Reflections On: Meeting Daniel Arrigg Koh

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With Daniel Arrigg Koh at JALSA’s October Tzedek Salon: Under 30 and ‘Chief of Staff to the greatest city in the world.’

He asked if I wanted to do a selfie, but I am not that trendy. His uncle is the Dean of Yale Law School. His father served as Assistant Secretary for Health, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and rejoined Harvard School of Public Health as a Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership in the Department of Health Policy and Management. He grew up in Andover, has been called a “wunderkind,” can sing, received his MBA from Harvard Business School, and has described Boston as “the place to be.” He has also worked for Senator Ted Kennedy, Mayor Thomas Menino through Harvard Business School’s Leadership Fellow Program, as General Manager at Huffington Post Live, and Chief of Staff to Arianna Huffington. He has been named Forbes 2014’s 30 Under 30, and Boston Business Journal ‘s 40 Under 40. He currently serves as Chief of Staff to Mayor Marty Walsh.

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According to his Huffington Post article, “Why We Use Our Middle Name“:

“Arrigg” is a confusing middle name to have. It’s unusual, hard to pronounce, and I’ve never once been able to say it without having to repeat myself. Even after spelling it out, I’m used to puzzled reactions. I always have the same line in response, with pride: “Arrigg. It’s Lebanese, and it’s my Mom’s last name.”

I was fortunate to grow up in a happy household with two parents who were and continue to be incredibly and utterly in love. They’re the kind of couple that complements one another, where one’s weakness is the other’s strength. They were both incredibly attentive parents — too attentive, I felt at times — but now I realize it’s exactly the reason I stayed out of trouble. Yet despite the equal and healthy nature of their relationship, our family would unanimously agree that it’s my mother who is the soul of the family.

Claudia Arrigg is the most generous, caring, and giving person you’ve ever met (yes, I realize I’m biased). She’s the kind of lady who makes you well up in tears when thinking about her, who makes you wonder how on earth you were so lucky as to have been born into the care of this amazing woman. And the most beautiful part is that if you ever asked her, she’d have no idea what you are talking about. To her, to give all for her kids and for her family is all she knows. It’s natural. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.

She’s also an incredibly accomplished ophthalmologist, a legendary doctor in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts. She’s earned her money and reputation, one patient at a time. But despite her success, she always prioritized her children. Many days I came home from school to find that my mother had left work early after 90+ patients to prepare a snack and make sure I started my homework on time. She made so many little sacrifices to give me the discipline that I surely didn’t have naturally.

My mom kept her name when she married my Dad. That meant that despite her incredible effort as a parent, throughout my life people tended not to immediately associate her with me. So I’m extraordinarily grateful that my parents decided to give me and my two siblings my mother’s maiden name as our middle names. As a deeply personal homage to my mother, I use my middle name as much as I can. It’s the least I can do to honor such a humble, driven, and passionate woman — the person to whom I literally owe my life but also a person whom I appreciate a leader, a fighter, and a ruthless champion of family. By using my middle name, I ensure that in small ways — my e-mail signature, the way I sign credit card receipts — and large — the way my name appears one day on my wedding invitation, my mom is and will always be on shining display as a fundamental part of me.

“Arrigg.” The name is confusing, unpronounceable…and incredible. Nothing fills me with more love, happiness and pride than to say, “My name is Daniel Arrigg Koh.”

I can relate to this with the use of my last name, Shochat, which not only acknowledges that I am Jewish, but also is an honor to my Jewish grandparents whom taught me many important things about life. It is also hard for people to pronounce, but that matters little, because of what it actually means to me. I always use it, and love having such a beautiful last name.

According to his article, “The Race Classification Gap“:

Growing up as a person of Korean and Lebanese descent, I was proud of my heritage and enjoyed discussing it with my peers. While few had ever met anyone with such an ethnic background before, people were always eager to learn more. I always felt that it was a valued part of my identity – something that could happen in few other places but the United States. However, when it came time to apply to colleges, I quickly realized that conveying who I was would not be so easy.

On many of the applications I read, the choices were limited to “Caucasian,” “Black or African-American,” “Asian,” “Native American,” and “Other.” Some offered the opportunity to “write-in” specific races. On the whole, a significant portion of colleges did not allow me to represent myself accurately on the application. This issue symbolizes a significant problem with race identification in America, one that, with the increasing diversity in this country, deserves to be addressed with all possible expediency.

University admissions often state that their reasons for asking demographic information are legal and informational only. From a research and sociological perspective, it is understandable. However, the current system falls far short of the detail that educational institutions could and should collect. For example, many schools prohibit “ticking” more than one race category, or instead provide a category entitled “multiracial.” This forces someone like me to either “choose” a race to be represented as or indicate “multiracial,” which on its own means very little – nearly every person in America is “multiracial” by some standard.

