The new report documents decades of the city’s rent control policy, including the introduction of a rent stabilization ordinance in the 1970s. Pictured: A 1978 rent control march on City Hall.

LOS ANGELES HOUSING CRISIS REMAINS CRITICAL WITH THE DEFEAT OF PROPOSITION 10

The new report documents decades of the city’s rent control policy, including the introduction of a rent stabilization ordinance in the 1970s. Pictured: A 1978 rent control march on City Hall.

The new report documents decades of the city’s rent control policy, including the introduction of a rent stabilization ordinance in the 1970s. Pictured: A 1978 rent control march on City Hall.

By Jessica Wolf

California voters rejected Proposition 10, which would have repealed the Costa-Hawkins act of 1995 and allowed cities across the state to implement broader rent control policies as a response to California’s current affordable housing crisis.

It’s an issue that the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy tackled in its first major publication since the center’s founding in 2017. The paper, titled People Simply Cannot Pay the Rent, was released well before Election Day in an effort to inspire dialogue around and contextualize the history of rent control in Los Angeles. It also presented several options (including the repeal of Costa-Hawkins) that could help ameliorate the economic vulnerability and anxiety of the growing number of people who cannot afford rent in Los Angeles.

The center’s mission is to bring historical perspective to contemporary policy issues, and UCLA researchers will continue to push for meaningful policy decisions when it comes to this crisis.
“The defeat of Prop. 10 does not solve the problem of affordable housing,” said David Myers, a professor of history and the center’s director. “The logic of rent control as a valuable policy tool remains as valid as ever. This is what our working paper showed – that rent control can be an effective instrument to protect the most vulnerable residents of a city. We hope that it is read with growing interest as politicians and policy leaders continue to grapple with the acute housing crisis in California.”

Offering a historical perspective
Aimed at city and state officials, as well as concerned citizens, the report documents the history of rent control policy in Los Angeles from World War II through the present day, focusing on three important milestones: the implementation of federal rent controls during World War II; the introduction of the city’s current rent stabilization ordinance in response to high inflation in the 1970s; and today’s crisis.

Recent data indicate that Los Angeles residents face the nation’s largest rent burden, with median renters spending 47 percent of their income on rent. According to 2011 data, 57 percent of Los Angeles renters were considered “rent burdened,” up from 37 percent in 1980, when rent control was first established. The trend has also contributed to the region’s homelessness epidemic – approximately 53,000 people in Los Angeles County are homeless.

“Los Angeles is experiencing a perfect storm of affordable housing shortfalls, rising rents and dropping incomes,” Myers said. “It is crushing the poorest citizens of the city, particularly Latinos and blacks, with disproportionate force, and this interplay has exacerbated homelessness – the great social and moral scourge of our time, and an epidemic that threatens the life and soul of our city.”

The report also suggests that public engagement is critical. Options proposed include requiring landlords and tenants to sign property registration forms so that tenants are aware of their rights, and a public relations campaign that would cast the crisis as a serious social and public health problem. Both of those actions were undertaken by the federal government during World War II, the paper notes.

A contentious issue
“Nearly $100 million was spent to defeat Prop. 10, four or five times what the proponents spent,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, a former Los Angeles County supervisor, current senior fellow at the
center and author of the study’s introduction. “Money does make a difference. The legislature would be well-advised to pass legislation that removes some, if not all, of the shackles
that the Costa-Hawkins law places on local governments to address the affordable housing crisis. If they don’t, there will be another Initiative in 2020 to repeal the whole thing.”

The report’s author is Alisa Belinkoff Katz, fellow with the center and associate director of the LA Initiative, housed in UCLA’s Luskin School. Historical information was contributed by doctoral candidates Peter Chesney, Lindsay Alissa King and Marques Vestal.

During a campus panel conversation the center hosted leading up to the election, Ph.D. candidate Vestal said he thinks taking the historical long view can help depressurize the contentious issue.

Rent control policies date back to 1600s Rome when the Catholic Church imposed restrictions on Christian landlords who owned buildings in Jewish ghettos. Most countries in Europe immediately implemented rent control policies after World War II to benefit recovering economies, he pointed out.

“To an extent, housing crises are just a part of urban life,” he said. There is widespread agreement that more development is crucial to address Los Angeles’ current crisis, but even the most optimistic projections say it could take a decade to make a dent in that need, said state Assemblyman Richard Bloom.

“The issue is how to help those people who are suffering now and in this moment and over the next 10 years,” he said. “We can’t simply write them off and say this is a lost generation who will not have housing or who will have a lower quality of life. That’s the main reason I took on the Costa-Hawkins debate in the first place.”

Bloom was the first lawmaker to introduce legislation that would revise or repeal Costa-Hawkins. It died in committee. He thinks legislation is a more elegant solution than a ballot measure, and said he is certain there will be “folks banging on my door.”

Douglas Yao with his faculty mentor Thomas Graeber

UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH INSPIRES ALUM’S FUTURE CAREER

Douglas Yao with his faculty mentor Thomas Graeber

Douglas Yao with his faculty mentor Thomas Graeber

By Robin Migdol

Douglas Yao discovered his passion for research as an undergraduate at UCLA. Now he’s embarking on a doctorate at Harvard in pursuit of his goal to run his own lab in the field of bioinformatics.

Yao, who graduated in June with a bachelor of science in molecular, cell and developmental biology, entered UCLA as a pre-med. Initially, he began working in labs on campus during his freshman year to prepare for applying to medical school, but he found that he enjoyed spending time in the lab so much that he wanted to make research his career.

Yao worked in four different labs throughout his undergraduate career as he homed in on the research topics that most interested him. Ultimately, his work in the labs of Thomas Graeber, professor of molecular and medical pharmacology, and Eleazar Eskin, assistant professor of computer science and human genetics, sparked a passion for the field of bioinformatics, in which scientists collect and analyze biological data.

“Bioinformatics brings together three disparate fields: biology, computer science and statistics,” Yao said. “I saw that as a good opportunity because there has to be a breed of scientist who knows all three subjects.”

Unique programs foster undergrad research
Yao presented his original research projects twice at Undergraduate Research Week and currently has a paper in review about gene expression and genomic instability in cancer cells.

This summer Yao began his first year in Harvard’s bioinformatics and integrative genomics Ph.D. program. He hopes to become a professor and run his own lab one day, a goal that he acknowledges would be much harder to reach if he hadn’t gotten his start at UCLA. Yao has seen how valuable the undergraduate research opportunities are at UCLA, and how they inspired and prepared him for his career ahead.

“If you don’t go to a big research school, it’s so much harder to get those research experiences,” he said. “I was really lucky to have picked UCLA because of the research environment.”

Conducting his own research not only taught him new skills such as how to analyze research papers and participate in scientific discussions, but also introduced him to the world of being a professional academic and researcher. He realized how much he loved learning.

“I don’t think there are a whole lot of careers that let you consistently learn every single day,” Yao said. “There’s so many interesting things out there in the world and we know so little. I think [research will] help me appreciate just how weird and amazing the world is.”

Eric Hudson

NARROWING THE GAP BETWEEN PHYSICS AND CHEMISTRY

Eric Hudson

Eric Hudson

By Stuart Wolpert

UCLA physicists have pioneered a method for creating a unique new molecule that could lead to many useful applications in medicine, food science and other fields. Their research, published in the journal Science, also shows how chemical reactions can be studied on a microscopic scale using tools of physics.

For the past 200 years, scientists have developed rules to describe chemical reactions that they have observed, including reactions in food, vitamins, medications and living organisms. One of the most ubiquitous is the “octet rule,” which states that each atom in a molecule that is produced by a chemical reaction will have eight outer orbiting electrons. (Scientists have found rare exceptions to the rule).

The molecule created by professor Eric Hudson and colleagues violates that rule. Barium-oxygen-calcium, or BaOCa+, is the first molecule ever observed by scientists that is composed of an oxygen atom bonded to two different metal atoms.

Normally, one metal atom (either barium or calcium) can react with an oxygen atom to produce a stable molecule. However, when the UCLA scientists added a second metal atom to the mix, a new molecule, BaOCa+, which no longer satisfied the octet rule, had been formed.

Ultra-cold physics tools
Other molecules that violate the octet rule have been observed before, but the UCLA study is among the first to observe such a molecule using tools from physics – namely lasers, ion traps and ultra-cold atom traps.

Hudson’s laboratory used laser light to cool tiny amounts of the reactant atoms and molecules to an extremely low temperature – one one-thousandth of a degree above absolute zero – and then levitate them in a space smaller than the width of a human hair, inside of a vacuum chamber. Under these highly controlled conditions, the scientists could observe properties of the atoms and molecules that are otherwise hidden, and the “physics tools” they used enabled them to hold a sample of atoms and observe chemical reactions one molecule at a time.

The ultra-cold temperatures used in the experiment can also be used to simulate the reaction as it would occur in outer space. That could help scientists understand how certain complex molecules, including some that could be precursors to life, came to exist in space, Hudson said.

The researchers found that when they brought together calcium and barium methoxide inside of their system under normal conditions, they would not react because the atoms could not find a way to rearrange themselves to form a stable molecule. However, when the scientists used a laser to change the distribution of the electrons in the calcium atom, the reaction quickly proceeded, producing a new molecule, CaOBa+.

The Hudson group’s approach is part of a new physics-inspired subfield of chemistry that uses the tools of ultra-cold physics, such as lasers and electromagnetism, to observe and control how and when single-particle reactions occur.

Practical applications
Graduate student Prateek Puri, the project’s lead researcher, said the experiment demonstrates not only how these techniques can be used to create exotic molecules, but also how they can be used to engineer important reactions. The discovery could ultimately be used to create new methods for preserving food and developing safer medications.

“Experiments like these pave the way for developing new methods for controlling chemistry,” Puri said. “We’re essentially creating ‘on buttons’ for reactions.”

Food decays, he said, when undesired chemical reactions occur between food and the environment. Similarly, many medicines induce chemical reactions that can cause harm to the body. Perhaps in the future, scientists could prevent these types of reactions from occurring, or reduce their frequency, Hudson said.

Hudson said one key to the success of the new study was the involvement of experts from various fields: experimental physicists, theoretical physicists and a physical chemist.

