UCLA food studies institute to tackle global food challenges

The institute will collaborate with a community of chefs and scholars in pursuit of a healthier population and planet
Image of students in the UCLA Teaching Kitchen

The chef-in-residence program that will begin this spring will expand the offerings of the UCLA Teaching Kitchen, which launched in 2019. Photo credit: UCLA

By Elizabeth Kivowitz

Increasingly, scholars are studying food — its production, preparation, sharing, consumption and disposal — to better understand and tackle global challenges such as climate change, health and social disparities and labor conditions, and to improve access to information.

Already a leader in the emerging field of food studies, UCLA has created an interdisciplinary institute devoted to research, teaching and policy about food, made possible by an anonymous $13.5 million gift.

The UCLA Rothman Family Institute for Food Studies will bring together faculty, staff, students, chefs and members of the community and house UCLA’s popular food studies minor and graduate certificate program. The gift will provide ongoing funding for research, curriculum and library resources, including the first endowed food studies librarian at a university, as well as hands-on experiential learning opportunities such as a new chef-in-residence program that would begin in spring 2022. It will expand the offerings of the UCLA Teaching Kitchen, launched in 2019, which helps students learn to cook healthy and affordable meals and which has operated remotely during the pandemic.

“Food is central to the human experience, and this new institute will play a leading role in examining aspects of our relationship with food as well as the ways in which food systems tie into larger issues like public health, sustainability and economic well-being,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “The institute exemplifies what UCLA does so well, which is bring communities together alongside experts from across the disciplines to address some of society’s most complex challenges.”

The institute bolsters the UC Office of the President’s Global Food Initiative, created in 2014 and focused on how to feed a world population expected to reach 8 billion by 2025.

“UCLA is uniquely positioned as a leader in food studies,” said biophysicist Amy Rowat, the inaugural holder of the Marcie H. Rothman Presidential Term Chair for Food Studies. “We are known for our strengths in the sciences and the arts, and have strong partnerships with community organizations dedicated to equal food access. We will also capitalize on UCLA’s location in one of the most diverse cities in the world, which is home to so many innovative chefs.”

Rowat, an associate professor of integrative biology and physiology in the UCLA College, is a pioneer in using food to introduce complex concepts in science to non-scientists. She is co-director of the UCLA Semel Healthy Campus Initiative EatWell pod and the founder and director of the Science and Food organization at UCLA. Rowat will spearhead many of the institute’s activities, including expanding her long-running science and food course and developing the chef-in-residence program, a 10-week interdisciplinary course in which chefs are paired with faculty to engage students on topics from food equity to the microbiome. Rowat’s lab will continue to develop sustainable options for food production.

Helping to advance the institute’s vision and Rowat’s work is UCLA Library’s new Rothman Family Food Studies Librarian. Alexandra Solodkaya is the first person to hold the position and she will curate a broad scope of food-related research and teaching services, materials and collections. Given the speed with which social media can amplify incorrect information, the food studies librarian will challenge students to think critically about sources.

“We are grateful for this gift — the largest in the division’s history — which will allow more of our students and faculty to delve into this growing area of inquiry,” said Adriana Galván, dean of the division of undergraduate education, who emphasized how the institute’s interdisciplinary approach would benefit students.

“Food can heal. The institute is looking at food from a system-based, interdisciplinary perspective to contribute to the health and well-being of the individual, community and the planet,” said Dr. Wendelin Slusser, associate vice provost of Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA, whose work across campus and in Los Angeles helped build the foundation for the institute.

Food studies spans disciplines as disparate as anthropology, community health, life and physical sciences, genetics, and world arts and cultures. Popular courses include “Food and Health in Global Perspective,” “Food Studies & Food Justice in Los Angeles” and “Food Politics: Cultural Solutions to Political Problems.” In 2020, students in the course “Making Films About Food” documented the impacts of the pandemic on the lives of people involved in food supply chains, including mill operators, farm workers and truck drivers, as well as the paradox of food waste and global hunger. Capstone projects for the food studies minor include working with local organizations such as the Venice Family Clinic, the American Diabetes Association and the Garden School Foundation, or with policy centers in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA NewsroomFor more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu/news.

UCLA-led team refines ‘kick and kill’ strategy aimed at eliminating HIV-infected cells

Study in mice could point toward method for clearing virus from people who would otherwise depend on medication
A microscope image of HIV particles

A microscope image of HIV particles. The “kick and kill” approach uses cells that are naturally produced by the immune system to kill HIV-infected cells that hide in the body. Photo credit: A. Harrison and Dr. P. Feorino/CDC

By Enrique Rivero

In a study using mice, a UCLA-led team of researchers have improved upon a method they developed in 2017 that was designed to kill HIV-infected cells. The advance could move scientists a step closer to being able to reduce the amount of virus, or even eliminate it, from infected people who are dependent on lifesaving medications to keep the virus from multiplying and illness at bay.

The strategy, described in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications, uses cells that are naturally produced by the immune system to kill infected cells that hide in the body, potentially eradicating them, said Dr. Jocelyn Kim, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

“These findings show proof-of-concept for a therapeutic strategy to potentially eliminate HIV from the body, a task that had been nearly insurmountable for many years,” said Kim, the study’s lead author. “The study opens a new paradigm for a possible HIV cure in the future.”

