I’m excited to report that the first semester of the Harvard-MIT Humanist Fellowship Program has been a success. It’s amazing to think that around this time last year the idea for such a program was just starting to take shape in meetings between our committee of board members and Harvard students and recent alumni who had been involved with HCHAA and the chaplaincy. The idea came from the students themselves and is loosely modeled on an established fellowship program for students interested in effective altruism. The purpose of the Fellowship is “to foster the development of humanist leaders as they expand their understanding of humanist values and deepen their commitment to embodying these values in their lives”.
In September, the inaugural group of 5 fellows – 3 Harvard undergrads, 1 Harvard graduate student, and 1 graduate student from MIT – started meeting biweekly to discuss topics relevant to Humanism from understanding Humanist values to navigating relationships with religious believers in personal life and in society. These Fellows have not only been following a curriculum of topics developed by the board members, but they have also been reviewing additional materials to help shape the future of the program. For this first semester, topics were chosen and meetings were led by board members but going forward we envision a program that is primarily student-led. To start, we have asked the students to help choose a more creative name for the program and design a logo.
The sense of trust and community that has developed over the course of the semester was clear in our final meeting of the term earlier this month. Our topic was holidays and rituals for Humanists and both the Fellows and board members present shared deeply about practices we find meaningful in our lives as well as our hopes for the new year. One of the Fellows later emailed the group saying, "Meeting you all has been one of the best parts of this semester, I find myself wishing we had more meetings each week."
Thanks to the generosity of two special donors, we were able to offer each of the fellows a nominal stipend in recognition of their time and effort in participating. Additional funds would help incentivize the increased role we will be asking the Fellows to take on and could also pay for informal group activities to continue to develop the sense of community among the Fellows.
– David Buckley, board member, Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard and MIT