Harvard University students have launched the first collegiate Sarah Jane Brain Club, to explore issues surrounding pediatric traumatic brain injury, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.“We at Harvard are privileged to launch the first Sarah Jane Brain Club at a university, which will help spread the message and improve the treatment of people with brain damage,” said Professor Kurt Fischer, director of the Mind, Brain, and Education Program at HGSE.The club is bringing together students and faculty across Harvard to focus on advancing knowledge of the brain, and supporting the millions of families around the country dealing with brain injuries.Launched by Patrick Donahue, a father of a child suffering from Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury, the Sarah Jane Brain Project focuses on creating a model system for research, rehabilitation, and development of children suffering from brain injuries. Brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability in people from birth to age 25 in the United States. The new Harvard club is open to all students throughout the university.— Jill AndersonIf you have an item for Around the Schools, please e-mail your write-up (150-200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org
More than 100 people gathered at Riverside Community Park on Thursday (June 10) to officially dedicate Cambridge’s newest green space, the result of a partnership between Harvard University and the city.“This is a significant win for the city and a significant win for this community,” Cambridge Mayor David P. Maher said at the event. “We could not have done it without Harvard. This is a good example of town-gown relations working for the better of a community.”Situated on three quarters of an acre at the corner of Memorial Drive and Western Avenue near the Charles River, the park boasts a shade structure with picnic tables, a broad lawn, and fountains to frolic in on hot days. Designed by Halvorson Design Partnership, the park is intended to reflect community desires for a peaceful, reflective, inviting open space.After the event, families lingered to enjoy barbecue and to socialize. As cloudy skies threatened rain, children played in a fountain, splashing and laughing as if the sun were bright. Nearby, a family tossed a Frisbee on a broad green lawn, while a group of older women chatted on a bench.“To see the park being enjoyed by the residents is a great thing,” said Christine Heenan, Harvard’s vice president of public affairs and communications.Kevin Bonanno, a graphics associate in the University’s planning office, was on hand with his wife and two children. The family lives nearby in one of the affordable housing units built by Harvard as part of the agreement. Family members enjoy walking to the park on weekends and after dinner on weekdays.“It’s really great,” he said. “It brings a ton of people from the neighborhood out, so we’ve been able to meet a lot of other families with kids.”Since the park opened, Zainab Himmat, who lives across the street, said she’s had trouble keeping her four children inside. “When they come home from school, they want to go out and play there,” she said. “They love it.”That sentiment was precisely the goal when Harvard and Cambridge reached an agreement in 2003 that enabled the University to construct graduate student housing on several sites in the area. Harvard provided an open-space easement for the park as part of the accord. Residents presented their ideas through an expansive community planning process led by the city. Significant funding to create the park was provided by the city and by Harvard.As part of the 2003 agreement, the University created bed space for 500 graduate students in the new environmentally friendly dormitories and apartments at Cowperthwaite, Grant, Akron, and Banks streets, an effort that supported the city’s longstanding goal for local universities to house more students to alleviate pressure on the local housing market. Harvard also built the 39 affordable units for working families, including six in wood-frame houses adjacent to the park and 33 in the renovated historic Switch House nearby. All of those units are occupied by Cambridge families.“Developers often pit the desire for open space against affordable housing,” Cambridge City Manager Robert W. Healy said. “This is a tribute to the fact that one can do both.”
The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on supporting innovative early career researchers, has named 18 new Damon Runyon Fellows, including three from Harvard. The recipients of this prestigious, three-year award are outstanding postdoctoral scientists conducting basic and translational cancer research in the laboratories of leading senior investigators across the country. The fellowship encourages the nation’s most promising young scientists to pursue careers in cancer research by providing them with independent funding ($156,000 each) to work on innovative projects.The 2011 Damon Runyon Fellows from Harvard:Sumeet Sarin, with his sponsor Joshua R. Sanes, professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University, is studying how neurons use unique molecules on their cell surface to recognize one another during development. Such recognition is critical in ensuring appropriate spatial patterning and normal organ formation. A hallmark of cancerous cells is the inappropriate reactivation of cell migration, and the disruption of these patterns.Cole Trapnell, with his sponsor John L. Rinn, assistant professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard University, studies the role of long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) in cancer. When tissue is damaged (e.g., by radiation or carcinogens), this class of genes may cause cancer or make it more difficult to treat. Using software and mathematics that he has developed for the analysis of massive-scale sequencing data, Trapnell aims to discover which genes are misregulated by lncRNA in tumor cells. This research may lead to the discovery of lncRNAs that could be targeted to halt cancer progression.Scott J. Valastyan, with his sponsor Joan S. Brugge, Louise Foote Pfeiffer Professor of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School, seeks to uncover novel regulators of breast cancer metastasis. He has devised a novel experimental system that is capable of defining and exploiting the phenotypic heterogeneity and genetic diversity that exists within tumor cell populations. He anticipates that these studies will provide insights that further our comprehension of metastatic progression and suggest novel targets for the diagnosis and/or treatment of human breast cancer.
MatriTarg Laboratories, a venture created by a team of Harvard fellows seeking new ways to diagnose and treat solid organ fibrosis, claimed the grand prize — and $40,000 in award money — in the inaugural Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge.Sponsored by deans from across the university and hosted at the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab), the challenge invited students and fellows from across Harvard’s Schools to develop entrepreneurial solutions that facilitate the delivery of affordable health care.“The help the i-lab has provided has really been invaluable, especially for someone like me,” said Derek DiRocco, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), and a co-founder of MatriTarg. “I didn’t start as someone who wanted to grow a business — I’m more in science — so it was very helpful to have assistance in growing our company and our ideas.”DiRocco and co-founder Rafael Kramann, also a Harvard postdoctoral fellow at BWH, and their research adviser, Benjamin Humphreys, created MatriTarg to find and commercialize new diagnostic biomarkers and drug targets for solid organ fibrosis, a progressive disease that affects major organs and usually is not diagnosed until its late stages.As winners of the grand prize, DiRocco and Kramann will continue their i-lab residency with dedicated workspace, mentoring, and access to expert resources throughout the summer.Three other student-led teams were named runners-up and awarded funds to help launch their projects. First runner-up CareSolver, founded by Harvard Business School (HBS) students Shana Hoffman and Arick Morton, received $20,000 in funds. The venture is a Web platform for family members and informal care providers to increase quality care of the elderly.The two second runners-up, Broadleaf Health and Education Alliance, a nonprofit enterprise striving to integrate mental health care for children at schools in India, and SQ, a mobile application that allows individuals to manage and share information about their sexual health, each received $7,500.“When we bring people together across disciplines and across schools, as this challenge has done, things happen that would otherwise be unimaginable,” said Jeffrey Flier, dean of HMS and co-chair of the challenge. “I have great confidence that we’re going to see some great outcomes from the work in this competition.”The four winning teams were among eight finalist teams selected from more than 50 applications to compete for $75,000 in prize money. The challenge was supported by friends and alumni of Harvard.Each team developed a project to address one of four areas: redesign of health delivery, changing behavior, computation and data analysis, and stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. The eight finalists teams received $5,000 each and residency at the i-lab for the spring semester, and were assigned expert mentors and given support from specialized workshops to perfect their projects for Demo Day.“There is no more important problem and opportunity that faces humanity today than what exists in the arena of healthcare,” said Nitin Nohria, dean of HBS and co-chair of the challenge. “This is an area that begs for innovation. The scale of opportunity runs the entire gamut, and this is a truly remarkable challenge.”The Deans’ Health and Life Sciences Challenge was one of three challenges hosted by the i-lab this year, along with the President’s Challenge for social entrepreneurship and the Deans’ Cultural Entrepreneurship Challenge. All were designed to strengthen Harvard’s entrepreneurial community and foster cross-School collaboration.Gordon Jones, managing director of the i-lab, said, “This is a cross-University space, a resource for students who are focused on developing skills and accessing resources across the university to take their dreams as far as they can go.“This challenge is representative of that vision, helping students transform their nascent ideas into implementable solutions. We hope that the skills these teams have learned here at the i-lab during the challenge will not only help them with the projects they’re working on today, but throughout their careers and their lifetimes.”
