Helen Kramer is committed to the Jewish concept tikkun olam, acts of kindness that repair and perfect the world. In modern times, tikkun olam has become synonymous with social justice. This summer, Kramer hopes her experiences as a Humanity in Action Fellow will help her live up to that deeply held value.
A senior math major with a concentration in peace and conflict studies, Kramer will join students and recent graduates from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Ukraine, and the United States to explore national histories of discrimination and resistance, as well as examples of issues affecting different minority groups today. The program will take place in Berlin, Germany.
Humanity in Action programs facilitate a collective exploration of the destructive common roots of prejudice, discrimination, and dehumanization, such as the practices that were directed toward Jews and other minorities in Europe during the Nazi era; those under colonial rule in Africa, Asia, South, Central, and North America and the Caribbean Islands who were subject to racist policies and attitudes; and countries that experienced totalitarian regimes after World War II.
Each program is highly interdisciplinary and features daily lectures and discussions with renowned academics, journalists, politicians, and activists, as well as site visits to government agencies, nonprofit and community organizations, museums, and memorials. The programs seek to highlight different models of action to remedy injustice.
“I'm excited to spend a summer immersed in conversations about human rights and social justice with peers from all over the world,” says Kramer, who is from Ellicott City, Maryland. “Since I started my major late, I never had the chance to study abroad at Oberlin, and Humanity in Action will give me the opportunity to live abroad, possibly with a host family. I've spent my whole life in the United States, and I believe that being in a new country will broaden my perspective on both historical and current events.”
Kramer says mathematics stood out because too few people who study advanced mathematics enter nonprofit careers. She’s interested in using mathematical tools such as agent-based modeling, optimization, or statistics to inform how we develop social programs and policies.
“For example, using agent-based modeling, I can model urban violence as a contagion process and predict how individual-level interventions will curb violent conflict. Using statistics, I can determine whether nonprofit programs have their intended impacts.”
After the program, Kramer will implement an action project inspired by the fellowship experience. “I have a few ideas for action projects, including studying the history of Oberlin's Kosher Halal Co-op (in which she was a member) and creating a guide for how to begin Kosher Halal Co-ops on other campuses,” says.
At Oberlin, Kramer has been a member of the Interfaith Student Council and chair of the Peace and Conflict Studies Connection Group in addition to being a Residential Assistant. She has been a Bonner Leader, a Community Engaged Research Fellow, and a teacher aid in Oberlin High School. In summer 2015, she was a fellow in the highly selective Mount Vernon Leadership Institute, and in 2016 she was a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship.