Emma Leiken ’16, a religion major with a minor in theater, has been awarded a Dalai Lama Fellowship, a yearlong position in which she will design and launch a Compassion-in-Action project in Chiplun, a town in Maharashtra, India.
Leiken, who completed a Buddhist studies program based in a Burmese monastery in Bodh Gaya, India, in fall 2014, says she applied for the fellowship because she wanted to return to India to work with the Dalit community, a historically oppressed group. “I wanted to work to help empower female Dalit students who experience discrimination based on caste and gender,” she says.
Leiken’s Compassion-in-Action project—tentatively titled Diverse Voices—will create a performing, visual, and literary arts program at a government school in Chiplun. Program classes will be taught by local artists in Marathi, the official language in Maharashtra. “The program is aimed at facilitating the empowerment and creative expression of students, as well fostering critical thinking and community-building within the classroom,” she says. Leiken is collaborating with the Upjeevika Foundation, an organization working to reform education in Maharashtra to help make her project possible.
It’s apparent that the arts, especially performing arts, have had a major effect on Leiken’s educational life. In fact, Leiken, who sings in the co-ed a cappella group Pitch, Please and has performed in a number of musicals, including Into the Woods, Cabaret, and Next to Normal, says she came to Oberlin primarily interested in theater and performance. “While I am still interested in performing, the scope of my interest in the arts has widened. I am now also interested in arts as a vehicle for social change and empowerment on a larger scale,” she says.
A main requirement of Dalai Lama fellows is to integrate their fellowship work meaningfully into the life of their respective college or university. To fulfill this requirement, Leiken says she hopes to teach an Experimental College (ExCo) class on the history of the Dalit community in Maharashtra and the exploration of arts education in a global context next year. “I also hope to forge a link between the school in Chiplun and Oberlin so that Oberlin students can go back and volunteer in subsequent summers,” she says.
Leiken will join 2014 and fellow 2015 Dalai Lama fellows in San Francisco early this summer to participate in the Ethical Leadership Conference before departing for Chiplun. Until then, she will be working to realize the first of the Dalai Lama Fellows’ three core curricular competencies: self-mastery.
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