Co-authors of the study are Christian Schneider, a UCLA research scientist; Michael Mills, a UCLA graduate student; Ionel Simbotin, a University of Connecticut physics postdoctoral scholar; John Montgomery Jr., a University of Connecticut research professor of physics; Robin Côté, a University of Connecticut professor of physics; and Arthur Suits, a University of Missouri professor of chemistry. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and Army Research Office.

Findings lead to new areas of study
“We realized we could create molecules in ways we had not appreciated before,” Hudson said. “That led us to start thinking about designing molecules differently.”

As an outgrowth of this insight, a research team involving Hudson and led by Wesley Campbell, associate professor of physics, has been awarded a three-year, $2.7 million U.S. Department of Energy Quantum Information Science Research Award. The emerging, multidisciplinary field of quantum information science is expected to lay the foundation for the next generation of computing and information processing, as well as many other innovative technologies.

Quantum computers, once fully developed, will be capable of solving large, extremely complex problems that are beyond the
capacity of today’s most powerful supercomputers. Among other applications, quantum systems hold the promise of potentially
exquisitely sensitive sensors, with a variety of possible medical, national security and scientific applications.

With this funding, faculty in chemistry and physics will develop and study “molecules functionalized with optical cycling centers,” accelerating research into next-generation chemical systems for quantum information storage and processing.

The primary investigators of this grant are Campbell; Hudson; Justin Caram, a UCLA assistant professor of chemistry; Anastassia Alexandrova, UCLA associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Anna Krylov, USC professor of chemistry; John Doyle, Harvard University professor of physics; and Nick Hutzler, Caltech assistant professor of physics.

Pamela Yeh (left), with Elif Tekin

8,000 NEW ANTIBIOTIC COMBINATIONS ARE SURPRISINGLY EFFECTIVE

Pamela Yeh (left), with Elif Tekin

Pamela Yeh (left), with Elif Tekin

By Stuart Wolpert

Remarkably, 8,119 new combinations of antibiotics are surprisingly effective at killing harmful bacteria, UCLA biologists reported Sept. 3 in the journal npj Systems Biology and Applications (a Nature research journal). The discovery of so many potent new antibiotics may help avert a post-antibiotic era in which severe, antibiotic-resistant pathogens and common infections can injure and kill large numbers of people, as the World Health Organization warned in a 2014 report on antibiotic resistance as a worldwide threat to public health.

Analyzing eight antibiotics that are grouped by six mechanisms of attacking E. coli bacteria, the researchers tested every possible combination of four antibiotics, and five antibiotics at a time. The researchers expected some of the combinations would be very effective, but were startled by how many potent combinations they discovered.

“We expect several of these combinations, or more, will work much better than existing antibiotics,” said Pamela Yeh, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and one of the study’s two senior authors.

“We shouldn’t limit ourselves to just single drugs or two-drug combinations in our medical toolbox. There is a tradition of using just one drug, maybe two; we’re offering an alternative that looks very promising.

“Traditionally, scientists have thought the interactions among many drugs combined — such as four and five drugs together — would be too small to matter, or would cancel one another out. We have shown that is not the case.”

The biologists tested 5,670 four-antibiotic combinations and 12,608 five-antibiotic combinations, including many where they tested varying dosages.

The researchers report that 1,676 four-drug combinations are unexpectedly effective at decreasing the growth of E. coli bacteria and 6,443 five-drug combinations are substantially more effective at killing the bacteria than the scientists predicted based on their knowledge of how pairs of the antibiotics work together.

Surprising results
“I was blown away by how many effective combinations there are as we increased the number of drugs,” said Van Savage, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and of biomathematics and the other senior author. “People may think they know how drug combinations will interact, but they really don’t.”

Why are these multidrug combinations so effective?

“Some drugs attack the cell walls, others attack the DNA inside,” Savage said. “It’s like attacking a castle or fortress. Combining different methods of attacking may be more effective than just a single approach.”

“A whole can be much more, or much less, than the sum of its parts, as we often see with a baseball or basketball team, and as we are finding when combining antibiotics,” Yeh said. She cited the decisive upset victory of the 2004 Detroit Pistons — a cohesive team with no superstars — over a Los Angeles Lakers team with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton, and coached by Phil Jackson, in the NBA championship.

Scientists must combine antibiotics carefully and methodically. In this study, 2,331 of the four-drug combinations had reduced effectiveness compared with two-drug and three-drug combinations, and 5,199 of the five-drug combinations had reduced effectiveness compared with those with two-, three- and four-drug combinations, said lead author Elif Tekin, who conducted the research as a postdoctoral scholar in both Yeh’s and Savage’s laboratories.

Van Savage

Van Savage

New mathematical model tested
The biologists developed and used a mathematical formula for analyzing how multiple factors interact. They call their framework Mathematical Analysis for General Interactions of Components (MAGIC).

“We think MAGIC is a generalizable model that can be applied to other diseases, including cancers, and in many other areas with three or more interacting components to better understand how a complex system works,” Tekin said.

