Summer Centered: Howard Wang ’20 Faces the Past at a Massachusetts Nonprofit
As an intern at Facing History and Ourselves, the history major is studying the historical development of the Holocaust and other genocides.
It was an impromptu November visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., that set history major Howard Wang ’20 on the path to his Center for Peace and Global Citizenship-funded summer internship with Facing History and Ourselves (FHAO), a Massachusetts nonprofit that confronts the ugly side of the past, rather than shying away from it.
"I didn’t know much about the details of the Holocaust, so I emerged from the visit with new knowledge and perspectives,” Wang says. “I remember leaving the museum in a heavy silence as my heart throbbed over the bloodshed that took millions of lives.”
Unable to shake the image of “a room filled with portraits of Polish victims”—people with “different stories, different families, different professions who were yet subjected to the same fate”—Wang abandoned his tentative plans of applying for internships at investment banks and natural history museums to, instead, channel his emotional response to the experience towards a related line of work.
"History told us that many factors ultimately contributed to the Holocaust, and a change in any variable could have led to a different result,” he says. “I thought about the potential of similar genocides occurring and wanted to prevent it somehow. Then I stumbled upon the FHAO opportunity, which promises to examine the past wrongs in order to create a safer and more inclusive present and future.”
Catering to a global community, FHAO engages students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry. In his work there, Wang hopes to supplement his factual knowledge of history with emotional insight into it.
"I yearn to look beyond the facts, to analyze the implications of these stories and to discover how they relate to our world today,” he says. “In an age filled with increasing hatred, bigotry and division, it is important for us to look back on history for guidance and potential solution to current affairs, and FHAO provides such an environment that suits my course of study.”
Interning with FHAO is a 9 to 5 job, and Wang’s learning a lot; in addition to writing reports and conducting research, he also teaches topics as sensitive as “racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism” to adolescents. Though his internship is relatively short, spanning mid-June to mid-August, it’s had a disproportionate impact on him so far, potentially even changing his academic focus and future career plans.
"I’m thinking about a concentration in peace, justice and human rights after I talk with my advisor this September,” Wang says. “With regards to [the future], I think the FHAO experience will be an inherent and fundamental element shaping a long-term goal.”
"Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.