Renaming committee seeks input from Harvard community

Harvard’s Committee to Articulate Principles on Renaming has been hard at work over the past few months meeting with experts and administrators at Harvard and beyond to help guide their efforts to outline the process for when and how to replace contentious names on buildings, campus landmarks, programs, and professorships.

To help inform this work, committee members will begin soliciting input next week from members of the University through a series of open meetings, small group virtual conversations, online suggestion boxes, and more.

“Names have the power to help define a community and an identity,” said Drew Faust, Harvard president emerita and chair of the 16-member committee made up of faculty, alumni, students, and staff from across the University. “We want to have the broadest possible view of how individuals from different parts of the Harvard community regard the impact of names on the University and its culture, and we seek to understand how they believe names can best contribute to our shared future.”

Harvard is one of many institutions across the country and around the globe that have been reconsidering removing the names of controversial figures from campus buildings, statues, and other markers in recent months. In the fall, Harvard President Larry Bacow charged the committee, led by Faust, with creating guidelines for renaming campus features that honor those whose past “advocacy or support” of slavery, racism, sexism, and other practices today considered unacceptable. The University will use these principles to guide renaming decisions in the future.

Beginning today, students can sign up for office hours, small group online discussions with no more than 12 participants, including two members of the committee, to share their views. Open meetings for Harvard staff and postdoctoral researchers with members of the renaming committee are also listed on the committee’s outreach page. Committee representatives will also be attending faculty meetings across Harvard’s 11 graduate and professional Schools and working with members of the Harvard Alumni Association and representatives from the University’s graduate and undergraduate leadership to solicit feedback.

Members of the Harvard community can also respond to an online questionnaire with their own thoughts, or in response to a range of questions concerning how aspects of campus affect their sense of belonging; how the committee should factor in a notable figure’s positive contributions in addition to his or her failures and flaws; and how to ensure that renaming won’t result in erasing history.

“It’s been an amazing process so far,” said committee member Elijah DeVaughn ’21, a concentrator in history and literature with a secondary in African American studies who was recently named a Rhodes Scholar. “We’ve all had some really meaningful conversations about naming and what it means, and really how much is implicated in the process of naming and really how consequential this work is. And I think, because it is so consequential, we want all of our Harvard community members to have a say.”


Harvard announces Committee to Articulate Principles on Renaming

Bacow says group’s work will help University become a ‘more enlightened institution’

A renewed focus on slavery

New University-wide initiative will deepen the exploration of Harvard’s historical ties to enslavement

Understanding Harvard’s ties to slavery

In a discussion prior to a major conference, Faust amplifies the expanding effort to document a painful part of the University’s past

To Titus, Venus, Bilhah, and Juba

Faust unveils plaque honoring the contributions to Harvard of four slaves in the 1700s

Developing smaller focus groups with limited numbers of students was an important part of the process for DeVaughn, who is also a member of a subcommittee focused on outreach. Many undergraduates are confronted daily with disturbing legacies, he said, offering up the example of Mather House, the home to hundreds of students, which was named for Increase Mather, a Colonial clergyman and former Harvard president who owned enslaved people. “I thought it was really important to have more intimate spaces for students so we can really engage in a robust dialogue about what people think about these issues,” said DeVaughn.

As part of their research, committee members have met with the head of a renaming panel at Yale University and with Bacow to further discuss the group’s charge, said Faust. They have also spoken to Harvard Provost Alan Garber and Brian Lee, vice president of Alumni Affairs and Development, to discuss the Gift Policy Committee, which advises the provost on the development and oversight of the University’s policies on the solicitation, acceptance, and administration of charitable gifts, and the role of naming in philanthropy.

“We met as well with Robin Kelsey, chair of an FAS Committee on Harvard’s visual culture, to consider areas of shared interest and possible overlap,” said Faust, who is also the Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor. “We have also complied a collection of reports on naming from several dozen other institutions [and] we have been able to identify issues that seem central to every group’s consideration of these matters and to begin to understand the origins of naming practices and their resonance throughout the University.”

Ruth Simmons to deliver address at Harvard’s celebration of the Class of 2021

Ruth Simmons, Ph.D. ’73, president of Prairie View A&M University, president emerita of both Brown University and Smith College, and one of the nation’s foremost leaders in higher education, will be the principal speaker at Harvard’s celebration of the Class of 2021 on Thursday, May 27.

“I am delighted to announce that Ruth Simmons will deliver our principal address,” said Harvard President Larry Bacow in a message to the Harvard community today in which he announced the virtual celebration, calling her “among America’s foremost advocates for higher education.”

“Having led a women’s college, an Ivy League research university, and a historically Black university, she has a unique perspective on how very different types of institutions contribute to the fabric of our nation” said Bacow. “She has also defended with great passion the possibility of improving our society by learning from our differences. I very much look forward to hearing her remarks later this year.”

