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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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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.

 

A photo of students in a lecture hall.

UCLA to launch new social justice curriculum with $5 million grant from Mellon Foundation

A photo of students in a lecture hall.

The curriculum will pair social justice teaching with community engagement and instruction in data literacy, statistics and computational research methods. (Photo Credit: Ann Johansson/UCLA College)

A $5 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will enable UCLA to further its commitment to social change and public service by establishing the UCLA Mellon Social Justice Curriculum in the divisions of humanities and social sciences of the UCLA College.

The funding will lay the foundation for a publicly engaged, data-driven approach to teaching and research on social justice issues, positioning more UCLA graduates to become social change leaders in their chosen professions.

“We are deeply grateful to the Mellon Foundation for enabling us to create new opportunities for our students to grow intellectually while obtaining the skills required to succeed in a host of professional careers,” said David Schaberg, senior dean of the College and dean of humanities. “The social justice curriculum will empower our students to put their humanistic vision to work in the service of social change.”

The five-and-a-half-year grant will support wide-ranging curricular initiatives, new degree programs and community-engaged research. It will also allow UCLA to hire faculty whose research, teaching and service will strengthen diversity and equal opportunity on campus, in particular scholars with expertise in the field of experimental humanities, which includes digital, urban, environmental and health humanities.

The curriculum will focus on four intertwined social justice issues at the core of the experimental humanities: racial and spatial justice, data justice, environmental and economic justice, and health justice.

“Addressing complex social problems requires the interpretative methods, critical knowledge, historical perspectives and values infrastructure informed by engagement with the humanities, culture, arts and society,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences. “With this generous grant, the Mellon Foundation has given UCLA the means to transform what and how we teach by centering social justice, community engagement and the critical tools and methods for knowledge creation.”

UCLA’s strong community connections will be leveraged, in partnership with the UCLA Center for Community Engagement, through academic courses that mutually benefit students and community partners, student internships, and summer institutes and workshops. Courses tailored to the curriculum will offer instruction in data literacy, statistics and computational research methods, linked with the study of narrative and media-making.

An introductory course for freshmen titled “Data, Society, and Social Justice” — co-taught by interdisciplinary faculty teams with expertise on the environment, cities, health and racial disparities in Los Angeles — will focus on humanistic frameworks for understanding social inequalities and train students to assess the practical and ethical implications of data-driven approaches to social change.

The new curriculum is expected to attract the rising numbers of UCLA students who are committed to social justice issues but have been underrepresented in courses and majors that provide critical training in statistics, computation and quantitative research methods. These include students from low-income households, first-generation college students and those from historically underrepresented groups.

Schaberg and Hunt are co–principal investigators on the project. The faculty leads are Todd Presner, chair of UCLA’s digital humanities program and the Ross Professor of Germanic Languages and Comparative Literature, and Juliet Williams, professor of gender studies and chair of the UCLA social science interdepartmental program. Co-chairs of the faculty advisory committee are Safiya Noble, associate professor of information studies and African American studies, and Sarah Roberts, associate professor of information studies with affiliate appointments in labor studies and gender studies. Roberts and Noble also co-direct the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, which will play a key role in programming.

This latest Mellon grant to the College follows a five-year grant awarded in 2015 that supported innovative and more inclusive methods of humanities teaching and brings the foundation’s total support for UCLA to approximately $60 million.

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

UCLA establishes Department of European Languages and Transcultural Studies

Dominic Thomas, UCLA’s Madeleine L. Letessier Professor of French and Francophone Studies, has been appointed chair of the new department. (Photo Credit: UCLA)

In a move that defies a national trend toward diminishing higher-education language instruction, UCLA has renewed its commitment to languages by establishing the Department of European Languages and Transcultural Studies, or ELTS.

The new department brings together the existing departments of Germanic languages, French and Francophone studies, Italian and Scandinavian, but aims to offer a wider and more holistic course of study, focusing on the breadth of languages and cultures across Europe.