Worldwide, there are currently 38 million people living with HIV, and an estimated 36 million have died of HIV-related diseases in the decades since HIV began circulating, according to UNAIDS.

People with HIV take antiretroviral medication to keep the virus at bay. But HIV has the ability to elude antiretrovirals by lying dormant in cells called CD4+ T cells, which signal another type of T cell, the CD8, to destroy HIV-infected cells. When a person with HIV stops treatment, the virus emerges from those reservoirs and replicates in the body, weakening the immune system and raising the likelihood of opportunistic infections or cancers that can lead to illness or death.

The UCLA-led study continues research on a strategy called “kick and kill,” which many of the same scientists first described in a 2017 paper. The approach coaxes the dormant virus to reveal itself in infected cells, so it can then be targeted and killed. In the earlier study, the researchers gave antiretroviral drugs to mice whose immune systems had been altered to mimic those of humans, and then infected with HIV. They then administered a synthetic compound called SUW133, which was developed at Stanford University, to activate the mice’s dormant HIV. Up to 25% of the previously dormant cells that began expressing HIV died within 24 hours.

But a more effective way to kill those cells was needed.

In the new study, while the mice were receiving antiretrovirals, the researchers used SUW133 to flush HIV infected cells out of hiding. They then injected healthy natural killer cells into the mice’s blood to kill the infected cells. The combination of SUW133 and injections of healthy natural killer immune cells completely cleared the HIV in 40% of the HIV-infected mice.

The researchers also analyzed the mice’s spleens — because the spleen harbors immune cells, it’s a good place to look for latent HIV-infected cells — and did not detect the virus there, suggesting that cells harboring HIV were eliminated. In addition, the combination approach performed better than either the administration of the latency reversing agent alone or the natural killer cells alone.

Kim said the researchers’ next objective is to further refine the approach to eliminate HIV in 100% of the mice they test in future experiments. “We will also be moving this research toward preclinical studies in nonhuman primates with the ultimate goal of testing the same approach in humans,” she said.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, the National Science Foundation, a National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences UCLA CTSI Grant and the McCarthy Family Foundation.

The study’s co-authors are Tian-Hao Zhang, Camille Carmona, Bryanna Lee, Dr. Christopher Seet, Matthew Kostelny, Nisarg Shah, Hongying Chen, Kylie Farrell, Dr. Mohamed Soliman, Melanie Dimapasoc, Michelle Sinani, Dr. Kenia Yazmin, Reyna Blanco, David Bojorquez, Hong Jiang, Yuan Shi, Yushen Du, Ren Sun and Jerome Zack of UCLA; Natalia Komarova, Dominik Wodarz and Matthew Marsden of UC Irvine; and Paul Wender of Stanford University. Sun is also a member of the faculty of the University of Hong Kong.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA NewsroomFor more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu.

UCLA nonviolence class connects students to Martin Luther King Jr.’s enduring legacy

The class taught by Rev. James Lawson Jr. has motivated students to carry on the fight for justice
Graphic depicting an image of Martin Luther King Jr. as well as Rev. James Lawson and UCLA students
By Citlalli Chávez-Nava

Though it’s been more than 50 years since he was killed, the teachings of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. live on at UCLA, as they’re passed along from one of King’s contemporaries to today’s undergraduates.

For the past two decades, Rev. James Lawson Jr. — one of King’s close friends and fellow civil and labor rights leader, who King once referred to as “the leading strategist of nonviolence in the world” — has taught a UCLA course on King’s signature method for social reform.

Lawson, who received campus’s highest honor, the UCLA Medal, in recognition of his life’s work, co-teaches the class with Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center. “Labor Studies M173: Nonviolence and Social Movements” is part of the labor studies academic program and offered jointly with the African American studies department and the César E. Chávez Department of Chicana and Chicano and Central American Studies.

During the civil rights movement, King and Lawson embraced the philosophy of nonviolence as the most effective force to advance social, racial and economic equity in U.S. society. Together, they taught nonviolent resistance tactics to young activists, catalyzing lunch counter sit-ins, the 1961 Freedom Rides, and worker and student demonstrations that helped desegregate the South and inspired far-reaching voter mobilization efforts. In 1968, Lawson invited King to support the renowned Memphis Sanitation Strike where King was assassinated.

The class has motivated students to embrace King’s enduring legacy, while carrying on the fight for justice on campus and in the community.

“UCLA students have been inspired by Dr. King and Rev. Lawson’s teachings,” Wong said. “Many undocumented students of UCLA, in particular, have embraced the philosophy of nonviolence to win historic victories for immigrant rights, including DACA, the California Dream Act and health care access for undocumented young people.”

Students in the course examine nonviolent theory and its impact on social movements in the United States and around the globe while applying these concepts to present-day social challenges through service learning activities.

“We share a common commitment to getting the nonviolent history and theory into the public coffers where social change, personal change and the change towards equality can be made directly,” said Lawson said during a lecture last year.