The research team reported in 2016 that combinations of three antibiotics can often overcome bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics, even when none of the three antibiotics on its own — or even two of the three together — is effective. The biologists reported in 2017 two combinations of drugs that are unexpectedly successful in reducing the growth of E. coli bacteria and provided the first detailed explanation of how they created their mathematical framework that can help predict which combinations of drugs will be most effective.

Other co-authors of the new research are Cynthia White, who conducted research in Yeh’s laboratory for four years as an undergraduate and worked on this project as a research technician after she graduated; Tina Kang, a doctoral student in Yeh’s laboratory; Nina Singh, an undergraduate in Yeh’s laboratory; Mauricio Cruz-Loya, a doctoral student in Savage’s laboratory; and Robert Damoiseaux, professor of molecular and medical pharmacology, and director of UCLA’s Molecular Screening Shared Resource.

The research was funded by a James S. McDonnell Foundation Complex Systems Scholar Award, the National Science Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the National Institutes of Health/National Center for Advancing Translational Science, and a UCLA Faculty Career Development Award.

LEARNING HISTORY FROM HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS

 

At age 15, Ann Signett was surrounded by war. Every morning she would go out on her balcony and watch B-17 bombers as they flew over her hometown of Rome during World War II.

Knowing that German occupation meant death for his Jewish family, Signett’s father led them to the mountain village of Alvito, 100 miles away. There they were sheltered by a Catholic family for 10 months.

Signett’s story is just one of the personal histories shared with more than 100 students through UCLA’s student-run Bearing Witness program and the Fiat Lux seminar, “Bearing Witness: Interviewing Holocaust Survivors.”

Bearing Witness hosted four sessions at UCLA Hillel during which students met one-on-one with a group of 25 survivors. The students listen, learn, record and “bear witness” to the unique histories presented to them.

With every passing year, there is urgency on the part of survivors to get their message out. The oldest is 105 and the youngest is 76.

Signett, now 89 and surrounded by UCLA students, shared her story with the hope that it will never be forgotten.

“I survived because I was hidden,” she said. “But there are survivors who survived the death camps. I was never in a death camp. I was the lucky one.”

A group of 20 students learned more about the Holocaust as part of a Fiat Lux seminar taught by professor Todd Presner, who is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Director at the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies.

Presner has partnered with the Bearing Witness program for the last 10 years because he wants to engage students early in their academic careers. As part of his seminar, freshmen discuss historical issues and oral histories, and visit the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

“Several students, year after year, come back and talk about their experience,” he said. “It deepens their interest in history, their interest in social justice issues, and their interest in community engagement.”

Students stand with survivors

Nadine Avari, a freshman in the UCLA College and originally from Pakistan, was immediately drawn to the Fiat Lux course. It offered her the perfect opportunity to interact with and learn directly from Holocaust survivors.

Before coming to UCLA, Avari says she had neither experienced much diversity nor met anyone from the Jewish community.

“Many freshmen come from really small, closed communities with narrow viewpoints,” Avari said. “UCLA is a diverse campus and hearing about the survivors’ experiences is an opportunity for students to be open and experience cultural diversity.”

Now, after studying the Holocaust in Presner’s class and hearing survivors’ personal testimonies, Avari said she feels empowered to “bear witness” on their behalf.

“There are people who disagree that the Holocaust happened,” Avari said. “And I can say,

‘No, I heard it firsthand from someone who went through it.’ No one can argue with that.”

Carol Roth, 76, is the youngest of the survivors. While Roth calls herself the “baby” of the group, she says that as long as she is living, it’s her responsibility to both educate a new generation and fight Holocaust deniers.

With a shaky voice, Roth tells students of the day she was walking on the beach with her husband and saw a blimp in the sky that read, “The Holocaust never happened.”

“I started crying because it was ­horrendous,” said Roth, who is originally from Couillet, Belgium. “It’s real, believe me. My mother was arrested by Nazis on the bus only because she was Jewish. They took her to the concentration camp Auschwitz. She was never heard from again.”

Honoring a disappearing generation

Sonia Khrapkova, 80, and a native of Stalingrad, Russia (now Volgograd), is also a child survivor.

In one session with students, Khrapkova shared a sobering reality. “We will go, my generation,” Khrapkova said. “I’m 80 and soon there will be no people to talk to you.”

Although Khrapkova was 4 years old when the Germans arrived in Stalingrad, she tells students that she remembers details from 76 years ago “like it was yesterday.”

She recalled her family’s escape during the decisive Battle of Stalingrad.

“We put logs together, and we were on the Volga River,” Khrapkova said. “We were running and running. The pilots were flying above us; the river was burning; the city was so slippery from the blood.”

Senior Daniella Chernak, a communication major and co-chair of the Bearing Witness program, understands the importance of personally hearing stories from survivors like Khrapkova.

“We are the last generation to bear witness to survivor testimonials and stories firsthand,” Chernak said. “Day after day, week after week, survivors actively choose to relive the unimaginable hardships of their lives by sharing them with us.”

When Khrapkova continued her story, she spoke of fleeing to Kyrgyzstan and eventually Ukraine. It was there, in a small forest, that she witnessed Jewish parents and their children digging their own graves and being buried alive.

“I remember the earth looked like it was breathing,” said Khrapkova, whose family was fortunate enough to survive.

