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  • October 14, 2022 11:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Yeou-Cheng Ma and the Children’s Orchestra Society 

    By Jacki Swearingen '73

    This past summer the Children’s Orchestra Society, a ClassACT HR73 Bridge, invited children who were victims of domestic abuse to a week-long summer camp. By the end the children, who had never received music lessons before, put on a small performance in which they sang a song and played on some percussion and string instruments. Six of the 18 students accepted the teacher Dr. Yeou-Cheng Ma’s offer to receive some additional lessons at the camp’s conclusion. One seven-year-old responded to Dr. Ma’s question about what she wanted to do when she grew up by stating “I want to be a violinist.”

    “I looked at the child and said ‘Well, how did that come about?’” The child replied “’Before the camp I didn’t know anything about music and now I love it.’”

    In the nearly forty years that Dr. Ma and her husband Michael Dadap, an acclaimed classical guitarist, have headed the Children’s Orchestra Society based in Syosset, Long Island, they have nurtured a cultural treasure that has allowed thousands of children to experience the transcendent joy of music. More than the concerts at Carnegie Hall, the international tours and the alumni who have become professional musicians, Dr. Ma takes pride in the fact that the COS is the only orchestra with a comprehensive musical program centered on the child. Among the thousands of children who have auditioned over the decades, she and her husband have only had to turn away one child who was unable to function in a group. “Basically we will find a place for almost everyone,” she said.

    Dr. Ma credits her work as a developmental pediatrician for her insights into the learning styles and temperaments of children. That experience has helped her find ways to instruct students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), like one boy who struggled with distractions. Dr. Ma hit on guidelines that helped him focus and feel such a part of the orchestra that he came to rehearsals even when he broke his arm. Eventually he became one of the orchestra’s soloists.

    Another young girl hoped to play the viola well enough to join the orchestra when Dr. Ma’s brother, the legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma, came to perform as a guest soloist. With far less experience on the viola than the other students, the child faced a seemingly insurmountable hurdle. Dr. Ma compared acquiring the necessary skills to a fifth grader trying to learn eleventh grade math in a week. Asked if she still wanted to try, the girl replied yes and proceeded to wake at 5:30 every morning to practice. “After a week she actually made it,” Dr. Ma recalled. “I was the one who cried because I honestly didn’t think it was possible for her to make it, but I was going to help her as her teacher.”

    As one of the instructors for violin and viola as well as for chamber music, Dr. Ma knows that learning music can enrich a child’s life. “We try to let the kids use music as an outlet for their feelings,” she explained. This emotional release matters especially to Asian-American children who make up a significant portion of the COS’s students. “Asian kids are not particularly encouraged to express their emotions. I think traditional Asian families still would prefer children to be seen and not to be heard, which is not a very American thing.” Advising them to pour their frustrations into a piece like Chopin’s Octave Etude can help children vent while pleasing parents with an intense practice session, she explains.

    Intellectually, music trains the brain in ways that differ from traditional academic subjects. It strengthens the ability to remember and to recognize patterns, skills essential for learning reading and math. “Like any language, it teaches you a different way of thinking,” Dr. Ma said. “It expands your vocabulary, your ability to absorb new material.”

    Born in Paris and raised by parents who had emigrated from war-torn China to study there, Dr. Ma describes her early childhood years as “trilingual” because she grew up able to communicate in Chinese, French and music. When her family moved to New York when she was eleven, she learned English. At Harvard she studied German, and at Harvard Medical School she mastered Spanish because she planned to work in New York’s city hospitals where that language was vital to communicating with patients and their families.

    Dr. Ma’s father, Hiao-Tsiun Ma, who received his doctorate in music from the Sorbonne and studied at the Paris Conservatory of Music, launched the Children’s Orchestra Society in 1962 with the idea that placing budding musicians in an orchestra would encourage them to practice more. “Nobody likes to practice by themselves,” Dr. Ma said. “But if they feel that they are playing together in the group, they get a little more motivated and encouraged.”

    The elder Dr. Ma, a conductor and musicologist, ran the orchestra until 1977 when he retired with the hope that one of his children would take his place. However, his son already had a packed touring schedule and his daughter was about to begin her residency in pediatrics. The Children’s Orchestra Society lapsed for seven years until Yeou-Cheng Ma and her husband, Michael Dadap, decided to resurrect it after he confided that his life-long dream was to run a music school. In the nearly forty years since, the couple have relied on their creative partnership to grow the orchestra’s size and acclaim. “He’s a vision guy, and I’m the one with the purse strings,” Dr. Ma said.

    At present about 100 children come each week to the COS’s new home at the Community Church of Syosset to play in the orchestra’s four divisions that are ranked by age and ability. Down from a peak of 235 in the years before the pandemic, the COS hopes to enroll about 120 young musicians later this season. They are taught by a faculty made up largely of COS alums, whom Dr. Ma describes as “part of the family” and “a testament to how much they value that experience.”

    Children can start as young as three in the Pre-Kinder program in which they are introduced to notes and ensemble playing. “When they can tell different colors, they are developmentally able to distinguish different notes and call them different things,” Dr. Ma explained. She herself began to learn violin from her father at 2 ½ years old. By the age of five she was traveling every six months with him on the train between Paris and Belgium to study with the renowned violinist Arthur Grumiaux.

    Students progress through three levels until they are eligible to compete for one of the more than 80 spots in the Young Symphonic Ensemble, the full orchestra that performs in places such as Alice Tully Hall and goes on tour to Scotland and the Philippines. In addition, the COS offers the chance to play in smaller groups such as the Elite String Ensemble and the Percussion Ensemble.

    “We have a theory class and various other things, just like a music school. Except we are not a music school. We’re just an orchestra with benefits.” Dr. Ma said. “The idea is just to get them to play together, to enjoy each other’s company.”

    The Children’s Orchestra Society has thrived during the years when people from all over the world arrived in New York City to start new lives for themselves and their families. Many members have been immigrant children who find a home in the orchestra with its mixture of inclusion and great expectations. The orchestra has served as the bridge that allows children to move toward the futures they envision for themselves.

    Dr. Ma recalls one young Hispanic boy, “a loner,” who was brought to the Children’s Orchestra Society by his godmother. Despite his musical inexperience and his reluctance to talk to the other students, he sat each time in the first violin section. When he was told he needed to take lessons, he responded that he didn’t have the time or money for that instruction. “I said ‘We can teach you lessons for free, but you would have to help us put away the chairs after rehearsal and set up before rehearsal.’” In the process of working for free lessons, he made friends with others who were also arranging chairs and music stands.

    During the COS’s summer vacation, the boy wrote to Dr. Ma and her husband to say he felt isolated and depressed in his difficult home situation. The couple were then offering instruction at the New York Big Apple Music Festival, a program for talented young musicians. To help him weather this trying time, they allowed him to join their one-week program even though his musical skills did not begin to match those of the other participants. At the conclusion, he received a certificate.

    “The next day I got a three-page letter from this kid telling me how important that camp was, how proud his mother was that he was the only Hispanic kid in the group, and how he ended up having a two-hour conversation with his father who was incarcerated…Apparently it had a huge impact, way beyond what we expected.” By the end of high school, the youth won a full four-year scholarship to study at Emory University in Atlanta.

    Along with teaching children to master the works of Mozart and Beethoven, Dr. Ma and her faculty help children like that young man imagine their future and how to get there. “My brother calls it finding his or her own voice,” she explained. “It’s a tall order to find your dream, but at least get them to think about what it is they want to do.” Then the task is to teach them how to set both short-term and long-term goals, she added. “It’s always about preparing them for life.”

    Steeped in the beauty and techniques necessary for music-making as well as in self-discipline and a spirit of cooperation, the young people who leave the COS often go on to rewarding professions. One hundred percent matriculate to college, and one quarter of that group attend Ivy League schools, including 24 who entered Harvard between 1984 and 2016.

    A small number become professional musicians, like the alums who have joined COS’s faculty or like Dr. Ma’s brother who played in the orchestra when his father led it. Aspiring musicians prepare for the intense auditions that conservatories or college music programs require by competing to be a COS soloist, particularly for the annual Discovery Recital. This June the winners of the past three years performed at Alice Tully Hall with Distinguished Guest Artist Adele Anthony, the violinist. Famous artists who have played with the COS in the past include the violinist Jaime Laredo, the clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, and the flutist Eugenia Zukerman. Yo-Yo Ma has also returned to perform with the children his sister teaches.

    “I know when Emanuel Ax came to rehearse with us, the kids were more interested in the pizza than Emanuel Ax,” Dr. Ma recalled. “But that’s kids. Someday they’re going to say ‘Wow! You know I had a chance.’”

    Before the pandemic’s lockdown, the Children’s Orchestra Society embarked on several tours to cities in the United States, Europe and Asia. For Dr. Ma the most moving encounter was when the young musicians in 2017 performed in three Chinese cities, including her father’s hometown of Ningbo across the Hangzhou Bay from Shanghai. In Ningbo she found herself surrounded by Chinese paparazzi whose audience was enthralled by the arrival of the daughter of this famous musical family. “If we went by truck or van, I would hide among the instruments so they wouldn’t come to me and ask to interview me,” she said. “But, you know, it was very touching to be there.”

    Dr. Ma’s parents had fallen in love when both were students in Paris, where they stayed through the years the Imperial Japanese Army ravaged their country and then after Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army established a Communist state in 1949. Her parents nearly returned to China when Dr. Ma was two-and-one-half years old but ended up staying in France because they needed a third ticket for their toddler daughter. Nearly two years later her brother Yo-Yo arrived to become the fourth member of a close-knit family whose life in their small Parisian apartment revolved around music.

    “For both my brother and I, our oldest memory is the smell of a French bakery,” said Dr. Ma. “Even though I am Chinese, I consider France my native country because that’s where I grew up and that’s where my grandmother is buried.”

    Dr. Ma remembers a “very, very quiet” childhood in which she and her brother played in the Jardin du Luxembourg after being schooled at home by their parents. At first their father taught them music, and then they shared a piano teacher. Soon each child embraced a stringed instrument and began lessons, Yo-Yo with his first cello teacher and Yeou-Cheng with a violin teacher in his eighties. When that teacher passed away, her father wrote to Grumiaux, who listened to the five-year-old play and agreed to instruct her even though he had never taken a student younger than ten.

    “Part of my life is just music,” Dr. Ma said. “I said to somebody at one point that if somebody were to extract music from my life, they would have to reprogram my DNA because it’s so much a part of me.”

    When the family visited friends and relatives in the United States in 1962, the two children participated in the first telecast. During that televised fundraiser for what would become the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, an eleven-year-old Yeou-Cheng and her seven-year-old brother Yo-Yo played the first movement of Jean-Baptiste Breval’s Concertino No. 3 in A Major in a piano-cello duet. Leonard Bernstein introduced the young musicians as presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy looked on. 

    Despite their talents both Dr. Ma and her brother Yo-Yo gave few concerts during their early years. “My father was often asked ‘Dr. Ma, are your children prodigies?’ But he goes, ‘Prodigies are children with bad parents. I’m not a bad parent. So my children are not prodigies.’ He was very protective of us.”

    By then Dr. Ma had begun a nine-year tenure as her brother’s rehearsal pianist, accompanying him to cello lessons with Janos Schultz and Leonard Rose. Her violin lessons had ended at that point, a cessation that she has spoken about with pain in other interviews. But in describing the impact the Children’s Orchestra Society has had over the decades, the partnership she and her husband forged to revive the orchestra, and the knowledge she has gained as a developmental pediatrician, Dr. Ma now seems at peace with the richness of her life.

    Home-schooled until she entered a sixth grade classroom in her new country, Dr. Ma mastered English and other subjects rapidly and entered Harvard in 1969. She lived in North House and concentrated in chemistry while working during the summer in research labs at Rockefeller University. Once a week she gathered members of the small community of Chinese graduate students and aspiring students of Mandarin for Chinese Table at Comstock Hall.

    Dr. Ma’s childhood had been spent in relative isolation from other children besides her brother, a state she described as “kind of floating, kind of ghosts, we really didn’t have anything to ground us except our lessons.” But at Harvard she found herself in “an eclectic place” full of people interested in “the most obscure things” like the price of bread in Russia of the 1920s. Senior year she decided to become a physician and entered Harvard Medical School in 1973.

    A half-century ago when women were a minority in medical school classes, they had to confront challenges ranging from male professors disdainful of their abilities to prospective partners who couldn’t understand the life or death demands of medicine. Dr. Ma was guided during those groundbreaking years by some exceptional female mentors and by her growing love for the specialty of pediatrics. “I really like kids,” she said. After graduation she completed a residency at New York University-Bellevue and spent nearly four decades as a developmental pediatrician at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She retired in 2018.

    After marriage to Michael Dadap in 1982, the two settled in Queens where they raised a son and a daughter while reviving her father’s orchestra. The years when her children were young, when she worked full-time caring for patients with disabilities and when her father returned from Taiwan after suffering a stroke, were difficult ones. “I had my medical job, I had my dad, I had two small children. That’s way too much. I really, really, really can’t do all this,” she recalled. “I guess the only thing that could go is the orchestra. If it comes to that, then it comes to that.” Nonetheless, Dr. Ma and her husband managed to keep the orchestra afloat, passing their profound love of music on to generations of students.