A native of Grapeland, Texas, and the 12th child of sharecroppers, Simmons began her career in academia with a scholarship to Dillard University, where she graduated summa cum laude in 1967. She then continued on to Harvard, where she earned her Ph.D. in Romance languages and literatures in 1973.

After several years teaching as a professor of French at the University of New Orleans, Simmons entered university administration, and went on to serve in various academic leadership and faculty roles at California State University, the University of Southern California, Princeton University, and Spelman College.

In July 1995 she was chosen to be the ninth president of Smith College. During her groundbreaking tenure there, she focused on expanding access and breaking down academic barriers, perhaps most notably by establishing the first engineering program at a women’s college in the U.S.

Her six-year tenure at Smith ended in 2001, when she was appointed the 18th president of Brown University, and the first African American to lead an Ivy League institution. She was beloved by the Brown community, and her time there was marked by an expansion of need-blind undergraduate financial aid, faculty expansion, enhanced curricula, and new facilities.

Simmons also helped Brown begin to grapple with its historical connection to slavery and the slave trade, establishing the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. In her charge to the group, she asked that they “organize academic events and activities that might help the nation and the Brown community think deeply, seriously, and rigorously about the questions raised,” acknowledging also that the University’s history has given it “a special obligation and a special opportunity to provide thoughtful inquiry.” Today, the committee’s report continues to serve as a blueprint for other institutions reckoning with their own histories of injustice.

Simmons left Brown in 2012 for what she thought was her retirement from leading institutions of higher education. That changed in 2018, when she accepted the presidency of Prairie View A&M University in her native Texas. In taking the reins of the historically Black college, Simmons saw another opportunity to continue opening doors for a new generation, just as Dillard had done for her in 1963.

“How could I turn away from doing for other young people what was done for me?” she said during her inaugural address at Prairie View A&M.

Simmons’ work toward equal educational opportunity also continues outside of the halls of Prairie View. In 2018, she testified on Harvard’s behalf in a lawsuit challenging Harvard College’s right to consider race as one among many factors in the admissions process.

“The beauty of higher education in this country is that it’s very differentiated. We have women’s colleges. We have male colleges, very few, but we have some. We have African American institutions. We have religious institutions. And then we have great research universities like Harvard,” she said in an interview with the Gazette about the lawsuit. “Preserving the flexibility of institutions to create these classes, with very different students coming together, learning from each other, intensifying the environment for learning, both in and outside the classroom, preparing for leadership, is critical.”

Over half a century of distinguished service in higher education, Simmons has received many honors, including a Fulbright Fellowship, the President’s Award from the United Negro College Fund, a Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, the Foreign Policy Association Medal, and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. In 1997, she received the Centennial Medal from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and in 2002, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Harvard University. In 2013, she was named Chevalier in the French National Order of the Legion of Honor, the highest decoration bestowed by the French government.

Bacow also announced today that the Harvard community once more would gather virtually in May to award degrees, due to public health and safety concerns related to the ongoing COVID pandemic.

“The delay of our Commencement Exercises for two years running is deeply disappointing, but public health and safety must continue to take precedence,” wrote Bacow. “Though circumstances may well improve by spring, it takes months of planning to prepare for our usual festivities, which draw to campus and to Cambridge thousands of people from around the world. Right now, the risk posed by that possibility is too great, but please know that one day we will welcome the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021 back to campus for an unforgettable — and unforgettably joyous — Commencement.”

Past Commencement speakers have included Washington Post executive editor Martin “Marty” Baron, the late Civil Rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, entrepreneur and talk show host Oprah Winfrey, and Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations. Simmons will be the sixth president of another university to deliver the address.

Beech trees’ perseverance and beauty seen at the Arboretum

About five years ago, I stepped through the Arnold Arboretum’s South Street gate and saw three magnificent beech trees covered in a dusting of snow. I decided I would photograph these beauties in every season.

I visited my magnificent friends whenever I could, noting the copper-colored leaves that hung on long after the snow fell and the way the roots under the snow looked like gigantic, prehistoric toes. Sitting under the boughs of a parasol (Tortuosa) or weeping beech (Pendula), cultivars of the classic European beech, is like looking up at the stars. You’ll soon find yourself on your back, just gazing.

A year or so into my project, I showed up one day to find only two of my beeches — the third had been turned into a pile of logs. I was disheartened.

As it turned out, many of the trees in the Arboretum’s extensive holdings of European, Asian, and American beeches had been suffering from beech bark disease, an insect-vectored fungal illness that threatened the Arnold Arboretum’s nationally accredited collection of some 130 specimens. The disease was exacerbated by drought. In 2018, Arboretum horticulturists removed a number of trees in severe decline, and pruned heavily infected stems from many others in an effort to mitigate damage from the disease.

Since a healthier environment boosts the outlook for infected trees, they improved the area’s soils by adding native herbaceous perennial plants to the understory. Some of Beech Path is cordoned off to encourage the growth of this ground cover, and prevent soil compaction. On a winter morning, peering over the rope, you’ll see that while a few beech trees are recovering, many seem to have never felt the disturbance at all. Some, in fact, are entering their third century on this special hill.

The Pendula, a European Beech Tree, is part of Beech Tree collection on Beech Path in the Arnold Arboretum.

Looking skyward at the mighty boughs of F. Pendula on the back of Bussey Hill.

The Beech Tree collection on Beech Path in the Arnold Arboretum.

The Beech Tree collection on Beech Path in the Arnold Arboretum.

Early morning light illuminates a disease-scarred beech (left) that shares space with two healthier counterparts.

Close up textures of the bark of the Beech Tree collection on Beech Path in the Arnold Arboretum.

The bark of the beech forms varying patterns, and is either brown or, more frequently, silvery gray, like these three.

Carving on Beech trees could be fatal because it allows pests to be able to permeate the bark. The Pendula, a European Beech Tree is part of Beech Tree collection on Beech Path in the Arnold Arboretum.

Carvings on a beech may seem romantic but sadly could prove fatal in the long run. Pests can permeate the wounded bark.

The 1886 Beech Tree on the left is from Woking, England and is part of the collection on Beech Path in the Arnold Arboretum.

A visitor leaves Beech Path near an 1886 specimen (left) from Woking, England.

Harvard junior reflects on his drive to be a physician

In elementary school, Orvin Pierre ’22 was playing basketball outside on a concrete court with two friends when one, Omari, went up for a lay-up, battled for the hoop, and landed headfirst on the concrete. Pierre, about 10 years old at the time, saw blood creep from Omari’s head and panicked: He thought his friend was dying. He ran to get the school nurse, who strolled out to the court as calm as Pierre was frantic.

Minutes later, Omari was sitting up, chatty, and holding a bag of ice to his bandaged head.

“I was just fascinated,” Pierre said. The nurse had performed two miracles: fixed Omari’s body and soothed Pierre’s mind. “She helped both of us at the same time.”

In that childhood moment, Pierre decided he wanted to do that, to fix people — make them calm, healed, better. Now, the Dunster House junior is concentrating in chemistry and classics, a pairing that makes perfect sense on his path toward a medical career. Because if there’s one thing Pierre loves, it’s a good puzzle. And, he decided, if he was going to have to piece together what his patients thought and felt with their medical data, a background in both science and humanism would be the best preparation.

After Pierre witnessed the Great Omari Rescue, he scoured YouTube videos of medical explanations and surgical animations. He peppered his mother — a nurse — with questions about her work. Later, he dug up old episodes of the TV show “House” and, even though the surly protagonist was no behavioral role model, Pierre loved how the brilliant diagnostician solved puzzles hidden in patients — not just their bodies, but their behaviors and personalities, too.

Growing up in Bridgewater, Mass., Pierre found more mysteries in books, solving whodunits alongside some of his favorite detectives, like Encyclopedia Brown and Sherlock Holmes. But the real challenge came when he had to decide which kind of puzzle to turn into a concentration and, later, a career. When a fifth-grade teacher demonstrated the elephant toothpaste experiment — where hydrogen peroxide, dish soap, and yeast bloom a massive tube of foam — he thought he would pursue science. But then in high school at St. Sebastian’s in Needham, Latin and the fantastical myths from ancient Rome and Greece attracted him too. When he arrived at Harvard as a freshman, he was torn: Which concentration to choose?

He chose both. “With classics,” Pierre said, “I can understand the why behind everything. Why does a society work the way it does? Why do we follow a certain set of rules? The best way for me to understand why we do something now is to understand why we did something in the past.”

If classics solves the “why,” chemistry explains the “how,” Pierre said. Through chemistry, he could understand how electrons create energy and movement; how objects collect kinetic energy to move; and what’s behind a beam of light. “I can get the human portion and then the science background,” Pierre said.

Pierre can speak for more than an hour with no more than a few seconds to breathe, a talent he uses in sports broadcasting, too. He attributes his garrulous nature to his father, whom he calls a “very social person.” Both his parents are Haitian immigrants with careers in health care (his father is a sleep technician), who pushed him to become a doctor or lawyer. Pierre wanted to make the decision for himself. Though he considered scientific research, he disliked the idea of standing alone at a benchtop all day with little social interaction. Instead, he imagines the moment when he can solve a patient’s problem face-to-face: “You tell them, ‘You’re going to be OK,’ their face lights up and then their family’s faces light up,” he said.

Pierre has a lot of experience bringing joy. As a Peer Advising Fellow (PAF), he guides a group of first-year students through their transitions into academic and social college life; he also serves as a PAF in the Office of Career Services’ Career Cluster, where he advises students who are considering careers in the life sciences, biotechnology, or pharmaceuticals. And he’s a member of: the Crimson Key Society, a student community service organization; Persephone, an undergraduate classics journal; the Harvard Caribbean Club; and the Harvard Black Men’s Forum (BMF) where, as of this year, he serves as president. “I want to make BMF as best as it can be,” Pierre said. That means extending the same support he received as a freshman to other young Black students, including those in elementary and middle schools, to show them “not only is college something I should pursue but something I can pursue.”

Pierre slips easily into the mentor role, but has been an eager mentee, too. As a young chemist, he found a role model in T.J. Hazen, a chemistry concentrator who graduated from Harvard in 2020 and is now enrolled at Harvard Medical School. “That’s exactly where I want to be,” Pierre said. “A Black person, a chemistry major, is now at Harvard Medical School.”


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With his lifelong love of sports — and as a fan of the Boston-area professional teams — Pierre sees orthopedic trauma as a potential field. But many orthopedic operations, like hip replacements and tendon tears, have ready solutions. So, the puzzle chaser is curious about neurosurgery, an area he already has some background in: Pierre volunteered in high school at an assisted living center for people with dementia, and last summer worked in Jacob Hooker’s lab studying ALS.

Medical mysteries still excite Pierre, but they make him nervous, too. “No doctor is 100 percent on all his cases,” he said. “And that’s something I’m going to have to live with. I could not help this person. I could not save this person. Especially if I go into neurosurgery, where a lot of those cases literally could be life or death.”

That kind of pressure might dissuade less determined students, but it’s exactly what attracted 10-year-old Pierre to medicine that day on the basketball court when he thought Omari was straddling life and death. Now, if he has his way, he’ll solve the impossible puzzle: How to save everyone. “My goal is to retire never having failed someone,” he said.

“I know that’s very unreasonable,” he continued with a half-smile that seemed to say: “I don’t care. I’m going to try anyway.”

Telemedicine for stroke improves patient outcomes, saves lives

Patients who go to the hospital with symptoms suggestive of a stroke need rapid expert assessment and treatment to halt brain damage, which could mean the difference between life and death. Yet many hospitals do not have round-the-clock stroke care teams. To make up for this deficiency, many U.S. hospitals offer telemedicine consults with stroke specialists who may be located hundreds of miles away.

A newly published study shows that individuals who receive stroke care at facilities that offer consults via stroke telemedicine, known as telestroke, fare better than patients who get stroke care at places without such services, according to researchers in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School and colleagues.

The study, published online March 1 in JAMA Neurology, represents the first national analysis of telestroke patient outcomes. It shows that those who get care at hospitals that offer telemedicine for stroke assessment receive superior care and are more likely to survive strokes than patients who went to similar hospitals without telestroke services.

The telestroke services evaluated in this study allow hospitals without local expertise in treating stroke to connect patients to neurologists who specialize in treating stroke. Using video, off-site experts can virtually examine an individual with symptoms suggestive of stroke, review radiology tests, and make recommendations about the best course of treatment.

The use of remote stroke assessments is becoming more widespread. Telestroke is now in use in almost one third of U.S. hospitals, but evaluations of its impact across a broad range of hospitals has been limited.

“Our findings provide important evidence that telestroke improves care and can save lives,” said study senior author Ateev Mehrotra, associate professor of health care policy and of medicine at HMS and a hospitalist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

For the study, the researchers compared outcomes and 30-day survival among 150,000 patients with stroke treated at more than 1,200 U.S. hospitals, half of which offered telestroke consults and half of which didn’t.

One outcome the study looked at was whether patients received reperfusion treatment, which restores blood flow to regions of the brain affected by the stroke before irreparable damage occurs.

Compared with patients who received care at non-telestroke hospitals, patients who received care at telestroke hospitals had relative rates of reperfusion treatment that were 13 percent higher and relative rates of 30-day mortality that were 4 percent lower. The researchers saw the largest positive benefits at hospitals with the lowest patient volume and hospitals in rural areas.

“The benefits from telestroke appear to be the greatest at small rural hospitals — the very facilities that were also the least likely to have telestroke capacity,” said first author Andrew Wilcock, assistant professor at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine and a visiting fellow in health care policy at HMS. “These findings emphasize the need to address the financial barriers these smaller hospitals face in introducing telestroke.”

Co-authors include Jessica Richard from HMS; Lee Schwamm and Kori Zachrison from HMS and Massachusetts General Hospital; Jose Zubizarreta, from HMS, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Harvard University; and Lori-Uscher-Pines from the RAND Corp.

This research was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (grant R01NS111952). DOI: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2021.0023


COVID-19 lockdown highlights ozone chemistry in China

In early 2020, daily life in Northern China slammed to a halt as the region entered a strict period of lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19.  Emissions from transportation and industry plummeted. Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from fossil fuels fell by 60 to 70 percent.

And yet, environmental researchers noticed that ground-level ozone pollution in Beijing and the Northern China Plain skyrocketed during this time period, despite the decrease of a component of ozone.

The region is no stranger to severe ozone pollution but until about five years ago, most ozone events occurred during the summer. Recently, the ozone season in China has been getting longer, spreading into early spring and late winter. As it turns out, the COVID-19 lockdown can help explain why.

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology (NUIST) have found that another component of ozone, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), may be to blame for the increase in winter ozone.

The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“The COVID-19 lockdown was an involuntary experiment in which the emissions decreased abruptly and a lot of ozone appeared suddenly,” said Daniel J. Jacob, the Vasco McCoy Family Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Engineering at SEAS and co-corresponding author of the paper.

Ozone is formed through a series of chemical reactions, starting with the oxidation of VOCs. This reaction forms chemical radicals, which drive reactions between NOx and VOCs to produce ozone in the presence of sunlight. In a previous study, researchers from SEAS and NUIST found that in the summertime, particulate matter (PM2.5) acts like a sponge for the radicals needed to generate ozone pollution, sucking them up and preventing them from producing ozone.

In that paper, the researchers found that air pollution policies instituted by the Chinese government that reduced PM2.5 were causing an increase in harmful ground-level ozone pollution, especially in large cities.

In this research, the team found that NOx plays a similar role in the wintertime, scavenging radicals and preventing them from forming ozone. As NOx levels decrease, either all of a sudden with lockdown or gradually with air pollution controls, there are more radicals available for VOCs to react with. This enhanced oxidation of VOCs by radicals would amplify by producing more radicals themselves, and this process optimizes the ozone production efficiency of NOx.


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“The COVID-19 experience helps explain the trend of increasing ozone pollution in the late winter and spring in China,” said Ke Li, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and first author of the study. “As NOx emissions have decreased, the ozone season in China is getting longer.”

The research highlights the need to better understand the sources and species of VOCs and regulate their emissions.

“VOC emission controls would stop the spread of the ozone season and have major benefits on public health, crop production, and particulate pollution,” said Hong Liao, Professor at NUIST and co-corresponding author of this work.

The paper was co-authored by Yulu Qiu, Lu Shen, Shixian Zhai, Kelvin H. Bates, Melissa P. Sulprizio, Shaojie Song, Xiao Lu, Qiang Zhang, Bo Zheng, Yuli Zhang, Jinqiang Zhang, Hyun Chul Lee, and Su Keun Ku.

The research was supported by NUIST through the Harvard-NUIST Joint Laboratory for Air Quality and Climate (JLAQC).


Key to doing your best at work? Be yourself, say experts

Today, the most innovative leaders aren’t the conformers. They’re the bold individualists who carve their own paths. So learning to embrace one’s inner “badass” is the new key to success, say Harvard Business School faculty Francesca Gino, Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration, and Frances X. Frei, UPS Foundation Professor of Service Management.

Too often, people are advised or feel pressured to bury the special or quirky aspects of their personalities, recalibrate their speaking or personal styles, or think twice about sharing honest opinions at work in order to demonstrate that they are “a good fit.” But that approach does a disservice to both the employee and the business, Frei and Gino say.

The pair recently taught a short, intensive course for M.B.A. students, “Anatomy of a Badass,” about learning to be unapologetically bold and authentic at work, featuring Bozoma Saint John, the charismatic chief marketing officer of Netflix (once described by Buzzfeed as the “coolest” person to ever go onstage at an Apple event). Research shows being true to who you are leads to greater professional performance and personal satisfaction and if companies are serious about increasing diversity and inclusion, encouraging everyone to bring their individuality and unvarnished opinions with them is a good start.

Gino, who studies innovative leadership and wrote a 2018 book on successful rulebreakers, “Rebel Talent,” spoke with the Gazette about what it means to be authentic at work and why it matters.


Francesca Gino

GAZETTE:  Though everyone can find it hard to feel comfortable in their own skin, especially at work, you say the idea behind this course came out of the challenges that Black people, as well as other marginalized people, face, even as more companies say they want everyone to feel welcome and valued at work.

GINO:  So often, when we talk about good, indifferent, or inclusive workplaces, we think about the conditions that each of us can create to foster a more inclusive environment, whether we’re having a conversation, a meeting, and other interactions. What we don’t give a lot of space to, though it’s almost as important or maybe even more important, is what if you’re the person who doesn’t feel welcome or cherished for the views and differences that you bring forward? And that’s where having this courage to just show up for who you are is powerful. So how do we truly show up at our best and bring our ideas forward no matter what the context is? Boz [Bozema Saint John] has really done that, loudly and effectively.

Bozoma Saint John, chief marketing officer at Netflix, shares how she found success as a top executive at firms including Uber and Apple Music by celebrating what makes her different and then bringing those things to work during a recent Harvard Business School course, “Anatomy of a Badass,” with Professors Francesca Gino and Frances X. Frei.

GAZETTE:  What does it mean to be a badass?

GINO: It means having the courage to bring your full self forward. Now, authenticity is a word that is thrown out there a lot. I think the confusing part for a lot of people is that it’s often assumed that if you’re authentic, it means that you’re not filtering. And that is not the case. You’re being thoughtful about it. What it means is that, in moments where you and I are in a meeting with others, and everybody’s suggesting X and I fundamentally believe that we should be doing Y, I feel the courage to speak my mind. Or, if I like to dress in a certain way, that I don’t tone it down simply because I’m the only one dressing that way. In many different ways, it’s bringing out more willingly who we are rather than checking our identity at the door as we go to work. It’s really thinking about what makes you, you; what are your personal strengths and talents, to make sure that you are leveraging them in the work that you do, or in your personal life, rather than quieting them down.

GAZETTE:  How does authenticity affect someone’s work life?

GINO: I’ve done quite a bit of research on authenticity inside of organizations. Here are a few that are surprising to people: One is authenticity benefits how we perform. One of the studies that I’ve done with a few colleagues shows that people doing an interview, if they are more authentic, which might mean answering questions by bringing forward the real you versus not, end up being more likely to get the job. We have data on entrepreneurs pitching ideas to venture capitalists: If your pitch is more genuine and authentic, you’re three times more likely to get money for your venture. So there’s good evidence that authenticity helps, especially when compared to another strategy where you try to cater to the expectations of the other person. We also have evidence that authenticity allows you to engage with your job more deeply, [which means you’re] more likely to stay with the organization and [also form] a deeper relationship with your colleagues. And I have research that shows that if you are among a minority and you’re going through an experience where you are feeling excluded, authenticity actually can buffer against that experience.

GAZETTE:  Does it require having other innate qualities, like being outgoing or creative?

GINO: We can learn to bring out the badass in ourselves and part of what we do is to show people how from a person who’s done it, [Saint John]. Frances and I see our role as putting a framework on the house, so creating a moment of reflection and guiding people through that reflection. “Let’s identify where you think your greatness is before we actually bring that out.” But then also redefining your expectations. Are you first impacting your own way of thinking by telling yourself, “I don’t see any gay women as senior faculty at HBS, so I don’t expect to be promoted?” And so, it’s telling people that they need to reframe and rework their expectations and how they can achieve them so that they’re a little bit bolder in the way they think about them.

GAZETTE:  Steve Jobs, the late Apple co-founder, was reportedly pretty authentic at work and that obviously had a huge impact on the company’s identity, its culture, and ultimately, its success. But lots of research shows that people in positions of power are given a lot more leeway to buck social norms than those with less status. Are there limits to who or how much authenticity to bring out? On the first day of a new job, how “badass” should you be?


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GINO: What I love about this question is that I think it captures why it gets confusing when we think about authenticity. One, when we’re authentic, we need to be filtering. It doesn’t mean that if I love to wear my pajamas because I feel comfortable that I go to work in my pajamas. There’s still judgment in terms of how to bring some of your talents forward. Also, being authentic doesn’t mean that I fundamentally believe that my ideas are better than yours. We can have the courage to speak up and bring our ideas forward, but always in a respectful way. I think that we often associate the idea of a [badass] as a person who’s loud and comes through and squishes others, but that’s not the idea. It’s more what we’re picking up with it. And the reason why we used it in the course title is to say it requires courage. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be respectful of other people’s views. And we should bring our ideas forward in a way that they are part of the conversation, but not necessarily stated as ours is the only voice that we should listen to.

GAZETTE:  What can people do now to start living their lives more authentically?

GINO: Finding that moment of reflection, I think, is a good first step. And then to say, I’m going to organize my work or my day to make sure that I bring that forward. The other thing that I would say is, I love this idea of reframing or reworking your expectations. [One] person who comes to mind when I think about authenticity — she’s African American and a woman — is filmmaker and writer Ava DuVernay. What’s beautiful about her is that she decided to change careers when she was in her 30s. She knew that in order to make it as a filmmaker and writer — she often says this in interviews — “you need rich uncles.” And she didn’t have that. She just decided to pick up the camera and start doing her own thing in a way that made her quite successful. She [talks] about being impressed by people who “create their own ceilings.” When I think about reframing expectations, in terms of what we can all achieve, it’s not stopping ourselves by the stereotypes that are out there and just be who we are. I think that that’s very empowering. And making sure that people reflect on the expectations and goals that they have for themselves.

Interview has been edited for clarity and length.


The challenge of troubling images in education

The great room depicted in the image from 1864 will be instantly recognizable to many: a vaulted 9,000-square-foot space of elaborately carved wood topped by a stenciled ceiling. In the photograph, the interior of the banquet room in Harvard’s Memorial Hall (today the first-year dining facility Annenberg Hall) is flooded by sunlight streaming through two giant stained-glass windows at the far end of the frame; decorative lights hang down from above, portraits and marble busts adorn the wooden walls.

It is a quiet vision of architectural splendor, taken as the nation was embroiled in the Civil War. A closer look reveals other details: men dressed in short jackets and long aprons standing, ready to serve, by rows of dining tables covered with white linen. All of the servers are people of color.

“When I acquired this I thought a lot about what it means to be a marginalized person at these institutions as a student,” said Makeda Best, Ph.D. ’10, the Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography at the Harvard Art Museums last week during the virtual event “Troubling Images: Curating Collections of Historical Photographs.” “But I also recently began to think about the essential workers … and what does it mean to do service work, and to feel invisible but also to be part of a performance of power.”

When looking at difficult historical images, “It is our collective job to trouble those images, to interrogate the systems of power that enabled their production, collection, and display, for they are of course decidedly not objective, innocent pictures,” said David Odo, moderator of the discussion and research curator at the museums, which sponsored the event.

One group that has been deeply engaged in that work in recent years is the staff at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. In 2008, museum workers began exploring a project that would interpret and bring to the wider public the troubling images in the museum’s collection of formerly enslaved people, said panelist Ilisa Barbash, curator of visual anthropology at the museum. Known as the Zealy daguerreotypes, the images are of a group of people of African descent enslaved in South Carolina, commissioned by Louis Agassiz, a Swiss biologist and Harvard professor, in the mid-19th century in his attempt to prove his theories of polygenesis, which argued that human races were of different origins.

The resulting book, co-published by Aperture and Peabody Museum Press, features the perspectives of 23 scholars, artists, and students, and explores a range of issues, including the relationship between photography, power, and agency, and the difficult ethical questions raised by such troubling, complex images and their historic ties to slavery. It also examines the important ways in which the daguerreotypes are being reclaimed by contemporary artists.

“I write about how brilliant artists such as Carrie Mae Weems appropriated Zealy’s work and turned it into new and compelling artwork that has resonance beyond their original form and meaning,” said Barbash, who also helped edit the new volume. “All of that brings us back to the question of who really had the power in these daguerreotypes. Was it really Agassiz? I would say that for many of the writers, the mission was to restore power back to [the subjects] Alfred, Delia, Drana, Fassena, Jack, Jem, and Renty.”

Museum staff, added Barbash, are currently working on developing an exhibition featuring copies of the daguerreotypes, and thinking of ways to help the public engage with the sensitive works, including using contemplative spaces within the gallery where people who are struggling can recompose themselves, and hiring well-trained docents. “There are a lot ways one has to think about how to bring out this troubling material,” said Barbash.

In her role as curator, Best said she is helping change the dehumanizing narrative of the many difficult images contained in the museums’ collection by acquiring works by contemporary artists who “are addressing that history of violence” with their works that “retain a sense of interiority, a sense of self for the sitter [in order] to deny that legacy of image making.”

Adding analytical text to accompany a historic photo can help add meaning to a picture, encourage the viewer see it in a different light, and push back against the dominant narrative, said Mark Sealy, director of Autograph ABP, a British-based photographic arts agency that promotes photography and film highlighting issues of identity, representation, human rights and social justice. “Rather than leaving them sometimes as these troubled spaces, we can reanimate them and put them to work in the kind of reverse of the thing that they were trying to do.”

In 2017, Sealy’s organization featured an exhibit of photos from the early 1900s taken by the missionary Alice Seeley Harris that exposed the forced labor, mass murder, and atrocities suffered by the Congolese at the hands of King Leopold II of Belgium. Sealy, who chose to display the earlier works alongside newly commissioned images by contemporary Congolese artist Sammy Baloji, said those kinds of juxtapositions are also critical in helping viewers understand the connections between the past and present moment. “The contemporary happens in that space, and that to me is a wonderful example of the good work that having this uncomfortable legacy can have for future narratives about understanding why it is that we are here and how we are in relationship to each other,” said Sealy.

But working with such charged images day in and day out can take an emotional toll. The panelists all admitted to struggling at times with the challenging subject matter, describing how they try to keep their emotions in check so they can continue to engage, and help others engage, with the material.

Barbash said she often has to “close up in order to bear working with such powerful images that depict such a degree of tragedy.”

“In some ways, I think that there is a kind of privilege to being numb to things,” said Best. “I have been looking at these images, and I don’t really have a choice. I have to understand what the experience of African Americans was. I also have to understand that a lot of work that I see now could not exist without these historical images, and what they are imagining and what they are trying to present would not exist either.”

Sealy called being a curator of such works in some ways “a very burdensome place.”

“It’s loaded with the inherent racism that’s behind it all. But at the same time, if we don’t look at this material, if we don’t encounter that space, then we won’t be facing the face that needs to be recognized.

“I do think generally all of this is an unfinished conversation, and I think that is the only way I can live with the insanity of some of the things that have been photographed,” he added. “The who, the what, the where, the why, and the when, I think it’s important and the rolling on of that story, the layer of the ingredients of it all, I really do think they are still to be discovered, because there needs to be different voices articulated in the meanings that are drawn out from all these images.”

Report lays groundwork for recommitment to civics education

State standards for civics education in the U.S. usually require that K-12 students learn hard dates and facts, like the events of Shays’ Rebellion or the details of the Stamp Act.

A group of scholars and educators wants to change that approach by prioritizing knowledge over the number of facts, and asking “driving questions” that integrate information, conceptual reasoning, and critical inquiry. In a report released today, “A Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy,” researchers at Harvard, Tufts, and other institutions laid out this strategy and other recommendations for a large-scale recommitment to a field that has seen investment decline during the last 50 years to the point where it now attracts just 1/1000 of the money spent on STEM subjects.

“We pose thematic questions that come from history and civics. The two are integrated and complementary, and they both need to be addressed,” said Peter Levine, a professor of citizenship and public affairs at Tufts University and a member of the project’s executive committee, during a conference call with the media last Thursday. “For example, what were the experiences with the British government of British colonists of indigenous Americans, of enslaved Americans, and of indentured Americans? That’s a much deeper, richer, question.”

This educational shift from “breadth to depth” is one of several plans laid out in the report, developed as a roadmap to reconsider and support civics and history education at the K-12 level. As part of an interdisciplinary and cross-ideological mission, the researchers consulted with more than 300 scholars in history, political science, and education, as well as teachers, education administrators, civics providers, students, and policymakers.

Danielle Allen.

“The goal is to tell a full and complete narrative of America’s plural yet shared story,” said Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard file photo

The roadmap is “unprecedented in its scale, in terms of the number and diversity of people who have been brought together … with the goal of developing a strategy to provide excellence in history and civic education for all students,” said Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, and a corresponding principal investigator on the report. Other members of the leadership team included Jane Kamensky, Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History and Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, as well as colleagues from Tufts University, Arizona State University, iCivics, and more.

The researchers saw an urgent need for their work amid ongoing diminishing investments in the field at the national, state, and local levels, combined with growing polarization in American political culture.

“The country is very divided [and] we know from repeated high-quality surveys and studies that there’s widespread loss of confidence in our very form of government, in the American civic order. America, we think, is in this bad place in part because the American education system — not only in schools, but in higher education — has neglected the teaching of civics and American history,” said Paul Carrese, a principal investigator and founding director at the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University.

Compared with STEM education, which is funded at a rate of $50 per student per year in the U.S., civics and history education are funded at a rate of just 5 cents per student per year, and “as a consequence, we now have a citizenry and an electorate that is poorly prepared to understand our form of government and civic life, and to appreciate it and actually use it to be informed and engaged citizens,” he said.

The report was organized around seven essential themes: Civic Participation; Our Changing Landscapes; We the People; A New Government and Constitution; Institutional and Social Transformation — A Series of Reboundings; A People in the World; and A People with Contemporary Debates and Possibilities.

The group explained that these themes provide an intellectual framework for more specific pedagogical activities in the classroom. The report says that the roadmap is not a curriculum or mandate for state standards in education, but rather an ambitious guide for educators, practitioners, and policymakers to change the current approach to civics and history education at every level of government.

“The goal is to tell a full and complete narrative of America’s plural yet shared story. We’re trying to celebrate the compromises needed to make our constitutional democracy work, [and] cultivate civic honesty and patriotism, while leaving space both to love and critique this country,” said Allen.

Equally important to the style of civic inquiry is the content, and the researchers emphasized the need to weave diversity and plurality into all aspects of civics and history education, inspired by methods common in university-level civics education but not fully integrated into K-12 models. They also stressed the importance of interpersonal civic engagement and disagreement while also emphasizing civic virtues of respect, honesty, and “moving forward together,” which has become more urgent in an age of growing misinformation online.

“All of us, young people and adults, now need both digital literacy and digital mastery — strong understanding of how to sort material found online,” said Allen. Strong civics education, she added, should teach students “how to read laterally and check the sourcing of information, and how to understand the perspectives framing the provision of information and argument as well as competencies in contributing to the public sphere productively through our own use of digital tools.”

The group also published five “design challenges” articulating the structural and content dilemmas that educators may face when following the roadmap, such as simultaneously teaching the “dangers and values” of compromise in self-governance and supporting responsible student civic action.

“These are the rich, complex challenges that confront educators at all levels in civics,” said Levine. “What we do is name them and make them explicit, so that the whole community can work on them over time.”

The report marks a first milestone in a multiyear implementation plan, which the researchers want to achieve by 2030. In the coming decade, they propose three goals: to provide access to high-quality civic education to 60 million students (roughly the same number of children in U.S. schools now); to make 100,000 schools “civic ready” through resources and learning plans; and to equip 1 million teachers with the tools to implement the roadmap through professional development.

“This is a long-term project to rebuild the heart of excellence in history of civic learning,” said Allen.

The Educating for American Democracy project was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education. Educating for American Democracy was led by the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University, Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, and iCivics, the country’s largest civic education provider.