Category: Meet the Scholar

Meet the Scholar: Dr. Wilson

Image“Reflections on America’s Great and Growing Disparity”

The Graduate Commons Program was honored to have Dr. William Julius Wilson speak to our community on February 11th.  Dr. Wilson is the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor and Director of the Joblessness and Urban Poverty Research Program.  He is jointly appointed at the Harvard Kennedy School and in the Department of Sociology.  Dr. Wilson is one of only 24 University Professors, which is the highest professional distinction for a Harvard faculty member and an exceptional achievement. 

Dr. Wilson began by his talk by describing post-war economic conditions that led to a strong, growing middle class in America. These conditions, including the presence of influential labor unions, insured that working class Americans had steady work and increased wages.  He argued that this period saw the smallest gap between working-class and upper-class Americans.

According to Dr. Wilson, these social and economic conditions changed drastically beginning in the 1980s. The “Reagan economic experiment” and the economic policies of President George W. Bush led to a significant decline in the middle class and a growth in economic disparity. Dr. Wilson also argued that growing social inequalities during this period further exacerbated the plight of the American working class.

To examine the causes of this increased disparity, Dr. Wilson compared the works of two recent books that have received widespread attention —Timothy Noah’s “The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It” and Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart: The State of White America.”

Dr. Wilson explained that Noah synthesized social science research to better understand the US economy post-1979, a period he calls the “Great Divergence.” Noah uses this term to contrast with the period from the 1930s to the 1970s that saw a decreased in social and economic inequality, calling these few decades the “Great Convergence” Noah argues that there were several factors that contributed to the growing divide between upper-class and working-class Americans. These included the increased value of a college degree, increased trade with lower wage nations, government policies that protected the wealthiest Americans, and a sharp decrease in the labor movement. To Noah, the “Great Divergence” is a multi-faceted issue greatly impacted by structural factors, particularly government policies.

On the other hand, Murray argues that current economic differences are related to shifts in the core values, particularly among the “new rich” and the white working-class. Murray examines the life-style choices of two American communities as a way to illustrate the differences between these new upper-class and lower-class groups. Using Belmont, MA as an example of a “super zip”, he finds highly educated individuals who have developed distinct cultural practices that have increased their economic success. Murray cites a high rate of advanced degrees, increased rates of marriage, and an importance of “family time” as values of the upper-class.  His second case study investigates the residents of Fishtown, a white working-class neighborhood in Philadelphia. In Fishtown, he finds higher rates of joblessness, more single mothers, and greater crime. Murray equates their economic disparity to a decrease in core values among working-class Americans – a lack of religiosity, industriousness, and emphasis on the institution of marriage.

Dr. Wilson argued that Murray’s conclusions were causal at best, and to make such incendiary claims would require more rigorous research methods.  Further, Dr. Wilson argued that in other industrial nations that face issues of economic disparity, there are few claims that decreased values are responsible for economic inequality. Dr. Wilson explained that issues of economic disparity are complex, much as Noah outlined. To eliminate such profound economic disparities, we need to fully understand these complex issues to find long lasting solutions.

Dr. Wilson’s talk ended with a lively question-and-answer session. When asked about his hopes for narrowing the socioeconomic gap in the future, Dr. Wilson responded that he’s “fighting pessimism all the time.” When asked about a solution, his response was a simply one—vote!  Dr. Wilson encouraged the audience to assist in grassroots voting campaigns, particularly aimed at disenfranchised Americans. He believes this to be a simple but powerful step to ensure all Americans are heard, and to begin to roll back the growing gap between rich and poor in the United States.





“Meet the Scholar” February Preview

The Graduate Commons Program is excited to announce the distinguished group of faculty members who will be joining our community for “Meet the Scholar” lectures this February.  We hope that you’ll take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to hear these prestigious faculty members speak about their work.

1325915338562Professor William Julius Wilson | Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor; Director: Joblessness and Urban Poverty Research Program

Tuesday, February 11th @ Peabody Terrace

William Julius Wilson is Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University. He is one of only 24 University Professors, the highest professional distinction for a Harvard faculty member. After receiving the Ph.D. from Washington State University in 1966, Wilson taught sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, before joining the University of Chicago faculty in 1972. In 1990 he was appointed the Lucy Flower University Professor and director of the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Urban Inequality. He joined the faculty at Harvard in July of 1996.

He is the author of numerous publications, including The Declining Significance of Race, winner of the American Sociological Association’s Sydney Spivack Award; The Truly Disadvantaged, which was selected by the editors of the New York Times Book Review as one of the 16 best books of 1987, and received The Washington Monthly Annual Book Award and the Society for the Study of Social Problems’ C. Wright Mills Award; When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor, which was selected as one of the notable books of 1996 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review and received the Sidney Hillman Foundation Award; and The Bridge Over the Racial Divide: Rising Inequality and Coalition Politics. Most recently he is the co-author of There Goes the Neighborhood: Racial, Ethnic, and Class Tensions in Four Chicago Neighborhoods and Their Meaning for America and Good Kids in Bad Neighborhoods: Successful Development in Social Context.

Professor Wilson is a member of numerous national boards and commissions, and was previously the Chair of the Board of The Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and of the Russell Sage Foundation.

thProfessor Maria Polinsky | Professor of Linguistics

Tuesday, February 18th @ 10 Akron Street

Professor Polinsky’s work is at the intersection of theoretical syntax and the study of cross-linguistic variation in sentence structure. Language-wise, she specializes in Austronesian and languages of the Caucasus. These days she divides her time between theoretical and experimental work on long-distance dependencies, ergativity, and subject island effects. Her research interests include: language universals and their explanation, comparative syntactic theory, information structure in natural language, incomplete acquisition (heritage languages), and Austronesian and Caucasian languages.

The Polinsky Language Sciences Lab at Harvard University is a linguistics lab that examines questions of language structure and its effect on the ways in which people use and process language in real time. We engage in linguistic and interdisciplinary research projects ourselves; offer linguistic research capabilities for undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and visitors; and build relationships with the linguistic communities in which we do our research.

The Polinsky Langage Sciences Lab is interested in a broad range of issues pertaining to syntax, interfaces, and cross-linguistic variation. The Polinsky Lab places a particular emphasis on novel experimental evidence that facilitates the construction of linguistic theory. We have a strong cross-linguistic focus, drawing upon English, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Mayan languages, Basque, Austronesian languages, languages of the Caucasus, and others. They believe that challenging existing theories with data from as broad a range of languages as possible is a crucial component of the successful development of linguistic theory.


220px-Burns,_R__Nicholas_-_Under_Secretary_for_Political_AffairsProfessor R. Nicholas Burns | The Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Thursday, February 27th @ 5 Cowperthwaite Street

Nicholas Burns is  Sultan of Oman Professor of the Practice of International Relations  at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is Director of the Future of Diplomacy Project and Faculty Chair for the Programs on the Middle East and on India and South Asia. He serves on the Board of Directors of the School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and is a Faculty Associate at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

Professor Burns served in the United States government for twenty-seven years.  As a career Foreign Service Officer, he was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008; the State Department’s third-ranking official when he led negotiations on the U.S.–India Civil Nuclear Agreement; a long-term military assistance agreement with Israel; and was the lead U.S. negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program. He was U.S. Ambassador to NATO (2001–2005), Ambassador to Greece (1997–2001) and State Department Spokesman (1995–1997).  He worked for five years (1990–1995) on the National Security Council at the White House where he was Senior Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Affairs and Special Assistant to President Clinton and Director for Soviet Affairs in the Administration of President George H.W. Bush. Burns also served in the American Consulate General in Jerusalem (1985–1987) where he coordinated U.S. economic assistance to the Palestinian people in the West Bank and before that, at the American embassies in Egypt (1983-1985) and Mauritania (1980 as an intern).

Professor Burns has received twelve honorary degrees, the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service from the Johns Hopkins University, and the Boston College Alumni Achievement Award. He has a BA in History from Boston College (1978), an MA in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (1980), and earned the Certificat Pratique de Langue Francaise at the University of Paris-Sorbonne (1977). He was a visiting Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in summer 2008.


For more information about these lectures, including how to RSVP, please read your weekly Graduate Commons Announcements.

October Recap

October was a whirlwind of fun & festivities at Graduate Commons!  On top of our traditional events with our fabulous Faculty Director team, we had a variety of new offerings.

We were fortunate to have two amazing “Meet the Scholar” speakers in October.  In 10 Akron, Ms. Judith Sherman shared her experiences as a child of the holocausts.  Not only did she share her personal experience as a young girl in the Ravensbruck concentration camp, but her transitional experience with other children afterwards. 


Annette Gordon-Reed, the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School, Professor of History in the History Department, and Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute, spend an evening in Peabody Terrace.  Dr. Gordon-Reed discussed her latest book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (2008), which won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in history and the National Book Award for nonfiction.  


As always, we celebrated fall in Cambridge with the 49th annual Head of the Charles Regatta.  GCP traditionally holds a brunch and viewing of the race, but this year we added something extra—FREE yoga lessons, chair massages, & indoor rowing! 


We had a fabulous turn out for brunch & hope that you all enjoyed watching the race from our awesome view at 10 Akron Street. 



Residents took center stage in Akron/Cowperthwaite, planning and running their own events in collaboration with GCP.  Residents learned how to bake and braid challah bread with Leah, and an introduction to the art of baking with Juliette.  Finally, residents learned the basics of flamenco with the help of Sarah and the HUGSE Movers & Shakers.  A big thank you to our residents who led these wonderful events!


In collaboration with Kevin Baum, Assistant Director for Student Activities @ the Harvard Graduate School of Education, we planned the 3rd Annual Graduate Student Trivia Tournament at the Queens Head Pub.  Graduate Students from across campus battled it out to prove once and for all (or at least until next year)—who is the brainiest of them all?!


Your Community Advisor team put on some wonderful events this month.  Residents in Peabody Terrace enjoyed a beautiful fall hike in the Middlesex Fells, a classy cocktail making class, and demonstrated their skills in a photo competition.

 In Akron/Cowperthwaite residents tasted Wines of the World and Black Teas, toured the Arnold Arboretum and carved pumpkins. 


For that mid-term crunch, all-day writing workshops & Latex demonstrations took center stage.  Others brushed up on networking skills, by improving their “elevator” speech.  We hope you enjoyed these events (and more) during October!


Cronkhite was also extremely busy during October—hosting regular Monday Night Football parties & a Friends marathon/trivia night.  Residents learned how to cook with RA Dante, and ventured to the Harpoon Brewery with RA Laura.  Halloween was celebrated with costumes and dancing, and Day of the Dead was enjoyed with Dr. Parra while creating a traditional alter. 

We can’t forget the SPOOKY or SERENE trip to Salem!  Residents could take a spooky tour of the Salem Witch museum or a serene afternoon at the Peabody Essex Museum.


Our Post-Graduate community sipped mimosas at their monthly brunch & ventured the high seas on a Harbor Islands tour.  October was the start of a weekly story hour for the littlest GCP residents, and a very festive Halloween costume parade & pumpkin carving.


The end of October featured a very spooky Open House with the Hogles in Peabody Terrace.  Amazing costumes, delicious food, & a great time had by all.



To wrap up this busy month, Dr. Carrasco and Dr. Parra hosted their annual Day of the Dead celebration.  We enjoyed delicious traditional Mexican food, while learning about the history and traditions of this holiday. 



We hope that you enjoyed October as much as we did! 

Meet the Scholar Alumni on Colbert

Dr. Noah Feldman, Bemis Professor of International Law, previewed his work on the “Cool War” during his Meet the Scholar lecture at 5 Cowperthwaite Street last spring. Watch as Dr. Feldman discusses his new book, “Cool War: The Future of Global Competition” with Stephen Colbert.

Meet the Scholar Speakers: April 2013

Join Graduate Commons in welcoming Dr. Jonathan Walton & Dr. Matt Liebmann as our April Meet the Scholar speakers!


Image“Blessed are the Rich: The Roots of an American Gospel of Prosperity”

Dr. Jonathan Walton—April 9th @ Peabody Terrace Common Room





Social ethicist and scholar of American religions Jonathan L. Walton joined the faculty of Harvard Divinity School in July 2010 and was appointed Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church beginning July 2012. His research addresses the intersections of religion, politics, and media culture. Drawing on British cultural studies, Walton explores the interrelationship between the media used by Christian evangelists and the theologies thereby conveyed. He argues for forms of theological innovation within the productions of religious broadcasting that are enabled—perhaps even generated—by the media that evangelists use, and he asks what the implications are for the study of evangelical Christianity when one attends to these particular forms of religious and theological performance. His first book, Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism (NYU Press, 2009), is an important intervention into the study of American religion, as it disrupts commonly held assumptions that associate evangelical broadcasting with white, conservative evangelical communities.


Image“The Other American Revolution: Archaeology & The Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680”

Dr. Matthew J. Liebmann–April 16th @ Akron East Common Room





Dr. Liebmann’s primary research focuses on the archaeology of the Southwest U.S., with a specialization in the contact period and the historic-era Pueblos of New Mexico. He is particularly interested in the changes to Indigenous life that occurred during the 17th century following the arrival of Europeans into the northern Rio Grande region. More generally, his research interests include the archaeology of colonialism; revitalization movements; the material culture of conversion and apostasy; archaeologies of resistance; postcolonial theory; and NAGPRA.  The main subject matter of Dr. Liebmann’s research has been the archaeology of the Pueblo Revolt era (1680-1700) in the Jemez Province of New Mexico. Over the past decade he has investigated the ways in which the Jemez people revitalized and memorialized their identities in the wake of the uprising of 1680. As a result, his research explores the materiality of revitalization movements, examining the instantiation of nativism and revivalism in the archaeological record.