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Studying Maternal Stress

By Stuart Wolpert

 

Through their research with women and children, UCLA scientists are homing in on some of the great mysteries of life and some of society’s most pressing concerns.

One example: the question of why some people age faster than others.

A potential answer, a recent study indicates, is that a mother’s stress prior to giving birth may accelerate her child’s biological aging.

Researchers found evidence that maternal stress adversely affects the length of a baby’s telomeres — the small pieces of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that act as protective caps, like the plastic tips on shoelaces. Shortened telomeres have been linked to a higher risk of cancers, cardiovascular and other diseases, and earlier death. The findings are reported in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

“Research on aging is beginning to identify some factors that might put a person on an accelerated aging path, potentially leading to diseases of aging such as metabolic disorder and cardiovascular disease much earlier in life than would be expected,” said the study’s lead author, Judith Carroll, an associate professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology.

While several studies have reported that telomere length is shorter in newborns whose mothers reported high stress during pregnancy, this study also measured maternal stress prior to conception and then, once women were pregnant, the researchers followed up in the second and third trimesters. Their analyses identified the third trimester as an especially important period — but not earlier — during which children are at higher risk for shortened telomeres.

Christine Dunkel Schetter, a distinguished professor of psychology and psychiatry and senior author of the study, said the findings support the case for devoting more resources to screening and treatment programs for preconception health and well-being.

The research team followed 111 mothers living in North Carolina, Illinois and Washington, D.C., from preconception until their children reached early childhood. Between the ages of 3 and 5, the children provided cell samples from inside their cheeks, from which the researchers extracted DNA that was used to measure telomeres. They were then able to test for associations of childhood telomere length with the mothers’ stress levels when the children were in utero.

Carroll said, “We see evidence into childhood that telomere length continues to be shorter in those children exposed in utero to maternal stress.

“How does maternal stress alter cellular aging?”

We know that stress can activate inflammation and metabolic activity, both of which, in high amounts, can damage DNA,” Carroll said. “Telomeres are vulnerable to damage and, if unrepaired before cell division, they can become shortened by this damage. During in utero development, we know there is rapid cell replication, and we suspect there is increased vulnerability to damage during this time.”

High maternal stress oftenleads to preterm births

A second UCLA-led study from the same research group found that women suffering from high stress — defined as feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope — during the months and even years before conception had shorter pregnancies than other women. Women who experienced the highest levels of stress gave birth to infants whose time in utero was shorter by one week or more.

“Every day in the womb is important to fetal growth and development,” said Dunkel Schetter. “Premature infants have higher risk of adverse outcomes at birth and later in life than babies born later, including developmental disabilities and physical health problems.”

Dunkel Schetter, who heads the Stress Processes and Pregnancy Lab, which conducted the studies, noted premature birth rates are unusually high in the U.S., compared with other nations with similar resources, and low-income and African American women have higher rates of preterm birth.

“Preventing preterm birth, with its adverse consequences for mothers and children worldwide and in the U.S., is a top priority,” she said.

These results, published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine, are based on extensive in-home interviews with 360 mothers, many of whom live near or below the poverty level. In addition to collecting data on these women’s general stress levels, the interviewers obtained information about various types of environmental stress, including financial worries, job loss, a lack of food, chronic relationship troubles, parenting challenges, interpersonal vi0lence and discrimination.

The researchers found that women who were exposed to the lowest or highest amounts of stress in their environment had the shortest pregnancies, while women who had a moderate level of environmental stress before conception had the longest pregnancies.

“Women exposed to moderate stressors in their environment may have developed coping strategies that serve them well both before and during pregnancy, while exposure to more severe stress challenges even women who normally cope very effectively,” said lead author Nicole Mahrer, who conducted the research as a UCLA postdoctoral scholar in health psychology and is now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of La Verne. She is also a co-author of the other study.

A moderate amount of stress prior to the pregnancy may also help prepare the developing fetus for the environment to come, Mahrer said.

“What we have not known until now,” Dunkel Schetter said, “is whether a mother’s psychosocial health before conception matters for her birth out-comes. This study is among the first to point out that, yes, it does matter. It may even be more influential than prenatal health because some of what is put in motion before conception may be hard to stop during pregnancy. For example, a mother with dysregulated immune function due to stress may be at risk when she becomes pregnant.”

 

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A photo of a member of the humanitarian search-and-rescue group Águilas del Desierto.

Professor’s Award-Winning Documentary on Migration

 

By Alison Hewitt

 

When UCLA professor Maite Zubiaurre decided to make a documentary about volunteers who search for the remains of migrants in the desert spanning the U.S.-Mexico border, she wanted people to see what she believes has become invisible: not just the deaths, but how ignoring them enables policies that lead to even more deaths.

Now she’s helped bring that hidden reality to light. Her 14-minute film Águilas, co-directed with Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, a professor at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, won the SXSW Documentary Short Jury Award and the Best Mini-Doc award at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

The film garnering all this interest took shape when Zubiaurre, a professor of European languages and transcultural studies, and of Spanish and Portuguese, approached Guevara-Flanagan with the idea of highlighting the work of Águilas del Desierto (Desert Eagles), a humanitarian search-and-rescue group that scours the Arizona desert on weekends, looking for those reported missing. The documentary follows the volunteers on one of their searches.

Zubiaurre, who also co-leads the College’s Urban Humanities Initiative, spoke with UCLA College Magazine about the film and her concept of “forensic empathy,” which centers on consciousness-raising activism and compassion-triggering artistic practices around migrant suffering and death. Some responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: It’s clear that you are very moved and inspired by the work of Águilas del Desierto. Who are they?

A: They’re a group of volunteers from San Diego. At least once a month, they search for missing migrants to bring families some sort of closure. The weekend that we filmed the documentary, we found six bodies, all skeletal remains.

Most of the volunteers are migrants themselves, and they’re all workers — construction workers, domestic workers, gardeners, laborers, you name it. They finish work around 7 on Friday night, drive their trucks seven hours to Arizona, sleep for maybe three hours and then walk for hours through that harsh and harrowing landscape. I have volunteered with them since 2016, and it’s truly very hard. They sleep in a tent on Saturday night and search on Sunday until they have to drive home. Then they get up early Monday morning and go back to work.

Needless to say, they don’t have any steady funding. They have a website and a Facebook page, and they set up stands in swap meets, where they talk about their work and collect donations. Those are also ways they hear about the missing.

What the Águilas do, their heroic efforts and altruism, deserves recognition. Their work needs to be made visible. This short documentary isn’t looking at all the pieces of the issue, but it looks at one specific piece to raise awareness about what is happening at the border and hopefully help change it.

Q: You’ve said this documentary is a humanitarian plea. What action do you hope it will inspire?

A: People don’t want to deal with the fact that migration is creating this humanitarian crisis. In 2020, Arizona’s Pima County morgue recovered 227 mi-grants’ bodies. In the 1990s, they would find 10 or 20 bodies. The numbers have skyrocketed because of “Prevention Through Deterrence,” a set of U.S. government policies that militarily fortify urban crossing points, forcing migrants to cross through unforgiving desert terrain. The loose estimate is that for each body they find, there are five that the desert never gives back.

This has become invisible, despite its radical visibility: The bones are liter-ally laying exposed in the sun. I want to raise awareness, and most importantly, effect policy change.

This documentary, and a feature documentary in the making, are part of a larger, three-pronged interdisciplinary and collaborative endeavor called forensic empathy that I initiated and lead. The other participants are the Tijuana-based filmic and artistic collective Dignicraft — José Luis Figueroa, Ana Paola Rodríguez and Omar Foglio — and Jonathan Crisman, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona.

We are also writing a scholarly monograph and leading the creation of a digital map of the border. There’s the imaginary border you see on most maps — a criminally simplified version that our map wants to complicate. It’s not all bad guys trying to get into a perfect country. We’re complicating the map with prisons, migrant assistance groups, artist studios. We’re thickening the map so students can learn about the complexity of the border.

If you teach students complexity, they will pause and reflect. If you oversimplify, they will not reflect, and they will believe in fallacies.

Q: How does forensic empathy shine a light on this topic in a new way?

A: We have to look at this grim reality through the eyes of empathy, not just through the cold statistics. Forensic empathy is a direct response to the tragedy of the horrifyingly high number of undocumented immigrants who perish year after year while crossing the U.S.–Mexico border. It studies the forensic efforts, archival practices and art interventions that take place around border casualties and looks at the personal belongings found on the deceased immigrants through the eyes of chief examiners, consular agencies, policymakers, nonprofit organizations and artist-activists.

The personal belongings recovered in the desert tell a story. Belongings like camouflaged clothes, carpet-soled shoes and matte water bottles are all designed to help the migrants truly disappear into the landscape. But hundreds of bodies are found, not just by the Águilas, but by day-trippers, hunters, even dog walkers. The migrants die of dehydration, hypothermia, hyperthermia. Yet because we don’t want to look at our failure as a society, the bodies become invisible and so does the apparatus around it that increases the deaths.

This is a key role of the humanities, to apply critical thinking in dealing with the crucial issues of our times and to spearhead initiatives that connect with the community and fully invest in social justice.

LEARN MORE

Watch the documentary, available for a year through The New Yorker’s website. Visit the Águilas del Desierto website.

 

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Neuroscientist Adriana Galván named 2021 Gold Shield Faculty Prize winner

A photo of Adriana Galván.

Adriana Galván designed one of UCLA’s most popular classes, “Puberty and Sleep.” Students say they’ve learned a lot about their own sleeping habits from the class. (Photo Courtesy of Adriana Galván)

Adriana Galván, dean of undergraduate education at UCLA, describes herself as “painfully shy” as a child, but by the time she enrolled at San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara, she’d gotten over her bashfulness. Active in student government, a cheerleader and member of the marching band, Galván looks back at her teenage years as a period of life she loved.

So it makes sense that Galván, a psychology professor in the UCLA College, chose to specialize in adolescent brain development and behavior, particularly in the domains of learning, motivation and decision-making.

“There was a gap in knowledge about the adolescent brain,” she said, “and I was curious to learn how the brain contributes to the normal behavioral changes that happen as kids transition into teenagers.”

Galván has since contributed 113 papers to top journals and has written a book, “The Neuroscience of Adolescence,” published by Cambridge University Press (2017). Her research on adolescent reward sensitivity and risk-taking behavior has played a central role in landmark Supreme Court decisions regarding the culpability and punishment of juvenile offenders.

Galván’s work on the teenage brain and its decision-making process is just one of the many reasons she was recently awarded the 2021 Gold Shield Faculty Prize, a $30,000 award given annually to an exceptional mid-career full professor with a distinguished record of undergraduate teaching, research and university service. The prize is sponsored by Gold Shield, Alumnae of UCLA, an organization that was founded in 1936 by 12 women to provide service to the university and its community.

Several of Galván’s peers and former scholars came forward to nominate her for the award, citing her research as well as her contributions to teaching, mentoring, service to UCLA and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion. Beloved by her students, Galván has taught more than 10 different courses and seminars since her arrival in 2008, including two new undergraduate and three graduate courses she developed. One of them, a specialized seminar called “Puberty and Sleep,” is extremely popular with students who say they’ve learned a lot about their own sleeping habits from the class.

The daughter of parents who immigrated from Mexico City, Galván became the first in her immediate and extended family to earn a doctoral degree (a Ph.D. in neuroscience in 2006 from Cornell University). She serves as an exemplary role model, mentoring students through the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research — Life and Biomedical Sciences and the Brain Research Institute Summer Program for Undergraduate Research, both of which aim to engage underrepresented students in research opportunities.

“I had always longed for a mentor who would be able to provide me not only with exceptional advice, but also someone with whom I could feel a sense of community,” said Jasmine Hernandez, a former student of Galván’s and currently a predoctoral research fellow at Yale University. “Being a Latina first-generation woman has afforded its own challenges, but people like Professor Galván continue to make a significant impact on my life. She is definitely a powerhouse scholar in the field of developmental cognitive neuroscience and psychology.”

Named dean of undergraduate education in July 2020, Galván has already proposed new initiatives, including the establishment of a research center tasked with improving graduation rates, student learning and preparation for success after college with an emphasis on addressing equity and inclusion issues.

Galván, who is raising son Gustavo, 10, and daughter Lucia, 7, with her husband, William Lowry, a professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology at UCLA, said she was “ecstatic” when she found out she had won the Gold Shield Faculty Prize.

“I felt so much gratitude for the colleagues who nominated me. They each make UCLA a very special place,” she said.

As for the $30,000 award, Galván’s already got plans for spending it: “I’m excited to support a postdoctoral fellow on a new project related to learning and motivation during adolescence!”

This article, written by Wendy Soderburg, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

A photo of Dr. Scott Wilke and Jovian Cheung.

Two Bruins win prestigious Goldwater Scholarships

A photo of Dr. Scott Wilke and Jovian Cheung.

From Left; Dr. Scott Wilke and Jovian Cheung (Photo Credit: Jovian Cheung)

UCLA undergraduates Jovian Cheung and Kevin Jiang have won this year’s prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, among the 410 natural science, engineering and mathematics students from across the U.S. to be awarded scholarships from a pool of 1,256 college sophomores and juniors.

A photo of Kevin Jiang.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Jiang

The scholarship covers tuition and other academic expenses for one to two years and is geared toward students in STEM who are preparing to pursue an M.D. or Ph.D.

Cheung is a junior majoring in cognitive science and minoring in neuroscience. For the past three years, she has worked in Dr. Scott Wilke’s lab in the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, helping to conduct research on how neural activity in the brain influences behavior. She presented her research at Undergraduate Research Week and is part of the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. Cheung also mentors undergraduate researchers in the Collaboration in Undergraduate Research Enrichment (CURE) club and reviews submissions for the Undergraduate Science Journal.

Her goal is to work at the intersection of neuroscience and psychology to study psychiatric disorders and processes, and she hopes to contribute to understanding how the brain processes information and emotions.

“It’s really encouraging to gain affirmation for the work that I’ve been doing,” Cheung said. “At the same time, it pushes me to want to continue to put in more effort to improve myself.”

Also a junior, Jiang is majoring in biochemistry and minoring in statistics. He is working with Dr. Jonathan Braun, former chair of the UCLA department of pathology and laboratory medicine who currently leads the Braun Laboratory at the Cedars-Sinai Inflammatory Bowel and Immunobiology Research Institute. With Dr. Braun, Jiang researches inflammatory bowel disease and presented his research at Digestive Disease Week, one of the world’s largest medical conferences.

He also works with Dr. Alexander Hoffman, professor in the UCLA department of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics and director of the Institute for Quantitative and Computational Biosciences, to use machine learning to study macrophage immune responses. Like Cheung, Jiang works at the Undergraduate Science Journal as managing editor and mentors other undergraduate researchers in CURE. After pursuing a Ph.D., he hopes to create effective, personalized treatments for patients with cancer and other diseases.

Jiang said that receiving the scholarship has made him proud of his accomplishments. “My PI put it really nicely: he said it’s not often that you can take a short break in your career to just appreciate the things that you’ve done so far,” he said. “This is one of those moments.”

This story was written by Robin Migdol. 

A photo of Himalaya Mountains in Nepal after landslides caused by the 2015 Gorkha earthquake.

Imaging technique could help identify where landslides are likely

A photo of Himalaya Mountains in Nepal after landslides caused by the 2015 Gorkha earthquake.

The Himalaya Mountains in Nepal after landslides caused by the 2015 Gorkha earthquake. (Photo Credit: Gen Li)

Each year, landslides kill thousands of people around the world and cause catastrophic property damage. But scientists are still trying to better understand the circumstances that cause them. Doing so would go a long way toward helping people predict where landslides could occur and how severe they might be.

A study led by Seulgi Moon, a UCLA professor of Earth, planetary and space sciences, could be a significant step toward that goal.

Moon and Gen Li, a former UCLA postdoctoral scholar who’s now at Caltech, created a new method to understand how topographic stress — which occurs when tectonic plates beneath the Earth’s surface slide toward each other enough to change the landscape above —influence landslide events. Their research is published in Nature Geoscience.

The study is the first to combine information about natural processes that take place both on the surface of the Earth and at the tectonic level; previous research focused only on landslides caused by events like earthquakes and rain.

“We found that the magnitude of big landslides is affected by not only local conditions such as slope and precipitation but can be also affected by forces deep underground,” Moon said. “This implies that the interaction between what’s above and below the ground is important to better understanding surface processes of the Earth.”

For the study, the scientists developed a new adaptation of an existing technology called 3D topographic stress modeling in order to identify places deep below the Earth’s surface where rocks are weathered — meaning that they’re weakened by natural geological processes — or fractured. By identifying those spots, the model can determine which locations are most susceptible to landslides.

“Understanding earth science and geology will be critical to making mitigation plans for landslides,” Moon said.

Moon and Li conducted the research on the Longmen Mountains, on the Eastern Tibetan Plateau. Their approach uses high-resolution satellite images to detect the sizes and locations of landslides. Those satellite images are compared to the fracturing and weathering of rocks in the same locations, which Moon said can be predicted from the topography of the Earth’s surface.

Areas in which the underground bedrock is particularly weak or fractured may be vulnerable to a large landslide.

Moon’s technique, which uses high-resolution underground stress distribution data, enabled the scientists to locate fracturing that would otherwise not have been apparent because it’s so deep beneath the Earth’s surface — as much as 500 meters (or about 1600 feet) down. The high-resolution underground stress distribution data allows the researchers to distinguish areas below the ground that are damaged due to high stress.

The new technique also could be used to determine where highly sensitive construction projects — like storage facilities for nuclear energy or water — should (or shouldn’t) take place.

This article, written by Angela Estrada, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

A photo of UCLA physical sciences Centennial Award winners.

UCLA Division of Physical Sciences’ Centennial Awards honor faculty, alumni

A photo of UCLA physical sciences Centennial Award winners.

UCLA
Clockwise from top left: Stuart Brown, professor of physics and astronomy; Mahtash Esfandiari, professor of statistics; Tommaso Treu, professor of physics and astronomy; Robin Garrell, former vice provost for graduate education and professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Vassilis Angelopoulos, professor of Earth, planetary and space sciences; and Will Conley, professor of mathematics (Photo Credit: UCLA)

The UCLA Division of Physical Sciences will honor scientific excellence and commitment to education during the inaugural Centennial Awards celebration on May 26. The online event, which will feature a special welcome from Chancellor Gene Block and UCLA alumnus and actor Kal Penn, will honor faculty and alumni who have made significant contributions to their fields and the UCLA community.

“Through world-class research, leadership, mentorship and teaching, these awardees have demonstrated the level of excellence and service that UCLA is known for,” said Miguel García-Garibay, dean of the physical sciences division. “Every day they better the world around them, from students to faculty colleagues to the commercial sector and public at large. We are proud to celebrate them as part of the physical sciences family.”

Below are this year’s faculty awardees, who were nominated by their department.

Excellence in Education Award, which recognizes a faculty member who makes a broad impact on classroom inclusivity and demonstrated learning excellence:

  • Will Conley, professor of mathematics. Conley was recognized for his outstanding work teaching and promoting equity in the mathematics department’s introductory calculus sequence. His primary research interests are representation theory and algebraic number theory.
  • Mahtash Esfandiari, professor of statistics. Esfandiari is the director of the Statistical Consulting Center and the assistant director of the Center for the Teaching of Statistics. Her areas of interest include statistics education and statistical consulting.

Leadership Award, which acknowledges a member of the physical sciences division who has made extraordinary contributions through their service to UCLA or the national and/or international academic communities:

  • Robin Garrell, former vice provost for graduate education and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA. Garrell is now president of the graduate center at the City University of New York. Her research interests span vibrational spectroscopy and surface chemistry.

Mentorship Award, which recognizes a faculty member who has demonstrated a commitment to and success in mentoring research students from diverse backgrounds:

  • Vassilis Angelopoulos, professor of Earth, planetary and space sciences. As principal investigator of NASA’s THEMIS and ARTEMIS missions, Angelopoulos has led the development of five satellites and 20 ground-based observatories. He has also overseen the launch and operation of the first satellites built entirely at UCLA.
  • Stuart Brown, professor of physics and astronomy. Brown is a condensed matter experimentalist whose research focus is mostly on the phases and properties of correlated electron systems.

Outstanding Discovery Award, which honors physical sciences faculty who are leading their research fields with contributions from the most creative, productive and talented students, postdoctoral research fellows and researchers:

  • Tommaso Treu, professor of physics and astronomy. Treu is a member of the Hubble Telescope observing team. He is interested in understanding what the universe is made of, in particular the nature of dark matter and dark energy, and in understanding how galaxies and supermassive black holes form and evolve.

The Centennial Luminary Awards are presented to alumni in recognition of their contributions to UCLA and a career that exemplifies the values of research and education. The award recipients are:

– Leopold Andreoli, who received his doctorate in atmospheric sciences in 1980, will receive the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Luminary Award. Andreoli is a former Air Force colonel who led the development of critical intelligence technology.

– Amy Braverman, who received her master’s in mathematics in 1992 and her doctorate in statistics in 1999, will receive the Statistics Luminary Award. Braverman is principal statistician at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Her work focuses on the use of remote sensing data.

– Kirk Dunn, who received his bachelor’s in mathematics in 1983, will receive the Mathematics Luminary Award. Dunn is the chief operating office at Cloudera, where he uses his technology engineering, marketing, sales and management experience to oversee business operations.

– Myung Ki Hong, who received his bachelor’s in chemistry in 1959, will receive the Chemistry & Biochemistry Luminary Award. Known for his expertise in resin and coatings, Hong founded Dura Coat Products in 1986.

– Nathan Myhrvold, who received his bachelor’s in mathematics and his master’s in geophysics and space physics in 1979, will receive the Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences Luminary Award. Myhrvold is a prominent scientist, technologist, inventor, author and food photographer.

– Howard Preston, who received his bachelor’s in physics in 1965 and his doctorate in physics in 1974, will receive the Physics and Astronomy Luminary Award. Preston is president of Preston Cinema Systems, a motion picture camera equipment company based in Santa Monica.

– Benedict Schwegler, who received his doctorate in environmental science and engineering in 1999, will receive the Environment and Sustainability Luminary Award. Schwegler is currently chief scientist at Engie China Research Lab and an adjunct professor at Stanford University.

In addition, the Centennial Visionary Award will be presented to Mani Bhaumik, whose time as a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA led him to become one of the physical sciences division’s strongest supporters.

Visit the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences website for more information.

This article, written by Max Gordy, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom

New digital exhibit explores Jewish history in Boyle Heights

A photo of Baist’s Real Estate Surveys’ map of Los Angeles in 1921.

Baist’s Real Estate Surveys’ map of Los Angeles in 1921. (Photo Credit: Los Angeles Public Library)

In the 1930s, the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights had the highest concentration of Jewish people west of the Mississippi. There were approximately 10,000 Jewish households in the area, which was about a third of Los Angeles’ Jewish population. But Boyle Heights was also one of the most diverse neighborhoods — home to many Mexican, Japanese, Armenian/Turkish, Italian, Russian and African American families.

The Jewish Histories in Multiethnic Boyle Heights exhibit gathers archival materials, artifacts and personal stories to explore the rich history of the Jewish community in this neighborhood, while also observing how those experiences coincided with the other diasporic communities that lived there.

“The history of this neighborhood really lives on in people’s hearts and minds … and basements,” said Caroline Luce, chief curator and associate director of the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies.

The Boyle Heights exhibit is part of the Mapping Jewish L.A. project, a decadelong partnership between the Leve Center, UCLA Library and Special Collections, University of Southern California and other community archives. Through digital tools and multimedia technologies, the project enables a broader understanding of the complex histories of the Jewish community in Los Angeles.

“Like all of our projects at Mapping Jewish L.A., this exhibit aims to open a new public space for the discussion and discovery of L.A.’s kaleidoscopic history,” Luce said. “It serves as a new mode of remembrance, one that is collaborative and inclusive, that nurtures intergenerational and interethnic understanding, and that strengthens the ties between UCLA and the local community.”

Below is a preview of what you will find in the extensive digital exhibit, which covers many aspects of Jewish life in Boyle Heights, from education to cars and community centers.

This is a photo of Mollie Silverman (left) and friends in front of automobile on Malabar Street, ca. 1918.

Mollie Silverman (left) and friends in front of an automobile on Malabar Street in Boyle Heights, ca. 1918. (Photo Credit: Shades of L.A. Collection, Los Angeles Public Library)

The first automobile to ever drive through Los Angeles did so through the streets of Boyle Heights on May 30, 1897. J. Philip Erie, a New York civil engineer, spent $30,000 to design, invent and build the first gasoline-propelled automobile carriage west of the Mississippi River. The drive started in downtown Los Angeles and ended at Erie’s home near Hollenbeck Park.

By the 1930s and ’40s, cars were necessary to access jobs that were located beyond the downtown industrial zone. After World War II, as freeway construction in and around the neighborhood began, Mexican Americans, Japanese Americans and Jews formed social clubs revolving around the automobile. These clubs would sponsor food and toy drives, car washes and community events in their neighborhood.

Read more about the history of automobiles in Boyle Heights.

This is a photo of students of the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order Yiddish school performing their annual Purim play at the Cooperative Center in 1938.

Students of the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order Yiddish school perform their annual Purim play at the Cooperative Center in 1938. (Photo Credit: Shades of L.A. Collection, Los Angeles Public Library)

In the early 1920s, members of the Arbeter Ring (Workers Circle), a proletarian fraternal organization, and Jewish activists affiliated with the Cooperative Consumers League, a left-leaning cooperative buying club, created a place where Boyle Heights’ multiethnic residents could socialize, learn and organize. They called it the Cooperative Center, a large, three-story building near the corner of Brooklyn Avenue and Mott Street. There were several meeting rooms on the top floor; a large ballroom for lectures, rallies and social events in the middle; and a bakery and café on the ground floor. The building operated on a cooperative basis: Shareholder members voted democratically on administrative decisions, and union labor was employed throughout the building.

The Cooperative Center became a hub for neighborhood-based organizations and an important site of political organizing and social activities. The center hosted lectures by Upton Sinclair; organized meetings for the carpenters, furniture makers and bakers unions; and held social activities that blended consciousness raising, interethnic mingling and fundraising. Several unions and cultural organizations rented space there, as did the local branches of the International Workers Order, a left-leaning fraternal organization that offered low-cost insurance to its members regardless of race, religion or creed.

Read more about the history of the Cooperative Center.

This is a photo of a car in front of a house and appeared in “Who’s Who in sponsoring the Mount Sinai Hospital and Clinic, Annual Directory 1945.”

This photo appeared in “Who’s Who in sponsoring the Mount Sinai Hospital and Clinic, Annual Directory 1945.” (Photo Credit: Associated Organizations of Los Angeles)

The origins of Mt. Sinai Hospital — part of today’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center — can be traced to the 1918 pandemic, when a group of Jewish Angelenos provided kindness and comfort to the sick. The effort reflected the Jewish value of bikur cholim (“visiting the sick”) — a traditional halakhic (Jewish religious law) principle that deems alleviating the suffering of the ill and offering prayers on their behalf to be an important mitzvah (commandment or good deed). In 1920, the group established the Bikur Cholim Society and purchased a small home in Boyle Heights to provide round-the-clock care for the neighborhood’s “incurables.”

By the end of the decade, the Bikur Cholim Society moved into a large building on Bonnie Beach Place. Known as the Mt. Sinai Home for Chronic Invalids, the facility, which featured a kosher kitchen and small prayer room, provided a space for observant Jewish patients to receive care.

Read more about the history of Mt. Sinai Hospital.

A photo of the Japanese Hospital, located at First and Fickett streets in Boyle Heights, in 1929.

The Japanese Hospital, located at First and Fickett streets in Boyle Heights, in 1929. (Photo Credit: Japanese American National Museum)

Similar to the community spirit of Mt. Sinai Hospital, the former Japanese Hospital, located at First and Fickett streets in Boyle Heights, reflects how Japanese Americans took care of others in their community. In the early 1900s, public health officials often associated disease with recent immigrants and certain ethnic groups, and they used race to determine how to administer public health programs. As a result, Japanese immigrants, who were viewed as the least able to assimilate compared to other immigrant groups, didn’t have access to mainstream health care.

To meet the needs of their community, Japanese medical professionals established the Turner Street Hospital in Little Tokyo in 1913. But as the Japanese American community continued to grow, so did the need for more substantive medical care. Five immigrant Japanese doctors decided to build a larger hospital with state-of-the art surgical facilities, and the Japanese Hospital opened on Dec. 1, 1929.

“Both institutions are examples of how immigrant residents in Boyle Heights worked together to meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable, including health care, shelter and child care,” Luce said. “By highlighting these overlapping patterns of community organization, we hope the exhibit illuminates the intersecting histories of the many diasporas that converged in Boyle Heights.”

Read more about the history of the Japanese Hospital.

A photo of the original building at 420 N. Soto St., which housed the folkshul, ca. 1922.

The original building at 420 N. Soto St., which housed the folkshul, ca. 1922. (Photo Credit: Zunland, vol. 4 (1925))

In 1908, a group of Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe founded Los Angeles’ first Yiddish organization, the National-Radical Club. Among its primary goals was establishing a Yiddish school, so Jewish parents could supplement their children’s public school education. Advocates for the school included Dr. Leo Blass (née Lieb Isaac Shilmovich), whose devotion to Yiddish culture was legendary. Blass and members of the National-Radical Club began teaching classes at a private home near Michigan Avenue and Breed Street.

In 1920, Blass and the school board launched a fundraising drive to purchase a house at 420 N. Soto St., where the school would become a Yiddish cultural center and organizing space. The new center, known as the folkshul (“people’s school”), opened the following year with 120 students. In addition to being a Yiddish school, the folkshul quickly became a popular destination for organizations and events, hosting meetings of local Jewish unions, fundraisers and bazaars, and an annual Hasidism ball.

Read more about the history of the folkshul.

A photo of, from left: The Soto-Michigan JCC featured a playground where children could enjoy a jungle gym, swing sets and pingpong tables. Both photos were taken by Julius Shulman in 1938.

From left: The Soto-Michigan JCC featured a playground where children could enjoy a jungle gym, swing sets and pingpong tables. Both photos were taken by Julius Shulman in 1938. (Photo Credit: Julius Shulman Photography Archive, © J. Paul Getty Trust.)

About a half mile from the folkshul was the Soto-Michigan JCC, the Jewish Centers Association’s new community center in Boyle Heights. The center’s director, Rabbi J. M. Cohen, wanted to expand the center’s role in the neighborhood to “integrate the Jewish community with the general community and the individual with the Jewish community and society as a whole.” Cohen believed that by celebrating cultural pluralism, the center would strengthen the Jewish identities of American-born children, foster integration and serve all of the neighborhood’s residents, including children of Mexican, Asian, Russian and African American descent.

The Soto-Michigan JCC’s three-story facility featured a lounge, game room and clubroom on the first floor and locker rooms in the basement. But the facility’s most popular feature was the Stebbins playground, where there was a jungle gym, volleyball and basketball courts, swing sets and pingpong tables. As many as 1,000 people regularly visited the Soto-Michigan JCC just to use the playground, in addition to the 2,300 children and adults who used the meeting rooms and auditoriums every week.

Read more about the history of the Soto-Michigan JCC.


As a complement to the Jewish Histories in Multiethnic Boyle Heights digital exhibit, there’s also a physical exhibit currently on display at the Boyle Heights History Studios, featuring materials that can’t be viewed online.

In addition, Holocaust Museum L.A. will host a discussion about the digital exhibit with Luce on May 26 at 11 a.m. Register for the event.

Luce will also discuss the project with USC professor George Sanchez on June 9. Details to follow at levecenter.ucla.edu.

A photo of Royce Hall.

Lessons Learned: UCLA Symposium on Remote Teaching during COVID-19

Students haven’t been the only ones navigating a new college experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. For faculty, switching to fully remote teaching posed a challenge unlike anything they’d experienced before.

UCLA’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching, along with its partners CEILS, EPIC, and OTL,* hosted its third annual symposium for UC faculty and staff in April. “Teaching at UCLA – Looking Forward with 2020 Vision” featured panel discussions, talks and workshops centered on lessons learned during remote teaching since March 2020.

A central theme was how to keep students engaged in a virtual classroom. At the faculty roundtable, professors discussed the effects of holding classes and office hours virtually from home, with some noting that the newfound flexibility of remote teaching had enabled them to make stronger connections with students.

A photo of Royce Hall.

A view of Royce Hall from the southwest, across the Shapiro Fountain.

“[Remote teaching] brought us together in ways I have never experienced in 24 years at UCLA. I felt a level of humanity with my students that I had not experienced before,” said Abel Valenzuela Jr., professor of Chicana/o and Central American studies and of urban planning and director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

Valenzuela said that hosting virtual informal hangouts with his students to talk about anything on their minds was particularly impactful.

English professor Danny Snelson shared different gaming tools he used to make lectures fun and engaging for his students, including Discord, Animaze, Gather Town and Snap Camera.

Other faculty discussed the various ways they adapted their assignments and class organization to be mindful of the challenges of remote learning and the pandemic. Being flexible with deadlines, offering smaller, low-stakes assignments, and giving students space in discussions or journals to express their thoughts and concerns were all successful in keeping students engaged and supported.

Student panelists noted that although it was challenging to connect with their classmates in a virtual setting, working in small groups and spending more time discussing topics as a class helped them feel part of a community.

Imani Easton, graduate student in civil and environmental engineering, said that remote learning has equipped students with valuable communication skills that will prepare them for life after graduation.

“We’ve gotten to a point where we have to speak up and contribute. Before we used to just sit in lecture and take notes,” Easton said. “When we go back to campus, I’m looking forward to having more of a dialogue and open communication.”

David Schaberg, senior dean of UCLA College, dean of humanities and professor of Asian languages and cultures, said that despite the successes of remote learning, he wants to get as many people back on campus as possible.

“Nothing can truly replicate the excitement and personal growth students experience on a college campus,” Schaberg said. “We cannot give up the ideal of the campus space where people interact with their full selves. This is where students come to test out their adult selves, and you can’t do that online.”

Watch recordings of all sessions from the symposium here.

*Center for Education Innovation & Learning in the Sciences (CEILS), Excellence in Pedagogy and Innovative Classrooms (EPIC), Online Teaching & Learning (OTL)

This article was written by Robin Migdol.

A photo of the Waseda International House of Literature in Tokyo.

UCLA Announces New Digital Hub For Globalizing Japanese Studies

A photo of the Waseda International House of Literature in Tokyo.

Waseda International House of Literature in Tokyo, designed by Kengo Kuma. (Photo courtesy of Yutaka Iijima)

In 2013, the UCLA Department of Asian Languages and Cultures faced a troubling possibility: its entire program in Japanese literature and culture might collapse. Both its faculty members in this popular field of study were being courted by an Ivy League institution, jeopardizing its efforts to hire a third faculty member.

In the years since, however, the Japanese humanities have emerged as one of the greatest success stories in UCLA’s Division of Humanities. In 2017 and 2019, the department succeeded in recruiting two additional scholars of Japanese film and kabuki, respectively, transforming its program into one of the most robust in the nation. And early in 2020, Uniqlo founder Tadashi Yanai gave $25 million—the largest individual gift in the history of the division—to endow The Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities. Since its creation in 2014, The Yanai Initiative has been directed by Michael Emmerich, that third Japanese literature specialist to join the program.

In just eight short years, Emmerich and his colleagues have catapulted UCLA’s program in the Japanese humanities to global prominence through an impressive array of Yanai Initiative projects, including more than 70 academic and cultural events that have benefited not only students and faculty, but also the broader Los Angeles community. Today, UCLA is known as a hub for research in the field, attracting hundreds of graduate students, scholars, authors and artists to campus from all around the world.

Emmerich and The Yanai Initiative recently announced their intention to build on this record and on the networks they have developed by launching Japan Past & Present, a centralized digital hub for interdisciplinary and international research in Japanese humanities.

“This will really be a game changer,” Emmerich said. “Until now, it has never been possible to conceive of the Japanese humanities as a truly global field. Ironically, I think COVID-19 has helped us see more clearly that we can create truly meaningful intellectual bridges, and build an inclusive scholarly community, online. We want to seize this moment to do that.”

Embodying a vast, truly global vision, Japan Past & Present is a collaborative project of UCLA and Waseda University in Tokyo. It will bring together wide-ranging resources to benefit and facilitate communication among scholars in the Japanese humanities based around the world. The hub will include databases of translations and scholars, research materials, event notices, and a venue for mentorship and collegial advice. Emmerich and his colleagues also hope to create a system designed to open up access to primary and secondary materials in the Japanese humanities to scholars at institutions that can’t afford a subscription to the ILL system.

“This project exemplifies UCLA’s role as a public research university in making research widely accessible, and it furthers The Yanai Initiative’s aim of strengthening the Japanese Humanities as a global field,” said David Schaberg, senior dean of the UCLA College and dean of the humanities division. “Inviting the participation of scholars of all backgrounds, and from all different countries, will stimulate new research and intellectual exchange.”

Japan: Past & Present will consist of three “collectives” focused on premodern Japan, early modern Japan, and modern and contemporary Japan—more than a thousand years of history and cultural production.

Paula R. Curtis, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University, is leading the development of the Premodern Japan Collaborative and has been instrumental in conceptualizing the project as a whole.

Japan Past & Present is an unprecedented effort to strengthen the ties between diverse communities of scholars from all around the world, and to make the Japanese Humanities more inclusive and equitable. It’s a daunting undertaking, but it’s also incredibly exciting,” Curtis said.

Toeda Hirokazu is co-director with Emmerich of The Yanai Initiative at Waseda and director of the Waseda International House of Literature, which will be hosting the digital hub.

“I’m delighted that The Yanai Initiative is launching this exciting project to help globalize the field of Japanese Studies, and look forward to more exciting developments as the project unfolds,” Hirokazu said.

Emmerich said the first stage of this enormous project, focused on premodern Japan, is currently underway and that he hopes to keep things moving rapidly ahead.

The Yanai Initiative, established through a major gift from Uniqlo founder Tadashi Yanai, is part of the UCLA Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and is a collaboration with Waseda University, one of Japan’s most prestigious universities. It supports academic research and cultural programming and facilitates student and faculty exchanges between the two universities.

This article was written by Margaret MacDonald. 

 

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