    In recent years the pandemic and the ravages of climate change have burdened the Children’s Orchestra Society. New York City’s Covid lockdown in the spring of 2020 forced the administrators to come up with new ways to continue musical instruction and permit students to practice and to perform together. Dr. Ma and her husband vowed to hold on to the faculty they regarded as “family,” who would be impossible to replace when Covid retreated. Soon these teachers were all assigned to groups of six or seven children who then spent nearly two years connecting with each other and their teachers on Zoom. By May of 2020 everyone had rehearsed enough online to put together an extraordinary digital performance of the 3rd movement from Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2, which took the place of their annual gala. Only this past spring was the orchestra able again to perform together before a live concert audience.

    When Hurricane Ida struck New York City in September 2021, the storm flooded the basement of Dr. Ma’s house in Queens, causing an estimated half million dollars in damage. The waters destroyed two grand pianos, many instruments and nearly all of the sheet music library that Dr. Ma and her father had collected over decades. For two weeks they hauled the wreckage out to their front lawn until they had filled three dumpsters and 150 contractor bags. “It was the most horrifying year,” she said.

    The new home for the COS at the Community Church of Syosset has allowed Dr. Ma to begin to exhale. The non-profit’s five-year lease means that long-term improvements like a new heating and air-conditioning system could be installed without fears of being asked abruptly to leave, a threat their previous landlord made constantly. Now Dr. Ma and her cohorts have worked hard to spruce up their new classrooms and welcome back students who come from across New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.

    These students audition for the Children’s Society Orchestra not only because of its superb instruction but also for the culture of kindness it fosters. When one child vying for a prized solo spot in the Discovery Competition forgot her music, other contestants raced to the fax machine to bring sheets back to the young musician. “Kids will be competitive, and that’s just the way it is,” Dr Ma observed. “But we still need to not encourage people to just think of that as the only thing. Our kids really touch us in how they learn to be compassionate for each other.”

    These unique qualities of cooperation and child-centeredness make it hard to find someone to take over the directorship of the orchestra as Dr. Ma and her husband move closer to retirement. Challenges like raising money for scholarships and new instruments persist, but the greatest test Dr. Ma believes the orchestra faces is “succession planning.” She hopes that members of ClassACT HR73 might help in eventually finding a new executive director who could perpetuate the orchestra’s special ethos, build on its tradition of excellence, and help with the fund-raising role that Dr. Ma has performed so well. Other “infrastructure” tasks like designing the website and writing copy could benefit from the skills of ClassACT volunteers. Classmates can also donate to the orchestra here.

    With the start of a new season, auditions are already underway for the 29th COS Discovery Competition. Dr. Ma is once again focused on teaching young performers how to coax music of piercing beauty out of their violins and violas while ensuring they participate in a community that embodies the service and generosity that has characterized her own life. “I need to communicate the music to the kids, and to carry it forward because obviously we are not here forever. We need someone to carry the music forward.”

  • September 13, 2022 3:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    KidsCareEverywhere Bridge and Dr. Ronald Dieckmann 

    Two decades ago most pediatricians in the developing nations relied on dog-eared textbooks and outdated medical journals to arrive at treatment plans and diagnoses for their young patients. Faced with a child feverish with pneumonia or sickened by contaminated water or insecticides, these doctors often did not have access to medical breakthroughs that could dramatically improve their patients’ prognoses. The gap between care for children in wealthy nations and those in impoverished lands seemed destined to widen further.

    In recent years, however, thousands of doctors in countries like Vietnam, Ghana and India have been able to call up the most recent medical findings while standing beside a patient’s bed by simply tapping an app on their cell phones, thanks to KidsCareEverywhere, a non-profit founded and led by Dr. Ron Dieckmann, a ClassAct HR73 Board Member. Dr. Dieckmann and his team have traveled the globe since 2006 to train doctors on four continents to use software that not only helps them treat patients in their struggling hospitals but also allows them to continue to grow as physicians and scientists through self-education. Offering a compendium of all the world’s most current medicine and scientific recommendations up to four weeks prior, the software also gives its users the level of validity for its recommendations about diagnosis and treatment.

    “Within seconds, they can use the search window in their own language to search for a topic, and then they will have a summary of all the current scientific information in the world,” said Dr. Dieckmann of DynaMed, the software KidsCareEverywhere now distributes for free. “It’s exactly the same software as what we use at the leading hospitals in the United States”.

    Interviewed in late August as he and his team prepared to travel to Cajamarca in northern Peru, Dr. Dieckmann said they expected to be met by a crush of doctors and other health care providers eager to learn how to use the software in a region burdened with poverty and isolation. “When people find out that we are at the hospital and we are giving away this software, we cannot keep people out of the room,” he said. “It’s amazing, we can’t shut the door because they keep opening and coming in. We have to station people at the door begging them to come to our next session.”

    Though pre-session estimates are 50 people, the crowds at these training programs quickly expand to 300. “They treat us like rock stars, and we’re training away and giving away when we are there,” says Dr. Dieckmann. “We want to give away as much software as we possibly can.” KidsCareEverywhere also hands out free tablets at these sessions to encourage doctors to make use of the app during rounds at their patients’ bedside.

    Dr. Dieckmann likes to ask his listeners to give him the most difficult case they have faced that week. “I will plug it into the software, and I will show them how to answer the important clinical questions,” he says. To provide an interactive experience as opposed to a lecture, the KidsCareEverywhere team prefers to keep the size of a training cohort small in order to do hands-on training, ideally at the bedside of a patient. When doctors see the recommendations for that particular pediatric case appear instantly, they become “believers,” Dr. Dieckmann said.

    “They leave the session and go out and tell all their friends ‘You can’t believe what they’re giving us for free in the auditorium down the hall. Sometimes they shut the hospital in order for everybody to be sure they got the software.”

    Dr. Sofía Huamani of Lima, Peru wrote on the KidsCareEverywhere website: “Thank you for this grand gesture towards the health personnel of 2 de Mayo Hospital, and particularly the residents. Having another year's subscription of DynaMed greatly helps us.”

    For the introduction of the software to succeed and for its use to be sustained, medical school deans and hospital administrators have to embrace this tool as well. The team’s on-site training sessions make acceptance on all levels much more likely, according to Dr. Dieckmann.

