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Vahagn Aldzhyan Selected as Second Arthur Ashe Jr. Scholar

While volunteering with the UCLA undergraduate-led International Collegiate Health Initiative (ICHI), which aims to provide healthcare to underserved communities in Los Angeles, UCLA senior Vahagn Aldzhyan and his coworkers completed a needs assessment survey on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. When they asked the people there if they had access to medical care and health insurance, most said no.

“I always knew about Skid Row, I always drove past South LA, but just being there in person, talking to the people and getting a glimpse of what these people have to go through every day made me want to do a lot of work to empower people who are living in those situations,” said Aldzhyan, a molecular, cellular and developmental biology major and Los Angeles native.

A photo of Vahagn Aldzhyan.

A portrait of Vahagn Aldzhyan. (Photo Credit: UCLA)

The desire to bridge healthcare gaps and disparities has been the driving force throughout Aldzhyan’s time as Bruin. And it’s also part of what landed him the 2020-21 Arthur Ashe Jr. Scholarship, an annual award that recognizes and supports students who exemplify the attributes, values, commitment to service and pioneering spirit of the legendary Arthur Ashe ’66.

In addition to working as a grant writer for the ICHI, Aldzhyan is a research assistant in the lab of Dr. Richard J. Pietras and Dr. Diana Marquez-Garban, developing therapeutics to treat triple-negative breast cancer. He presented his research about this aggressive form of cancer, which disproportionately affects young black women, at Undergraduate Research Week this year.

Aldzhyan works as an undergraduate learning assistant in the departments of chemistry and biochemistry and physics and astronomy and a board member of the Armenian Engineers and Scientists Association. He’s also an Emergency Medical Technician, and a Health Scholar at COPE Solutions, where he volunteers and rotates through different departments at a local hospital.

After graduation, his goal is to apply to medical school and complete dual degrees in medicine and business so that he can have a greater impact on underserved communities, including in Armenia where his parents both immigrated from.

“I feel like when I’m working directly with patients, I’m impacting one life, but with a business degree, I can do a lot more to implement community service programs and reach an audience at a much greater level,” he said.

Aldzhyan said he is inspired by Arthur Ashe’s commitment to helping people facing discrimination, racism and hatred even after he had already achieved astronomical success as an athlete. Although Ashe himself had experienced the same challenges, he didn’t let it stop him from succeeding as well as creating opportunities for others.

“He was able to reciprocate positive energy and help communities and people that were in the same kind of situation as he was growing up. So that was really inspiring.” Aldzhyan said.

And the advice he’s taken away from Ashe’s story?

“When you hit a roadblock, don’t stop, just go through it. And then when you get to a goal and achieve it, don’t forget who helped you and help them too,” he said.

Aldzhyan said that while he’s grateful that the scholarship will help him with his tuition this year, he’s even more humbled to be part of The Arthur Ashe Legacy at UCLA as a recipient of the scholarship named in Ashe’s honor. He’s already looking forward to aiding future students who find themselves on a similar path.

“I can come back 10, 15, or maybe even a couple years from now and give back to those students who are interested in embodying what Arthur Ashe stood for as a community leader and as a Bruin,” he said.

That’s a legacy worth leaving.

This article, written by Robin Migdol, originally appeared on The Arthur Ashe Legacy website

A photo of Jeffrey and Wenzel.

UCLA faculty couple leaves nearly $9 million for psychology and other programs

A photo of Jeffrey and Wenzel.

Wendell “Jeff” Jeffrey and Bernice Wenzel outside Walt Disney Concert Hall. (Photo courtesy of Lynn Andrews)

UCLA has received more than $8.7 million from the estate of the late Bernice Wenzel and Wendell “Jeff” Jeffrey, UCLA professors who were well known for their longtime commitment to the university.

More than $4.5 million of their gift will support four faculty chairs, scholarships, fellowships and colloquia in the UCLA College’s psychology department. The couple had previously endowed the department’s annual Jeffrey Lecture series and the Wendell Jeffrey and Bernice Wenzel Term Chair in Behavioral Neuroscience.

“Bernice Wenzel and Wendell Jeffrey were incredible supporters of UCLA Psychology and firm believers in collaborative education and research among students and faculty alike,” said department chair Annette Stanton. “We are deeply grateful for their own contributions to science and society and for their continuing commitment to training talented students and retaining exceptional faculty.”

The rest of the funds will support the Hammer Museum at UCLA, the UCLA Emeriti/Retirees Relations Center and the UCLA Library, along with the annual Henry J. Bruman Chamber Music Festival in the UCLA College’s division of humanities. The range of benefiting areas highlights Wenzel’s and Jeffrey’s diverse interests. Lifelong learners, the two led distinguished careers as scientists but also enjoyed music, art and travel together, giving not only to UCLA but also to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Ojai Music Festival.

The couple maintained a unique connection with UCLA, where they spent significant portions of their careers. Wenzel was a professor in the department of physiology and the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and served as an assistant dean for educational research at the medical school from 1974 to 1989. Known for her groundbreaking discovery that pigeons smell and use sight and sound to guide themselves, she also helped break the glass ceiling as part of the first generation of female professors.

Jeffrey was a developmental psychologist in the psychology department, studying the learning processes of young children and mentoring graduate students by supervising research, facilitating collaboration and introducing them to well-known experts. Many of his protégés went on to become professors themselves.

The two hosted numerous student gatherings on campus and at their home, and they remained deeply engaged with UCLA after their retirement. They regularly visited campus, and Wenzel served as president of the emeriti association in 1994–95. She also was part of the Wednesday Group, a group of retired faculty and campus leaders that continued to meet weekly at the Faculty Center. Jeffrey died in 2015 and Wenzel in 2018.

“Bernice and Wendell were Bruins through and through, and their investment in education and the arts at UCLA will remain a fitting testament to their generosity and wisdom,” said Lynn Andrews, the couple’s niece, who recalls visiting her aunt and uncle on campus and benefiting from their philanthropic and artistic influences. “Having them in the family — whether my own or UCLA’s — was always an extra-special blessing.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of a sleeping baby.

UCLA-led team of scientists discovers why we need sleep

A photo of a sleeping baby.

A UCLA-led team of scientists explains why sleep is so vital to our health and shows for the first time that a dramatic change in the purpose of sleep occurs at the age of about 2-and-a-half. (Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com)

Prolonged sleep deprivation can lead to severe health problems in humans and other animals. But why is sleep so vital to our health? A UCLA-led team of scientists has made a major advance in answering this question and has shown for the first time that a dramatic change in the purpose of sleep occurs at the age of about 2-and-a-half.

Before that age, the brain grows very rapidly. During REM sleep, when vivid dreams occur, the young brain is busy building and strengthening synapses — the structures that connect neurons to one another and allow them to communicate.

“Don’t wake babies up during REM sleep — important work is being done in their brains as they sleep,” said senior study author Gina Poe, a UCLA professor of integrative biology and physiology who has conducted sleep research for more than 30 years.

After 2-and-a-half years, however, sleep’s primary purpose switches from brain building to brain maintenance and repair, a role it maintains for the rest of our lives, the scientists report Sept. 18 in the journal Science Advances. This transition, the researchers say, corresponds to changes in brain development.

All animals naturally experience a certain amount of neurological damage during waking hours, and the resulting debris, including damaged genes and proteins within neurons, can build up and cause brain disease. Sleep helps repair this damage and clear the debris — essentially decluttering the brain and taking out the trash that can lead to serious illness.

Nearly all of this brain repair occurs during sleep, according to senior author Van Savage, a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and of computational medicine, and his colleagues.

“I was shocked how huge a change this is over a short period of time, and that this switch occurs when we’re so young,” Savage said. “It’s a transition that is analogous to when water freezes to ice.”

The research team, which included scientists with expertise in neuroscience, biology, statistics and physics, conducted the most comprehensive statistical analysis of sleep to date, using data from more than 60 sleep studies involving humans and other mammals. They examined data on sleep throughout development — including total sleep time, REM sleep time, brain size and body size — and built and tested a mathematical model to explain how sleep changes with brain and body size.

