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Alumnae pursues social justice work as Hillel International Springboard Fellow

Eleanor Bishop
August 31, 2020
Lilli Sher

As she prepared to graduate from Ohio University with her Bachelor of Science in Journalism this year, Lilli Sher knew she wanted to find a job that combined her passion for social justice with her Jewish faith.

“My political views and my views of justice and equity are really informed by my Judaism,” she said.

Starting this fall, Sher, a former Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs Undergraduate Research Scholar and graduate of OHIO’s Honors Tutorial College, will be doing exactly that. 

She will work as a social justice specialist for Hillel International’s University of Chicago chapter. Hillel is the world’s largest Jewish student organization, with chapters in universities and colleges around the world. Its Springboard Fellowship program offers recent graduates like Sher paid, two-year fellowships in the fields of innovation, social justice or Jewish education.

“I’m really involved with the Jewish community and also really interested in doing justice work in my career and life, so this Fellowship seemed like a really perfect way to blend those two things together,” she said.

Sher has been active in OHIO’s Hillel chapter since her freshman year. She served as president for two years and sat on the board of directors this year.

As a social justice specialist, Sher will implement and lead projects at Hillel that help bridge the gap between the university and the surrounding community of South Side Chicago.

“There’s historically a lot of tension between the local community and the university regarding the level of gentrification and policing that the university has brought to the South Side,” she said. 

Projects include continuing a long-term partnership between Hillel and a local high school, organizing food drives and reaching out to other nonprofits in the community.

“There’s a lot of talk about identity—the differences between Black and white Jewish identity, but also the intersection of those identities, as well as things like ally-ship and privilege,” Sher said. “I’m super excited to get to know students and what they’re looking for out of this experience with Hillel.” 

As an Undergraduate Research Scholar, Sher worked on report writing, research, data entry and analysis for the Voinovich School’s Planning, Evaluation and Education Research (PEER) Team. 

Margaret Hutzel, senior project manager for the PEER Team, has worked with Sher for the last two years.

“Lilli has been an exceptional Voinovich Scholar,” Hutzel said. “She has a really strong sense of social justice and is committed to making a difference in the world.”

The PEER Team evaluates and completes needs assessments for programs like Kids on Campus and the Ohio Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), which provide education and other resources to at-risk children in Southeast Ohio.

The Undergraduate Research Scholar experience helped Sher understand that even seemingly mundane tasks like data entry can be used in service of social justice.

“Tasks like that are actually really important in the long run because they help these programs exist and help people have access to education and information and resources,” she said. “Data is a big part of work at Hillel [as well] because you have to keep track of who is coming and what they’re coming to and that gives you a more holistic picture of what’s working for people.”

Thanks to her experiences at OHIO with Hillel and the Voinovich School, Sher feels prepared to take on this new role.

“I’m so grateful for the number of opportunities I’ve had, everything from working with data to presenting research to report writing, to engaging Jewish students and creating programing.” She said. “I’m super excited to see how this goes.”