The term “transcultural” emphasizes shared European roots and an expanded focus on the perspectives of filmmakers, writers and theorists from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and elsewhere. This approach allows for a more pointed, rigorous and comprehensive understanding of history and a more accurate contextualization of the European experience and legacy in the world.

“This merger allows us to train an interdisciplinary lens on the rich and varied cultures of Europe while preserving the first-rate language instruction for which UCLA is known,” said David Schaberg, senior dean of the UCLA College and dean of humanities. “If we truly want our students to be active participants in an intellectual, multilingual and globalized world, we must be prepared to make bold changes such as this.”

Over the past decade, traditional university language departments have been hit hard by shrinking budgets, faculty retirements and a drop in enrollment. According to the Modern Language Association, from 2013 to 2016, U.S. universities cut 651 foreign language programs: French lost 129 programs, followed by Spanish at 118, German at 86 and Italian at 56.

UCLA currently offers courses in 37 languages, and major departments include Asian languages and cultures and Near Eastern languages and cultures. Students enrolled in ELTS courses will, in addition to language training, benefit from an interdisciplinary humanistic approach, notably in the experimental humanities, which include digital, environmental, medical and urban studies, as well as culture, literature, film, postcolonial studies, philosophy, critical theory, media studies, Jewish studies, and gender and sexuality studies.

The new department is the culmination of extensive consultation among campus leaders and faculty in the departments involved, who voted unanimously in favor of the action.

Dominic Thomas, UCLA’s Madeleine L. Letessier Professor of French and Francophone Studies, has been appointed chair of the new department.

“UCLA students have the opportunity to achieve a well-rounded education and to pursue advanced research in a challenging intellectual environment with superior research facilities,” Thomas said. “Our goal is to explore how different fields not only overlap with one another in intellectually exciting ways but also transcend geography and history.

“In addition to a solid grounding in at least one language, students will develop some knowledge of each of the areas that constitute our discipline and how these are in conversation with the broader study of the past and present, in addition to how they have flourished in the humanities over the centuries,” he said.

Undergraduate students in the ELTS major and minor will soon be able to take interdisciplinary courses in European cultures and histories, as well as study individual languages such as Dutch, French, German, Italian, Swedish and Yiddish.

Thomas added, “The combination of cultural literacy, language prowess and analytical and writing skills will encourage research on human rights, diversity, and religious tolerance, while also giving ELTS students an edge in graduate school and in careers ranging from international law and business to education, the arts, media and journalism.”

This article, written by Melissa Abraham, originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo collage of Kristy Hinds, Leann Pham, Genevieve Finn and Kai Huang

UCLA alumna awarded Mitchell Scholarship, first in 20 years

A photo collage of Kristy Hinds, Leann Pham, Genevieve Finn and Kai Huang

Top row, from left: Genevieve Finn, Kristy Hinds. Bottom row, from left: Leann Pham, Kai Huang (Photo Credits: Genevieve Finn – Jacelyn O’Neill; Leann Pham – Anthony Ismail; Kristy Hinds – Daniel Hinds; Kai Huang – Kai Huang)

This time next year, Genevieve Finn ’20 will be studying creative writing at Trinity College in Dublin as one of 12 winners of this year’s prestigious Mitchell Scholarship. She is only the second UCLA alum to win a Mitchell Scholarship, and the first to win in 20 years.

The George J. Mitchell Scholarship Program is a national, competitive scholarship sponsored by the US-Ireland Alliance. Up to 12 Mitchell Scholars between the ages of 18 and 30 are chosen annually for one academic year of postgraduate study in any discipline offered by institutions of higher learning in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

A native of San Anselmo, Calif., Finn majored in English in the College Honors program and completed her degree in just two and a half years, thanks to AP credits and some “excellent” academic counselors who helped her manage her course load, she said. She was a reporter for the Daily Bruin and interned at the New York Times’ Australia bureau and GQ Australia. She will work at the Mexico bureau of the Associated Press when travel is safe. Finn was also awarded an Overseas Press Club Foundation fellowship for her reporting about her experience sailing on a container ship from Hong Kong to Singapore.

