Looking Forward to "Let's Talk" 2018

by Hyunji Hannah Lee 이현지

"Let's Talk is a conference that was intended for Asian Americans and Asians, thinking about biculturalism and what it means to live in one culture and go to another to function; to go in and out seamlessly through both. We don't know if there are too many spaces where the conversation is [dedicated to being] all about that identity." 
-- Dr. Josephine Kim, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Post-potluck huddle of Let's Talk Organizers

Post-potluck huddle of Let's Talk Organizers

This past week, my sister came from out of town to visit me in Boston. She had been here for less than five hours before she encountered a microaggression from a man who passed by her on the Red Line who said, "Hey there, China girl." 

She had been here for less than five hours before she encountered a microaggression

The very next day, as we got into our Lyft ride going home from Downtown Boston, the driver greeted her with a simple "Hey there, how are you?" To this she responded by saying "Hey, I'm good. How are you?" with perfect, accent-less English (as if there is something wrong with having an accent, even when it is usually indicative of another or more languages someone can brilliantly speak other than English…). She was met with another not-so-shocking microaggression. The Lyft driver continued to make comments throughout our ride from Downtown Boston to Cambridge about how well she spoke English, and how she did not sound like a foreigner at all. 

Unfortunately, the experiences of being treated as an "outsider" for Asian and Asian Americans are not unique to my sister. If you speak to even a handful of people in the community, they will most likely be able to tell you of similar alienating experiences, of varying horrifying degrees.

As for me, my family and I immigrated to Orlando, Florida in 2002 from Seoul, South Korea. Don't get me wrong; I hold my identity as an immigrant proudly. It is an integral aspect of who I am, and I am incredibly proud of the work I have put in to achieve the same level of success as American-born students. However, after having grown up in the US since I was seven years old, continuing to be treated or witness the treatment of other Asian and Asian Americans as a perpetual foreigner/simplified model minority has been and always will be extremely disheartening.

Asian/Asian American activists rallying for immigration rights. One of the signs reads "America is the land of immigrants"

Asian/Asian American activists rallying for immigration rights. One of the signs reads "America is the land of immigrants"

Not being addressed as a community that belongs in majority -- or oftentimes even minority -- spaces is detrimental to Asian and Asian Americans' sense of self and mental health. A sense of belonging is one of the most basic human needs according to Abraham Maslow, a renowned psychologist best known for creating the Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It is unsurprising then, that a lack of the sense of belongingness in the US has been linked with negative mental health outcomes for Asian and Asian Americans such has depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and the like. 

Asian American students tend to report more experiences of mental health concerns such as depression and social anxiety than their majority student peers

In fact, research continues to show that Asian American students tend to report more experiences of mental health concerns such as depression and social anxiety than their majority student peers (Okazaki, 1997,2000; Okazaki & Kallivayalil, 2002; Sue, Ino, & Sue, 1983). Even when compared to racial/ethnic minority peers -- African Americans and Latinx Americans -- Asian Americans report as having the lowest self-esteem out of these three groups (Green and Way, 2005).  

Thus, as HGSE's very own expert Dr. Josephine Kim summarized so well in the quote above, Let's Talk is a space that is operated by and created for Asian and Asian American students. The Let's Talk conference aims to address the aforementioned unique and pressing needs of this community related to mental health. 

The organizing team has been hard at work with incredible dedication and passion since the fall semester. They are made up of international Asian and Asian American students who essentially have gathered together to create a space that they themselves have often needed when feeling distressed and wanting a sense of belonging and support. 

A Portion of the Let's Talk Organizing Team/Breakout Session Leaders

A Portion of the Let's Talk Organizing Team/Breakout Session Leaders

On March 24th, conference day, Dr. Kim and other mental health practitioners in the greater Boston area plan on educating conference participants on common experiences of distress as experienced by Asian and Asian Americans. However, I am most excited about the incredibly rich workshops that HGSE and other graduate students themselves are preparing. Some of the themes for the workshop sessions include: Reverse Cultural Shock for International Students, South Asian American Mental Health and Healthy Relationships, AAPI in Non-Traditional Careers, Asian American Masculinity, Advocacy for LGBTQIA+ AAPIs, Faith, Culture, and Mental Health, and more. 

Through our work, through this space, and through this movement, we are hoping to make something clear. We hope to declare in and outside of our community that we matter, that we are powerful, and that we are Learning to Change the World. 

To learn more about the Let's Talk conference, visit the program's site

Asuka Ichikawa, Communication Fellow with the VOICE program, also created this promo video

Works Cited

  • Greene, M. L., & Way, N. (2005). Self-Esteem Trajectories among Ethnic Minority Adolescents: A Growth Curve Analysis of the Patterns and Predictors of Change. Journal of Research on Adolescence (Wiley-Blackwell), 15(2), 151-177. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-7795.2005.00090.x
  • Okazaki, S. (1997). Sources of ethnic differences between Asian American and White American college students on measures of depression and social anxiety. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106, 52-60.
  • Okazaki, S. (2000). Asian American arid White American differences on affective distress symptoms: Do symptom reports differ across reporting methods? Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 31, 603-625. 
  • Okazaki, S., & Kallivayalil, D. (2002). Cultural norms and subjective disability as predictors of symptom reports among Asian Americans and White Americans. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 33,482-491.


Meaningful Dialogue with High School Students from the State of Minnesota

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By: Aarushi Singhania, Ben Gulla and Andrea Parker

“Know your goal and work relentlessly towards it”, says Professor Fernando Reimers, addressing a gathering of 38 high school students, 2 facilitators from Project Success, 2 Minneapolis School District specialists, and 8 students from the IEP cohort at HGSE. These high school students are either refugees and/or first generation college aspirants from State of Minnesota, Minneapolis High Schools.

The goal of bringing these students to Harvard University was to open doors of awareness, opportunities and possibilities for them to see “What it means to study at Ivy League schools?”

The gathering commenced with Prof. Reimers sharing some history, specifically regarding how the United Nations Charter was initiated. The message conveyed to students was, “to never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world.”

During the session, students from high schools were interested in knowing what are some of the biggest obstacles that Harvard students have faced in their life and what were some of the lessons learned.

I have got 18 rejections in financial industry before I got my final acceptance at a leading investment bank, said Aarushi ( IEP’18) , the lesson she learned was, “Try Again, Fail Again, Fail Better”

"I have surpassed the hardships of being the sole breadwinner for my family and adapting to the challenges this present in today’s society, when women often hold roles more traditionally held by men", said Andrea (IEP’18).

"There are things you can control and there are things you can’t", said Ben (IEP ’18). You need to be able to let go of those things beyond your influence. It took me a long time to be able to learn how to let go of those things, and focus on the choices I could make and the things I could do.

Towards the end of an hour long session, Reimers shared the need and importance of having dialogue on the Sustainable Development Goals and what it means for high school to have debates and discussions about International Peace and the work of the United Nations. He also introduced students to his book, “One Student at a Time” , for them to “be rebels”  and ask teachers to teach some of these global issues or form study groups and discuss with each other.

Finally he ended the conversation by talking about the power of collaboration: “If you want to make your life and your community a better place, school is your life and you have to practice by making changes at this place.”

Did I Just Win Tickets to a Red Sox Game?

Anjali Moorthy

Anjali Moorthy at Fenway Park

Anjali Moorthy at Fenway Park

“I have half a million dollars set aside for goodwill, talk to the people around you and tell me what to do with it in 30 seconds!” 

Any workshop that starts that way is bound to have you hooked. Quickly scuffling into groups, we make the most of what little we know about Matt (which, at this point, is that he’s tall, wears glasses, and has family in Houston). 

Day One of the Communications Fellowship Workshops had us working in groups of people we’d never met before and trying to answer questions like “What would I do in his place? How do I decide who deserves my help the most? How do I say this out loud in public?” We then presented our suggestions to Matt and his super cool (senior) Teaching Fellow, Iman, through diagrams and flow charts because *gamechanger* we weren’t allowed to speak! 

This activity was followed by really useful techniques for creating our public narrative. We briefly explored what makes a story great. Is it the riveting plot? Is it the characters? Is it the storyteller bringing a bit of their own personality into it? 

Hint: it’s any and/OR all of the above. 

We then journeyed through the idea of The VOICE Program, Double Take (remember those videos during orientation?), and the Communications Fellowship. Matt’s got a motto of learning with purpose and creating a community that will actually empower you to use the skills you acquire through the workshops. He’s basically making sure you don’t turn into one of those people who only use their driver’s license as ID when they go into bars. You can actually take charge and steer yourself in any direction you choose! 

My absolute favourite aspect of this workshop was the way it was conducted. Never a dull moment of passive listening, and every concept was something we actually got to experience and work through. 


We brought everything we learnt together when we had to sell our story to Matt and convince him to give our respective teams two tickets to Thursdays’ Red Sox game at Fenway Park! Both teams took incredibly different approaches to this pitch and we’d like to think it was a tough choice for him! Our enactment of the story of a little girl singing along with every lyric to Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire and dreaming of seeing Joe DiMaggio someday got us the tickets! 

To tie it all together and get us really thinking about our story, we all closed our eyes and thought about what one powerful sentence we thought would be the start our story. One by one, we called these out into a room full of silent listeners, storytellers and dreamers. Experiencing people expose a little piece of their true selves like that was magical. Some were funny, some incredibly quirky and some hit you right in the feels. One thing they all had in common though, was incredible potential and genuine emotion. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us with these snippets of training under Matt and Iman! 

Anjali Moorthy is a student in the Specialized Studies master's program at HGSE. She is also a Communications Fellow and an intern with the VOICE Program.


Observing Doctor West

HGSE student and Communication Fellow Grace Tatter (left), with friends (Photo: Iman Rastegari)

HGSE student and Communication Fellow Grace Tatter (left), with friends (Photo: Iman Rastegari)

My tombstone will probably read “Here lies Grace, a journalist who never knew where her pen was.”

This was the case last Wednesday, when I met Cornel West before he spoke at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Askwith Forum — and, of course, wanted to write down everything he said.

Fortunately, Dr. West is memorable enough that no notes are required to recall his personal warmth or piercing words.

Despite being, as my dad said, “the most famous professor at Harvard,” Dr. West had zero pretensions when he walked into the conference room where I, fellow communication fellows Josh and Lucia, Matt Weber (Preceptor on Education and host of The Harvard EdCast) and Iman Rastegari (Multimedia Producer and VOICE program teaching fellow) were waiting. He hugged each of us, asking our names and where we were from. (“North Carolina! Like John Coltrane,” he said when he met me and Josh.) When we asked him if he wanted any water, he tried to give us a bottle of water.

West says that he doesn’t buy into the message that we can always find hope, and that hope has been commodified, a jab at President Obama, whom West famously has disavowed. He says he just tries to be hope, by showing love. When West’s daughter called during Matt’s interview for the Harvard EdCast,  Matt asked if he could answer — she’s taking a class on Nietzsche at Princeton, he said, in German.  (I later looked her up — she’s only 16. When I was her age, I didn’t know who Nietzche was.) He was only on the phone with her for less than a minute, but he said “I love you,” at least times, in quick succession, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” be-bopping it out not unlike Coltrane played the sax.

West clearly values intelligence, but not for status sake.A common fear I’ve heard from my classmates at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and have myself, is that we will lose sight of why we’re here. Most of us are here to break down barriers to opportunity, but once we’ve crossed them ourselves, we see their allure. It’s nice to feel special, to feel smart. But West said more than once, because it bears repeating, that being the smartest person in the room is not important. Being the most courageous person is. He invited both listeners of the Ed Cast, and later, the audience at the Askwith Forum, to never become complacent with what we know, and to embrace uncertainty. People, especially in rarefied spaces, love to throw around the word “obviously,” he said, but few things are obvious. The very use of the word often makes people feel like they’re on the outside. Education doesn’t end with a degree; it should never end at all. We should never stop questioning, never feel satisfied with “obvious.”

It was a message that could have felt unsettling: You know less than you think you do. Hope is overrated.

And to me, it was unsettling. But delivered with West’s energy, his transparent joy in the act of questioning and his love for people, it was also exhilarating, and even comforting, all at once.


Before beginning the Specialized Studies program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Grace Tatter lived in Nashville, Tenn., where she wrote for Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization that covers public education. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in history. She enjoys telling and sharing stories that highlight the importance of public education


Filipino American History Month: Combatting Double Erasure as an Educator

Editor's Note: In addition to recaps of our VOICE offerings, we also feature original pieces by our Communication Fellows. Here, we're pleased to share a timely reflection from AIE student Tony DelaRosa. 


As co-chair of the Pan-Asian Coalition for Education (PACE) at the Harvard Graduate School of
Education (HGSE), I openly feel embarrassed for not knowing that October was attributed to
celebrating Filipino heritage (founded in 1988). I recently discovered this after seeing that a
colleague had posted an article from a 2016 Huffington Post entitled, "Why We Celebrate Filipino History Month” written by Kevin Nadal who is the Professor of Psychology at the City University of New York.

More than it speaks to my ignorance does it speak to the erasure and nature of what it means to be Filipinx in 21st century America. I intentionally choose to use the nomenclature “Filipinx” as an ally and a form of solidarity with the LGBTQIA community. If not in proximity to larger Filipinx-American communities, it's easy to succumb to the negative residue of diaspora and identity crisis. For example, when Filipinx-Americans live in a community where the ecosystem from grocery store to restaurant to neighborhood mirror themselves, a greater sense of solidarity and belonging are available. However, when Filipinx-Americans become isolated and enter communities where they are not reflected in the community, there tends to be a higher chance of assimilation and cultural amnesia, thus resulting in erasure. Even if we are a proud community with a rich culture and history, the sad truth is that many of us don’t know that October is a dedication to our community.


We are a story of double erasure caused by more than 300 years of Spanish colonization from the 1500's to late 1800's. This transitioned into another form of erasure entrenched by white supremacy and being denied legal naturalization until the mid-1900's. In the eyes of our white US saviors, we were still classified as subhuman, as “half devil and half child,” as a "White Man's Burden" according to famous journalist and racist, Rudyard Kipling. In taking an Ethnic Studies course this year with Professor Christina Villarreal, I begin a slow and hard protest against this narrative. I’ve grown more and more suspicious of the intentional systemic omissions of Filipinx-American identity from institutional memory, especially in the form of history and literacy curriculums across the US.

So what does it mean to be Filipinx-American in an era where the motherland (Philippines) is ruled by a dictator (Duterte) and your new homeland (US) has no formal agenda to empower your community? Even within the Pan-Asian community, we continue to fight for presence despite the fact that we are the 3rd largest Asian American ethnic group in the US (according a 2015 census). Being denied leadership and agency within our own affinities in the past, I'm adamant to lead PACE with Filipinx-American as an intentional identity.

Perhaps, as a literacy teacher this is why I gravitated towards teaching When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago (Harvard '76) and American Born Chinese by Gene Yang. With Santiago, I saw myself in her unapologetic story. Maybe it's the fact that both of our histories are soaked in colonization and were declared "decolonized" in 1898. Perhaps, identity crisis is partially what drew both of us to Harvard’s message of “veritas” and seeking to deconstruct this elusive concept of “truth.”

In terms of American Born Chinese, for once an asian voice was the focal point. To that one student in every classroom who identifies as Filipinx-American but doesn’t see this reflected in any of the content they learn, I hear you and mabuhay [translates to “long live” in Tagalog]. You are a protest. But one thing rings true, teaching these two stories could never capture the vital nuances of what it truly means to exist in this country as Filipinx-American.

Filipino Mural3.jpg

This month there’s so much to be intentional about, and ironically, Filipino American History Month intersects with Hispanic Heritage Month. Histories are set up to compete with one another, which causes a pendulum. In the Arts in Education program at HGSE, our program director, Steve Seidel, challenged us to reflect on what it means to be a teacher vs. artist. It's difficult to unpack another pendulous layer of identities. It’s a privilege to be able to do this without thinking so heavily about one’s ethnic and racial identity. To people of color like myself, it’s inextricable. But in doing so, I plan on writing, performing, and sharing my own spoken word poetry about my Filipinx-American identity with my students and in the community as a form of protest against double erasure. This is also a form of practicing what I preach. I want my students to understand that I am still going through a journey of recreating my own history as they recreate theirs. Despite not sharing the direct ethnic and racial affinity with all of my students of color, there’s a power in recognizing moments of solidarity and hope. I want them to know that it's ok to find it difficult to peel off the layers that similarly have silenced their communities, recognizing at times it’s both painful and exhausting. I want them to believe that learning history is not just about a fixed past, but about a presence and future of necessary radical reconstruction and healing.

Tony DelaRosa is a 2017-18 Masters student in the Arts in Education program at the Harvard
Graduate School of Education (HGSE). He serves as both the appointed Tri-Chair of the 16th
Annual Alumni of Color Conference and the Co-Chair of the Pan-Asian Coalition for Education.
He runs a youth spoken word organization called
Boston Pulse Poetry, which co-empowers
youth of color to create change for themselves and their communities through the art of public
speaking and spoken word poetry. He is also a Communication Fellow with the VOICE Program.

Communicating Experience through Art

Sylvia Brodbeck, Communications Fellow

Sylvia in front of her sound installation at HGSE's Gutman Library

Sylvia in front of her sound installation at HGSE's Gutman Library

What a year it’s been. It feels like only yesterday that I arrived in a town called Cambridge at a place named Harvard, settling into my dorm room and wondering what to expect at HGSE. I was full of anticipation, anxiety, excitement and a desire to find out what my potential might be so that I could fulfill it - in order to maybe, just maybe, make the world a better place. People often told me that this was idealism, something that could not be translated into this notion of a practical reality, which we so often accept as immutable when – actually - it is just a snapshot of our current understanding. 

