- A Harvard discussion series highlights the concerns of DACA students
- Divinity School speaker examines worry in white, Christian America
- Woman scholar’s take on ‘The Odyssey’
- Researchers combine artificial eye and artificial muscle
- Harvard class takes students into the community to work for change
Posted: 23 Feb 2018 02:22 PM PST
Between 60 and 80 undocumented students are studying at Harvard, and though they're a small fraction of the student body, some could have their lives turned upside-down on March 5. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says that is the end date for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which legally shields young immigrant students from deportation. It's unclear what the government will do after the deadline passes.
To draw attention to the students' quandary, three Harvard professors and a Ph.D. student in African and African American studies launched the DACA Seminar, a series of events on campus aimed at sparking conversations about the future of DACA and immigration policy and reform, while working to understand the students' options.
The Gazette sat down with Roberto Gonzales, professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, author of the book, "Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America," and one of the organizers of the DACA seminar, to talk about his motivations and hopes for a DACA compromise before March 5.
GAZETTE: What motivated you to launch a series of events about DACA and immigration on campus?
GONZALES: After Jeff Sessions announced the termination of DACA, I spoke with many students, young people, parents, and community-based organizations, and I received more than 50 invitations for campus visits this semester alone. But I wanted to do more and I wanted to do something on campus. I thought that one way to keep the conversation going on campus and in the broader community in Cambridge and Boston was to have a series of events between late January and March 5, the last day of DACA. I approached colleagues across the Yard, Kirsten Weld and Walter Johnson, who had participated in faculty events supporting our undocumented and DACA students last spring.
The three of us put our heads together and crafted the seminar. My idea initially in reaching out to them was to do a Harvard-wide event, in the spirit of One Harvard, and thinking about an issue that revolves around borders, I really wanted to dissolve any kind of borders on campus, so we're hosting events here at the Ed School, as well as across the Yard. We have events at the Kennedy School, the Divinity School, and the Law School, and we're sponsoring events with the Sociology and Anthropology departments, and with several centers on campus.
GAZETTE: The DACA seminar includes talks by undocumented students and workers at Harvard, musical performances, and a conversation with Angela Davis. What do you hope to achieve with these?
GAZETTE: The seminar began on Feb. 1 and will end on April 17. What has been the response of the community so far?
GONZALES: It has been overwhelming. We had a kickoff event with Jose Antonio Vargas and Joy Reid, and about 300 people turned out. After that event, I received a dozen emails from colleagues who wanted to get involved. We're in a political moment when a lot of people want to do something. We feel a bit discouraged and powerless, especially our students, to really engage in the political debate, which often happens at the 30,000-foot level. That's why I think that bringing this down to a more local level helps a lot because people can tangibly engage with some of the top scholars and top leaders in the country and feel less helpless and more encouraged. It's been also really important that we involve those who are most impacted by this. Most of our events include undocumented or DACA-mented students.
GAZETTE: What would you like to see happen at the local level in terms of DACA and immigration in general?
GONZALES: We hope this is a conversation that sparks action. We have between 60 and 80 undocumented students on campus who will be potentially very vulnerable if DACA is rescinded. We have a number of workers, custodian and janitorial staff, security guards, cafeteria workers on campus who are not only potentially parents of DACA beneficiaries, but also TPS holders. From a very local campus level, our community is being impacted centrally by some of the policy decisions made at a very high level. With the intellectual base of this campus, there is real potential to impact the public debate and policy at the K‒12 level, the higher education level, and also at the community level.
GAZETTE: And what would you like to see happening at the national level?
GONZALES: Our real hope is that Congress acts on this issue and that they extend rights not only to DACA beneficiaries but TPS holders as well. Advocates are pushing to extend DACA; this is something that is being fought in the courts, and Congress is trying to pass some sort of a longer-lasting bill.
This is a critical time in this country around questions of immigration and questions of inclusion and belonging, and how we define membership. At the policy level, our hope is that our elected officials really embrace the value of immigrants to this country, and look at their contributions, not only to the economy but to their communities and to their families. We also hope that they recognize that extending DACA protections is the right thing to do. We know that there is a good possibility that, come March 5, there is no solution.
