By Casey Kitchens, Fall 2022 Intern
As my internship with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation comes to a close, I was asked to write one final blog post about my experience over the past 14 weeks. While I could probably write a novel about how much I’ve learned about weapon systems, nuclear fusion, the history of arms control, defense spending and more, I’d like to focus instead on why opportunities like this matter.
As a first-generation college graduate, I was nervous that there wouldn’t be a place for me in the tight-knit nuclear policy community. The high-level analyses and esoteric policy discussions were intimidating, and I had convinced myself that I’d be clocked as an outsider immediately. I worried that despite my best efforts, I would struggle to find my voice amongst the chorus of intellectuals with whom I would soon work alongside. Perhaps that insecurity stemmed from the uncertainty that comes along with switching careers after a decade in an entirely different field. Perhaps it’s from years of trying to cover up my Southern accent to hide my working-class roots. Perhaps it was from something else entirely.
Regardless of how I felt then, it’s certainly not how I feel now. Within just a few days, I knew without a doubt that the nuclear policy field is exactly where I need to be. I’ve been incredibly moved by how quickly I was welcomed into the Center, and how from day one, I was treated as an equal. The staff gave me the space to ask questions, to challenge assumptions that I disagreed with, and most importantly, to be myself.
Being yourself isn’t always an easy task, especially when you’re often the only out-LGBTQ person in the room. I’m grateful that wasn’t the case here at the Center. Each week, my colleagues encouraged me to research and write about issues that I cared about, even if it didn’t fit within the traditional boundaries of “the work,” — especially when it challenged old ways of thinking.
Now more than ever, new thinking is exactly what’s needed in the nuclear policy community. In the 14 weeks I’ve interned at the Center, the NPT Review Conference failed to achieve consensus on a resolution, North Korea codified its status as a nuclear weapon state, Vladimir Putin issued nuclear threats against both the United States and its European allies, the JCPOA has all but been declared dead, and for the first time, we’re facing the possibility of a nuclear arms race with China.
Despite these worrying trends, I’m leaving D.C. with a sense of optimism about the future of arms control and non-proliferation. Staff at the Center recognize the value of diverse perspectives and inclusive policy and are actively working toward making these spaces more accessible. I’ve learned that the nuclear policy community is full of passionate people who earnestly want to make a difference. I’m honored to have had this experience and am deeply grateful for the personal and professional development I’ve gained.