Chapin Dorsett ’19 Works with Social Science Data at Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund in Portland, ME

This summer I have been interning at Planned Parenthood’s Maine Action Fund, located in Portland, ME. The Action Fund is an affiliate branch of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America that makes up its advocacy and political arm. The Action Fund is independent, nonpartisan and not-for-profit, and engages in educational and electoral activity aimed at protecting and supporting the services that its Health Centers provide.

There is a pretty substantial crew of interns working in the Portland office this summer. We have been dispersed across a range of projects, including gathering stories from patients in the health center (called the “Health Center Advocacy Program”), collecting signatures on our petition from supporters of Planned Parenthood, and deep canvassing aimed at reducing stigmas around abortion (called “Bridging the Gap”).

During my first week at Planned Parenthood, I was given a new title: “Data Intern.” Upon first hearing my designation of the title, I was a bit nervous. I am terrible at using computers and am scared of carpal tunnel syndrome!! Am I cut out for this kind of work??  I wondered with unease. As I met with my new supervisor, however, my worries began to fade away and interest seeped in to replace it. She explained to me that the data collected from the Bridging the Gap project is being compiled and sent to a group of social scientists for use in a research paper on the efficacy of deep canvassing. My role is to help organize the data and enter it into Planned Parenthood’s database.

Deep canvassing is a pretty new technique being utilized as a political strategy. In fact, the term was only defined in 2015 at a conference attended by my supervisor. In deep canvassing, the canvasser encourages the voter to contemplate political alternatives and reconsider their prejudices by actively taking up the perspective that they oppose. The purpose of the canvassing is to engage in an honest conversation that leads to a mutual understanding, hopefully with the result of reducing the voter’s prejudice or reconsidering their core beliefs.

Although the term “deep canvassing” was just recently defined, the actual idea surrounding it is not new. Having one on one conversations with fellow citizens aimed at shifting beliefs and values is a political strategy is a relatively simple idea that has been used for centuries. The more I learn and think about this project, the more I find myself reflecting on theories and concepts I have learned in class as a Politics student. I am so grateful for this opportunity to connect my studies with real-world experience and I look forward to what the rest of the summer has in store!

Experiences like Chapin’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff

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