Examining college life in practice further indicates that the need for students to be able to identify themselves accurately is important. For example, in colleges throughout the country, affinity groups provide an important support network for students. Often times these clubs are drivers of social life for college students and hold events that welcome the entire college community. Currently, these clubs are maintained solely with the assumption that, for example, some applicants who check the box for “Asian” will turn out to be Japanese such that students of that particular group are adequately represented on campus.

This “classification gap” has other serious implications. For example, a 2007 study by Princeton and University of Pennsylvania researchers revealed that black students from immigrant families (defined as those who have emigrated from the West Indies or Africa) represented 41% of the black population of Ivy League schools vs. 13% of the black population of 18-19 year-olds in the United States. This information is striking and important in our nation’s focus on closing the achievement gap; however, the status quo of race classification leaves us unable to track such statistics on a uniform, nationwide level.

Speaking of the nation, the Census suffers from similar issues. For example, the 2010 Census form had some select races listed with “tick boxes” along with additional write-in boxes. It is unlikely that hand-written entries can be tabulated with the same efficiency as the typical “tick boxes.” As such, we lack the ability to accurately collect Census data that is in turn used to inform a variety of research and policy decisions.

The classification system in its current form also feels inherently wrong. An individual from Jamaica has a very different upbringing and cultural perspectives than an African-American individual from Boston. However, under the current system both would feel compelled to “tick” the “Black” category. Similarly, an Egyptian and British individual would both feel compelled to “tick” the “Caucasian” category. In reality, to lump these people together under one category seems inaccurate at best and irresponsible at worst.

So what is the solution? I believe that both college admissions officers and the government care about tracking race on a more detailed level; however, they are unsure of a method that can be tabulated and analyzed as efficiently as the “tick box” system. Fortunately, the University of Hawaii’s application presents a good platform in which to build. Instead of having typical race boxes, the university has certain 2-letter acronyms for various races (CH for Chinese, TO for Tongan, etc.) that an applicant can indicate. Such a system could be scaled up to operate efficiently – such as including a standard legend of acronyms to be used with every college application or Census form – that would allow more detailed race classification data in an efficient way. The implications of such data for research purposes would be enormous, and the additional effort involved over the long term would be relatively minimal. In addition, the choice of indicating race should be voluntary, as anyone who does not wish to offer such information should not be forced to do so. Would this new system result in the perfect race data in the United States? Certainly not. But it’s a fantastic start.

Some people may not want to identify with a certain race, but those who do should be empowered, not discouraged. America prides itself on the diversity of its people. It’s time to give us the tools to accurately identify ourselves. Doing so would not only give us fascinating sociological insights, but also offer a voice to the millions of people across the country who simply want to proudly say on paper what they proudly feel inside.

According to his article, “Be the First to Stand Up“:

We’ve all done it. We’ve all been in a crowd, listening to a rousing speaker, eager to give him/her a standing ovation. However, when the speech ends, we find ourselves looking around to our peers, waiting to see how others react. If others begin to stand, we think, so will we. However, if no one else does, we demur, despite the fact that our sentiment towards the speaker is no different. It is this manifestation of collective inaction that affects all of us, and one that must be changed in order to truly inspire society and cultivate the leader in each and every one of us.

The power of collective inaction is tremendous and percolates every facet of our lives, even if we don’t consciously realize it. We’ve all stood in front a television, watching news of the latest tragedy or injustice in the world. It has pulled at our hearts, made us think twice about our lives, and immediately inspired us to do something to help. However, when it comes time for action, we choose to instead turn off the television and move on with our everyday lives.

At business school, the hesitancy to be the first to stand is omnipresent, despite the fact that such an institution is designed to build leaders. Students seek professional careers en masse at employers that offer a low-risk, high-paying career track, rather than pursue an entrepreneurial venture or a profession that offers high risks, high rewards, or large responsibilities. Though family and financial considerations account for some of this trend, a large portion is simply a fear of straying from a typical “business” track.

Today, I’m writing to tell you that each and every one of us should strive to be the first to stand up. In today’s society, we are often so afraid of the judgment of others that we suppress expressing what we truly believe in favor of social acceptance. As a result, the few who actually exhibit the bravery to stand up to the status quo are often marginalized as radicals or “hippies.”

In reality, however, those who made the choice to “stand up” are the very people who have shaped our history and advanced our society. Rosa Parks, instead of enduring continued racism, stood up to defend herself, inspiring a social movement. Oskar Schindler, rather than sit back and allow oppression of the Jewish people, took a strong stand against a grave injustice. Indeed, it was a select few Americans in the 1700s who decided the mistreatment of the British was too much to take that fostered the beginnings of our independence today.

