Helping Leaders Act with Empathy, Clarity and Compassion in a Crisis

This year, the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic have been intensified by a national outcry for racial justice and equity. Facing these societal challenges can come with grief and anxiety—all while doing our best to be productive and stay engaged at work.

Target has more than 300,000 team members globally, a vast majority of whom work in our stores and supply chain

Now more than ever, Store Leaders play a critical role in supporting their teams by adapting to uncertain times with clear communication and compassionate guidance. Many are turning to an internal website for Adaptive Leadership, available to store leaders and above, to receive ongoing development and equip themselves with new skills or a fresh way to lean into those they already have.

“With COVID-19, we’re navigating a world that’s rapidly changing, so Adaptive Leadership puts the focus on the things that matter right now—like resilience, inclusion and empathy,” said Layne Greer, Director, Leadership Development. “While these simple and practical tools and resources are an evergreen and permanent part of Target’s professional development portfolio, they’re curated for this moment, and designed to help leaders address their team’s most pressing needs.”

 

 

Users can read, watch or listen based on the time they have to invest, and can choose “micro-learning” modules that take just a few minutes—an especially effective option for time-constrained leaders in store and supply chain roles. And Adaptive Leadership content offers more variety than ever before for leaders at the store level; it lets users explore topics that match their personal needs, as well as what their team needs from them.

The topics strike a balance between personal aspects— physical, mental and emotional health—with the professional aspects of managing both the business and people. The site delivers a personalized, self-service user experience that gives leaders actionable insights and critical support during the pandemic and beyond.

With COVID-19 and the recent events in Minneapolis, Adaptive Leadership helps leaders connect with members of their teams who are emotionally impacted. A consistently evolving platform based on user feedback about what’s valuable and what’s still needed, the Adaptive Leadership site provides guidance for how to show up compassionately, while widening perspectives and helping team members prioritize and balance both work and life.

Harvard grad heads to Super Bowl alongside his football heroes

It’s not often you get to meet your sports heroes, let alone play with them in the biggest game in football.

But in three days, Cameron Brate will do exactly that during Super Bowl LV. It’s a dream come true for the Harvard alumnus, made even more special by the fact that owing to a bit of chance the Tampa Bay Buccaneer will be on his home turf against the Kansas City Chiefs — the first time a team has played on its home field during the big game.

“I always really looked up to Tom and Rob,” said Brate ’14, a tight end for the Bucs who spent four years in the same position for the Crimson. “And I never thought I would have a chance to play with either of them.”

Brate, of course, is referring to Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, the former New England Patriots standouts, Super Bowl champions (six for Brady and three for Gronk), and current Bucs teammates. Brady left New England for the Florida franchise as a free agent in 2020, inking a two-year deal worth $50 million. Gronkowski, a tight end known lovingly in New England simply as “Gronk,” came out of retirement to reunite with his former captain soon after.

Already Brate and Brady have developed a successful partnership, connecting for 28 completions during regular and post-season play, including the game-winning touchdown pass during the NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers. And Brate said he’s “learned a lot” from Gronkowski just by seeing his fellow tight end in action up close. “Just being able to watch him, the way he prepares, the way he works, it’s been great,” said Brate.

 

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Brate admired both men while in College, following the Patriots’ four division, two conference, and one Super Bowl championship during his Harvard time. He replaced the Gronkowski jersey he used to wear with an official shirt signed by the man himself, and he made sure to hang onto the ball Brady threw him for the go-ahead touchdown during the recent NFC championship game. He calls his new teammates “unbelievable players,” who have had a tremendous impact on the team and “the whole culture within our organization.”

In the beginning, Brate said he was a little intimidated. When he got a text from the famous quarterback asking him to get in touch, Brate checked around to make sure it wasn’t a joke. The text was legit, and Brady was all business, telling Brate over FaceTime his goal was to “win the Super Bowl.” A week later, Brate was preparing to play catch with Brady for the first time, and he was nervous. “I was just going to catch passes,” said Brate, “something I’ve done a million times, no one on defense, and I didn’t sleep well the night before.” But Brady’s ability to “put the ball in a good spot” meant the session “went really well,” he recalled.

“It will be pretty cool one day to tell my kids I was able to catch passes from Tom Brady and play alongside Gronk,” said Brate.

One day, they might be saying the same about him.

As a teen in Naperville, Ill., Brate played basketball and baseball, but he was better at football, growing into it, literally. His freshman year in high school he was 5’10” and weighed 140 pounds. By his sophomore year he had gained six inches and was tipping the scales at 200. As he excelled on the field, his coaches encouraged him to think about playing in college and consider the offers he’d received from small Division 1 schools. Then Harvard came calling.

For his parents, both teachers, there was only one option. “I think they would have disowned me if I had the chance to go to Harvard” and went somewhere else, said Brate. “They definitely pushed me in the right direction.” But it only took him one visit to campus to make up his mind. “What really sold me, obviously outside of everything that Harvard can do for you, was just the guys on the football team, just how impressive they were as people. I thought, ‘Wow, if I could end up like these dudes, I wouldn’t be in a bad spot.’”

Cameron Brate playing football for Harvard.

No. 87 Cameron Brate ’14, playing for the Crimson against Yale.

Gil Talbot/Harvard Athletics

He credits Harvard’s Tim Murphy, Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football, with helping him grow as a player and a person during his time in Cambridge. An emphasis on hard work, time management, and strength of character are the hallmarks of Murphy’s approach to coaching, said Brate, as is brutal honesty. Murphy, who also leads the tight end squad, doesn’t hold back when displeased. “As a freshman it was pretty terrible because every time you messed up [at tight end] the head coach was on you about it,” Brate recalled. But the tough love, and Murphy’s insistence that his team know the game inside and out, only made him better. “He helped me so much as a player … I was just able to learn so much from him.”

Brate is humble when thinking back on his Harvard highlight reel. He cites a home game against Brown his sophomore year in the rain, under the lights. His dad was in the stands, and Brate remembers he played well. Murphy remembers that game too, in particular a tricky third down catch. “He had to reach behind him to catch this ball, at the same time the Browns safety made a tremendous play, it was an extremely physical hit,” recalled Murphy. “Cameron hits the turf, bounces up, hands the ball to the official, and signals first down. I turned to one of my assistants and said, ‘Wow, what the heck do we have here?’”

Another standout moment for Brate came a year later, again at Harvard’s stadium. In this one Brate credits former Crimson quarterback Colton Chapple for delivering a perfect setup. “He threw a great pass, right over a guy, and I was able to go up and get it.” The end-zone catch also just happened to be the game winner in that year’s Harvard-Yale showdown.

Cameron Brate playing goodball at Harvard.

Camerson Brate at Harvard Yale games.

