Illuminating their Empire State experience

Doctoral student Marissa Jenrich explores the lives of 19th-century Black women in New York City

By Jonathan Riggs

Image of UCLA doctoral student Marissa Jenrich

UCLA doctoral student Marissa Jenrich

We know quite a bit about the lives of some of America’s most famous Black women of the 19th century, including civil rights legends Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells. But what about the lives of the millions of Black women who weren’t famous?

“When we look to the past, so often we are captivated by the stories of extraordinary individuals, who we want to serve as emblems of the period,” says Marissa Jenrich, a Ph.D. student in the Department of History whose work is supported by the Nickoll Family endowment. “But what I really love is when we focus on working class, everyday people — and when their stories make their way into the public imagination. History is the story of everyone, not just a remarkable few, and should be accessible to all.”

Narrowing her focus to 19th-century New York City, Jenrich seeks to give voice to the experience of these everyday women, especially how their lives were affected by the mechanisms of state power during one of the most turbulent eras in American history.

“It was a time of tremendous promise, but also tremendous constriction and fear before, during and after the Civil War. New York was not the bastion of liberty that we like to think of it today,” she says. “So much of New York’s economy was contingent on the slave trade that the mayor at the time, Fernando Wood, tried to get the city to secede. Obviously, Black New Yorkers had to walk a line between what rights they had in theory versus in reality.”

Guided by her advisor, Brenda E. Stevenson, the Nickoll Family Endowed Chair in History, Jenrich is particularly interested in exploring the tensions between Black women and the New York Police Department during an era of unprecedented systemic expansion as well as corruption.

“From the 1870s until 1894, the police force grew into an organization that many New Yorkers felt was abusive,” she says. “I agree with the assessment of one historian who described it as seeking to violently ‘over-control’ the population.”

Although this “over-control” affected all races, Jenrich found that Black women and men experienced excessive engagement with and harassment by police while being denied access to reform or rehabilitation programs frequently offered to their non-Black counterparts. This distinction echoed all the more in light of the 2020 murders by police of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the subsequent—and ongoing—protests.

“In some ways, it’s true that history is a conversation with the present, but we shouldn’t forget that today is not necessarily a carbon copy of the past, although there are similar undergirding impulses,” Jenrich says. “But until we understand the precedent of sentencing laws and the growth of the prison industrial complex and their roots in these earlier periods, we won’t be able to really reckon with some of the crises we see today, including the disproportionate numbers of women of color being incarcerated.”

Two deeply personal connections inspired Jenrich to focus on her specific area of research: a transformative Civil War course at California State University, Long Beach with her mentor, Jane Dabel, and Jenrich’s firsthand knowledge of her partner’s lived reality.

“My partner was born in Mexico but grew up in the U.S. with no legal standing here as an undocumented student. I saw parallels between his experience and the tenuous legal status of Black women in New York City during the 19th century,” she says. “Bridging these similar experiences across space and time really brought the struggle to life for me, of people who had to say, ‘This is the only country I know, but at the same time I don’t have any rights here, so how do I navigate these systems and make them work for me the best way I can?’”

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

Professor Kyle T. Mays spotlights Black–Indigenous solidarity in new book

By Jessica Wolf

In ‘An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States,’ Kyle Mays reframes U.S. history

An image of Kyle Mays alongside his book cover

Mays’ narrative is infused throughout with his personal experiences as an Afro-Indigenous scholar. “As a Black and Indigenous person, I suppose I’m just Mr. In-between, a brotha without a home,” he writes. Photo credit: UCLA

With his book “An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States,” assistant professor Kyle Mays traverses broad, complex and intimate territory.

Mays, who is Black and Saginaw Anishinaabe, teaches African American studies and American Indian studies at UCLA. His latest book is billed as the first to examine the intersecting struggles of Black and Native Americans. In it, he delves into the the country’s founding; early 20th-century global reckonings with racism, like the multinational Universal Races Congress in 1911; the Black Power and Red Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s; and Black and Indigenous pop culture (and cancel culture) of today.

“Some say that the ongoing activism around civil rights for Black Americans and tribal sovereignty for Native Americans are two different things that aren’t in solidarity,” Mays said. “But what I try to do in the book is use those two things as a jumping off point and say, if we look historically throughout U.S. history, how U.S. democracy was constructed and how even if these two groups often might have different goals, we see they still often collaborated. They both wanted a whole different understanding of what the U.S. could be.”

In the book, which is intended for a general audience, Mays said he wanted to offer readers a window into his process and what thoughts come up to him as a researcher and scholar.

“I try to blend the storytelling and nuance and argumentation of the historian, while also keeping my unique voice and reveal how I actually am thinking,” he said. “If we consider writing as a form of thinking and process, this is how I’m literally thinking about it in my head, and I want readers to hear that.”

From memories of the literature and teachers who inspired (and confounded) him during his academic career to moments with his teenage cousins “on the rez” watching impromptu rap battles, Mays’ narrative is infused throughout with his personal experiences as an Afro-Indigenous scholar, and his writing captures his purposeful language style.

“As a Black and Indigenous person, I suppose I’m just Mr. In-between, a brotha without a home,” he writes.

Released for Native American Heritage Month, “An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States” anchors an understanding of U.S. history on the twin atrocities fueled by settler colonialism and capitalism:
– the dispossession and attempted erasure of Indigenous peoples who lived on land now called the United States long before European ships set sail toward it;
– the enslavement of Indigenous Africans forcibly brought to these shores and whose bodies worked the land for the profit of others.

He critiques the racist underpinnings of early foundational texts, including the Declaration of Independence, and writings like “Democracy in America.”

“We must recognize antiblackness (and anti-Indianness, too!) as a core part of this country’s material and psychological development,” he writes. The book also illustrates how the parallel oppressions of Indigenous dispossession and anti-Blackness are ongoing.

Despite that continuing oppression, Mays offers the suggestion that we should think about how Indigenous Africans who were forcibly brought to and sold in America, still retained their inherent indigenous identities, similarly to how displaced Native tribes forced to reservations far from their ancestral territories retained their original tribal identities.

Expanding on and contextualizing the personal, Mays spotlights the history of collaboration between Blacks and Indigenous people. To do so, he combed through speeches and writings from revered Black writers, leaders and scholars such as Malcom X, Stokely Carmichael, Audre Lorde, Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois as well as Native activists and writers such as Charles Eastman (Dakota), Laura Cornelius Kellogg (Oneida), Dennis Banks (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) and others, exploring how Black and Indigenous peoples have always resisted and struggled for freedom, sometimes together, and sometimes apart.

“I try to explore all those and just to say, ‘look, there have been forms of collaboration,’ but I always remind people, as I do in the book, that, as Audre Lorde told us, that solidarity is not easy,” he said. “Anything worth fighting for should not be easy. And we have to break down assumptions about what solidarity means and what that could look like. Hopefully I offered at least an entryway into exploring what relationships have looked like, are looking like now and what they can look like going forward.”

“An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States” requires readers to set aside preconceived ideas about what the United States is and what it might become. Mays argues that the enslavement of Africans and dispossession of Indigenous peoples were not necessary to the creation of an American democracy, but they were invaluable to the creation of wealth, property and the prestige of whiteness.

Mays said he hopes the book inspires in readers to take a more critical look at how the United States practices democracy and how it might evolve, and the pervasiveness of racism, even among and between groups that are most affected by it.

“It is important to really critically think about how we can all sort of reproduce racism, prejudice about other people,” he said. “But our job is also to try to overcome those things. And you need some form of solidarity to do so.”

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

Picture of Maurice Caldwell.

‘I could be killed at any time’: The anguish of being wrongfully convicted of murder

Picture of Maurice Caldwell.

Maurice Caldwell. Photo credit: David Greenwald/The People’s Vanguard of Davis

By Stuart Wolpert

Maurice Caldwell spent 20 years in prison before his wrongful conviction for a 1990 murder in San Francisco was finally overturned.

Paul Abramson, a UCLA professor of psychology who was hired as an expert by Caldwell’s legal team to assess the psychological harm Caldwell suffered, conducted 20 extensive interviews with Caldwell between 2015 and 2020, in addition to interviewing prison correctional officers and reviewing court hearings and decisions, depositions, psychological testing results and experts’ reports.

In a paper published in the peer-reviewed Wrongful Conviction Law Review, Abramson provides an overview of the case and a comprehensive psychological analysis detailing the devastating and ongoing effects of Caldwell’s wrongful conviction and imprisonment. He also examines the historically contentious relations between police and communities of color and asks why corrupt and abusive officers rarely face punishment for their actions.

Caldwell’s 1991 conviction was overturned on March 28, 2010. The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office dismissed the case, and Caldwell was released from prison in 2011. He settled his decade-long civil suit against the county and city of San Francisco, the police department and one SFPD officer just weeks before the scheduled start of the trial, and this month, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved an $8 million payout to Caldwell, who was 23 at the time of his conviction.

