pay, the overall working class milieu of a workplace may be the dominant factor in how people communicate, and what kind of communication seems normal or acceptable.

        1. Queen of Cans and Jars*

          “More emotional, unfiltered communication is not just tolerated in working class jobs and communities – it’s often enjoyed as a source of entertainment and often has a deliberately performative, over-the-top quality.”

          OMG, this explains SO MUCH about what goes on on our production floor! Thank you!

        2. asleep or maybe dead*

          That’s interesting! I didn’t know this pattern was recognized and studied.
          I come from a working-class background and the performative over-the-top communication style you described is very representative of my community, even now that many of us are working white-collar jobs.
          My friends and I spend the days code-switching back and forth from home-speak to office-speak to facing-clients-speak.

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          I gather some of the blackest humor around is in pediatric cancer wards. NOT in front of the patients and their parents, but with staff behind closed doors it’s how they fend off burnout.

          1. WS*

            Healthcare humour can be incredibly dark, but there’s also very strict professional boundaries and sometimes people do cross them.

        4. Observer*

          Yeah, but I cannot imagine any environment where someone could get away with refusing to do their job.

          Also, I think it’s not hard to tell when you are in an environment where this kind of language is acceptable vs where it is not. And the inter clearly realizes that such environments exist, because her response was that it should have been OK because “Boss is cool.” Which is an even bigger fundamental issue than not knowing that this language is inappropriate in this type of environment. You Boss isn’t your buddy who you can speak to like your friends over happy hour – at least not in the workplace in the context of your job.

          1. asleep or maybe dead*

            “Also, I think it’s not hard to tell when you are in an environment where this kind of language is acceptable vs where it is not.”

            Boy, you would be surprised.
            I will risk saying that the “cool” reply was most likely “I thought you (specifically) were cool (about me speaking like that)”.

          2. admit several*

            I was only speaking to her language, as I wanted to point out that it could be an entirely separate issue from the refusing to do part of her job. If her work experience has been part time at restaurants, for example, it’s normal to adjust your communication based on individual personalities and situations – not some general sense of “you just don’t speak in a colorful way in this workplace” or “you just don’t speak this way to bosses.” In my world some bosses are “cool” and there’s no need to censor yourself overly much around them.

      3. Alton*

        I don’t think her age is super relevant, either, except to the extent that it limits her experience. This type of gaffe makes me think more of someone who’s used to being in academic bubbles where being politically outspoken is valued more. You can still know that joking about punching politicians is unprofessional, but I can see how someone who’s been in academia for a while might be used to a greater level of openness.

    4. Asleep or maybe dead*

      I can see that as well, same as in the original letter post.
      Ofc she made a mistake, but some comments are going an extra mile to condemn her behavior and it’s very unsettling.

      1. Bones*

        Same, it just doesn’t seem that odd to me that a 27 year old wouldn’t know that this is something you *really* don’t say to your boss. I’ve had coworkers my age who curse in front of clients, misspell absurdly common words, etc. They are very professional 95% of the time, but people are people and sometimes they do stupid shit. Doesn’t make them stupid people worth of condemnation.

  16. samiratou*

    Thank you for the update, particularly with so much detail! It sounds like a satisfactory resolution, and hopefully the intern will take the feedback about what is appropriate in a professional setting to heart.

  17. Kathy*

    Awesome update! I had to go back and re-read the first post, but wow yeah, this intern sounds immature. If anything, it’s at least a good learning experience for her… I’ve said a couple of cringe-worthy things early in my working career before I made it into an office job and had people correct me like this–kindly and clearly. And I found it so valuable.

  18. Justin*

    I’m glad you wrote in since the comments here were WOOF.

    (I can’t believe the intern said that!
    But he wants to kill us!
    Maybe he doesn’t!

    The entire thing was a thatescalatedquickly.gif.

    You seem to really have your head on straight, OP. I’m not surprised she was surprised, because I’ve known people that age (not a millenial thing! I am sure it happened 30 years ago too) who had some pretty unrealistic expectations, one of which being that “joking” about violence is a great idea at work.

      1. OP*

        That summary is awesome.

        And like I said upthread, I think it’s less a millennial thing and more a ‘my field is traditionally old money’ thing. So we end up with a lot of interns who have the resources to make it to the end of their PhDs without ever having a job outside a university.

        Trust me, I’m not saying that what she said is okay, or that my interns don’t have to learn how to conduct themselves appropriately. But it does help my blood pressure (at least) to sometimes think ‘okay, I learned this lesson when I was 15 and a customer was rude to me, but she’s never had that kind of experience before’. I do *not* let that kind of thing slide. But many, many of them seem to get it and make significant changes over the course of their internships.

    1. Amber Rose*

      The most incredibly accurate description of the comments section, right here. Politics is so emotional these days, in a way it hasn’t been in a very, very long time. It’s just constantly simmering, waiting to boil over and then explode.

      And since it’s everywhere, I wouldn’t be surprised if some folk older than their 20’s and early 30’s who should know better still think it’s OK to express violent feelings against certain controversial figures.

  19. Erin*

    I don’t think I commented on the prior post but just wanted to say, you seem like an incredibly reasonable person with a good head on her shoulders. I’m sure you handled this with grace and that your intern will be grateful later on and will realize how “cool” you really are.

  20. RoadsLady*

    I think it was very well-handled.

    I don’t think I would want to force anyone that truly felt uncomfortable with a situation doing it (job allowing).

  21. always in email jail*

    I didn’t even venture in to the comment section on the original, because even the idea of that is exhausting, but I LOVE what you had to say about welcoming everyone as a moral standard for yourself. Well done, your museum is lucky to have you and your mindset. I hope that whoever it was did indeed come out of the experience with an enhanced appreciation of cultural and artistic institutions.

    1. EmKay*

      Oh, seriously. I read the post, looked at the number of comments (which was already quite high) and went NOPE not clicking on that.

  22. Observer*

    Thanks for the update, OP.

    You sound like an awesome boss. And I hope that Intern actually took in what you said, rather than deciding in her head that you’re just “not as cool” as she though. I guess it’s a good thing that she does realize that she can’t say that to EVERYONE. It’s a starting point, maybe?

  23. GraduateBookWorm*

    Oh wow I’m so happy about this update. LW, you seem to be really– idk– a kindred spirit i think?
    I go through a similar thought process teaching literature to college students whose views I find abhorrent. I want to keep them in my class because, well, I want them to read the literature I assign because I hope it can push the needle a tiny bit and make them a better person… but I’m closer career-level-wise to the intern as a grad instructor so idk if this is a maturity thing or a work experience thing or just a personality thing.

    Anyway, thanks so much for sharing this update, LW!!

  24. Sara without an H*

    Hello, OP —
    You are a thorough professional and a class act. I hope your intern someday looks back on her experience and realizes just how lucky she was to work under you.

