Investing in the Arts–in Chicago and Beyond

The International Council of the Museum of Modern Art

Prepared Remarks
The Arts Club, Chicago, IL, April 2023

  1. Introduction
    It is a great privilege to welcome you all to Chicago. Many of you have traveled great distances overseas to join us here, and it is my hope that you come to appreciate the vibrancy of the city as much as I do. Let me first acknowledge that this land is Indigenous, home to the Potawatomi people and other Native tribes, including the Odawa and Ojibwe.

I too have called Chicago home for nearly four years now, since I was appointed President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. While MacArthur is rooted in our hometown, Chicago, we are proud of our global connections and partnerships. Our Staff at our offices in India and Nigeria lead important work and drive collaboration on the ground in the areas of climate change and anti-corruption. I believe that truly creative, world-changing ideas can come out of global partnerships.

Our institution has grown out of the MacArthur family’s generosity. This has been through the work of many people—our Staff and Board members, grantees, and partners—for more than 40 years.

There is much to be proud of in MacArthur’s history. And there are many possibilities yet to be achieved. We still have much to learn.

One thing we have learned is that everything we do at scale requires collaboration, along with the firm belief that we can imagine and create a better a better future—a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.

Philanthropic collaborations allow us to level up and usher in a new world of possibility.

My topic today is how we can reshape our communities at this moment in history. Now is the time for collaborative action to address our urgent goals and pursue bold thinking for a better future.

I believe we can learn, and realize what’s possible, through trust-based partnerships. Partnerships that share power with the communities we serve.

There are many models for this. I want to touch on a few ways we build trusting partnerships, to support creativity and foster the art of possibility.

There are four different ways of working I want to highlight that I think are illustrative of these themes. And they importantly show that there are MANY ways to partner with the people who are doing the work.
• First, our partnerships in our hometown, Chicago.
• Next, the MacArthur Fellows Program;
• Third, our Big Bets that strive for transformative progress in areas of profound concern; and finally,
• 100&Change, our global competition to solve a critical problem of our time.

  1. Chicago, Trust, and Philanthropy
    Please allow me to begin with our work here in Chicago. While MacArthur is part of the Chicago community, we also recognize there are many neighborhoods within this city–77 by one count–many of which are excluded from the decisions that affect their lives, due to a history of oppression, exclusion, and systemic racism.

Historically, philanthropy, including MacArthur, has taken a top-down approach to local “charity.” We all too often think this is how it works: We identify a problem, we know how to fix it, we dictate how to fix it, and with how much money. As you may guess, I do not think this is the right approach.

Again, we do NOT have all the answers. This top-down process empirically does not work.

So, at MacArthur, we partner with our community foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, whom we trust implicitly—it’s built into their name. As we work to tackle BIG challenges in our community—like racial equity, wealth gaps, gun violence and public safety—we trust the communities and organizations who are closest to these challenges and know best how to deploy resources.

Chicago is exceptional and well-known for many wonderful things—arts, music, theater, architecture, fostering leaders and activist organizations, and bringing people together from all walks of life—but it is also exceptional for its segregation and inequality.

We recently joined The Harris Poll to survey residents on their perceptions about of Chicago’s racial health and wealth gap. Our survey showed that residents see widening gaps, exacerbated by the unequal distribution of resources.

Residents also see challenges in public safety, healthcare access, food deserts, housing, and schools. Yet we also see opportunity—opportunity to address these concerns. Chicagoans believe that, with the right resources and investment, these challenges can be solved.

The series of polls supported our decision to make deeper investments in people, places, and partnerships to advance racial equity and build a more inclusive Chicago.

For more than 40 years, MacArthur has supported Chicago-based arts and culture organizations. While the city’s vibrant creativity was and is worth celebrating, we came to understand that our support had not been distributed equitably across Chicago’s geographies or populations. Before my time at MacArthur, the Chicago Commitment team found its arts grantmaking was concentrated in majority-White communities, funding organizations that themselves have a history of exclusion.

And so, in 2017, the Foundation began to reassess our approach to arts and culture grantmaking. How could we better support creative people and networks that actually reflect our city’s diversity?

So we reimagined the program. We structured it based on conversations with artists, creatives, leaders from arts organizations, arts advocates, and administrators in the nonprofit and for-profit spaces. Our approach was also informed by MacArthur’s participation in Enrich Chicago—an arts-led movement to undo racism—and a Foundation-wide effort called the Just Imperative, to reflect on how our decisions and actions enhance the conditions in which justice can thrive.

The Culture, Equity, and the Arts program, which we call “CEA,” uses a participatory grantmaking model—taking direction from arts, culture, and community leaders embedded in their communities. We have taken a heuristic approach to this work; we know that we will be learning and growing as we go. Participatory grantmaking values the lived experience and wisdom that non-grantmakers can bring to a deliberative process.

Our participatory grantmakers look a lot like Chicago. They represent a range of racial and ethnic groups, life experiences, and careers in a variety of sectors. They review our slate of grant applicants and recommend organizations to our Board for approval. Removing most of the decision-making from us and shifting power back into community.

Today, I am happy to say, there are a range of efforts that are providing greater access to arts programming for communities that have been excluded in the past.

We support organizations whose primary intentions, practices, and mission are by, for, and about a more diverse set of artists, cultures, and communities, including Chicago institutions like the Chicago Sinfonietta, Little Black Pearl Workshop, and Chicago Latino Theater Alliance.

Another great example of partnership in the arts is our $5 million investment in the America’s Cultural Treasures initiative. Chicago’s Cultural Treasures is part of the national initiative seeded by the Ford Foundation, which is focused on supporting the city’s arts and cultural organizations, led by, and serving people of color. At the heart of this program is the question of who gets to decide what Cultural Treasures are. This initiative invites a selection committee to help determine what the residents of Chicago believe are the cultural treasures that serve them best, and to co-create the grantmaking process from start to finish with a strong focus on equity.

In our CEA grantmaking, this process has also resulted in traditional, legacy organizations engaging in more inclusive work. For example, Joffrey Ballet, Chicago’s largest dance organization, offers community engagement programs, full scholarships to diverse students in its Academy of Dance, and supports emerging choreographers of color. And the Newberry Library has made great efforts digitizing its collections and reaching more people online, and in partnering with local Native American tribes to improve access to their archive of Indigenous materials.

Our aim is to advance the sector in three ways: first, by applying new equity-focused guidelines; second, we no longer base funding amounts on the size of organizations’ budgets; and third, we shift power outside of philanthropic institutions, relying instead on the advice of voices from outside the Foundation in making grant decisions. In this way, we (I hope):

• Amplify voices and leadership in communities;
• Strengthen trust and transparency; and
• Make better decisions by bringing a diversity of perspectives and experiences to the table.

While these fundamental changes have thus far only applied to MacArthur’s direct grants to large organizations, just this month we were proud to launch our regranting partnership with the Field Foundation. We’re calling it A Road Together—or ART for short.

Over the next five years, through ART, Field will regrant MacArthur funds to offer general operating support to small and mid-sized arts organizations with a strong commitment to equity.

Through this regranting partnership, we hope to see a more equitable distribution of resources across the city’s neighborhoods and communities. And we are looking for more diversity in the organizations that we support.

  1. MacArthur Fellows Program
    Of course, you may know MacArthur best for the Fellows program—now in its fifth decade of honoring and supporting creative individuals. It may seem odd to focus on a program so intent on individual creativity, when my topic is community partnership and the possibility of collaboration! While it supports individuals, the Fellows program is, in fact, one of our most collaborative programs.

Fellows can work in any field, in any medium, with any institutional affiliation or lack thereof. Because we, as a Foundation, are unrestricted by area, and the Fellows are unrestricted in how they can use the award, I believe the Fellowship expands the art of the possible.

In the 40-plus years since the first class was announced, Fellows have launched and led movements to combat inequality and unjust working conditions, made scientific breakthroughs, created astonishing works of visual, literary, and performance-based art, and offered new frameworks for understanding our society and its complex history.

Just imagine what it must be like to get one of these surprise phone calls in the fall from a 312-area code—offering a no-strings-attached five-year grant, for which you did not apply or even know you were a candidate, to keep doing the great things that you are doing? That may be the START of something for the Fellow, but it is the LAST thing in our own process.

When a Fellow gets that call, that moment is the most we demand of them. There is no reporting. The funds are unrestricted. Fellows have used it to buy homes, they have established organizations, they have paid off student loan debt–or enabling others to pay off student debt. And all of those uses are fine! Even encouraged!

In fact, the point is to identify people who are on the brink of discovery, and who, with the right support, can pursue high risk, high reward ideas. The award gives them the flexibility to pursue bolder goals. It gives Fellows the opportunity to pursue really creative ideas with a safety net, which may mean a new home, clearing debt, or supporting families.

This is the long game of philanthropy. Some of these people have students; they will collaborate with colleagues; they will build connections to other fields; they will pay it forward. These are grants for things that are hard to get grants for—be it new forms of poetry or neurological research.

Allowing for unrestricted creativity is just one way to construct possible futures. The Arts are and have always been a special focus of the Fellows program.

The press has often associated the award with the idea of the “solitary genius”. Yet, Fellows often demonstrate that the reach and impact of their work is extended and deepened when realized in collaboration with others.

I realize you all just had the good fortune to meet Amanda Williams, a Chicago-based MacArthur Fellow. Her work reimagines public space to expose the complex ways that cultural and economic value intersect with race in the built environment. But she does not do it in isolation. Her work is intimately tied to community and place and participation. Her Embodied Sensations installation at MoMA, in 2021 illustrates this perfectly. She reintroduced MoMA’s furniture—removed for COVID-19 protocols—stacked it into piles and engaged visitors in performance with the newly-arranged furniture. And just this spring, her “Redefining Redlining” project engaged community members in planting red tulips across Chicago’s landscape, making visible the history of redlining and its ongoing impact.

Our Fellows are finding new ways of working across disciplines. And they are forging forms of practice that deeply engage with communities.

We recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the program, with a multi-site exhibition called “Toward Common Cause”. Twenty-eight Fellows in the arts participated in installations across the city of Chicago, partnering with local organizations and sites, exploring the ideas of “the commons”, and how we use public space to exclude and include.

One of these installations was at Sweetwater Foundation, in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.

Sweetwater Foundation was founded by a MacArthur Fellow—urban designer Emmanuel Pratt. Sweetwater has gardens and agriculture, community space, a “Think-Do” house for workshops, and solar powered art galleries.

Two MacArthur Fellows and artists, Mel Chin and Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, partnered with Pratt and the community at Sweetwater. They co-created site-specific installations through a community input process. The resulting artwork was additive and interactive, and responsive to community needs.

Mel Chin’s “Safehouse temple door” framed an entry to the Civic Arts Church with a literal, functioning bank vault door serving as a symbol of value and protection. Ovalle’s “Hydrant” taps into the public water supply, feeding growing kale. The installation remarks on food apartheid, the persistence of food deserts in Chicago’s Black communities, and the unequal access to clean, lead-free water.

Thanks to the deep collaboration, the installations cultivated conversations about environmental justice, access to public space, and how we assign value. This is just one example of the results of our trust in the Fellows, our investment in the possibilities of their ideas. And the possibilities of creativity.

Some people criticize the program: some philanthropists often think it is a big waste of money—because they see no clear strategy, goals, or evidence. There is a point of view that philanthropy needs strategy, that we need to control how our money is spent, to see reports and evidence of its effectiveness.

But we believe that we can trust creative people—and innovative organizations for that matter—to accelerate ingenuity. That we should cede some decision-making power to others, so we can expand what can be imagined.

To some extent, it is not strategic: we don’t know what’s going to come. And while no one class has a theme, we do have a clear point of view. We think the world should be holding up people in a variety of areas of work and backgrounds. We think we should trust people closest to the work who know how to engage and collaborate with others.

  1. Big Bets: Climate
    We also seek to be very strategic in other areas of work. Our Fellows program is a sustained program with unrestricted support for an array of fields and themes. Our Big Bets are a very different mode of working. We strive toward transformative change, within a designated period of time, in areas of profound concern: reducing local jail use, tackling corruption in Nigeria, and addressing our climate crisis.

This last area is top of mind especially now. In the Climate Solutions program, we take a different approach to partnership. Our goals are first, to be part of the solution to mitigate climate change, and second, to have a more equitable approach in considering who is affected and at the table when it comes to identifying solutions. These goals require sharing power and collaboration—at local and global scales.

Our grantees work in the U.S., India, where we have a presence, and with partners in China, the three largest emitters. And we collaboratively fund work to have a global impact beyond these three nations. It is through collaboration we have an opportunity to succeed.

A great example of this global collaboration is our work on methane emissions. We supported efforts by Earthworks to investigate methane in the Permian basin—in Texas and New Mexico. The visuals of methane leaks from their investigation are stunning—you may have seen them—they resulted in advocacy and regulatory action. That work had a global impact.

In addition to directly supporting this impactful research, we worked with partners in philanthropy to create a fund well over $320 million to reduce methane emissions globally. That fund contributed to the momentum of the Global Methane Pledge, aiming to limit methane emissions by 30 percent compared with 2020 levels, with more than 100 countries signed on.

Global, seemingly intractable, challenges like climate change, require this kind of global-local partnership to succeed. But by thinking creatively about how we approach them, I believe progress is possible.

  1. 100&Change
    I want to pivot to one final bold approach we take: our 100&Change global competition to fund a $100 million proposal that promises progress in solving a critical problem of our time. This approach is a radically open call, to identify something that we may not have prioritized or understood without someone telling us.Our Big Bets are very strategic, subject specific. We know there are urgent problems that lie beyond this scope. And communities, nonprofit organizations, and social enterprises engaged in this work know their own needs best and can make compelling cases for support. But many of those potential solutions may go unnoticed or under resourced, waiting to be brought to scale. So, we asked: how would you change the world with $100 million?
    100&Change is open to organizations and collaborations working in any field, anywhere in the world.

We took this approach because we believe that MacArthur does not know everything that we should be working on! We wanted to hear from organizations and partnerships to tell us what problems we should be working to solve.

By awarding a $100 million grant, far above what is typical in philanthropy, we seek to address problems and support solutions that are radically different in scale, scope, and complexity.

And our selection process is collaborative, from start to finish. Proposals are reviewed by peers and external judges before our Board selects the finalists. At each stage, we work to make sure applicants benefit from their engagement.

This process has brought us to TWO exciting $100 million grants. Since the inaugural 100&Change competition, other funders and philanthropists have committed an additional $728 million to date to support bold solutions by 100&Change applicants.

Our first award went to Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee to implement an evidence-based, early childhood development intervention designed to address the “toxic stress” experienced by children in the Syrian response region—Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria.

The 2021 awardee is Community Solutions’ Built for Zero program, with an audacious goal to accelerate an end to homelessness.

“Built for Zero” partners with more than 105 communities in the United States working to reach what they call “functional zero”—an end state where homelessness is rare and brief. And in the process of selecting the award I was convinced that homelessness is, in fact, curable. For too long, homelessness has been viewed as intractable and pervasive rather than a crisis worth solving.

More than 568,000 people experienced homelessness on a given night in the United States, before the pandemic. Community Solutions, which happens to have been founded by MacArthur Fellow Roseanne Haggerty, has proven that people do not have to live this way. Its racially equitable response is primed for this moment.

What Community Solutions has found in its work, is that many towns and cities have a range of resources to address homelessness, but many of these resources are disconnected. It is very easy for people who are without a home, whether briefly or chronically, to fall through the cracks in these networks.

Community Solutions helps bridge these services, in ‘continuums of care’, and in work that ensures communities know each and every individual facing homelessness by name. The Built for Zero communities address specific needs, on an individual level, with community context and trust. And their work also takes systemic issues into consideration. The model is replicable at scale! But achieving this goal requires deep, hyper-local partnership and individualized work.

More than 15 communities have reached functional zero, demonstrating that homelessness is indeed curable. By showing that it is possible in these communities, the Built for Zero movement shows that it is possible in any community.

  1. Closing
    What all of these approaches have in common is trust. Trust in the people doing the work, in the people who are closest to the challenges we seek to solve, in the creativity it takes to see and create what is possible–in the artists who bring these visions to life every day, in Chicago and around the world.

As a global foundation, we trust partners on the ground to know what works better than we do. And in Chicago, we trust local leaders to know what works for their block and their neighborhood better than we do. That is true in the Arts as it is in other areas of grantmaking.

With trusting partnerships, philanthropy can take on the art of the possible and make it real. Together we can bring about a more creative, equitable, inclusive future in our own communities and in the world. Thank you.

# # #

City Club of Chicago Address, Summer 2021

Prepared Remarks City Club of Chicago, July 28, 2021

Thank you, Jacki, for your kind introduction. And thanks to the City Club of Chicago for inviting me to speak at this virtual luncheon. I wish of course we were all together in person, having a nice pasta at Maggiano’s, but that will come in due course I hope.

  1. Opening

We are all a product of our family histories, one way or another. As a new president of the MacArthur Foundation, I’m acutely aware of the way in which our institution has grown out of a single family’s generosity, the work that many people have done as MacArthur Staff and Board members—as well as grantees and partners—for more than 40 years, and our relationship to the city we call home—the city of Chicago.

There is much to be proud of in the history of MacArthur Foundation and in the history of this city. MacArthur is known the world over for its Fellows program, now in its fifth decade of honoring creative and effective individuals. Imagine what it must be like to get one of these surprise phone calls in the fall from a phone with a 312 area code, offering a no-strings-attached five-year grant, for which you did not apply or even know you were a candidate, to keep doing the great things that you are doing? Grantmaking in the areas of peace, justice, the environment and climate, journalism and media, have supported creative and effective institutions around the world with grants in the billions of dollars since 1978.

Of course, the world is a vastly different place today than when the MacArthur family set up its Foundation in the 1970s. Just as we must be aware of our family and institutional histories, and honor the past, we need to recognize the ways the context has changed, address where we haven’t gotten things entirely right the first time around, and imagine a better future.

Billions more people coexist on the planet today. For many of us, life spans have dramatically increased. The Internet has completely transformed communications and touched virtually every aspect of life. Information—and misinformation—is more readily accessible than ever before in human history.

We have witnessed extraordinary progress. The grantmaking MacArthur and others have done, on balance, have indeed led to a more just, peaceful, and verdant world.

And yet. And yet, in 2021, so much remains unchanged. So many massive problems remain to be solved. So much of the world continues to hurt, like a dream deferred in Langston Hughes’ famous poem.