Leticia Bustamante, who graduated from UCLA in 2017, said taking the class strongly influenced her academic journey and her activism. Among her most memorable class lectures was learning about King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which King wrote a powerful defense of a 1963 massive direct action campaign to pressure Birmingham merchants to desegregate the city during a busy shopping season. The letter is regarded as one of the most influential texts of the civil rights movement.

“For me, this letter serves as a blueprint and reference on the essentials of nonviolent action. Whether I am organizing for labor or immigration, I always keep the four [nonviolence] principles in the back of my mind,” Bustamante said. “I remind myself that the tensions we are creating are necessary. People should be made to feel uncomfortable, because progress and growth are never easy.”

Bustamante is now a master’s candidate in public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and has returned to the class as a guest speaker to share her immigrant rights organizing experiences.

Last spring, when the course was moved to an online platform because of COVID-19 restrictions, Lawson and Wong identified an opportunity to share the class with a wider audience. The weekly lectures and conversations were made available in real-time and were also archived on the Labor Center’s YouTube channel.

“Rev. Lawson has deep relationships with union activists, the faith community and social justice leaders throughout the country. We thought this would be an excellent opportunity to spread his teachings on nonviolence far and wide,” Wong said.

Among other distinguished guests, the class featured labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles co-founder Melina Abdullah, California State Senator Maria Elena Durazo and anti-apartheid leader Rev. Allan Boesak who addressed the class from his home in South Africa. Lectures offered viewers perspectives on the Delano grape strikes, the Nashville sit-ins and nonviolence movements in other countries. Students and viewers also had the opportunities to discuss Los Angeles-based movements in support of hotel worker rights and Black Lives Matter.

“Our labor studies program is proud to offer a curriculum that connects students to King’s legacy and the teachings of Rev. Lawson,” said Tobias Higbie, professor of history and labor studies faculty chair. “Lawson not only inspires our students by his long career, he also challenges each of us to live up to our potential as agents of positive social change.”

This coming spring 2022, the class will explore similar themes and students will also learn about Lawson’s teachings in a new book, “Revolutionary Nonviolence: Organizing for Freedom,” to be published by UC Press next month. Lawson and Wong hope to teach the course in-person but are prepared to offer the course virtually once again if public health restrictions persist.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA NewsroomFor more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu.

Living life like Brazilian poetry

Doctoral student Isaac Gimenez finds wisdom and whimsy in the exploration, analysis and joy of art and poetry

Image of Doctoral student Isaac Gimenez

UCLA Doctoral student Isaac Gimenez

By Jonathan Riggs

Literary translation is an art form that requires attention to detail, creativity and daring — after all, the challenges can be immense. But for doctoral student Isaac Gimenez, an adventurous artist with a bachelor’s degree in translation and interpreting and applied foreign languages, it can also be a lot of fun.

“You get to know the work really closely, and you can even take a playful approach, almost like a creative writing exercise,” says Gimenez, who was born in Spain. “It’s a dance between reproducing the original text with capturing the spirit of it in another language. You have to have a sense of humor about it all.”

After completing his undergraduate education at the University of Granada in Spain, Gimenez took various jobs in the service sector to save money and to improve his proficiency in English and French. He also worked as a freelance translator and interpreter, translating legal, technical, audiovisual and academic documents. He came to the U.S. with the goal of going to graduate school, landing a job teaching foreign language conversation at Pomona College, leading daily language labs and organizing student cultural activities. Already captivated by the arts and culture of Latin America, Gimenez was thrilled to enroll at UCLA to pursue his Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages and Literatures with a focus on Brazil.

Today, he’s working on his dissertation on 20th– and 21st-century Brazilian poetry, tracing the country’s changing notions of authorship back to the first Modernist phase in the 1920s. Gimenez explores how these writers created what he calls “a poetry of errors” — a playful form of artistic civil disobedience embraced by both experimental and “marginal” poets.

“I am interested in poetic expressions in general and, arguably, Brazilian literary tradition is very rich in humoristic, experimental, transdisciplinary and politically engaged approaches to poetry. A lot of people have a misconception that poems has to be dense and solemn, and, consequently, inaccessible, for many” Gimenez says. “I am fascinated by poets who embody what they write about too. It’s a good lesson for all of us to engage with more poetry and live our lives poetically.”

Deeply inspired by the poetry he’s studying, Gimenez is also creating artistic works of his own. He created a video-poem titled “desterro/desmadre,” which he presented for the first time at the 2020 conference Letras Expandidas (2020), organized by PUC-Rio (Br). This video-poem served two purposes: it complemented his analysis of Camila Assad’s 2019 anthology Desterro (which inspired him to write an article published in the Portuguese literary magazine eLyra) and was also a personal reflection of what it meant to live in a global hub like Los Angeles while restricted to a smaller, screen-based scope of existence during the lockdown. “desterro/desmadre” will also be published in 2022 in Párrafo, the literary, artistic and cultural magazine of the UCLA Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

“A professor of mine, Patrícia Lino, reminded me that academic writing is, in fact, a creative practice as well,” he says. “In that sense, critical readings and interpretations of literary works can be inspired by and in dialogue with other art forms and mediums.”