As I mentioned earlier, often the political debate happens at a great distance from most of us, and certainly that's the case for most of our students. But in the absence of any kind of federal immigration reform, we hope to engage people and our community around potential state legislation that might extend drivers' licenses and in-state tuition for undocumented students if DACA goes away. We hope to encourage more action at the local level, and that would also include on campus, and how our faculty and administration can extend additional services and resources, and how student peers and faculty can become advocates for those most affected.
GAZETTE: What are the plans for March 5, the day when DACA ends?
GONZALES: We've invited a number of artists, poets, and musicians on March 5 to perform and lead workshops at the Memorial Church. The workshops will take place during the day to bring people together — staff, faculty, students — and in the evening we'll have performances.
We're encouraging our colleagues on other campuses and the media to come out. We want to shine out a bright light on this day and draw attention to the reality of DACA.
The reality is that upwards of 800,000 young people benefited from DACA, and, come March 6, if nothing happens, on average about 1,100 young people a day would lose their status. Think about this population; 800,000 people is no small number. It's the population of medium-size cities. It's the size of Boston, Seattle, Baltimore, and Atlanta. And so, for us, we really want to draw attention to what is tantamount to a massive disenfranchisement of a group of young people who, over the last five years, have been participating at high rates in our economy, schools around the country, all sectors of the workforce, and the civic life of their communities.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.
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Posted: 23 Feb 2018 01:34 PM PST
Shortly after the re-election of President Barack Obama in 2012, the conservative Christian Coalition sent an email to its members. It included a photo taken in 1942 of a white Christian family praying at the dinner table, patriarch seated at the head.
The note below the photo read: "We will soon be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving and God has still not withheld his blessings upon this nation, although we now richly deserve such condemnation. We have a lot to give thanks for, but we also need to pray to our Heavenly Father and ask Him to protect us from those enemies, outside and within, who want to see America destroyed."
According to Robert P. Jones, the founder and CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, the note's "apocalyptic ring" stems from the anxiety, fear, and anger of some conservative white Christians who he says have, in the space of a decade, moved from the mainstream to the minority in America. In a conversation Wednesday evening at Harvard Divinity School with journalist and political analyst E.J. Dionne, Jones laid out the data behind his claims, collected in his recent book "The End of White Christian America."
Jones characterized white, Christian America as representing centuries of cultural, political, and economic domination. Over the last couple of decades, however, demographics and culture have shifted dramatically.
During the years of the Obama presidency, for instance, the percentage of Americans who identified as white and Christian declined from 54 to 43 — more than a percentage point every year. During this time, the United States "crossed from being a majority to a minority white Christian country," Jones said. At the same time, support for the institution of same-sex marriage rose from 40 to 60 percent of Americans.
"If you are a conservative, white Christian, these numbers constitute a kind of cultural vertigo," he said. "You've gone from being in the mainstream to [an era where that is] no longer true."
The changes in religious affiliation between generations of Americans are even more striking, Jones said. In 2016, 64 percent of those aged 65 and older identified as both white and Christian. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, the number was only 25 percent. Nearly 40 percent of young Americans claimed no religious affiliation at all.
"What turbocharges the cultural changes is the exodus of young people," Jones said. "Those kids were raised in churches and left. By all measures, very few of them look like they're coming back."
Moreover, conservative churches are now seeing declines that were once limited to progressive Protestant denominations. Jones noted that 23 percent of Americans identified as white evangelicals in 2006. In 2016, that number was only 16 percent.
The numbers "explain why it feels like a fight to the death for some in the white, Christian world," Jones said. They also account for a startling turnaround in the attitudes of so-called "values voters." In 2011, the institute asked Americans "whether a political leader who committed an immoral act in his or her private life could nonetheless behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public life." At that time, Jones wrote, "only 30 percent of white evangelical Protestants agreed with this statement." When the institute asked the question again in 2016, 72 percent of white evangelicals said that they believed "a candidate can build a kind of moral wall between his private and public life."
The sentiment carried into the November presidential election, when around 80 percent of self-designated white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump — the most weighted support of any American religious constituency.
"Donald Trump got the highest percentage of white evangelical vote since we began recording," noted Dionne. "Before Trump, the personal life of a politician really mattered. After Trump, it really didn't matter."
Both Dionne and Jones characterized the rightward trajectory of white Christians over the past 50 years in large part as a reaction to the gains of the Civil Rights, feminist, and LGBTQ movements, as well as to predictions that the U.S. will for the first time be majority nonwhite by 2042. As a result, the coalitions behind the country's two major political parties look radically different.