I remember very clearly feeling full of doubts when I first arrived, eager to make my contribution but at the same time understanding that truly worthwhile work has to come from humility. That’s an easy word to say; it is touted around so much, a buzzword badge of honor almost. And knowing this, I had always been hesitant, worried about implications that might never come to pass. During my first two weeks, there was a crisis moment: I felt overwhelmed, unsure of how to proceed in this country that, for all intents and purposes, ought to feel familiar, like a kind of home even, but did not. I was torn, homesick, struggling to make sense of life at grad school. So much so that one day I did that thing of loitering outside our Program Administrator’s Office, pretending to just – accidentally – happen to be in the vicinity, in search of some chocolates which she had so generously offered at a meeting the week before. 

There is this [...] Communication Fellows Program here, maybe you should apply.

My head craned around the door, shuffling from side to side, feeling slightly awkward, she spots me and with unfailing instinct gets up, walks over and gives me a hug. We talk for a long time about what I want to do, my dreams, my hopes, my fears. I like to talk to people, I say, get to know them, bring them together. It sounds naïve in my ears, but it is the truth and maybe this simplicity frightens me. We sit together for a while until she suddenly opens up her emails and says: “You know, there is this program, a Communication Fellows Program here, maybe you should apply.” I wrestle with this; after all any application comes with the possibility of rejection and that…. well…that is always difficult. But I do and am accepted which gives me confidence. Maybe there is something, valuable after all that I may have to say? 

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to both Matt and Iman for their encouragement: they didn’t know it at the time, but I was incredibly nervous at first, which probably explains my almost total absence of any sort of digital presence at that point. They made me feel at ease and offered their insights, always with warmth, passion and patience. They encouraged me to write my first blog post ever and made me realize that I could dare to share my story. 

What needs to be said now stands on the first floor of Gutman Library. It is a walk-in sound installation that has been 4 months in the making, my way of paying respect and expressing gratitude to my wonderful, courageous friends at HGSE and beyond (three of them Communications Fellows!) who agreed to take part in this project. They have set the bar high and spurred me on.  Therefore, whilst I take full responsibility for each aspect of the project, the credit must go to them. 

What needs to be said now stands on the first floor of Gutman Library.

I hope to see you there; maybe even meet you for the first time or reconnect. Either way, it is and has been an absolute honor to spend time and, yes, communicate, with you.

My deepest thanks go to Akiesha Ortiz, Monique Hall, Raven Tukes, Des Floyd, Tracie Jones, Aric B. Flemming Jr., Daniel Pollack, Izzi Steinhaus and Stewart Brown.


Sylvia's audio installation is open to all, and located in the lobby of HGSE's Gutman Library. It will be live until 8 PM on Wednesday, May 17th. 

Let's Talk!

Let's Talk! Promoting the Success and Well-Being of Asian and Asian-American Students

By Christine Park; Co-edited by Cathy Kang and Tony Vo (Communication Fellow with the VOICE Program)

Asian Americans [...] are three times less likely to seek mental health services than white Americans

On Saturday, April 15th, over 350 participants attended the second annual Let’s Talk! Conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Despite popular notions of widespread Asian and Asian American academic and career success in America, the Let’s Talk! Conference sought to acknowledge and break down the less visible cross-cultural struggles of Asian and Asian American students today. Recent data from the National Latino and Asian American Study (NLAAS) shows that Asian Americans have a 17.3% overall lifetime rate of any psychiatric disorder, yet are three times less likely to seek mental health services than white Americans[i]. Additionally, a recent study shows only 8.6% of Asian Americans sought any type of mental health service or resource compared to nearly 18% of the general population nationwidei. As prefaced by national statistics, lack of awareness and under-utilization of mental health resources is prevalent among the Asian American community. This lack of awareness directly affects Asian American youth and young adults. A 2005 study found that Asian American college students were more likely than White American students to have had suicidal thoughts and to attempt suicide[ii]. The Let’s Talk! Conference sought to mitigate these risks and de-stigmatize psychiatric disorders by fostering dialogue about mental health and cross-cultural issues among Asian American students and their parents/guardians.

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  Dr. Josephine Kim answers a participant’s question following the conference.  Photo by John Kim.

Dr. Josephine Kim answers a participant’s question following the conference. Photo by John Kim.

Led by faculty member Dr. Josephine Kim of the Prevention Science and Practice Department of HGSE and Marina Lee, director of Cogita Education Initiative, Let’s Talk! presented an opportunity for parents and guardians, students and other key stakeholders to explore ways of promoting both the success and well-being of Asian and Asian American high school and college students. Partnering with the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, Let’s Talk launched the screening of the Clay Center’s poignant documentary “Looking for Luke”, following the suicide of Harvard undergraduate, Luke Tang, in 2015. Followed by the screening, discussion was moderated among a panel of mental health professionals. Due to prevailing stigmas and lack of understanding concerning mental illness among the Asian American community, panel members encouraged attendees to voice their thoughts and questions concerning Asian American mental health.

Mental Health Professionals Panel.   Photo from Let’s Talk’s Facebook .

Mental Health Professionals Panel.  Photo from Let’s Talk’s Facebook.

Attendees then participated in breakout sessions of their choice, on topics ranging from mindfulness education to LGBTQ issues among the Asian American community. Lastly, the conference concluded with a keynote presentation by Dr. Josephine Kim on bridging the cultural gap between Asian immigrant parents and their American children. Through the documentary screening, panel discussion, breakout sessions, and keynote presentation, attendees walked away with newfound knowledge that promotes emotional well-being and success. Parents and guardians learned how cultural expectations and differences manifest in daily interactions with their children, how sound attachment and communication skills can be used to buffer stressors in their children’s lives, and how well-being and success can be promoted concurrently without sacrificing one for the other.

Organizers of the Let’s Talk! Conference.  Photo by John Kim.

Organizers of the Let’s Talk! Conference. Photo by John Kim.