Finn is currently a reporter at the Malibu Times, working to create a Spanish-language insert in the paper’s print edition to serve Malibu’s Latinx day laborer-commuter population. With the Mitchell Scholarship, she plans to develop her skills in long form journalism and poetry, report on Ireland’s unique political and cultural narratives, and explore her own Irish heritage.

Finn said her love of journalism was cemented during a summer she spent traveling around Mexico and writing about the people she met while couch surfing and hitchhiking.

“I love talking to people and am just genuinely interested in other people’s lives,” Finn said. “I love the craft of writing and storytelling and find it exhilarating to be edited.”

She said UCLA’s creative writing program, in particular its poetry workshops, helped prepare her for graduate study.

“My absolute favorite memories of undergrad are far and away the times I got to sit in the Sculpture Garden in the sun with my peers and listen to them read their poetry out loud,” she said. “The workshops taught me so much about how to edit and be edited, made me a nimbler poet and bolder essayist, and gave me so many really wonderful, lasting friends and mentors. I’m going to take all of those skills and relationships with me to Europe!”

In other scholarship news, three UCLA students were finalists for prestigious scholarships this year.

UCLA students Kai Huang and Kristy Hinds were finalists for the Marshall Scholarship, which also funds graduate study in the UK.

Huang, a senior majoring in psychobiology, is an advocate for the transgender community at UCLA. They serve as Undergraduate Student Representative for the Trans Wellness Team, a team of healthcare professionals from Ashe, CAPS and UCLA Health who seek to improve transgender healthcare at UCLA, and are on the Community Advisory Board for the UCLA Gender Health Program Research Collaborative. He co-founded the LGBT Student Advocacy Committee and is the Activism Coordinator for the pre-health student organization Lavender Health Alliance. Huang plans to become a primary care physician for transgender people.

“I never had the opportunity to study abroad before, especially before I legally changed my name and gender marker to match who I am, and it meant a lot to me to be considered as a Marshall finalist as a nonbinary trans person in higher education, since I don’t know of many other trans people in healthcare,” Huang said.

Hinds, a senior majoring in English, is a recipient of the UCLA College Reentry Scholarship for non-traditional students as well as the English department’s Fallen Leaves Creative Writing Prize.

She is working on a directed research project producing a short story fiction collection that looks at women and race, and is researching black authors from the 18th century to the First World War in the areas of sermons, spirituals and autobiography. Hinds said UCLA’s rigor, academic opportunities and support system has inspired her success.

“For me, being a Marshall finalist was a confirmation of what took years to uncover and believe about myself—I am good enough and I am worth it,” Hinds said. “I know it is not despite my story but because of it that makes me a Marshall finalist.”

Leann Pham ’19 was a finalist for the Schwarzman Scholarship, which funds a one-year master’s degree in global affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing. At UCLA, in addition to majoring in political science and Asian American studies, she led a multi-year research study on responses to violence and taught a class to empower survivors of gender-based violence in the Asian/Pacific American community. She was also a Resident Assistant with UCLA Residential Life and helped organized sexual violence response training for over 300 RAs.

Pham is currently in Taiwan on a Fulbright Scholarship, where she is teaching and studying the Gender Equity Act in primary schools. She said it was an honor not only to be a Schwarzman finalist but also to see how her professors, advisors and friends all rallied to support her throughout the application process.

“Being a Schwarzman finalist meant that someone saw potential in me and my approach to gender-based violence between the U.S. and China,” Pham said. “But the experience of being a finalist showed me how lucky I was to have an entire ‘UCLA village’ support me.”

To learn more about scholarship opportunities for UCLA students, visit http://www.scholarshipcenter.ucla.edu/.

This article was written by Robin Shawn Migdol.