Cameron Brate ’14 finished his Harvard career as one of the all-time leading receivers in Harvard history. In 2012 Harvard games, Brate avoided a tackle in the Cornell game and was all smiles after scoring a touchdown in the Harvard-Yale game.

Files photo by Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Murphy said Brate’s unassuming personality stood out to him early on. “He was a very humble, kind of laid-back kid, confident in his own shoes, just a great kid,” said Murphy. “And it’s 100 percent authentic.”

And his talent was undeniable. Brate finished his Harvard career as one of the all-time leading receivers in Harvard history. As he has done with other standouts on the Harvard team, Murphy sat Brate down midway through his College career to talk about the NFL. Inspired by his coach’s encouragement, and the encouragement of his friend and former Crimson teammate Kyle Juszczyk ’13, a fullback for the San Francisco 49ers, Brate decided to go for it. “I kind of went all in on football. And if it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out,” he said. “I wasn’t going to have any regrets.”

Getting into the NFL wasn’t easy. He was passed over in the 2014 draft, but had expected as much, hoping instead to later sign with a team and prove himself in training camp. But the calls never came. Eventually he got a trial with the Minnesota Vikings, but they didn’t have a spot for him, so he hopped on a plane to Tampa for a brief workout consisting of 10 routes. The coaches were impressed and signed him. Brate played a couple of games his rookie season but was eventually cut from the squad. His second year, he headed to New Orleans, only to have Tampa call him back a week later. He’s been there ever since.

Brate defines himself as more of a “pass receiving” tight end, but he blocks, too, and he credits early NFL coaches and veterans for helping him learn how to stop someone “much bigger.” At 6’5” and 236 pounds, Brate is big, but the onrushing linemen he said are “huge.” What’s the best piece of blocking advice he’s ever received? “It doesn’t always have to be pretty.”

The rough nature of the game seems at odds with Brate’s off-field demeanor. On the phone last Sunday afternoon from his home in Tampa, what sounded like tropical birds chirping in the background turned out to be Brate’s dog Archie, a mini golden doodle. The offensive lineman and receiver was hosting a doggie playdate with his friend’s dog Gigi, a shiba inu, and the two pups were tussling with a particularly squeaky plastic red ball.

 

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Brate’s even temper will no doubt help him handle whatever happens on Sunday. Win or lose, Brate said he is looking forward to having his family at the game and is excited that he and his fiancée, Brooke Skelley, a member of the Super Bowl’s host committee, will be able to share in the day’s excitement. “It’s kind of like the pinnacle moment of our careers are both coming together and lining up on Sunday night,” said Brate. “And hopefully we can get the win and celebrate afterwards.”

As for life after he hangs up his cleats, Brate, who describes himself as “more of a math guy than a writing guy,” has a plan. He got hooked on economics at Harvard and has been taking classes toward his M.B.A. “That’s definitely something that I envision myself doing during my career, and hopefully finishing up when I’m done playing.” Asked whether Harvard might be in his plans for graduate school, Brate answers like someone who has wintered in both Massachusetts and in Florida.

“I haven’t given it a ton of thought. There are a couple places I think weatherwise that I would find more enjoyable,” he laughed, “but we will see.”

In new book, Daniel Lieberman examines what motivates us to exercise

Excerpted from “Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do is Healthy and Rewarding” by Daniel E. Lieberman

Almost all Americans know that exercise promotes health and think they should exercise, yet 50 percent of adults and 73 percent of high school students report they don’t meet minimal levels of physical activity, and 70 percent of adults report they never exercise in their leisure time, according to a 2018 survey by the U.S. government.

Can an evolutionary anthropological approach help us do better?

If we evolved to be physically active because it was either necessary or fun, then isn’t the solution to make exercise necessary and fun?

Everyone copes with the urge to postpone or avoid exercise, so environments that neither require nor facilitate physical activity inevitably promote inactivity. If I have to choose between sitting comfortably in a chair or slogging through a sweaty workout, the chair is almost always more appealing.

To find ways to overcome natural disinclinations to exercise, hundreds of experiments have tested an exhaustive list of interventions designed to entice non-exercisers to get moving. Some studies evaluate the effect of giving people information. This can involve lectures, websites, videos, and pamphlets about how and why to exercise, or providing devices like Fitbits so subjects know how much activity they are getting. Other experiments try to influence people’s behaviors. These studies include having doctors prescribe specific doses of exercise, providing free gym memberships, paying people to exercise, fining them for not exercising, boosting their confidence, or pestering them with phone calls, texts, and emails. Finally, some studies try to encourage people to exercise by altering their environments. Examples include funneling people toward stairs instead of elevators and building sidewalks and bicycle paths. You name it, someone’s tried it.

The good news is that some of these interventions can and do make a difference. A typical example is a 2003 study that enrolled about 900 sedentary New Zealanders between the ages of 40 and 79. Half of them received normal medical care, but the other half were prescribed exercise by doctors, followed up by three phone calls over three months plus quarterly mailings from exercise specialists. After a year, the individuals prescribed exercise averaged 34 minutes of more physical activity per week than the standard care controls.

The bad news is that big successes are the exception rather than the rule. While the extra 34 weekly minutes achieved by those New Zealanders is progress, all that extra effort amounted to only five more minutes of physical activity per day. Comprehensive reviews that have examined hundreds of high-quality studies find that many interventions fail, and those that succeed tend to have only similarly modest effects. There is no surefire way to persuade or coax non-exercisers to exercise substantially.

But didn’t we already know that? If there were an effective, dependable way to transform sedentary people into regular exercisers, it would spread like wildfire. Why aren’t any of these interventions more likely to succeed than our generally ill-fated New Year’s resolutions?

One reason is the complexity and variety of human nature. Even among westernized, industrialized populations, people are dazzlingly diverse in terms of psychology, culture, and biology. Why would a strategy that works on a college student in Los Angeles succeed for an elderly woman in London or a time-stressed parent in the suburbs of Tokyo? Do we really expect the same action plan to work for people who are overweight or thin, insecure or confident, men or women, college graduates or less educated, rich or poor? Indeed, studies that try to figure out who does and doesn’t regularly exercise find few factors common to exercisers apart from some really obvious ones: having a prior history of exercising, being healthy and not overweight, having confidence in the ability to exercise, being more educated, and both liking and wanting to exercise. That list of attributes is about as illuminating as figuring out that people who go to art museums tend to be people who like art.

In my opinion, if we want to promote exercise effectively, we need to grapple with the problem that engaging in voluntary physical activity for the sake of health and fitness is a bizarre, modern, and optional behavior. Like it or not, little voices in our brains help us avoid physical activity when it is neither necessary nor fun. So let’s reconsider both of these qualities from an evolutionary anthropological perspective.

First, necessity. Everyone, including the billion or so humans who regularly don’t get enough exercise, knows that more exercise would be good for them. Many of these non-exercisers feel frustrated or bad about themselves, and annoying exercisers who nag and brag about their efforts rarely improve matters by reminding them to jog, take long walks, go to the gym, and take the stairs. Part of the problem is the distinction between “should” and “need.” I know I should exercise to increase the probability I will be healthier, happier, and live longer with less disability, but there are numerous, legitimate reasons I don’t need to exercise.

In fact, it is patently obvious one can lead a reasonably healthy life without exercise. As the Donald Trumps of the world attest, the 50 percent of Americans who get little to no exercise aren’t doomed to keeling over prematurely. To be sure, insufficient exercise increases their chances of getting heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses, but most of these diseases tend not to develop until middle age, and then they are often treatable to some degree. Even though more than 50 percent of Americans rarely if ever exercise, the country’s average life expectancy is about 80 years.

Not only is exercise inherently unnecessary, the modern mechanized world has eliminated other formerly necessary forms of non-exercise physical activity. I can easily spend my days without ever having to elevate my heart rate or break a sweat. I can drive to work, take an elevator to my office floor, spend the day in a chair, buy food, make meals, and wash clothes with little effort.

In addition to being unnecessary, exercise takes precious time, keeping us from other, higher-priority activities. Many people have to commute long distances to work to sedentary office jobs fixed in terms of hours, and they have other time-consuming obligations including child care and elder care. Paradoxically, for the first time in history, wealthier people get more physical activity than the working poor. When free time is scarce, optional activities like exercise are relegated to weekends, and by then a week’s worth of accumulated fatigue can make it hard to muster the energy. When people are asked what keeps them from exercising, they almost always list time as a main barrier.

Which brings up fun. Lack of time can be stressful, but even the busiest people I know manage to find time to do things they enjoy or find rewarding like watch TV, surf the web, or gossip. I suspect millions of non-exercisers would succeed in making exercise a greater priority if they found it more enjoyable, but for them exercise is often emotionally unrewarding and physically unpleasant. These negative reactions are probably ancient adaptations. Like most organisms, we have been selected to enjoy and desire sex, eating, and other behaviors that benefit our reproductive success and to dislike behaviors like fasting that don’t help us have more babies. If our Stone Age ancestors found unnecessary physical activities like optional five-mile jogs unpleasant, they would have avoided squandering limited energy that could have been allocated toward reproduction.

That may be a “just-so story,” but few would disagree that non-exercisers are not entirely irrational because exercise is a modern behavior that is by definition unnecessary and often unpleasant. For many, it is also inconvenient and inaccessible. If we can’t make exercise necessary and fun, perhaps we can make it more necessary and more fun.

The least fun exercise experience I ever had was the 2018 Boston Marathon. Boston weather at the end of April is sometimes nice, sometimes chilly, sometimes warm, or sometimes rainy, but the nor’easter that battered Boston that day was unusually brutal. By 10:00 a.m., when the race began, it had been pouring steadily for hours, the temperature was a few degrees above freezing, and there was a fierce headwind that gusted up to 35 miles per hour.

The next 26.2 miles were horrid. My primary urge on crossing the finish line was to crawl into bed as fast as possible to warm up, which is exactly what I did.

Over the next few days as I recovered physically and mentally, I thought about why I and 25,000 other lunatics ran through that storm. If my goal was simply to run 26.2 miles, I could have waited until the next day and enjoyed nearly perfect weather. The only explanation I can give is that I ran for social reasons. Like a soldier in battle, I wasn’t alone but instead part of a collective doing something difficult together. Peer pressure is a powerful motivator.

And therein lies an important lesson about why we exercise. Because exercise by definition isn’t necessary, we mostly do it for emotional or physical rewards, and on that horrid April day in 2018, the only rewards were emotional — all stemming from the event’s social nature. For the last few million years humans rarely engaged in hours of moderate to vigorous exertion alone. When hunter-gatherer women forage, they usually go in groups, gossiping and enjoying each other’s company as they go. Men often travel in parties of two or more when they hunt or collect honey. Farmers work in teams when they plow, plant, weed, and harvest. So when friends or CrossFitters work out together in the gym, teams play a friendly game of soccer, or several people chat for mile after mile as they walk or run, they are continuing a long tradition of social physical activity.

I think there is a deeper evolutionary explanation for why almost every book, website, article, and podcast on how to encourage exercise advises doing it in a group. Humans are intensely social creatures, and more than any other species we cooperate with unrelated strangers. We used to hunt and gather together, and we still share food, shelter, and other resources; we help raise one another’s children; we fight together; we play together. As a result, we have been selected to enjoy doing activities in groups, to assist one another, and to care what others think of us. Physical activities like exercise are no exception.

Of course, exercise is also sometimes enjoyable without socializing. A solitary walk or run can be meditative, and working out while listening to podcasts or watching TV in the gym (a distinctly modern phenomenon) can be diverting. But for most people exercising with others is more emotionally rewarding. For this reason, sports, games, dancing, and other types of play are among the most popular social activities, and regular exercisers often belong to clubs, teams, and gyms.

Exercise can also make us feel good, which helps make it enjoyable. After a good workout I feel simultaneously alert, euphoric, tranquil, and free from pain — not unlike taking an opioid. Actually, natural selection did adopt this drug-pushing strategy by having our brains manufacture an impressive cocktail of mood-altering pharmaceuticals in response to physical activity. The four most important of these endogenous drugs are dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and endocannabinoids, but in a classic evolutionary design flaw these primarily reward people who are already physically active.

While these and other chemicals released by exercise help us exercise, their drawback is they mostly function through virtuous cycles. When we do something like walk or run six miles, we produce dopamine, serotonin, and other chemicals that make us feel good and more likely to do it again. When we are sedentary, however, a vicious cycle ensues. As we become more out of shape, our brains become less able to reward us for exercising. It’s a classic mismatch: Because few of our ancestors were physically inactive and unfit, the brain’s hedonic response to exercise never evolved to work well in persistently sedentary individuals.

So what should we as a society and you and I as individuals do? How can we make exercise more fun and rewarding, especially if we are out of shape?

Commonly recommended, sensible methods to make exercise more fun (or less unfun) include:

  • Be social: exercise with friends, a group, or a good, qualified trainer.
  • Entertain yourself: listen to music, podcasts, or books, or watch a movie.
  • Exercise outside in a beautiful environment.
  • Dance or play sports and games.
  • Because variety is enjoyable, experiment and mix things up.
  • Choose realistic goals based on time, not performance, so you don’t set yourself up for disappointment.
  • Reward yourself for exercising.

Second, if you are struggling to exercise, it is useful to remember how and why exercising takes time to become enjoyable or less unpleasant. Because we never evolved to be inactive and out of shape, the adaptations that make physical activity feel rewarding and become a habit develop only after the several months of effort it takes to improve fitness. Slowly and gradually, exercise switches from being a negative feedback loop in which discomfort and lack of reward inhibit us from exercising again to being a positive feedback loop in which exercise becomes satisfying.

So, yes, exercise can become more rewarding and fun. But let’s not deceive ourselves or others. No matter what we do to make exercise more enjoyable, the prospect of exercising usually seems less desirable and less comfortable than staying put. To overcome my inertia, I usually have to figure out how to make it seem necessary. The most acceptable way to do that is to find ways of coercing ourselves through agreed-upon nudges and shoves.

Nudges influence our behaviors without force, without limiting our choices, and without shifting our economic incentives. Typical nudges involve changing default options (like opting out of being an organ donor instead of opting in) or small changes to the environment (like placing healthier foods prominently at the front of the salad bar). Predictably, many would-be exercisers are advised to try various nudges to make the act of choosing exercise more of a default, simpler, and less of a hassle. Examples include:

  • Put out your exercise clothes the night before you exercise so you wear them first thing in the morning and are ready to go (alternatively, sleep in your exercise clothes).
  • Schedule exercise so it becomes a default.
  • Use a friend or an app to remind you to exercise.
  • Make the stairs more convenient than taking the elevator or escalator.

Shoves are more drastic forms of self-coercion. They are unobjectionable because you do them to yourself voluntarily, but they are more forceful than nudges. Examples include:

  • Scheduling exercise with a friend or a group beforehand. You then become socially obligated to show up.
  • Exercising in a group such as a CrossFit class. If you waver, the group will keep you going.
  • Signing a commitment contract with an organization like StickK.com that sends money to an organization you dislike if you don’t exercise (a stick) or to one you like if you do (a carrot).
  • Signing up (and paying) for a race or some other event that requires you to train.
  • Posting your exercise online so others see what you are (or are not) doing.
  • Designating a friend, a relative, or someone you admire or fear as a referee to check up on your progress.

Note that all of these methods share one essential quality: They involve social commitment. Whether you plan to exercise with a friend, a yoga class, a team, a platoon of walkers and runners in a 5K event or report your exercise accomplishments (or lack thereof) online, you are pledging to others that you will be physically active. In return you get both carrots in the form of encouragement and support and sticks in the form of shame or disapprobation. In short, we all need nudges.

“Exercised” by Daniel E. Lieberman is published by Pantheon Books, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright (c) 2020 by Daniel E. Lieberman. 

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What’s the future for health care in India?

With almost 11 million cases and more than 150,000 deaths, India is among the nations hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The Asian giant has also taken an economic hit, its gross domestic product expected to shrink 8 percent this year.

The figures have starkly highlighted the connection between a nation’s physical and economic health, and the Harvard chairs of a new panel seeking to overhaul and improve health care in India say today’s difficult times create a moment of opportunity because people who often tune each other out are now listening.

“For the first time the connection between health and economic outcomes has become transparent,” said Tarun Khanna, director of Harvard’s Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute and one of four co-chairs of a new Lancet Citizens’ Commission to study how to bring universal health care to India. “The morality of universal health care has always been a driver of this urgency, but that’s not the new thing here. Rather, for the first time in 30 years GDP is expected to fall in response to a health crisis.”

The 21-member commission is a joint effort between The Lancet medical journal and Mittal Institute. The panel is chaired by Khanna; Vikram Patel, the Pershing Square Professor of Global Health at Harvard Medical School; Professor Gagandeep Kang, vaccine researcher at Christian Medical College in Vellore, India; and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, executive chairperson of Indian biotech company Biocon Ltd and one of India’s top businesspeople. S.V. Subramanian, professor of population health and geography at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is a member of the commission.

The group’s charge is to report by August 2022 how India can achieve universal health care within a decade. The Mittal Institute is encouraging participation by the Harvard community and sponsoring an online panel discussion on Monday to introduce the effort.

Patel and Khanna said the commission has a challenging road ahead, one that has proven too difficult for an array of efforts studying the same question in the decades since India became independent in 1947.

Most of the nation’s 1.4 billion residents (a population second only to China) view the current publicly-funded system as so bad that even the poorest Indians would rather pay out-of-pocket for care in a network of private providers, itself sometimes seen as uncaring and untrustworthy. The end result is that more than 60 percent of Indian health care is paid for out-of-pocket, and a sudden illness can mean financial ruin for millions. Only the wealthy can afford regular, high-quality care.

People talking.

Sandeep Praharsha (India Fellow) discussing preventive measures for malaria in Kerpai village in Thumul Rampur block of Kalahandi district in Odisha Swasthya Swaraj.

“Today, India’s health care system is routinely ranked as one of the worst in the world,” Patel said. “A few get expensive, world-class care, while a large part of the population doesn’t even get basic quality care.”

Where the current commission differs from prior efforts is that it is based on a consultative effort to seek input from an array of stakeholders, including representatives of the private health care sector, providers of traditional medicine, physicians, community health workers, and citizens from diverse communities across the country.

“It genuinely is a cross-section of society,” said Khanna, HBS’ Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor. “That makes consultation more complex, but the potential for achievement is large.”

The eventual report will focus on the “architecture” of a new system, according to an article by the initiative’s co-chairs and commissioners in The Lancet in December. It will include ways to provide preventive care for physical and mental health, offer financial protection for all health care costs, not just hospitalization, and ensure access to the same quality of care for all.

“We aspire for a health care system in which most people do not pay out-of-pocket for most health care needs,” Patel said. “The last thing a sick person needs is to have their care calibrated by how much they can afford to pay or to be impoverished by their medical bills.”

Resources are always a key issue in consideration of universal health care and India — whose proportion of GDP spent on health care is low compared with other middle-income countries — will likely have to spend more, Khanna said. But he also said that significant low-cost steps probably could be taken early in the process.

“I think we can improve outcomes with existing resources being better managed,” Khanna said. “We can get some victories in the next two to three years through optimization of existing structures.”

What the prosecution of Alexei Navalny could spell for Putin’s rule

Protests have rocked Russia in recent weeks, sparked by the Kremlin’s prosecution of its most effective critic, dissident Alexei Navalny. On Feb. 2, a Moscow court sentenced Navalny to more than two years in a penal colony for allegedly violating probation on a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Europe’s top human-rights court ruled was politically motivated. On Friday, Navalny faced a new criminal trial on charges of slandering a World War II veteran who appeared in a pro-Putin video last year. Navalny was arrested Jan. 17 at the airport in Moscow after spending five months in Germany recuperating after Russian intelligence officials attempted to assassinate him with poison, according to reporting by Russian investigative journalism outlets, Bellingcat, and CNN.

The Gazette spoke with Alexandra M. Vacroux, executive director of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and lecturer on government at Harvard, about Navalny’s future, the protests, and what they could spell for Putin’s rule.

Q&A

Alexandra M. Vacroux

GAZETTE:  What’s driving such dramatic protests?

VACROUX:  It’s mostly a reaction to the video that Navalny put out called “Putin’s Palace.” That seems to have really brought together different people who have problems with Putin’s regime in a new way. Before, you’d have Navalny supporters come out for Navalny events, but that’s far from everybody. Not everybody supports him for different reasons. And what we see now, at least according to interviews with people who are in these protests, you have people who don’t particularly support Navalny, but who are just disgusted with the level of corruption and think that it has to stop. You really see a broadening of the protests; at the same time, you see a very active crackdown. The police are not shooting people, but they are dragging them off the streets, beating them with batons, closing down metro stations in the middle of Moscow to keep the protests from consolidating in any one place. So they’re taking it very seriously.

GAZETTE:  The video has over 100 million views on YouTube, but how many Russians have actually been able to see it and why has it galvanized so many people?

VACROUX: At the beginning of last week, the Navalny people were saying that 70 percent of those views were from inside of Russia. That’s obviously not unique viewers, but that’s a lot of people, and it’s a lot more than the 25 million or so who have watched some of his other exposés. This one has gotten a lot more traction than the previous videos, and it’s the first time that Putin has been so directly implicated in corruption. Navalny went after [former Prime Minister Dmitri] Medvedev and that made a lot of noise, but this is on a totally different order of magnitude. It was that there was proof; they were able to lay out the different holding companies and the different shell companies and tie them back to all of these obscure Putin family members and relatives. Everyone suspected that that was true, but there was no real proof of it because nothing is in Putin’s name. And [this video] was just so methodical in laying out how things have been structured. And then, the Kremlin reaction has been ludicrous, as well. The press secretary came out and said, “Of course that’s not Putin’s palace.” That didn’t work. Then Putin came out and said, “That’s not my palace, obviously.” And that didn’t really work. And then, they wheeled out [Arkady] Rotenberg, who is one of Putin’s childhood friends who’s become an ultra-billionaire and was like, “Oh, that’s my palace.” And nobody believes that either. So the usual tricks that they’ve used to quiet down the muttering haven’t worked this time. People just aren’t buying it.

Alexei Navalny talks to one of his lawyers, left, while standing in the cage.

Alexei Navalny talks to one of his lawyers (left) while standing in the cage during the Feb. 2 hearing to a motion from the Russian prison service to convert the suspended sentence of Navalny from the 2014 criminal conviction into a real prison term in the Moscow City Court in Moscow.

Moscow City Court via AP

GAZETTE:  How is Navalny’s prosecution viewed by ordinary Russians?

VACROUX: I don’t think anyone thinks it’s legitimate. Even people who thinks it’s a good way to get rid of him don’t think it’s legitimate. [French firm] Yves Rocher has come out and said, “We don’t think they took anything from us.” They said that a long time ago. The accusation is that he didn’t check in; he just vanished when he was in Germany after he was discharged from the hospital. There are documents that show he sent a note to the probation officer. They knew where he was, but he’s accused of not telling them where he was.

GAZETTE:   In his courtroom speech, Navalny said his prosecution was not a show of the Kremlin’s strength but a sign of its weakness designed only to intimidate the public. Is he right?

VACROUX: He’s right in the sense that it shows you that the law is completely arbitrarily applied. If the Kremlin wants to get rid of you, they’ll get rid of you regardless of whether you’ve done something wrong or not. It’s easy enough to cook up some charges and throw you in jail. This isn’t news to anybody. But this is just a very noisy example of that.

GAZETTE:  Will his imprisonment cool the protests, as Putin intends, or will it ratchet them up, as Navalny believes?

VACROUX: I think eventually the protests are going to die down. They’re going to be crushed with force in the same way that we saw in Belarus. But, in a way, that’s not the point. The point is that these people did come out. They did know that it was very dangerous. You have people getting arrested who were never arrested before, like university professors and journalists who deliberately left their credentials at home because they’re there as private citizens. Especially in winter, it’s very difficult to keep this level of protest up and it’s very difficult for nonviolent protest to be successful. It’s not what topples regimes. And so far, it looks like the Putin regime is basically willing to do anything except shoot. Eventually, they’ll get the upper hand. The thing that’s really important is how the elite is going to react to what has happened. First, to the fact that however [they] have managed to hide [their] assets, eventually someone is going to figure it out. It’s never completely hidden, and it could be made public, and it’s not safe. Second, is Putin going to lose legitimacy to the point where he can’t hold the system together? And if that’s true, it’s time to find a new patron quickly. What we see in these authoritarian regimes is that the whole thing hangs together until it falls apart, and then it suddenly falls apart, and then they’re rats jumping off the sinking ship. So it looks like it’s very solid, and indeed there’s little sign of defection, but that’s what brings it down in the end. It’s not necessarily street protests.

GAZETTE:  What would it take to oust Putin?

VACROUX:  It would have to take a split in the elites. That’s the only way to set off infighting that eventually removes him. And someone else becomes better able to provide the goodies that the elite have become accustomed to.

GAZETTE:  Where is he weakest?

VACROUX: The fundamental problem with authoritarians is that they don’t really have popular support. They’ll say, “Of course he’s popular. He keeps winning re-election.” But you have no idea how popular he is because you don’t have free media, and you don’t have free elections. The fact that he wins elections doesn’t tell you anything about how popular he is. People have no incentive to tell you what they really think. There are elections that he probably would have won. The fact that they still manipulate the results, mostly through ballot stuffing, decreases your credibility and your legitimacy rather than increasing it. That works for a while, and then all of a sudden it stops working.

“I think eventually the protests are going to die down. They’re going to be crushed with force in the same way that we saw in Belarus,” said Alexandra M. Vacroux.

Photo by Sarah Failla

GAZETTE:  What could the Biden administration do that would most help Navalny and the cause of anti-corruption?

VACROUX: It’s really hard. There’s a kind of sanction fatigue. The thing about sanctions is you have to continually tighten them because you set a sanction and then people find a workaround, and then in order to keep the same level of pressure, you have to tighten it. You have these sanctions. Some of them are being tightened; some of them are not, which means they’re being loosened. But they don’t provide any leverage because Russians don’t actually think they’ll actually be lifted. That’s true with the sanctions that were imposed after Crimea, so it becomes less useful as a threat.

GAZETTE:  Why hasn’t the international community done more to punish Putin given all of the human-rights violations he engages in, both at home and abroad; his repeated violations of international treaties and laws; and his relentless efforts to harm other governments through espionage, military and malign cyber actions?

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VACROUX: A couple reasons that doesn’t happen. One is they’ve got a lot of nuclear weapons, so like it or don’t like it, we have to negotiate with Russia. It’s in our interest to control nuclear weapons with Russia. One of the first things the Biden administration wanted was to get that extension of the new START treaty filed. Also, there’s a lot of economic ties between Russia and Europe. There’s a lot of gas that’s heating European homes in winter; they need it. I think those economic ties are pretty extensive … and provide a certain amount of leverage over the Europeans. That dependence is why we keep talking to Russia and keep treating them as a more or less “normal country.” The other thing we have to consider now is they’ve got this vaccine, which they are providing to countries that can’t get their hands on the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Even if we don’t believe that it’s 90 percent [effective], even if we think it’s 70 percent, the fact is that those Latin American countries that are trying to get agreements to produce it, they’ve got no alternatives. A 50 percent vaccine is better than nothing. And they’re not going to be able to outbid the rich countries to get the vaccines that are 94 percent effective. So for them, signing a production agreement, which is what Russia is going to do so they can produce the vaccine themselves, is a huge benefit. That’s enough to make you keep talking to Russia if you think they’re the only ones who are going to supply you with a viable way of vaccinating your population sometime this year. It’s like the people who are getting investment from China to get infrastructure built — it might not have been your first choice, but it’s your only choice.

GAZETTE:  What will you be watching for in the coming weeks?

VACROUX: Russia is going to be holding [parliamentary] elections [in September] so it will be interesting to see if there’s some kind of mobilization of political forces in preparation for that. Navalny and his group showed themselves as the only people who were able to do a nationwide campaign. They’ve now got people who work with them across the country. Do the street protests continue and do they build up? That will be interesting because usually these things taper off, particularly if the authorities get violent or if they arrest enough people where everyone knows someone who’s been arrested. That would be a new threshold of open dissent that we haven’t seen before. And the third thing is just watching what happens among the elites. So far, business has been very silent about what’s been happening. They know they might not like what’s going on, and they’ll say that in private, but their business and their well-being depends on the situation stabilizing and continuing. If you start seeing businesspeople coming out to protest and say, “Enough is enough,” that could be the beginning of the tipping point.

Interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Laurie Anderson will leave her mark on the Norton Lectures

Avant-garde performer and recipient of this year’s Charles Eliot Norton Professorship in Poetry Laurie Anderson was undaunted by the task of designing her six Norton Lectures for a virtual audience.

Anderson, who has produced film, music, multimedia, virtual reality installations, and photography, has utilized technology in her work for decades. Her first album, “Big Science,” included the surprise 1981 hit single, “O Superman,” which used distortion and vocal manipulation in ways that had not been heard before in pop music. Her recent work includes “Heart of a Dog,” a 2015 documentary film and soundtrack about the life of her beloved pet, Lolabelle, and a trilogy of virtual reality experiences developed with Taiwanese artist Hsin-Chien Huang that concluded with “To the Moon” in 2018. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., is planning an exhibition of her old and new work in sound, video, and painting.

The first Norton lecture, “The River,” will be given Wednesday and kicks off the yearlong series “Spending the War Without You: Virtual Backgrounds,” which will continue into the fall semester. The first three lectures will take place in spring over Zoom and are hosted by the Mahindra Humanities Center. Anderson spoke to the Gazette about her creative process, collaborating with other performers, and the transformation of New York City during the pandemic.

Q&A

Laurie Anderson

GAZETTE: Can you tell us a bit about your plans for the Norton Lectures?

ANDERSON: The first one will be based on ideas about listening and also about what it’s like to live by the Hudson River. The river has really influenced me in ways that I didn’t understand [before]. I wanted to move to New York as a child to be near water. Coming from a landlocked part of the country [near Chicago], it was big draw for me to be in a port city. I had a book about the New York harbor, and it looked so lovely and amazing, and I wanted to go there. So [the lecture] is looking back at being here for so many years. I did look back a little bit [at my work] and one of the things that I noticed was that I was always starting each performance with something about living by the Hudson River. So the first lecture will be able how that’s affected how I think about music and how I make music.

It wasn’t going to be this way originally, but now I’m going to try to run the lectures a little bit like a show, so that I can access visuals and electronic filters and manipulate voices. There are some things that I’m going to try out [during the lectures] that I would not be able to do in a live situation, ever.

GAZETTE: What has it been like to be in New York during this time?

ANDERSON: It is such a difficult and tragic time for so many people, and I know it’s been disastrous for many businesses. But I wasn’t loving what was going on pre-pandemic in New York. It had become a big tourist town, and culture was aimed at tourists. I felt like I was getting caught in a big machine. It had become, as many people say, not the art world but the art market at every level. With the tourists gone, I think every city is experiencing the pleasure of seeing who actually lives there. So I feel kind of happy about that.

GAZETTE: What do you think New York will be like for artists after the pandemic ends?

ANDERSON: My fear is that the large institutions will survive, but the things that really make New York happen on a basic level maybe won’t. I’m talking about smaller clubs and venues, and smaller art centers that are really struggling now, where young artists get to try stuff out. Those are beyond crucial to an art city like New York. You [need] to have a lot of places where you’re not going to be presenting your big masterpiece, [but where] you can work with other artists and musicians in your audience. Those are really important places that are getting hit very hard. I don’t mean to be some old fart going on about the old days, but they were pretty great. I love seeing the things that remind me of that kind of freedom, and artists don’t have that right now. That part is tough.

GAZETTE: Your work has always incorporated technology. Do you feel differently about using technology when we’re all forced to do everything online?

ANDERSON: I’m just a geek, so I enjoy playing around [online]. I don’t feel that [the pandemic] makes [those] things more difficult or easier. It’s better than nothing, but then I think there is, for me, just nothing like live music and being with people in the same room. I always use a lot of technology in shows and even in lectures. I’m going to try to set up [the Norton lectures] so that there are a few faces that I can see in in the Zoom world, because I find that valuable rather than just talking to the screen.

GAZETTE: What is your research and planning process like for a new work?

ANDERSON: I start with a blackboard, and I fill it with images, thoughts, ideas. I sometimes see pictures — sometimes just a phrase — and see if any of them are connected, and [ask]: Is there any kind of theme in these really disparate things that I find interesting? What’s the engine that could push them? So it starts out as very free-form.

GAZETTE: You’ve done a lot of collaboration in recent years. What do you like about working with other people and what does the process teach you about your own work?

ANDERSON: I’m pretty much a loner, so it’s a big stretch for me to call someone and say, “Would you consider doing this?” The times that I’ve been able to bring myself to do that, I’ve learned so much. In the pre-pandemic year, I was much more involved in improv. I was at a festival in New Zealand in March, and [musician and composer] John Zorn was the first person who asked me to an improv show. At that time, I was doing things that were very, very set. Every single sentence was set; every image was set. I really had to force myself to try [improv], and it’s my favorite way of making music now.

Over the last year I’ve been doing a music trio with [jazz bassist] Christian McBride and [cellist] Rubin Kodheli. I realized that I missed it so much, this free-form thing that’s not really happening now. Yesterday we recorded something, with our masks on and everything. It was hard, but the second we started to play … it was just what I live for, to make something out of nothing. It always reminds me of building a big ship that you’re constructing together. It’s a big thrill.

Interview was edited for clarity and length.

Harvard scientist create trilayer graphene superconductor

In 2018, the physics world was set ablaze with the discovery that when an ultrathin layer of carbon, called graphene, is stacked and twisted to a “magic angle,” that new double-layered structure converts into a superconductor, allowing electricity to flow without resistance or energy waste.

Now, in a literal twist, Harvard scientists have expanded on that by adding a third layer and rotating it, opening the door for continued advancements in graphene-based superconductivity.

The work is described in a new paper in Science, and eventually could lead toward superconductors that operate at higher temperatures — even close to room temperature. These superconductors are considered the Holy Grail of condensed-matter physics, as they would open the door to tremendous technological revolutions in many areas, including electricity transmission, transportation, and quantum computing. Most superconductors today, including the double-layered graphene system, work only at ultracold temperatures.

“Superconductivity in twisted graphene provides physicists with an experimentally controllable and theoretically accessible model system where they can play with the system’s properties to decode the secrets of high-temperature superconductivity,” said one of the paper’s co-lead authors, Andrew Zimmerman, a postdoctoral researcher working in the lab of Harvard physicist Philip Kim.

Graphene is a one-atom-thick layer of carbon that is 200 times stronger than steel, yet extremely flexible and lighter than paper. It has almost always been known to be a good conductor of heat and electrical current, but it is notoriously difficult to handle. Experiments unlocking the puzzle of twisted bilayer graphene have been ongoing since MIT physicist Pablo Jarillo-Herrero and his group pioneered “twistronics” in 2018, when they produced the graphene superconductor by twisting it to the magic angle of 1.1 degrees.

The Harvard scientists report successfully stacking three sheets of graphene and then twisting each of them to that angle to produce a three-layered structure that not only is capable of superconductivity, but does so more robustly and at higher temperatures than many of the double-stacked graphene systems. The new and improved system is also sensitive to an externally applied electric field that allows researchers to tune the level of superconductivity by adjusting the strength of that field.

“It enabled us to observe the superconductor in a new dimension and provided us with important clues about the mechanism that’s driving the superconductivity,” said the study’s other lead author, Zeyu Hao, a Ph.D. student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences also working in the Kim Group.

One of those mechanisms has the theorists really excited. The trilayer system showed evidence that its superconductivity is due to strong interactions between electrons, as opposed to weak ones. If this is verified, it could help open a path not only to high-temperature superconductivity, but to possible applications in quantum computing.

“In most conventional superconductors, electrons move with a high speed and occasionally cross paths and influence each other. In this case, we say their interaction effects are weak,” said Eslam Khalaf, a co-author on the study and postdoctoral fellow working in the lab of Harvard Physics Professor Ashvin Vishwanath. “While weakly interacting superconductors are fragile and lose superconductivity when heated to a few Kelvins, strong-coupling superconductors are much more resilient but much less understood. Realizing strong coupling superconductivity in a simple and tunable system such as trilayer could pave the way to finally develop a theoretical understanding of strongly coupled superconductors to help realize the goal of a high-temperature, maybe even room-temperature, superconductor.”

The researchers plan to continue exploring the nature of this unusual superconductivity in further studies.

“The more we understand, the better chance we have to increase the superconducting transition temperatures,” said Kim.

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and the Simons Collaboration on Ultra-Quantum Matter.

Candidates announced for Harvard board positions

As they do each year, Harvard degree holders will have the opportunity to vote this spring for new members of the Harvard Board of Overseers and for elected directors of the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA).

The elections will begin April 1. Eligible voters will have the option of voting online or by paper ballot. Completed ballots must be received by 5 p.m. (EDT) on May 18. All holders of Harvard degrees, except officers of instruction and government at Harvard and members of the Harvard Corporation, are entitled to vote for Overseer candidates. All Harvard degree holders may vote for HAA elected directors.

The candidates listed below will be considered by voters for five anticipated vacancies on the Board of Overseers and for six openings among the HAA elected directors. This year there are 11 candidates for Overseer and nine candidates for HAA elected director.

Eight of the candidates for Overseer, and all nine candidates for HAA elected director, have emerged from this fall’s deliberations of the HAA nominating committee. The committee’s voting members include three current or recent Overseers as well as 10 Harvard alumni of varied backgrounds and experience who are appointed by the HAA executive committee. Through its deliberations, which extended over the fall, the nominating committee reviewed about 300 people proposed for inclusion on the Overseers ballot and about 200 proposed for inclusion on the ballot for HAA elected directors.

Candidates for Overseer may also be nominated by petition — by obtaining a required number of signatures from eligible voters. This year, three candidates qualified for the ballot by petition.

The Board of Overseers is one of Harvard’s two governing boards, along with the President and Fellows, also known as the Corporation. Formally established in 1642, the board plays an integral role in the governance of the University. As a central part of its work, the board directs the visitation process, the primary means for periodic external assessment of Harvard’s Schools and departments. Through its array of standing committees and the roughly 50 visiting committees that report to them, the board probes the quality of Harvard’s programs and assures that the University remains true to its charter as a place of learning. More generally, drawing on its members’ diverse experience and expertise, the board provides counsel to the University’s leadership on priorities, plans, and strategic initiatives. The board also has the power of consent to certain actions, such as the election of Corporation members. The current membership and more information about the Board (and related Gazette articles) can be found here.

The candidates’ names appear below in ballot order, as determined by lot.

Overseer candidates

The HAA nominating committee has proposed the following candidates for the 2021 election.

Terah Evaleen Lyons ’14
Founding Executive Director, Partnership on AI
San Francisco

Raymond J. Lohier Jr. ’88, cum laude
J.D. ’91, New York University School of Law
U.S. Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Christopher B. Howard, M.B.A. ’03 with distinction
B.S. ’91, U.S. Air Force Academy; M.Phil. ’94, D.Phil. ’96, University of Oxford
President, Robert Morris University
Pittsburgh

Christiana Goh Bardon, M.D. ’98, magna cum laude, M.B.A. ’03
S.B./S.M. ’93, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Managing Director, Oncology Impact Fund and
Founder, Managing Member, Portfolio Manager, Burrage Capital
Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Maria Teresa Kumar, M.P.P. ’01
B.A. ’96, University of California, Davis
CEO/President, Voto Latino
Washington, D.C.

Sheryl WuDunn, M.B.A. ’86
B.A. ’81, cum laude, Cornell University; M.P.A. ’88, Princeton University
Journalist and Author; Co-Founder, FullSky Partners
Westchester, N.Y.

Kimberly Nicole Dowdell, M.P.A. ’15
B.Arch. ’06, Cornell University
Principal and Director of Business Development, HOK Group, Inc.
Immediate Past President, National Organization of Minority Architects
Chicago

Mark J. Carney ’87, magna cum laude
M.Phil. ’93, D.Phil. ’95, University of Oxford
United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance
Former Governor, Bank of England and Bank of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

The following candidates for Overseer were nominated by petition.

Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, Ed.M. ’17
B.A. ’11, University of Pennsylvania
Director of Native Student Services, University of South Dakota
Vermillion, S.D.

Natalie Unterstell, M.P.A. ’16
B.B.A. ’04, Fundacao Getulio Vargas
Senior International Expert, United Nations’ Green Climate Fund
Rio de Janeiro

Yvette Efevbera, S.M. ’11, S.D. ’18
B.A. ’09 with high honor, Michigan State University
Adviser, Gender-Based Violence and Child Marriage, Gender Equality, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Seattle


The HAA Board of Directors is an advisory board that guides the fostering of alumni community-building, creating University citizens of alumni and alumni volunteers. The work focuses on developing volunteer leadership, increasing and deepening alumni engagement through an array of programs that support alumni communities worldwide. In recent years, the board’s priorities have included strengthening outreach to recent graduates and graduate school alumni; supporting antiracism work in alumni communities; and continuing to build and promote inclusive communities.

Elected director candidates

The HAA nominating committee has proposed the following HAA elected director candidates for the 2021 election.

Maiya Williams Verrone ’84, cum laude
Television Writer/Producer and Author
Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Hannah Park ’13
M.B.A. ’20, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
Human Resources Business Partner, Curriculum Associates
Everett, Mass.

Benjamin Taylor Faw, M.B.A. ’14
B.S. ’07, U.S. Military Academy
Co-Founder and CEO, AdVon Commerce
Las Vegas

Íñigo Sánchez-Asiaín, M.B.A. ’90
B.A. ’86, Universidad Pontificia Comillas
Founding Partner, Portobello Capital
Madrid

Jane Labanowski ’17
Lead, Spaceport Development, SpaceX
Brownsville, Texas

Tenzin Priyadarshi, M.T.S. ’03
B.A./B.S. ’01, Le Moyne College
Director, The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT
Cambridge, Mass.

George Abraham Thampy ’10
M.B.A. ’17, Stanford University
Senior Director, CareDx
San Francisco

Rebecca Chamian Ribaudo ’93, magna cum laude
Author and Freelance Writer
Chicago

Whitney S.F. Baxter ’07, M.B.A. ’11
Vice President, Head of Strategy and Group Enterprises, MTV Entertainment Group
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Student-athletes help Allston students exercise their brains and bodies

Even in an average year, often the most important elementary school lessons don’t come in the classroom. In late January, four Harvard undergrads put that theory into practice when they joined fourth-graders at Gardner Pilot Academy in Allston for a reading session that highlighted the importance of reading and staying active.

Dominique Petrie ’22, Lindsay Poulos ’23, Achele Agada ’23, and Nathan Wu ’23 took turns reading short stories from “No Voice Too Small,” Lindsay Metcalf’s book about young people around the U.S. who are stepping up and changing their communities for the better. Of the book’s 14 vignettes, the undergraduates chose “Jasilyn Charger: Water Protector,” and “Noah Barnes: Marching for a Cure.”

“I liked both [stories] a lot,” said one fourth-grader, who shared his thoughts with the class. “Because they’re about two kids that fight for rights, not just for themselves, but for other kids and people that they know, and also people that they don’t know.”

Between stories the student-athletes made sure that the class exercised more than their minds. Petrie, a member of the women’s hockey team, led the group through a round of stretches, squats, and jumping jacks.

“I know that sitting down and doing school all day can be a little bit tiring and exhausting, so just [a little exercise] every one or two hours is an awesome way just to get your energy levels up,” Petrie said.

Nathan Wu.

Cover of “No Voice Too Small.”

Student-athlete Nathan Wu ’23 volunteered to read stories from “No Voice Too Small.”

“I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to read some more poems and stories. What about you guys?” she asked the class, whose smiling, nodding faces filled the Zoom boxes.

Wu, a member of the men’s water polo team, spoke later about the importance of athletics outside the classroom.

“Everything I’ve learned from athletics has translated into the classroom and into social interactions,” he said. “Whether I’m trying to reach out to a lab personal investigator when I want to do research, or I’m talking to a professor — it’s all that respect, working together, communication, and common courtesy that we learn.”

“It makes a huge difference in the person that they turn out to be,” he continued. “Kids love to play, so if they can balance that with schoolwork, that can help them in the academic scene and extracurriculars — it all goes hand in hand.”

The collaboration between Harvard and Gardner Pilot Academy dates back more than a decade. In March 2020, when COVID-19 pushed both the University and the Academy online, activities like the reading session became one of the best ways for students to stay connected.

“Having these scholars hop into these Zooms — or in real times hop into the classroom — it’s really inspiring for the students to see that that can be them,” said Ariana Fusco, partnerships manager at Gardner Pilot. “That they have this experience, and with Harvard being so close to GPA, it’s a great role model for students to see and to ask questions.

“We want these students to excel — not just now, but their entire life. We believe that giving them these resources now is going to provide them with a bright future.”

The partnership supports the Academy’s mission to not to only teach students in the classroom, but also to support them outside it with social, emotional, and enrichment programs. “It provides an avenue for these students — especially students who are having a hard time at home, having a hard time with a pandemic — that shows them that could be them on the screen. They can go to Harvard. They can do that,” said Fusco. “GPA is just here to help them navigate and bring these partnerships and bring these resources to students.”

The Harvard students closed the session by taking questions from the fourth-graders, who asked what economics was (business with more math and more theory), how many sports there are at Harvard (42), and how old you have to be to go to college (around 18, but many people go when they are older).

The final question was a group favorite. The class was in the middle of reading Harry Potter, and wanted to know whether the undergraduates were fans of the popular J.K. Rowling series. The answer was yes, especially given that Harvard’s intramural activities include Quidditch — the magical sport of the Harry Potter world — albeit without the flying broomsticks.

Competition for the Class of 2029 team looks like it will be fierce.