Some problems are so entrenched that they are woven into the fabric of our shared experience. . . homelessness. . .climate change. . .racism. . .

It’s no secret that these challenges disproportionately affect people who are already among the most marginalized. . . And that is the hard truth behind why these problems still exist.

George Floyd, Adam Toledo, Ma’Khia Bryant, Daunte Wright, Anthony Alvarez, Breonna Taylor, and so many others’ lives were cut short by our acceptance of the unacceptable racism in our entrenched systems. Their deaths remind us that it is past time to choose a better way forward.

My topic today is our collective project in philanthropy at this moment in history. At MacArthur Foundation and across our sector, we confront this injustice with the fierce urgency of now. While we have reason to be proud of the work we have done and the work our grantees have done, we cannot be satisfied with what we see around us in 2021. We all have a role to play in creating a brighter, more equitable, more inclusive future, here in Chicago and around the world.

At MacArthur, our day-to-day work is centered on a concept we call the Just Imperative. The Just Imperative demands that we center racial and ethnic equity in all that we do. As we seek to remake our systems and our society—it keeps us focused on what we do and how we do it. It reminds us to center and lift up the voices of individuals and communities we seek to serve.

Just as I am acutely aware of the family and institutional history of the MacArthur Foundation, I come to this work aware of my own family story and how it shapes the role I play as MacArthur Foundation’s sixth president.

I come to this work with a sense of optimism that is fueled by my experiences going back to childhood.

Each morning, my parents—both pediatricians—would travel from the relatively comfortable, predominantly White community where we lived to the hospitals and community health centers where they served. Every day, they responded to the needs of communities in Boston that have been, and continue to be, underserved. They retired a few weeks ago after careers, like the MacArthur Foundation’s history, that spanned more than 40 years.

I admired their trip by the city bus down Massachusetts Avenue to the communities of Boston in which they engaged and served. At the same time, I admired their clear sense of global interconnection and our shared humanity. In my mom’s case, for instance, she started her career focused on neighborhood health in Boston. Today, even in retirement, (that’s in “air quotes”) she is focused on global health, with projects from Chile to China. For both of my parents, their careers have been rooted in understanding and addressing the contexts that create inequities, both locally and globally.

I am proud of and grateful for my parents’ example. At the dinner table in the evening, my parents taught me and my siblings to understand where we came from and the privilege we hold, to examine the inequities of the present, and to put our shoulders to the wheel to bring about a more equitable future. This experience as the child of two activist doctors informs the thinking I bring to my work every day as president of the MacArthur Foundation.

This upbringing also informs how I seek to live the Just Imperative, a framework that started before I joined the Foundation—for which I call out my predecessor as president, Julia Stasch. It is a set of ideas and commitments that I hope lives on long after both of our tenures.

I, as an individual, and we, in philanthropy, have much to learn as we organize our collective resources to meet the moment and fund a movement. A movement that makes real a dream that has, so far, been deferred.

In the spring of 2020, none of us could have foreseen the extraordinary toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have all been transformed in ways told and untold, seen and unseen. Our collective trauma, loss, and grief seemed to know no end. We must acknowledge that fact, while recognizing our shared humanity.

We must also acknowledge the disproportionate harm in historically marginalized communities in Chicago, across the United States, and globally.

The twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racism are very much intertwined. They have led to an outsize impact on the physical and economic health of Black, Latinx, and Native American people. In communities of color, rates of COVID-19 exposure, illness, hospitalization, and death were all higher.

As we work together to create a future where people of color can survive—and thrive—we must commit to a reimagining of what is possible. We must prioritize their vision, their needs, and their dreams.

Even before the pandemic, disparities in life expectancy in Chicago foreshadowed the unequal impact it would have. I remember being so struck by one statistic when I first arrived in Chicago in the summer of 2019. You are probably all familiar with this terrible fact, but for someone moving to the city anew, it was a way to visualize what we needed to do.

This fact was the gap in life expectancy based on where one lived. As this study showed, the life expectancy in Streeterville, a mostly White and wealthy neighborhood, was 90 years. Nine miles south in Englewood, where most residents are Black, life expectancy was just 60 years. Last month, when Mayor Lightfoot declared racism a public health crisis, she cited an overall 9.2-year life expectancy gap between Black and non-Black Chicagoans.

Meanwhile, across the country, we have seen a rise in xenophobia and violence against people of Asian descent, particularly women and the elderly.

Here in Chicago, in recent months, a young Latinx man and teenager have been killed in police shootings.

While these are unprecedented times, the problems we are confronting are not new. Racism is a contagion that existed long before COVID-19.

In this context, MacArthur’s Just Imperative calls us to action.

White people, myself included, have an essential role to play in dismantling the structures that uphold systemic racism. We must deconstruct the thinking and practices that brought us to this point of reckoning. And we must construct new systems in their place—this imperative applies both to individuals and to institutions.

It is clear that we need new directions in philanthropy to help communities recover and thrive.

If money is medicine, as Edgar Villanueva writes in his book Decolonizing Wealth, how do we ensure that we use it to heal the people and communities we seek to serve?

For decades, privilege has reinforced grantmaking methods that do not center the leadership of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.

To that end, today I am excited to share how we hope to realize the promise of this moment, to work for this dream that can no longer be deferred.

2. Equitable Recovery Initiative

MacArthur has a long-standing commitment to Chicago, our hometown, where we invest in people, places, and partnerships to advance racial equity and build a more inclusive Chicago. Over 40 plus years, we have invested $1.4 billion in more than 1,600 organizations and individuals—more than any other place in the world.

The Just Imperative calls us to examine how our work in Chicago upholds an unjust status quo. We have listened, learned, and adjusted, and we have worked to follow the lead of people most proximate to the communities we aim to serve.

However, there are times when those of us with power and resources must do more. 2020 was such a time.

So last summer, we launched an Equitable Recovery Initiative. In the depth of the COVID-19 crisis, the last thing we wanted to do was cut our grantmaking to organizations more in need than ever—in communities across the United States and in Mexico, India, and Nigeria. At the same time, our endowment had fallen in value, so we did not want to sell our holdings at a deep—and, as we now know—temporary discount.

So instead, we did something unprecedented, for MacArthur and for our sector. We decided to borrow money so that we could give more money away.

Last summer, we issued social bonds to raise $125 million for grants and investments above our typical annual giving. We took advantage of historically low interest rates, so we could give out more money in a time of great need.

We leveraged our balance sheet to support individuals and communities, who, in turn, will generate high social returns on these funds.

Given the urgency of the moment, we announced $40 million in grants for the Initiative last year. These grants addressed voting and democracy, anti-Black racism, and the impact of COVID-19 on Native Americans. They also supported technology and justice, and Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous arts organizations.

Then we needed to decide how to spend the rest of the bond money with a bit more strategic thinking.

In the fall of 2020, we co-created a novel, collaborative approach for allocating the remaining $82 million in bond proceeds.

Building on our recent experience in participatory grantmaking in the arts and the 40 years of grantmaking in our Fellows program, we invited 12 people with a diversity of perspectives to advise us on how to apply an anti-racist lens to our Equitable Recovery grantmaking. The input of these external advisors was critical to help us focus and avoid spreading funds too thinly, one of our guiding principles.

In consultation with these external advisors, our Board, and our Staff, we arrived at the overarching theme: Advancing Racial and Ethnic Justice.  

Under that theme are four focus areas:

  • First, providing infrastructure support for Black-led organizations and efforts related to reparations and racial healing.
  • Second, acknowledging and honoring Indigenous communities’ authority over themselves, their distinct needs, and their right to determine how best to heal and build the post-pandemic future they want.
  • Third, increasing health access, equity, and accountability to communities most affected by COVID-19, including our Latinx communities here in Chicago.
  • And fourth, a cross cutting Equitable Housing Demonstration Project. This idea seeks to address the challenge of sustainable housing for those returning to the community from jails and prisons.

Throughout our Equitable Recovery grantmaking, our goal was to allocate more than half of these funds to organizations that are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color-led or -serving. I am proud to say that we have far exceeded that benchmark, with most of our funding going to Black-led, Indigenous-led, Latinx-led, or Asian-led and -centered organizations.

3. Local Focus of the Equitable Recovery Initiative

Since MacArthur is a global foundation, and our Equitable Recovery grantmaking reflects that commitment. We made grants to assist with COVID response and recovery in India, where cases skyrocketed this spring. Our racial justice grants included a focus on Nigeria and other parts of the African continent, while our support for Indigenous communities included locations across North America, India, and Nigeria.

I appreciate, however, that you may be especially interested in how funds were deployed in Chicago [HANDS]. In the early days of the pandemic, MacArthur contributed to several shared funds. We supported the Chicago Community and Illinois COVID-19 response funds, both of which helped provide immediate relief to families and emergency response to organizations. We joined our peers in creating funds to shore up both arts and journalism organizations, which in many ways weave together the fabric of our city. 

As the pandemic persisted, we interrogated our actions, asking if there was more we could do to create the conditions for justice to thrive. How could we remove the barriers that create inequities in our city?

Through the We Rise Together Fund at the Chicago Community Trust, we hope to be part of a large group of partners who catalyze economic growth, mitigate the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19, and address racial inequities in the Chicagoland region. And to promote relationship building among the city’s diverse populations, we supported the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation initiative. We also joined IFF, Ford Foundation, Joyce Foundation, and several other local funders to launch Chicago’s Cultural Treasures, which helps create, preserve, and disseminate art by and for people of color.

