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Monitor Daily Podcast

April 01, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

Coronavirus and the lessons of uncertainty

Scientists will tell you that human beings like uncertainty least of all – even worse than an expected bad outcome. Yet today, we all are learning to live with heaping measures of it – about lockdowns, stock markets, and health issues. It’s true beyond the coronavirus, too. The Monitor’s ongoing series on navigating uncertainty is precisely about finding bearings when so much that seemed solid – democracy, capitalism, the climate – now seems uncertain.

How do we get those bearings? A Harvard Business Review article points to some of the same things we have – that uncertainty is not immune to reservoirs of gratitude, a determination to persevere, and a willingness to learn new lessons. And those lessons can be transformative.

To thrive in uncertainty is to know one does not have all the answers or control, says Margaret Wheatley, who studies organizational behavior. It is a willingness to trust and build together and be flexible. The greatest thing an organization can do, she says, is lead “toward a greater and greater capacity to handle unpredictability, and with it, a greater capacity to love and care about other people.”

Because, well done, the one helps strengthen the other.

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A deeper look

Faces of the new jobs crisis, from restaurants to real estate

Every economic downturn has a different face. These are the people confronting the biggest challenges after the initial wave of shutdowns.

Mark

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Three weeks ago, workers like food server Dolly Harris in South Haven, Michigan, and handbill entrepreneur Cam Jennings in Las Vegas had jobs. Suddenly they don’t. The threat of the coronavirus has hit the economy like a tempest out of nowhere.

Just as storms typically wreak more havoc on trailer parks than ritzy suburbs, this one appears to have hit the most vulnerable workers first, especially those in close contact with the public. Some help is on the way in the form of onetime federal checks for low- and middle-income adults, and higher and longer-lasting unemployment benefits, with rules loosened to include gig workers and the self-employed.

In Chicago, food-service workers are offering free food to former colleagues. And a new GoFundMe campaign hopes to raise $50,000 to help 100 gig workers on the dole. For people like Jesús Morales, a Chicago hotel worker now relying on unemployment benefits to pay his bills, the top-of-mind concern is when job opportunities will return.

“I’m the captain of my own ship,” says Dennis Roberson, a divorced and now unemployed father in Georgia, down to his last $200. “And it’s not moving at the moment.”

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1. Faces of the new jobs crisis, from restaurants to real estate

With terrible timing – like buying stocks in 1929 – Cam Jennings started his company, ACTIVATE.vegas, on March 2. The start-up’s mission is printing and distributing handbills for businesses on the Las Vegas Strip. Two weeks later, Nevada’s governor ordered all the casinos to close, and Mr. Jennings had no choice but to suspend operations. 

“We kind of hit the ground running on the Strip, but there was no Strip to get running on,” he says, ruefully.

For Alyson Arnold of Warwick, Rhode Island, the problem was postponements. A ceremony officiant, specializing in outdoor weddings, she was preparing to conduct 60 weddings in 2020, her best year ever. But in early March, as concerns grew about travel, the postponements began rolling in: two in March, three in April. Of the five ceremonies scheduled in May, two are already being rescheduled. 

One of the worst things? The uncertainty. “Everyone’s sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for what will happen,” she says.

Editor’s note: As a public service, we’ve removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

Three weeks ago, these workers had jobs. Suddenly they don’t. The threat of the coronavirus hit the economy like a tempest out of nowhere. And just as storms typically wreak more havoc on trailer parks than ritzy suburbs, this one appears to have hit the most vulnerable workers first. But there’s more: Because “social distancing” is the essence of the virus response, jobs rooted in social contacts face some of the biggest disruptions.

Those, like Mr. Jennings, in the experiential marketing industry, staffing booths at conventions or handing out branded memorabilia at sporting events, quickly lost gigs when the first restrictions on huge crowds were put in place. Self-employed people reliant on private gatherings, like Ms. Arnold, were next.

Now, the forced closure of nonessential businesses in many parts of the United States has pushed huge numbers of full-time employees – often in low-paid service industries – onto the unemployment rolls.

Dennis Roberson, a divorced father of four, can chuckle about his last paycheck from the Wormhole – a bar and music venue in Savannah, Georgia, that like other nonessential businesses in town was forced to close. The check got torn in half by accident. When he went to cash it Monday, it got a little surreal.

There was a long queue outside the bank. That was a new one. It was “one in, one out,” he says. Still, the check cleared. Its amount: $195. “I realized that’s all I have for the foreseeable future,” he says. “Pretty wild.” 

Richard Mertens
Jesus Morales, who lost his job at The Drake hotel, stands in front of his home in Chicago.

Now, he has arrived at Forsyth Park, sporting a knit cap, sunglasses, and a white beard, after biking to Domino’s to pick up a free pizza from a promotion. He sits down under a tree to eat, puts his ear buds in, and closes his eyes.

It’s not yet clear how many Americans have been laid off. Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a record 3.3 million workers filed a first-time claim for unemployment – more than four times the previous record set in 1982. This week's Thursday report set another new record, 6.6 million more for a two-week total near 10 million.

On Wednesday, payroll firm ADP’s research institute released a report showing that as early as mid-March, sectors such as retail and wholesale trade, transportation, construction, and administrative support services (including temp work) were starting to shed thousands of workers.

Biggest effects among low-paying jobs 

“Much bigger job losses are coming,” warns Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics. Some 56% of U.S. counties, representing 80% of the nation’s GDP, are in some form of lockdown, he says, although many employees continue to work from home. In all, about a quarter of the economy is shut down, he estimates, so he expects the unemployment rate to hit 10% to 13% this month. 

That would be as bad or worse than at the height of the Great Recession. Some economists expect even higher levels of unemployment. The data also suggest that workers in some of the lowest-paid occupations were among the first to be laid off. “Low and low-middle income households are being hit hardest by the crisis,” Mr. Zandi says.  

In Massachusetts, one of the top five states reporting first-time jobless claims last week, the biggest surge came in the health-care and social assistance sector. These workers run the gamut. Nearly half of them are home health aides, delivering care to the home-bound and earning nationally an average $24,000 a year. The rest are licensed nurses (earning twice as much) and medical and health services managers  (earning four times as much). Last week, more than 18,000 of them filed for unemployment in Massachusetts, up from 440 the week before, a mind-bending 4,000% increase.

“Over 37 million U.S. jobs may be vulnerable to potential layoffs in the short term,” conclude researchers at Cornell University’s law school. That’s assuming that the current crisis does not result in wider-spread, long-term layoffs. Of those 37 million nonsupervisory jobs, all but 2 million are low-quality, low-paid ones paying less than $28,000 a year, as measured by the researchers’ U.S. Private Sector Job Quality Index. The biggest group, more than a quarter of those at risk: workers in restaurants and other food-service positions.