‘Appalling injustice’: The wrongful conviction of Caldwell

In January 1990, San Francisco Police Sgt. Kitt Crenshaw was among several officers who chased a group of young Black men who had allegedly been firing weapons at streetlights in the city’s Alemany public housing project. Caldwell was apprehended but not arrested. Caldwell alleged that Crenshaw physically abused him and threatened to kill him, and he filed a complaint against the officer with the city’s police watchdog agency.

About five months later, a man was shot to death in the Alemany projects. Crenshaw, who was not assigned to the homicide division, volunteered to search the projects for offenders and made Caldwell his primary subject, write Abramson and his co-author, Sienna Bland-Abramson, a UCLA undergraduate psychology major (and Abramson’s daughter) who worked on the case as a senior research analyst at two civil rights law firms.

On the strength of a dubious eyewitness claim and Crenshaw’s investigation notes, Caldwell was ultimately convicted of second-degree murder and two other charges and sentenced to 27 years to life in prison. Another man eventually confessed to the murder. Bland-Abramson concluded that San Francisco police officers had committed racial profiling, harassment and acts of corruption.

► Watch a video and read more on Caldwell’s case (Northern California Innocence Project)

Crenshaw, who retired from the San Francisco Police Department in 2011 with the rank of commander, had 67 civilian complaints lodged against him over the course of his career but never faced repercussions for purportedly fabricating his notes to frame Caldwell for murder, Abramson and Bland-Abramson write.

Catastrophic suffering and profound distress

Caldwell endured catastrophic suffering, profound and overwhelming stress throughout his incarceration in various prisons, Abramson writes. How did Caldwell’s experiences affect him?

About 2 1/2 years after Caldwell entered the California prison system, he was brutally stabbed in the head, shoulder and chest by another inmate who used an improvised 6-inch-long knife made from a metal rod filed to a sharp point. At the time, he was an inmate at California State Prison, Sacramento, also known as New Folsom’s Level 4 Prison.

Caldwell said the stabbing changed his life. “I knew at that very moment I could be killed at any time, on any day,” he told Abramson.

Photo of Paul Abramson

Psychology professor Paul Abramson, who conducted 20 interviews with Caldwell over a five-year period, said the former inmate is suffering from complex PTSD.

A retired correctional officer, Chris Buckley, who knew and had supervised Caldwell while he was incarcerated in a Northern California maximum-security prison, told Abramson last year, “A Level 4 prison is like the worst neighborhood you could imagine. Something terrible always might happen. Besides all of the stabbings, there are so many sexual assaults. Fear of dying in prison is a legitimate concern.”

Caldwell routinely observed violent struggles and riots throughout his incarceration, and repeatedly saw lethal weapons in the possession of inmates. He never felt safe any time he walked outside his cell, always fearing for his life. His closest family members — his grandmother, mother and brother — all died while he was in prison. He was prohibited from attending their funerals and became suicidal, feeling he had nothing, and no one, to live for, Abramson and Bland-Abramson write.

“Being in prison was like going to war every day,” Caldwell told Abramson. “It’s only when I was in my cell at night that I felt I was safe. I was depressed every day in prison. I don’t sleep. I suffer every day. I can understand how someone would go postal. I wouldn’t do something like that, for my kids, for all kinds of reasons. But I can understand.”

Caldwell suffers from what is known as complex post-traumatic stress disorder — a form of deeply entrenched severe psychological distress also experienced by Holocaust survivors, prisoners of war and victims of childhood abuse, domestic abuse and torture — the result of having experienced sustained and repetitive agonizing events, Abramson said. Complex PTSD is often marked by rage and an unyielding depression, as in Caldwell’s case, according to Abramson.

“Mr. Caldwell could very well be an archetype for complex PTSD,” Abramson writes. “Maximum-security prisons maintain complete coercive control through 24-hour armed surveillance, locked cell blocks, 24-hour visibility of every aspect of a prisoner’s life, routine strip searches and thoroughly structured daily routines; all of which is encompassed within a fortress that is distinguished by outside perimeter barriers, and surrounded by razor wire with lethal electric fences designed to eliminate the possibility of escape.”

The many traumas Caldwell, now 54, experienced while in captivity imposed such an emotional burden on him that he disintegrated psychologically, Abramson writes, and the recent civil settlement provides no measure of relief from the deep and lasting anguish and rage that consume him — and likely will for the rest of his life.

Caldwell and Buckley, the former correctional officer, spoke with UCLA undergraduates in late September in an “Art and Trauma” honors collegium course that Abramson co-teaches.

