Dedicated To The Cause: Activists To Take the Helm at Currier House

Currier House Masters
Keren E. Rohe

James Cavallaro and Nadejda Marques, the couple who will serve as the interim house masters of Currier, speak to reporters at their Cambridge home about their life, work, and thoughts about becoming Currier house masters.

They met in Brazil and fell in love.

James L. Cavallaro ’84, now a Harvard Law School professor and executive director of the HLS Human Rights Program, was speaking at a conference about the military dictatorship that had menaced the South American state for 21 years. Meanwhile, Nadejda Marques was running late en route to the conference. Fate would have it that her mother was considerate enough to save Marques a seat—right in front of Cavallaro.

After the conference, the resident of the Portugese-speaking nation shocked the guest speaker with her near-perfect English. Later, Marques offered to help Cavallaro, a vegetarian, navigate the meat-heavy Brazilian restaurant scene. Language would further unite them, as their multilingualism allowed the pair to banter in what Cavallaro calls “Portuinglês.” But most important of all was their shared passion for advancing human rights across the globe.

“He’s an attractive man and he stands for the things I believe, so I was like, ‘He’s the one,’” recalls Marques, a slender woman with a bright smile and quiet demeanor.

Three years later on Dec. 30, 1998, Cavallaro and Marques exchanged vows in Rio de Janeiro. Renting an apartment overlooking the beach, the newlyweds held both a wedding party and a New Year celebration, a holiday complete with music and fireworks rivaled in Rio only by Carnival, Brazil’s most famous festival.


The couple may have begun their new lives together on the cusp of a new year, but even as they replace Professor Richard W. Wrangham and Elizabeth A. Ross as Currier House Masters this fall, they will not stray from their initial raison d’être: to share their experiences with others and promote human rights and social justice.


Cavallaro, a Brooklyn native, chose to concentrate in Government at Harvard, focusing on domestic politics—but in many ways, it would be surprising for a student at the College today to make the same choices Cavallaro did at Harvard less than 30 years ago.

For one, the interim Currier House Master appointee withdrew from the traditional House system. Cavallaro lived in Cabot House—then called South House—as a sophomore, but after that year, he fled the Radcliffe Quadrangle to be closer to his older sister, then-Adams resident Rosanna J. Cavallaro ’83. He eventually settled into an apartment on 65 Mt. Auburn Street.

Cavallaro, like many of his peers, strayed from what is now a typical summer internship path. The first two summers of college, he worked in construction units. The workers used to call him “Harvey” due to his college affiliation, Cavallaro remembers.

“For me, it was an interesting and worthwhile experience living and working with folks who were not going to Harvard College,” he says. “To have a thicker sense of the world—it’s something.”

Cavallaro’s passion for social justice was more than apparent even in his college years. He  went to study groups at the Institute of Politics and participated in a mentoring program, and his coursework included classes on crime and social psychology. But while he was focused on domestic issues, his future wife was experiencing the chaos of international politics firsthand.


Before she even celebrated her first birthday, Marques was forced to separate from her mother and flee her birthplace in northeastern Brazil. When Marques was only nine months old, her father was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by the brutal military regime that had taken over the country in a coup d’état nearly a decade earlier.

The terrified refugees separated and tried to escape the country. Marques’ mother fled to Chile, and a family friend took charge of the infant Marques. The child and her mother reunited in Chile, believing they had found their safe haven, but their hopes were dashed only a few days later when a military coup overthrew democratically-elected president Salvador Allende and elevated General Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973.