Concerns beyond finances

In the Lake Michigan shoreline community of South Haven, Michigan, Dolly Harris has been a server at downtown’s Phoenix Street Café for 19 years. She and her co-workers were laid off March 16, as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called on restaurants and bars to close except for takeout or deliveries. Now Ms. Harris will be relying on Social Security and unemployment benefits to help make ends meet. She was able to complete the online process of applying for unemployment after a few frustrating hours of system freeze-ups. As of March 29, she still did not know how much she will be receiving, but expects to learn this week.

Finances aren’t the main concern for Ms. Harris. The virus is top of mind, particularly because her husband has been diagnosed with a pulmonary disease that makes breathing difficult. “I’m afraid to go out and do something in public,” Ms. Harris says. “I thought about working a job at Meijer [a regional supermarket], but I really don’t want to bring anything home like the virus.”

The distinguishing feature of the current downturn is its speed. “It was like bing, bang, boom! Next day, no restaurants!” says Joe Ryal, a bartender at a restaurant on Chicago’s North Side. “We’re all unprepared.”

Courtesy of Kristen Kloostra
Kristen Kloostra, a massage therapist, yoga instructor, and small business owner in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, had to shut down her business and has no other source of income. Her situation exemplifies how jobs that normally involve close proximity among people are heavily at risk in the coronavirus emergency.

Retail workers face similar shocks. This week, a slew of chains announced extended closures and furloughs, including Macy’s (a majority of its 125,000 employees) and JCPenney (many of its 85,000 workers).

And the sudden brake-pedal on economic activity isn’t affecting low-paid occupations alone. 

“I’m 100% commission based. When they issue a stay-at-home order, they made us part of that,” says Eric, a commercial realtor in the southwest part of Michigan who declined to have his last name published. Because of the long lag time between showing a property and closing a sale, “the impact if you’re not working can be severe. ... When you have three months where you can’t show any properties, that’s more like eight or nine months where you’re not making money.”

How long the virus threat and its economic repercussions will last is a burning question for many of the newly unemployed.

“To be honest, it’s been pretty scary,” says Ashley D., a bartender at a major national restaurant chain outlet in Oakland County, Michigan. “I’m hopeful life will be back to normal in a few months, but even if this did all quickly resolve or improve, I’m afraid it would take a lot of time for people to feel comfortable coming back, both employees and guests. I know I’m leery about coming back right away.”

“We are confident, we are thinking hopefully, that business will come back,” says Jesús Morales, who worked conventions, banquets, and private meetings for 33 years at the Drake, one of Chicago’s fanciest hotels, serving the wealthy and occasionally the famous, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Princess Diana. (Noticing his name tag, she told him she was delighted to be served by a man named Jesus, he recalls.)

When tips were generous, he could bring home more than $1,000 a week. Now, as he relies on unemployment payments to cover his bills, he worries about when the hotel business and other activity will recover.

“I don’t think it will come back as strong as before. I think it’s going to take a while,” he says.

According to Mr. Zandi, the economist, it will take three to four years to get back to something resembling full employment. 

Some help is on the way to ease the adjustment. Congress’s new $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act authorizes $1,200 for adults and $500 for children in low- and middle-income families. Checks are expected to go out over the next three weeks. Unemployment benefits also get a boost over the next four months: extra money and extra weeks of eligibility. Crucially, for many of the newly jobless gig workers and self-employed, the guidelines have been loosened so they qualify for the first time.

Ms. Arnold, the wedding officiant in Rhode Island, was able to sign up online on Monday. Mr. Jennings, the Las Vegas handbill entrepreneur, has had too many gigs to file online and so far has only gotten a busy signal when calling in to the unemployment office. 

Helping each other

In the meantime, he’s serving as spokesman for the Help the Gig Economy – Coronavirus Income Relief fund, a GoFundMe campaign aimed at helping 100 experiential marketing workers, who often travel from state to state to work conventions and other events. The sponsors aim to raise $50,000 in 100 days. As of Wednesday, they’d raised more than $5,400 and helped 12 of the more than 600 people who have applied for aid.

“It’s been very grassroots,” Mr. Jennings says. “Most of our donations are people within the industry kicking in 20 bucks.”

A similar spirit is taking place in Chicago as workers in the food industry rally to help each other. On a warm spring day, the newly jobless Mr. Ryal has just emerged from the Big Star restaurant, which is giving away free food to workers in the service industry from 5 to 7 p.m – a scene repeated at other venues around the city.

“I’ll be able to survive,” says Mr. Ryal, holding a brown paper bag of groceries and a Styrofoam container holding a serving of carne asada. “We’re leaning on other people.”

Back in Savannah, Forsyth Park is nearly empty due to the stay-at-home order.

“I’m the captain of my own ship – and it’s not moving at the moment,” says Mr. Roberson, the now-unemployed father. “Still, my plan for now is just to ride the waves to where they are going to take me.”  

He looks down at the pizza box. His predicament of looming poverty isn’t so dire as to exclude consideration for others. “Want a slice?” he asks.

This story was reported by Monitor staff writers Laurent Belsie in Waltham, Massachusetts, and Patrik Jonsson in Savannah, Georgia, and by contributors Lee A. Dean in Plainwell, Michigan, and Richard Mertens in Chicago.

Editor’s note: The story was updated on April 2 with new jobless-claim numbers.

As a public service, we’ve removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

Patterns

Tracing global connections

Coronavirus drives competing global ‘playbooks’

The great political question during the health crisis has been: How to respond? Here, our columnist tracks the array of responses and looks into what that tells us about the challenges ahead.

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When it comes to COVID-19, autocratic and democratic governments alike were slow to respond. For the former, merely acknowledging the scope of the epidemic risked denting their image of strength. For the latter, initial reluctance was more about upending lives and economies.

But if governments worldwide are now adapting in similar fashion, two areas remain murky. One involves national politics. China, for example, has broadened an already wide array of electronic surveillance measures. Hungary gave Prime Minister Viktor Orbán open-ended emergency powers. Egypt forced out a Western correspondent who reported the government was understating COVID-19 cases.

The second involves international political ramifications. With the United States having retreated, and Europe initially fumbling, China and Russia launched high-profile initiatives to help Italy. Now, the European Union is moving more assertively. But the wider international response remains a question, especially regarding war-ravaged, vulnerable countries and the some 70 million people worldwide fleeing hardship.

The United Nations secretary-general, who seeks $2 billion in aid, called this week for united action. “This human crisis demands coordinated ... and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies,” he said, “and maximum ... support for the poorest and most vulnerable.”

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2. Coronavirus drives competing global ‘playbooks’

For hundreds of millions of us across the globe, much of life as we’ve known it is now on hold. Not so, however, politics. Or geopolitics.