Supplementing his academic and creative work is Gimenez’s role as Editor-in-Chief of Mester, the journal of UCLA’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese graduate students. (Click here for Mester’s open access.) As he works on his dissertation, Gimenez is grateful for the support he earned from the Lorrine Rona Lydeen Fund since it has allowed him to devote considerable time and energy to this additional work — as well as to expanding his professional skills and nurturing new collaborations, both at UCLA (participating in two Excellence in Pedagogy and Innovative Classrooms (EPIC) seminars) and through Mester, working closely with fellow scholars from Latin America and Europe. In fact, the journal will release its 50th issue later this year.

“I think it is quite remarkable that this issue builds bridges between scholars engaging with the Hispanic and Lusophone traditions from different continents and in different languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese,” says Gimenez.

It all adds up to why UCLA is such a special place for someone like Gimenez, who has traveled the globe.

“It means so much to be living in Los Angeles, a vibrant city that supports and is in continuous dialogue with artists, authors, intellectuals and cultural producers from Latin America and all over the world,” he says. “And most of all, being part of the UCLA community enhances those opportunities to access resources and meet scholars and professionals who inspire our work.”

For more of Our Stories at the College, click here.

UCLA dedicates labor center building to Rev. James Lawson Jr., champion of civil and worker rights

The building, which is now named in his honor, will house labor research, teaching and service for decades to come

Image of the The Rev. James Lawson Jr. at building dedication

Addressing the crowd at the ceremony, Lawson said, “Economic justice for every boy and girl of our 331 million people in the United States is perhaps the most daunting, complex issue we face.” Photo Credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

By Citlalli Chávez-Nava

For a building dedicated to ensuring fair treatment and opportunities for workers and that is located in the heart of one of Los Angeles’ working-class immigrant neighborhoods, naming it after iconic civil and workers’ rights leader Rev. James Lawson Jr. was perfect.

On Dec. 11, the UCLA Labor Center’s historic MacArthur Park building was officially named the UCLA James Lawson Jr. Worker Justice Center in honor Lawson, one of the civil rights movement’s most-prominent leaders of non-violent protest and a UCLA labor studies faculty member.

“Throughout history, many of our greatest leaders have urged us to look inward,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said to the audience of 300 attendees at a ceremony hosted by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor in partnership with the Labor Center. “They ask: Who are we as people? What do we value? What kind of society do we want, and what are we willing to do to build it?

“For over 60 years, James Lawson has invited Americans to consider such pressing questions. He has insisted that humanity’s salvation lies in reason and compassion, not violence or exploitation. His vision and valor have mobilized Americans, changed this nation, and inspired activists around the globe.”

Once referred to as “the mind of the movement” and “the leading strategist of nonviolence in the world” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lawson, now 93, is known internationally for teaching nonviolent resistance tactics to young activists. In the course of his life, Lawson and his colleagues and students led lunch counter sit-ins, freedom rides and worker strikes including the historic 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike during the civil rights movement.

Lawson said he was humbled by UCLA naming a building in his honor.

“I had no idea how to prepare for this moment. For this extraordinary experience of all of you and the coalition that came together, to make this possible,” Lawson said. “On behalf of my wife, Dorothy, and her parents, and my parents and our great grandparents, and all on behalf of our sons, our grandchildren … we thank you very much, absolutely astonishing — I could never have imagined anything like this at all.”

Image of Chancellor Gene Block speaking at the ceremony naming the building that houses the UCLA Labor Center in honor of the Rev. James Lawson Jr.

Chancellor Gene Block speaks at the ceremony naming the building that houses the UCLA Labor Center in honor of the Rev. James Lawson Jr.
Photo credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

Local Emmy-nominated R&B and gospel artist Ashly Williams sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to kick off the ceremony, which took place in front of the building, just a couple of miles away from the downtown Los Angeles skyline.

“I am proud to say that the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor signed on immediately in support of the $15 million allocation to establish a home for the UCLA Labor Center and to rename this building in your honor,” said Los Angeles County Labor Federation President Ron Herrera. “This investment, this building, will help energize the future of the Los Angeles labor movement.”

Guests included members of Lawson’s family, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles County supervisors Hilda Solis and Holly Mitchell, state senators María Elena Durazo and Steven Bradford, State Controller Betty Yee, California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, assemblymembers Reggie Jones-Sawyer and Miguel Santiago, and Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo, were among other community leaders, who spoke of Lawson’s unwavering commitment to advancing racial justice and worker rights.

“On behalf of this City of Angels, thank you to this angel,” Garcetti said. “Whether it’s in a sermon at Holman [United Methodist Church] or whether it’s in a private small conversation that I’ve had with [Rev. Lawson] at UCLA — and thank you to UCLA, Chancellor Block for having this center here — this man has shown us what it means to live in a city of angels in a world fighting for justice and in a city of belonging.”

UCLA faculty and administrators including Block, Dean of Social Sciences Darnell Hunt, Labor Center Director Kent Wong, labor studies students, clergy, members of Holman United Methodist Church and union members also attended.

A third generation Methodist minister, Lawson was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and earned his local pastor’s license in 1949 during his senior year of high school. Shortly after graduating, he was drafted into the U.S. military but refused to enlist. As a conscientious objector, Lawson received a three-year sentence, and served 13 months in prison.