Abramson and Bland-Abramson conclude that Caldwell was a victim of appalling injustice, which continues to disproportionately affect people of color in the United States. Recent research has shown that Black people in the U.S. are seven times more likely than white people to be wrongfully convicted of murder.

“Our hope,” the authors write, “is that by presenting this material, we can facilitate an understanding for, and empathy with, the trials and tribulations of victims of color who have suffered tremendously from police corruption and wrongful convictions. Until equal protection under the law is sustained unequivocally, restorative justice for people of color will be grievously foreshortened.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Ph.D. candidate Joshua McGuffie studies the biological effects of radiation in the mid-20th century

Lessons from—and for—an Atomic America

Ph.D. candidate Joshua McGuffie studies the biological effects of radiation in the mid-20th century

By Jonathan Riggs

 

Ph.D. candidate Joshua McGuffie studies the biological effects of radiation in the mid-20th century

Joshua McGuffie

Deep compassion and curiosity set Joshua McGuffie on his life’s work; a beaten-up ’99 Toyota Corolla got him there and back.

A native Angeleno and UCLA graduate, McGuffie originally went to seminary and became a Lutheran pastor serving two small churches in upstate New York. Although he found his work fulfilling, he realized he wanted to return to school. Conversations with members of his congregation—largely orchardists—inspired him to want to study the history of organic farming. However, his focus changed once he got to graduate school at Oregon State, not far from where the U.S. made all of its weapons-grade plutonium.

“So instead of organic farming, I ended up studying America’s nuclear past,” he says. “Now I’m a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at UCLA, researching the doctors and biologists who first studied the biological effects of radiation from the 1920s through the 1960s.”

Led by Stafford L. Warren, who would become the first dean of UCLA’s medical school (now the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA), these doctors and biologists faced a major challenge as they sought to understand the effects of radiation as the field raced forward, forcing them to grapple with the impact of things that had never existed before, such as fission reactors and atomic bombs. Beginning their work by exposing fish to X-rays, these researchers went on to travel to Hiroshima and Nagasaki three weeks after the 1945 bombing, studying the survivors, known as hibakusha. They continued their work on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands and at multiple sites in the United States, including a lab on UCLA’s campus.

“In some regards, these researchers could be considered sympathetic actors because they were trying to protect people from radiation exposure, but on the other hand, they made it possible for the United States to test atomic bombs for almost 20 years,” says McGuffie. “The fallout of that testing affected countless people as well as the environment. It’s a sad, tragic story, but there’s a lot to it that isn’t as well-known as it should be.”

More people should be aware of the full scope of victims of the nuclear arms race, he says. These include the Shoshone tribe in eastern Nevada who were exposed to test radiation; Navajo miners near Los Alamos who were not provided adequate protection during their work; and Marshall Islanders who had to be evacuated by Greenpeace after nuclear fallout made their original home atolls uninhabitable.

“The United States owes a real debt to all these people,” McGuffie says. “Scientific advances can offer so much amazing possibility, but we can never forget that there has been repeated precedent for marginalized people being further marginalized in the name of progress.”

Throughout his previous travels—from California to New York to Oregon and back—McGuffie drove that aforementioned Corolla, and he added another 5,000-plus miles to it on a UCLA-funded “atomic roadtrip” crisscrossing the western U.S.  Digging through documents in little reading rooms and recording oral histories, McGuffie was even briefly detained by sheriff’s deputies while taking photos outside the Nevada Test Site. 

A surprising but important supplement to his research came when McGuffie participated in UCLA’s Excellence in Pedagogy and Innovative Classrooms (EPIC) Program, which offers resources, training and support for humanities educators to strengthen and expand their craft. In addition to connecting him with other educators engaging with environmental matters via various disciplines, it also helped him better understand how to bridge his work outside the classroom in dynamic ways.

“I loved how EPIC helped me think about turning my research into exciting teaching materials,” he says. “Right now I’m teaching a history of medicine course at Loyola Marymount, and for our unit on environmental justice and health, I’m working on bringing in members of the Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles (CCSCLA) who fought against the construction of a garbage incinerator in an impoverished neighborhood.”

Although the lessons of America’s radioactive past seem to augur a bleak future, McGuffie limits his despair to the occasional dark joke. Trained by the seminary to listen deeply to others, to search for empathy and answers, he believes there is hope for humanity.

It’s like the pickup game of soccer that’s been played every Sunday evening in his neighborhood for the past 10 years with people he’s known since he was a child and continues to this day, much to McGuffie’s joy. Every week he steps onto the field where all are welcome, no matter your skill level or how many years you’ve been away; every week he’s reminded that the only way to succeed is to trust, help and root for your teammates.