And in recent days, some striking patterns have emerged as governments – autocratic and democratic, mainstream and populist – deal with a public health challenge every bit as novel as the COVID-19 virus itself.

With few exceptions, they’ve been playing catch-up, in part because of an initial political reluctance to take steps widely accepted as critical in limiting the terrible loss of life: testing and tracking those exposed to the virus and promoting “physical distancing” or even full-scale lockdowns to stem its spread.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

For autocratic governments – those, for instance, of Russian President Vladimir Putin or Egyptian military ruler Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – or populist leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, merely acknowledging the scope of the epidemic risked denting their long-projected image of strength, self-confidence, and control. 

And not just for them, but for many free-market democracies like Australia or Britain, Italy or Spain, the initial reluctance was also about upending people’s everyday lives and bringing their national economies to a grinding halt.

But the result was broadly the same: a significant delay before acting to keep the number of cases from overwhelming the capacities of caregivers.

Now, with each passing day, the imperative to act has been setting in for more countries. Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a lockdown of all India’s 1.3 billion people, setting off a flight on foot of huge numbers of migrant workers across the country.

Russia has become the latest example of a tightening of restraints. President Putin announced a few days ago that this week would be “non-working," with the country’s nearly 150 million people urged to stay home. But with the Kremlin still insisting there was “no epidemic,” many took the announcement as simply a week’s holiday. So on Monday, the mayor of Moscow directed all but essential workers to remain in their homes. The prime minister urged regional governments to follow suit. 

Parting ways in key areas

Politically, for now, there’s been no price to pay for the delays. As in wartime or national emergencies, the initial popular response has been to pull together, recognize the need for extraordinary measures, and, for the most part, support their governments.

In a video message, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, himself in self-isolation after contracting the virus, enthused about the country’s uniting in response to his stay-at-home directive. In a clear reference to a 1980s remark by then-Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher that any country was just an amalgamation of individual citizens and families, he said that this crisis had proved that “there really is such a thing as society.”

In Europe, polling has shown an initial boost not just for Mr. Johnson, but for French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and, in the hardest-hit European Union state, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. President Trump’s approval rating, too, has ticked upward.

But if governments worldwide are now adapting in similar ways to the pandemic, there are two areas where the picture remains less clear – one involving national politics, the other international.

The first concerns authoritarian states, where there are signs the crisis could be used as cover for further tightening controls on dissent. In China, an already wide array of electronic surveillance measures was increased to track people’s movements and contain the virus.

In Hungary, right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is poised to impose an open-ended state of emergency allowing him to rule by decree. He also wants prison sentences for anyone publishing “false information” about the epidemic or his government’s response. Egypt last week forced out the correspondent for Britain’s Guardian newspaper after she reported that President Sisi’s government was understating the numbers of COVID-19 cases.

And the international political ramifications of the pandemic are still playing out.

For at least two major countries – China and Russia – the initial response has been out of a familiar playbook. Especially with the United States having retreated from its previous leadership role in such crises, both the Chinese and Russians have launched high-profile initiatives to provide assistance to Italy’s hard-hit public health system. 

Yet after an initially fumbled response, the EU has begun to move more assertively to frame a shared response. As with the fallout from the 2008 economic crisis, the European Central Bank has now vowed to do “anything it takes” to deal with the financial effects. There have also been efforts to coordinate the procurement of urgently needed equipment like ventilators.

The still-open – and potentially serious – question is whether there will be a wider international response.

Reports emerging of the first cases in war-ravaged Syria and Afghanistan are a reminder that COVID-19 may before long spread to dozens of states with less developed economies and less resilient health care networks, not to mention the some 70 million people worldwide fleeing conflict or economic hardship.

With this in mind, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last week issued a $2 billion appeal for international aid. This week, he called for everyone to "act together."

“COVID-19 is the greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations,” he said. “This human crisis demands coordinated, decisive, inclusive, and innovative policy action from the world’s leading economies – and maximum financial and technical support for the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Work and parent at the same time? A crisis highlights dual lives.

Many working parents feel pressure to hide the messy reality of balancing family and career. Now, with their dilemma in the spotlight, some see the seeds of long-term change.

Mark
Craig Mitchelldyer/AP
Kim Borton (left) works from home while her children work on an art project in Beaverton, Oregon, on March 17, 2020. Ms. Borton works for Columbia Sportswear in supply chain account operations. Her children's school has transferred to remote learning amid the coronavirus crisis.

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Kids crawling into Zoom calls. Colleagues’ pets barking in the background. Trying to juggle your child’s algebra questions – and your budget report due at noon.

Welcome to work in the time of COVID-19. As both offices and schools go remote, working parents’ balancing act has become even more difficult. Employees’ “double lives” as parents are now out in the open – and testing fault lines around divisions of labor, employer expectations, and gender stereotypes. But this new terrain is also presenting opportunities for people to rethink their ideas about what it means to be a working parent, or employ one, and possibly identify longer-term shifts that could benefit all.

“The crisis has made this much clearer that these are universal problems that nearly all families are facing,” says Kathleen Gerson, a sociology professor at New York University. “Now we can see how essential it is, both economically, and for personal well-being – and for family well-being – that we address the caregiving crisis in [our] society,” she says.

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3. Work and parent at the same time? A crisis highlights dual lives.

Three years ago, when the now viral video hit the internet of a father in a live television interview interrupted by two stumbling toddlers, professionals with kids around the globe laughed tears of schadenfreude.

But today, as schools and day cares are canceled, and governments worldwide encourage – or require – citizens to remain home to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus, the risk of their own client calls or video-conferences getting interrupted by crying kids or exasperated teens is exponentially high. So high, in fact, there are photos and videos posted online from late-night comedy hosts, university professors, local news anchors, and even Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (in self-quarantine) documenting the juggle of their “day jobs” with their now ever-evident roles as parents. 

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Working from home while children are present is extremely challenging. For some families, it’s near impossible. Already the global lockdowns are testing fault lines around familial divisions of labor, employer expectations, gender stereotypes, and parental patience. But at this unique moment, it’s largely understood that if you have kids and are able to work remotely, the two worlds will collide. And that presents opportunities for employers and employees to rethink their perceptions about working parents, and possibly identify longer-term shifts that could benefit all.

Once we ease out of this crisis, “people are not going to want to work in the same way” they did before, says Deborah Croft, co-founder of Thriving Talent, a European company helping businesses and organizations meet their gender diversity goals. “People are going to be asking for different ways of working because they will have done it” and seen that it can work.

Bring on the chaos

Lauren Romansky from Acton, Massachusetts, regularly works remotely for a research and consulting firm based in Connecticut.

Now, with day care shuttered, Ms. Romansky and her husband trade off shifts of work and child care for their 2- and 4-year-old daughters, finishing up what remains after the kids are in bed. It makes for incredibly long days. 

“What I’ve been trying to explain to a bunch of my colleagues who aren’t used to working remotely is this is not business as usual even just in terms of remote work,” says Ms. Romansky. 

She thinks it’s too early to tell what impact the COVID-19 crisis will have on perceptions of working parents. But her daughters have been more visible to her colleagues than they normally are, which she embraces.

In part, that visibility is intentional. Her department started a daily optional exercise class that staff – and their families or roommates or pets – are invited to join.

It’s “a really great way to authorize everyone to recognize that we’re all working in different circumstances and it doesn’t have to be something we’re ashamed of or is a problem,” she says of the realities and responsibilities each person is juggling.

For Jamie Schroeder, a business operations manager for Google in Mountain View, California, kids showing up on team video calls has become something of a norm. “There’s lots of babies in the background that you hear, but it feels very empowering and [there’s] a supportive dynamic about it,” she says, adding that she doesn’t rush to mute her computer when her 16-month-old makes a peep.

“Most organizations are really trying to do something to make it easier” for parents now working from home with the added stresses of child care and schooling, says Ms. Croft. “It is teleworking where you are going to have children popping out and coming through the door. It’s going to be chaotic and there is an acceptance of the fact that that is the case.”

Dominique Soguel
Julia Rous talks with her son as he draws birds of prey during a holiday in the British countryside in 2018. Today, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Rous has found it challenging to convey to her children that "no school" doesn't mean "vacation" in terms of how they spend their days.

Some 56% of parents who also work professionally say it’s difficult to balance the responsibilities of work and family, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey. Parents often feel pressure to hide their “double lives” as caregivers from their employers, whether due to personal fears or long-established stigmas, experts say. Seventy-four percent of parents with kids under the age of 18 say they sometimes feel too busy to enjoy life, according to a 2018 Pew survey

And that was all before most parents lost their child care amid the coronavirus crisis – child care that, even in “normal” times, is often excessively expensive. In every U.S. state, the cost of infant and toddler child care exceeds the federal definition of “affordable,” according to the Center for American Progress. On average, families in high-income countries around the world spend 14.5% of their income on child care, but those living in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States can expect to spend closer to one-third.

“The crisis has made this much clearer that these are universal problems that nearly all families are facing,” says Kathleen Gerson, a sociology professor at New York University who studies gender, work, and families.

“Now we can see how essential it is, both economically, and for personal well-being – and for family well-being – that we address the caregiving crisis in [our] society,” she says.

Not all bad?

Already, the disruptions in some parents’ lives are translating into hopes of more permanent shifts down the line.

“My view of working from home has changed a lot,” says Karla Martinez de Salas, editor in chief of Vogue Mexico and Latin America, who had never tried it before the pandemic.

In “normal” times, she is required to travel frequently for work, and returned from a trip to Italy in early March. That meant two weeks of self-quarantine, which she discovered was a “blessing in disguise” because of the time it allowed her to spend with her twin 4-year-old daughters.

“As [the girls] get older, it’s harder and harder to be away. So, perhaps working from [home] once or twice a week would be the ideal scenario for a mom like me,” she says.

With the COVID-19 crisis “we have accelerated that whole question mark of can we or can’t we do flexible working – because you have to,” says Ms. Croft from Thriving Talent.

Carlos Taboada, a human resources consultant in Monterrey, Mexico, and father of two, says he never liked the idea of his team members working remotely.

“I’m the worst at home office. I get distracted so easily,” he says. In the past, that perception translated to how he viewed it for his six direct reports, too – four of whom are parents.

Although Mexico hadn’t required business to close yet, Mr. Taboada gave his team the option to work from home starting in mid-March. He’s had to put a lot of faith into his employees to meet deadlines within the time frame they see fit for their particularly chaotic lives right now. Sometimes assignments are delivered at 1 a.m., but together they’re making it work.

“I’ve seen baseballs thrown in the background of calls, a cleaning woman dancing with her mop, a client breastfeeding,” he says of the past two weeks of work calls. His takeaway is that in the future, it’s going to be even more important to balance these personal, family needs with the needs of business.

But the flexibility to work from home is not a win for everyone.

“It’s been enormously disruptive,” says Julia Rous, a self-employed single mother in the British village of Horsley, who juggles three jobs including teaching. The loss of steady income combined with schools’ shift to distance learning is taking its toll. “There is no support in self-employment.”

Moms bear the brunt

Gender fault lines in juggling home and work are not new, but are shining brighter than ever in recent weeks. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, both fathers and mothers are fretting more about the effects of coronavirus on their well-being and earnings than people without children. However, women report being more worried: 36% say the stress has had an impact on their mental health, versus 27% of men.

“Changes always are slower than we’d hope. But there are so many men disconnected from the sphere of the home and caregiving and this moment obligates them to confront it,” says Nicko Nogués, founder of the Instituto de Machos a Hombres. The organization tries to challenge machismo across Latin America and parts of Europe via partnerships with private companies and international organizations.

“It opens an opportunity where we can show men that they have a lot to gain getting more involved at home,” he says.

There’s more acceptance among working parents that they’re doing their best – even if the hodgepodge nature of caring for kids and meeting deadlines is best encapsulated in internet memes these days.

“I think the ‘aha’ moment is coming and in an even bigger way, but I don’t think it’s come just yet,” says Daisy Wademan Dowling, founder and CEO of the consulting firm Workparent, which trains companies how to support and retain parents. 

“Most people are naturally in shock and in scrambling mode, and thinking about some of the bigger implications has fallen by the wayside compared to just figuring out how to get your job done, how to keep your kids safe, how to go about daily life,” she says.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Profile

One American Uyghur’s vow: ‘I should’ve gone public a long time ago’

What’s the best way to help your family? For Uyghurs living in the U.S., silence used to feel like the safest option to protect missing relatives in China. For one Massachusetts man, that’s no longer the case.

Mark
Ann Hermes/Staff
Ablatt Mahsut, a Uyghur born in China’s Xinjiang region, sits in the living room of his home on Jan. 28, 2020, in Franklin, Massachusetts. Mr. Mahsut, who became a U.S. citizen 10 years ago, is concerned for the safety of his family in China.

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For Ablatt Mahsut, an American dad in suburban Massachusetts, every day inched toward June 10, 2019.

His niece’s two-year prison sentence was supposed to end that day in northwest China. According to a court document, the high school teacher had held materials linked to “terrorism.” Mr. Mahsut was told she simply had a digital copy of the Quran.

June 10 turned to June 11. No word of his niece’s release. 

“My worst fear is that my niece won’t be able to leave alive,” he says.