More recently—under the theme of health access, equity, and accountability—we made grants to facilitate vaccine access and distribution. We supported efforts that address immediate needs and look to the future, ensuring that Chicago builds a strong and effective public health infrastructure. . . led by the communities most impacted.

Community-based organizations have taken extraordinary steps to aid our neighbors and populations hardest hit by COVID. They helped families and seniors navigate complex systems to make vaccination appointments and established convenient neighborhood-based vaccine sites. Through these efforts, organizations in Austin, Auburn Gresham, Belmont Cragin, Little Village, South Shore, and other communities, have lowered barriers to access.

In addition, we supported mental health initiatives for young people of color in the metro region. This recognizes the toll the pandemic has taken on those who have experienced loss and whose education has been disrupted for well over a year.

In our local response, we have paid close attention to the heavy load COVID-19 placed on members of the Latinx community, many of whom are essential workers whose jobs put them at high risk. Many suspect that the Latinx COVID case count is even higher than reported because some individuals fear tests or treatment because of immigration status or lack of health insurance. But state and national data show that more than 70 percent of Latinx individuals want to receive the vaccine.

So, we invested in an initiative called Illinois Unidos which responds to these challenges. Originally volunteering its time and expertise, Illinois Unidos created a portal where residents can find up-to-date information on COVID tests, vaccines, and other health services in English and Spanish. Now it also offers information on assistance with housing, food, employment, and immigration issues.

It uses traditional media, such as Telemundo, to spread its message. It is also placing digital ads on social media and deploying creative outreach. Powered by more than 200 volunteers, Illinois Unidos ensures that the pandemic’s impact on the Latinx community is understood widely and addressed equitably.

4. Applying a Racial and Ethnic Equity Lens

We have applied a racial and ethnic equity lens in all our work throughout the pandemic. Every effort was made to identify, listen to, and support organizations led by, serving, and centered on Asian, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities. And with the Just Imperative as our north star, we are working to apply this lens to all our work.

This lens was especially focused in the Racial Justice Field Support area, which funds Black-led efforts and organizations. We are also taking a leadership role to position reparations and racial healing as issues philanthropy meaningfully helps to address.

The massive demonstrations for Black lives during the spring and summer of 2020 re-centered the issue of racial injustice in the public realm and renewed debate on how to address more than 400 years of violence and oppression against Black people in the United States.

Our Racial Justice Field Support work strengthens Black-led power building and organizing in the United States, and sister movements in Nigeria. We support organizations that recognize that in order to fix structural and systemic racism, we must collectively disrupt existing structures of power that have upheld it.

Last fall, we made an initial award to the Chicago Racial Justice Pooled Fund at Crossroads, which was co-designed by organizers, activists, and community leaders. The fund supports Black-led nonprofits working to address anti-Blackness through grassroots community organizing. In June, we made a second grant to the fund, bringing our total contribution to $2 million to build and sustain movements for justice that center Black lives.

MacArthur’s investments in Black-led and Black-focused racial justice organizations also help to address our own history of underinvestment in this area. It was a pattern we found when we examined our work with a Just Imperative lens. A pattern that mirrors philanthropy and the nonprofit sector more broadly.

Black-led organizations have played a role in every major social movement in the U.S., but they face abysmally low funding relative to White-led organizations. A resource shift is beginning, but we must accelerate and sustain it over the long term.

5. Reparations

At MacArthur, we are guided by our belief in reparative justice, or the belief that major civic, philanthropic and business institutions have an obligation to provide reparations to the communities that have suffered the most from the forces of White supremacy, systemic racism, and European colonialism in Asia and Africa.

Our belief in reparations is founded on the simple premise that we cannot solve our most pressing problems unless the individuals and institutions that have benefited the most from the subjugation of Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities do their part to promote healing today.

This means working to rebuild or restore the health, economic prosperity, and communal land rights that were stolen from communities in the United States and around the world as a result of slavery, colonization, and the systems of oppression that followed in their wake.

Reparations is one way to create the conditions for justice to thrive in the United States. The legacy of slavery and anti-Black oppression has made reparations necessary. We follow the lead of activists, including MacArthur fellow Ta-Nehisi Coates, who have, for many years, advocated for it.

To amplify calls for reparations, we supported a project associated with the Northeastern Illinois University Foundation called the Grassroots Reparations Campaign. This campaign shares the stories and experiences of Black people in the United States to address the legacies of racism. It followed the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown and the community response to the lack of police accountability. The campaignis working to advance a culture of reparations that emerges from spiritual practice, transformative education, and action.

And we support the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, also known as “N’COBRA,” one of the premier grassroots organizations formed to achieve reparations for people of African descent in America. N’COBRA has spearheaded, led, co-led, or supported every major reparations action to date in the United States. It also supports local and state level reparations efforts, including in Evanston and Chicago.

6. Reimagining Public Safety

Many of the organizations we fund are also considering how to reimagine public safety and policing. This emphasis is a critical one for us to address in Chicago, given its disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx communities.

Through the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, or PSPC, MacArthur and 50 other funders—many of you included—have invested more than $90 million over five years towards reducing gun violence, building trust between residents and police officers, and reforming the Chicago Police Department.

PSPC is now joining the conversation on reimagining public safety and policing, a conversation in which each and every one of us must engage. If any resident of Chicago feels unsafe or experiences harm at the hands of the police, we must hear their calls for justice. It is a problem we must solve together.

Recently, the Harris Poll and MacArthur surveyed Chicagoans to better understand the city’s biggest challenges, particularly regarding public safety. The response shows a city with fraught feelings towards a police force which they both support and want reformed.

One finding was that 58 percent of Chicago residents oppose the “defund the police” movement. Yet, they believe police can improve interactions with people of color with better training—including de-escalation and race-focused training—and more alternatives to police response.

Residents who want to cut police spending would like to see the money used for mental health care programs, gun violence prevention, and homeless services and shelters.

While the central tenets of the “defund” movement can be divisive, supporters and non-supporters share common ground on some of its goals—such as investing in and using non-policing alternatives. This gives city leaders a roadmap for workable solutions with broad-based support.

The paradigm in Chicago makes it abundantly clear that guns, racism, and law enforcement are interconnected challenges. Policymakers cannot make progress on any one of these issues if they don’t address all of them, together.

7. Business Diversity

One final idea, an invitation actually, before I come to a close. I realize that not everyone here today is a grantmaker, and so joining us in making grants or impact investments is not something every institution can do. But when I looked at the wonderful list of RSVPs for today’s event, I realized that most everyone here today is a leader of some type of organization in Chicago. That means that we all make decisions about who to hire and who to do business with across a wide range of industries.

I hope that each person here today, if you agree with the idea that we need to close the yawning wealth gap, do something about the ill effects of segregation, and address the disproportionate deaths from gun violence and disease in Chicago—and I hope everyone does—then we might also agree to team up when it comes to accomplishing business diversity. By using the term “business diversity”, I mean focusing on who we hire as law firms, search firms, investment firms, advertising firms, just about any partners to help us accomplish our missions. I credit this term and this push to John Rogers of Ariel Investments and others who have made such efforts a priority in their firms.

As part of the Just Imperative, MacArthur has committed ourselves to improving the diversity of the businesses we work with and the diversity within those firms. We all have a role to play in who we invite to bid for our work, how we manage the hiring processes, and with whom we choose to work. I hope we all might commit today to bringing about a more equitable, inclusive, and vibrant economy in Chicago in the years to come through a deep and enduring commitment to these practices.

8. Closing

As I close, I want to emphasize the importance of standing in solidarity with the leaders of social movements. Listening to the perspectives, dreams, and ideas of the individuals and communities most impacted is essential to our work.

We made this a hallmark of our Equitable Recovery Initiative, leaning into the advice of our external advisors. We strive to follow this model across all of our programs as we seek to become an anti-racist organization. MacArthur is also a learning organization, devoted to the work of evaluation and holding ourselves accountable for our progress as well as our failures. We will make mistakes, we will adjust, and we will aim to do better.

Internally, our aspiration is for each member of the MacArthur Foundation—nearly 200 Staff members around the globe—to feel a sense of belonging and a profound recognition that the Just Imperative is a part of all of our work. We continue to become more diverse as a Foundation, as do the organizations and people we support.

This imperative calls on us to lead with justice.

Now is the time to fundamentally transform our systems, structures, and practices—to imagine and then use everything we can to reconstruct something better.

The old way in philanthropy is broken. But there is good news for our sector: the changes we need to make—to be better stewards of our vast resources—are well within reach. Let us stand in solidarity to create a future where equity and justice can endure. Where this dream will no longer be deferred.

I am delighted to be living in Chicago with all of you. I’m grateful for the chance to share our Just Imperative with you today. I am indebted to so many of you who are working shoulder to shoulder with us at MacArthur Foundation. And I hope many others will join us on this journey toward a more equitable and inclusive future for Chicago and the many communities in which we work.

Thank you. . . I’m happy to continue the conversation and do what I can to answer your questions.

# # #

2021 World Health Day Keynote, University of Chicago

World Health Day Keynote Address

Center for Global Health, University of Chicago

John Palfrey, April 7, 2021

Thank you, Dr. Olopade, for your kind introduction. Thanks to Dean Gorman-Smith and all of you at the University of Chicago Center for Global Health for inviting me to speak this morning in honor of World Health Day.