 

A photo of an aerial shot of campus.

UCLA, Berggruen Institute announce lecture series featuring emerging visionaries

A photo of an aerial shot of campus.

(Photo Credit: Pete Saloutos)

The UCLA Division of Humanities has partnered with the Los Angeles–based Berggruen Institute to launch “Possible Worlds,” a new lecture series that invites some of today’s most imaginative intellectual leaders and creators to deliver talks on the future of humanity.

The series will kick off Feb. 18, 2021, with a lecture by Harvard classicist and political theorist Danielle Allen, followed by presentations by architect Alejandro Aravena (spring 2021), author Kim Stanley Robinson (fall 2021), and innovation and sustainability expert Darja Isaksson (spring 2022). The cross-disciplinary lectures will highlight innovative ideas and offer unique insights about our transforming world.

The first collaborative project between UCLA and the Berggruen Institute, “Possible Worlds” furthers both institutions’ goal of fostering a culture of innovation in philosophy and governance, both in Southern California and throughout the world.

“Los Angeles is a place where innovation and diversity are celebrated and where far-reaching ideas are given a chance to take root,” said David Schaberg, dean of the UCLA Division of Humanities. “We’re proud to partner with the Berggruen Institute to amplify these qualities for the benefit of people everywhere with ‘Possible Worlds.’”

Having just celebrated its centennial anniversary, the UCLA Division of Humanities and its more than 200 faculty members are at the forefront of shaping workers and citizens who can uphold human values in a time of immense and rapid change. The Berggruen Institute, founded in 2010 by philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen, works to reinvent institutions to meet this century’s far-reaching and ongoing transformations of how we live, work, interact and govern.

“By partnering with UCLA Humanities, we can give a platform to true visionaries whose work has only just begun to shape the physical, intellectual and artistic landscape of society,” said Nils Gilman, the institute’s vice president of programs. “Attendees of ‘Possible Worlds’ will be guided in a multidisciplinary exploration of society and the human experience in the years to come.”

The initial lectures will be hosted virtually by UCLA, with the format of future lectures to be determined at a later date. Additional “Possible Worlds” lectures will be announced in the future.

About the speakers:

Danielle Allen

Feb. 18, 2021: Danielle Allen 

Allen, the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University and director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, is a political theorist whose work focuses on democratic theory, political sociology and the history of political thought. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity from the Library of Congress and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. Her book “Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality” was awarded the Heartland Prize, the Zócalo Book Prize and the Society of American Historians’ Francis Parkman Prize.


Alejandro Aravena

Spring 2021: Alejandro Aravena

Aravena is an architect and founder and executive director of the firm Elemental. His works include the “Siamese Towers” at the Catholic University of Chile and the Novartis office campus in Shanghai. In 2016, the New York Times named Aravena one of the world’s “creative geniuses” who had helped define culture. He and Elemental have received numerous honors, including the 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize, the 2015 London Design Museum’s Design of the Year award and the 2011 Index Award. Aravena currently serves as the president of the Pritzker Prize jury.


Kim Stanley Robinson

Fall 2021: Kim Stanley Robinson

Robinson is an American science fiction writer who has published more than 20 books, including the international bestselling “Mars” trilogy. His literary honors include the Hugo Award for Best Novel, the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the World Fantasy Award. Named a “Hero of the Environment” by Time magazine in 2008, Robinson has worked with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute, the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers’ Program and UC San Diego’s Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.


Darja Isakkson

Spring 2022: Darja Isaksson

Isaksson is director general of Vinnova, Sweden’s national innovation agency, and serves as a member of the Swedish government’s National Digitalization Council and an adviser to the prime minister’s Innovation Council. The founder of two agencies, Isaksson has worked in business and product development for clients such as Sony Ericsson, Ikea and Husqvarna. She has been recognized as one of Sweden’s most powerful opinion-makers by financial magazine Veckans Affarer and was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people in digital government by the website Apolitical.

 

Article first appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.