  25. Anon Librarian*

    Thanks for the update–you sound like the perfect person to work with interns. I work in an academic library and supervise student employees. I also have to occasionally have similar conversations with my students about the fact that libraries provide material from a wide range of viewpoints, some of which I or they may seriously disagree with, and serve patrons with all kinds of information needs. Like you, being welcoming to everyone is also a moral issue for me. Providing information and service to people does not always signal acceptance of or promotion of their views or behavior, and refusal to do so can keep promoting the tribalism our culture is vulnerable to. Thank you for being an excellent example.

  26. Kittymommy*

    I think you handled this great. I did not get into the last comment thread because if the topic, but I work in government, directly for several politicians, and there are some comparisons. I actually have very different political opinions than the people I work for, but I keep my job separate. I may not vote for them or campaign for them, but setting up an appointment or keepinfg their emails/mail/etc. straight is fine. Your conversation with the intern sounds like it went well. If she wants to continue with organizations that rely on outside funds (especially public funds) she’s going to have to realize that sometimes this comes with the territory.

    1. Archie Goodwin*

      Very true. I work in government, too…not directly, but for a large agency. I’ve worked for various large agencies in my career. At some point you have to divorce the agency from the politics behind it…or decide if it’s a place you’re comfortable working. I’ve had that debate internally several times in my life…internally being the key word. No need to drag anyone else into my thought processes.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I think it takes a very special kind of person to be able to make that separation. I know I couldn’t. But that’s also why I don’t work in that type of setting.

      1. CMart*

        Agreed, I’m not sure if it’s a skill I personally have. Which is why I’ve self-selected out of having to find out the hard way if I’m capable of divorcing The Powers That Be’s politics/values from the everyday work. I was very glad when I was job hunting and not in a position to be picky that the company owned by Infamously Politically Active Corporate Investors didn’t call me for a second interview.

  27. Allison*

    I don’t identify with the intern nowadays, but back in my teens and early 20’s, I too was an intense idealist who may have acted the same way. May have being key here. When you’re young you don’t always know how much of “yourself” you can be while remaining professional, and figuring it out is not as intuitive as peoples seem to think (like if you’re smart and a good person you’ll “just know” the right thing to do in all circumstances without anyone’s help). The important thing is that she learns from this experience, that’s what internships are for!

  28. Thosetaxreturnswontfilethemselves*

    I think LW handled this in a great way – I’m just here to Say

    27-28 and it’s their first job?! *sigh* I guess different industries, different norms. I was definitely this naive and needed guidance when I started out at 22 – but now at 28 – I know I can’t use “I DONT WANNA” as a reason to not complete any work assigned to me.

    I just can’t imagine making this kind of comment at 28…

    1. Antilles*

      If you go from undergrad straight to grad school, getting your first job at 27/28 is entirely understandable – especially if LW means it in the sense of ‘first professional job’ and isn’t counting stuff like graduate research or teaching assistant.

      1. Allison*

        And since OP and their intern are working in a museum, it’s not ridiculous to figure that a 27 year-old may be starting in that environment after years of grad school work.

      2. Thosetaxreturnswontfilethemselves*

        My comment is more from a life maturity standpoint – I couldn’t imagine being my silly 22 year old self now, at 28. And I’m going to be honest, joking about punching people at work is pretty immature behavior.

        1. Antilles*

          Generally, yeah, but if it’s her first professional job and she viewed the relationship more as ‘friends’ rather than ‘boss/employee’…well, it’s still not work-appropriate but it’s at least understandable.
          As for the age thing…if Facebook and Twitter have taught us anything, it’s that there’s no maximum age on being an immature Braggart Tough Guy.

      3. Pollygrammer*

        Shouldn’t having teachers be enough to get a grip on how authority figures work and know that behavior needs some moderation around them?

  29. Archie Goodwin*

    I have to say, I’m a bit unimpressed with the intern’s comment about being “cool”. It suggests that she may internalize the lesson as far as its mechanics – that she may think twice before saying something like that out loud again – but that she really doesn’t get why it’s WRONG to talk like that in the workplace. That’s a bit troubling to me.

    I mean, there are people I have worked with whom I think are “cool”. That doesn’t mean I’d say something like this in front of them. There are limits.

  30. KR*

    I really like this update. OP, you did the right thing allowing the intern to opt out and then explaining what specifically was off putting and inappropriate about her comment. I also agree with you that museums and exhibits being open to everyone, even those who we may find despicable, is an important value. Education is our greatest tool to advance as a society and hopefully all become a little more tolerant, a little more kind, a little more understanding, and a little more selfless. Glad the visit worked out for your institution, OP.

  31. RoadsLady*

    I hate to nitpick on the intern, but here I go anyway. I am kind of bothered that at her age, being “cool” is still a thing. Like anyone with a different perspective is less than human.

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      I think you may have a very different reading of “cool” than I do. Someone being uncool isn’t a dehumanizing statement in my experience. The intern sounds like she just massively misunderstood the level to which her boss was an easygoing person that it was ok to use hyperbolic humor around.

      1. RoadsLady*

        That’s very likely. Thanks for pointing that out.

        It likely ultimately depends on the office culture of how extreme humor can be while still being acknowledged as humor or “Jim being Jim.”

      2. smoke tree*

        My read was also that the intern is aware that the LW has similar political views so she thought she’d have a sympathetic ear. To be honest, I could probably say something similarly hyperbolic about right-wing politicians to my current boss and she’d just laugh, but my employer is very casual that way.

    2. SoCalHR*

      I interpreted just as she didn’t realize her boss would, at some point, need to be her boss and do something “uncool” like correct her. Like the camp counselor that lets kids sneak out at night is “cool” and the one that doesn’t isn’t (even though why even have camp counselors if the kids are going to run amok anyway)

    3. Reading Comprehension Matters*

      You’re reading cool as meaning human? That’s …. quite a stretch! Wow.

    4. Earthwalker*

      Recalling how our generation used to insist “Never trust anyone over 30” I don’t suppose I’m qualified to nitpick.

    5. OP*

      I think by saying she thought I was cool, she just meant that she liked me and felt comfortable around me, and therefore felt free to say whatever she wanted. I didn’t take her statement to imply that now I was ‘uncool’ for correcting her, but rather that she was trying to explain why she said what she did.

      Like I said in the original post, I keep my social activism stuff pretty quiet at work, so I have no idea if she knows about my political beliefs. But I think it’s just a further example of her naïveté, actually; she just assumed that of course I would agree with her. Which I do, in reality, but that’s not a great assumption for her to make in the workplace.

      1. RoadsGirl*

        There is always that trouble in the assumption that if someone agrees with you, they agree with you on everything.

        I’m terribly unfamiliar with European politics (which seems to be where you’re from?) and therefore probably don’t understand the gravity or lack thereof this politician brings to this situation, but I like to assume doing the tour probably wasn’t a political gamechanger for anyone. I think it’s very wise of you to keep your own politics out of the matter.

      2. Anonymouse Librarian*

        OP, not sure if it is true in your area, but in the U.S. there is also a presumption that people in certain professions are of the same political type, ie, all librarians are liberal. I am more libertarian, which has led to some weird presumptions by people that startled both of us.

