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Lamia Balafrej

Lamia Balafrej named Getty Research Institute scholar

Manon Snyder | October 24, 2022

Lamia Balafrej, an associate professor in the UCLA Department of Art History, has been selected as a Getty Research Institute scholar for the 2022-23 cycle. Balafrej, who specializes in arts of the Islamic world, will be conducting research on this year’s themes — Art and Migration, and the Levant and the Classical World.

Annually since 1985, the Getty Scholars Program at the Villa has selected cultural figures, researchers and artists to pursue an area of their own research that falls under the theme selected for that year. The scholars work in residence at the Getty Villa and have access to collections.

Balafrej’s research focuses on topics ranging from medieval studies and the history of global slavery to historical intersections of labor and technology. Her work has been supported by institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of New York and the Smithsonian Institute.


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

Inaugural faculty recipients of Mellon Foundation “Data, Justice and Society” grants

Collage image of UCLA professors David MacFadyen, Davide Panagia, Miriam Posner, Nick Shapiro and Veronica Terriquez, recipients of the inaugural “Data, Justice and Society” course development grants from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

From left to right: UCLA professors David MacFadyen, Davide Panagia, Miriam Posner, Nick Shapiro and Veronica Terriquez, recipients of the inaugural “Data, Justice and Society” course development grants from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


By Munia Bhaumik

The following UCLA faculty members are the inaugural recipients of “Data, Justice and Society” course development grants from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation:

This remarkable cohort of innovative UCLA faculty proposed to develop courses across the humanities, social sciences and life sciences to enhance teaching at the intersection of data, justice and society and to augment curricular offerings engaged with data ethics and justice, community-engaged teaching and digital humanities. These courses will be offered either this academic year or next.

The courses enrich our understanding of how data technologies are increasingly a part of our everyday lives. When you buy something on Amazon, friend someone on Facebook or search on Google, data is being gathered about your choices. These courses mobilize the space of the classroom at the nation’s top public university to invite conversation and thought about social consequences and the need for justice in our data-saturated world.

Thanks to the generous contribution of the Mellon Foundation, these grants are increasing the number of course offerings across the UCLA campus for both graduate and undergraduate students to learn from professors who are working at the intersection of multiple fields. Many of the new courses will also allow students to engage with and learn from community organizations across Southern California.

The faculty grant recipients are not only world-renowned scholars in their respective fields, but also committed instructors eager to engage students around issues of academic and social relevance. They were selected by the Mellon Social Justice Curricular Initiatives steering committee, comprised of Todd Presner, professor and chair of the department of European languages and transcultural studies; Shalom Staub, director of the Center for Community Engagement; Juliet Williams, professor and chair of the social science interdepartmental program; and Munia Bhaumik, program director of Mellon Social Justice Curricular Initiatives.



Course Descriptions

David MacFadyen
“Freedom of Speech in Russia: Decentralized Tools for Musicians and Journalists”
Goal: To create a blockchain-based and anonymized publishing platform, using NFTs to protect the rights of both journalists and musicians, currently under significant pressure from state censorship during the war with Ukraine.

Davide Panagia
#datapolitik: or, the Political Theory of Data”
This course looks to the changing nature of political thinking and judgment given the emergence of data and algorithms as the principal media in contemporary democratic life. The course introduces students to developments of new forms of critical thinking for the study of data and society by interrogating familiar concepts in the history of political thought (freedom, justice, equality, race, ethnicity, gender) in relationship to new and emerging media, and the expectations and claims these media place on users. The learning objective of the course is to study political ideas in relationship to, and embedded with, the specific medium of data.

Miriam Posner
“Data from the Margins”
Data has a long tradition as a weapon of discrimination — but oppressed communities have an equally long tradition of reconceiving, reworking and remaking data in order to fight back. We’ll consult with and hear from activists and scholars who are making change for their communities as they challenge everyone to rethink what data can do.

Nick Shapiro
“Science, Mass Incarceration and Accountability”
The course will be split into two complementary halves. First, an introduction to the extractive data practices of science that have both advanced and profited off of mass incarceration. This half of the course will facilitate the subject matter expertise needed to understand the context and critiques that the work of the second half of the course is attempting to overcome or counteract. The topics of the first half will include a general introduction to mass incarceration and what data can and can’t tell us about this archipelago of nearly 7,000 carceral facilities as well as the unethical scientific knowledge extraction from incarcerated people.

Veronica Terriquez
“Community-Engaged Research Methods:  Surveying Racially Diverse Youth and Workers”
This course will train students in designing, drafting, piloting, and administering a new survey focused on transitions to adulthood. Written in collaboration with community partners, this survey will gather data on the workforce development, labor rights, education, health, mental health, and civic engagement of young people residing in BIPOC communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The course will expose students to the historical development of racial statistics, the role of racial statistics in contemporary life, and critical quantitative science. It will also include testing questions on racial identity and attitudes; gender identity; workforce development; labor rights; healing and wellness; and other topics determined by community partners serving Latinx, AAPI, Black, and Indigenous youth. Additionally, students will learn about the strengths and weaknesses of different survey sampling methodologies aimed at gathering data from BIPOC youth, low-wage workers, and students.

Alexandra Stern and Abel Valenzuela

UCLA College welcomes new deans Alexandra Minna Stern and Abel Valenzuela

Alex Stern

Humanities for the 21st century: A conversation with incoming dean Alex Stern

Alexandra Minna Stern

Alexandra Minna Stern | Photo by Yeidy Rivero

Jonathan Riggs | October 11, 2022

Alexandra Minna Stern will become UCLA’s dean of humanities on Nov. 1, succeeding David Schaberg, who has helmed the division since 2011 and will return to teaching and research full time after a sabbatical.

