Peer Talk: Humanity in Action Fellowship: An Active Approach to Learning

Hasher Nisar

University students’ brains are more active when they are sleeping compared to when they are attending an academic lecture. This conclusion from Dr. Rosalind Picard’s research at MIT disrupts higher education’s conventional understanding of teaching methods.

Passivity dominates the teaching styles of university and college faculty in the United States. Students attend class, a professor presents information, students take notes, and then students depart. In between regularly scheduled classes, the professor may set aside a few minutes for class discussion. Many see this method of learning as a transfer of information. This method raises an important question that stakeholders across the education industry have been grappling with: should our learning just be a transfer of information?

Our learning must be active. Students require an environment where they can apply newly attained information, reflect on their experiences, skills, and knowledge, and apply it to new situations. Active approaches to learning do not only help students improve their critical thinking and problem solving skills, but also lead to dialogue and interaction.

One of these active educational opportunities is the Humanity in Action fellowship. In the summer of 2014, I had the opportunity to participate in their French program and what I learned had a huge impact on my understanding of world events.


An innovative educational approach

Humanity in Action, an international non-profit organization dedicated to equipping young people with the tools and skills necessary to protect the rights and freedoms of minorities, is an example of an organization that uses an active educational process to promote long-term active citizenship. The Humanity in Action model consists of three steps: educate fellows, connect a network, and inspire action.

Close to a hundred students from the United States and Europe come together for four weeks in one of five European countries (Denmark, France, Netherlands, Poland, and Germany) and discuss issues ranging from resistance to institutionalized racism pertaining to the country they are assigned. After the program, the fellows are required to implement an Action Project, a hands-on initiative that addresses a real-life issue in their own community based on what they learned during the fellowship. As a 2014 Humanity in Action Fellow, I can attest to the power of their educational approach.

The first week we focused on theory. As a cohort of nineteen undergraduate students, we were introduced to the political and cultural forces that have shaped the history of diversity in France. We examined the contributions of colonialism and slavery to the way French citizens approach their national identity and the political philosophies and ideals underlying it. During the second and third weeks, equipped with the historical background necessary to understand the national narrative in France, we explored contemporary debates and policies surrounding racism, discrimination, and diversity issues. We analyzed how these problems can be addressed in a color-blind state and the inequality of rights among various groups.

Towards the end of the third week, we were put through a crash course on community organizing, public speaking, and fundraising for our Action Projects. At the beginning of the fourth week, we spent three days writing out our Action Projects, presenting them to the group to receive feedback, and incorporating their comments and suggestions into our Action Plan. Then, the group traveled to Denmark where the fellows from all five countries came together for a three-day international conference to converse about the theme of borders and minorities. At the conclusion of the conference, we all returned home, but the ideas and concepts we had discussed kept buzzing in my mind. Humanity in Action gave me a sense of hope and power in a society that is constantly plagued by injustice and intolerance. The connections that I made through Humanity in Action and the friendships that I formed made me realize that I will always have allies to help me in the pursuit of advocating for a more just world.

The Humanity in Action model is unique because of its hands-on approach to learning. Throughout the program, we had guided visits of neighborhoods, tours of museums and centers, and meetings with policymakers and politicians. At the end of the day, many of us would go out to a restaurant, reflect on the conversations and discussions we had throughout the day, and discuss how the issues facing France fit into the big picture of the world and relate back to our own home countries, communities, and cultures. Humanity in Action was the perfect opportunity for me to actively engage with the issues that I had learned about pertaining to France and the rest of Europe, while expanding my knowledge and understanding of human rights, diversity, and identity.


Seeking out dynamic educational opportunities

Opportunities like Humanity in Action can help learners acquire the mindset and outlook needed to become active citizens in the 21st century and take on some of the most pressing issues facing our world. Even as higher education institutions implement more project-based learning opportunities, students should seek out active educational opportunities that can expand their learning. While the deadline for participating in Humanity in Action this year has passed, I encourage you to keep an eye on this opportunity if you are interested in issues surrounding human rights, diversity, and identity. Applications for the 2016 program will be released in September/October 2015.

In addition, students can regularly visit “Opportunity Desk for You,” a website that has many opportunities ranging from fellowships to internships for undergraduate and graduate students.


Hasher Nisar
Middlebury College • Middlebury, VT, USA
Political Science and Economics | Junior

Hasher was born in Somers Point, NJ. At the age of 7, Hasher moved to Pakistan to learn more about his religion and culture. He spent the next eight years of his life in Islamabad before moving back to the United States in 2008.

At Cheshire High School, Hasher served as Junior and Senior Class President as well as Vice President of the largest chapter of Young Politicians in the country. He has represented his school and state in the numerous positions he has held. He served as State Secretary and State President of the Future Business Leaders of America, in addition to being National Eastern Region Vice President. In 2011, he had the honor of being selected as one of two youth senator delegates to represent Connecticut in the nation’s capital as part of the United States Senate Youth Program.

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