Read Full Story HarvardX-affiliated researchers have received a grant to study how massive open online courses (MOOCs) might be adapted and personalized based on the demographic data and usage patterns of students.The study, called “MOOCs Personalization for Various Learning Goals,” will be led by Sergiy Nesterko, a HarvardX research fellow, and Svetlana Dotsenko ’10, founder of the online educational platform Project Lever.“We are excited about the current scale of online learning,” said Nesterko, who earned a doctorate in statistics from Harvard and a bachelor’s degree in applied math from the University of Toronto. “The data from this study could help us to tailor learning experiences for individual students around the world.”The $21,450 award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) will help fund research for HarvardX, a University-wide effort to support faculty innovation in the use of technology in teaching and research. The Gates-funded MRI is part of a wider push to both explore the potential of MOOCs and expand access to new forms of credentialing through more personalized and lower cost educational avenues.Using aggregate data from HarvardX courses offered via the edX learning platform, Nesterko and Dotsenko aim to test whether there are substantive differences in learning outcomes (such as course completion and grades) and usage (time spent engaging with the course videos, assignments, and exams) between various student populations based upon self-reported information.
Professor has Ed Portal audience vote on legalization of marijuana Pros and cons of controversial Question 4 examined With marijuana legalization advancing in several states, including Massachusetts, scientists are working to answer questions about the drug’s effectiveness as a medicine and its impact on health and the brain.In doing so, they face a disconnect between state and federal policy, including marijuana’s continued categorization as a Schedule I controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration. Staci Gruber, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the MIND program (Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery) at McLean Hospital, has explored the effects of both recreational and medical marijuana. She thinks state marijuana legalization policy has run ahead of science.The Gazette talked to Gruber about the limits of marijuana research and the roadblocks scientists face in their quest to learn more. GAZETTE: Is the science on the health effects of marijuana settled enough for lawmakers to make informed public health decisions about recreational and medical marijuana?GRUBER: The question “Is the science settled enough?” is a good one and the answer in my mind at this point is “No, not yet.”There is an awful lot that we don’t know. What we do know primarily comes from studies of chronic, recreational marijuana users. There is still a lot left to learn about the effects of less frequent, casual use. Also, there are a number of differences between recreational and medical marijuana use. Recreational and medical users very often differ quite strikingly with regard to what they use, how they use, etc. Some of the products may overlap but the indications for use and what they expect to get out of using marijuana are usually very, very different. Frequency and magnitude are often very different, as is mode of use. A lot of recreational users might, for example, enjoy using concentrates. It’s less common in medical users, who are not looking for super high THC-containing products all the time.When we think about legalization we always like to have science inform policy. In this particular case, it seems to me that policy has outpaced science. These products are widely available but to date, we have no studies on the direct impact of concentrates versus flower products on our recreational or medical users — which is important, especially given concerns for our youngest users.There’s been an awful lot of excitement — and much of it is well founded — about the potential for medical cannabis use. [But] there’s a striking paucity of research on the use of medical cannabis, and it’s been around since at least 2700 or so B.C. It’s not that there’s nothing out there, it’s that there’s no large, clear, clinical, or empirically sound research trials that tell us what I would consider everything we need to know. That is why we started the MIND program here at McLean Hospital.GAZETTE: You published a study in October on medical marijuana and one thing I found surprising is the difference between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. You found what looked like striking differences in their effects on executive functions. Could you talk a little bit about your findings and also about the chemical differences between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana?GRUBER: For the better part of two decades, we’ve been looking at the effects of recreational marijuana on measures of cognitive performance, specifically executive functions, those that are mediated by the frontal part of the brain.“I’ve heard a lot of people express concern [that] we’re going to substitute an opioid addiction for a marijuana use problem,” said Associate Professor Staci Gruber. “We’d need studies to prove that and so far that’s not what we’re seeing at all in the medical marijuana patients.” Photo by Patrick EcclesineIn general, what we’ve been able to glean from those research studies, along with the work of many colleagues across the country and across the world, is that overall, individuals who use marijuana look different from those who don’t in very specific cognitive domains. The most striking differences, however, are between those with early onset of use — people who use regularly prior to age 16 — versus those who use later. When you group marijuana users together — regardless of their age of onset — you may or may not see differences between them compared to control subjects. [But] once you separate the marijuana users into those with early versus late onset and then compare to controls, almost all the differences with regard to executive function are driven by the early onset group.GAZETTE: Why is that?GRUBER: Probably because the brain of an adolescent is still neurodevelopmentally immature; it is still under construction. And when you expose something that is neurodevelopmentally immature to exogenous or outside cannabinoids that interact with our own endocannabinoid system in the developing brain, you can alter the developmental trajectory of the brain. This is also true for other drugs and alcohol.We also see the same types of differences in measures of brain function and structure, so it’s a consistent picture. It’s not that recreational marijuana consumers do terribly across the board in every cognitive domain. Specifically, with regard to executive function, the early onset users look worse than controls and definitely different from those with later onset in many cases.The first study from the MIND program looked at a group of medical marijuana patients who were certified for medical marijuana use for a number of indications and conditions. We have patients who are using marijuana for anxiety, for chronic pain, for PTSD, for sleep dysfunction. What we found was that at the three-month visit, individuals did not look worse on measures of cognitive function, despite the fact that they had started using medical marijuana. In fact they looked better. They showed some improvements in measures of executive functions. They also had some improvements in sleep quality and some measures of mood and quality of life.Cognitive performance may be better because their symptoms have been addressed. We saw improvements in a subset of people who were using for chronic pain. If you feel better, it may be that the part of the brain that is processing painful stimuli all of the time is now able to do other things. So maybe you complete these cognitive tasks more efficiently.We also saw a decrease in use of conventional medications — for example, a 42 percent reduction in opiate use. It’s a tiny sample size but that’s important because it means subjects didn’t need the same level of conventional treatment if they were also using a cannabinoid-based product.To your point about the actual product used, it is a well-known fact that recreational users are interested in products that contain THC. That’s the main psychoactive constituent of the plant, which binds to receptors in the brain and is responsible for altering your state of being. It’s what gets you high, in other words. We have samples of patients’ products analyzed and a number of our patients are taking products that are high in CBD [cannabidiol] and other non-psychoactive cannabinoids.It is very possible that one reason we don’t see decrements in executive performance — thus far — is because, one, the average age [of the study’s medical marijuana users] is about 49. At this age, patients are generally beyond the critical neurodevelopmental stages, which occur from childhood throughout your 20s. Number two, they’re using products that are not exclusively high in THC. In fact, as I mentioned, they’re often high in other cannabinoids that are not psychoactive, which are also less likely to exert a deleterious effect on brain function and may in some cases even be neuroprotective. Related GAZETTE: Given the pain-alleviation qualities of medical marijuana and the fact that your study showed a decline in the use of opioids, is it possible that medical marijuana could be an alternative?GRUBER: There’s every reason to be hopeful that at least adjunctive therapy, if not substitution therapy, with cannabinoids or cannabinoid-based products could be extraordinarily helpful for individuals who are currently on opioids. We’ve seen individuals who’ve stopped using opioids altogether. Now, is that going to be true for everyone? Probably not. Will it depend on the condition? The magnitude of the pain? The severity? Probably. But that doesn’t mean it’s something that shouldn’t be exploited and explored.I’ve heard a lot of people express concern, “Well, we’re basically going to exchange one problem for another. We’re going to substitute an opioid addiction for a marijuana use problem.” I’m not sure that’s true. We’d need studies to prove that and so far that’s not what we’re seeing at all in the medical marijuana patients.GAZETTE: How big a hurdle to research is the fact that the federal government is keeping marijuana a Schedule I substance?GRUBER: Its current classification as a Schedule I substance makes clinical trials difficult. Currently, if you want to do a clinical trial of a cannabinoid or a cannabinoid-based product, you have to have your material sourced by the National Institutes of Drug Abuse. Here’s one potential problem: If you really want to understand the effects of cannabis or cannabinoids on the brain, on cognition, on brain structure, function, mood, sleep, sex — I don’t care what the variable is — it’s helpful to study what it is that people are actually using. As it stands, people can use all sorts of products I simply can’t study in a clinical trial model, which is a bit of a problem. I think a lot of people would be interested to know if their products actually work.GAZETTE: With legalization looming here in Massachusetts, what do you think the most important thing is for the public to know?GRUBER: I think the most important thing for the public to remember is that we are extraordinarily vulnerable creatures, not just to marijuana, but to alcohol, to injury, to illness — to lots of things — up to a certain age. Adolescents and young adults are neurodevelopmentally immature and it’s very important to keep that in mind. It’s important to keep an open dialogue with our most vulnerable consumers — our kids, our adolescents, our emerging adults. In our community outreach, we say, “Don’t tell your kids never,” because messages of abstinence don’t work. Instead of that, we say, “Just not yet. It’s worth the wait. Give your brain a chance to get to a point where it’s less likely to [be impacted] negatively.”If it’s widely available, we have to be mindful of how people are educated and what they know. My goal as a scientist is to provide the right information — the truth — and let them make informed decisions. I would like all people, regardless of recreational or medical status, to be able to understand what’s in their weed or medicine. What exactly are you getting and what can you expect from it? That’s really the most important part: education and open dialogue. No judgment, that’s the thing.Harvard Medical School’s Labcast interviewed Staci Gruber about her research into medical marijuana on Oct. 21, 2016.
Read Full Story If CO2 levels continue to rise as projected, the populations of 18 countries may lose more than 5 percent of their dietary protein by 2050 due to a decline in the nutritional value of rice, wheat, and other staple crops, according to new findings from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Researchers estimate that roughly an additional 150 million people may be placed at risk of protein deficiency because of elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. This is the first study to quantify this risk.“This study highlights the need for countries that are most at risk to actively monitor their populations’ nutritional sufficiency, and, more fundamentally, the need for countries to curb human-caused CO2 emissions,” said Samuel Myers, senior research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health.The study will be published online Aug. 2, 2017 in Environmental Health Perspectives.Globally, 76 percent of the population derives most of their daily protein from plants. To estimate their current and future risk of protein deficiency, the researchers combined data from experiments in which crops were exposed to high concentrations of CO2 with global dietary information from the United Nations and measures of income inequality and demographics.They found that under elevated CO2 concentrations, the protein contents of rice, wheat, barley, and potatoes decreased by 7.6 percent, 7.8 percent, 14.1 percent, and 6.4 percent, respectively. The results suggest continuing challenges for Sub Saharan Africa, where millions already experience protein deficiency, and growing challenges for South Asian countries, including India, where rice and wheat supply a large portion of daily protein. The researchers found that India may lose 5.3 percent of protein from a standard diet, putting a predicted 53 million people at new risk of protein deficiency.A companion paper co-authored by Myers, which will be published as an Early View article Aug. 2, 2017 in GeoHealth, found that CO2-related reductions in iron content in staple food crops are likely to also exacerbate the already significant problem of iron deficiency worldwide. Those most at risk include 354 million children under 5 and 1.06 billion women of childbearing age—predominantly in South Asia and North Africa—who live in countries already experiencing high rates of anemia and who are expected to lose more than 3.8 percent of dietary iron as a result of this CO2 effect.These two studies, taken alongside a 2015 study co-authored by Myers showing that elevated CO2emissions are also likely to drive roughly 200 million people into zinc deficiency, quantify the significant nutritional toll expected to arise from human-caused CO2 emissions.“Strategies to maintain adequate diets need to focus on the most vulnerable countries and populations, and thought must be given to reducing vulnerability to nutrient deficiencies through supporting more diverse and nutritious diets, enriching the nutritional content of staple crops, and breeding crops less sensitive to these CO2 effects. And, of course, we need to dramatically reduce global CO2 emissions as quickly as possible,” Myers said.
The U.S. needs to remain an active leader in addressing global health problems, both for its own sake and for that of populations around the world, according to speakers at a Harvard symposium Thursday, who also urged new strategies to boost those broad-based efforts.“We need to stay engaged,” said Michael H. Merson, the Wolfgang Joklik Professor of Global Health and Vice President and Vice Provost for Global Affairs at Duke University, the keynote speaker at a forum at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health held as part of Worldwide Week at Harvard.“The health and well-being of other countries affects the health, safety, and economic security of Americans,” said Merson, summarizing one conclusion of a new national report he helped create on the nation’s role in global health. “Taking a more proactive and systematic approach will make the U.S. government’s global health enterprise more efficient and cost-effective.”The forum was cosponsored by the Harvard T.H. Chan School’s Department of Global Health and Population, the Harvard Global Health Institute, and Harvard Medical School’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine.In welcoming remarks, Wafaie Fawzi, chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, noted the progress that has been made in addressing international health, including the rise in life expectancy attributable to such factors as investments in new vaccines and drugs.“But there are also many notable threats that face us today,” he said, “from the unfinished agenda addressing undernutrition and maternal child deaths, particularly in Africa, to the rising tide [of noncommunicable diseases] globally and the challenges associated with urbanization, population increases, and climate change.”The panel included Ashish Jha (from left) and Paul Farmer. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff PhotographerMerson, who served on a committee that wrote the global health report for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, was introduced by Mark Elliott, vice provost of international affairs and Mark Schwartz Professor of Chinese and Inner Asian History. Merson said the report lists four priority issues: achieving global health security, addressing threats from communicable diseases, saving and improving the lives of women and children, and promoting cardiovascular health and preventing cancer.Outbreaks of communicable diseases such as Ebola and cholera in the last decade constitute a key global health security issue, the report found.“What the committee was most concerned about … was an influenza outbreak, a new mutant strain to which there is absolutely no antibody in the world. I don’t know what’s going to happen. This is just to tell you that we’re sure there’s going to be a ‘next,’” said Merson, whose committee said the U.S. needs “a new international response framework for public health emergencies.”Regarding communicable diseases, Merson said that progress has been made against AIDS and malaria, but that tuberculosis has been “essentially neglected.” Along with continued AIDS funding, his group recommends “that a global assessment be made and that a new plan be developed if we are going to get serious about TB,” Merson said.The committee urged continued investment in programs to enhance the health of women and children, and a new approach that seeks to ensure that people not only survive but thrive through better nutrition, education, and other supportive efforts, Merson said.To combat noncommunicable ailments such as cardiovascular disease, the group called for prioritizing “what’s doable now at a reasonable cost, and that can be done globally, and the obvious one for us was high blood pressure.” He said the group believes that focusing on behavioral factors such as smoking and alcohol use is also key.Lisa Berkman, director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, said that addressing global health completely requires dealing with such larger issues as poverty, inequality, and the “fraying of society” that is reflected in the violence and mass migration occurring in so many nations.Berkman said one path to solutions is to have governments incorporate public health into all their policies, from labor to transportation to education. “We need to think about what’s going to lift people at the bottom, not just lifting people at the top,” she said.Paul Farmer, Kolokotrones University Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard, said today’s health planners need to avoid the mistakes of colonial medicine, which emphasized prevention and control over clinical care.He said the U.S. global anti-AIDS program has succeeded because it integrates “prevention and care aggressively in a transnational way.”Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said the U.S. investment in global technologies has been a significant contributor to international health, but that the U.S. also needs to share its expertise in systems thinking and institutional capacity.With issues such as climate change emerging as key public health concerns as well, he said that global health needs to be addressed now in a more multidisciplinary way. “We have to have a much broader and a much bigger tent in terms of who we invite into the global health community,” Jha said.
In 2001, Janet Connors’ son, Joel James Turner, was stabbed to death in his Dorchester apartment. While three of the men charged in the killing received prison sentences, a fourth — the one who Connors believes was mainly responsible — was released on reasonable doubt.The grieving mother felt she needed to create her own justice. She quickly realized her path forward would be rooted in forgiveness, rather than retribution. Five years after the murder, Connors became the first person in Massachusetts to hold a victim-offender dialogue, a meeting between a victim and offender, after the offender is incarcerated.“When it happened, my first thought was, ‘Who are these monsters?’” Connors said at a recent Radcliffe event. “But, if I hold them in their humanity, then I can hold them accountable.”Accountability is key to Connors’ idea of restorative justice, which she encourages as a “circle keeper” for the local nonprofit Our Restorative Justice. Circle keepers lead conversations that promote healing and forgiveness.To Connors, a circle is a sacred space; it’s a practice based on an indigenous peace-keeping ritual. Every circle also utilizes a talking piece, designed to limit reactive responses and ensure active listening.Documentarian Julie Mallozzi’s “Circle Up” highlights the use of circles as a means to spread restorative justice. Last month, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study screened a short version of the film, followed by a discussion with Mallozzi and film subjects Connors and Clarissa Turner, who struggled to let go of her anger after her son was murdered in 2011.“Homicide doesn’t come with a book of instructions,” Turner said. She now speaks with victims and offenders through her nonprofit organization Legacy Lives On. Through these circles, Turner’s perspective of prisoners has changed. “The reality is that they’re human beings. As they transform, we transform. As they heal, we heal.”Restorative justice requires this shift of perspective, the mothers said. Conversations need to focus less on placing blame and more on questioning what happened and who was harmed, Connors added.The event was one in a gallery series taking place in Radcliffe’s Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery. Speakers respond to the exhibition currently on view, “Willie Cole: Beauties,” full-scale prints made from crushed and hammered ironing boards. The series invites the community to react to the art and generate new ideas for discussion.For Turner and Connors, the event was another opportunity to spread their message and build community. Since the documentary first aired in 2017, they have spoken at schools, prisons, and to survivor groups.“Circles can be happy or sad — they simply build relationships,” Turner said. “Circles are beautiful. Powerful.”
Derek Penslar, William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History at Harvard University, has long studied modern Jewish history from a global perspective. In his new biography of Theodor Herzl, Penslar examined how the founder of modern Zionism’s personal life influenced his political impact. He discussed “Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader” with the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies.Q&ADerek PenslarCenter for European Studies: Your new biography, “Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader,” focuses on how Herzl’s personal crises as much as broader anti-Semitism propelled him into a leadership role. Do you believe this is particular to Herzl and Zionism, or do you see this as a larger pattern, particularly for charismatic leaders?Penslar: I think this is true for great political leaders across the board, in particular leaders of nationalist movements or anti-colonial movements.One of the main arguments in the book is that charisma is dialogic. What made Herzl a great leader was a combination of his own internal drives and the fact that he was the right man in the right place at the right time. Charisma means nothing if there’s no one to be charismatic for — the charismatic is defined by their audience. At the fin de siècle, there was a certain type of European Jew who was looking for a great leader, someone to inspire them. There was a Jewish national idea in the air. And then along came Herzl. He very much was the right man in the right place at the right time, who also had qualities of genius and leadership. And it didn’t hurt that he was a strikingly handsome man with a nice beard.CES: Although Herzl was raised in comfortable circumstances in Budapest, he fabricated a more dramatic family history to his first biographer, giving his Eastern European family a higher-status history as converts under the Spanish Inquisition. Would you discuss this in terms of his capacity for re-invention and elaborate on how this shaped the leader he became?Penslar: It certainly is typical of Herzl to invent a more colorful past, but it was not uncommon in his era for Jews of Ashkenazi [Eastern European] origin to try to tie themselves to the Sephardic [Spanish or Portuguese] past because it was associated with distinction, with a kind of Jewish royalty. Ashkanazim often believed in Sephardic superiority. There are, even to this day, Jews with quintessentially Ashkenazic backgrounds who insist that a certain branch of their family is Sephardic. It’s seen as exotic and ennobling.CES: Herzl identified with the Prussian nobility and tried several times to join the military. Would you discuss how this failure to assimilate as he’d hoped led to his search for an alternative?William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History Derek Penslar’s new book is about the life and times of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. Photo courtesy Minda de Gunzburg Center for European StudiesPenslar: There is a critique of Zionism that Zionism is the ultimate form of assimilation because it presents Jews as a nation, like other nations, and claims Jews must have a homeland as other nations have a homeland and have a national language as other people have national languages. This goal of turning Jews into “normal” people is a form of assimilation. There are ultra-Orthodox Jews who to this day say that the state of Israel is essentially a carbon copy of a gentile state. Herzl’s Zionism does reflect, in a way, the desire to be a good European. He envisions a state where people will speak European languages and consume European culture. Even when he becomes a Zionist, there’s a part of him that is still connected with the goal of assimilation.CES: You detail Herzl’s neuroses, drawing a picture of a needy and immature man. Would you talk about how he displaced these needs from his marriage and family to a larger stage?Penslar: Herzl was very needy, overly attached to his parents, and rather narcissistic, and he could not find satisfaction in the role of husband. To be a good husband, to be a good spouse, you have to give of yourself, and you have to really be there for the other person. Also, Herzl couldn’t really be comfortable in the role of parent because, as we all know, parents sacrifice for their children. He was willing to sacrifice himself – but to a cause of his own making. He created the political Zionist movement. He was its center, and he felt empowered and adored. That’s very different from the humdrum pleasures of being a husband or a father.CES: Herzl found himself — and his voice — as a journalist in Paris. Would you elaborate on how this period shaped him or shaped his writing of his seminal work, The Jewish State?Penslar: Herzl was a journalist through and through. Even as a teenager, when he started writing his first journalistic pieces, he was a master of description and quick analysis. He knows how to get his point across quickly, and he knows how to conjure up effective imagery. He was also very good at evoking emotion when he wrote about the working classes and the suffering of the poor. He wrote in a way that evoked feelings of compassion and pity. In the same way, in his Zionist writings, he eloquently expressed the needs of the Jewish people. His journalism trained him how to write an effective political manifesto. “[Herzl] very much was the right man in the right place at the right time, who also had qualities of genius and leadership.” CES: Herzl’s conflicting feelings about Jewishness — vacillating on whether it was a religion or a race — seems to have led to his embrace of Zionism. Would you talk about this conflict and how Zionism resolved it?Penslar: Even though he himself was not religiously observant and he knew that many Jews in his day were not religiously observant, Herzl still saw the Jewish religion as a unifying force. He wrote that what unites Jews might ultimately be a sense of ethnicity, but that it is often defined through religion. The religion is ultimately a bond, even if we’re not religious people. Herzl believed that Jews shared a common sense of relationship with the God of Israel. Herzl’s novel Altneuland about an ideal future Jewish homeland is peppered with references to God, although the homeland he envisions is entirely secular.The story of Moses mattered a great deal to Herzl, largely because he thought he was a second Moses. He did not believe that Jews could be defined in racial terms because Jews from different parts of the world look so different. I think he was actually on to something about modern Jewish identity, which often flees from religion yet still relies on it.CES: How do you view the role of charismatic leaders like Herzl in our current crisis? Are they useful in rallying support or mass action, or do they distract from necessary actions or experts? Do you see any Herzl-like leaders emerging in this current crisis?Penslar: You need charismatic leaders to get things started. An anti-colonial movement that’s trying to throw off colonial oppression needs a charismatic leader like Gandhi or, if you’re starting a national movement from scratch, like Herzl. Once you have a well-established state, you want competence. You want people like Angela Merkel or, with all due respect, Justin Trudeau, who has turned out to be a much better leader than I would’ve given him credit for.