Following release from prison, Lawson traveled to India as a missionary where he studied the nonviolence teachings of Mohandas Gandhi. Upon returning to the United States in 1956, Lawson began to train and inspire a new generation of civil rights leaders including the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, also a recipient of the UCLA Medal, campus’s highest honor. Lawson received the UCLA Medal in 2018.

Image of California State Sen. María Elena Durazo was a student of the Rev. James Lawson Jr.

California State Sen. María Elena Durazo was a student of the Rev. James Lawson Jr. Photo credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

In 1974, Lawson moved to Los Angeles and became pastor of Holman United Methodist Church where he led his congregation to mobilize for peace and social justice while contributing to the transformation of the Los Angeles labor movement. His work with the UNITE HERE Local 11 helped hotel workers achieve higher wages and improved working conditions by orchestrating nonviolent sit-ins, hunger strikes and civil disobedience protests. Soon after, Los Angeles labor organizers embraced similar tactics, which inspired a national movement for immigrant worker justice.

Durazo strategized with Lawson directly as a young leader at UNITE HERE Local 11 and has maintained her friendship with Lawson for more than 30 years. Inspired by his teachings, she led the effort to name the Labor Center building in his honor and unveiled the building’s signage bearing Lawson’s name to a standing ovation.

“Reverend Lawson’s lifelong advocacy, for social justice, for civil rights, for workers’ rights, for breaking down racist institutions will be honored through all the great organizing that I know is going to be done at this center over decades to come,” she said.

Wong, who has led the work of the UCLA Labor Center for the past 30 years and has co-taught alongside Lawson for the past 20 years, welcomed Lawson to the podium.

“Reverend Lawson has been our moral and our spiritual compass,” Wong said. “I’ve watched the transformation each year, as our students sit in awe and learn from Reverend Lawson, learn about his life, his teachings … how he has lived his life with principles and justice, and determination.”

In his address, Lawson recognized the unprecedented challenges facing the nation and how this moment would serve as a reminder of the urgent need to achieve economic dignity for all.

“Economic justice for every boy and girl of our 331 million people in the United States is perhaps the most daunting, complex issue we face,” he said. “But if we do not achieve it, if we cannot achieve it, we as the people, will have failed this extraordinary vision and mission that I personally have loved.”

Yet, he expressed hope in our human capacity to overcome our present challenges.

“If we can tap the great forces of life itself, and use those powers in the solving of the issues we face, we will discover the power of life itself in the power of the universe.”

Naming the building in honor of Lawson forms part of a $15 million effort to renovate the Labor Center funded by a one-time allocation in California’s 2021-22 state budget. The Labor Center was originally established in 1964 within the UCLA Institute of Industrial Relations, now the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, through a statewide joint labor-university committee. Since its inception, the center has been dedicated to research, education and service in the interest of California workers.

In 2002, the Labor Center leased the building overlooking MacArthur Park to connect UCLA students and faculty to the broader Los Angeles worker community. Since then, it has focused on cutting-edge worker research, investigating topics such as wage theft, Black unemployment, immigrant workers, young workers and the gig economy. The center is also recognized for its innovative worker education and popular education programs and community-engaged learning within the economic justice movement and promoting a global workers’ rights agenda.

“We’re thrilled to help build a community asset that bears Reverend Lawson’s name. It will be a profound reminder of our obligation to advance research and policy solutions that advance worker and economic justice,” said Abel Valenzuela Jr., director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. “The UCLA James Lawson Jr. Worker Justice Center will place Los Angeles and [the University of California] at the forefront of community engagement, academic research and a push for a worker centered economy.”

In honor of Lawson’s life and enduring legacy, early next year, UC Press will also release a book titled, “Revolutionary Nonviolence: Organizing for Freedom” featuring Lawson’s teachings on nonviolence.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA NewsroomFor more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu.

From fiction to action on climate change: Author Kim Stanley Robinson delivers Possible Worlds lecture

Reimagining the scope and approach of the UCLA Center for Early Global Studies

Zrinka Stahuljak embraces the role of ‘fixer’ as she directs the center’s transformation

By Jonathan Riggs

Photo credit: Janja Ružić

Zrinka Stahuljak in front of a 15th-century relief of the winged lion of Venice. Each quarter, she guides students through explorations of paintings, sculptures and architecture, encouraging them to find deeper meaning about the people who created them. Photo credit: Janja Ružić

Journalists, businesspeople and politicians working in foreign countries often depend on fixers — resourceful, problem-solving guides with a sophisticated grasp of local languages, cultures and customs.

Zrinka Stahuljak has long considered herself a fixer, both literally — she was a wartime interpreter in her native Croatia during the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia — and metaphorically, in her role at UCLA.

“I’m fascinated and inspired by the transcultural work of fixers, who ultimately help people make transformative connections,” she says.

It’s in that spirit that Stahuljak has overseen the thoughtful transformation of the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies into the UCLA CMRS Center for Early Global Studies. As the center’s director since 2019, Stahuljak has aimed to honor the center’s illustrious past — founded in 1963, it’s one of the oldest such centers in North America — and ensure its dynamic future.

While the center’s purview will still span the third to the 17th centuries, its new name represents an expanded focus, which now takes a global perspective extending far beyond the Eurocentric view that once defined the field. As part of its new approach, research is centered around five axes: sustainability and repurposing, fluidity and permanence, bodies and performance, conversion and mobility, and communication and archive.

“This collaborative platform allows faculty studying various parts of the globe over almost 1,500 years to exchange effectively from within their fields or work together innovatively across them,” says Stahuljak, a professor of European languages and transcultural studies and of comparative literature.

The transformation makes UCLA’s center one of the first major entities in the field to adopt the new, more inclusive approach, and to employ the new methodologies and interdisciplinary orientations that come with it.

“The key to it all is recognizing and proceeding with the knowledge that none of us is alone in this world,” she says. “That’s something the study of the past can give us: an overwhelming sense of relationality to others who have lived and who will live.”

In the wake of its relaunch, the center already has begun to forge new collaborations with partners from across campus, including scholars at the departments of anthropology, Asian languages and cultures, Near Eastern languages and cultures, and world arts and cultures/dance, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the Charles E. Young Research Library.

It’s work worthy of a world-class fixer like Stahuljak, who recently wrote two books on fixers: “Les Fixeurs au Moyen Age: Histoire et Littérature Connectées” (“Fixers in the Middle Ages: Connected History and Literature”), which was published in September by Éditions du Seuil, and “Medieval Fixers: Translation in the Mediterranean (1250–1500),” forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.

Stahuljak researched and wrote both volumes in 2017 and 2018, when she was a Guggenheim fellow.

Staying connected to Europe and her own past richly informs all Stahuljak does. Born to musician parents who valued education, she grew up with a gift for learning multiple languages, including the two she would later adopt professionally, French and English.

Her time as a wartime interpreter — including a frightening night navigating mountain paths alone after the Croatian–Slovenian border closed — interrupted her college education for a year, but it also taught her much about injustice and the need for an international community of scholarship. Stahuljak went on to earn her master’s degree from the University of Kansas and a doctorate from Emory University; after four years at Boston University, she joined UCLA in 2005.

To open her students’ eyes and intellects and perhaps inspire their empathy, Stahuljak starts each quarter by guiding them through explorations of paintings, sculptures and architecture, encouraging them to find deeper meaning about the people who created them and those who have absorbed them over centuries. Her goal: to help students connect with the subjects they’re studying, no matter the historical distance.

That thoughtful approach carries over to her vision for the Center for Early Global Studies. Even with the campus having resumed in-person instruction, Stahuljak plans to continue offering a range of programs online, too, to maintain the growing global audience it cultivated during the pandemic. She’s also investing in the next generation of scholars, for example by holding manuscript workshops to shepherd junior faculty through the often overwhelming process of producing their first books, and she is directing more funds to support graduate students in both traditional and underrepresented areas of study.

“As a fixer, I see my role as making this a community: a collective platform to empower UCLA’s extraordinary researchers, scholars and teachers,” she says. “My goal is to put myself out there and ask, ‘What do you want to do, and how can I help you make it happen?’”

Stahuljak sees her work relaunching the center as an opportunity to marry her rich understanding of the past with her hopeful view of a humane future for all.

“We cannot understand the present without the past — the contrast allows us to analyze differences, successes and failures and, ideally, to find innovation to build an informed and thoughtful future,” she says. “The CMRS Center for Early Global Studies has an investment in making the past contemporary. These lessons help us do what we fixers always seek to do: invent and make real change.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

For more of Our Stories at the College, click here.

The power of two: collaboration empowered groundbreaking sleep research

Life scientists from different fields inspired each other and pushed science forward

By Jonathan Riggs

Gina Poe and Van Savage

It can be easy for even the best ideas to get lost in a busy professor’s email inbox — the amount of correspondence, requests and paperwork that continually vie for attention is staggering.

But when Gina Poe, a UCLA professor of integrative biology and physiology who has conducted sleep research for more than 30 years, noticed a message in her inbox from Van Savage, a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and of computational medicine, it immediately caught her eye.

“Van contacted me about a paper he was co-authoring, specifically about some feedback from the peer review process,” she says. “One of the reviewers had responded that there was no REM sleep except in human adults—I wrote Van back immediately and said, ‘That’s crazy.’”

“It was terrific talking to Gina, not just because she knows way, way more about sleep than the rest of us, but because she was so open-minded about her expertise and willing to explore our theories,” Savage says. “It was a huge turning point to get someone like her aboard.”

That conversation — and their subsequent research — led to them developing the most comprehensive, mechanistic and mathematical analysis of sleep to date, showing that mammals (including humans) depend on REM sleep to build their brain’s infrastructure in infanthood, and to heal and “declutter” it throughout life.

As exciting as their findings were, Poe and Savage found it even more inspiring to work together across interdisciplinary lines, an opportunity they wish more of their colleagues could experience.

“It really teaches you that you can be a global expert in your field, but you can’t be an expert in everything — there is so much we all can learn from one another,” Savage says. “You have to be patient and brave as you basically learn a new language from your collaborator and teach them one, too. Building that groundwork alone teaches you so much about your own work before you ever get to the real questions.”

“It’s also wonderful fuel to keep you curious and passionate, which is how you become distinguished in your field in the first place,” says Poe. “I love to learn new things every day, and projects like this are an incredible way to keep yourself refreshed, engaged and excited to go to tackle challenge questions every day.”

The two are continuing their research collaboration, expanding on their previous project by focusing on the effect of temperature on sleep. The effect of temperature isn’t very pronounced on warm-blooded creatures like mammals and birds, but it’s hugely impactful on cold-blooded animals, like amphibians, reptiles, fish and insects — so Savage and Poe’s theory is that temperature affects the latter group’s sleep.

“Fortunately, in the past few years, people have been studying the sleep of more diverse organisms. One of these getting a lot of attention is fruit flies,” Savage says. “And we do see a pattern where more sleep is needed at higher temperatures. So now we’re trying to mathematically look at and quantify that, and what modifications we need in order to ask more and bigger questions.”

According to Poe, UCLA is perhaps the most qualified place possible to foster these breakthroughs.

“UCLA has been a world leader in sleep research for 50 years, for as long as the field has existed. Whenever I see a picture of our team in 1988, I laugh because that was basically everyone on earth doing sleep research at the time,” Poe says. “It means a lot that today, we are actively still pushing the envelope for the field, so much so that we can now theorize so knowledgeably about sleep across almost all animals.”

Both Savage and Poe remain incredibly ambitious, thinking ahead in terms of not just one step, but dozens…or more.

“Gina’s and my expertise and skills have been so complementary that our work has been strengthened more than we could have hoped. Our collaboration has been a huge boon both to science and to us personally,” says Savage. “And there’s so much more we can do. What we want to tackle could take us to the ends of careers and beyond — and that’s how we like it.”

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A perfect tribute: UCLA names labor center building in honor of Rev. James Lawson Jr.

By Madeline Adamo

Civil and labor rights icon and 20-year labor studies faculty member to be linked with UCLA in perpetuity
Image of Rev. James Lawson speaking to interns in the Dream Summer program, a fellowship opportunity for student immigrants and their allies.

Rev. James Lawson loves speaking to the next generation of activists and leaders. Here he speaks to interns in the Dream Summer program, a fellowship opportunity for student immigrants and their allies. Photo credit: UCLA Labor Center

The Rev. James Lawson Jr. has always understood the importance of preparation. While a college student in the 1940s with a passion for civil rights, he took inventory of what was going on in a Cold War-era United States and decided he needed to get involved. And given the government’s reaction to demonstrations, he better get prepared to go to jail. He read books about people, like Gandhi, who had been imprisoned for being conscientious objectors to what they viewed as immoral government policies.

When the Korean War erupted in 1950, Lawson stood by his pacifist beliefs and refused to join the U.S. military. He was sentenced to federal prison for violating the country’s draft laws.

The preparation for prison had paid off. Thanks to his reading, Lawson emerged after serving 13 months of a three-year sentence even more dedicated to the philosophy of nonviolence — the work, he says, God commissioned him to do.

During the ensuing decades Lawson would become one of the key leaders of the national civil rights and labor rights movements and a very close friend of Martin Luther King Jr. The two were staunch proponents of the power of nonviolent civil disobedience and believed deeply in how strength of will and dedication to a cause prepared one to endure extreme opposition.

But for a man who helped shape the course of history, nothing could have prepared him, in mind and heart, for the honor of being the namesake of the UCLA James Lawson Jr. Worker Justice Center.

“I am extremely grateful beyond any kind of words,” said Lawson, who with King and other advocates for justice, canonized the intersection between labor and civil rights, strengthening the movement for both through the practice of nonviolence. For Lawson, the worker justice center and labor studies program — through which he has taught his annual UCLA class on nonviolence and social movements for the last 20 years — symbolizes the labor movement’s potential to inspire social and economic change

“I hope that it will become a symbol of the powers of life that are in each of us,” Lawson said, “and how we can cultivate those powers and enable ourselves and our community in Los Angeles to become what it can yet become.”

The formal dedication will occur on Saturday, Dec. 11, when a host of labor, community and political leaders will join UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and others in honoring Lawson. Among those present will be California State Sen. María Elena Durazo, a former Lawson student who helped secure $15 million in state funding to renovate and rename the UCLA Labor Center’s historic MacArthur Park building, which houses the center’s research, education and service programs in the heart of Los Angeles.

Lawson’s imprint on history through nonviolence

Naming this particular building in Lawson’s honor was a perfect fit, according to friends, former students and colleagues. The activist and theologian played key roles in some of the most famous social and worker justice demonstrations in American history:

• providing nonviolence and spiritual guidance to the nine Black students (the Little Rock Nine) who enrolled at an all-white public school in Little Rock, Arkansas, to test the school integration order from the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education;

• spearheading the 1960 Nashville sit-in campaign to desegregate lunch counters marking a pivotal moment in launching the Civil Rights Movement;

• leading the Freedom Rides of 1961, which protested segregated bus terminals in the South, mobilizing a new generation of civil rights activists;

• organizing the Birmingham Campaign of 1963, which demonstrated against segregation in Alabama.

But Lawson is perhaps best known for his work behind the 1968 sanitation workers strike and his role in bringing King to Memphis, Tennessee, for the demonstration. Tragically, this is where Lawson’s dear friend was assassinated.

