Dignity Project

A Fellowship Program for High School Students

This fellowship program is designed to train outstanding ​high school sophomores, juniors and seniors—15-18 fellows total annually—from Greater Boston to serve as interreligious and cross-cultural leaders, with the capacity to engage the diversity of our city (and broader society) with thoughtfulness, skill, and care.

This program is sponosred by the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership of Hebrew College and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation

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Dignity Project
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Aliza Kopans, High School Senior 2020-2021 Fellow

I think one of the most important things I have gotten out of the Dignity Project has been a space to practice hard conversations. I truly believe that the skills I am learning to galvanize a group and reach a compromise, or reach a place of being able to agree to disagree in the midst of heated debate, I’ll carry with me into college and beyond.

About the Dignity Project

Goals | Content Areas| Learning Modalities | Structure | Stipend

The Miller Center began planning for the Dignity Project before the COVID outbreak because of a growing need to help teen leaders in our city navigate the diversity of American life during a time of widespread political and cultural polarization. But the pain and isolation of the pandemic and the recent social uprising made the mission of this new project even more urgent and relevant.  

The Miller Center launched the project in fall 2020, in the thick of the pandemic, to train 15 to 18 outstanding high school sophomores, juniors and seniorfrom Greater Boston to serve as interreligious and cross-cultural leaders, with the capacity to engage the diversity of our city (and broader society) with thoughtfulness, skill, and care. 

The ethical/spiritual foundation for the project is the ancient and enduring notion that every human being is of inestimable worth, and that a society thrives when people learn to honor each other’s similarities ​and​ differences. In this moment of increased polarization and resurgent intolerance, we need to help young people develop the ability and sensibility to find common ground when possible, and to engage in ​dignified discourse and debate when necessary. This is particularly important for our target audience, as these teens move closer to adulthood, preparing to leave home for college, university, and work life. 

The overarching goal of the initiative is to cultivate a network of thoughtful and skilled young leaders able to build bridges of understanding and cooperation, and to stand up to bigotry and hate. To accomplish this, the Dignity Project aims to give voice and agency to Youth Fellows. It aims to recognize their intelligence and capacity, include them in community projects, and help them to realize their perspective is valued and they can be leaders and bridge builders in this world. The hands-on community building that takes place in the Dignity project moves learning out of the realm of the theoretical as Fellows practice hard skills together like active listening, facilitation, conflict resolution, and program design. In partnering together, Mentors and Fellows are building confidence and trust as they design solutions to address community needs.


Goals
    • Forge personal relationships with peers and mentors from different religious and cultural contexts
    • Explore the values and beliefs—religious and secular—supporting participants’ commitments to creating an equitable and compassionate society
    • Learn how to engage in constructive dialogue and work with a diverse team of individuals
    • Study the lives and work of “upstanders” from American and world history, including the sources of wisdom that inspired, informed, and guided them
    • Develop communication skills for use in formal and informal educational settings
    • Assist Fellows in planning meaningful projects that positively impact their communities and offer an opportunity to experiment with project-based learning and using their voice for change


Content Areas
    • Intercultural, Interracial, and Interreligious Literacy (with a focus on learning how to responsibly hold space that includes tension)
    • Intersectional Identity Formation
    • Creating a Community of Practice
    • Facilitation of Courageous Conversations
    • Diverse Coalition Building
    • Program Design & Implementation
    • Public Voice: Speaking & Writing for Bridge-Building and Social Change
    • Deep Listening, Communication, Conflict Resolution, & Dialogue Skills
    • Relationship-Building and Fruitful Collaboration Across Difference
    • The Power of Vulnerability and Sharing Stories
    • Anti-Bias Work: Seeing Past Stereotypes and Overcoming Assumptions


Learning Modalities
    • Group Discussion
    • Storytelling
    • Group Collaboration
    • Professional Presentations
    • Scenarios & Case Studies
    • Project-Based Learning
    • Reflective Exercises
    • Reflective Structured Dialogue 
    • Facilitation Practice
    • “Doing Life Together and Having Fun” (Games, Travel, Meals Shared)


Program Structure

Each participant will actively engage in all of the activities listed below. There will be brief assignments to be completed in advance of each monthly Zoom meeting.

>> View the program structure PDF

  • Opening Retreat (2 nights, 3 days)*
  • 4 Monthly In-Person Gatherings (3 hours/location TBD in Boston)
  • 4 Monthly Virtual Gatherings (1.5 hours on Zoom)
  • Preparatory multimedia assignments: videos, podcasts, book chapter (1 hour maximum)
  • 1 Religious or Community Site Visit is required on your own in October/November along with a journal entry to your Mentor, Program Director and Formation Team (3-4 hours)
  • Closing Retreat and Celebration (2 nights/2.5 days)**
  • Virtual Final Program Reflection and Evaluation Session (2 hours on Zoom)

FELLOWSHIP STIPENDS

Each participant will receive a $1000 stipend upon completion of the program. To receive the full Fellowship stipend of $1000, Fellows must attend and participate in all the Fellowship events and activities with the exception of one absence. After one non-emergency absence, stipends will be lowered to reflect the Fellow’s record of attendance and participation. This ensures fairness to the entire Fellowship community.

Fellows (2020-2021)

Jessica Khani
Radhika Heda
Quentin Robinson
Maayan Falk-Judson
Chloe Bancel
Olivia Bancel
Mikayla von Ehrenkrook
Nour Alajarma
Malak Ahmed
Aliza Kopans
Caroline Gannon
Grace Kelly
Lucy Tonthat
Tal Yahalom
Kobe Deener-Agus


Mentors (2020-2021)

Abubakr Fakhry
Batya Ellinoy
Martin Mugerwa
Preeta Banerjee
Kim Bress

info on apply to be a mentor

Please contact Shelton Oakley Hersey, Dignity Project Program Director, to find out about this opportunity, to receive an application and to provide nominations for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Inaugural Cohort Projects

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Throughout the year, members of the inaugural fellowship cohort of 16 fellows—from Baha’i, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traditions, and secular communities—met weekly to learn the theory and practice of interreligious and cross-cultural leadership, including strategies and tactics to cultivate resilience and joy amid an unprecedented wave of illness, loss, anger, and uncertainty.They also learned how to have “courageous conversations” about potentially divisive issues like the presidential election.

At the end of the program, the students collaborated on five projects to positively impact their communities and beyond. The groups used podcasting, visual art, writing and Zoom to create spaces for courageous conversations.

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Podcasting and Zooming: Three young women invited their peers to a creatively and tightly facilitated Zoom gathering on social justice topics close to their hearts and lives: Islamophobia, voting rights and restrictions, and mental health stigmas. They designed the space to promote both learning and interactive dialogue and led the session with passion, confidence, and influence.

The podcast team conducted interviews with people of different political and religious beliefs and blended their interviews into a dynamic podcast that presents three different stories and perspectives. LISTEN NOW!

“I think one of the most important things I have gotten out of the Dignity Project has been a space to practice hard conversations,” said Aliza Copens, a fellow on the courageous conversations team. “It is something that you don’t really understand the full value of until you are in a space where that kind of approach to discourse is really cultivated.”

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Written and Visual Arts

The two visual arts teams worked creatively to collaborate on two pieces: one demonstrates a local message of unity amidst differences in the city of Boston, while the other communicates the vast political and social differences between Americans in today’s landscape (even when they share similar religious beliefs).

The writing team produced a Writer’s Digest booklet highlighting one creative writing piece for each of the first 12 month of the pandemic. The pieces were written by the fellows and other guest contributors.

>> Read “TimeCapsule”

>> Read “Courageous Conversations”

“With something as hard as having a conversation about politics, creating art has made it easier,” said Olivia Bancel, a Fellow on one of the visual arts teams. “I’ve always found that art can say more than any conversation and can turn such a hard and controversial topic like politics into something simpler and more beautiful.”

“Expressing oneself in an interreligious space demonstrates the universality of our experiences, so to speak, it speaks everyone’s language,” added Fellow Martin Mugerwa.”Art is non-judgmental and is not limited to interpretations.”

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Apply to be a Fellow | Apply to be a Mentor

We are currently recruiting for the next cohort of Fellows and mentors. Find information and how to apply below.


How to Apply for a Fellowship

The 2021-2022 application is now open. Please fill out the following online fellowship application form and instruct your letter of recommendation to be emailed to soakleyhersey@hebrewcollege.edu. Dignity Project Staff will contact the applicant via email within a month of receiving the application and letter of recommendation. Thanks for your interest! If you would like to hear more about the program from the Program Director or a past Fellow or Mentor, we’d love to have a phone or Zoom conversation with you.

>> PROGRAM OVERVIEW

>> APPLY NOW

Eligibility

The Dignity Project Fellowship is open to outstanding high school emerging leaders from the Greater Boston area with a passion for interreligious and cross-cultural and cross-racial engagement. Applicants can apply on their own or can be nominated by a community leader. Each student must fill out a brief application form and provide a letter of recommendation. The Miller Center Staff will make final selections of all Fellows in the spring/early summer. Cohorts range in size from 14-20 Fellows.

Our Intention

In constructing this intentionally diverse group, we will recruit a passionate cohort of young people from different spiritual and ethical backgrounds, including those who identify as “religious” and “secular.” We will also pay careful attention to other axes of difference, including race, class, and gender. By the same design, Mentors are selected from local graduate theological programs and emerging faith leaders to model, companion, teach, lead, and empower. In developing this initiative, we are working collaboratively with leaders and educators from various houses of worship, schools, and civic organizations throughout the city.

Participant Expectations

Each participant will actively engage in all of the activities listed above. There will be brief pre-work (reading, podcast, video) to be completed in advance of some in-person meetings. In addition, each participant will also be expected to co-create and live by Community Commitments that will shape our way of being together as we practice a shared set of values. Finally, Fellows will contribute to the planning & implementation of small team projects that positively and meaningfully engage the Fellows’ communities.

fellowship Stipends

Each participant will receive a $1000 stipend upon completion of the program. To receive the full Fellowship stipend of $1000, Fellows must attend and participate in all the Fellowship events and activities with the exception of one absence. After one non-emergency absence, stipends will be lowered to reflect the Fellow’s record of attendance and participation. This ensures fairness to the entire Fellowship community.


Apply to be a Mentor

The Mentor role is a unique opportunity to get hands-on practice in a relationally diverse community with leadership, mentorship, and program design. As guides, teachers, facilitators, and spiritual leaders, Mentors embody for the Fellows what it means to be firmly rooted in self, in tradition, in values, and in justice. Mentors provide Fellows with their unique perspectives, gifts, skills, and creative leadership. Together Mentors and Fellows participate in a reciprocal dance in which everyone is empowered to fully step into their voice, their leadership and their unique potential. 

Our Staff and Mentors come from diverse faith, racial, and cultural backgrounds and lived experiences. Depending on the range of those who apply, we have Mentors who identify as Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Catholic, Buddhist, Interfaith, Hindu, Humanist, and Unitarian Universalist. Just as we welcome all youth Fellows, we employ and welcome Mentors of all races, cultures, genders, perspectives and traditions!

Please contact Shelton Oakley Hersey, Dignity Project Program Director, to find out about this opportunity, to receive an application and to provide nominations for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Program Staff

  • Ms. Shelton Oakley Hersey, Dignity Project Program Director
  • Ms. Kim Bress, Dignity Project Assistant Director
  • Mr. Tom Reid, Associate Director, Miller Center, Hebrew College
  • Rabbi Or Rose, Director, Miller Center, Hebrew College
  • Ms. Marilyn Stern, Community Engagement Administrator, Miller Center, Hebrew College

Questions

Contact Shelton Oakley Hersey, Dignity Project Program Director, Miller Center, Hebrew College.

The Dignity Project is a much-needed and very thoughtfully developed space for accompanying the next generation of leaders. Integrating spiritual diversity is a critical component of embracing the fullness of humanity and ushering the compassion and wisdom required for a better future.

Preeta Banerjee, 2020-2021 Mentor