Khrapkova’s tragic memories have endured throughout the decades and are now in the hands of a new generation.

“Hearing survivor testimonial is a constant reminder that we cannot stand idly by while others face atrocities,” Chernak said. “The hundreds of students who participate each year leave the program more open-minded, knowledgeable and committed to stopping biased injustices.”

Today, Khrapkova says that Bearing Witness gives her hope that this period of history will not be forgotten and will live long after she is gone.

“These UCLA students brought back my faith in the future generation,” Khrapkova said. “I am proud.”

 

MOVING HOLLYWOOD BEYOND ‘BLACK PANTHER’

By Jessica Wolf

Two remarkable UCLA alums working in the film and television industries hope that Hollywood is leaping toward a “movement,” not just a “moment” when it comes to celebrating and investing in diversity.

As part of the recent launch of UCLA’s fifth annual Hollywood Diversity Report, Darnell Hunt, dean of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College, welcomed to campus Gina Prince-Bythewood and Felicia D. Henderson to talk about diversity issues in film and television.

Prince-Bythewood is writer-director of the award-winning 2000 film Love and Basketball as well as Beyond the Lights and The Secret Life of Bees. Her upcoming projects include a film adaptation of author Roxane Gay’s debut novel, An Untamed State. Prince-Bythewood is also the first African-American woman to direct a major-studio superhero film, as she takes the helm of Sony’s Silver and Black, set in the Spider-Man universe.

Henderson is the creator and executive producer of the BET drama The Quad and co-executive producer of Netflix’s The Punisher. Her credits also include Fringe, Gossip Girl and the seminal Showtime series Soul Food. “We are seeing a change, but not consistent change,” Henderson said, pointing to the fact that 2013 was a banner year for filmmakers of color, but one that did not play out in the following years. “The more you see a success story like Black Panther, while you celebrate it, it also freaks you completely out, because you don’t want it to just be a moment.”

Henderson noted the powerful marketing and budget around Black Panther, and the ways in which stars like Black-ish’s Tracee Ellis Ross got behind the film — even buying out theaters in neighborhoods so members of the black community could see it.

“How do you make it a consistent change or ‘normal’ to have such movies as opposed to a moment?” said Henderson to the audience of people from campus and the industry at the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference and Guest Center. “How do we do that so it’s a movement instead of a moment?”

Answering that question and others that seek to explain Hollywood’s slow progress toward gender and racial parity is what makes the Hollywood Diversity Report and its year-over-year tracking incredibly important, she said.

As this year’s Hollywood Diversity Report shows, white men still fill a majority of credited roles in front of and behind the camera. And their continued domination of executive suites has a major influence on what kind of projects get a green light, Prince-Bythewood said.

She shared her experience pitching An Untamed State to several studios. Prince-Bythewood is an award-winning writer and director, the book upon which the project is based is a critically acclaimed best-seller, and also attached to the project is a three-time Academy Award nominee, Michael De Luca. The book and film are a survival story about a Haitian-American woman who is abducted, tortured and raped as she is held for ransom.

Prince-Bythewood said the first three pitch meetings were to rooms of white men, who listened politely, but were clearly uninterested.

But there was a palpable difference in the tone of the meeting when she pitched to Fox Searchlight, where the decision makers were two women of color. They bought the project before the meeting was over.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Prince-Bythewood said. “They just got it. They just felt it in their souls. We’re ­passionate about this project, but they might even be more passionate about it. The people we are pitching to, who are sitting across from us, they are going to greenlight what they respond to.”

Inclusion riders

During her Oscar acceptance speech this year, Frances McDormand, star of Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, called for the industry to use “inclusion riders,” contracts that would require film and ­television projects to aim for gender and racial parity both on screen and off.

This is something Henderson committed to 15 years ago with Soul Food, requiring that half of all the episode directors in the series be women.

“I got a call from the Directors Guild marveling that just by me doing that, the number of female directors in that year went up 75 percent,” Henderson said. “That should not be. Things should not be so dismal that one showrunner’s choices can make that big of a difference.”

Another UCLA alumna, Ava DuVernay, who directed this spring’s A Wrinkle in Time, has taken steps to increase representation behind the camera. The first African-American woman to helm a film with a budget of more than $100 million, DuVernay required all her department heads to be prepared to show proof that they had considered women and people of color for jobs. On her television show Queen Sugar, all the episodes have been directed by women.

Henderson observed that women and people of color are making more progress in television, pointing to Shonda Rhimes as an example. She said she hopes that film and television artists and producers embrace the creation of storylines and casting that specifically highlight the cultures, behaviors and belief systems of people of color.

Experience is at the center

Henderson said that for executives, the easiest way to show diversity is to hire some black people, which is one of the reasons numbers continue to improve for this segment of the population in Hollywood. But if all characters are written with homogenous behavior and attitudes, that’s not really diversity, she contended.

Despite Soul Food’s critical and popular success, Henderson said doors didn’t exactly fling open for her ideas.