    Along with experiencing the joy of elevating the standard of care in these developing countries, Dr. Dieckmann and his team often confront risks such as disease and political instability. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo the civil war that ended the lives of millions took on personal meaning for the members of KidsCareEverywhere. The team had gone to a hospital in the southeast corner of the central African nation to train doctors in a hospital that then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had visited the year before when U.S. officials were trying to provide economic assistance. “We trained every doctor in the hospital, and the following year a rebel group came by and killed many of the doctors and actually destroyed much of the hospital,” Dr. Dieckmann recalled.

    India, with its three billion people, its extremes of wealth and education, and regions that are almost like separate countries, poses a different set of problems for the teams distributing the software to doctors working in some of the poorest public hospitals. Of those crumbling institutions on which so many Indians depend, Dr. Dieckmann said “They’re falling down. There are piles of rubble on the floor and animals grazing in the hallways. There are electrical wires hanging down in the hallways. The electricity often doesn’t work…It’s every imaginable obstacle that you can conjure up that presents itself to us.”

    Despite the failing infrastructure and the travelers’ illnesses that always seemed to plague the KidsCareEverywhere team there, India continues to compel Dr. Dieckmann to return. He is quick to praise its magnanimous and tech-oriented doctors, its rich culture and delicious food. He mourns the training projects there that were abruptly halted when the country suffered one of the world’s worst phases of the Covid pandemic. “India got hit really hard, and many of the people we were working with died,” Dr. Dieckmann said.

    Natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods add to the difficulties the KidsCareEverywhere team faces during many missions. Human obstacles come in the form of corruption or the sudden exit of an NGO or corporation from a fruitful partnership. In Dar es Salaam, the team successfully conducted training at the massive Muhimbili National Hospital until the hospital’s funding from Johnson & Johnson dried up. “Then they pulled the plug, and everything collapsed,” Dr. Dieckmann said.

    “It’s so disheartening that all of these essential programs and hospitals and services for people are hanging on by a thread and the least perturbation in the system, whether it’s from natural elements or from global instability or corruption, just completely destroys all the work that we do,” he added.

    Innate optimism and a talent for improvising that MacGyver would envy keep Ron Dieckmann from succumbing to despair. “We wonder what the next thing is going to be to come up against us, but that’s part of the challenge,” he said. “It’s part of the gratification of it.” He and his team have learned to bring battery-powered projectors, hotspots for web access, and other essentials in order to carry out training no matter what. “We are hellbent on making it happen.”

    When Covid hit in early 2020, KidsCareEverywhere, like non-profits around the world, had to scramble to find ways of sustaining its work during the isolation of the pandemic’s first years. In Ghana, their team of ten raced to complete software training as people started dying around them in a region with few medical facilities. A short time later KCE had to turn to a virtual mode of instruction that paled in comparison to the hands-on training mode their teams had previously employed. The number of doctors and nurses who received the pediatric software declined.

    Now Dr. Dieckmann and his crew are back on the road, scheduled to travel to Bhutan, Nepal and Cambodia after the training programs in Peru are finished. They hope to reach out to health- care providers beyond physicians such as hospital pharmacists, who often lack the sophisticated databases upon which their counterparts in the United States rely. By downloading and searching the app’s pharmacology database with its 2500 different drugs, these pharmacists can instantaneously determine side effects, complications, and incompatibilities with other drugs, Dr. Dieckmann explained.

    The roots of KidsCareEverywhere lie in Ron Dieckmann’s previous travels with his wife and three daughters to developing countries as well as in his own efforts to write and compile textbooks in pediatric emergency medicine. By the beginning of this century, he realized, “The textbook is dead. There is no future for the textbook in American medicine or medicine anywhere in the world…I thought I had to do something quite different.”

    With an Australian partner who had developed information services for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, Dr. Dieckmann in 2003 founded the software company PEMSoft, which issued a decision-support product solely for pediatric emergency medicine. From its beginning he gave away free copies of its software to colleagues in developing countries, starting with Vietnam. When EBSCO Publishing in Ipswich, Ma. acquired the company in 2013, its president, Tim Collins, supported the work of KidsCareEverywhere by agreeing to continue their donations of medical software in low-income nations. Nearly a decade later Ron Dieckmann and his colleagues have given away the EBSCO product DynaMed, a clinical reference tool that encompasses about 15 languages, to their counterparts in 26 countries. Approximately 22,000 people used the software in July of this year alone.

    Harder to quantify are the multiplier effects that the software can have once a doctor or pharmacist repeatedly uses it to care for patients and to deepen his or her own education. KidsCare Everywhere has trained more than 10,000 doctors to rely on a free app that would cost them $399 a year if they were practicing in Boston or Tokyo. “If each doctor has used it to some extent and extended the benefits of this software to all his or her patients…and the doctor is seeing up to 10,000 to 20,000 kids a year, we’ve affected the health-care experience of many, many millions of children,” Dr. Dieckmann said.

    With the constant feedback KidsCareEverywhere receives from tracking app usage as well as reading reports from health care leaders in hospitals they have visited, the volunteers have come to realize the value of the software for raising the level of medical education. Like doctors everywhere who come away with questions after they treat their patients, practitioners can now return to their homes or offices to call up answers based on the most comprehensive and up-to-date research. For aspiring physicians, KidsCareEverywhere’s software can easily take the place of the weighty textbooks that medical students of Dr. Dieckmann’s generation studied.

    “They’re putting up a brand-new hospital in Hanoi, and we were doing some training there, and the doctor who was head of pediatrics said ‘Ron, we are using this program as our entire curriculum for training doctors in our new hospital,’” Dr. Dieckmann said. “By saving the life of a one-year-old through providing more current access to scientific information to the doctor, we are producing an asset to that society that is vastly greater than what we would be doing by working at the other end.” Dr Dieckmann said.

    The advances in pediatric care and medical education fostered by KidsCareEverywhere come at a time of dramatic improvements in the mortality rates and overall health of children in developing countries. Dr. Dieckmann attributes those gains to public health reforms like water purification and better sanitation systems. He credits Bill Gates for “really innovative projects” such as widespread mosquito netting distribution, which have decreased infant mortality especially in Africa.

    Ron Dieckmann’s own journey to teach pediatricians in some of the world’s poorest countries began in his hometown of Cincinnati, where he recalls having “a great childhood of my own.” Growing up in a working-class family, he said, “I didn’t even know anybody who went to college. I never knew a doctor.” At Harvard where he concentrated in History and Science and lived in Winthrop House, he realized how many things were possible.

    At Stanford University’s medical school Dr. Dieckmann said he became fascinated with pediatrics, a career path strongly encouraged by his parents “who really, really loved the idea that I would be taking care of children.” Dr. Dieckmann saw that same generosity of spirit in the “humanity of pediatrics, the kindness of pediatrics.” He went on to complete a residency in that specialty at the University of California, San Francisco.

