Mickey calls upon minions

-Madalyn McLeod Johnson

Opportunity finds you when you least expect it. I certainly wasn’t expecting anything when I found a brochure on the bathroom floor at Joyner Library. The pamphlet was a “casting-call,” inviting the reader to “become part of the magic” that is Disney. And who wouldn’t want the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to be a cast-member at Disney?

But the student who drives down to Orlando for this internship will quickly discover that he or she is not there to network with leaders or receive career training. No, the intern is there to make the beds, scrub the toilets, stock the souvenir counter, and drive the trolleys.
He or she is required to live in Disney-owned apartments and pay the inflated rates set by Disney. And since the pay is at minimum wage without benefits of any kind, the student may find that at the end of the stay, he or she is broke and begging mom for gas money to make it back home.

The executives at Disney struck gold when they discovered that all it took to produce several thousand seasonal workers at their doorstep was to sprinkle a little magic dust. By calling workers “cast-members” and their temporary jobs “internships,” Disney has found a way to appeal to college students nationwide. And there is no need to hire any embarrassing ethnic faces to man the booths when you can replace them with the starry-eyed youths of white-bread, middle-class America.

Disney is one the many corporations that have discovered that the easiest way to milk cheap labor out young workers is to label their low-end jobs an “internship.” By this sleight-of-hand, corporations no longer have to offer health insurance, benefits or even minimum wage. And the intern receives none of the legal protections granted to employees, such as those designed to guard against sexual harassment.

But most interns do work. That is not to say that they are actually receiving training for the white-collar jobs they aspire to, for companies have little incentive to invest time and energy into someone who is only there temporarily and costs them nothing.

And every time an intern does work, a firm is relieved of the cost and trouble of creating a real job, which is ironic, because real jobs are what interns are ultimately looking for. And let’s not pretend that these internships will roll over into permanent employment: Most organizations know damn well when they advertise internships that they won’t be offering positions anytime soon.

At least Disney pays. Internships for no pay at all are becoming the norm, and it is silly to offer a stipend when people are desperate to work for free. And now, The Huffington Post is selling its internships at a mere $13,000 a pop. One suspects that it won’t be the impoverished-but-talented up-and-comer that will win this position.

And if an internship is now required to get your foot in the door, then we can expect that the good jobs of the future will go to those whose families can support them indefinitely while they hop from internship to internship.

Why are universities supporting this? Why, for example, does ECU have a Disney College Program page on its website? And why do so many majors now require that their students intern in order to graduate?

It seems like a good deal for the university. Never mind that the classes offered at Disneyworld, such as “Marketing You,” are little more than a sham of an education. Students still pay for the credit received, giving universities the opportunity to collect money without actually having to provide a professor or a classroom.

And corporations win when the university backs them, because it artificially forces hundreds of thousands of students each year to seek low-pay or no-pay internships they might not otherwise have taken.

It’s not that there is no educational value in blue-collar work. But why is the “cast member,” who prepares funnel cakes and scrapes gum off the sidewalk, getting an education while the short-order cook at Cubbies is not? What magical experience separates Goofy from the guy in the hotdog suit in front of Sup Dogs?

If the university wishes to recognize the value of labor as an educational experience, then let it reward all the students that are working to make ends meet and afford the ever-increasing cost of tuition. Let a student work away his internship requirements at McDonalds. Or let ECU acknowledge that the Disney College Program is a scam and nothing more.

This writer can be contacted at opinion@theeastcarolinian.com.

19 Comments for “Mickey calls upon minions”

  1. You do make some valid points as Disney does rely on these College Program students to take these bottom of the chain roles, however for many college students this is their first step into a real business. There are so many termination stories because 18-21 years don’t realize what it’s like to work, so I find that many participants learn some life lessons.

    In addition, perhaps it’s some people’s goal to get a career with Disney and if you take the time to contact Disney leaders, MANY started in the college program, so it clearly has a success rate. Disney also offers “Professional Internships” which are career-driven internships which are highly competitive and often do turn into a full time career afterwards. Many of those students chosen did participate in the College Program.

