FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Honors students Elijah Conley, Daniel Webster and Justyce Yuille were three of only 55 people chosen for the prestigious Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Inc. Summer Internship Program.
According to the organization’s website, these programs “prepare college students and young professionals to become principled leaders, skilled policy analysts and informed advocates by exposing them to the processes that develop national policies and implement them.”
Conley, who hopes to be a public interest lawyer someday, said the internship is helping him better understand what his future career might entail.
“It’s given me a lot of knowledge about what it means to work for a nonprofit organization, and how to serve people, and things like that,” he said. “So that’s something that I think I’m going to be able to apply to my future goals.”
Typically, program participants spend their internship in Washington, D.C. This summer, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the interns to work from home.
“Initially, we were supposed to be working for a member of Congress,” Conley explained. However, the move to remote instruction made it difficult to guarantee secure networks, so he said the internship is now geared more toward “public policy and professional development.”
Though initially disappointed by this change, Daniel Webster has learned much in the many Zoom sessions he attends.
“We usually have two to three sessions per day,” Webster said, adding that the topics of these sessions vary widely, and can be about anything from “how to become a staff member on the Hill” to “different ways that you can support voter rights in different initiatives.”
“Very few people know their representatives … and senators,” Webster said. “So they focus on mostly presidential elections. But if we focus more on state representatives and senators, and local elections, then we could do a lot more.”
Webster is particularly passionate about criminal justice reform.
“I think that’s one area that we have just completely failed as a nation,” he said, adding that he wishes there were better policies in place, and more training for “anyone in the process,” which includes both police and correctional officers in facilities.
“I also think that we criminalize mental health and people that don’t adhere to the behaviors that we deem as normal,” he said. “I think we should do a better job of separating the people that are actually breaking the law and people that are going through mental health crises and need help.”
“Our criminal justice system has lost its purpose. … The purpose of punishment, in my opinion, should always be for rehabilitation,” he said. “But it seems that in this country, our punishment is always for retribution, or for punishment’s sake. I don’t agree with that.”
Yuille said her time with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation has taught her the value of preparation and policy, which she believes is integral in the fight against police brutality.
“One of the best ways to really counter police brutality [is] through policy,” she said. “That’s why they’re teaching us how to write legislation.”
On June 8, the Congressional Black Caucus introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which it described as “the first-ever bold, comprehensive approach to hold police accountable, change the culture of law enforcement and build trust between law enforcement and our communities.”
“We are in such an interesting time with everything going on in the world,” Conley said. “Being able to be part of an organization that is kind of [on] the frontlines of the change that’s coming is really cool for me to experience.”
Yuille stressed the importance of continuing to work long-term: “Now that you see what’s going on, what actions are you going to take to ensure that this doesn’t happen anymore? That’s really what I’d like to see more of — more discussions, more policies,” she said. “If I see something I don’t like, I’m going to work, do everything within my power to change it and make sure it never happens again.”
Honors Path Scholar Elijah Conley, a political science and journalism major from Melbourne, was awarded the Unsung Hero Award by the Associated Student Government, for whom he currently serves as director of recruitment. He is the director of service for the Freshman Leadership Forum and was recognized as the Freshman Leadership Forum Outstanding Member of the Year in 2019, as well as Outstanding Member of the Month in 2018. He also currently serves as homecoming campus outreach coordinator of the Student Alumni Board.
Daniel Webster is a psychology, sociology and criminology major from Marion. He is a Truman Scholarship finalist, and a recipient of the NASPA Undergraduate Rising Star Award, the Black Student Association Scholar of the Year Award, the SPPARK Spirit of Service Award, the SPPARK LSAT Scholar Award, the SPPARK Top Oralist Award, and the University of Arkansas’ Multicultural Center’s Bridge Builder Award. He has served as the director of diversity and inclusion in the Associated Student Government and currently serves as the student administrative and special events assistant for the University of Arkansas School of Law dean’s office.
Recent graduate Justyce Yuille, from Little Rock, obtained a Bachelor of Arts and Science in criminal justice and in political science and African American Studies with cum laude honors. During her time at the U of A, Yuille served as the first African American chief justice of the Associated Student Government Judicial Branch and as an intern at the Terrorism Research Center and the Fulbright Advising Center. She is a Black Alumni Society Scholar and was awarded the Volunteer of the Year Award by the Black Students Association and Black Alumni Society Scholars.