    “When I finished my residency, I realized that what I really loved was emergency medicine and critical care and trauma care because it’s in my personality. I’ve always liked just being in the front lines in this type of situation,” Dr. Dieckmann said. He went on to become a professor of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics at University of California, San Francisco and to serve as the Director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital for 25 years. He also received a masters from the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

    Dr. Dieckmann’s education at Stanford and his proximity to Silicon Valley during the years when tech giants like Steve Jobs and Sergey Brin were imagining new worlds helped him envision digital possibilities in medical education. “I became very disenchanted with the written word and knew there had to be a better way of doing things through the virtual world,” he said. “And that was absolutely born of much exposure to technology.”

    His dissatisfaction with hard-cover textbooks “that got old and dusty” led him to tap the knowledge of friends and colleagues who were immersed in the software culture taking root in northern California. “I think I had the great fortune of being in the right place at the right time,” Dr. Dieckmann said.

    Having recently joined the Board of ClassACT HR73, Dr. Dieckmann hopes that his new role will help him expand the mission and scope of KidsCareEverywhere. One path for growth could involve connecting with Class of 1973 members, as well as other alumni, who can provide contacts with leaders in low-income countries. “There are lots of poor countries out there, there are lots of people at Harvard who know people who are running the governments there or the health systems or hospitals… who are really good, strong people that we can work with collegially and in training.”

    Dr. Dieckmann also sees KidsCareEverywhere as a model for providing clinical-decision software in other specialties to physicians in low-income countries. “There’s every reason in the world that any specialty could adopt all of our structures and methodologies,” he said. “I certainly would gladly share any of it, and all of it with anyone who is so inclined.”

    Classmates who would like to donate to KidsCareEverywhere to help Dr. Dieckmann and his team of volunteers widen the circle of health-care providers who have benefitted from receiving the free pediatric software and training can donate here

  • August 26, 2022 11:40 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    ClassACT associate Bob Livingston has created a digital version of the Radcliffe Freshman Register from 1973! In anticipation of our 50th reunion this spring, scroll through to look at pictures, ads, and memories. 


  • August 17, 2022 4:12 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The elimination of many polling places. The cancellation of early voting. The intimidation at the polls of voters and election workers. These are just a few of the signs of voter suppression that have sprouted in recent years as some members of the electorate attempt to attain or to hold on to power by preventing those they regard as potential opponents from voting.

    As the nation gears up for the 2022 midterm elections in November, ClassACT HR73 is hosting the forum “Voter Suppression: A Cancer in Our Body Politic” on September 12th from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm EDT. The forum will bring together journalists, activists and experts concerned with election integrity to discuss how repressing voting threatens our democracy. Class of 1973’s own E.J. Dionne, the renowned Washington Post columnist, will moderate a panel that includes  Congressman Joaquin Castro '2000, the Congressman for the 20th District of Texas, Cecile Scoon ’81, President of the FLA League of Women Voters, and Michael Waldman, President of the Brennan Center.

    ClassACT HR73 invites everyone to register above for this crucial forum. We also urge all of you to become involved in efforts to register new voters, to inspire those registered for all parties to cast their ballots, and to help safeguard the right of everyone to free and fair elections.

  • August 12, 2022 10:06 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Confronting a mental health crisis, whether suffered personally or by a loved one, is not only painful but lonely as well. Those who endure depression, anxiety or other conditions, as well as their family members often do not know where to find support from others who have experienced similar anguish. That loneliness can make the crisis seem more acute and can diminish faith in recovery.

    “People generally don’t learn how to deal with mental health situations. We don’t get trained in it. We find ourselves usually in a situation where somebody has had a problem, a crisis, even hospitalization. We’re unprepared, and it can be very isolating,” says Ellen Faran ‘73, the president and CFO of the Cole Resource Center, a non-profit in Belmont, Massachusetts, and ClassACT HR73’s newest Bridge Partner. At the CRC Ellen and other volunteers endeavor “to help those who are facing mental health challenges, both individuals in recovery and family members, live healthy and productive lives.”

    These volunteers are all “lay people” who have experienced mental health challenges themselves or have had a family member who has faced them, Ellen said, adding that she became involved in support work after an intense decade of caring for a family member in crisis. She describes Cole volunteers as people who know firsthand that “recovery is achievable and that open conversation and mutual support are invaluable in moving forward.”

    As part of a three-person leadership team, Ellen helps not only to manage the administrative tasks of the resource center but also to guide the seven or eight other volunteers who contribute to its activities. This small team helps an estimated 500 people a year through the Center’s resource referral services and its support groups and Workforce program.

    To patients and families, the chance to be heard and advised by people who have lived through similar experiences helps to banish the stigma too frequently attached to mental health crises. Peer support is particularly valuable immediately after a crisis, Ellen observed. “What we find is that the voice of lived experience is a very important and effective voice for people dealing with this.”

    Other fraught transitions such as discharge from a hospital, a return to college, or a move into independent housing can also be eased with involvement in a peer support group, Ellen explained. The empathy and practical advice that strengthens a person in transition comes from people who themselves have felt the fear and aloneness of embarking on the next phase of a recovery or watching a loved one take that step. What results from this circle of receiving help and then feeling knowledgeable and strong enough to pass it on is the spirit of community on which Cole Resource volunteers pride themselves.

    “We try to talk about ourselves as the community where you might enter the community in some state of crisis, but you end up staying and sharing with others and helping others, and that’s part of your journey toward recovery,” she explained.

    For family members of a person with a mental health crisis, this caring community often is a godsend. Many of them, Ellen said, have no background in mental health and are unfamiliar with the meaning of their child’s or their spouse’s diagnosis. “The symptoms are very overlapping,” she added. “It can take a very long time to get an accurate diagnosis, sometimes years.” Family members often are struggling to make sense of this medical information while caring for a beloved person who has just left the hospital or has had to interrupt a year of college because of a psychotic break, she added.

    Grief for the way one was before the onset of a mental health crisis or grief for lost dreams cherished for a child often befall someone who seeks out the Cole Resource Center. “You may have thought you were raising a professional lawyer, doctor, engineer, whatever, and it turns out they have a health condition that makes that overly stressful for them and they need to seek another path. You, the family member, have to let go of whatever expectation that was.” The task then is to embrace a new vision of what will be a healthy and productive life for your child, she added.

    On the Cole Resource Center website, one mother recalled the distress of those first days and months as well as the haven that the Cole Resource Center became. “The warm welcome and caring at the Cole Center has already had a profound impact on my life. As the mother of a child recently diagnosed, I have felt so alone, terrified, and confused...The time, attention, endless resources and guidance so freely offered by the volunteer staff have been of such value to me.” During such a crisis the Cole volunteers can provide referrals to outpatient treatment programs, housing options, and educational programs.

    “A number of women who have been part of our family support group have told us that they have moved on from just feeling helpless and hopeless to understanding how they can go forward,” Ellen said.

    Fewer men come to the Cole Resource Center seeking help than women, a trend frequently observed by mental health practitioners. Yet those who have joined the men’s peer support group, men in their 40s and 50s who have been dealing with mental health conditions for years, have found encouragement sharing hopes and fears with others who have experienced similar emotions. “They find that talking with other men is much more comfortable for them than joining a mixed support group,” Ellen said.

    An unexpected health crisis can cause a person to lose sight of who they are, of the vocation or skill that once shaped their identity. The Cole Resource Center’s Workforce Development Program helps to remind clients that they are more than a patient or a caregiver and supports them in finding a meaningful purpose in the workplace or elsewhere. When clients are ready to begin a job search, they often must contend with previously unforeseen challenges like the lingering effects of their illness, their loss of self-esteem or the unjust stigma of a mental health condition.

    “They face a particular challenge -- if you think about how difficult job hunting is for anybody, having to present yourself and sell yourself to people and then add the layer of a recent health crisis that has likely interrupted your career path,” Ellen said.

    Along with helping clients with job hunting skills like networking, resume writing, and interviewing, the Workforce program’s online Job Club includes discussions of disability rights, employee rights and whether it’s advisable at certain times or with certain employers to disclose a mental health condition. This counseling allows participants to regain a sense of purpose and confidence and to identify the right next step for them. “It’s a program for people in recovery who are ready and able to work,” Ellen said.

    Since its start more than 25 years ago, the Cole Resource Center has had an informal association with McLean Hospital, the renowned psychiatric institution affiliated with Harvard Medical School. McLean has provided the center with office space and remains one of its clinical partners. That partnership has helped Ellen and the other volunteer leaders refine their programs, build their model, and learn what is effective in helping patients and family on the path to recovery.

    As a non-profit offering customized, individual referrals for treatment programs, Cole volunteers have witnessed firsthand the critical shortage of clinical practitioners and other services like outpatient clinics and housing programs. During the pandemic, as depression and anxiety swelled throughout the general population, the situation worsened.

    But encouraging trends suggest to Ellen that the stigma of a mental health illness is fading as more and more people come to see it as a condition that needs to be managed like any other chronic health problem. “I have a lot of faith in young people who are talking more naturally about their own situations,” she said. Ellen is also heartened by progress in the ways that individuals and families are now included in treatment planning, and by the police departments that now provide training in behavioral health response to their members.

    In keeping with their determination to deliver peer support despite setbacks, the Cole Resource Center volunteers quickly adapted to the pandemic in 2020 by switching to virtual delivery of services by Zoom or phone. They discovered that many clients found online meetings easier in terms of time constraints or lengthy commutes. “Actually, we’re not making any immediate plans to return in person, and there’s no particular pressure to do that,” Ellen said.

    Nonetheless, the Cole Resource Center leaders continue to grow their community gradually, often by word of mouth. With their core knowledge of resources centered in Massachusetts and New England, they have no immediate plans to expand beyond that area. At the same time these professional volunteers have worked hard in the last year on administrative tasks like improving their database and honing their communications, including adopting a new logo designed by a client with graphic expertise. They have written a procedures manual and developed new training programs for the leaders who identify resources and point clients toward them. All of these efforts enhance the value of the Cole Resource Center as a model for other communities.

    As president Ellen draws on what she learned as a Winthrop House English concentrator and at Harvard Business School to guide the non-profit through a time of transformation. “Writing helps me think. I clarify my thoughts as I’m writing something,” she said. The Harvard MBA that helped her eventually become head of MIT Press before retiring also provided the accounting and management skills she uses now to buttress the Cole Resource Center.

    In summing up the impact of her Harvard education on her role at CRC, Ellen said “The main thing my Harvard education left me with is this enthusiasm for learning.” That zest, she said, has helped her figure out things like how to send bulk email through the database system and how to put an image on the website. “I’m 71 years old and I’m learning new little tricks all the time. It’s really fun.”

    As the Cole Resource Center stands poised for purposeful growth, the members of ClassACT HR73 can play a role by offering advice on legal, human resources and other structural issues faced by nonprofits. Working virtually, ClassACT volunteers can join as researchers who locate mental health resources or help with outreach efforts that expand the Center’s network of health care providers and other non-profits.

    Finally, by donating to the Cole Resource Center, ClassACT members can ensure that the extraordinary work done by Ellen and her fellow volunteers can continue to support patients and their families at times of great need. 

    The value of that work is evident in the words that one member of the Cole Resources community included on their website:

    “Yesterday I was living in the shadow of my illness in isolation, loneliness, and despair. Today within the safe, supportive, and compassionate harbor of the Cole Center, I am actively living my recovery. The Cole Center has been a powerful catalyst for a dramatic renewal of my confidence and self-worth.”

  • May 11, 2022 5:57 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    *Click here to watch the video profile on White Pony Express created by our own Rick Brotman '73!*

    As Americans watched in horror last March while Russian missiles slammed into Kievand other Ukrainian cities, the members of White Pony Express noticed that a neighbor had begun to collect supplies in his garage for the refugees who were now streaming into Poland. Volunteers and staff at the Pleasant Hill, Ca. non-profit, which delivers food, clothing and other essentials throughout Contra Costa County, began bringing canned food and diapers to the  neighbor to add to a hastily assembled supply line that managed to get necessities to Ukrainian troops and desperate civilians. Within a few weeks, WPE had grown its own network to deliver pallets of medical supplies, hygiene kits and clothing to Ukrainians on both sides of their country’s borders.

    “Our circle is large, the need was so dire,” said Eve Birge, executive director of WPE, which has become a model for repurposing food, reducing greenhouse gasses, and creating a “circle of giving” that honors those who receive as well as those who volunteer and donate.

    “We would never give out food or clothing that was not the best quality,” said Emily Karakashian ‘73, who connected the non-profit with ClassACT’s Bridge Program. “It is a sense of unity. We are one family.”

    Located in an area that embraces both affluent San Francisco bedroom communities and “food deserts” like Richmond, this Bridge Project began in 2013. Its founder, Dr Carol Weyland Connor, was searching for a way to offer to the homeless people she got to know on her daily walks the produce and baked goods she saw grocery stores dumping. The volunteers she helped organize soon began going from store to store seeking donations they could then deliver to a growing number of partner non-profits who would provide the food to those in need.