    I think that you get out of the program, what you put in. I just read a book called “Mousecatraz” about it. It’s an honest look at the program and gives pros and cons.

  2. Jennifer Paige

    totally agree <3

  3. Lily

    As a two-time intern extending her second program into a third semester on the Disney College Program (and almost four year Cast Member), I’d advise you to do a little more research when publishing an article and not just writing a rant and posting it as “journalism”. Try the program yourself, or talk to a diverse and varied group of people who’ve actually participated- get both sides of the story. Don’t just listen to the vocal and disgruntled minority.

    The Disney College Program is a job- something a lot of college students have never experienced full time before. It’s a hard adjustment for some- it was for a lot of my friends, and some didn’t make it to the completion of their programs.

    You get out of the Program what you put into it.

  4. Lindsey

    Just to correct you on one thing here, Disney does not “require” anyone to live in their housing. They give you the option to live “on campus” as well as “off campus.” Also, if any student does not realize that they are going down there to work at least 30+ hours, then clearly they did not do their research. Disney never once lied about the students having to work. It is laid out there plain and simple. Like the previous comment said, maybe you should have done a little more research.

  5. Taylor

    1) You don’t have to necessarily take a class at Disney. Also, the classes are not all paid classes and the ones that are don’t exceed 30 bucks.

    2) There are people who have gotten jobs just because they have the DCP on their resume. If working for one semester at Disney for lousy pay will get me a better job with a top company (Disney or not) the yes I’m going to take that opportunity.

    3) If you are going to write about the DCP then at least get some insight into it from people who have done the program and people who are applying for it.

  6. Amanda

    I hope this was more of an op-ed or editorial piece, rather than an informative article. While I do agree with your statement about Disney being able to fill menial jobs for low pay and no benefits, many of my friends have been able to transform their 6 month internship into a full time job with Disney, including becoming managers. After finishing my program, I was immediately offered a job back home (in the middle of the recession!) and my employer told me it was because of my work with Disney. He was aware of the Internship program and what it entailed, so he had no delusions of what I did out there.
    I also had several friends who Disney was their first job EVER. Especially now, it’s hard to just walk in and get offered a job with absolutely no experience. Showing that you were willing to show up to work everyday in 110 degree heat and preform your job, no matter how boring or repetitive, is impressive (imo).
    And lastly, where I live it runs aprx. $1000 a month for a one bedroom. Even split between two people, that’s 500 a month, no utilities included. Compare that to $335- $450 a month, all utilities included, and they even take me to work! Or the mall, or Walmart, shopping, social areas… you really get a good deal out of it. No, you may not get benefits during your internship, but I am currently full time at a small local company who also doesn’t offer benefits. So no matter where you go, they’re not guaranteed.

  7. Ali

    So why is an internship at Disney World different than a job at McDonalds, Cubbies, or Sup Dogs?
    …Do people from all around the world travel, interact, or room with you while working for McDonalds?

    After work at Cubbies, can you walk a block down the street to ride Space Mountain?

    Does Sup Dogs prepare you for a business professional environment, including setting a standard for your clothing and appearance, that should carry on throughout your career?
    I know at ECU they have a hospitality management degree, which would be absolutely perfect for the Disney College Program. Sure, you may get stuck as custodial, but if you were a motivated person, you would see this as the opportunity to network with owners and managers of the busiest resorts in the nation. The job is irrelevant, in all honesty. Their slogan is “LIVE, LEARN, EARN.” for a reason. You should research that reason and rewrite this article before assuming you understand.

  8. Emma

    “And there is no need to hire any embarrassing ethnic faces to man the booths when you can replace them with the starry-eyed youths of white-bread, middle-class America.”

    Embarrassing ethnic faces?!? Seriously? If you had done your research you would see that Disney hires a very LARGE amount of ethnicities for the college program, and doesn’t even ask about race in its application.

    It seems that this article is extremely one-sided and would have benefited from some actual insight from someone who has experienced the program rather filling the article with a bunch of misguided hearsay.

    How can you make an article bashing something that you have not experienced or without including insight from someone who has??

  9. Ashley

    As a student at ECU, as a cast member having done the internship last year, and as a current Disney College Program campus Rep here at ECU, this article disgusts me. I really wish you would have done further research before publishing this..maybe talk to one of the MANY Disney alumni we have here on campus.

    The DCP was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had in my life.
    are offered
    - full transportation to and from work-for free
    -housing rent under $100 a week
    -freedom to roam any disney park-for free

    and most importantly job experience through an internship, which you’re right is one of the only paid ones out there. I have learned so many valuable things while working my program there, and as a seasonal cast member. And yes, we are considered cast members. Just like ANY of the other Disney employees. There are classes that you can take that count for university credit, that actually require you to do work in, so no one isn’t simply “wasting time in an empty classroom”. There are also chances where one can do a shadowing of higher up’s in Disney, and can also set up a meeting to find out what they do within the corporation every day.

    About the role situation..I worked in attractions at Disney Quest, and it is not at a “main park” it is at Downtown Disney, and I loved it. DQ is a “virtual indoor themepark” and we have arcade games, and virtual rides all modeled after the ones at Magic Kingdom. I delt with children on a day to day basis, and a simple hug can make a day so rewarding.

    I’m sorry for whatever happened for Disney to leave such a bad taste in your mouth. But I do promise that if you come to one of our presentations in the spring, we will prove you wrong.

  10. Jimbo

    Op-Eds are not the right to slam something that “seems” wrong. They are the opportunity to make the case that some actually is wrong (or right) based on documented facts. This one, while well written, is long on unfounded claims, short on documentation.

    Nest time do your homework, Angus.

  11. John

    You should do more research before you slam Disney like that. I have numerous friends that have done the Disney internship program ECU supports and they LOVED every minute of it. Not one of them have ever mentioned being mistreated or any such thing during their time at Disney. In fact most of them did not want to leave when the internship ended. Don’t assume it is bad because you want it to be.

  12. Chris

    To put it plainly…You’re a moron. I could go on as to why, but that’s clearly been done by other posters. #Fail

  13. Chelsey

    It is extremely clear that you did not do the proper research required to post an article worth reading. Sounds to me like someone received a rejection letter and is having some harsh feelings for not having the opportunity to be one of “Micky’s Minions.” Dont worry, I will be sure to tell you about my wonderful, educational experience when I return from the program this coming May.

    Have A Magical Day!

  14. Andrew

    Mr. McKellar-

    After reading your article in The East Carolinian published on December eighth 2011, I can’t help but question the source of your opinion. Was it personal experience with the college program or something you heard from a friend? I only ask because I am one of the many ECU students who has completed the Disney College Program… and loved it. In fact, February 2nd will mark my three-year anniversary with the company in which I have been an Intern, Part-Time and a Seasonal Cast Member. Disney has done nothing but provide me with further opportunity.

    In fact, contrary to the experience conveyed by your article I did not scrub toilets or drive trolleys on my internship. I was a front desk cast member who worked at some of America’s finest resorts. This experience was perfect for any hospitality or business major. If an internship at the largest entertainment company in the world (according to CNN Money) isn’t a foot-in-the-door, then I don’t know what is. It concerns me that your apparent lack of knowledge about the program may publicly belittle my resume and hard work.

    Another fact that you got wrong (or perhaps exaggerated) is that my rent at College Program housing was equal to off campus living here at ECU. Disney was helpful, to say the least, and did not charge me for utilities or cable.

    Perhaps your biggest misstatement is that, like a large percentage of Cast Members, I am not white. I’d like to believe that the phone interview with the Disney Recruiters Office did not display my ethnicity either. It appears fearless of you to stretch the content of your article to accuse the largest entertainment company in the world of racist hiring practices. In my years with the company I have found that Disney promotes diversity in every way.

    Unfortunately Angus, it appears that the only thing that is “a scam & nothing more” is your article. Your opinion has been stated as fact, and you and I both know that readers may mistake your lack of research for actual intelligence. Like any informed ECU student would do you should try to voice your opinion after researching the topic.

    As they say- have a magical day,


  15. Appie

    This is so nog true, it was the best time of my life, à
    Moment to never forget,

    Appie ( ICP from the Netherlands, Amsterdam)

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