The two had previously led workshops together, during which Lawson partnered with King as his right-hand man in their mutual promotion of nonviolence. Among those who participated in those workshops, the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who was a student at American Baptist College in Nashville at the time.

By the early 1970s, Lawson moved to Los Angeles and became pastor of the Holman United Methodist Church, where he met leaders in the Los Angeles labor rights movement. Among these leaders was Durazo, then president of the hotel workers union of Los Angeles.

Durazo, who as a California state senator represents Central and East Los Angeles, said the mostly Latina hotel workers were inspired after he spoke to them. Lawson continued working with the union leading workshops about civil disobedience tactics like taking over the streets, hunger strikes and other peaceful shows of resistance to oppose the exploitation of hotel workers.

“He rekindled our movement through his teachings,” Durazo said.

For Lawson, the philosophy of nonviolence is “compassion in action.”

“Using the powers of the best that is in each of us … not only can we be transformed, but we can transform,” Lawson said.

Teaching UCLA students to be the leaders of the future generations

By the early 90s Lawson had cemented himself as a fixture in the Los Angeles labor movement, and it was a natural next step to join the UCLA Labor Center’s efforts to advance worker justice in Los Angeles County and beyond. The center, housed in the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, launched the first labor studies program in the University of California system.

Kent Wong, director of the center since 1991, has been a friend and student of Lawson for almost 40 years. While a staff attorney at the Service Employees International Union, Wong was part of a group of people that met Lawson at his church to participate in workshops centered on nonviolence. Among the group was Durazo and other community activists who would years later go on to elected office bringing with them a support for the labor movement, such as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, and City Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo.

“We were very grateful for his willingness to share his wisdom, his analysis and perspective,” said Wong, who in 2001 asked Lawson about teaching a UCLA class about nonviolence.

Image of Kent Wong and Rev. James Lawson

Kent Wong and Rev. James Lawson. Photo credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

“It’s been very important to me that I’ve been teaching once a year at UCLA and that the opportunity has given me a chance to talk with a wide range of students,” said Lawson, who tailors the course to engage with current events but always through the lens of nonviolence and economic justice. “The emergence of nonviolence as a science of social change could be the most important paradigm called for in the 20th century.”

Even though Lawson’s students have included elected leaders like Durazo and Lewis, he said that each spring quarter’s new class of 300 UCLA students is always his most extraordinary one.

“I try to teach all the time that your big task in college is to be what you are and figure out what you are becoming, because that’s the immediate power that you can control and use,” he said.

The shift to online classes because of COVID-19 has allowed Lawson and Wong, who moderates the discussions, to bring in guest speakers who would not have flown to Los Angeles. In April, UCLA students heard from Angeline Butler, civil rights icon and former student leader of the Nashville sit-in movement. In May, anti-apartheid activist the Rev. Allan Boesak spoke to UCLA students from South Africa.

It comes as no surprise that Lawson plans to teach the course again in spring 2022. “This capacity, to be 93 years old and be agile, enabled to live well is a gift. I’m going to use it to expose as many different people as I can to the fact that we do not have to be a violent culture.”

Lawson, who received the UCLA medal, the campus’s highest honor, in 2018, said he humbly approves of the name dedication and is appreciative of the incorporation of “worker justice” in the name, a concept that to him is the future and hope for the nation.

“You’re in awe of the American history that exists in that man,” said Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and a friend of Lawson. The 800,000-members federation, which is helping host Saturday’s dedication ceremony, has a partnership with the UCLA Labor Center that goes back several decades as Wong and Herrera, the highest-ranking union leader in Los Angeles, found themselves in the same circles.

Herrera said he’s pleased that the name dedication will tie Lawson to a place like UCLA, as well as recognize Lawson’s fight for workers as well as social justice for Black Americans.

“I think this is a huge opportunity to tell the American public that this man is a historic icon,” Herrera said. “He shouldn’t be left out of the history books.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom. For more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu.


Dean Tracy Johnson honored for dedication to diversity in science

Tracy Johnson, Dean of Life Sciences

Tracy Johnson, Dean of Life Sciences

Tracy Johnson, dean of the UCLA Division of Life Sciences, has received the 2022 Ruth Kirschstein Diversity in Science Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. According to the organization’s website, the award is given annually “to honor an outstanding scientist who has shown a strong commitment to the encouragement of underrepresented minorities to enter the scientific enterprise and/or to the effective mentorship of those within it.”

Tracy Johnson was appointed dean of life sciences in September 2020. She holds the Keith and Cecilia Terasaki Presidential Endowed Chair and is a professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology. Since joining the UCLA faculty in 2013, she has been recognized for her scientific leadership; contributions to educational innovation; and dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion. She has served as associate dean for inclusive excellence in the Division of Life Sciences since January 2015.

Johnson is also a professor at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and created the UCLA–HHMI Pathways to Success Program, a four-year, intensive, honors-level program for undergraduate students majoring in the life sciences. The program is committed to the academic success and professional development of highly motivated students from diverse backgrounds who intend to pursue careers in the life sciences.

Read the full story at ASBMB Today, the member magazine of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. To learn more about Johnson’s work, visit her faculty page at the UCLA–HHMI Pathways to Success Program’s website.