    Borrowing each other’s minivans and lugging ice chests, Karakashian and her fellow volunteers went from department to department in grocery stores seeking donations. Other service organizations helped them raise funds for refrigerated trucks, and a faith-based non-profit provided them with storage space and utilities. “We were all in,” Karakashian said. “We were so happy to do it. The need was so great.” She recalls calling on one butcher who catered to affluent customers. He told her, “I know what you are doing. My father is head of the Salvation Army in Mexico.” He then pulled out his best cuts of meat and put them in her basket.

    White Pony Express has delivered more than 18 million tons of fresh food to approximately 120,000 people who grapple with financial hardship compounded by the pandemic. The non-profit has created more than 15 million meals for Contra Costa residents. In a fleet of refrigerated vehicles, its 17 teams of about 400 volunteers speed to stores and restaurants and bring the surplus food back to the warehouse to be sorted and organized. Finally, they deliver the food to partner organizations like food banks and schools where it can be distributed.

    By rescuing fresh produce and other food stuffs that otherwise ends up in a landfill, WPE estimates it has prevented approximately 17,000 tons of greenhouse emissions. It has served as a model in a state that recently enacted a mandate that food- service businesses must donate surpluses to food-recovery organizations to combat both hunger and climate change. California has set the goal by 2025 of rescuing 20 percent of all edible food currently being discarded in order to help one in four Californians who don’t have enough to eat.

    In recent years WPE has expanded its recovery efforts to include the returned clothing and dead stock that stores discard or sell for a pittance. These items, as well as donated household goods and toys, make up the inventory of the WPE General Store where clients can choose what they want. Donors are told to ask themselves this question: “Would you give it to a loved one?” Karakashian explained. “It has to be that good.”

    With its ability to connect abundance to need, White Pony Express was able to step in when the Camp Fire ravaged parts of northern California in 2018. In the weeks and months after California’s worst wildfire in a century, WPE volunteers made two to three trips per week in vans packed with food. At Easter that year, volunteers prepared a brunch for the survivors, some of whom counted family members among the 85 souls who perished in that fire. “The intent was to make it a special day,” Karakashian said. “We prepared boxed meals, special treats, music. It was an uplifting day for everyone.”

    That ability to bring its forces to bear rapidly on a disaster allowed WPE to expand its efforts for Ukrainians as the crisis worsened. The non-profit began to “grow its own network,” Birge said. “We started delivering pallets of medical supplies, hygiene kits, warm clothing.” In addition to a page on their website for monetary donations, WPE  set up a link that directs donors to an Amazon page where they can purchase desperately needed supplies like tourniquets and baby formula.  WPE then bundles these necessities into pallets they are now sending at a steady pace.

    “The community has leaned in,” said Birge. “People are feeling that you don’t want to just sit and watch TV. You want to be part of something that helps the situation.” Of the supplies headed for the war zone, she said “We are making sure the way they are packaged and labeled will honor the people in Ukraine, and they will feel the love and respect we have for them.”

    From Contra Costa the pallets make their way to several destinations in Ukraine and its neighbors. In April, 500 medical kits went to medical training centers along the border with Poland where Ukrainians came to learn healing techniques and to pick up supplies for their besieged country. Relief workers in Poland loaded other pallets of food onto trucks that drove directly into Ukraine. Partnering with organizations like the Ukraine Freedom Fund, WPE tailors its work to meet priorities and needs that change with each new attack from the Russian army. “We are moving very quickly and learning as we go,” said Birge.

    Cash donations earmarked for WPE’s Ukrainian relief efforts can be made at For those who want to purchase priority items on Amazon to be sent to  WPE, the list is available at:

    White Pony Express is still dealing with a pandemic that has left an increasing number of families with food insecurity due to job loss and rising inflation. In the early months of the pandemic the non-profit scrambled to rescue 25,000 tons of food per day and then deliver it to a growing number of recipients, including 15 new partners. The demand “spiked and it has not gone back down,” said Birge. Now, however, with supply-chain problems, the amount of rescued food has dropped to 10,000 lbs. per day from 15,000 lbs.

    Covid protocols have necessitated coming up with new methods of distribution to reduce the risk of infection. Like many food banks across the nation, WPE organized a “touchless” drive-through operation to share the food and clothing people urgently needed. WPE partners who had designed pantries to enable people to select items now have had to box up everything.

    To cope with swelling demand, the staff came up with a “White Pony Express App” that allows volunteers to pick up and deliver small amounts of food in addition to the large quantities the organization continues to repurpose. When the non-profit workers receive word of available food, they immediately link that collection with a distribution partner and then send out a notification to all volunteers. Using the new app, a volunteer can claim the run, get the map on his or her phone, and pick up and deliver the food. “It’s so easy,” Emily said. “When I am free, I can say ‘Let me know.’”

    With a storehouse of experience and constant innovations, the folks at WPE are eager to share their model. Last year the United Nations Food Rescue Initiative selected the Contra Costa non-profit as one of the solutions for expanding food supplies and reducing greenhouse gasses. The climate action staff of California Governor Gavin Newsom have also applauded WPEs initiatives as they grapple with the state’s rising number of homeless citizens and the effects of a warming planet.

    The successes of  WPE can serve as a guide for ClassACT HR73 members beyond northern California who are looking for new ways to distribute fresh fruits and vegetables rather than watching produce be dumped into a landfill. “Back in the beginning when we became a bridge project, we hoped that classmates in other areas could take our model and reproduce it,” said Emily. With more and more Harvard College classes forming their own ClassACT groups, she is again optimistic that variations of WPE will soon be found in other locales.

    For those ClassACT members who live in the Bay Area, White Pony Express continues to welcome their volunteer efforts for food redistribution and for Ukraine relief. Cash donations can be made at:

  • April 18, 2022 11:41 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    A ClassACT Bridge founded in 2013, the White Pony Express networks with businesses and organizations in Contra Costa County, California to collect excess foods and goods and then distribute the items to neighbors in need. Utilizing these established connections, the community has responded with an outpouring of support for Ukrainian refugees in Poland and Ukraine. Classmate Emily Karakashian reports that the White Pony Express delivered several pallets of diapers, medical and hygiene kits, blankets, sleeping bags and warm clothing to a trusted partner organization that will ship the goods overseas. This is only the beginning as the effort to help during this crisis is ongoing. Click this link to donate.

    To learn more about the war in Ukraine click on this link to view ClassACT HR73’s recent zoom: A Conversation on Russia’s War on Ukraine. 