For Stern, who was most recently the associate dean for the humanities and the Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Collegiate Professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan, the move is a homecoming — she grew up in California, earned her master’s degree in Latin American studies from UC San Diego and was an assistant professor at UC Santa Cruz.

In her two decades at Michigan, Stern held academic appointments in history, women’s and gender studies, and obstetrics and gynecology. She is widely recognized as an expert on the history of eugenics, genetics, society and justice in the United States and Latin America.

As she prepares to begin her tenure, Stern spoke with us about this new chapter for her and for the division.

What does it mean to you to lead the UCLA Division of Humanities?

It is a great honor to follow in the footsteps of David Schaberg, who has managed this division with a steady hand and inspiring vision of the humanities. I’m excited to join my counterpart deans in the UCLA College and the leadership team at the university.

For me, this is both a return home to California, where lived many years before my two decades in the Midwest, and a new adventure in Los Angeles, a city where I’ve never resided but am eager to explore. I’m deeply committed to public higher education, and I can’t imagine a better place to pursue transformational work than UCLA.

I look forward to getting to know the university community as I represent and advocate for the humanities on campus and beyond. Coming from Michigan, it will be quite an experience to morph from Wolverine to Bruin!

What qualities of the division do you feel make it unique and impactful?

UCLA Humanities is an extraordinary division with a talented, diverse faculty whose research encompasses a wide range of topics, chronologies, regions and approaches. The division is very interdisciplinary, which has allowed it to lead in many areas, including urban humanities and digital humanities. By virtue of being located in a vibrant and polyphonic city, humanities at UCLA has been public-facing, contributing to and benefiting from an amazing artistic, cultural and creative milieu. The full breadth of UCLA’s humanities appeals greatly to me and resonates with my vision of engaged humanities in the 21st century.

What are your top priorities as dean?

My priorities will evolve over time as I familiarize myself with the humanities community and the university as a whole. Generally speaking, I’ll seek to maintain strength in longstanding areas and energize new initiatives. For example, I want to ensure the viability of global languages, including less commonly taught languages, and build capacity for experimental programs such as health humanities and disability studies.

As a fierce advocate for the humanities, I welcome the opportunity to demonstrate their relevance to the pressing questions of humanity, society, democracy and culture today. I’m keen to support the entire humanities community — students, staff, faculty and alumni — and to work together toward shared goals, retaining my signature optimism without overlooking the serious challenges faced by the humanities in academia in our current moment.

What keeps you inspired and passionate about your work and field?

Much of my research has focused on the history and legacy of eugenics, especially in California, and I’m actively involved in projects related to reproductive justice and injustice, reparations and memory today. The lab I founded, the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab — which will now most likely be based at UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics — works with California state agencies to help verify sterilization survivors who are eligible for monetary compensation through a recently approved program, and it collaborates with activists and scholars on anti-eugenics projects that are community-based and guided by the tenets and goals of social justice. I remain passionate about my research; it is rewarding when it contributes to addressing past historical harms and contemporary social inequities.

Is there a little-known fact about yourself we could share?

I spent much of my early 20s living in San Francisco and reading poetry at the Cafe Babar at 22nd and Guerrero, and that kind of creative energy sustains me to this day. Unfortunately, I have lost most of the poems I wrote during that raucous and heady period of my life. I frequently turn to poetry, in English and Spanish, for intellectual and emotional nourishment because of my love of language, metaphor, cadence and its irresistible sublimity.

What’s your favorite advice to share with students and others?

I believe active listening and humility can go a long way. Wherever or however we step into academia, we should strive to be lifelong learners. For me, leadership is less about giving advice and more about modeling and enacting empathy and advocacy within an interdependent and generative community.


This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom. For more of Our Stories at the College, click here.

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.

 

See full magazine

Back to UCLA College Magazine page

 

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 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

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 photo of Abeer Ali Abdullah Al-Abbas

Linguistics student fulfills dream at UCLA

A photo of Abeer Ali Abdullah Al-Abbas

Abeer Ali Abdullah Al-Abbas, a third-year graduate student, says, “By going to America to get my Ph.D., I would have better opportunities to expand my learning, my cultural awareness and my life.” (Courtesy of Abeer Ali Abdullah Al-Abbas)

In honor of International Women’s Day 2021 on March 8, the UCLA International Institute is publishing a series of profiles of female Bruins.

Abeer Ali Abdullah Al-Abbas, a UCLA graduate student in linguistics who hails from Saudi Arabia, grew up in the Farasan Islands, a group of coral islands in the Red Sea. A star student throughout her school years, Abeer set her sights on a college education as a young girl with her mother’s strong support.

After graduating from high school in 2007, Abeer had to move to mainland Saudi Arabia to attend college. She chose linguistics among the majors open to her because she felt it would help her learn foreign languages. She began her studies at Jeddah University, but received her bachelor’s degree at Jazan University in 2011.

She soon found a job at her alma mater as a linguistics lecturer, but she was required to continue her higher education. “I had heard how the United States had the biggest and greatest universities in the world, and I felt that my place was there,” Abeer says.

In 2018, Abeer completed her master of arts degree at Cal State Long Beach. She was accepted into a number of doctoral programs in linguistics, including UCLA. Now in her third year of study at UCLA, the Bruin graduate student is on the cusp of submitting her thesis to become an official Ph.D. candidate and hopes to become a teaching assistant this spring or fall.

“I’ve gained something bigger than just an education by studying in America,” she says. “It’s made me more open to the world. I value that people from other cultures and religions are now my close friends — that was the greatest thing I learned here,” she says.

This article originally appeared on the UCLA Office of International Studies and Global Engagement’s website. Click to read the full article.