In 2012, "the Obama coalition looked like 30-year-old America," Jones said. "The Romney coalition looked like 70-year-old America … Ten years ago, the GOP was 80 percent white and Christian. Today that's 71 percent. We're on a trajectory where we end up with a white Christian nationalist [GOP] and everyone else."
Dionne noted that shifting demographics and the rise in religious disaffiliation created coalition management problems for Democrats that may have cost them the White House in 2016.
"There was fear in the Clinton campaign that the young would be turned off [by talk of religion] and that there's a lot of anger toward conservative Christians whom they see as inimical to who [liberals] are," he said. "But not to talk to religious people was a mistake. [Methodism] was the most authentic piece of Hillary Clinton. If you want to carry Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania, you can't do it with only a secular coalition."
Jones and Dionne spoke hours after news broke of the death of "America's pastor," the Rev. Billy Graham. Dionne called Graham's death a "reminder of the era [Jones] writes about [that] in some ways is passing away." Jones, who grew up a Southern Baptist in Mississippi, worked for Graham during the summer of his senior year in college. He noted that the evangelist refused to hold segregated rallies in the South, counted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. among his friends, and tried to reach beyond his white audience.
Jones contrasted his approach with that of his son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, and said that the two represented the response of white Christian Americans to two eras, 20th-century ascendancy and 21st-century decline.
With Billy Graham, "There was a deep invitation to become part of Christian life," he said. "Franklin Graham was public in his support for Trump, critical of Obama and Black Lives Matter, and in lockstep with the Christian right movement. Billy Graham's death is the passing of an era when evangelical Christianity was more sure-footed — and more sure of itself. Now it's more defensive."
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Posted: 23 Feb 2018 12:01 PM PST
There are dozens of translations of "The Odyssey," the ancient epic poem credited to Homer, yet Emily Wilson's is the first by a woman into English.
"We should be shocked that the English-speaking world hasn't had a translation by a woman," Wilson said during a recent visit to Harvard. "Slightly more women than men get Ph.Ds. in the classics in the U.S., and yet the vast majority of translations that readers read in English for classics are by men. This is an issue, and we should talk about it."
The British classicist, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, gave a lecture earlier this month titled "Translating 'The Odyssey': Why and How."
"It's very visible to me how misogynistic some of these translations are, and not because they were consciously imposing misogyny, but they had some unconsidered biases," Wilson said before her talk. "Men are never asked about their gender, and this omission is seriously distorting. It's very clear gender has an impact on men's work."
To a crowd in Sever Hall, Wilson, who first fell in love with the Greek tale from the eighth century B.C. at a staged production at her elementary school, made her case with side-by-side comparisons of her work with past translations. In one example, she compared the opening lines of Chapter 5, when the goddess of dawn awakes. She noted the 1614‒16 translation by George Chapman:
Aurora rose from high-born Tithon's bed,
That translation empowers the man with ownership of the bed. Similarly, Alexander Pope's 1725 version — The saffon morn, with early blushes spread, Now rose refulgent from Tithonus' bed — reads as if the goddess were doing a "walk of shame."
The best-selling modern translation by Robert Fagles from 1996 — As Dawn rose up from bed by her lordly mate Tithonus / bringing light to immortal gods and mortal men — suggests the only mortals are men.
Like Chapman and Pope, Wilson used iambic pentameter. Her version of these lines is: Then Dawn rose up from bed with Lord Tithonus / to bring the light to the deathless gods and mortals.
Wilson spent five years working on the more than 12,000-line poem, explaining that she aimed for a stylist register that would reflect the tension between poetic artifice and clarity. Her translation features words and phrases such as "pep talk," "stuck up," and "tote bag." She explained her decision to avoid bombastic, archaic, or unidiomatic language by saying that such literary tricks don't get closer to the original.
Wilson spoke at Harvard at the invitation of Richard F. Thomas, George Lane Martin Professor of the Classics. Before the lecture, students held a Homerathon, a marathon reading of "The Odyssey," in Barker Café. Organized by Dean of Arts and Humanities Robin Kelsey's office and his student board, the event brought together 42 faculty, staff, and students to read 70 excerpts over seven hours. Classics professor David Elmer chose verses from a dozen English translations, beginning with Chapman and Pope and including William Morris (1887) and T.E. Lawrence (1932). The day ended with Wilson reading her translation.
