New at the Ash Center | Spring 2021

Introducing new Ash Center community members, initiatives, resources, and commentary

Published May 18, 2021  

New Faculty Affiliates Join the Ash Center

The Ash Center’s roster of affiliated faculty continues to grow with the appointment of three new faculty affiliates this year. Joining the Center include:


Desmond Ang, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, whose research examines the educational and political ramifications of acts of police violence and the effects of federal election oversight on minority turnout and political polarization; Justin de Benedictis-Kessner, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, who researches American politics, with a focus on political behavior, public policy, local politics, elections, and experimental and quantitative methodology; and LaTanya Sweeney, Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and Technology at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, director and founder of the Data Privacy Lab, former chief technology officer at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, and pioneer of the field known as data privacy and the emerging area known as algorithmic fairness.


New Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard to Support Local Leaders

On March 2, 2021, Harvard announced the expansion of the University’s work supporting city leaders with a $150 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies to establish the University-wide Bloomberg Center for Cities. The new Center at Harvard will build upon the work of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, a novel mayoral training program launched in 2017 at the Ash Center. With Jorrit de Jong as its director, the Center for Cities will continue as a collaboration between Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School, pioneering programs that strengthen the capabilities of mayors and their teams and advance effective organizational practices in city halls around the world. The Center will prepare a new generation of public servants as they encounter unprecedented challenges in the years to come, while new research and instructional materials will keep building the field of city leadership.


“The University is home to many people who are committed to serving the public and improving communities through deep expertise, useful knowledge, and wide-ranging research. The prospect of helping to bring about more effective leadership through collaboration and innovation is as exciting as it is inspiring. We look forward to seeing the resources, tools, and support provided by the Center put to good use,” said Harvard President Larry Bacow.


Institutional Antiracism and Accountability Project Joins Ash 

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Ford Foundation Professor of History, Race, and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, and the Institutional Antiracism and Accountability (IARA) Project, which he directs, will be moving to the Ash Center this summer. The IARA Project works at the intersection of community, academia, and policy to address intellectual and practical questions as they relate to antiracism and institutional change. The project’s Race, Research & Policy Portal provides a host of open source resources on diversity, racial equity, and antiracist organizational change in private, public, and non-profit firms and entities. The IARA project is also conducting a three-year study, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, of racial healing practices within the context of international transitional justice and truth and reconciliation commissions. Joining Professor Muhammad in his move to Ash will be IARA’s program director, Dr. Miriam Aschkenasy, an HKS mid-career graduate and retired emergency medicine physician. The team also includes senior research fellow Erica Licht, leading the Kellogg work, and Dr. Suraj Yengde, a postdoctoral fellow.

Dara Kay Cohen Named Professor of Public Policy

The Ash Center is celebrating the promotion of resident faculty member Dara Kay Cohen to Harvard Kennedy School Professor of Public Policy. Cohen’s research and teaching interests touch on international security, civil war and the dynamics of violence, and gender and conflict. Last year, she published her second book, Lynching and Local Justice: Legitimacy and Accountability in Weak States,” with Cambridge University Press, which explores the consequences of poor governance and low state legitimacy. Cohen recently published a number of articles on political violence and the implications of U.S. women combat casualties. She is currently working on a new project, “Who Supports War and Why? Status Concerns as a Source of the Gender Gap.”


Kimberlyn Leary First Office of Management and Budget Senior Equity Fellow  

Ash Center faculty affiliate Kimberlyn Leary, Harvard Kennedy School Lecturer in Public Policy, who also holds joint appointments at Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has joined the federal Office of Management and Budget as its first Senior Equity Fellow to help support implementation of President Biden’s executive order on advancing equity. On his first day in office, President Biden signed Executive Order 13985, officially titled  Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which mandates the federal government pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.   

Maya Sen Testifies on Importance of a Diverse Federal Judiciary

Maya Sen, Harvard Kennedy School Professor of Public Policy, provided written testimony to the House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet on March 25, 2021, sharing her research and perspective on the lack of judicial diversity on the nation’s federal courts. Sen, a longtime scholar of the U.S. judiciary, drew on her extensive writing on the topic to demonstrate the lack of diversity among judges’ demographics, particularly educational background and professional experience. In explaining why the lack of diversity along these measures is a pressing issue for the courts, Sen cited three main reasons: “Judges of different backgrounds may decide cases differently; evidence shows that diverse groups of decision-makers reach better-justified decisions; and a diverse judiciary can help strengthen the public’s trust in the courts and the decisions.”


Center Launches New Internal Diversity Initiative

The Ash Center has launched a number of ongoing efforts to weave the values of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) into its community and its work. In fall 2020 the Center launched a steering committee of staff and faculty to increase representation, agree on shared values, promote a sense of belonging, and build a sustainable mechanism to ensure long-term commitment across the organization. To lead the work of the steering committee and DEI efforts at Ash more broadly, the Center appointed LaChaun Banks to a new role as Ash Center Director of Equity and Inclusion. Banks, who also works with the Center’s Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative where she manages the deployment and adoption of the newly launched City Leader Guide for Equitable Economic Development, has a background in strategic planning and inclusive economic development. As chair of the Ash Center’s DEI steering committee, Banks has been leading an initial assessment of the center’s needs and existing efforts to understand how best to identify and address priority issues. 

Virtual Convening Brings Scholars, Practitioners Together to Reimagine American Democracy

Earlier this month, the Ash Center’s Democracy Program brought together scores of practitioners, advocates, and scholars for a conversation titled “Reimagining American Democracy: Towards an Action & Learning Agenda for the Next Decade.” The May convening, which served as the inaugural event for a series of discussions planned over the coming year, helped spark ideas for new research and political action as well as new connections and bridges between scholars and practitioners, who often focus in distinct fields of political institutions, social movements, and media.


Over the coming months, the Democracy Program will host several working groups to explore how participants might expand their work and potential collaboration with each other to generate the ambitious ideas we need to strengthen American democracy. These various threads will then be brought together in a fall symposium to develop a bold, 10+-year reform agenda for new collective work and the ongoing efforts of various discussants.

Kathryn Sikkink Elected American Academy of Political and Social Science Fellow

Kathryn Sikkink, the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and an Ash Center faculty affiliate, will be inducted as a Fellow of the American Academy of Political Science in 2021. Sikkink, a political scientist who works on international norms and institutions, transnational advocacy networks, the impact of human rights law and policies, and transitional justice, is one of five fellows being recognized for their contributions to the advancement of science and deepening of public understanding of human behavior and social dynamics.


Students Embark on Summer Research and Work with Ash Center Support

From Nenana Native Village in Alaska to China, Harvard students will spend their summer researching and working (remotely) on complex governance challenges with the support of the Ash Center’s various summer fellowships, including:

  • The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development Summer Fellowship, which connects students with Native nations across the U.S., giving them the opportunity to provide hands-on support and analysis to tribal leaders on issues ranging from economic diversification and new business incubation to protecting indigenous ways of life.
  • The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative Summer Fellowship, which invites Harvard graduate students to spend the summer “embedded” in city government, where they will contribute to improving government services and present recommendations to the mayor and senior leaders.
  • The China Public Policy Program, which encourages and assists students with an interest in China from across Harvard University by supporting summer internships, independent research, and other forms of study connected to China.

Video Highlighting Harvard Project COVID-19 Toolkit Nominated for Webby Award

A video produced by Google in collaboration with the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development highlighting the Harvard Project’s COVID-19 Resources for Tribal Leaders Nation Building Toolbox was nominated for two Webby Awards. The video follows community members from Tohono O’odham’s GuVo District as they use resources from the toolbox to help develop educational resources for their youth during the pandemic, calling attention to the importance of tribal collaboration and ideas sharing to help Indian Country respond and recover. Due to travel bans and COVID restrictions, Google trained community members appearing in the video to shoot the footage themselves. The Webby Awards are given annually by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences to recognize excellent on the internet.  The Harvard Project video was nominated for two categories: diversity and inclusion and long form video.