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m just going to be able to pitch all kinds of stories about black folks; this is going to be amazing,’” she said. “And yet what I found literally for five years of trying to pitch things that had the black experience at the center of it was excuses for Soul Food’s success, rather than a desire to extend it. I got a lot of, ‘Well, it was cable so you could depend on language and nudity,’ as if my storytelling depended on those things, which is incredibly offensive.”

When asked for advice for students or aspiring artists, Prince-Bythewood said passion and stamina are key.

“Love and Basketball took a year and a half, every studio turned it down, and then with Beyond the Lights, everyone turned that down twice,” she said. “You will get a thousand ‘nos’ in this business so make sure you are passionate about the story you want to tell because that’s going to get you up off the floor and keep fighting.”

Henderson pointed out that for artists of color there is a different reality at play, especially when they are the only person of color in a room.

“I always tell my students, you do not have to be the smartest person in the room, but you do need to be the one who works the hardest,” she said. “Particularly for a person of color, just being as good as everyone else is not good enough.”

A sense of humor is critical, Henderson said. As the only African-American writer for The Punisher, all eyes often turn to her when discussing plotlines for the show’s only African-American character.

“I just pick up my cellphone and go, ‘hold on, I have to call the committee,’” she joked.

GIVE THE DEVIL HIS DUE

By Jessica Wolf

Modern Judeo-Christian rhetoric and imagery purport that Satan is an evil opponent to all that is good and godly — a literal opponent of God.

But that characterization doesn’t hold up

under critical scrutiny of the Bible, says Henry Ansgar Kelly, UCLA distinguished research professor of English and one of the world’s leading experts on Satan. His 2006 book Satan: A Biography was a top seller for Cambridge University Press.

His latest book, Satan in the Bible, God’s Minister of Justice, combs through all the relevant passages of the Old and New testaments, tracking evidence of stories of the devil we think we know. The early appearances of the word “satan,” when literally translated from Hebrew, simply mean “adversary.” None of the passages that use the word refer to an inherently evil spirit, Kelly said.

“A frequent assumption about Satan is not only that he is as bad as can be, but also that he has always been considered this bad,” Kelly said. “I have been researching and writing about the devil for over 50 years now, and have been making many of the same points without really being able to get across my main point, that no matter when we have heard about Satan and his nature and history, and activities, most them are not to be found in the Bible, where he is a much different person.”

Looking back through the Old and New testaments, Kelly said it becomes clear that Satan, no matter what we may think of him or imagine him to be now, was not originally presented as the implacable enemy of God, but rather God’s heavenly assistant in dealing with human beings.

As Kelly contends, Satan is more like an old-guard authority figure committed to the status quo and as such is an obstructer of social welfare or change — such as the ideas preached by Jesus. Satan is looking out for God’s interests and is distrustful of humans, but that doesn’t necessarily make him “evil” per se.

“In our government, he would correspond to the head of the Department of Justice, the attorney general,” Kelly said.

In his book, Kelly looks at the ways in which later interpretations of and additions to the Old and New testaments, as well as post-biblical texts — some from as late as the 10th century A.D. — led to an evolving image of Satan.

Questioning the identity of the serpent

Even the notion that Satan assumed the guise of a serpent to play a role in the Judeo-Christian idea of “original sin” when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden doesn’t hold up under a critical lens, Kelly said. While the story of Adam and Eve leads off the Book of Genesis, there is no reference to it in the rest of the Old Testament, which indicates that it was a late insertion. And in the original story there was certainly no connection of the serpent with Satan.

“I conclude that Satan was not associated with Adam until the second century A.D., when the Samaritan philosopher Justin Martyr identified him with the serpent,” Kelly said. “I like to say that Justin was a good Samaritan but a bad philosopher. He was also, more importantly, a bad linguist. The reason he was convinced that the serpent was Satan was that he believed Jesus said so.”

Kelly outlines that Martyr came to his conclusion by way of folk etymology. The Hebrew word “satan” had given way to Aramaic “satanah,” which in the Greek New Testament is rendered as “satanas.” Martyr thought that when Jesus named the devil “Satanas,” he was calling him “Satah Nahash,” which means “apostate serpent” in Hebrew.

Martyr found verification of this idea in the Book of Wisdom in the Greek Old Testament, which says that death entered the world through the envy of a devil (“diabolos”), but that text was referencing Cain, the first killer, who murdered his brother Abel.

Study of the Bible in school

Fostering research about religious ideals and practices is very important, since religion is such an integral aspect of human culture, said Kelly, who studied as a Jesuit in the 1960s. He has been teaching at UCLA for 50 years and said he is grateful for the existence of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Religion.

“One should think that studying and teaching about the Bible’s formation, content and influence would be a very big part of university education,” Kelly said, “but partially because of misguided ideas of the separation of church and state very few people are exposed to sophisticated examinations of the Bible, and most are left with childhood instruction or vague allusions they have picked up on their own.”

Christian and Jewish scholars tend to agree it’s best to read the Bible along with notes that explain the scholarship behind the text — something like the New Oxford Annotated Bible, he said.

“The Bible, and especially the New Testament, is arguably the most influential book in the whole of human history,” Kelly said. “But most people don’t have a clue about the huge amount of scholarship that has gone into explaining it.”

GENES IN SONGBIRDS HOLD CLUES ABOUT HUMAN SPEECH DISORDERS

By Stuart Wolpert

Insights into how songbirds learn to sing provide promising clues about human speech disorders and may lead to new ways of treating them, according to new research published in the journal eLife.

There are about 9,000 species of birds, about half of which are songbirds. When these birds sing, the activity of a master gene called FoxP2 declines in a key region of the brain involved in vocal control known as Area X. The decrease in FoxP2 produces changes in the activity of thousands of other genes.

FoxP2 also plays an important role in speech in humans. Stephanie White, a professor of integrative biology and physiology and senior author of the study, thinks FoxP2 and the changes it causes could be a part of the molecular basis for vocal ­learning. In both humans and birds, cells process this gene in a way that produces both a ­full-length protein and a shorter version of the protein. The long version regulates other genes; what the short version does remains a mystery. Humans with a mutation in the long version have problems with their speech.

To prevent this decline in Area X, White’s research team used methods similar to human gene therapy to insert a version of FoxP2 in male zebra finches. After doing so, when the birds sang, instead of their FoxP2 levels declining, the levels remained high. This uncoupling of FoxP2 levels from the birds’ singing impaired their song learning.

“In a sense, this may be the molecular version of ‘practice makes perfect,’ and why one needs to repeat motor skills over and over to learn them, rather than just having someone tell you,” White said.

New treatment possibilities for humans

Few treatments for language impairments have been developed, White said, because scientists have only a poor understanding of the molecular basis for vocal ­communication. The findings of this study could lead to the

creation of new treatments for speech

problems in people, including children with autism and people with mutated versions of FoxP2. White is interested in human behavior, but said humans are difficult to study at the cellular and synaptic level.

Through trial-and-error practice during a critical period, the birds develop a song ­suitable for courtship. Songbirds, much like in humans, have a critical period in youth when they are best at learning vocal communication skills. In birds, this is when they learn a song they will use later in life as a courtship song. In humans, this is when language skills are most easily learned. After this critical period ends, it is more difficult for people to learn languages, and for certain bird species to learn their songs. Male zebra finches learn to sing a courtship song from 35 to 100 days after hatching.

White and her colleagues set out to ­identify how FoxP2 affects thousands of other genes in zebra finches before and after the critical period for learning closes.

“We found sets of genes in young birds whose levels change when they sing, and are linked to learning,” said White, who is also a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute. “These patterns disappear in older birds. Many of these genes are essential to human language development.”

New drugs could be next

The researchers found that applying methods similar to gene therapy to the long version of FoxP2 disrupted learning. To their surprise, applying the methods to the short version did not. Instead, it led to songs with less variability between renditions.

“We identified networks of genes involved in critical-period vocal learning, including human speech-related genes,” White said. “Pharmacologically targeting these pathways could lead to the development of new drugs to treat communication deficits in humans.”

The scientists studied thousands of genes in Area X that are an important part of the bird’s song circuitry. (Area X is located in the male finch’s basal ganglia, beneath the brain’s cortex.)

These genes in Area X change in a coordinated way, much like an orchestra being led by a conductor, with FoxP2 as the conductor, White said.

“It’s not that all the genes (or instrumentalists) became loud or became quiet; it’s that they change in a coordinated way,” White said. “We refer to these as ‘suites of genes,’ and one of these suites of genes is highly correlated to learning in young birds.”

The research was federally funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Co-authors are Xinshu Xiao, UCLA professor

of integrative biology and physiology; Zachary Burkett, a former member of White’s research team; Nancy Day, a postdoctoral scholar in White’s laboratory; Todd Kimball and Caitlin Aamodt, graduate students in White’s laboratory; Jonathan Heston, a former member of White’s research team; and Austin Hilliard, a former graduate student in White’s laboratory.

First-of-its kind crowdfunding campaign raises over $69,000 for undergraduate research

A first-of-its-kind crowdfunding campaign raised more than $69,000 for the UCLA Undergraduate Research Centers in the span of two weeks, providing critical funding for students to pursue mentorship and research opportunities throughout campus.

Tama Hasson, Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Research, sees first-hand how these resources can transform a student’s career path.

“When you are in a certain major, and you’re exploring a career, undergraduate research is a way to explore your interests in that career,” she said. “Research is useful for any career. Every discipline is going to ask you to take information and synthesize it.”

Pauley Pavilion fills with students on Research Poster Day

Undergraduate Research Week is an opportunity for students across campus to share their research.

Hosted on the UCLA Spark crowdfunding site, the campaign launched just before Undergraduate Research Week, an annual event that brings student researchers from across campus to present their work. After just two weeks, more than 200 donors had contributed nationwide.

For the students who rely on the research centers to deepen their research portfolio, this funding will have a significant impact on their undergraduate experience.

“If it wouldn’t have been for undergraduate research I have no idea what my UCLA experience would have been like,” said Evelyn Hernandez ‘18, who will be pursuing her Ph.D. in the fall. “I’m just glad I got to focus on something – with the money that I got from C.A.R.E., and the fellowships – that I got to focus my extra time solely on research.”