Mr. Mahsut and his family are Uyghurs. China has detained an estimated 1 million or more Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities across a vast detention system, sparking international outcry. Yet many in the diaspora are still demanding answers about their loved one’s whereabouts. 

His niece remains incarcerated. Several other relatives have disappeared, or spent months in so-called “reeducation.” He has watched in horror from abroad, as fewer and fewer relatives respond to his texts. 

After three years agonizing over going public, Mr. Mahsut’s desperation has trumped his fear. He joins a growing group of Uyghurs abroad finding the courage to speak up, hoping their chorus of voices can save family abroad.

“I should’ve gone public a long time ago.”

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4. One American Uyghur’s vow: ‘I should’ve gone public a long time ago’

Three years ago in northwest China, in a rancid hotel room that reeked of cigarettes and booze, plainclothes police pressed Ablatt Mahsut for answers. He stared at the stained gray carpet as they made him empty his pockets. 

The interrogation covered three decades of his life. Again and again, police asked if he personally knew Uyghur activists in the United States. Again and again, Mr. Mahsut said he didn’t. Some 10 hours in, they accused the American father of five of helping a few hundred Uyghurs join the Islamic State group.

“That’s just an outright lie,” he says. 

The scene has looped in his mind ever since. Only in recent months has he felt compelled to share his story publicly.

Mr. Mahsut became a U.S. citizen 10 years ago. He lives a quiet life in Franklin, Massachusetts, shuttling between his kids’ soccer games. But in June 2017, a month before his trip to Korla in China’s Xinjiang region, he learned troubling news about his niece there. Mihrigul Abla, a high school teacher, had been arrested for the second time and sent to prison.

A court document reviewed by the Monitor says Ms. Abla possessed “materials propagating terrorism or extremism.” Mr. Mahsut was told that she simply had a digital copy of the Quran. 

For the next few weeks, he struggled to sleep, scanning news out of the region past midnight. Family in Xinjiang stopped responding to texts. Desperate for answers, he flew to China that summer to find his niece. But the interrogation upended his plans. He fled without the answers he sought.

Mr. Mahsut and his family are Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic group with its own Turkic language and culture. China has detained an estimated 1 million or more Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other ethnic minorities across a vast detention system in its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. 

Mr. Mahsut says Ms. Abla is still incarcerated. He was told she was briefly taken to a hospital for surgery, and worries that it was to remove her uterus against her will, based on similar allegations from the region’s survivors. Several other relatives in Xinjiang have disappeared. 

“I’ve stayed silent thinking that my silence would be able to protect the family,” he says. “That hasn’t happened.”

After three years of agonizing over going public, Mr. Mahsut’s desperation has trumped his fear. He joins a growing group of Uyghurs in the diaspora finding the courage to speak up, hoping their chorus of voices can save family abroad.

“All we have is our hope,” says Rushan Abbas, an Uyghur activist in Virginia. “If we lose our hope, we have nothing.”

Courtesy of Ablatt Mahsut
Ablatt says his brother texted him this image of a court notice from Korla Municipal People’s Court in Xinjiang in 2017. It states that their niece, Mihrigul Abla, was sentenced to two years of imprisonment and a 10,000 yuan ($1,400) fine. The notice, reviewed by Chinese law experts, explains Ms. Abla’s crime as possessing “materials propagating terrorism or extremism.” Her two-year sentence should have ended on June 10, 2019. Ablatt was told she simply had a digital copy of the Quran, and that she is still in prison.

February 2019

A few days after New Year’s in 2019, Mr. Mahsut takes the first step to share his story with the Monitor on a call. In February, he joins a journalist at a small corner table at a Starbucks near Boston. He will only speak off the record. The soft-spoken man also declines to be recorded. Fear has overtaken his life, he says.

Every day inches toward June 10 – the date his niece’s sentence ends, according to a court document. Her uncle Qurbanjan had snapped a photo of the enforcement notice for his brothers in the U.S. Mr. Mahsut nervously deleted it from WeChat soon after. Two years later, he stumbled upon a digital miracle: iCloud saved the photo for him.

He finds it hard to focus on his job. Each media report on Uyghurs or Kazakhs who’ve fled the region conjures his niece’s face. At least twice, he says, his cell phone glows with callers who present as Xinjiang officials. They dangle news of his family in exchange for serving as a spy.

“I never give any information,” says Mr. Mahsut.

Human rights groups have documented allegations of China’s surveillance and intimidation of Uyghurs overseas – such as requests for personal information, offers to work as informants, and threats against speaking out. Since the U.S. has declined requests by the Chinese government to hand over Uyghurs, Beijing has also asked the American government directly for information on the diaspora, says Daniel Benjamin, former U.S. State Department ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism.

“My response was always the same: Give me credible information of terrorist activity,” and then we’ll look into it, wrote Mr. Benjamin, a scholar at Dartmouth College, over email. Ultimately, he says, “nothing came my way.”

Following 9/11, China leveraged the U.S.-led war on terror to rebrand so-called “separatists” as “terrorists.” The May 2014 launch of its “strike hard” campaign against Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities followed violent attacks on civilians that year, allegedly led by Uyghurs.

Western media began covering Xinjiang’s mass detentions in 2017. Beijing first denied the existence of prison-like “reeducation” camps, then said they helped rehabilitate “extremists.” Survivors have alleged political indoctrination and torture. An official database published as a leak in February suggests individuals could be detained for simply having a passport or “too many children.” 

A Chinese official said in December that all detainees held in “vocational training” centers have been released – an unverifiable claim. Many former detainees have reportedly landed in formal prison like Ms. Abla.

Researchers say the repression has extended beyond Xinjiang’s borders. More than 80,000 Uyghurs have been transferred to factories across the country, according to a report released in March. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s research links forced Uyghur labor to several global brands. In a joint statement, a coalition of concerned manufacturing groups urged the U.S. government to assess the issue.

China has touted the success of its crackdown in the western region. “Xinjiang hasn’t seen a single terrorist attack over the past three years,” said China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying in December. Human rights groups and several governments, including the U.S. State Department, have accused China of systematic human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Some scholars have described the repression as social reengineering or “cultural genocide.”

SOURCE: Weidmann, Nils B., Jan Ketil Rød and Lars-Erik Cederman (2010). "Representing Ethnic Groups in Space: A New Dataset." Journal of Peace Research
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Increasingly desperate, many Uyghurs in the diaspora feel there is little left to lose in speaking out. Around 1 million Uyghurs live outside China, the World Uyghur Congress estimates. Despite fear of reprisal against their families, the diaspora increasingly talks to the press and demands answers on social media.

Outcomes are mixed. China has released some detainees whose families have spoken out abroad while detaining others – including relatives of U.S.-based Radio Free Asia reporters.

Human Rights Watch’s China Director Sophie Richardson says potential reprisal by the Chinese government forces Uyghurs in the U.S. to weigh “whether to exercise their right to freedom of expression here to talk about horrific human rights violations.” Ms. Richardson and other China observers say the launch of the #MeTooUyghur campaign in February 2019 helped mobilize a wave of Uyghurs to go public.

Halmurat Harri Uyghur, a doctor in Finland behind the hashtag, drew inspiration from a proof-of-life video of an imprisoned Uyghur musician that China released in response to pressure from Turkey. Dr. Uyghur was also inspired by the #MeToo movement.

“We are as a whole nation kind of being raped by this communist tyranny,” he says on a call from Helsinki. “We cannot silence ourselves by our own fear while we are living in free countries.”

Ms. Abbas, the Uyghur activist in Virginia, spoke about the treatment of Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities at a Washington think tank in September 2018. Six days later, her sister and aunt in Xinjiang disappeared. Ms. Abbas considers this retribution for her public remarks. Her aunt was released from an internment camp after five or six months, but she still has not heard from her sister Gulshan.

“I’m doubling and tripling my efforts,” says Ms. Abbas, executive director of Campaign for Uyghurs.

Another response by the Chinese government has been to denounce the exile community through propaganda. State-aligned media have presented Uyghurs denouncing outspoken relatives abroad, like Zumrat Dawut from the region’s capital Urumqi. Ms. Dawut survived 62 days in an internment camp and an unwanted sterilization, The Washington Post reported.

Yet a November Global Times video shows two of Ms. Dawut’s relatives in Xinjiang denying her detention, and claiming that the surgery removed a growth on her uterus. Stories like hers amplify Mr. Mahsut’s concerns about his niece’s surgery.

Nearly every Uyghur family Mr. Mahsut knows in the U.S., he says, has at least one disappeared relative. In the car or at his desk, Xinjiang is constantly on his mind.

“The mental pressure is so high,” he told the Monitor about a year ago.

His wife, Ziyoda, an Uzbek-American interpreter who did not want her last name used, watches Mr. Mahsut guard his emotions around their kids. They’re spared most of the news.

“It affects him,” Ziyoda says. “He’s in a country that has power, but he’s powerless.”

Brief reprieve arrives with the spring. In March 2019, Mr. Mahsut helps organize a Nowruz event in Medway, Massachusetts. Millions of individuals worldwide gather with family to mark the vernal equinox, which Uyghurs consider their New Year. Some 60 Uyghurs join the party in a rented room circled by balloons.

“This is the first time I’m a little bit happy in two years,” says a guest.

An Uyghur caterer treats the crowd to a traditional Nowruz stew. Mr. Mahsut dances the sama, gushing with joy. Despite inviting this journalist to cover the party, he still asks for anonymity.

He texts his family Happy Nowruz. No one writes back.

July 2017

Mr. Mahsut says Shanghai airport authorities detained him when he arrived in China on July 24, 2017. They confiscated his passport and appeared to conduct an extensive background check without explanation. Mr. Mahsut rerouted his travel the next day to evade authorities. He waited out two nights in an American hotel, hoping it would lend some safety.

Xinjiang defied his childhood memories. Security checkpoints paused pedestrians every few blocks. Soldiers and police rounded up Uyghur men on the street and led them into trucks. When Mr. Mahsut finally arrived in Korla at his parents’ front door, police were there to greet him – the first of multiple visits.

Besides trying to track his niece and other relatives, Mr. Mahsut had come to remove his name from the hukou system, or household registry, since he was now a U.S. citizen. He addressed this in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, within a week of his arrival. His interrogation happened the day he returned to Korla. Mr. Mahsut says he demanded to call a lawyer or the U.S. Embassy, but was told the American government already knew of his “crime.”

Mr. Mahsut denied he personally knew prominent Uyghur activists in the U.S. He also denied the ISIS accusation leveled against him by police, who said they had “credible evidence” based on a U.S.-China intelligence sharing agreement.

Multiple regional and security experts told the Monitor that the allegation seems implausible. On the credibility of alleged intelligence sharing, such details are “inappropriate for public disclosure,” an Office of the Director of National Intelligence spokeswoman said in an email.

Around midnight at the hotel in Korla, Mr. Mahsut negotiated his exit by saying he’d return the next day. They handed back his belongings. When he stepped out onto the street, he says, he threw himself to the ground to avoid a speeding car he believes was meant to kill him. Scared for his life, he cut his trip short and slipped out of Korla. He didn’t speak Mandarin, he claimed at the airport. He flashed his American passport.

Safely back in Massachusetts, Mr. Mahsut learned authorities took away 14 of his relatives after his departure. Some spent months in “reeducation.” Public security bureau police also came knocking for him, unaware he had slipped away. 

It’s not uncommon for authorities to question individuals returning to China, even if they’ve become a citizen of another country, experts say. “It has happened many times that [ethnic minorities’] new citizenship is not recognized,” says anthropologist Darren Byler, a Xinjiang scholar and postdoctoral researcher at University of Colorado, Boulder.

Mr. Mahsut’s brother Abliz, who lives in the Midwest and is also an American citizen, says he was questioned three times – once in a Korla hotel – on a trip back to Xinjiang in 2015. Public security bureau police accused him of helping Uyghurs travel to Syria, which he denies.

“I was a little bit worried, but not too worried, because I didn’t do anything wrong,” says Abliz Mahsut. “I believed myself.”

Courtesy of Ablatt Mahsut
Qurbanjan Mahsut (r.) visits his niece Mihrigul Abla as she studies in Dongguan, China, date unknown. Ms. Abla, who became a teacher, remains incarcerated in the northwest Xinjiang region beyond her two-year sentence. Mr. Mahsut, formerly a librarian for Xinjiang University, died last year.

June 2019

June 10 becomes June 11.

No word arrives of his niece’s release.

Ablatt Mahsut frantically calls the municipal police, the district police, the courts. She didn’t perform well, he hears again and again. “She was innocent!” he repeats, demanding more information. Otherwise, he says on a Chinese official’s voicemail, he will see that this makes news.  

He learns that Ms. Abla spent four days at a hospital in December – six months after her sentence should have ended – for surgery related to her uterus. She immediately returned to prison. 

Dr. Byler, who has interviewed several former camp detainees, says uterine and other illnesses are not uncommon among survivors of Xinjiang’s detention system. But without better access to information from the region, the precise origins of health problems are difficult to determine.

Mr. Mahsut is outraged at the news. To both him and Abliz Mahsut, their niece’s surgery draws parallels to reports by other Uyghur women, like Ms. Dawut. For months the brothers debate the merits of going public, not wanting to endanger any relatives who remained free.

Another blow comes on Oct. 30 with the death of their brother Qurbanjan Mahsut. Though he never spent time in a camp, his family says the Xinjiang University librarian was ordered by the government to archive information on rural Uyghurs in the remote Kargilik county. He worked at least 16-hour days. While his health appeared to deteriorate, Qurbanjan Mahsut told Ablatt Mahsut that he was refused medical help until his final days; the condition for seeing a doctor was not being able to walk.

Survivor’s guilt cuts deep. Qurbanjan Mahsut had been studying for the GRE exam for graduate school, says Ablatt Mahsut, hopeful for an American Ph.D. in anthropology. When he visited the U.S. in 2016, Ablatt and Abliz Mahsut urged their brother to return home to support his family, despite his desire to stay. 

His death sparked anger in Ablatt Mahsut. He says he applied for a Chinese visa to attend his brother’s burial in November, against the wishes of his family. 

“I was afraid for his life,” says Ziyoda. “Am I going to see you again if you leave?”

Mr. Mahsut was unable to secure the visa in time. He held a memorial in absentia at a Massachusetts mosque instead.

Abliz Mahsut channels his depression into researching the region. His 7-year-old joins him in praying for Uyghurs worldwide three times a day.

“I work alone in my office. Many times I just cry,” says Abliz Mahsut. “Where is the justice?”

January 2020

A year has passed since Ablatt Mahsut first spoke with the Monitor. Sitting at the same Starbucks table in January, he is transformed.

No longer hesitant, he wants to go on the record, agrees to photos, and even asks about filming a video. He’s decided to risk raising his voice, hoping it brings his remaining relatives home. Mr. Mahsut types up his family’s story in January and mails it to the United Nations. 

“My worst fear is that my niece won’t be able to leave alive,” he says at the cafe. He fiddles with his car keys. Soon he’ll drive his son to soccer.

A week earlier, his only relative left to contact via WeChat stopped responding. Now with zero connections to family in Xinjiang, what once seemed reckless now seems right.

“I should’ve gone public a long time ago.”

SOURCE: Weidmann, Nils B., Jan Ketil Rød and Lars-Erik Cederman (2010). "Representing Ethnic Groups in Space: A New Dataset." Journal of Peace Research
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Comics are for kids? This Vermont college begs to differ.

One woman's willingness to confront her personal struggles with learning disabilities opened a door, for herself and others, into a new world.

Mark
Riley Robinson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Michelle Ollie is the president and co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, Jan. 25, 2020.

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As a child, Michelle Ollie struggled to overcome her dyslexia. What helped her learn to read was comics, an art form that is now the foundation of what may be the only college in New England dedicated to cartooning, in White River Junction, Vermont. 

The Center for Cartoon Studies that Ms. Ollie co-founded 15 years ago is inspiring a new generation of cartoonists to learn their art, find a career, and make a difference in their communities. Students can earn certificates and a master’s degree, and college alumni have found success as illustrators and graphic novelists; others have worked with educators to embed visuals into complex coursework. 

The college’s growth has helped White River Junction to nurture a vibrant arts community, while CCS students and alumni often volunteer for local nonprofits. All this on an annual budget of $1.1 million. “We didn’t know it would create such a community, that so much good would materialize out of people’s work,” says Ms. Ollie. 

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5. Comics are for kids? This Vermont college begs to differ.

Diagnosed with dyslexia, Coco Fox’s niece was struggling with reading until she found comics. Now the 14-year-old is reading up a storm, says her aunt.

The comic that had this transformative effect on this young reader is by Michelle Ollie. The cartoonist had charted her own struggles with childhood dyslexia and showed how she went on to set up what may be the only college in New England to focus entirely on cartooning.

Just as comics inspired Ms. Ollie to read, she’s inspiring a new generation of young cartoonists to learn their art, find a career, and make a difference in their communities. 

Ms. Fox is one of 27 full-time students enrolled at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. Classes are held in a former post office building and a nearby former department store in this old railroad village of just over 2,000 people. Students can earn a one-year certificate, a two-year certificate, or, for those who already hold a bachelor’s degree, a Master of Fine Arts. 

And just as the school encourages its students to make a difference with their work, its growth has helped White River Junction to nurture a vibrant arts community, while CCS students and alumni often volunteer for local nonprofits. (All classes went online on March 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but two campus buildings have remained open as students observe social distancing.)  

Riley Robinson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Michelle Ollie (right) chats with Tess Scilipoti, a second-year student, at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, Jan. 25, 2020.

When Ms. Fox first read “From the Desk of the President of the Center for Cartoon Studies” by Ms. Ollie, she was struck by its uplifting message and emotional honesty.

“The comic was so good that I cried, and so I got about 10 copies and brought them all home,” Ms. Fox said. One copy went to her niece – and a new reader was born. 

“We didn’t know it would create such a community, that so much good would materialize out of people’s work,” says Ms. Ollie, who co-founded CCS in 2005 with cartoonist James Sturm. It runs on an annual budget of $1.1 million. 

Its 249 graduates include several prize-winning illustrators and graphic novelists; one, Charles Forsman, recently had two of his comics adapted as scripted drama series for Netflix.

The co-founders of CCS never saw that coming. “At the beginning, it was about making the case for comics as an art form, a medium,” says Mr. Sturm. 

Riley Robinson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
A student reads at the Schulz Library at the Center for Cartoon Studies on Jan. 25, 2020, during a rainy afternoon in White River Junction, Vermont. CCS was founded in 2004.

The power of comics

Today, visual storytelling is everywhere, from online comic strips and anime to graphic novels and richly-illustrated children’s books in libraries and bookstores. Take graphic novels: Publishers put out 12% more in 2019, and the young-adult section has grown even faster. “It’s been breathtaking,” says Mr. Sturm. 

CCS’s mission doesn’t stop at its campus. Its educators and students have brought the power of comics into a variety of educational settings, ranging from elementary grades to college-level online courses. 

“We tend to see a fair amount of (CCS students) who want to lecture or teach or conduct workshops,” says Ms. Ollie, adding that local schools often request CCS workshops. “There’s a lot of interest, and it’s growing fast.”

One popular topic is democracy. “This is What Democracy Looks Like: A Graphic Guide to Governance,” a CCS comic book, has had three print runs totaling 40,000 copies, and has been used to teach classes in school districts across the country. 

Mr. Sturm and his colleagues have led some of these workshops. Ms. Fox says when she joined one in Columbus, Ohio, a teacher was amazed at how kids responded. “She was tearing up, because one of the students in the class, who pretty much never talked, drew 10 comics,” says Ms. Fox. 

Mr. Sturm said this isn’t uncommon. “A lot of young students who are on the autism spectrum, parents say comics are their way of connecting with the world,” he says. 

There’s a lot more openness from teachers and school officials to the idea of comics as an educational medium than there used to be, adds Ms. Ollie. 

Riley Robinson/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
The Schulz Library at the Center for Cartoon Studies is named after the creator of "Peanuts," and includes works by students, faculty, and alumni in its collection.

That exposure has also led to some unexpected partnerships, including one with Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering in 2016. Ms. Ollie, who has an engineering background and was a visiting scholar at Dartmouth, introduced Thayer faculty to CCS alum Katherine Roy, who drew a series of illustrations for a popular online course to explain complex engineering concepts. 

“I wanted to make engineering friendly and accessible,” says Vicki May, an engineering professor at Dartmouth. “We’re only beginning to see the application of comics to help many different industries.” 

Ms. Ollie agrees. Some CCS students tell her they want to work with doctors and in other professional fields, showing just how adaptable comics can be. 

Take Dan Nott, the lead cartoonist for the democracy comic. He’s working on a graphic novel for Random House, tentatively titled “Hidden Systems,” about the infrastructure systems we often take for granted.

Welcome to boot camp 

Comics start with creativity. But that’s not all that’s imparted at CCS: Students learn everything from drawing skills to getting their comics published and promoted, and can tap into a strong network of faculty and peers for collaboration. 

“It’s a little bit of a boot camp,” Ms. Ollie says. “You’re creating a lot of material. You get the idea of building those skills and adapting them.”

She’s seen a lot of changes over the last 15 years, both at CCS and in the community, as the cartooning school has helped spark a downtown revival. 

“When we started the school, we had no idea about some of the things we’d see happen,” she says. She remembers a talk where Ms. Fox shared the story about her niece. She cried afterwards in her car, grateful that her work had touched a young girl. 

For Ms. Fox, who is due to graduate in May, that experience is a motivator. Her niece read Jen Wang’s “The Prince and the Dressmaker,” a 2018 graphic-novel fairy tale, so much that the binding wore down. 

“As someone who writes comics for kids, knowing they could read it so much they could destroy it, that makes you want to get up and write every day.”  

Editor’s note: The photo captions in this story have been updated to correct the spelling of the name of the library at the Center for Cartoon Studies. It is the Schulz Library. 

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A crisis that draws the best from investors

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To help end the coronavirus pandemic, many people are reinforcing certain codes of behavior. Among investors, many are focused on a code known as “environmental, social, and governance,” or ESG. In short, these are metrics used by more corporations in recent years to put stakeholders on par with shareholders.

According to research, investors who bought stocks in companies with strong ESG are faring better than other broad indexes so far this year. In other words, as the tide goes out on the global economy, doing good is paying off.

Investors see the coronavirus crisis as a warmup lesson for potential hits to the economy in the future, such as climate change. They are looking to corporations to help with our collective resiliency.

Despite the current panic among investors, many now see an upside to ethical values in companies over bottom-line profits. The virus crisis is lifting many codes of behavior. Why not in capitalism?

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A crisis that draws the best from investors

To help end the coronavirus pandemic, many people are reinforcing certain codes of behavior. They are more neighborly and salubrious. They are social distancing and shopping without hoarding. They are learning the etiquette of video conferencing from home. These are signaling a new “we are all in this together” ethic.

In surprising news, many are also focused on ESG.

Those initials stand for a code of behavior in the business world known as “environmental, social, and governance.” In short, these are metrics used by more corporations in recent years to put stakeholders on par with shareholders. They focus on long-term sustainability over predatory short-term profits, on issues like climate change and inequality over the next quarterly report.

During the coronavirus crisis, for example, many workers are being furloughed instead of fired. Companies are donating equipment or finding other ways to help their community. They are suspending dividends to stockholders or putting off bonuses for executives.

But here’s the big news: According to research by Bloomberg Intelligence and RBC Capital Markets, investors who bought stocks in companies with strong ESG are faring better than other broad indexes so far this year. Money keeps flowing into ESG mutual funds, says Bank of America.

In other words, as the tide goes out on the global economy, doing good is paying off.

In the post-COVID-19 world, estimates the British bank Barclays, the use of ESG by investors may accelerate. Investors see the crisis as a warmup lesson for potential hits to the economy in the future, such as climate change. They are looking to corporations to help with our collective resiliency.

Despite the current panic among investors, many now see an upside to ethical values in companies over bottom-line profits. The virus crisis is lifting many codes of behavior. Why not in capitalism?

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Imparters of good

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Is it possible to support efforts to contain the coronavirus without letting fear or distrust cloud the way we think about others? Here’s an article exploring our God-given ability to share joy and goodness – even when we can’t physically interact with others.

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1. Imparters of good

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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The person who passed me on the other side of the road, as we each walked down an uncrowded country lane, gave me a look that said, “Stay away.” I understood. In a time when there is fear of contagion, there can be a tendency to view others – and even ourselves – as potential “carriers” of danger, or as vulnerable to something harmful.

While it’s loving and right to support efforts to contain the coronavirus, we can do so without letting fear or distrust cloud the way we think. In that vein, I’ve been thinking about some ideas Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, once shared with some church members in New York. These ideas can be beneficial and uplifting to all of us. Rather than dwelling on the question, “What am I?” she said to affirm, “I am able to impart truth, health, and happiness, and this is my rock of salvation and my reason for existing” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 165).

Instead of identifying ourselves or others as nothing more than potential “carriers” of something bad, we can think of individuals as “imparters” – imparters of good, of truth, health, and happiness.

This isn’t about imparting just human goodness, although that’s important. It has to do with the deep good that is God Himself, and with everyone’s true, spiritual identity as children of God. As such, we are inseparable from the Truth that is God, inseparable from the health and joy God expresses throughout creation. And, because of this unity, we reflect and express these divine attributes naturally and continually.

To be imparters of God’s grace, to feel and express God’s love and care in our lives, we must first welcome in divine Truth. This Truth reveals that God, good, is the only legitimate cause of all that exists. Since God is good, that means the effect of God’s creating must be constructive and beneficial – never harmful. This realization inspires us to strive to exercise more patience, cooperation, and generosity, and to trust that God, divine Love, is providing for all of us, all of God’s family.

And here’s the best part: Not only are we created as imparters of good, but everyone around us can be seen this way, too. Each of God’s spiritual ideas, or children, is imparting truth, health, and happiness. That is our individual and collective rock, our salvation, and our reason for existing.

We can all be imparters of good today. It’s something we can do wherever we are, even when we can’t physically interact with others. And this spirit of love for others will uplift and encourage not only ourselves, but others upon whom our thoughts rest, too.

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With great power comes great responsibility

Phil Noble/Reuters
Jason Baird, dressed as Spider-Man, does his daily exercises to cheer up local children in Stockport, England, April 1, 2020.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

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