  32. Detective Amy Santiago*

    This is a great update! Very reasoned and measured response to what obviously raised a lot of feelings for everyone. The current global political climate is very heated and these kind of situations are likely to come up again.

  33. Widgeon*

    I work in a particular field where I must interact daily with people who would be considered racist, bigoted, homophobic, pro-FGM (yep), basically outright extreme in their traditional beliefs. Yet, I do this with professionalism and kindness. At the end of the day, people have the right to believe what they want and I do truly believe in catching more flies with honey. If you don’t catch them, so be it – in my classroom, they treat others with respect, even if they don’t have respect in their minds. This is a very difficult skill for some people, one that is incredibly valuable and IMO, worthy of a teachable moment to interns/people new to the workplace (or not new, so be it).

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      That’s great if it suits you, but surely you can understand how many people would not want to work in that environment

      1. RoadsLady*

        I had a cousin in the teaching field who was offered in many ways a great position. Ideal teaching job. The One Problem, however, was the community the school was in. A large portion of the population he would be teaching was of a religion he was strongly, vehemently against. Oh, he was fine with the people, but he realized he likely wouldn’t be able to comfortably teach these kids while respecting them or without actively trying to turn them from their faith.

        He wound up turning down the offer and while part of me shakes my head anyone can feel so strongly against a faith, I respect him for knowing what he could handle in respect to other’s beliefs.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      It is an absolutely difficult skill and I don’t think it’s right to disparage people who are the targets of such views for refusing to engage. As an LGBT woman, I would never feel safe working in that type of environment.

    3. Leslie knope*

      No, people do not have the right to believe what they want if it infringes on other people’s rights. Sorry, but nope.

        1. Leslie knope*

          I’m a bisexual woman, so no, I don’t think people should be able to “quietly disagree” that I have rights.

          I’m going to bow out of this post now because it’s quite upsetting to see this being left up.

        2. smoke tree*

          Yeah, I think fundamentally it’s not possible to quietly believe that certain people are less deserving of basic rights than others. It’s inherently a violent position to take.

          1. RoadsGirl*

            Sure, that is, but the fact is you can’t be the thought police if nothing tangible is happening.

            Moreover, I mostly mean there are many cases where rights collide that have nothing to do with superiority/inferiority.

            1. smoke tree*

              Sure, but that’s kind of an intellectual point, because there is no thought police. If you don’t act on your beliefs, no one will be able to judge you for them. But I think it’s inevitable that you (general “you”) will act on your beliefs in some way, even if it’s subtle, and if your beliefs are harmful ones, that is a problem.

              I’m also okay with drawing a bright line between bigotry and nuanced ethical issues. I find bigotry is usually not very complex. At heart it’s just an unthinking destructive impulse. But I think bigots often like to try to make it seem more complicated to dodge blame.

        3. Alton*

          I think people have the right to their beliefs in the sense that they shouldn’t be locked up just for their ideas, but not in the sense that they can expect to never face any consequences. If you believe something harmful, you can’t expect people’s feelings about you to never be influenced.

          1. RoadsGirl*

            Of course not. But I don’t think you can demand someone not work with you simply because you make a broad judgment on them based on their religion or political party or what have you.

            A hostile work environment is one thing. Merely different views kept 8n check is quite another.

      1. Widgeon*

        To clarify, I teach settlement to women who are *very* recent arrivals from certain countries where any kind of homosexuality is illegal and often a death sentence (sometimes by suicide). Nearly all my female students have been circumsized. We have an LGBT+ club but few of them would be willing to consider joining, although we are often privately aware of a few closeted students and how they came under asylum.

        I cannot be the “thought police” and if a word was uttered against certain demographics, it would be shut down quickly – but I also have to recognize that a woman from, for example, Somalia is not going to become pro-certain rights in her first few weeks here and that these thoughts exist.

        We discuss that certain legal rights exist (I am not in the USA and pro-LGBT rights is quite progressive here), that part of our country means outward respect for all, etc. But I cannot pretend that these students do not come here with their extreme beliefs. They absolutely do, and it is a really long process – if ever – to open their minds to it. I’m not sure how people expect to “thought police” others though. Practically speaking, how do you suggest we do it? Do I tell them that homosexuality is legal and permitted? Of course. We do not get into debates about it (bear in mind, these students can barely discuss fruits and vegetables at a grocery store in English). Do we put off months of content knowledge (English as a second language, literacy) to try and reform their brains? Remember, I do not approve immigration applications, I receive students.

  34. Hiring Mgr*

    Sounds like it worked out for everyone. Though what’s interesting is that apparently there IS a line… The OP mentions David Duke as an example of someone for whom she wouldn’t participate in a tour.. So maybe for the young employee that line’s just a little bit to the side..

    1. STG*

      Yea, I thought that was interesting as well. Ultimately, people have lines and if you’re willing to accept the consequences then by all means, go ahead.

      1. Ralkana*

        I think the difference is, the OP would bow out of personally giving the tour in that case, but still feels that the museum should offer the tour, because it should be available to everyone. It is a line, but I guess it’s a very fine line.

    2. OP*

      Yeah, honestly I’m still thinking through that question. Like I said, I can’t imagine my museum asking me to do something like that but I really don’t know what I would do in that situation.

      What made this tricky for me was that I don’t think it’s my right to police where someone else’s line is. But if she decides that this is where she is going to draw that line, she’s going to find it very difficult to work *anywhere*, and not just in my institution.

      I honestly believe that her initial response was a knee-jerk one, and maybe not one that she would make again (certainly not in the form that it took). I get the impression that she is sincerely thinking through this issue, which is great.

  35. JJ*

    I hope this isn’t considered “debating politics,” but as a gay person, saying he’s a “family values” person immediately raises all sorts of red flags for me. Political disagreements are one thing – being forced to interact with someone who spends his career arguing against your human rights and, in some cases, your very existence is something else. I don’t know if the intern is anywhere on the LGBTQ spectrum, but if she is I would understand her perspective 100%.

    1. Bones*

      Yeah, I think that partly explains my frustration with some of the responses to this letter. A lot of people wanted to dismiss her as naive and immature, but if she were a victim of his politics then that’s a cruel, dismissive thing to say.

    2. Justin*

      I mean, you’re right, the feeling is understandable (though the threat of violence isn’t), but this is literally what happened last week in our discussions.

      So, enjoy the resulting conflagration!

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I agree with this stance completely and commented on it in the original post.

      However, that doesn’t really change the fact that it was good for the LW to advise the intern on how to better handle situations like this in a professional way.

    4. MLB*

      I think it’s less about her feelings on said politician and more about how she handled herself. I’m sure if she would have spoken to her boss about her being uncomfortable working on anything having to do with him, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. But she basically threw a tantrum about it. Regardless of work experience, I would hope that most adults in their late 20s have enough common sense to know this is not an okay way to behave at work.

      1. RoadsLady*

        This is it. I think we can all think of people we would be morally opposed to working with. Approaching your superior to discuss the matter quietly and respectfully is one thing. This was another.

