Senior Awarded Humanity in Action Fellowship to Study Minority, Human Rights

Psychology major Nikko Marko Lencek-Inagaki ’07 will study in France this summer as one of 57 Humanity in Action Fellows.
Posted 05/02/07
Nikko Marko Lencek-Inagaki ’07 is a first-generation American: his father is Japanese and his mother is Italian-Slovene. With his mother he celebrates the arrival of St. Nick; his father made obento for lunch in high school. He also is “quite gay,” he says.

A psychology major facing “politics of difference”, Lencek-Inagaki always asks “Why? Why do people do what they do, think what they think?”. “Because I am sensitive to and critical of how differences are construed,” he continues, “I not only ask, ‘why,’ but I am heavily invested in finding the answers.”

As a recently-selected Humanity in Action fellow, Lencek-Inagaki will have the opportunity to dive further into his understanding of how people think through a summer fellowship. He was one of 57 undergraduate students in the United States selected to study contemporary minority and human rights issues through the program.

Summer fellows travel to Denmark, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland, and the United States. In each program, the American students will join university students from Europe for five weeks. Lencek-Inagaki will study in France.

“I am most excited to engage with the other fellows,” he says. “I am hoping that they are young, smart, irrepressible, accountable, capable, precise, and articulate students. As with the closest friends I’ve made at Wesleyan, I hope that there is much that the fellows and I can learn uniquely together.”

Lencek-Inagaki was selected for the fellowship on the basis of high academic achievement, evidence of leadership ability, and demonstrated interest in and commitment to human rights and minority issues.

“Psychology, I quickly found, is just as prone to the racisms and homo-/trans-phobias that pervade knowledge in other academic disciplines,” he says. “The history of psychology, however, became for me an incredibly useful way of studying the politics of ‘difference’ and how we understand/constitute ‘the human’. More, History of Psychology lets me be critical of how phobic and oppressive understandings become reified into events and memorialized into the past.”

Concentrating on historic and contemporary examples of protection of minorities, Humanity in Action seeks to identify the conditions and mechanisms under which people act according to the highest moral principles and to encourage university students to become morally responsive citizens. Past fellows have used their Humanity in Action experience to further careers in journalism, education, civil service, law, art, and many other fields. Some fellows may proceed to prestigious international internships to continue their training and professional development.

Lencek-Inagaki is eager to explore what it means to live with history as a minority.

The program encourages its participants to look towards the future, allowing them to ask how those lived histories, legal regulations, and identification processes are resisted, become ways of resisting, empower, disempower, and affect the ways and meanings of ‘coalition-building’.

“Having a personal, academic, activist context of organizing, negotiating, and historiography, the goals of the program seem to resonate with my interests,” Lencek-Inagaki says.

After graduation, Lencek-Inagaki wants to pursue a master’s degree either in clinical or community psychology, or teaching research. He’s received a Holzberg Fellowship from the Psychology Department, which will contribute $800 towards his graduate school studies. At the moment, he’s looking into history of science graduate programs, which would allow him to focus questions related to relationships with cultural history, epistemology and queer historiography.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor. Photo contributed.