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 sponsored 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/readings to be completed in advance of each monthly 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 (2022-2023)

Christopher is a senior at NuVu Studio in Cambridge, aspiring to be a Mechanical Engineer. His favorite subjects are Physics and Mathematics and he enjoys project based learning and collaborating with others. Christopher is an avid curler, curling out of Broomstones Curling Club, and recently skipped a team at the 2022 U21 National Championships. He enjoys Lego, Star Wars, Marvel, and playing board games. He is passionate about working towards inclusion and fairness towards all and
looks forward to a leadership role as a Dignity Project Fellow.


Rishit is a freshman at Shrewsbury High School and an amicable student in the classroom. He follows Hinduism and has an extensive family history within Hinduism, being an Asian Indian. He likes to read, play video games, and is passionate about music, being involved with Carnatic music and Concert Band. He also has a passion for anything computer-related. He participated in Boy Scouts and is “prepared” to create positive change wherever he goes. Rishit significantly values patience and an open-minded attitude.


A senior at Boston College High School, I’m a “people’s person” who loves to engage with various groups and people in the community. My education and home life have been steeped in Jesuit and Catholic values, which I hope to share and develop with and through the Dignity Project. From Hingham, MA, I try to embrace my community for all the things and people who make it so special and meaningful to me. I plan to work as a commercial airline pilot and I am actively training for my pilots license out of Norwood.


Hi! My name is Orlaith! I am a sophomore at Milton high school and I am passionate about art and coding. I am the art editor of our school’s art and literature magazine, The Echo, and I practice often to improve my artistic talents. I am also interested in video game design and coding. The church I attend is St. Agatha’s in Milton, which has helped me have opportunities to help my community. I often help out at the Milton art center too. I enjoy being able to share my art with others.


Tanvi is a junior at Westborough High School. She is hard working and particularly enjoys her science classes at the high school. She loves volunteering in her community and playing the flute. Tanvi is a Hindu and is very involved in the India Society of Worcester as the president of the youth group. She is also a part of the Westborough Youth and Family services to help better her town for the current youth. She hopes to leave a positive impact on her community whenever possible.


Meital is a rising senior at Gann Academy in Waltham MA. She comes from a strong Jewish background and her family belongs to three different synagogues. She enjoys playing sports and is captain of her varsity basketball and lacrosse teams at Gann. She also loves singing and playing piano in her free time. She is the co-leader of the club CABB–Connections Awareness and Breaking Barriers club at Gann and is excited to meet other fellows and participate in The Dignity Project.


Riya is a junior at Algonquin Regional High school where she enjoys being an active student and participant in the community. She identifies as a Sikh and attends the Westborough Gurdwara Sahib (NESSC). She is the Managing Editor of her school’s newspaper, as well as a trained Anti-Defamation League (ADL) mentor where her team facilitates workshops with the sophomore class. In her free time, she enjoys playing tennis, singing and painting.


Naomi is a sophomore at Boston Trinity Academy, where she participates in the Arts Council and leads as a varsity soccer captain. She also enjoys theater, philosophy, and listening to history podcasts. She identifies as a Messianic Jew and attends both Antioch Community Church in Waltham and Sar Shalom. Naomi enjoys learning about new cultures and ideologies, and values all people as a reflection of God the Creator.


Danveer is a rising senior at Natick High. He is a Sikh and is an active member of the local Gurudwara (Sikh place of worship) as the youth representative. Danveer enjoys Taekwondo, working out, community service, and video games. He is first in his division in the US and has won many Taekwondo tournaments. He enjoys learning about other religions and world views to have a deeper understanding of others.


Sophie is a rising senior at Milton High School and has a passion for learning. She identifies as religious and currently attends The First Congregational Church of MIlton, where she is very active in helping the community. Sophie enjoys playing piano, embroidering, and watching horror films. She strongly values honesty, community, and compassion.


Cameron is a junior at Boston College High School. He identifies as Catholic and attends St. Mary’s Parish in Melrose. He enjoys rowing, hiking, and playing with his new black lab puppy. He is involved with literacy volunteering and environmental science research, and is especially interested in the intersection between social justice and STEM.