"The experience of hearing all of these versions is very Odyssean," said Elmer. "The different translations are like the many disguises of Odysseus. It also felt appropriate to end with Wilson. Her reading included the final intervention by the goddess Athena, who directs the events of the plot. I loved the fact that the voice of Athena, the divine author, could be brought to life by the first woman to publish an English translation."
Lauren Spohn, an English concentrator who helped organize the Homerathon, said she first fell in love with "The Odyssey" in Humanities 10 with David Carrasco, the Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America.
"On the first day, he asked students to tell their mother's mother's name, what language she spoke, what her longest journey was, and the hardest journey she'd ever faced," said the 20-year-old, who read from the Robert Fitzgerald (1961) and the Fagles translations. "That just made me think: What's my odyssey? And what will it be for the next four years? It's a great story on so many levels because it's so applicable in so many parts of our lives."
Reading first in ancient Greek, then in English, sophomore Ben Roy said the public recitation made Homer's language as relatable as the story.
"This is an oral tradition, so I think it's especially relevant. We study the text, but it's never meant to be told in that form," the 20-year-old said. "There's a certain simplicity to 'The Odyssey.' It's meant to be easy to understand."
Roy, who is concentrating in the classics, was thrilled to hear Wilson close the Homerathon.
"It's a text that has been translated many times. Each translator's own life comes through the text. The more variety among translators, the more different aspects of a life will come out. Being a woman, she has had different experiences from other translators. Her translation brings out what others have overlooked."
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Posted: 23 Feb 2018 11:00 AM PST
Inspired by the human eye, researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed an adaptive metalens that is essentially a flat, electronically controlled artificial eye. The adaptive metalens simultaneously controls for three of the major contributors to blurry images: focus, astigmatism, and image shift.
The research is published in Science Advances.
"This research combines breakthroughs in artificial muscle technology with metalens technology to create a tunable metalens that can change its focus in real time, just like the human eye," said Alan She, an SEAS graduate student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and first author of the paper. "We go one step further to build the capability of dynamically correcting for aberrations such as astigmatism and image shift, which the human eye cannot naturally do."
"This demonstrates the feasibility of embedded optical zoom and autofocus for a wide range of applications, including cell phone cameras, eyeglasses, and virtual and augmented reality hardware," said Federico Capasso, the Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at SEAS and senior author of the paper. "It also shows the possibility of future optical microscopes, which operate fully electronically and can correct many aberrations simultaneously."
The Harvard Office of Technology Development has protected the intellectual property relating to this project and is exploring commercialization opportunities.
To build the artificial eye, the researchers first needed to scale up the metalens.
Metalenses focus light and eliminate spherical aberrations through a dense pattern of nanostructures, each smaller than a wavelength of light. Earlier metalenses were about the size of a single piece of glitter.
"Because the nanostructures are so small, the density of information in each lens is incredibly high," said She. "If you go from a 100 micron-size lens to a centimeter-size lens, you will have increased the information required to describe the lens by 10,000. Whenever we tried to scale up the lens, the file size of the design alone would balloon up to gigabytes or even terabytes."
To solve this problem, the researchers developed a new algorithm to shrink the file size to make the metalens compatible with the technology currently used to fabricate integrated circuits. In a paper recently published in Optics Express, the researchers demonstrated the design and fabrication of metalenses of up to centimeters or more in diameter.
"This research provides the possibility of unifying two industries, semiconductor manufacturing and lens-making, whereby the same technology used to make computer chips will be used to make metasurface-based optical components, such as lenses," said Capasso.
Next, the researchers needed to adhere the large metalens to an artificial muscle without compromising its ability to focus light. In the human eye, the lens is surrounded by ciliary muscle, which stretches or compresses the lens, changing its shape to adjust its focal length. Capasso and his team collaborated with David Clarke, Extended Tarr Family Professor of Materials at SEAS and a pioneer in the field of engineering applications of dielectric elastomer actuators, also known as artificial muscles.
The researchers chose a thin, transparent dielectic elastomer with low loss — meaning light travels through the material with little scattering — to attach to the lens. To do so, they needed to develop a platform to transfer and adhere the lens to the soft surface.
"Elastomers are so different in almost every way from semiconductors that the challenge has been how to marry their attributes to create a novel multifunctional device and, especially, how to devise a manufacturing route," said Clarke. "As someone who worked on one of the first scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) in the mid-1960s, it is exhilarating to be a part of creating an optical microscope with the capabilities of an SEM, such as real-time aberration control."