Perhaps most importantly, attendees walked away with greater confidence in supporting Asian and Asian American youth

One attendee remarked on the sheer beauty and empowerment of being surrounded by those of similar backgrounds: "To be surrounded by so many people that look like me, to share emotions and experiences compassionately with one another was incredibly empowering." Another attendee was “humbled and inspired by the conversations” that took place. Others were greatly moved. As one attendee commented, “I teared up multiple times during the keynote. I feel like it is very, very rare for me to connect with a speaker, especially in such a large audience, on multiple levels (a daughter, an Asian American, even thinking about the future as a parent).” Perhaps most importantly, attendees walked away with greater confidence in supporting Asian and Asian American youth. One attendee commented, "This was one of the most valuable things I've done at HGSE, and I feel much more prepared to support my Asian and Asian-American students and families next year."

Find out more about the conference on www.talkhgse.org

As part of his work as a Communication Fellow with the VOICE Program, Tony produced a recruitment video for the Let's Talk! conference. 

[i] Spencer, M., Chen, J., Gee, G., Fabian, C., Takeuchi, D. (2010). "Discrimination and Mental Health-Related Service Use in a National Study of Asian Americans." American Journal of Public Health, 100 (12), 2410-2417.

[ii] Kisch J, Leino EV, Silverman MM. (2005) Aspects of suicidal behavior, depression, and treatment in college students: Results from the spring 2000 National College Health Assessment Survey. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. 35. 3–13.

The Playbook for Impact

By Elijah Kabban, son of HGSE Communication Fellow Mark Kabban


I am 13 years old and live in San Diego. I took the week off from school to visit my dad who is on a one year sabbatical studying at HGSE and is a Communications Fellow. He took me from class to class and we ate pizza any time we got the chance. He asked me if I’d like to go to a workshop about social media and I was excited. At first glance I saw Matt Weber, who seemed exciting and entertaining and full of energy. The topic of the workshop was “The Playbook for Impact” in social media, which caught my attention because I’ve been curious about how things go viral or “blow up” on the internet.

Matt broke down how to use different channels and partners to get your content out in the world.

Here they are:

1. External partnerships (Medium)

2. Internal partnership (Gazette)

3. Owned Channels (HGSE channels)

He showed us an example of an article HGSE was trying to get circulated called The Biology of Positive Habits. This was part of their blog called “usable knowledge,” where they share information that people would find useful. They also made a short video and compared the two to see what got more interest. The video got 5,209 views and the article got 2,164 views. This shows that people like to watch a video rather than read, not a surprise. These stats were from the first site they posted on, Bright.

Then Matt Weber, said, “Let’s try this on HGSE, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.” The article they posted on the HGSE Facebook page, was the same one they posted on the Bright website. It got 26,085 viewers. Youtube posted the same video as the Bright website and got 2,883 views.

The second way they tried to get their article out was through one of their internal partners which was the Harvard Gazette. Because I only use email for school, I was surprised when Matt said, “Don’t underestimate the reach of emails.” The analytics showed that almost half of the web traffic came from the Gazette.

They then pushed this content through their own channels. With every different post, they would tweak the title and present it in different and fresh ways. Also, I kind of realized that the internet is like the “cool kids” at school. In other words, when people with influence and a following share something it helps content reach more people.

Here was the reach based on all their different strategies.

External partnerships-

1. 11k unique views on GSE website (6k from Gazette email)
2. 5k views on Medium blog  
3. 40k video views (adjusted) on HGSE video/social
4. 300k impressions on FB
5. 100k+ impressions on Twitter
6. 950 retweets on this content (people retweet Cng are principals, supts., ed leaders)
7. All organic (no $) Over 56k read or watched on HGSE/Bright. Close to 400k actually saw this content in some way shape or form on HGSE social media.

Lastly, Matt talked about a video by Donovon Livingston that went viral. He gave an amazing speech at the HGSE graduation that Matt knew right away would connect with a lot of people. But what I did learn was all the work that takes place behind getting a video visible and the years of work it takes to build an audience. In one weekend, the video by Livingston doubled the following of HGSE on Facebook that took years to build up to that point. After this workshop, I will never look at a viral videos the same. It takes strategy and thoughtfulness to get your message heard.

Preparing for TV/Radio/Podcast Interviews


By Sylvia Brodbeck, Communication Fellow ‘17

I am always in awe watching Matt and Iman at work. Today, walking into the Launchpad it’s time to confront our fears and, quite literally, get ready to launch. “How many of you feel nervous at the thought of being interviewed? Show of hands,” Matt begins. There is only a slight nervous flutter; after all, Matt and Iman are geniuses at putting everyone at ease. He rephrases the question: “How many of you would feel nervous if you were asked to do an interview for, let’s say, ‘60 Minutes’?” I don’t think I have ever seen anything quicker than our collective unanimous reflex. All hands have gone up. In fact, I have put both of mine in the air. What is it, I wonder, that makes this prospect so terrifying? After all, we communicate each day. We are at Harvard. We are opinionated. We have things to say, things that are worth listening to.

A quick role-play demonstration with Matt and Iman shows us that communication, especially when in the form of TV interviews is about much more than our usual idea of communication. It’s not just what we are communicating or how we are communicating but, crucially, how we are perceived to be communicating. What does your slouchy posture say, for example? You may feel laid-back, but to the audience you may come across as disinterested. Cool may turn into cold, and the viewer could very well switch channel.

Awareness is key. In the land of sound bites and limited time we frequently only have 10-20 seconds to distill our key message in a way that’s meaningful. To make his point, Matt takes us through the “8 P’s”:

-       Presentation: How are you presenting your material? Do you run your sentences together? Do you have a sense of the time it takes for you to make a point? You’d be surprised just how “off” our perception can be.

-       Preparation: This isn’t just about preparing the content. Ask yourself some questions that may seem peripheral, such as: Where will the interview take place? 

-       Posture: The mirror is your friend (no, really)! Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and think about what your body language is communicating. Do you like what you see? And, more importantly, does it enhance what you are trying to say?

-       Presence: Be there. Make eye contact. Have the confidence to be natural under the spotlight, which leads to…

-       Personality: First of all, rest assured: you do have one, and it is uniquely interesting – don’t let it die the death of over-rehearsed presentation. However,…

-       Practice: Try it right now: take out your phone, turn on the video camera and give me, in 15 seconds, a quick sound bite on how you got to HGSE. Now go back to see what you said, how you said it and how long it took. This exercise, which looks deceptively simple, proved surprisingly difficult when we tried it during the workshop. The main take-away here: keep practicing! You’ll see me around campus doing the same.

-       Pacing: Take your time but …don’t…lose…the…thread and don’t rush either. If you are an “um”-er, acknowledge the need to take some time to reflect on what you are saying. There is nothing wrong with that, but instead of filling this “thinking” pause with an “um”, substitute it with an in-breath.

-       Apparel: (It is actually down to Matt’s great communication skills, that I am even counting this as a “P”!) Not immediately obvious, the question of clothing is actually very important, not just in terms of image but also in terms of tech. For instance, you never want to be wearing a blue suit in front of a blue screen - you’d literally be just a talking head! 

At the end of our session, my friend and I leave feeling slightly overwhelmed but also tremendously excited. Phones in hand we are off to search for a corner to continue practicing in. As we find the perfect nook hidden away in Gutman, sunlight streaming through full-length windows, I feel extremely privileged and grateful to be able to live and communicate my passion here at HGSE. And there it is: my 15-second message. Wasn’t (quite) so hard after all…


Finding and Sharing My Story


By Miya Bernson-Leung

Within one eight-hour period, I gave my personal “elevator pitch” five times, joined my first live Twitter chat, Googled a stranger, cried on camera, and made a commitment to pivot in how I communicate online and in real life. It was one of my best days so far at HGSE. And I have the VOICE Program to thank (and to blame for the crying part.)

As a physician coming to HGSE to lay the foundation for a future career in medical education, I am already in the middle of a pivot.  Grad school has been exhilarating, exhausting, and exhaustive in how many of my habits and assumptions it has challenged. I feel new worlds and identities opening up in front of me. So how can I possibly be expected to communicate who I am now, when I feel as if I am still figuring that out?

A dozen HGSE students and I had the opportunity to try to answer that question together in the Developing Your Personal Brand workshop on October 6, taught by Preceptor Matt Weber and supported by Teaching Fellow Iman Rastegari. Iman started the camera as six students faced a seemingly simple challenge: Matt asked to state, in one sentence, what you want people to know about you the first time they meet you. Six different people against the same blank background shared six completely different identities, and we cheered for each one.

Then, Matt asked, does their Internet presence reflect that statement? We divided into small groups and Googled our newfound friends. A few had personal websites, articles, or LinkedIn accounts that matched their real-life personas. Others had little or, in one case, nothing of a digital footprint (we suspect she is a secret agent).

I had already stood before that same camera earlier in the day: for Studio-Based Storytelling as an Approach to Teaching and Learning (part of the Double Take series). Matt and Iman listened to me tell a version of my elevator pitch, the surface story of why I came to HGSE. I had had plenty of opportunity to practice that same day at a networking event, but it still felt flat. “You’re a physician… Tell us about a patient,” Matt prompted. My mind immediately flew back to the night three years ago when I met the patient that made me choose to be a pediatric stroke specialist: a five-month-old baby with strokes due to meningitis. I’ve thought about her all the time since, seen her in the halls of the hospital, taught her case to students, and written a case report about her. But in front of the camera with Matt and Iman listening, as I talked about how her mother’s face looked that night, I started crying. Telling her story took me back to that night in a way that nothing else had, and took my audience there with me. I was surprised by my tears, and a little embarrassed, but I’ve since heard that many people telling their stories for this project are so moved.

I had found my story: the story that would make people listen to, and care about, anything else that I said after.  Until HGSE, I hadn’t told a story this way in a long time, hadn’t shared my passion or my energy publicly. So, that’s my pivot: to start being publicly passionate about the things that drive me, to share all of who I am.

Back to the workshop. How important is it to you to have your digital presence reflect your identity, Matt asked us? I gave myself a 4 out of 5. And how much do you work on making sure it does? I gave myself a 2… Time to make a change.

Matt shared a graphic representation of his online presence, then Iman’s: two different ways to be themselves online, with no right answer. “So, just be authentic.” He then gave us five practical tips for how to go about it:

1)   Assess and understand the platforms: There are so many out there, so learn how each might serve to tell your story, to “connect content to audience.”

2)   Imitation is flattery: Whom do you admire who is doing this right? Be a sponge: observe what they do, then act.

3)   Waltz with the audience: Start putting out content, and engage reciprocally with the audience to see what happens. Who likes what?

4)   Curation is key: Keep feeding your presence. This is why #1 is important: you can’t keep feeding all the platforms, so be selective, and then keep curating.

5)   Measure and make meaning: In terms of audience response, what is good enough? How many re-tweets do you set as a goal, and why? Quality of audience engagement matters too: what if only one person re-tweets… but it’s the Secretary of Education? Finally, we are learners as well as educators: what lessons did you learn, and how will you change for next time?

I took baby steps by doing something I had never done: I joined a live Twitter chat in a medical education community I respect. My participation was a flurry of “likes,” enthusiastic re-tweets, and comments with a lot of exclamation points. Soon, I hope to pick another platform and share more of my story. For now, you can find me developing my personal brand on LinkedIn and Twitter (@mbernsonleung) and in this blog post. How am I doing so far?


Miya Bernson-Leung, MD is a candidate for a Master’s in Education in the Specialized Studies Program at HGSE and a Zuckerman Fellow at the Center for Public Leadership.

Sponsored by the Roads I Never Thought I Would Take

By Rachael Phillips, Communication Fellow '17

            How does the story begin? What is the opening line of your story? Is it fantastical? Is it long or short? What emotions can you share to draw people in?

This is my reflection from listening to the Public Storytelling podcast on www.hgsevoice.org. The emotional themes that should be engaged throughout the course of a spoken story are:





I struggle with the above four themes in framing my own story. The most urgent and curious moments of my life are private. These moments have channeled my life through the work I do today. To imply story is to imply provoking another through the above emotional framework listed in four steps. On the podcast I overheard a classmate’s voice say, “there is a fear of offending someone.” I hold this fear, too. The moments of my life that are worthy of a story are most private; this is the struggle I bring to you that I will attempt to parse through in my reflection.

Authentic. I tease through my memories. I would like to pick a theme that does not evoke negative emotions, does not make my listener uncomfortable, but somehow cheers them up. I can think of moments in my life that perhaps show this endearing side, without bringing up my most present secrets that come to mind. Not all stories have to imply a secretive side of your life; this is a fresh concept to me triggered by listening to the podcast and hearing the diverse experiences of others. I think of the theme of music. Playing music has always been an authentic theme in my life.

Next, urgency. In my life the theme of music has always implied urgency. How do I evoke this emotion in my story listener? As a child I knew I would have to quickly build a catalogue of well-crafted songs in order to one day pursue a dream of becoming a songwriter in the Nashville music industry. Everyday during my high school classes I wrote songs, listening in and out of lecture and re-teaching myself academic units in the evening while I did homework assignments. My senior year I set my clock for 5:25 am and sat in front of my bedroom mirror with a guitar, writing every morning before the sun rose. All the while I knew I would go to college and never pursue my dream.

That’s where the next pillar of the storytelling framework, tension, comes in.  The theme of music in my life did carry tension. I knew I would be attending college on a full scholarship. I seemingly had no opportunity to pursue my dream (in a 17-year-old growing, narrow mind). In fact, I would be nuts, ungrateful by my family’s standards, and a follower of pipe-dreams to bypass my scholarship to pursue music; however, amongst all of these stigmas, after my freshman year I concocted a complicated plan. I sent a letter to the administration of my college scholarship asking if I could take an exploratory year, to study what? Computer Science. Why computer science and why not music? The only way the scholarship committee would allow me to return to my scholarship after leaving the university would be to study a discipline that didn’t exist at the school but could aid in academic discovery. Computer science was the only discipline I could think of that my university didn’t offer at the time. I made the case that I would only leave the scholarship for one year to pursue computer science, all the while clandestinely believing I would never return. So off I moved from New Orleans, LA to Nashville, TN to become a professional songwriter in the country music industry. A mere year later, I found myself both writing with professional songwriters on Music Row in Nashville and developing Android technologies with friends that took me to Silicon Valley…the story never leads where the protagonist thinks it will. Today, via my first computer science class, I have had lives in both music and technology sponsored by the road I never thought I would take.

Curiosity is the X-factor I have yet to tackle in storytelling. What makes a story compelling? The three factors described above + more. How do you evoke curiosity in your listener? The person who reflects in this essay grapples with the idea of telling her story. I privately and publicly have had a story of privilege. If you were to stereotype me, your aim would probably not be far off from my preferences; therefore, I usually stay silent and listen to others who share their stories. I’m self-conscious of the socio-economic demographic I fall into, and I don’t feel like imposing my time on others to exhibit where I come from. In my view the most charismatic individuals are true listeners, people who sit down one-on-one in a conversation and help another person through their experiences. I like sharing stories as I sit across the table from someone. I view the relationship of performing on stage or through a performance-based video complicated. I much prefer the written word, playing music with friends, or an intimate conversation. My block with speaking on film is one I should spend time with, so I am grateful for the opportunity to think through this challenge here.

I learned from this podcast that sometimes a crafted story takes prompts and guidance. Storytelling is a learned skill, and the practice of speaking on film oftentimes involves coaching. Most importantly, I learned that I should engage with deeper reflection of why I do not feel comfortable sharing my story publicly. This is a challenge worth overcoming with the aim of building a stronger community tied together by the bond of personal vulnerability.

The Power (and Ease) of Video

By McKinlee Covey, Communication Fellow '17

Everyone loves a good youtube video, right? That was the approach that Matt Weber and Iman Rastegari took during a session of the VOICE Program: Harnessing the Power of Video. The group had a good laugh watching a young boy desperately wanting to be a “Single Lady” - mostly because we could relate. Who hasn’t wanted to be Beyonce at one point in their life?

While the videos used throughout the training were fun, they often were springboards to the engaging and thought-provoking subject matter of storytelling though film.

One of the first things we discussed during the session was that the medium of film is much more accessible than we realize. Often the notion of film can be intimidating because it seems like a professional endeavor. People often think of large cameras, fuzzy microphones, and movie star trailers when they think of film. In other words, it seems like a large production and a lot of effort! Matt and Iman quickly helped us to dispel the myth that film is only for those with the best equipment or the greatest skills. Iman explained that the value of a video has nothing to do with the equipment, but with the story. This point was emphasized as we watched a short, cinematically beautiful video - which to our surprise had been shot on an iPhone 4s.  

This helped us see that anybody is capable of making a video regardless of equipment or initial abilities. However, we discussed the question of what makes a good film? Iman enlightened us by highlighting four important aspects required to produce a good film.

First, he explained that we must have a Story that we want to tell. Film is all about telling a story in a way that allows us to engage all of the senses. What story speaks to our hearts and is meaningful?

Second, he emphasized the importance of Purpose. Why would we tell this story? Who is our audience? What do we want that audience to feel? think? do?

Third, he encouraged us to explore our Creativity. How could we share our story in a way that is unique?

Fourth and finally, he elaborated on the importance of Craft. As he did this he shared a few small techniques that filmmakers often use such as paying attention to framing and stability or the rule of thirds.

After gaining all of this knowledge, I already felt like the session had been a success. But we weren’t done yet! One of the things I love most about the trainings we receive as Communication Fellows is the opportunities we have to actually practice skills. Matt emphasized the need for us to move beyond the theoretical and into the practical realm during our sessions together. Just like in our previous session together, he and Iman had specifically reserved time for us to put our new knowledge to work. They explained that we would work in groups to create a pitch for an upcoming movie that they would create in the next few weeks. The pitch could be about any story that was meaningful to our group.

To spark our creativity Matt was kind enough to share incredible toffee and chocolate chip cookies, courtesy of his wife. Those cookies alone were reason enough to attend the workshop!

As our group munched on cookies and discussed, we went back to the criteria that Iman had taught us. We went around the table looking for someone who had a great story and we soon found one. After that we discussed what our purpose would be in sharing that story. Once we agreed on this, we began discussing the creative ways that we could craft such a video. Then we rejoined the other groups to share.

I was inspired by the ideas that each group had created. One group shared their idea of highlighting one of the Communication Fellow’s communities that was doing an excellent job of helping Syrian refugees integrate and start meaningful lives in the U.S. They discussed getting interview footage of certain refugees from that community who were now attending college at places like Stanford. Another group made the pitch for a film focusing on a new student-led organization that was formed on campus all about first generation college students. They shared their ideas for taking cameras into schools as these first generation students spoke to high schoolers about the possibilities that awaited them. 

My own group highlighted an upcoming event that will tell many individual stories about race. In November many photos will be displayed in the Gutman library which focus on race and the different perspectives people bring to this issue. We hoped to bring awareness to this event by highlighting a few of those photos while telling the story of those subjects through filmed interview.

Needless to say all of the ideas shared were great. This helped us to realize that there are many stories that need to be told and that we should not wait to tell them just because we are inexperienced with film. We know how to tell stories and now we know a new medium with which to tell them. As Matt said, we have phones that have film capabilities - so why not get started? So the next time you’re enjoying a youtube video, remember that someone made that film - why couldn’t it be you? 

The Rule of Three

By Santi Dewa Ayu, Communication Fellow '17

Think back to your most recent memory of someone instructing you to write on a popsicle stick. It's not everyday, or, come to think of it, any day, other than this day, that I've been instructed to write on a popsicle stick, but more on that later.

Sailing lessons on the Charles River, Matt Weber, HGSE Communications Preceptor, explained, were something that he had successfully completed sometime ago, but just because he had received a certificate to sail, did not mean that he was confident in his sailing abilities. It is through this extended metaphor of a license to sail that we were reminded of the importance of deliberate practice.

Our skills for storytelling and personal narrative, become stronger if we practice, not alone in isolation, but as a group to support each other. The learning opportunities available through the HGSE VOICE Program are designed to help us build these skills as a group by taking as few or as many workshops as we can fit into our busy schedules.

The First Activity:

“What is your personal storytelling style?” Matt asked this question only minutes into the Public Storytelling/Double Take info session in the LaunchPad on the third floor of Gutman.

I stared at the blank, pale yellow, sticky note that had been distributed only seconds earlier. ‘Just write something’, I thought, but it remained bare.

We moved on to discuss professor Marshall Ganz’s framework on public narrative which relayed the importance of the following three components of effective storytelling: challenge, choice, and outcome. It is through these storied moments and the details of these challenges and choices that we reveal our values and can strengthen our connection to others.

The Second Activity:

“Think of the first sentence of your personal story. Close your eyes and raise your hand if you would like to share it with the group,” Matt instructed. ‘Think of something,' I thought to myself, but nothing came.

A voice in the group proclaimed, “We weren’t the most well behaved eighth grade class, but I didn’t think we deserved to go to jail.” I vividly remember this sentence. It connected to the experiential and added a detail that enhanced a need to hear more. Three people spoke. Their one sentence story beginnings were poetic, honest, and brave. I sat there, eyes closed, in awe.

The Third Activity:

“You want people to experience the story with you,” Matt reminded us. He distributed popsicle sticks and told us to, “split the popsicle in half and on one half write what you feel when you express your story and on the other half, write how you want the audience to feel.” I drew a vertical line down the width of the wooden stick. I stared at my pen and then something washed over me, the framework, the brave voices, the opportunities, the support.

In the spirit of deliberate practice, I put my pen to the popsicle stick and finally began to write: passion, agency, and hope.


Laying the Foundations

By Kidus Mezgebu, Communication Fellow (CF '17)

It was the first day of the Public Storytelling workshop led by Preceptor Matt Weber and his Teaching Fellow Iman Rastegari. I wasn’t sure what to fully expect. Actually, if you know Matt, you know you never know what to expect. You also know he will find the most creative and entertaining ways to keep you engaged! And when you combine Matt with Iman, the sharp media genius whose love for media can be seen through his countless HGSE videos, then I knew right when I entered the room something special was awaiting us.

Already on the first day of the workshop we were laying the foundations for effective communication. How do we provide effective and proper feedback to one another? A skit acted by Matt and Iman masterfully demonstrated this. What made this skit effective was that most people in the room didn’t know it was a skit until the end of the skit. Immediately after Matt finished making a point about the importance of providing critical feedback in a proper manner, Iman intentionally and sharply pointed out a minor spelling mistake on Matt’s PowerPoint in front of the entire class. Taking Matt’s point about giving constructive criticism properly to heart, Iman reattempted the approach in a gentler manner. This perfectly executed skit transitioned flawlessly to making this simple point: “Praise in Public and Criticize in Private.”

Probably the most powerful segment in the workshop is the exercise we did on the first sentence of your story. Matt asked everyone in the room to close their eyes and remember a story from our past. With our eyes closed he asked us to create the first sentence of this story. After giving us some time to develop this first sentence in our minds, he asked volunteers to stand up and say their line. With everyone’s eyes still closed, you could feel the energy in the room as individuals stood up to bravely say their lines. This gave me complete goosebumps. One of the best parts of this was when Matt awarded the first brave person to share her sentence a full pineapple -- a symbol of how we must be hospitable tellers and listeners or story, although the process can initially be prickly (like the fruit).

There was so much we covered in the hour-long workshop. Most of the people in the workshop were Communication Fellows. We learned as Communication Fellows that we would choose a specific skill and hone in on it. This is because practice makes perfect. Well, not just any regular type of practice but strategically calculated practice -- deliberate practice! The goal was that by the time we were done at the end of the year, we would all be communication experts in some specific and ready to teach as well.

So much happened in the first day of the workshop that I’m unable to fit it all in a blog. I walked away after the hour was over thinking, this should actually be a course offered at HGSE. There was so much to offer and it was presented so effectively. The only thing I didn’t appreciate was that I didn’t get the pineapple. Well, I guess I know next time there is a reward for being the first to stand up and face that uncomfortable feeling you might have.