“In my heart of hearts, I think humanity has the potential to take real, positive actions to address issues of environment and health in equitable, effective ways we haven’t before,” McGuffie says. “I look at my children and I choose to be hopeful: there are solutions out there and we just have to get excited about finding them.”

LEARN MORE at Josh’s website: https://naturesciencehistory.com/

UCLA internet studies and race scholar Safiya Noble awarded MacArthur Fellowship

Picture of Safiya Noble

Safiya Noble, an associate professor of gender studies and African American studies, and co-founder of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry.

Professor Safiya Noble, director of an interdisciplinary research center at UCLA focused on the intersection of human rights, social justice, democracy, and technology — was announced today as a recipient of a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

In 2019, Noble, an associate professor of gender studies and African American studies, co-founded the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, with Sarah T. Roberts, associate professor of gender studies and information studies.

Noble’s scholarship focuses on digital media and its impact on society, as well as how digital technology and artificial intelligence converge with questions of race, gender, culture and power. She is the author of the bestselling book “Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism,” which examines racist and sexist bias in the algorithms used by commercial search engines.

“Noble’s work deepens our understanding of the technologies that shape the modern world and facilitates critical conversations regarding their potential harms,” the MacArthur Foundation said in a statement.

The MacArthur Fellowship is a $625,000, no-strings-attached award to people the foundation deems “extraordinarily talented and creative individuals.” Fellows are chosen based on three criteria: exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of accomplishments, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work. Noble is one of 25 individuals the foundation selected for fellowships in 2021.

In addition to recognizing and supporting exceptional creativity, the fellowship is intended to inspire people to pursue their own creative interests.

For Noble, who is also affiliated faculty in UCLA’s School of Education and Information Studies, that means launching her nonprofit EquityEngine.org, a leadership and empowerment initiative for women of color.

“The MacArthur Fellowship will have a transformative impact on the work I do to abolish the harmful and discriminatory effects of digital technologies,” Noble said. “It’s a great and unexpected honor, and I’m grateful to the selection committee and all my colleagues who made this possible. I plan to use this award to accelerate and amplify the work of other Black women and women of color.”

In addition to her research, Noble works with engineers, executives, artists and policymakers to think through the broader ramifications of how technology is built, deployed and used in unfair ways. She challenges them to examine the harms algorithmic architectures cause and shows the necessity of addressing the civil and human rights that are violated through their technologies.

With Noble’s award, seven current faculty in the social sciences are MacArthur Fellows, including historian Kelly Lytle- Hernández (2019), anthropologist Jason De León (2017), linguistic anthropologist Elinor Ochs (1998), sociologist Rogers Brubaker (1994), anthropologist Sherry Ortner (1990) and geographer Jared Diamond (1985).

“As social scientists, it is increasingly important for us to interrogate the power that technology holds over our social structures, cultures, behavior and potential for progress,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of the division of social sciences in the UCLA College. “Safiya’s work has done just that. We are deeply gratified and proud that the MacArthur Foundation has recognized Safiya for her ongoing commitment to engaging community, inspiring action and her efforts to build a more equitable world for all.”

Along with Roberts, Noble also serves as co-faculty director of the interdisciplinary Minderoo Initiative for Technology and Power held within the Center for Critical Internet Inquiry.

“This recognition of Dr. Noble by MacArthur Foundation is so timely, and rightly recognizes her indefatigable efforts, her incredible scope of vision, and her ability to hold fast to her convictions in the name of justice and equity, often years before the rest of the world catches up,” Roberts said. “Time and again, I have watched her fearlessly, boldly and assuredly lead the vanguard, push the boundaries of the possible, demand and then pave the way for something better. This world is a better place for the work of Safiya Noble. I am so proud to see her recognized as the iconoclastic genius that she is.”

Noble joins 13 other UCLA faculty as MacArthur fellows in total, a list that also includes mathematician Terence Tao, director Peter Sellars, astrophysicist Andrea Ghez and historian of religion Gregory Schopen.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

New metric shows COVID cut average lifespan by nearly a decade in parts of U.S.

UCLA sociologist’s demographic tool clarifies impact of temporary ‘shocks’ like epidemics and natural disasters

By Jessica Wolf

silhouetted people walking on busy street. iStock.com/imagedotpro

iStock.com/imagedotpro

At its peak, COVID-19 drastically reduced the average human lifespan — by as much as nine years in one U.S. state — according to a new longevity metric developed at UCLA.

Sociology professor Patrick Heuveline devised the metric, called the mean unfulfilled lifespan, to assess the impact of temporary “shocks” like the novel coronavirus on average length of life. To date, the pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 4.2 million people worldwide.

The tool allows demographers to conduct fine-grained analyses in specific regions over various periods of time, offering a new and more dynamic way of gauging how different areas of the country and the world experience decreases in lifespans over the course of the pandemic, Heuveline said.

Heuveline’s analysis, published online in the open-access journal PLOS One, suggests, for example, that as COVID-19 peaked in New Jersey in mid-April 2020, the average lifespan in the state plummeted by almost nine years, the most dramatic example from the U.S.

Demographers typically calculate lifespan using a metric known as period life expectancy at birth, or PLEB, which is the average number of years a person born at a certain time would be expected to live if future death rates remained at present levels. When researchers factor in the impacts of a given cause of death — a steady increase in heart attacks or car accidents, for instance — they see how these factors can reduce PLEB.

However, calculating changes to life expectancy in this way cannot adequately capture the effect of large, temporary shocks like natural disasters or the COVID-19 pandemic, in which mortality conditions are rapidly shifting, Heuveline said.

To more clearly illustrate the impact of such phenomena, Heuveline’s mean unfulfilled lifespan measures the difference between the average age at death of individuals who died within a given time frame and the average age these people would have been expected to reach had there not been a temporary shock.

“As did a few other demographers, I initially tried to convey the mortality impact of COVID-19 by assessing how much life expectancies would decline during the pandemic,” he said. “When mortality conditions are continuously changing, however, life expectancies are hard to interpret, and I wanted to provide a more intuitive indicator of that mortality impact.”

Read about Patrick Heuveline’s previous research on COVID-19 and life expectancy.

Heuveline demonstrated the mean unfulfilled lifespan by applying it to COVID-19 mortality data from regions with similarly sized populations, including New Jersey, Mexico City, Lombardy in Italy, and Lima, Peru. He compared decreases in life expectancy by calendar quarter (from March 31, 2020 to March 31, 2021) and using rolling seven-day windows (from March 15 to June 15, 2020). The latter analysis suggested that the mean unfulfilled lifespan peaked at 8.91 years in New Jersey, 6.24 years in in Mexico City, 6.43 years in Lombardy and 2.67 in Lima.

In addition, his study found that during the month of April 2020, the mean unfulfilled lifespan may have reached 12.7 years in the Guayas province of Ecuador.

Graph illustrating effect of COVID-19 on death rates in four regions

Patrick Heuveline/PLOS One
Graph illustrates how the average lifespan changed over three-month periods between March 2020 and 2021 in regions of Italy, the U.S., Mexico and Peru as a result of COVID-19. (Figures on the left represent the mean unfulfilled lifespan in years.)

Heuveline noted that uncertainties in calculating mean unfulfilled lifespan may arise from potential differences between deaths related to temporary shocks like the pandemic and actual or excess deaths — differences that, when accounted for, may push the peak unfulfilled lifespan figures seen in the study even higher. His analysis demonstrates how these issues can be factored into calculations.

Heuveline said he hopes the new metric will eventually be applied broadly as researchers seek to better understand the impact of epidemics, natural disasters and even violence on life expectancy.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

UCLA College Magazine 2021 Issue

2021 UCLA College Magazine

Welcome to the latest issue of the UCLA College Magazine, highlighting our remarkable faculty, students and alumni.

In the central feature, we celebrate five Black Bruins — scientists, professors, activists and students — driven by their experience of community and passion for justice to help to build a more equitable world.

In this issue, you can also read about new insights into Venus and Mars, studies on maternal stress, an award-winning documentary on migration, and much more.

We hope you enjoy reading this issue of the magazine! Go Bruins!

For the full magazine click here >>

A photo of D’Artagnan Scorza filming his address to the UCLA College’s class of 2021.

UCLA College to host virtual commencement celebration June 11

A photo of D’Artagnan Scorza filming his address to the UCLA College’s class of 2021.

D’Artagnan Scorza filming his address to the UCLA College’s class of 2021. (Photo Credit: Mike Baker/UCLA)

Civic leader, social justice advocate and UCLA alumnus D’Artagnan Scorza will deliver the keynote address at the UCLA College’s virtual commencement celebration on Friday, June 11. The program, which begins at 6 p.m. PDT, will also feature remarks by Chancellor Gene Block, Nobel laureate Andrea Ghez, class of 2021 student speakers and others.

A decorated U.S. Navy veteran, Scorza is the inaugural executive director of racial equity for Los Angeles County and president of the UCLA Alumni Association. He is also a lecturer at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

“D’Artagnan Scorza has given back to his fellow Bruins and his fellow Americans in myriad ways since his graduation,” said David Schaberg, senior dean of the UCLA College and dean of humanities. “His incredible life experiences and dedication to social change make him the ideal person to inspire our graduating seniors to aim high and make a difference in the world.”

In 2008, Scorza founded the nonprofit Social Justice Learning Institute and as its executive director over the next 12 years led efforts to open up academic and career opportunities to Black and Latino youth while establishing community gardens, a farmers’ market and healthy lifestyle centers in his hometown of Inglewood, California. His research, policy initiatives and grassroots organizing have had a significant impact on high-need communities throughout California.

“This year’s graduating class deserves so much credit for their achievement and resilience in the face of the pandemic,” Scorza said. “It’s an incredible honor to have been asked to give the commencement address to this remarkable group of Bruins.”

While studying as an undergraduate UCLA, Scorza enlisted in the Navy following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and served for four-and-a-half years, including a deployment to Iraq. He later returned to UCLA, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in the study of religion in 2007 and earned his doctorate in education in 2013. As a UC student regent from 2007 to 2009, he helped pass policies that established veterans’ service centers and prioritized $160 million for student services across UC campuses.

Scorza also served as president of the Inglewood Unified School District Board of Education and chaired a campaign to secure $350 million in school improvement bonds for the district’s schools.

Scorza was invited to be the 2021 commencement speaker after being selected from among wide field of candidates by UCLA’s Commencement Committee, which comprises students, faculty members and administrators.

Along with his UCLA degrees, Scorza holds a bachelor’s in liberal studies from National University in San Diego.

Virtual and in-person commencement ceremonies

In addition to the virtual celebration, UCLA plans to recognize members of the class of 2021 individually and in person at a series of events beginning the weekend of June 11; these events will be held over the course of several days and will adhere to public safety guidelines. For information on the in-person and virtual celebrations, please visit the UCLA College’s commencement website and UCLA’s campus commencement website.

Campus leaders announced in April that while the UCLA College and other units would be hosting commencement ceremonies virtually due to the continued public health risks of the COVID-19 pandemic, UCLA remains committed to hosting in-person commencement ceremonies for the classes of 2021and 2020 and their families and friends at a later date.

This article, written by Margaret MacDonald, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

A photo of Ayad Akhtar

Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar to speak at UCLA’s Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership, May 13

A photo of Ayad Akhtar

Akhtar won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama for his Tony-nominated play “Disgraced.” (Courtesy of the Tuesday Agency)

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ayad Akhtar will speak at the Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership on Thursday, May 13 at 4 p.m. Following his remarks, Akhtar will take part in a conversation with Ali Behdad, UCLA’s John Charles Hillis Professor of Literature.

The online event is free and open to the public.

“This is an exciting opportunity to hear from one of the most creative and brilliant literary minds of our time,” said David Schaberg, senior dean of the UCLA College. “Ayad Akhtar is an outstanding storyteller and an incisive observer of the human experience, and we are honored to have him share his insights with us.”

Akhtar won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for drama for his Tony-nominated play “Disgraced.” His other plays include “Junk,” which won the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for American Drama Inspired by American History and was nominated for a Tony, and “The Invisible Hand,” which earned an Obie Award, Outer Critics Circle’s John Gassner Award and Olivier Award.

Akhtar’s latest work is the novel “Homeland Elegies,” which explores the experiences of a Muslim man who, like the author, grew up in Wisconsin as the son of Pakistani immigrants. The Washington Post called it “a tour de force” and The New York Times noted it was “a beautiful novel … that had echoes of ‘The Great Gatsby’ and that circles, with pointed intellect, the possibilities and limitations of American life.”

Jennifer Mnookin, dean of the UCLA School of Law was one of the four UCLA deans who collectively chose to invite Akhtar to speak. She said “Homeland Elegies” was “the single most affecting, inspiring book” she has read during the pandemic.

“It is an extraordinary novel about the complexity of America, a beautiful interweaving of fact and fiction that explores identity, immigration, Islamophobia after 9/11, the process of literary creation and so much more,” Mnookin said. “It’s both a novel of ideas and a page turner.”

Akhtar’s first novel, “American Dervish,” has been published in more than 20 languages.

In 2017, Akhtar received an Arts and Letters Award for literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Steinberg Playwright Award and the Nestroy Theatre Prize. He has received fellowships from the American Academy in Rome, MacDowell, the Sundance Institute and Yaddo, for which he is also a board director. He is president of PEN America, the national nonprofit writers organization, and a board trustee at New York Theatre Workshop.

Visit the Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership website to register for the livestream, learn more about the event and submit a question for the speaker.

The Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership was established in 2011 through a generous gift from Meyer and Rene Luskin. Their vision in establishing the lecture series gave UCLA an opportunity to share knowledge and foster dialogue among scholars, leaders in government and business, and the greater Los Angeles community.

This article, written by Margaret MacDonald, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

A rendering of the NASA Perseverance rover as it would appear on Mars.

Q&A: David Paige on the Mars Perseverance landing

A rendering of the NASA Perseverance rover as it would appear on Mars.

Rendering of the NASA Perseverance. The rover’s RIMFAX technology will use radar waves to probe the unexplored world that lies beneath the Martian surface. (Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech/FFI)

NASA’s Perseverance rover is scheduled to land on Mars on Feb. 18 after a six-and-a-half month flight. Over the next two years, it will explore Jezero Crater, which is in Mars’ northern hemisphere, for signs of ancient life and for new clues about the planet’s climate and geology.

Among other tasks, it will collect rock and soil samples in tubes that a later spacecraft will bring back to Earth, and the experiments will lay the groundwork for future human and robotic exploration of Mars.

Perseverance, which is about the size of a car, is outfitted with seven different instruments, including the Radar Imager for Mars‘ Subsurface Experiment, or RIMFAX. RIMFAX will probe beneath the planet’s surface to study its geology in detail, and its deputy principal investigator is David Paige, a UCLA professor of planetary science.

In an email interview with UCLA Newsroom, Paige discussed his hopes for the mission. Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Why do you want to study Jezero Crater’s geologic history?

Jezero Crater is a very interesting location on Mars because it looks like there was once a lake inside the crater, and that a river flowed into the lake and deposited sediments in a delta. We plan to land near the delta and then explore it to learn more about Mars’ climate history, and maybe something about ancient Martian life. What we’ll be able to see once we start roving and what we will actually learn is anybody’s guess.

RIMFAX will provide a highly detailed view of subsurface structures and help find clues to past environments on Mars, including those that may have provided the conditions necessary for supporting life.

A photo of David Paige.

David Paige (Courtesy of David Paige)

What are you hoping to discover?

Well, the first thing to know about RIMFAX is that it’s an experiment. We’ve never tried using a ground-penetrating radar on Mars before, so we can’t really predict what types of subsurface structures we might be able to see.

But we have done some fairly extensive field testing of RIMFAX on Earth to learn how to use it and how to interpret the data. Here, ground-penetrating radars can be very useful for clarifying subsurface geology, but with any kind of imaging system, the science of ground-penetrating radar comes from the interpretation of the images, and interpretation relies on context.

Frankly, if we are able to usefully interpret anything we see in the RIMFAX data, the experiment will be a success. Any discoveries we make beyond that will be icing on the cake.

Are you hopeful of finding water, or evidence of water, beneath the planet’s surface?

There are all kinds of evidence for past liquid water all over Mars. At Jezero, there must have been a lot of water at some point, but we don’t expect that the ground beneath the rover will still be wet.

Mars today is a very cold place, and any water in the shallow subsurface should be frozen at Jezero. What we’re interested in finding are geologic features that wouldn’t be expected to form under present climatic conditions, as those would be especially interesting targets to search for signs of past life.

However, searching for past life on Mars may be very difficult, and we should not expect instant success. After all, we know the Earth was literally crawling with life, but definitive evidence for past life on Earth, especially ancient life, is very rare.

What is your role in the research? 

My role is to help plan the observations and analyze the results. Since the rover will be working on Mars time, in which the days are 24.5 hours long, responsibility for the operation of RIMFAX will pingpong between Norway and UCLA every two weeks. Having operations centers on two continents will make it easier to keep up with the mission and stay on a reasonably normal schedule.

In fact, RIMFAX was designed, paid for and built by our colleagues in Norway. I teamed up with my colleague, Svein-Erik Hamran of the University of Oslo, to propose the instrument to NASA, and it has been a rewarding experience to work with the international RIMFAX team.

Are UCLA students involved?

Yes. Mark Nasielski, a UCLA graduate student in electrical engineering, is part of our operations team. And Max Parks and Tyler Powell, graduate students in Earth, planetary and space sciences, are part of our science team.

This article, written by Stuart Wolpert, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom