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Emory student, alumna selected for Humanity in Action fellowship
Portraits side-by-side of Foster and Langham

The yearlong Humanity in Action fellowship provides young leaders like recent graduate Niara Foster (left) and junior Ansley Langham the opportunity to create unique public projects that stem from their own research.

A recent Emory College graduate and a current junior are among 76 young scholars from around the globe working this year to create unique public projects stemming from their own research.

Niara Foster, who graduated in 2022 with a degree in African American studies, and junior Ansley Langham, a double major in math-political science and Italian studies, both envision their time as Emory’s latest Humanity in Action Fellows as nothing less than a chance to improve their parts of the world.

“I’m grateful I’m able to explore my curiosities in a way that is also community-building,” says Foster, now working in a management-training job in Chicago.

“It’s daunting, but it is also very exciting to have a combination of learning and doing,” adds Langham, who is one of Emory’s Woodruff Scholars.

Foster and Langham join 12 previous Emory fellows with Humanity in Action (HIA), an international nonprofit that educates and connects young leaders on issues related to human rights.

The competitive fellowship draws from hundreds of applicants in 12 countries who are assigned to an intensive summer program in either Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland or the United States.

The in-person program includes daily lectures with renowned academics, journalists and activists and site visits to government agencies, community organizations, museums and memorials in the host country.

The interdisciplinary program aspires to encourage future leaders to become responsible and engaged decision-makers on the global and local stages. It supports each fellow throughout the year with additional lectures and virtual programming as they complete a final research project of their choosing.

Foster: Expanding her honors thesis research

Foster, selected for the Berlin Fellowship, decided to explore the politics of memory for her project. Her ideal was partially influenced by her time in Germany studying how the country’s colonialism has been instrumental in the construction of a national identity.

The project is an offshoot of her honors thesis, which revealed the complicated and silent resistance that Black “granny midwives” undertook through their work in the early 20th century.

It also reinvigorates her scholarly interests as she readies to apply for a PhD program.

“In the German context, it’s important to speak up and speak out. Meanwhile, the granny midwives straight up lied in WPA (Works Progress Administration) interviews as a way to protect themselves,” Foster says. “So the question is, how do we acknowledge silence from different perspectives?”

Foster is working toward creating an art installation that allows people to submit an interview, or their own writing or artwork, to add diverse views to that discussion.

The concept of creating a repository on silence may be its own contradiction. But Carol Anderson, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies, believes Foster can do it by thinking strategically, and beyond the written archive, just as she did for her honors thesis.

“Niara’s ability to connect the dots and see patterns illustrates the whole value of a liberal arts education,” Anderson says. “With the idea of an installation, you begin to think about how powerful memories and histories are. They give people hope and direction. If you can do that, you can do anything.”

Langham: Examining the effect of advocacy

While studying Dutch colonialism during her fellowship in Amsterdam, Langham found parallels to the U.S. in how race intersects with public policy.

She plans to conduct quantitative research for her project, examining the connection between school attendance and schools in Georgia that provide free menstrual products to students.

Langham has long advocated for free menstrual products for students  — she helped write the bill that the legislature in her native California passed in 2021 — though little research exists on its impact. Multiple states now have this policy, so Langham wants to examine its effects here in Georgia.

“The best part of the fellowship has been the other fellows asking tough questions about my vision, like what happens if I find out the policy has done nothing to increase attendance,” says Langham, who plans to become a legislative attorney.

“That’s plausible, but I see this as a launching pad for asking other questions about ways policies are or are not meaningful to people in our community,” she adds.

That Langham is willing to tackle the possibility that her previous effort might not have had the ideal impact does not surprise her mentor, Christine Ristaino, a professor of pedagogy in Italian Studies and director of the Emory College Language Center. It’s just an extension of Langham’s ability to think outwardly about the world.

“She is an active thinker who can see the world for what it is and what it could be,” Ristaino says. “Realistic, ambitious and a problem solver, Ansley is all of the things we need more of in this world.”

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