When we are among a crowd, we can hear the inner voice of the leader within us when we consider being the first to act. Next time you find yourself in this situation, reflect on the countless people in our society who made history by listening to their inner voices and changed the world. You have the ability, too. Now is the time to take action against inaction.

According to his article, “World Change Stars with You“:

How can a single individual effect change, and in what way? Typically, true “change” is viewed at a macro level, such as ending world poverty or finding cures for diseases. While these are pursuits that must be encouraged, what is lacking is a focus on individual, day-to-day lifestyle changes that, collectively, can make a world of difference.

When we examine issues facing society on a macro level, it often leaves us overwhelmed by the responsibility or magnitude of change needed. However, true change doesn’t have to come from one person setting out to tackle a major global issue on his/her own. In fact, it is historically and will always be the collective efforts of the many that often fuel a difference in society.

Take the broken window theory, for example. Publicized in a 1982 edition of the Atlantic Monthly, the theory states that if we make the effort to have clean facilities and streets (and fix small problems before they grow larger) in our cities and towns, it will serve as a deterrent for further crime. As a result, people respect and do not vandalize property because others do not as well.

People in communities and towns can fuel this by simply making an extra effort in their daily lives. Instead of leaving trash out, make the effort to throw it away. Better yet, if you see some trash lying around, throw it away yourself. This extra effort extends far beyond the broken window theory. If someone, for example, has done something that means a great deal to you, make the special effort to thank him/her for it.

Little do we realize just how much our individual efforts collectively make a significant difference. The mentality of “I’m just one person, I’m not enough to make a difference,” or “There are smarter people out there than I who are more qualified to take on societal issues,” must end. Change must start with each and every one of us making a little bit of extra effort in the name of a better world for all.

It’s unlikely that one blog post such as mine will make a difference on its own. But if you are reading this, I hope it motivates you to take that extra step. And someone else may see you take that extra step and do the same. And so on. If we all made the effort to do so, we’d all be amazed by how much the world has changed overnight.

And finally, in his article, “Redefining Manliness“:

I turned on the television recently to see an advertisement where a man, after spraying cologne, witnesses droves of women immediately surround him. In the next ad, a man professes his love for beer over that of his girlfriend. Finally, the commercial set ends with an invitation to dine at a restaurant with scantily-clad women.

The stereotype of the independent, confident male vs. the dependent, superficial female is omnipresent in our society today. These images of gender roles are a misrepresentation of reality, whereby men are pressured to act in a dated fashion. In truth, a new definition of “manliness” has emerged, one in which men are more openly affectionate than ever before, in a way that we as a society should celebrate, not suppress.

This change can be seen in our everyday interactions. Only a short time ago, the sight of a man hugging another man in public was atypical. Today, male friends often greet each other with a hand-slap followed by an embrace. Such is commonplace in society, and accepted as a sign of respect.

The change can also be seen in the ultimate public stage, electoral politics. Less than 40 years ago, Senator Edmund Muskie, a presidential candidate, allegedly lost his parties’ nomination after publicly crying in reaction to a newspaper article that criticized his wife. In contrast, when Mitt Romney shed tears on Meet the Press during the 2008 presidential election, few argued it hurt his candidacy.

Despite these changes, strong social pressures still exist to act in the mold of the dated stereotype of manliness. To act “tough” and not admit one’s sadness when things aren’t going one’s way. To feel that the man, and not the woman, should serve as the sole leader of a family. At business school, this mentality is on full display — seldom are family considerations noted as a concern by case protagonists (the vast majority of whom are male).

As a son of a household in which both parents worked full-time jobs and shared all responsibilities, I think such a mentality as described above is misguided at best and heavily sexist at worst. We live in a society where the nation’s leading universities’ enrollments are majority female, and it’s time the media started recognizing that women and men should no longer feel pressured to follow strict, dated guidelines of gender behavior.

So how can things be changed? It must start with the media, who need to stop portraying men as beer-drinking, sexist individuals (as seen in numerous ads in which humor is evoked at the expense of the female) and women as weak, superficial beings. It doesn’t accurately represent today’s society, and its distorted picture is having major ramifications on how we view ourselves. Only with more publicizing of this problem and active engagement in discussions about this issue will a substantial perception shift ever occur.

From a business perspective, some companies are noticing this trend and profiting highly from it. In 2010, Kotex released an advertisement series mocking traditional tampon commercials — and their first-quarter sales doubled as a result. Old Spice recently released a set of ads mocking typical deodorant commercials that have received nearly 100 million combined hits on YouTube.

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