The elastomer is controlled by applying voltage. As it stretches, the position of nanopillars on the surface of the lens shift. The metalens can be tuned by controlling both the position of the pillars in relation to their neighbors and the total displacement of the structures. The researchers also demonstrated that the lens can simultaneously focus, control aberrations caused by astigmatisms, and perform image shift.
Together, the lens and muscle are only 30 microns thick.
"All optical systems with multiple components — from cameras to microscopes and telescopes — have slight misalignments or mechanical stresses on their components, depending on the way they were built and their current environment, that will always cause small amounts of astigmatism and other aberrations, which could be corrected by an adaptive optical element," said She. "Because the adaptive metalens is flat, you can correct those aberrations and integrate different optical capabilities onto a single plane of control."
Next, the researchers aim to further improve the functionality of the lens and decrease the voltage required to control it.
The research was co-authored by Shuyan Zhang and Samuel Shian. The research was supported in part by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and by the National Science Foundation. This work was performed in part at the Center for Nanoscale Systems (CNS), which is supported by the National Science Foundation.
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Posted: 23 Feb 2018 09:38 AM PST
A course that debuted last semester took students out of the classroom and into the community, where they got the chance to roll up their sleeves and take some practical action to help the less advantaged.
"I wanted to do a project-based class," said Flavia Peréa, the founding director of the Mindich Program for Engaged Scholarship and a lecturer on social studies who led the course "Urban Health and Community Change: Planning Action with Local Stakeholders."
"There are tremendous academic resources in Cambridge and Boston, but Somerville doesn't benefit as much from those resources. I wanted to leverage Harvard's resources to help address some of the needs in the Somerville community, and I think of our students as part of those resources."
Peréa said she wanted to give the students "the chance to explore and propose solutions to complex, real-world public health issues in collaboration with community stakeholders," and for Savannah Miles '18, the experience stood out.
"It was a really uniquely designed class, and unlike any other class I've ever been in" she said. "This is the first class I've taken at Harvard that focuses on tangible skillPers for community improvement. We were entirely focused on making a change: looking at a problem, and figuring out how to solve it."
Miles, a Dunster House resident with a concentration in social studies, was part of a group tasked with finding solutions to housing insecurity and homelessness. Part of their work was to look for ways to destigmatize the use of Section 8 vouchers.
"We developed an educational program to help encourage landlords to accept the vouchers, as well as a proposal for a property tax incentive to encourage residents to create affordable living spaces in their existing homes," Miles said. "We tried to create options that would appeal not only to citizens but to developers and landlords as well."
For Emelia Vigil '18, a psychology concentrator who also lives at Dunster House, the most rewarding part of the class was spending time getting to know Somerville's residents.
"We were really able to put a face to the Somerville community and see the diversity of age groups, ethnicities, and perspectives," she said. "I've had the opportunity to take lots of great classes here at Harvard, but very few give you the chance to be out in the community like this."
Chris Higginson '18, a Winthrop House resident with a concentration in molecular cellular biology, was part of a team that focused the "SNAP Gap" — the 61 percent of Somerville residents who are eligible to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, but do not apply for them.
"We wanted to address why people were not enrolling, and try to ameliorate that," he said. To that end, Higginson and his team developed a plan to have residents already enrolled in SNAP meet with prospective enrollees, and created monthly sign-up days with administrative staff in select locations in Somerville, rather than their usual office in Chelsea.
"A lot of students feel like they're in a Harvard bubble, and it was really great to get out into the community and get to know Somerville," Higginson said.
The students partnered with the Somerville Community Health Agenda, under the leadership of its director, Lisa Brukilacchio. Brukilacchio said that in addition to benefitting the students, the class gave community stakeholders a chance to share their real-world insights, both to help inform a future generation on community-based issues and initiatives and to help stimulate movement on issues such as housing, food access and social connections, which were identified in the 2017 Wellbeing of Somerville Report.
"The students were able to serve as additional researchers joining the Somerville culture of seeking innovative approaches, supported by models for addressing these issues in other communities," she said.
"Urban Health and Community Change: Planning Action with Local Stakeholders" is expected to become an annual offering, and will run for the second time in the fall. It was developed in partnership with the City of Somerville Health and Human Services Department, Cambridge Health Alliance, and Somerville Community Health Agenda.
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