It is such a pleasure to serve alongside Dr. Olopade—a member of the MacArthur Foundation’s Board of Directors and therefore my boss. As you would no doubt imagine, she brings deep experience and a unique perspective to our work—which I know many of you get to experience on a daily basis at the University of Chicago. Dr. Olopade’s relationship with MacArthur goes back further: among the many honors she has received during her career, she was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2005 for her work to change the way doctors screen and treat African and African American women for breast cancer.

Dr. Olopade’s influence is felt locally here in Chicago, her current home, and all around the world, including in Nigeria where she was born, and where we at MacArthur Foundation have had an office for decades. On a personal level, she has been such a generous and kind guide to the City of Chicago as my family arrived here a few years ago from Boston. As we have often said at MacArthur Foundation, Dr. Olopade has the biggest heart of any of us on the Board. When she asked me to speak today, I jumped at the chance.

The Center for Global Health at the University of Chicago is leading the way in advancing the field. Your center is addressing health inequities and their root causes through an interdisciplinary lens, in partnership with communities in Chicago and abroad—both of which are especially critical in this moment. Thank you for hosting this day of conversation and commemoration and for all the work you do, every day, to advance global health.

I am excited to kick off World Health Day with you today. Despite all the harm that the COVID-19 virus has caused this past year-plus, I am excited about what this day can mean for us. Never has it been more important than it is this year, more than a year into a global pandemic and the end far from in sight. I am excited because we need to frame and address problems that touch each person in the world—and because the University of Chicago and places like yours make that thinking and doing, big and at scale, seem entirely possible, here in Chicago and all over the world.


Global Health Day has personal resonance for me. I grew up as the child of two parents who were and are devoted to public health. My mother and father are both pediatricians and medical educators in Boston. My parents often talked about the health disparities and the kinds of issues that the pandemic has laid bare. The topics you are studying and dissecting today were dinner table conversation for me and my sister Katy and brother Quentin. My parents have dedicated their lives to taking care of others and instilled in me and my siblings a sense of community consciousness and social justice. As it turns out, the three of us have all ended up in the non-profit and government sectors. At one moment recently, we were all CEOs of non-profit organizations.

One thing I’ll always think of when I think of my parents and their respective careers is that each morning, they got on a city bus and rode down Massachusetts Avenue from the community in which they lived to the hospitals and community health centers where they served. Every day, they gave their best in service of communities in Boston that have been and are underserved. They have at the same time had a clear sense of global interconnection. In my mom’s case, for instance, she started her career focused on neighborhood health in Boston and she is today focused on global health, with projects from Chile to China. I am proud and grateful for my parents’ fine example, and it informs the thinking that I bring to my work every day as president of MacArthur Foundation.


Each year, the World Health Organization designates a theme for World Health Day. It seems fitting that this year’s theme is “Building a Fairer, Healthier World.”

World Health Day is a moment for us to come together and recognize the opportunity for fundamental and systemic change. This inflection point has lessons for the future. We must realize the promise of the moment—to take this opportunity to recommit to racial and ethnic equity, diversity, and inclusion as we recover from a global pandemic that has impacted every corner of the world.

A year ago, none of us could have foreseen the extraordinary death toll we would experience from the COVID-19 pandemic. We must acknowledge the deaths of more than 550,000 people in the United States and the more than 2.7 million lives lost around the world due to COVID-19.

We must also acknowledge the disproportionate harm, felt as a matter of health, job loss, and much more, in historically marginalized communities in Chicago, the U.S., and globally.

Certainly, we have been experiencing dual crises—the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racism, which are very much intertwined. They have wreaked economic devastation and disastrous health impacts for African American, Latino, and Native American individuals. In communities of color, rates of COVID-19 exposure, illness, hospitalization and death are all higher. Native American, Black, and Latinx people twice as likely to die from COVID-19 infections.

Meanwhile, racial disparities in police killings have remained unchanged over the past five years, with 164 Black people suffering fatal police violence in the first eight months of 2020, alone. The American Public Health Association has declared police and law enforcement violence as a public health crisis. We have also seen a rise in xenophobia and violence directed against individuals of Asian descent across the nation, culminating in the senseless killings in Atlanta last month.

Police brutality and violence is not limited to the United States. In Nigeria, over the past few years, mass demonstrations have taken place through the #EndSARS movement to protest the corruption and abuse of power by the SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad), a branch of the Nigeria Police Force. MacArthur Fellow and writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written extensively about this topic on how the police force has terrorized its own citizens.

While these are unprecedented times, the problems we are confronting are not new. Racism is a contagion that existed long before COVID-19.

White people, myself included, have an essential role to play in dismantling the structures and practices that uphold systemic racism. We have to deconstruct our thinking and our practices that have brought us to this point of reckoning, and we have to reconstruct new systems in their place—that goes for individuals and institutions. It is clear that we need new directions in philanthropy to respond to urgent needs and to help communities recover.

If money is medicine, as Edgar Villanueva has written in his book Decolonizing Wealth, how do we ensure that we are using and distributing it to heal the people we seek to serve?  For decades, situational privilege has reinforced grantmaking methods in philanthropy that do not center the leadership of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.

Again, these inequities play out not just in the United States but in fact around the world. The gap between wealthy nations and those with fewer economic resources presented a renewed crisis, as the availability of life-saving vaccines, medicines, and practices has been spread unevenly across the globe. Within countries where the MacArthur Foundation makes grants, including the United Staes, Nigeria and India, we have seen similar disparities play out along lines of gender, social class, and abilities.


As a non-profit institution and as a funder of other non-profits, we at MacArthur Foundation are committed to doing our part to help bring about an equitable, inclusive recovery, with the individuals most affected in the lead to determine priorities and what is best for communities seeking to recover. We have much to learn from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders—in all the places we operate—about how to organize and consolidate our collective resources to meet the moment and fund a movement.

MacArthur has had a long-standing commitment to Chicago, our home city, where we invest in people, places, and partnerships to advance racial equity and build a more inclusive Chicago. Over 40 years we have invested $1.4 billion in more than 1,600 local organizations and individuals—more than any other place in the world.

There are times when those of us with the power and resources are called on to do more. This past year, 2020, was such a year.

Last summer, MacArthur issued “social bonds” to make $125 million in additional grants and investments in people, organizations, and communities. Our goal is to put these funds to work in an intentional, transparent, and accountable fashion toward the reconstruction of new, more equitable systems and structures.

We are taking advantage of historically low interest rates to be able to give out more money in a time of great need. Our first $25 million in grants addressed anti-Black racism, supported Native Americans impacted by COVID-19, strengthened voter education and mobilization, and combatted voter suppression. We also awarded grants to organizations based in India, Mexico, and Nigeria to respond to increased gender-based violence, reduced access to healthcare, fewer safe spaces, and unequal workloads.

The remaining funds will be allocated in support of organizations that can advance an overarching goal of racial and ethnic justice. One area of focus is health equity and access, which includes issues ranging from the disparate views of the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccines by race to the mental health and wellness of Black, Indigenous, and other youth of color.

In Nigeria, where we have worked for over 30 years, we are using a gender equity and social inclusion lens with our grantmaking, which aims to reduce corruption by supporting Nigerian-led efforts to strengthen accountability, transparency, and participation.

That means we are looking at everything from:

-Supporting women-led and youth-led organizations with our grantmaking;

-Ensuring that our anti-corruption programming is informed by and reaches people from historically and contemporary marginalized groups such as young people, people with disabilities, women, and people in hard-to-reach communities. We have a particular focus on individuals who have intersecting identities, such as disabled women in hard-to-reach places;

-Offering Gender Equity and Social Inclusion training support to grantees; and

-Setting markers in how we evaluate our grantmaking to hold ourselves and grantees accountable to this priority.

The substance of our grantmaking and investing is as important as our mode of operating. Within the organization, we have embraced the Just Imperative, which is grounded in the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion as we strive to become an anti-racist organization.

Our aspiration is for each member of the MacArthur Foundation—all 180 Staff members around the globe—to feel a sense of belonging and a profound recognition that the Just Imperative is a part of all of our work. We continue to become more diverse as a Foundation and attempt to do the same with the organizations and people we support. We are also a learning organization, devoted to the work of evaluation and holding ourselves accountable for our progress as well as our failures.

This commitment we have made—this Just Imperative—calls upon us to look at everything we do. While some of the obvious steps have been to look at hiring and procurement practices, we are also looking across all our grantmaking, our impact investing, and our approach to investing the endowment itself.

Now is the time to fundamentally transform our systems, structures, and practices and reconstruct something better. Later today, we will announce the award recipient of 100&Change, our global competition for a single $100 million grant to solve a critical problem of our time. The six bold ideas will accelerate social change by ending homelessness, providing oxygen therapy to patients worldwide, restoring our oceans, democratizing life-saving medical knowledge and care, eliminating news deserts, and combating mosquito-borne disease.


What does this have to do with World Health Day? One of the many lessons of COVID-19 is our interconnectedness and our interdependence. We have missed this lesson in the past and we miss it again at our peril. The transmission of disease across geographic boundaries is just the most obvious dimension. The ravages of racism cross geographic boundaries, just as the slave trade joined Europe, Africa, and North and South America—and touched every corner of the world, as one example. Colonialism had and has today the same interconnected qualities. Information systems, trade, economic policy, security—each of these areas and more show us the deep and now permanent forms of interconnection. We cannot ignore these forms of interconnection; we cannot pull back from seeing our common humanity, acting locally, acting regionally, and both thinking and acting globally as we seek to define and solve the biggest problems.