Emma is a senior at Gann Academy in Waltham. She identifies as Jewish and attends Camp Pembroke. Emma loves playing volleyball, playing lacrosse, and spending time with family and friends. Emma is the programming officer on Gann Academy’s student council and values making real change in her community


Suzanna is a junior at Arlington High School. She attends Kahal B’raira in Cambridge, a Humanistic Jewish temple, where she is currently a teacher’s aide. Suzanna loves playing volleyball, being outside, learning new things, and spending meaningful time with others.


Greg is a junior at Boston College High School and is an organized and thoughtful student. Greg enjoys playing the piano and basketball, and is involved in multiple groups involving the Fine Arts in an effort to further the Arts at school.


I’m Luz, 17 years old. I’m an upcoming senior at Newton North High School. I love running, reading, and writing. I am often looking for ways to help my community whether it’s fundraisers or walk-outs. I value honesty and respect above all.


Zehra is a sophomore in high school who enjoys putting dedication into her school activities. At school, she participates in Student Ambassadors, Science Club, Girl Scouts, Gala Ambassadors, and does an entrepreneurship program. She does TaeKwonDo and likes to read and write for enjoyment. Zehra identifies as Muslim and likes to advocate for justice for everyone, no matter their religion, race, gender, etc.


Ranya is a senior at Sharon High School where she is a varsity sailor on her high school team. She is a tour guide at the Massachusetts state house, an intern at a law firm, and an aspiring lawyer

 


Nat is a senior at Newton North High School. They are an accomplished musician and composer and enjoy creating other forms of art as well. Nat is a member of Newton Presbyterian Church and looks forward to improving their leadership skills at the Dignity Project Fellowship.


My name is Ibrahim and I am a junior at Methuen High School. I am Muslim and pride my self on my love for my religion. I enjoy reading, playing video games, learning and exercising. I help out in all facets of my community and I strive for equality.


Daniel is a senior at Boston College High School. He is an Evangelist who attends Congregation Lion of Judah in Boston. He enjoys writing short stories and is a part of the leadership team in his youth group. He loves to read books and cares for the environment around him.


Gabe is a senior at the Cambridge School of Weston, where he serves on the school’s curriculum committee and as president of the Junior Statesmen of America chapter. He identifies as Jewish and attends Temple Beth Zion in Brookline. Gabe’s interest in interfaith and intercultural work stems from the conversations that he’s had with over 50 foreign students that his family has hosted. In his free time, Gabe enjoys spending time in nature, playing sports with friends, playing music, and volunteering.


Staff (2022-2023)

Rabbi Or RoseMiller Center Director, Rabbi Or Rose, is the Founding Director of the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership of Hebrew College and a founding faculty member of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. He has taught for the Bronfman Youth Fellowships and The Wexner Graduate Fellowship, as well as in a variety of other academic, religious, and civic contexts throughout North America and in Israel. He is the co-editor of Deep Understanding for Divisive Times: Essays Marking a Decade of the Journal of Interreligious Studies (Interreligious Studies Press), Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: Essential Teachings (Orbis), and Words To Live By: Sacred Sources for Interreligious Engagement (Orbis). In addition, he is the creator of Hebrew College’s scriptural commentary blog Seventy Faces of Torah, the curator of the web-based project PsalmSeason, and co-publisher of the Journal of Interreligious Studies.


Dignity Project Fellowship Program Director, Shelton Oakley Hersey, has sought out, participated and facilitated spaces working toward reconciliation over the past decade. Her Bachelor degrees are from Rhodes College (Memphis, TN) in Religious Studies and Sociology. From Los Angeles and Fuller Theological Seminary, where she obtained a Masters in Intercultural/Urban Studies and Youth At Risk, to South Africa, she has worked cross-culturally as community development specialist, social entrepreneur, and pastor. Shelton is a certified Christian Spiritual Director who drinks deeply from a myriad of diverse Christian streams and traditions. She also serves as a consultant to non-profits.

Previously, Shelton served as the Program Director for Boston’s Interfaith Youth Initiative. As the Dignity Project Program Director (a program of the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership), she brings together emerging youth leaders of Greater Boston across differences, understanding the significant role in unlearning and relearning that which divides and unites us. With her husband Scott and daughter Amma, she enjoys living life in Jamaica Plain and loves being outdoors, sharing a slow meal with community, expressing herself through visual art and reading a really great book


Dignity Project Fellowship Assistant Director, Rafi Ellenson, is a literary translator, poet, and second year rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA. Prior to beginning his rabbinical studies, Rafi worked for several years in the NGO-sector in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem focusing on refugee-advocacy, Palestinian solidarity, and experiential education. Over his time in Israel-Palestine, he was selected for the Dorot Fellowship in Israel where he studied leadership development, Hebrew literature, Arabic-language, and more. A graduate of Goddard College, Rafi is based in Somerville, MA where he works to synthesize his passions for social activism, religious learning, and literacies into a whole that is even greater than the sum of its parts.

Mentors (2022-2023)

a headshot of Seigen JohnsonDignity Project Mentor, Seigen Johnson, is currently a Master of Divinity graduate student at Boston University School of Theology. Her research interests include interfaith and inter religious spiritual formation for high school and college students as well as the repair of spiritual injury in spiritual congregations. Seigen has been practicing Soto Zen Buddhism for more than 20 years. She lived in residential practice at San Franvisco Zen Center for 7 years after working as a budget and public policy analyst for Santa Clara County in California where she led meditation workshops for families living in emergency housing. Additionally, Seigen remains deeply connected to the spiritual lineage of the A.M.E Church in which she was raised. As a recent ordinand in the Soto Zen lineage of Shunryu Suzuki (under the guidance of Daito Steve Weintraub), Seigen aspires to continue conversation regarding the multifaceted cultural contexts in which practitioners relate to Buddhist practice.


Dignity Project Mentor, Sharaya Johnson, is an Educator, Writer, Black Womxn, Mystic, and CEO/Founder of the company ALL MY PEOPLE. These identities have allowed her to produce a bespoke scholarship that has allowed her to engage in religious-cultural and academic rhetoric to address personhood, sexuality, race, gender, and ethics in and outside the religious community. Her work cultivates curiosity, critical consciousness, and deep reverence for mystic expression. Her passion for ideas and people are demonstrated in her role as a board member at City Mission and as a mentor for the Dignity Project at Hebrew College. Beyond her professional experience and creative posture, she enjoys spending her time working out, cooking, reading, and being in nature. Sharaya holds a BA in Public Relations and Marketing Communications from Simmons University and a Masters of Divinity with a concentration in Organizational Management at Boston University School Of Theology.


Dignity Project Mentor, Austin McCredie, is a first year MTS student at Boston University’s School of Theology, with hopes to continue his studies at the PhD level in New Testament and Early Christian literature and history. Before he began his studies, Austin was a middle and high school history teacher and youth group mentor. He greatly enjoyed working with students to see them learn and grow, by asking them the “tough, real” questions and helping them critically examine the truths they accepted about history, theology, and society, and push the boundaries of what is possible. While Austin grew up in Christian environments, he at best would describe himself as “Christian-adjacent,” having a home in Christian theology, but, due to his own process of growth and questioning, has pushed past the boundaries of orthodoxy, and created a new rule of theology for himself, with the dignity of all people at its core. As an aspiring historical theologian, Austin’s interests in Early Christian literature is the myriad of lost “Christianities,” due to different historical pressures that elevated and suppressed certain texts, and, more importantly, what these texts can bring to theology today to help make it more loving, healing, and inclusive for all.


Dignity Project Mentor, Julia Spiegel, (she/her), is originally from Skokie, Illinois and is currently a rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Newton. In addition to her rabbinical studies, Julia is an incoming SVARA Teaching Fellow. Before starting rabbinical school, Julia worked in the nonprofit sector in Chicago and Boulder, helping immigrant survivors of intimate partner violence navigate the legal system, and in a reproductive and trans health care clinic. Julia also spent a year living in Jerusalem, where she studied Jewish texts and learned about justice movements in Israel-Palestine. Julia earned her BA from Indiana University Bloomington in Jewish Studies and Spanish. Julia is based in Jamaica Plain, where she works to integrate her passions for religious learning, social activism, and engagement in and facilitation of dialogue that is safe enough to traverse disagreements. Julia’s other interests include musicals, tennis, cooking, playing cards, and her beloved cat, Ruth.

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.

PREVIOUS FELLOWS

2021-22 Fellow Recipients

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.

DP podcast

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 Kopens, 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 2022-2023 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 2022-2023 academic year.

Program Staff

  • Ms. Shelton Oakley Hersey, Dignity Project Program 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