    5. smoke tree*

      It’s a somewhat extreme example, but I think it’s in line with a key theme of this site–that you can feel that something is wrong, but still have to moderate your response to protect your own best interests. I agree that it’s awful that people who are the targets of bigotry have to field these questions as part of their professional lives, but I don’t think it does anyone any favours to pretend that these strategic decisions and sacrifices aren’t sometimes the price you have to pay to stay employed. It’s a very difficult balance but it’s better to be able to approach it intentionally.

      1. WS*

        Yes. I’m out and gay in a small town and there’s a few customers I prefer not to work with because they’ve been openly homophobic (not in my business or to my face, but deliberately where I can hear or see it). My straight co-workers take those ones as much as possible, because they are kind and helpful, but very occasionally I’m the only one available. My business is important to me and I don’t want to tell someone to go to the next place which is over 50km away, so, having done as much harm minimisation as possible, I suck it up and work with them.

  36. Marvel*

    OP, you sound extremely professional and I think your positions are well thought out. As someone who also works for non-profit institutions who serve an entertainment/educational purpose, I personally feel the same way re: allowing everyone access… but I also feel that I would personally draw the line at a certain point, similar to the way you articulated it. I feel like you clarified a lot with this update.

    1. Drew*

      Please read Alison’s request about political comments. This could derail us into making a lot more work for her.

  37. Submerged Tenths*

    OP, you are my hero for the humane way in which you taught this intern a valuable lesson about the work world.

    And, I find the comments about “slackability” in various graduate programs to be mildly hilarious. My graduate program was in Theater — which is generally considered by those who don’t know, to be an easy, odd, do-your-own-thing discipline. Totally not so, at least compared to the (apparent) scientists moseying in to their labs at whatever time they choose. In theater, you’d BETTER show up, prepared and on time, for rehearsal or for technical positions (scenic, costumes, lights, etc.) or you will a) be replaced and sometimes b) be booted from the program. Refusing to do something because you disagree with someone? Uh-uh, no way, not happening. Maybe that’s because it is such a competitive profession?

    Anyway, now I wish I’d gotten my Master’s in Biology ;P

    1. MamaCat*

      Yeah, I couldn’t get a “real” job because I had to do shows! Then I did summer stock shows in the summer! But luckily, that’s all very resume-worthy. :-D I didn’t get my first non-stipend job until 24-ish.

  38. Justin*

    So that I can stop arguing with folks, I will say, public-facing work like this has these unfortunate possible downfalls. I’ve been directly called the N word at work (not by colleague, but by a client), and had many other racial remarks occur (and I live in NYC).

    That stuff was upsetting (and my coworkers were great about it), but at no point did I threaten these people with violence. And I was indeed in my late 20s for most of this.

    And that’s direct, as opposed to the (certainly harmful but) indirect actions of someone coming into your workplace. I feel that, sadly, if we work in this sort of work, we unfortunately accept these possibilities, to a point (mind you, I told my colleagues and it was handled), without threatening violence or what have you. We must.

    But I understand that others disagree.

    1. Justin*

      It would have been nice to haul off and smack them, but, well, then you’d have news stories about a black man hitting older white women at a nonprofit and, yeah no….

      (It ain’t fair folks get to act this way, though.)

      1. Emi.*

        When I first encountered the N-word and asked my father what it meant, he concluded his explanation by saying that if I ever used this word and another child punched me in the face, he would tell me I deserved it.

    2. Bones*

      As someone who has worked a lot of customer facing jobs, I really wish there were more resources available for situations like yours. You should at the very least be able to say “We do not speak that way in here, I will escort you out now.”

      1. Justin*

        Well, they got suspended from the senior center in each case. It was fun documenting the specific language used!

        But I never had to see them again. However after it happened I walked away because I knew it was best I GTFO, then told my colleagues after a moment.

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I hate that we live in a society where this is a thing you feel like you have to accept.

      1. Justin*

        I would chalk it up to Orangeman but this was before him, sadly. People just go for whatever they can find to tear you down when they don’t get their way (that’s literally what happened in each case – I told them they couldn’t do something that they couldn’t do and they didn’t like it)

      2. Bones*

        I think a lot of it boils down to wanting to make racism/sexism/anyism merely rude rather than appalling, and thus ultimately acceptable/forgivable.

        1. Justin*


          As for the implications professionally, so Allison doesn’t tell us we’re too far afield, it’s interesting when it’s not a colleague. We all know not to accept this from a coworker. And in my case, every major director of the agency SHOWED UP the moment I told one peer with the first incident (the others were racial but didn’t have slurs). It was actually really heartwarming, because I figured they’d suspend her but the show of force was unexpected.

          I don’t really miss that job (the rude clients + lack of $$$ was fun!), but that was what I choose to hold onto more than some silly lady trying to hurt me.

          But being that it’s a public place, and that they don’t pay to enter, we can only really push back hard when the incident is truly egregious (since we got grants from the city/state). So it led to a lot of “smaller” bigotry issues from the public.

      1. Justin*

        Is it weird to say I barely think about it unless I’m reminded?

        (Offtopic, please delete if too random, AAM, sorry)

        I used to think I could just amass degrees and prestige and wear it like a shield, but when I walk down the street (or work at a center full of cranky seniors as well as some very kind ones I miss seeing since I no longer work there), they don’t see degrees.

        1. Bones*

          I don’t think it’s weird, I think it’s healthy. Hopefully I can get to that place one day!

  39. John Rohan*

    She seemed surprised, and responded that she thought I was “cool,” which was why she felt free to say what she did.

    I lean conservative on most issues. But when I was in grad school, I saw a lot of students that were in the left-leaning political environment so long that they saw everyone outside that bubble as an “enemy” and anyone inside the bubble as a “friendly” or “cool” (although those bubbles often expand or contract!). I remember one woman saying it makes her physically ill just to sit next to a Republican during class. So the intern’s response doesn’t really surprise me. Some people (on both sides of the spectrum) just need to get out an interact with more people.

    1. Rebecca*

      I totally agree with people needed to interact with more people. I’m currently staying with a friend, due to a “life” issue, and she and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, sports spectrum (as in, I’m a Steelers fan and she’s a Patriots fan), she eats Paleo, I eat whatever, I could go on and on…but we’re friends. We get along. I couldn’t imagine saying “I’m not going to sit next to her because she’s a liberal/Patriots Fan/won’t eat cake” whatever.

      1. HQetc*

        Ha, I was watching the world cup final at a bar, wearing a Patriots shirt, and one of my friends was wearing a Jets shirt. The waiter commented on it and my friend was like, “who cares about that, she’s rooting for Croatia! I can’t believe I’m even in the same room!”

      2. CMart*

        Sometimes the best people to sit next to are the ones who disagree with us most.

        Especially the ones who are anti-cake, because then you can have their slice. I, for one, always seek these people out at weddings.

    2. Holly*

      It really depends on the context. I have friends that identify as Republicans who do not support the current administration, and tend to be more socially liberal (LGBT acceptance, feminists, etc.) – they’re stances are moreso related to private vs public, more wonky type things that I disagree with. However, there are plenty of conservatives and Republicans who are vocally anti-LGBT rights and say sexist or racist things that would easily make someone uncomfortable sitting next to them. So I don’t think it’s a matter of interacting with more people – it’s a matter of, do you feel respected by that person or not?