Generations of students and faculty have relied on the Undergraduate Research Centers as catalysts for academic and professional growth. UCLA is the only university in the country to have two research centers, one focused on the sciences and another focused on the humanities, arts and social sciences. Together, the centers connect students with mentorships and opportunities to conduct research with top UCLA faculty, providing hands-on experiences that shape their careers.

The campaign also accomplished something invaluable – visibility. As a result of this dedicated effort, the Undergraduate Research Centers have built a community of supporters who are invested in the success of their students.

That community will prove vital as the centers continue their work providing crucial resources for undergraduate researchers. Whitney Arnold, Director of the Undergraduate Research Center–Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, is optimistic about the show of support. 

“What I think is the coolest thing is how people at all levels and in all places in their careers contributed to the undergraduate research campaign,” Arnold said. “It just shows you the breadth and the impact of undergraduate research.”

Till von Wachter

HOW DATA DRIVE POLICY, AND HOW THE SOCIAL SCIENCES PLAY A PART

By Jessica Wolf

All scientists rely on data derived from a variety of efforts — evidence gathered from experiments, fieldwork, surveys and data generated by government programs, and now increasingly data generated by firms, social media and electronic devices. Social scientists use data to conduct research in many ways, from basic science to direct analyses of policies, and they are regularly invested in data-gathering efforts that could have far-reaching impacts on government policies that affect the public.

Basic science in the social sciences
The ability to explore questions motivated by abstract theories and to solve puzzles that might not otherwise have been tackled are unique services that academic institutions can bring to the world of data-driven policymaking, said Judith Seltzer, UCLA professor of sociology and director of the UCLA California Center for Population Research.

“Basic science is important,” Seltzer said.

Judith Seltzer

Judith Seltzer

“The findings from some basic science projects may not be directly relevant to a specific policy. But these kinds of projects can provide new insights and identify important new questions that can have an eventual impact on policy.”

Seltzer was recently named to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Committee on National Statistics. The committee seeks to improve the statistical methods and information on which public policy decisions are based and works to foster better measurement and understanding of issues ranging from the economy, public health and immigration to the environment and crime.

There are several ways data can inform policy, Seltzer said, from describing the population and how it changes over time, to understanding behavior and causal mechanisms, to evaluating the costs and benefits of programs.

Gaining access to raw data

In September UCLA’s California Census Research Data Center hosted the annual conference of the Federal Statistical Research Data Centers, which included more than 150 participants from UCLA, the Census Bureau and more than 20 other data centers from across the country.

At the meeting, Nancy Potok, chief statistician of the United States, presented findings from the Commission on Evidence-Based Policy, which lays out recommendations for creating a national secure data service that would increase privacy and security measures and create consistent access to big data.

Big data means different things to different people, said Till von Wachter, UCLA professor of economics. It can mean large sets of real-time data derived from devices or the web, or administrative information like medical records. It can also describe smaller data sets with complex elements, such as location-specific inventory management for a company like Amazon.
Recently named associate dean of research for the Division of Social Sciences in the UCLA College, von Wachter is focused on helping faculty to “capitalize on opportunities for cutting-edge research with complex and innovative data sources.“When it comes to big data,” he said, “It’s important for social scientists to be at the table.”

From research to policy

Ideally, for data to have an impact on policy, there should be an existing relationship with government entities, but this is not always the case, von Wachter said.

“A lot in finding out how policy works is about data and research, but if you really want to affect outcomes, that’s unlikely to be sufficient,” von Wachter said. “If you want research to improve the lives of individuals, there has to be a process in place to help with actual implementation.”

Von Wachter also serves as faculty director of the California Policy Lab. CPL’s mission is to partner with California’s state and local governments to generate scientific evidence to solve California’s most urgent problems, including homelessness, poverty, crime and education inequality.

CPL Executive Director Janey Rountree comes from a background in government, and in this pilot year of the lab she has been working to establish relationships with government agencies across L.A. County.

“Connecting researchers to data is important, but it’s only the beginning of a process. If the ultimate goal is to improve public policy and improve people’s lives, we need an active
partnership between government and researchers to understand the data, develop research questions, translate results, and hopefully adopt policy changes as we learn. That’s the investment that we are making.”

New methods to answer the question of causation

A crucial step in the process of creating evidence-based policy is showing causation — illustrating whether or not a government program or policy actually improves the outcome of participants, and how individuals’ choices are affected by the policy, von Wachter said.

This isn’t always easy to do and a straight one-to-one comparison of an individual who participated in a program versus one who did not is not entirely effective.

Till von Wachter

Till von Wachter

Social scientists regularly seek out random experiments or quasi-experiments among a selected population of a program. For example, a team of researchers at Santa Clara County is helping the county to randomly offer housing assistance to certain homeless individuals who would otherwise not have been eligible for housing, and measuring outcomes for the different groups. In another example, a team of researchers in Chicago has randomly assigned kids into different math tutoring schemes, von Wachter said, to see which approaches are more effective.

But the UCLA Center for Social Statistics, which brings together faculty from the social sciences and statistics, is invested in finding a better way to establish causation by developing new quantitative methods, Seltzer said.

“You might not think that the development of new methods is directly policy related, but a new way of asking a question or solving a
puzzle can have an impact on evidence-based policy,” she said.