As I close, let me harken back to Dr. Olopade and to my parents and to the approach they all take to their work. The public health leaders I most admire both act and think locally and act and think globally. They take care of people in their own communities and they never lose sight of our shared humanity, our deep interconnectedness with every other person on the planet.

The many learnings and types of reckonings of this past year give me hope for the future. To realize this future, we need to take stock now and understand what lessons we can learn from this once-in-a-lifetime moment—what we hope will be a once-in-a-lifetime moment, anyway. We must deepen our understanding of racial justice in an enduring way. The MacArthur Foundation is committed to realizing the promise of the moment—in solidarity with those whom we invest in and whom we partner with—towards a fairer and healthier world. I look forward to partnering with many of you, shoulder to shoulder with Dr. Olopade, in that work. Thank you.

2021 Klinsky Lecture, Harvard Law School

Klinsky Lecture: Technology in the Public Interest
Harvard Law School
April 2021
John Palfrey

Thank you, Dean Manning, for your kind introduction and for the opportunity to serve as the Klinsky Visiting Professor of Practice for Leadership and Progress in this auspicious year. It is such a treat to be back with all of you at Harvard Law School–and to have been able to teach again this year, fittingly enough, given our topic today, by Zoom. Thank you, Steven and Maureen Klinsky, for being with us today and for your exceptional generosity to our shared alma mater. I cherish this appointment and the chance to be the 2021 Klinsky Visiting Professor. Thank you to Catherine Cronin in the dean’s office, Steven Oliveira and the team in the development office, Urs Gasser and all those at the Berkman Klein Center who have helped to sponsor and put on this event today.

Thank you to Professor Martha Minow who will close us out today–and who had the vision, while she was herself the dean, to imagine this gift with the Klinskys and, I suspect, to shape both this professorship and the lecture series. Finally, thanks to all of you who have joined us and will participate today. In particular, thank you to Isabella Berkley, Madeleine Matsui, and Jess Valenzuela Ramirez, all members of the Harvard Law School Class of 2023–and students in the course I taught this Winter term, entitled Technology and the Public Interest. Isabella, Madeleine, and Jess will be the initial respondents after my remarks this afternoon. I am honored by their presence and willingness to serve this role.

We have learned many things, all of us, in this past year-plus of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of many lessons has to do with Zoom. We are all familiar with the “oh, sorry, you’re on mute” and the challenges of Zoom fatigue. We’ve also learned that no one wants to listen to anyone other than the very best lecturer talk for an hour straight on Zoom. I am far from one of the very best lecturers and I will spare you even a half hour straight. The gameplan is that I’ll give more of a sprint than a marathon type lecture, then turn it over to the students to respond, then open up to the questions and comments of the larger community. We’ll end with Professor Minow, who will likely pose a question to the students and perhaps one to me, and then close us out.


My story today is framed by three key dates, each separated by twenty years: 1981, 2001, and 2021.

Forty years ago, in 1981, Steven Klinsky graduated from the Harvard Law School. We are fortunate indeed that he did, or, we likely would not be gathered here today. Steven, I hope you enjoy your 40th reunion this year.

Twenty years ago–2001–was my class year at Harvard Law School. I will linger here not to center myself in the story but to ground us in the heady days of what we then called “the Internet boom.” Professor Charlie Nesson taught a class called “The Exploding Internet.” Jonathan Zittrain, fondly known as JZ, taught the early versions of his famous “Internet & Society:

The Technologies and Politics of Control.” I had the great good fortune to be one of the early students at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society alongside a dynamic, passionate, zany crew who had gathered around what Myles Berkman called “the watercooler” for a new era.

The spirit of the times in 2001 was electric and exciting. It was also dominated by a point of view that the Internet was a new thing, a new space–cyberspace–and something that deserved to be treated differently than everything else that had come before. For many, this point of view translated into a “hands off” regulatory environment for the Internet and everything associated with it. There was a name for it: “cyberlibertarianism.” It had some appealing features to be sure: a radical openness and a sense of possibility, the lure of a new kind of more participatory and global politics, and to be sure great riches for those able to harness it.

The United States Congress and those in the regulatory agencies and judiciary at the time more or less went along with this orthodoxy. In this country at least, regulation of the Internet was kept at a bare minimum. No new major, dedicated regulatory agencies or regimes cropped up, except at the margins and when absolutely necessary. The idea was that innovation in this new space was so promising that we should not risk stifling it–not just through excessive regulation, but really through any regulation at all. The emerging e-commerce powerhouses even managed to keep taxes on sales over the Internet at bay for a while.

The effect of this hands-off approach to regulation of the Internet did exactly what it was meant to do. Witness Amazon today. It resulted in an historic boom in businesses dedicated to the Internet, social media, data, hardware, software, hosting, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning … and on and on. At least off the bat, the vast majority of these companies were founded in the United States. While countries like China have given rise to worthy competitors in many fields, the United States remains the undisputed leader in virtually all aspects of the Internet, digital media, and computing early in this new millennium.

And it made a small number of people, mostly men, mostly highly educated, mostly White and Asian, fabulously wealthy–more so that at any point in history, perhaps with the exception of the 19th century’s Gilded Age.


Warning signs emerged quickly in the ensuing years. Not everyone was enamored of a totally “hands off” policy for the Internet, digital media, and data-heavy technology industries. Scholars from around the world pointed out the dangers and shortcomings of the United States policy regime. European states and the European Commission broke sharply with the United States, though created bridges through safe harbors to allow European citizens to use the US-based services. Authoritarian regimes, including Iran and North Korea, sought to create their own, balkanized version of the Internet. China erected its “great firewall” and an elaborate regulatory regime, long on state involvement and investment, short on protections for individual speech and privacy rights.

Scholars, too, questioned the wisdom of cyberlibertarianism. Harvard Law School and Berkman Center–now Berkman Klein–scholars, too numerous to mention all by name, deserve citation here, for sure, as do many who work elsewhere. JZ, for instance, wrote “The Future of the Internet–and How to Stop It” in 2008. Susan Crawford left a partnership at Wilmer Hale to join the legal academy, calling attention to the “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.” Ruth Okediji, Terry Fisher, Lawrence Lessig, and many others pointed out the dangers of an intellectual property regime that favors only some at the expense of the public interest. Yochai Benkler and a team of researchers have exposed the role of political and media elites in spreading dis- and misinformation on social media platforms. Urs Gasser pointed us to the extraordinary array of scholarship and practice outside the United States, in the process creating a network of centers that spans more than 100 institutions and connects with and holds up the distinctive thinking of those on nearly every continent. I could go on but that would take too long–you get the idea.


And now to 2021. In early January, an intrepid group of about 70 Harvard Law School students met over Zoom for an intensive two weeks together to study these issues in the present day. You can probably imagine where this story is headed.

It was only a few days into the course that a mob stormed the United States Capitol, seeking to put a stop to the full and fair election that was to bring Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the White House. Smack in the middle of our class, a group of largely White people took up arms against our country’s Congressional leadership in an effort to stop the certification of the election of the first African-American and Asian-American woman to one of the highest federal offices. While this insurrection mattered to everyone, it had special meaning in the context of our course.

We threw out the carefully planned syllabus for a few days to talk about what the insurrection meant to us–as people devoted to the study and practice of law and as human beings. These terrifying events, unfolding in front of us, held out the chance to talk about race, power, injustice, and social class among many other things. It was a time of high emotion, disproportionately felt by some members of our class and our society.

More specific to our course, these unsettling events in early January also afforded us the chance to talk in real-time about the decisions policy makers and company owners had to make. For starters: should Twitter take down the Tweets of the then-president that urged on these insurrectionists and ban him, while still in office, from further communications to his millions of followers on the platform? People who are in charge of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites had to decide whether to exercise their unprecedented power. Through this Harvard Law School class, we had the chance to debate this very choice–just as it was happening. We heard from a guest to the course, Peter Currie, who served until recently as the lead independent director of Twitter about the nature of this decision facing Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg and their colleagues.

We studied the lack of access to broadband while school had moved to Zoom–just as our students’ Harvard Law School experience had gone entirely online for this January term. We discussed what it meant for 1 in 5 students in Chicago not to have access to broadband and sufficient computing equipment to participate in school once it had gone all virtual early in the pandemic. We debated the merits of universal broadband access and other means of closing the gaps in access to our digital network in an era in which health information, access to justice, and access to an education hangs in the balance. We had a chance to debate these topics alongside Nicol Turner-Lee of the Brookings Institution, who has made the case for universal broadband access for decades, and with Sal Khan, who aspires to make a world-class education available for free to everyone, anywhere. As an aside, the Klinskys, too, are helping make a high-quality, low-cost college-level education possible using the Internet through one of their other philanthropic efforts.

We had the chance to debate the question with which I started–whether the Internet should be subject to greater regulation than it has been for over twenty years. In the midst of this “Great Deplatforming”–as in fact the social networks did ban the former president–we took up the big picture question of whether the United States-led cyberlibertarian regime is in fact the right one in 2021. We heard our guest Jameel Jaffer, Harvard Law School graduate and director of the Knight Institute, describe the complex interplay between the protections of the First Amendment and the rights of the private platforms to decide who can publish what online. And we heard from Spencer Overton, Harvard Law School graduate and director of the Joint Center, about what technology policy has to do with voting rights for people of color and others from marginalized communities.

Today, in 2021, each of these issues is on the table for consideration by the Biden-Harris Administration, the United States Congress, and the federal judiciary. The best way to regulate social media and the algorithms that increasingly assist humans in making essential decisions, the possible reform of the Communications Decency Act’s Section 230, the call for universal broadband access–each of these issues that we had a chance to debate are live considerations for legal and policy reform here in the United States and around the world.


I did not, during the class, say all that much about my own point of view on these matters. I take the position that students are best served by working out their own ideas to the greatest extent possible in the context of a course without being steered too hard by their teachers.

That said, if they cared to know my personal views–what law scholars might call my “normative priors”–my guess is that the students worked much of it out by following the breadcrumbs I left as I set up the syllabus, chose the readings, invited the guests, and moderated the conversations. I will conclude these remarks by lifting the curtain on these perspectives a bit.

My view is that the 2001-era absence of regulation does not make sense today, if ever it did. The cyberlibertarian approach favored people one would expect it to: individuals who already had power and capital, a group overwhelmingly White and male (and in this case, Asian), the venture capitalists and technologists, the big firm lawyers and the Wall Street bankers with a technological aptitude and bent. The system has been much less good for just about everyone else. We need a regulatory regime for technology that puts the public interest first, with equity and inclusion as a design principle, not an afterthought.

Of the current debates that we took up in the course, I believe that access to broadband should be treated just as we treat electricity or the telephone system. It is far past the time that we can think of this system as anything other than an essential utility. The problems of the last mile in rural areas or the yawning gaps in cities like Chicago, where I live, need to be solved in a hurry, after years of foot-dragging.

I agree with those who believe that the social media companies had every right–perhaps an obligation–to deplatform the former president and others who were spreading misinformation about a properly conducted election and much else besides. I do not think the First Amendment does or should stand in their way. I share the worries, though, about the power we are leaving in the hands of a very small group of billionaires, who happen to be all men and all White. And I worry a lot about the fate of our country’s journalism and media sector in an era dominated by gigantic and ever-more-powerful social media companies. That is a lecture for another day.

Perhaps most controversially, I agree it is time that we amend Section 230 of the
Communications Decency Act. This key provision of United States Internet law is considered sacrosanct by many in the technology field–and is the cornerstone of the cyberlibertarian philosophy. This provision, written into law in 1996 as part of a massive overhaul of the telecommunications regime, was meant to promote Good Samaritanship by those running the emerging Internet platforms. It has a funny dynamic to it: on the one hand, it ensures that the platform providers are not held liable for the bad acts of their users. On the other, it is meant to give them protection if they choose to act as Good Samaritans, to offer a helping hand.

It is true that this extremely wide and deep safe harbor has led to the growth of Internet companies, to robust competition, and to much innovation. It has also led to many bad acts and to many companies turning the other way when law enforcement or aggrieved parties come calling. In the name of preserving their safe harbor, many companies have done far too little to protect those who have been harmed.

It is time, I believe, that the law should be amended to extend meaningful protection to all, not just some. Urs Gasser and I made such an argument when we wrote Born Digital, a book which came out in 2008, in the interests of child protection. I agree too with the arguments put forward by Danielle Citron (a 2019 MacArthur fellow, incidentally) and Mary Anne Franks about individuals who are too often harmed by this absence of a regulatory regime–mostly women and people of color. I even might be persuaded to agree with a brilliant legal scholar, who happens to be here today, who recently suggested in a seminar I attended that Section 230 should not be amended but needed to be scrapped altogether, and for us to start again. We’ll see.

I believe it is time to create new digital institutions in the public interest. Ethan Zuckerman has called this digital public infrastructure. In EthanZ’s view, building explicitly from the work of Newton Minow from the 1960s to the present day, we should treat digital infrastructure as public goods, not purely as profit-maximizing enterprises. I agree. I think of the Digital Public Library of America–creating a public option when it comes to access to digital materials and eBooks–or Wikipedia as extant examples, with much more to be built and built out. Imagine a cloud computing system that is not held in private hands, a social network that truly protects personal information, digital media platforms that transform news and information the way NPR and PBS have transformed the landscape for radio and television, and so forth.

It is time for us to reimagine the knowledge and information needs in a democracy, before it is too late, and build the institutions to meet those needs. Across education, journalism, libraries–we should imagine and build new digital infrastructure for the public good. This is the progress and leadership I’d love to see in our field.

Most important, I believe it is time for a new, dynamic, more diverse, inspired group of young people to join the field of technology and the public interest. I have every confidence that these newcomers will help to build the new, digital institutions that will serve the many, not just the few. I am excited to see what they will do to design, build, regulate, and remake structures and a system that badly needs it–in the interest of a more just and inclusive economy and our very democracy. Thank you.


Now let’s turn to the best part of this “lecture,” a chance to hear from three students who, I hope, may be among those who decide to take up these issues in their professional lives one way or another. (No pressure!)

Each of these students made their mark in our star-crossed, impossibly timed course this January. For those not currently in the Harvard Law School community, this course was part of the January Experiential Term. Over Zoom, it is hard to make something truly “experiential,” so we improvised–as we’ve improvised in nearly every aspect of life this past year. We talked about matters of doctrine and policy as a throughline to the course, but it was really about what it means to become a lawyer–the kinds of things our students can go on to think about and do after law school. In addition to bringing in guests from inside and outside the legal profession, we required students to write a self-reflection on whether their application essay to HLS still made sense to them, required them to solve a technology policy problem in a team, and do all of this online.

To help us understand this story from the student perspective, I am pleased to introduce three exceptional people: Isabella Berkley, Madeleine Matsui, and Jess Valenzuela Ramirez. I’ve asked them to comment as they see fit on my lecture, on the substance of the course, and on their experience as Zoom-only 1Ls this year. I’ve invited them to be candid, to share whatever they feel is important to know, even if it may contradict what I’ve said or throw shade on the course or the experience they’ve had so far in law school. I’m eager to hear what they have to say, no matter what, about this intersection of technology in the public interest and the experience of learning the law entirely via the technology of Zoom.

Isabella, please start us off.

International Women’s Day 2021

I was very pleased to be able to join Hafsat Abiola, CEO of Women in Africa, to celebrate International Women’s Day for 2021. The video is posted. My fellow panelists were His Excellency Prof. Osinbajo, Vice President of Nigeria and Dr. Hassan El Shabrawishi, CEO of AXA in Africa. It was good to be able to represent “men supporting women” in Africa along with some key partners of our work at MacArthur Foundation in Nigeria.

Recent books I’ve learned from (Fall 2020)

In my previous job (at Andover), I created a list of a few books every term that we would offer to the faculty as “community reads” on what we called the Head of School’s Bookshelf. We set up a bookshelf in the HOS office and distributed as many copies as faculty would like to read. I’d post that list here on this blog. In a new job (at MacArthur Foundation) and during this pandemic, I realized I missed that tradition. It had the effect of making me reflect on a few of the books I’d read recently.

In the same spirit as the old HOS Bookshelf, as of Fall 2020 in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, here are a few books from the last few months that I particularly got something from:

Ronald Deibert, Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society (House of Anansi, 2020) — broad reflections on the present and future of networked technologies, social media, and civil society from the director of the Citizen Lab and professor of political science at University of Toronto (built off Prof. Deibert’s CBC Massey Lectures)

Howard Gardner, A Synthesizing Mind: A Memoir from the Creator of the Multiple Intelligences Theory (MIT Press, 2020) — a personal account of the life of the mind of a major Harvard professor and public intellectual (a former MacArthur Foundation fellow)

Cecilia Muñoz, More Than Ready: Be Strong and Be You . . . and Other Lessons for Women of Color on the Rise (Seal Press, 2020) — a moving, inspiring memoir from one of America’s top policy experts (also a MacArthur Foundation fellow)

Allissa Richardson, Bearing Witness While Black: African Americans, Smartphones, & the New Protest #Journalism (Oxford University Press, 2020) — a scholarly overview of some of the critical issues related to race, social justice, and movement-building that sets a frame for better understanding today’s politics and media landscape, from professor and journalist now based at USC Annenberg

Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (Random House, 2020) — an important, timely reflection on race, economics, and other forms of hierarchy mostly about America and slavery but told through the broad lens of three cultures — described in NYT Book Review as “the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far” and “an instant American classic”

New book coming out: The Connected Parent

With my friend and collaborator Urs Gasser, I have a new book coming out this fall — The Connected Parent: An Expert Guide to Parenting in a Digital World. It’s a close cousin of our previous book, Born Digital: How Children Grow Up in a Digital Age.  In this new book, we apply the findings from our 15 years or so of studying young people and how they use technology to a book that offers advice to parents raising kids these days.

It’s always fun to anticipate the arrival of a new book!  It comes out in October, 2020.  In the meantime, join our Facebook community.

Thirtieth Anniversary of Andover’s GSA and Trans Rights

This weekend, the Andover community celebrates the thirtieth annual weekend gathering of the Gender-Sexuality Alliance (G.S.A.).  This important milestone merits attention and reflection.  The G.S.A. has played a central role in supporting students (and adults, for that matter) of all genders and sexualities on campus at Andover.

This week also marks the publication by the New York Times of a memo obtained by the Trump Administration about a proposal to “define out of existence” transgender persons.

I stand with the editors of the Phillipian, Andover’s independent student newspaper, in their opposition to this policy.  They note, correctly, that this proposed policy “has cast a shadow over the celebrations” of the G.S.A.’s thirtieth anniversary.  In this week’s paper, the Phillipian editorialized:

Regardless of this legal statement issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, we hope that the members of the Andover community will continue to support and love each other, and accept everyone for their unique identities and backgrounds. Andover is a community thoroughly and perpetually committed to diversity, and no announcement or any administration will change that commitment. In the face of these alarming news headlines and government-issued statements, the Andover community must recommit to its values of Non Sibi, compassion, and kindness, and never succumb to the pressures of fear, difference, and hate.

My friend Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, also published an article on this proposed policy that made me think — as all Joi’s writing does.  I’m with Joi when he writes:

And so, in the face of an appalling and nonsensical step backwards in government policy, I’d like to offer my support to all trans, gender non-conforming, and/or nonbinary members of the Media Lab and MIT community. More broadly, I’m calling on leaders of academic communities to speak out on this issue and be very clear that they see, they support, they affirm, and they will protect trans people in their communities.

This proposed policy is inconsistent with our belief in not only bringing Youth from Every Quarter to Andover but also in supporting them during their growth, no matter their gender or sexuality.  It is also inconsistent with Andover’s Statement of Purpose in which we affirm our commitment to “a deeper awareness of the global community” and our non-discrimination policy affirming that “we do not discriminate on the basis of gender, gender identity, gender expression…and sexual orientation.”  We affirm the full humanity and diversity of our students and all those in our adult community.

This issue of equal rights for all is not only a matter of federal law and policy.  Those who live in Massachusetts have a chance to weigh in on this topic on Election Day — November 6, 2018 — as well.  The topic of transgender rights is on the ballot as Question 3.  The official description of all ballot questions appears on the Secretary of State’s website.

Adolescence is a complicated time no matter who you are.  Those young people who are questioning their gender and sexuality deserve support, affirmation, and love, just as all students do.  No federal or state policy can change that in our community.

Remarks at Richard T. Greener Quadrangle Dedication

Richard T. Greener Quadrangle dedication
September 29, 2018
John Palfrey, Head of School, Phillips Academy

Welcome students and parents, faculty and staff, trustees and alumni to the Richard T. Greener Quadrangle.

Thank you, Linda Carter Griffith, for blazing your own trail as the first Assistant Head of School for Equity, Inclusion and Wellness—not only at Andover but among independent schools anywhere.

Thank you, Ava and Thaddeus. Your words remind us why this work is so vitally important and exactly what this ceremony symbolizes.

Rejji Hayes ’93: Your commitment to the ideals of equity and inclusion strengthens our resolve to act with courage and urgency on behalf of each of our 1,144 students. We felt the impact of your leadership at the 50th anniversary of AfLatAm last spring, when more than 400 alumni returned to campus to celebrate a foundational source of these efforts.

Building on the work of generations and guided by the priorities of the Knowledge and Goodness campaign, we join today to mark the history of Andover’s connections with underrepresented communities and highlight our commitment to equity and inclusion.
None of this would be possible without the vision of a singular donor. As much as we would like to put this person’s name in lights, we are respecting their wish for anonymity.

Please join me in a round of applause for the incredibly generous donor who made today’s dedication possible.

With humility and purpose, this individual asks us to reflect and act upon a founding principle of our school in the name of Richard T. Greener, Class of 1865. Our benefactor states:

We honor one man to represent all those who have enriched the Academy through the diversity of their thought and backgrounds and those who, for generations to come, will help Andover live up to its ideal of youth from every quarter.

With enthusiastic support of the Board of Trustees, we have the great privilege to honor the trailblazing work of Mr. Greener, a scholar and teacher, lawyer and diplomat, whose service during the post-Civil War era both inspired progress and ignited debate.
All that he stood for – argued for and educated others about – embodied the ideals of equity and inclusion to which we aspire today.

With Samuel Phillips Hall rising above us, the Richard T. Greener Quadrangle holds a special place in our Andover lives. Just three weeks ago, the senior class and I took part in the Vista Walk, a tradition begun by my predecessor, Barbara Chase. The early morning walk toward the steps of Sam Phil marks the first day of classes. The next time we share that walk, we will be joined by the entire faculty on June 2, 2019, Andover’s 241st Commencement.

This gathering space shines with natural beauty and historic significance. Last spring, students gathered here to protest gun violence. In 1989 a student demonstration, led by Brian Gittens ’89, ultimately led to the school’s annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

As we dedicate our most iconic patch of land, the trustees and I are excited to share that an additional gift will establish an endowed fund to advance equity and inclusion programs in Mr. Greener’s name.

It is truly gratifying to know that our extended Andover community believes as deeply as we do in the importance of these initiatives that benefit both the adults and students on our campus.

In fact, philanthropy in honor of Mr. Greener dates back to 1989 when a scholarship was established in his name. Seeking to support underrepresented students of color, the Richard T. Greener 1865 Endowed Scholarship has made a difference in the lives of more than a dozen Andover students spanning three decades.

Two Andover alumni and Greener Scholars were present in spring 2016 when Harvard recognized Mr. Greener with a portrait on display in Annenberg Dining Hall. One of those alumni, Robert Rush ’14, and his mom, Arlette, are with us today.

We’re also delighted to have our current Greener Scholar joining us—senior Jamille “Jami” Taveras ’19 of Lawrence, Massachusetts.  In a letter to the donors who established her scholarship, Jami reflects on the opportunities that have, in her words, “propelled her education and redefined what it means to go for things I want in life.”

Our admission team meets thousands of bright and motivated students with a host of talents and interests. But in simplest terms, they are looking for young people of integrity and promise who have the most to contribute to Andover and the most to gain from this diverse community and immersive education.

Jami is exactly that student.

Like most of her peers, Jami’s schedule is packed with academic rigor and extracurricular passions. Fluent in Spanish and proud of her Latina heritage, Jami is co-president of the Spanish Club and on the board of Alianza Latina. She co-founded the Criminal Investigation Club to bond with other students who share a passion for science, math, and psychology. And, yes, in addition to analyzing fingerprints, they do watch episodes of CSI!

Jami wrote:

It feels good to know there are a lot of people on my side, lifting me up and taking pride in my success.

Judging by what we know about Mr. Greener, my hunch is that he, too, would be proud of students like Jami, and Robert, and all those who have come before them.
Consider what Mr. Greener shared with his Andover classmates when he returned to campus for his 50th reunion in 1915. Reflecting on his diplomatic service in Vladivostok, Russia, at the height of the Russo-Japanese War, he said the following:

“I felt all the time that the institutions with which I had been connected—Phillips Academy and Harvard—had demanded something of me in character, intelligence and in worth.”

Richard T. Greener was an intellectual force and a visionary leader whose character blossomed at Andover. The qualities he displayed as a student were instrumental years later as he navigated civil rights issues and international conflicts. These are the kinds of qualities we see in our students today—rigor and purpose in their work, shared values of knowledge and goodness, respect for differences.

I’d like to close with a final word from Mr. Greener’s address to his Andover classmates. His reflection, more than 100 years ago, rings true today as we aspire to become a more inclusive and equitable Andover.

If one have not the disposition in him, it makes no matter what school he is trained, he will not be a success. It is the desire to prove oneself worthy of all estate and lead his comrades on.

On behalf of the Phillips Academy Board of Trustees, I dedicate the Richard T. Greener Quadrangle and ask that we all prove ourselves worthy of this important endeavor.

Thank you.

Start of School 2018

The New York Times published a terrific Magazine this Sunday on education.  The cover reads: “Teachers just want to teach but the classroom has become a battleground.”  I’m not sure that’s exactly “news” this fall but it is absolutely true.

Two of the articles in particular were worth reading and reflecting on as we start our new school year.  The first, “Can Good Teaching be Taught?” by Sara Mosle, tells the story of a struggling school and its persistent, hard-working first-year principal Cynthia Gunner.  The reporter follows Gunner as she goes classroom-to-classroom to inspire, hold accountable, and assist the teachers in her school.  The answer to the opening question is “of course” but the finding is also that it’s much easier said than done.  It’s hard not to be fired up by the work of this principal and the importance of her efforts.

The second that caught my attention was “Watch What You Say,” about the (former?) Friends Seminary teacher Ben Frisch who made a Hitler joke last school year.  This story, told by Jonathan Mahler, is especially sensitive to Frisch’s position and that of his supporters; the voices of those who initially called for Frisch’s removal — other than that of the Head of School Bo Lauder — are essentially silent.  I wonder if those who initially were so upset about the remarks by Frisch have changed their minds, whether they were reluctant to go on the record at this stage, or whether another reason attaches. The hard over-arching question has to do with how to ensure free expression can thrive in schools while also supporting a diverse group of young learners effectively.

It is just these questions that I sought to address in a book last year, Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces: Diversity and Free Expression in Education (free, open access edition here.  I won’t second-guess here the decision of another school, where I don’t know all the facts, but acknowledge instead that these cases are never easy for students, teachers, administrators, and families in close-knit school communities.  We do need to get better at figuring out how to resolve them.  I was intrigued by the emphasis in the article on the Quaker process.

Both articles in the NYT Magazine demonstrate the importance of deep, long-form journalism to explore tricky issues in-depth.