  • March 11, 2022 6:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    For young people who identify as LGBTQ, these are perilous times. Adolescence and young adulthood for them often mean conflicts with family, classmates, and community members who cannot accept who they are. The results of this intolerance can be depression and anxiety, homelessness, and even suicide. Now, along with these stresses, young trans and queer people are confronting a global pandemic and renewed assaults on their rights in states like Texas,Florida and Ohio.

    In our upcoming #ClassACTForum, we examine the challenges LGBTQ youth face and the ways that advocates, friends and families can offer support. Join us on Thursday, April 7 for LGBTQ Youth Rights: Protecting the Queer Frontier. Our co-sponsor for this ClassACT HR73 forum is JusticeAid, a non-profit founded by HR73 classmate Steve Milliken that raises money through music concerts to aid organizations working for justice and equality. This spring JusticeAid is focusing on SMYAL (Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocate Leaders), a Washington D.C. organization that mentors LGBTQ youth and provides housing and mental health services as well.

    Our moderator will be Tazewell Jones, a JusticeAid board member and an attorney who has fought against injustice since law school when he volunteered for Lambda Legal Alliance and the Innocence Project. Our panel will include Li Nowlin-Sohl, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBTQ Rights team which works to ensure transparency, accountability and adequate mental health treatment in jails and prisons. Li will be joined by Jorge Membreño, a social worker who has helped to provide clinical services and housing for youth and families in Brookline and Washington, and who now serves as deputy executive director of SMYAL. Our final panelist is Alana Jochum, the executive director of Equality Ohio and a co-chair of Equality Federation’s Board of Directors, which advocates in State Houses across the country to safeguard LGBTQ rights.

    Register here!

  • March 11, 2022 6:11 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    ClassACT HR73 invites you to an in depth conversation about the Russian war against Ukraine on Wednesday, March 16 from 7:30 to 8:45 PM ET. Noted historian and former Washington Bureau Chief for Newsweek Evan Thomas '73 will lead a discussion with Nobel Prize winning economist Roger Myerson '73 and international security expert and retired Marine Colonel Mark Cancian '73.

    Drawing on their knowledge of Ukraine’s past tragedies and its immediate crisis, these panelists will analyze the current state of the war from military, political and economic perspectives. Questions they are likely to consider include: what were Vladimir Putin and his Russian Army’s objectives when they invaded this sovereign democratic nation? Why has the Russian Army performed so badly in the early stages of this war? Will Ukraine’s army and its citizens continue to resist despite the gap in air power and other resources? What are the prospects for peace and the dangers of a protracted war? What will the economic consequences of this war and unprecedented Western sanctions be for Russia, Europe, the United States and the rest of the world? The plight of the millions of Ukrainian refugees who have fled the bombing of their homes, schools and hospitals lies at the heart of concerns about the war’s impact, a humanitarian crisis the panelist are certain to address.

    After a 40 minute conversation these experts will open the floor to questions from the audience.

    This Zoom conversation is open to everyone. Please share this invitation with anyone you know who is deeply concerned about the fate of the Ukrainian people and global stability.

    Register here!

  • March 11, 2022 5:45 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    We provided an extensive update on Gerrymandering and Voter Suppression in the February ClassACT Newsletter through a video interview conducted by Rick Brotman '73 and Jacki Swearingen '73. Here are recent developments.

    As of the last week in February, 42 states had adopted their districting plans for the 2022 House race, although more than a dozen plans are facing challenges in court. With the 2022 state primaries close at hand, politicians have been scurrying to redraw voting districts to take into account the 2020 census numbers. They are focusing on the creation of new districts in areas with a growing population and the elimination of districts in areas where the number of voters has been shrinking. This has led to much creative use of the new tools that enable precise gerrymandering, down to the precinct level. 

    Not surprisingly, the overall trend has been that in states where the legislature carries out the redistricting (the case in most states), the gerrymandering has benefited the dominant political party. Since Republicans control more legislatures, you would expect that the net gains overall to be greater for the G.O.P.  than for Democrats. But in fact, the Democrats have been able to tilt things their way very effectively in the states where they call the shots, such as Illinois and New York. For their part, Republicans have used their redistricting power mostly to make existing Republican-controlled districts even more one-sided, to protect incumbents and keep those districts Republican-controlled well into the future, rather than trying to flip as many districts as possible in their favor right now.

    In New York, an advisory commission whose members were split 50/50 between the two parties deadlocked and failed to propose a unified redistricting plan. Instead, each side presented its own plan, one drawn to the Democrats’ advantage and the other to the Republicans’. The legislature, which is Democratic-controlled, ignored the two plans and drew up its own, which shifted three seats toward Democrats. Furthermore, the legislature did this in a rush, refusing to hold any public hearings to get input on the proposed maps.

    Pennsylvania is a 50-50 battleground state that, because of effective Republican gerrymandering after the 2010 census, has a decidedly Republican-leaning legislature. The legislature created a redistricting plan very favorable to Republicans and sent it to the governor for approval. When the governor, a Democrat, refused to approve the plan, the dispute went to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The court delegated the redistricting task to an independent expert from Stanford University. The expert created a much more equitable plan, which the state will use in the 2022 elections.

    We anticipated in our ClassACT HR73 Gerrymandering Primer that a lot of gerrymandering would take place in 2022 because of faster, cheaper tools available and less time for scrutiny, given COVID-related delays in releasing the 2020 census data. What is remarkable, however, is that now so much gerrymandering takes place in the open, blatantly. In the past politicians tried to keep the proceedings hidden from public scrutiny, behind closed doors.

    Each party seems proud of its prowess in gerrymandering and all but flaunts partisan map-drawing as a valuable tool for advancing its interests. Here is what is equally surprising: how much traction the analytics for detecting gerrymandering have been gaining. The Stanford expert who redrew the Pennsylvania voting districts proved to the court, based on his quantitative techniques and analysis of voter data, that his redistricting plan was fair and balanced.

    Furthermore, the State Supreme Court of Ohio has used such analytics to throw out the extremely gerrymandered plans created by the Republican-dominated legislature. North Carolina’s Supreme Court also rejected a voting map because of racial bias, basing its ruling on the results of analytical techniques similar to those we discussed in the Primer.

    There is another encouraging trend, despite the overall trend toward more abuse of gerrymandering tactics. The independent-commission model seems to be gaining some momentum. The model has produced fair maps in California since 2011. Colorado and Michigan implemented independent commissions last year, and they appear to be working well. Under this approach, which we favor, politicians do not appoint the members; the commissioners are balanced among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents; and the commission, not the legislature, has the power to draw up the voting maps.

    As we enter the primaries, and then the general elections, we will see what kind of effect these changes, both negative and positive, will have on voting results. Stay tuned.

     -Jim Harbison & Ryan O'Connell

ClassACT HR ‘73

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