    3. Victoria, Please*

      Heh. I once went to dinner with Annie Leonard (The Story of Stuff) because she was visiting our campus. The talk turned to ideologies and I mentioned that my best and oldest friend was an active member of the Tea Party. You’d have thought I’d farted the worst smelly loud one ever, from Annie’s reaction. Her face wrinkled up and she literally pulled away at the table.

      I’ve decided recently that responding with contempt to ordinary people is simply off the table. I can disagree, I can even work diligently against their agendas, but I must.behave.and.speak.respectfully. It hurts *me* when someone calls me a f*cking this or a dumb that, why would I respond in kind and add more awfulness to the world?

      My friend is still my friend. Thank God.

  40. puffyshirt*

    OP, I would just like to compliment you on your very mature, articulate response to a difficult situation. It sounds as if you handled all aspects with professionalism and grace. I feel particularly impressed with the way you are able to art your opinions. While I have no idea if we would agree on any political issues or not, but I am so encouraged by the way you handle yourself. In a time when it feels like it’s hard to see through the negativity and vitriol spewed across the news, internet, message boards, etc., your response has renewed my spirit. It is people like you make a difference in the world. Cheers!

    1. OP*

      Wow, that is an incredibly lovely thing to say. Thank you so much. And I’m really impressed with the commenters here. I know my initial post pushed a lot of buttons, and understandably so, but it was really useful to me to read everyone’s take on the situation. Thanks again!

  41. Anonymosity*

    This sounds like the best solution given the circumstances. I’m glad the intern was given the option to recuse herself from the tour and also that the OP spoke to her regarding the remark. Good job, OP.

  42. Vicky Austin*

    Knowing that it was not Steve Bannon does make a difference, yes.
    I agree that OP handled it the best possible way.

  43. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

    Honestly, as someone in a graduate program right now and almost finished (though not planning to be in academia), I’m not super surprised at someone being 27 with little professional experience? I’m 24 and while I have had jobs before, it could’ve been basically fine for me to not work (as I’m fortunate to be supported by family right now). And particularly when it comes to more white collar or “professional” jobs (where soft skills and diplomacy are more important and delicate), that stuff can be harder to pick up on if you haven’t been doing it before.

    I also think in a setting like a museum, as someone who’s getting an MLIS, it’s one of those “theoretical meets the practical.” Freedom of information, which includes access and service, is such an important principle but can be difficult to face in reality. Though having a line isn’t a flaw (and certainly for certain groups having a line is much more essential to their well-being than others) it’s just figuring out how you feel and what you want to do is a ethical and moral quandary one has to face in the field. It’s good she’s getting a taste of that now as an intern than later.

  44. GingerHR*

    Like other commenters, I read this as being in the UK. In relation to comments about the choice of someone of unfortunate views being in the museum, OP’s points about access for all are spot on. There’s also the negative side – our lower-brow press gets terribly upset if the ‘liberal establishment’ (museums do tend to count as liberal for this area of the press, as they don’t exclude) are perceived as being anti-conservative and the screeching is hard to deal with.

    First, I think the OP handled it with grace and dignity. Secondly, as a regular visitor to some of our amazing museums, I prefer that visitors who through no fault of their own could disrupt things are given private visits. Thirdly, the intern’s points around punching are out of line, but sadly that is the level of political discourse we have in the country at the moment. It may not be physical violence, but when you see how grown women and men speak to each other in Parliament, the intern’s comments are unprofessional and have no place in the workplace, but I can see how that isn’t entirely obvious when dealing with the Honorable Members. Finally, I have my suspicions about who it is. If I’m right, I took the high road once and didn’t trip him accidentally just outside one of Westminster’s many Prets.

    1. LDN Layabout*

      The current political discourse in this country is such that right now just the mere mention of certain members of both the government and the opposition, at work, would have me screaming internally.

      1. GingerHR*

        Agree. Party seems irrelevant – I’m just very glad that I’m no longer in an organisation that has to see politicians as partners!

  45. Janie*

    OP – you are the best! I found the comments section from your first letter so disappointing, angry, judgmental and reactive. They really made me think twice about reading the comments in the future.

    Your thoughtful response was so nuanced, tempered, respectful and basically just perfect. You have given everyone something to think about. This may be one of the best things posted on AAM because it really forced us all to think hard about our values, and because your response is right on the money. Thanks for the prompt follow up.

    1. OP*

      Thank you so much. I really appreciated the chance to think more carefully about my own values, and to try and articulate them in a way that makes sense (which I hope I did).

      I completely understand that many people would disagree with me, and I totally respect that. Everyone has a different ‘you shall not pass’ line in the sand. But you’re all still welcome at my museum!

  46. Falling Diphthong*

    Often they reach us at the ages of 27 or 28 towards the end of their graduate studies. Many times these interns have literally never had a job before.

    Having corralled high school student volunteers, this part is really interesting to me. My 14-18 year olds ran the gamut from a brief “Here’s what to do” and they were self-managing from then on, through wanting to goof off if someone wasn’t constantly keeping them on track (“Now that you have completed steps 1-3, you should start step 4.”)

    1. OyVey*

      My high school age student volunteers are the same way. One or two, I’d trust with the keys to the building in their early teens (wouldn’t, for about a dozen legal/insurance reasons, but it helps us to identify the steady ones early and train them for responsibility when they are old enough).

      Others are practically legal adults and I feel like I have to follow them around to make sure they get their assignments done correctly.

      **Most** of them leave us with pretty solid job skills in the end. What it takes to get them there though – !

  47. Bossy Magoo*

    Boy, this is a well-written follow-up. LW sounds like an excellent boss, employee, and advocate for her institution. A total professional. I really enjoyed reading this one. I especially liked “I know those comments were intended as criticisms, but I was grateful for them because they prodded me to think more clearly about a point that I think I articulated very poorly before.” Well done.

  48. TootsNYC*

    She seemed surprised, and responded that she thought I was “cool,” which was why she felt free to say what she did. I told her that it had nothing to do with being cool, but with what is appropriate in a workplace,

    Frankly, that’s not a “cool” statement to make, even in a private, social situation! “punching and punching and punching”? Ick!

    And I wouldn’t want to be so “cool” that people felt I was Ok with that sort of violence in speech. I know it’s not actual punching, but it’s just unsettling!

    I wouldn’t want to be her kind of “cool”!

    1. fposte*

      To me the real divide is “cool” as a manager approbation. It’s about as relevant to management as “lemon-scented.” “Cool” just isn’t an appropriate motivation for managerial decisions and practices, and framing it that way is pretty naïve.

    2. J.B.*

      Yes. The thing that bothered me most about the original letter was the suggestion of violence. I think it’s likely that the intern has been closed off from the real world and hasn’t had reason to question her actions…but I spend a lot of time with my kid currently heading off emotional outbursts like this!

      Even though the intern didn’t get it in the moment, hopefully she will internalize this along the way.

    1. Quill*

      Well, there’s a difference between having an on campus job during undergrad or grad school (which is generally a fairly laid back environment,) and the type of job that OP’s interns have, which probably doesn’t welcome as much overt political discussion at work, etc.

    2. Bea*

      I wasn’t allowed to work in high school, my parents didn’t want me in retail if at all possible. Their plan worked.

      I’ve been working since graduation. However had I gone to college, who knows. Not everyone holds a job while in school for a lot of reasons. My friends rarely had jobs unless they were work study ones.

      Sounds like they are grad students. They didn’t work in undergrad. Not difficult to do the math.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Yeah, my parents supported me in undergrad (for which I’m very grateful) and my dad actually made it a rule that I was not to work during school. I still took a campus job or two, and picked up work in the summer. He just made those disapproving snuffling noises that some men do and moved on.

        1. ArtsNerd*

          And because of that, I’m actually employed in my field / the arts, which he also snuffled at for being impractical.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      1) Their parents had a “school is your job” philosophy and they went from high school to undergrad to a PhD program.
      2) They had some brief jobs, like internships, but what they managed to learn from them was very narrow rather than skills they could then cross-apply in a broad range of different situations. (For example, someone upthread suggested that high-turnover jobs like retail might have this kind of talk behind the scenes–with your coworkers, not to the customers–as a norm. Some people have retail jobs and learn about being on time and such, other people learn that cool people laugh when you talk about punching people you find annoying.)

  49. LeRainDrop*

    This is such an awesome and thorough update! I’m glad I didn’t have the chance to read the comments on the original post because it sounds like they must have gotten out of hand, and I would not have agreed with many of the criticisms to which the OP is responding here. I personally think the OP handled this really well from a management perspective with the intern and from a reflective perspective as a writer taking in the input from all the folks on this site.

  50. Greg M.*

    I am personally on the intern’s side. I agree that the punching comment made not fit into your professional culture and that is something to explain to them. However it sounds like it’s a casual offhand comment with no real intent behind it. My coworkers and I have definitely said much worse things about customers.

    As for the refusal of tasks related to the tour. Yup. I’m with them there. There’s intent and there’s action, regardless of your intent and reasoning they are still getting a private tour. I obviously don’t want to get into the politics but there are definitely people I would refuse to do work for at my job. Refuse to have anything to do with. Without knowing specifically who or why it’s really hard to debate the specifics and honestly given how easy it is to track things down online please don’t give us those details.

    This is one tour, and one comment. The intern should not be let go over this. I’d recommend discussing this with them, ask, “is this going to be a one off thing? like is it just this person where you’d draw the line?” and go from there.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      I agree that this first time is a good “learning moment” and dismissal is a bit overboard, but that is exactly how the OP handled it.

      I agree that, morally, there are lines to draw and to stick by–but then you also have to understand that the consequences of that moral stand might be severe, including termination of employment. The museum still needs to do this work, and it sounds like it’s a more run-of-the-mill awful person than the horrific figures many people were inferring.

        1. ArtsNerd*

          These are dark times indeed. I hope you are doing what you need to take care of yourself.

    2. J.B.*

      There are people I would refuse to work with but IMO the suggestion of violence should have consequences.

  51. LGC*

    You did good, LW.

    One thing I picked up on – she thought you were “cool”. That’s…I have Feelings on both sides, as a Cool Boss (I say that mildly tongue in cheek), because while I haven’t had people voice strident political opinions to me, I get inappropriate comments a LOT.

    So. Intern. Or anyone that has a Cool Boss. It’s great that you have a boss that’s open to you and willing to hear things you say that don’t tow the company line. (Like…refusing to serve a politician because of their views. Or even just that the work your company does is boring.) However, as much as they act friendly, they ARE NOT YOUR FRIEND.

    For example, I’m not going to joke that I need to see my therapist after a particularly rough day to my boss because that would put her in an emotionally awkward spot. I’m not going to say that I’m at BEC stage with one of my direct reports because it could very easily be misconstrued as me using a slur against an employee I have power over. (Plus, does she even know what BEC means? Do I want to explain that to her?) Please, guys, remember that your Cool Boss is a Boss first and foremost.

    (Also, just speaking for myself here, I’ve learned that being the Cool Boss often means I haven’t communicated appropriate boundaries. It’s one of the many things I’m working on.)

  52. Bea*

    I’m glad you spoke with her.

    I chuckled at the “I thought you were cool” comment, I didn’t expect your interns to be that old and still struggling with these things. I can appreciate your situation and think it’s awesome you are actually cool. You took charge of the awkward situation and are compassionate beyond words, whereas many of us are still thinking she should have been fired over this nonsense!

  53. Librarian Liz*

    I find this response to be bordering on ageism. Maybe a lot of her interns aren’t used to working environments as she said, but personally I had my first professional job at 24 and learned how to act professional and show up on time. While she is right to comment that workplace norms take some adjusting to I would have preferred to see age left out of this reply.

  54. Ladyphoenix*

    It makes sense for high profile people to request private tours and events. Wasn’t there a story where DisneyWorld [Land?] closed its door to the public one day so that Elvis could have a day with his daughter?

    I think you have pretty clear path on what to do and helpful guidance for your intern.

    And yeah, sorry for vitrolic political comments. I think this particular year of politics has been downright messy that it is hard to tell which guy is either one of those super corrupt dudes that needs tongo away and which ones are good or—at the very least—harmless in the grand scheme of things.

    And now I have that line from “A Little Priest Stuck in My Mind”: “Here’s the politician, so oily It’s served with a doily, Have one! / Put it on a bun! Well you mever know if it’s going to ruuuuun.”

    (Context: A little priet is a black humor song about eating people that features a LOT of occupational jokes and double entrendres)

  55. Taylor Swift*

    The original letter and this update are probably the most thoughtful letters I’ve ever read on this site. OP, I absolutely commend you for that.

  56. Former Retail Lifer*

    My kneejerk reaction to a politician like this would be that of the intern’s, but then common sense would prevail. If I believe a pharmacist has to fill all prescriptions and a baker needs to bake all cakes, then I have to also believe that everyone deserves a tour. I missed the comment firestorm on the first post, but I assume it mirrored some of the heated political conversations we’ve had at my job, where we have often had the discussion of how we’d handle a neo-Nazi coming in. I work in property management and we’d actually be violating fair housing laws if we refused to tour anyone, but…a few people here would take that risk on principle.

    1. Greg M.*

      you’re drawing connections that aren’t there. we’re not talking prescribed medications. we’re not talking bigoted discrimination and segregation. we’re talking about refusing to grant someone special privileges which is what a private tour is regardless of intent.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        And yet refusing the privilege is effectively refusing access to the museum altogether, for the reasons stated in the OP. This museum is also public institution funded by the public for the public. (Even most private museums in the US are subsidized by the public due tax exemption.) So I think the analogy, though imperfect, is still a useful one.

        Usually I cringe at that line of argument, because it basically flags “false equivalence ahead.” But it really does deserve consideration in this case. The disagreements are political (and yes, the political is personal and vice versa… but I think there are levels to that) and not massive human rights violations.

    2. Alton*

      I think it’s worth taking this into consideration and think about what you would do to balance your principles against your responsibilities, but I don’t think it’s a perfect comparison, especially in a case like this where the intern was able to recuse herself without jeopardizing the politician’s access to the museum and its services. I think it’s good for the intern to be aware now that if she stays in this field, this may be a situation she’ll come up against. I also think it’s generally okay for businesses to decide that they can’t employ someone who’s unable to do part of the job. But I also think that it’s less of an issue when an employee is able to follow their beliefs without creating any disruption of service (and if causing a disruption or preventing access to someone *is* your goal, then, well, you have to be willing to admit that and lose your job over it).

    3. fposte*

      I think it does matter, as discussed in the original comments, that we’re talking a museum. On the spectrum of access, museums aren’t necessarily there with the FHA in access being legally mandated, but they have a moral mandate of access that drives the field and separates them from yer bakeries.

  57. OhGee*

    This is a great follow up – as I explore moving in to a role that involves more staff management, I find exploring this kind of scenario very helpful!

  58. Bones*

    I think a *lot* of people here are taking the punching comment too seriously. Hyperbolic venting is not intent.

    1. Holly*

      OP is aware it was hyperbolic venting. It’s still not appropriate for the workplace.

    2. Courageous cat*

      Agreed, and I think there are plenty of more casual workplaces where this kind of language would be totally normal. But past comments here have shown me I seem to be in the minority in that.

      I think the bigger issue was the language coming from an intern who doesn’t quite know the culture yet, rather than the actual statement itself.

  59. Triple Anon*

    The, “But I thought you were cool,” moment was a great learning opportunity. Some academic classrooms are pretty relaxed. You can say things like that and people will understand that it’s hyperbole and you mean well, or they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. It’s valuable to learn that there are some things you just can’t say or do at work because of how it might come across, and the potential consequences it could result in.

    And yes, this NEEDS to be addressed in school. Any level of school, starting with high school or even younger. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. It could be mentioned in passing or included with other classroom activities. But everyone should have access to this kind of education. It shouldn’t only be for people who seek it out or have someone else in their life who they can (and want to) talk to about it.

    1. Drew*

      I’m reminded of a coworker who replied “Shut. UP!” to our boss several years ago. The boss was visibly taken aback, because she was delivering unexpected good news, and ended up having a private conference with this coworker to explain how she felt that reaction was completely inappropriate. My coworker, for her part, meant it in the idiomatic “I can’t believe what you are telling me!” sense, but Boss had never encountered that usage, and the resulting chill in communications lasted for several days.

      It was a great lesson to me to be extra careful what I said at work, because what to me might seem like obvious sarcasm or exaggeration could very easily be taken literally, even by people who would normally know better.

  60. Student*

    I think your org should seriously consider whether these guests actually, really pose the security threat you seem to think they do. There are very few people who pose such a security threat. This is, in fact, a perk to VIPs disguised as security theater – not a genuine security concern.

    First off, what is the actual, specific security concern, assuming that the visit/tour is not a publicized event?

    These Important Visitors, by and large, go about their day-to-day lives without having everyone in the public cordoned off from them. Protests do not follow them in live time as they walk around. Rowdy fans do not follow their every waking move. Assassins do not constantly stalk them.

    There’s a handful of exceptions to that in the US – the current President and maybe the Vice President. A handful of very high profile celebrities. Arguably, in normal administrations, even that is overwrought – in the past, even US presidents used to take strolls in public without security details and not cause incidents everywhere. Major anomalies, like Lincoln’s assassination, were exactly that – anomalies. Even most members of the US Cabinet and Congress do not walk around causing a major security incident everywhere they go. They go to plenty of destinations like normal members of the public. They fly in coach on public airplanes without incident. They have security details, but those are mostly low-profile; not the kind where you need to clear out an entire venue for them if they deign to visit.

    Even horrible people who have openly threatened and actually harmed others can usually walk around in public without causing such a stir.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Aside from Alison’s point about taking letter writers at their word, I think that the recent spate of incidents involving highly visible members of the current US administration being confronted in public directly contradicts your point.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Confrontation often doesn’t involve violence, though (and in those cases it didn’t).

    2. LadyCop*

      As someone who actually works in protecting people…there are a lot more threats out there than most people can even imagine.
      Most of those threats are relatively “benign,” but recent discourse in this country has begun to view physical assault, vandalism, and unlawful demonstration as acceptable means to an end. While there are unlikely snipers in the wings, security isn’t just a puppet show…as demonstrated by an employee who causally talked about assault, and thought she was the one in the right.

      1. David*

        “Physical assault, vandalism, and unlawful demonstration.”
        One of these is not like the others. In recent years some localities have passed extremely restrictive ordinances that make any demonstration not confined to a distant “protest zone” unlawful. Technically, any march without a permit is “unlawful” in many places. “Unlawful demonstration” is what put Martin Luther King in a Birmingham jail. I must say this type of thinking, that views protesters in the same light as violent criminals, is part of what makes many seasoned activists so distrustful of law enforcement.

    3. OP*

      I understand where this idea is coming from, but in practical terms I’m afraid it’s a non-starter. I totally get it: it seems grossly unfair to spend public resources on a private tour. But the fact that someone can ‘usually’ walk around without it causing a problem just isn’t good enough from a security perspective. Please understand that we’re not just concerned about the security of the politician, but the security of everyone else in the museum. It would be irresponsible to risk the safety of our visitors (and our collections) when we don’t have to.

      1. J.B.*

        Hey OP thanks for engaging here and being willing to respond. I’m impressed by how you reacted and that you can see both sides of issues.

  61. Susana*

    LW, what a thoughtful update – and you were so ind in handling this with the intern. It would have been tempting t say – this isn’t about politics, it’s about professionalism, so please do it or leave. It sounds like it was indeed a learning opportunity for intern.
    You bring up another point that’s worth exploring in general – the number of people in their 20s whose first job after graduation is their first job ever. I realize the recession (not to mention parents who believe, somewhat understandably, that class activities are more important to a college application than working at McDonalds) meant fewer young people had jobs. But boy, is it helpful when you enter the workforce after college. If I had a tough teacher, my mom wold say, “wait until you get a boss.” Not to be mean, but to remind us that our whole lives, we will have to work with people who have control over our lives but might be difficult. So learn to navigate it now.

  62. LadyCop*

    I stayed out of that comment thread for a reason…people were speculating he was a Nazi?!?!?!?!!! I seriously can’t even. Coming from people who talk casually about physically assaulting someone and pretending you’re on top of the moral argument…

    I noticed sometimes there is a tendency here to take things to the extreme. And while things like Duck Club have shown us anything is possible, the number of commentators who label people as predators, or Nazis…or otherwise, while only have a scintilla of the information … I thought professional adults read this blog?

    I’m not sure I want to ever read or contribute to comments anymore.

    1. tusky*

      To be fair, it’s not the most outlandish speculation, given the world we live in. (I agree that speculation is unhelpful, but it’s also relatively benign.)

    2. ArtsNerd*

      There are actual, literal neo Nazis in US national politics – as well as many many more folks who do not subscribe to the ideology but ARE complicit in their rise to prominence. Please understand that these terms aren’t always being thrown around in loose hyperbole in this cultural moment. Few conservatives are Nazis of course, yet sometimes a prominent figure who gets labeled as a “fascist” is actually quite literally working to institutionalize neofascism. More than there ever should be. Hence the speculation (and of course it seems the OP is not even necessarily US based.)

      I say this because I hope you do stick around and continue to contribute to the commenting community. Tempers are flaring and political discussions are deeply fraught and emotional, but the vast majority of posts here don’t get nearly as heated.

  63. Leans Right*

    OP, I thought your update was great and very thoughtful. I appreciate the stand you take, and how careful you are ethically and professionally.

    I also LOVE Ask a Manager. I recommend this site to everyone at a moment’s notice (people actually tease me for being such a “fan.”)

    However, I’m going to say something to the rest of the Ask A Manager group. Naturally, it only applies to some.

    I lean Conservative in my politics. I’m not a Trump supporter, but I don’t think he’s the incarnation of Satan, either. I’m kind. I serve in my community. I donate money to the poor. I’m tolerant. I work in a religious school that is not my religion, and am well-liked for my thoughtful, tolerant persona. I know how to disagree agreeably, and I can usually find something of value in almost anyone and any opinion (it may be a crumb, but it’s something to build on!)

    So, when I come here and, even the hint of Conservatism sets off a firestorm of hate (when *my* side is supposedly hateful??), it hurts me. It makes me feel afraid. It makes me feel as if my opinions, no matter how well-reasoned or how important to my sense of self, are simply unacceptable. I feel demeaned, dehumanized, and marginalized.

    I don’t do that to others that are more Progressive. It’s not right for you to do it to me or mine (there are extremists in both camps). You don’t have to agree with me, but I am allowed to hold MY opinions, especially when everything I actually DO is kind, tolerant, helpful, and understanding to *everybody.*

    Please don’t call yourself tolerant, if the mere suggestion that someone who doesn’t agree with you makes you feel it is okay to call for violence, ban them from the public square, and call them all sorts of vile names.

    1. J.B.*

      Hey, I’ve been making an effort to engage. The reflexive demonization of the opposite has been going on forever and has gotten the other hand lately. I do think that there are some very personal positions that people are reacting to…and should never make it in the workplace in the first place.

      I will repeat something I said on the original thread, that there are some specific people with whom I would refuse to engage (and accept the consequences) but I would never ever threaten violence because that never has a place at work.

    2. seethingsdifferently*

      thank you for this post. I strongly believe that people with various opinions can talk about them without resorting to the hysterical name calling and scorched earth responses that seem to be so prevalent these days.

    3. Victoria, Please*

      Yes, thank you for this post. We stop learning when we stop listening, and we stop *teaching* when we stop listening.

      A rather large percentage of this commentariat is on the verge of no longer being able to teach.

  64. nnn*

    Now that we have OP’s further context, what struck me is how much goodwill Intern burned needlessly.

    Since many people consider this sort of thing a perk and there were a number of volunteers eager to step in, Intern could have said something like “I’m not particularly interested – perhaps it should go to someone who is more enthusiastic?” or “I’d rather keep working on X instead”.

    If pressed, Intern could have said “To be perfectly candid, I have some serious qualms about Politician and would very much prefer to avoid anything to do with him. I appreciate the opportunity, but is it possible to find someone else who would be a better fit for this visit?” with tone and delivery making it clear that she wouldn’t normally bring this up and is only doing so because you’re pressing her.

    This kind of coaching may well be outside of OP’s scope, but if Intern were a young adult of my acquaintance, I’d be guiding them in the direction of gently expressing a lack of enthusiasm before bringing out the big guns (or punches).

    1. LGC*

      Yeah, that’s the other major thing.

      Everyone else has clucked disapprovingly enough about Our Political Moment, but…you know, as someone who is in political alignment with LW and Intern, I get that this current moment feels like it could be apocalyptic. But also, please don’t be the person who threatened cartoon violence against a politician to your internship manager. There are MUCH more productive things to use whatever capital you have on, like protesting the dress code.

      (But to be serious, if Intern is reading this: before you threaten cartoon violence against anyone again…generally, don’t. But if you still really need to, only do so around your actual good friends.)

  65. Kay*

    OP your response was great and honestly she should be more grateful that you were so understanding. If it was me I probably would have said, yeah I don’t think you want to use the same arguments Bart simpson uses to make your point. ‘China cool! You pay later!’

  66. Jamie C*

    My personal opinion is that I would let the intern sit the visit out. If as you state in your original post, it’s a perk for them to be part of it, let it be a perk for them to sit it out. You also seemed very concerned with the immature way they made their feelings known, which to me just seems like a cover to give an austere and censorious response, which may have more to do with you than them. I wonder if the fact that you felt the same way about this person (and maybe wanted to ditch the event yourself but couldn’t) was really behind your concern that she should behave more professionally. After all, you said in your update that their words were clearly hyperbolic, and presumably your intern is young and behaves in an age-appropriate way. It’s a bit of armchair psychology, and we may have different interpretations on how to treat interns / young people, but that’s what I read in your story. Something wasn’t quite right.

  67. Krystal*

    If you haven’t got a proper work ethic by 27-28 you’ve gone wrong somewhere in your life, studies, university or not.
    If you don’t know what’s appropriate or not appropriate by this age I shudder to think how you’ll continue in life.

  68. Goya de la Mancha*

    “Namely, that for me, it is very important to think of a museum as an institution that is open for everyone, even those I strongly disagree with. Being welcoming to everyone *is* a moral standard for me. We are a public institution, funded by the public, and should be open to the public. I’m not naive enough to think that museums will fix the world or that my work will transform every bigot who sees it, but I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I didn’t believe in the potential of art and history to change ideas and minds.”

    PERFECT comment

  69. axolawltl*

    Good ending, and I hope the intern has learned a bit about things. Also OP is super eloquent and I really enjoyed their thoughts.

  70. seethingsdifferently*

    I love this person’s update. It could be a textbook example of the right way to handle a situation like this one. What a great statement of the values of the manager (and I hope their organization) and also a good lesson n how to coach someone whose behavior is inconsistent with those values.

  71. Emily*

    From one museum professional (also working for a public institution) to another, I respect your perspective, response, and decision whole-heartedly. Many in our field, probably most, do believe in the inherent ability of art and history to give perspective, teach, and have a real and positive impact. Sometimes believing in that means bridging huge gaps in the hopes someone whose perspective could be changed is listening. Thank you for continuing to uphold this ideal and for your empathy in educating your intern, who I believe really just didn’t know that was inappropriate– many museum staff members do give off a ‘cool’ or ‘chill’ vibe which for a newcomer can make learning professional norms a confusing process.

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