The data were remarkably consistent: All species experienced a dramatic decline in REM sleep when they reached the human developmental equivalent of about 2-and-half years of age. The fraction of time spent in REM sleep before and after that point was roughly the same, whether the researchers studied rabbits, rats, pigs or humans.

REM sleep decreases with the growth in brain size throughout development, the scientists found. While newborns spend about 50% of their sleep time in REM sleep, that falls to about 25% by the age of 10 and continues to decrease with age. Adults older than 50 spend approximately 15% of their time asleep in REM. The significant dropoff in REM sleep at about 2-and-a-half happens just as the major change in the function of sleep occurs, Poe said.

“Sleep is as important as food,” Poe said. “And it’s miraculous how well sleep matches the needs of our nervous system. From jellyfish to birds to whales, everyone sleeps. While we sleep, our brains are not resting.”

A chronic lack of sleep likely contributes to long-term health problems such as dementia and other cognitive disorders, diabetes, and obesity, to name a few, Poe said. When you start to feel tired, she said, don’t fight it — go to bed.

“I fought sleep and pulled all-nighters when I was in college, and now think that was a mistake,” Savage said. “I would have been better off with a good night’s sleep. Now when I feel tired, I don’t have any guilt about sleeping.”

For most adults, a regular seven-and-a-half hours of sleep a night is normal — and time lying awake doesn’t count, Poe says. While children need more sleep, babies need much more, roughly twice as much as adults. The large percentage of REM sleep in babies is in stark contrast to the amount of REM sleep observed in adult mammals across an enormous range of brain sizes and body sizes. Adult humans have five REM cycles during a full night of sleep and can have a few dreams in each cycle.

A good night’s sleep is excellent medicine, Poe says. And it’s free.

Co-authors of the study are Junyu Cao, who conducted research in Savage’s laboratory and is now an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin; Alexander Herman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; and Geoffrey West, a physicist who is the Shannan Distinguished Professor at the Santa Fe Institute.

Funding sources included the National Science Foundation and the Eugene and Clare Thaw Charitable Trust.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of two N95 respirators.

Single-use N95 respirators can be decontaminated and used again, study finds

A photo of two N95 respirators.

N95 respirators reduce exposure to airborne infectious agents, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. (Photo Credit: CDC/Debora Cartagena)

N95 respirators, which are widely worn by health care workers treating patients with COVID-19 and are designed to be used only once, can be decontaminated effectively and used up to three times, according to research by UCLA scientists and colleagues.

An early-release version of their study has been published online, with the full study to appear in September in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

N95 respirators reduce exposure to airborne infectious agents, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and are one of the key pieces of personal protective equipment used by clinical workers in preventing the spread of the virus. Critical shortages of these masks have driven efforts to find new decontamination methods that can extend their use.

“Although N95 respirators are designed for just one use before disposal, in times of shortage, N95 respirators can be decontaminated and reused up to three times,” said James Lloyd-Smith, a co-author of the study and a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. “But the integrity of the respirator’s fit and seal must be maintained.”

In a controlled laboratory setting, the researchers tested several decontamination methods on small sections of N95 filter fabric that had been exposed to SARS-CoV-2. The methods included vaporized hydrogen peroxide, dry heat at 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit), ultraviolet light and a 70% ethanol spray. All four methods eliminated detectable viable virus traces from the N95 fabric test samples.

The investigators then treated fully intact, clean respirators with the same decontamination methods to test their reuse durability. Employees with the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana volunteered to wear the masks for two hours to determine if they maintained a proper fit and seal over the face. The scientists decontaminated each mask three times, using the same procedure with each.

The masks treated with vaporized hydrogen peroxide experienced no failures, suggesting they potentially could be reused three times, Lloyd-Smith said. Those treated with ultraviolet light and dry heat began showing fit and seal problems after three decontaminations, suggesting these respirators potentially could be reused twice.

The study authors concluded that vaporized hydrogen peroxide was the most effective method because no traces of the virus could be detected after only a 10-minute treatment. They found that ultraviolet light and dry heat are also acceptable decontamination procedures, as long as the methods are applied for at least 60 minutes.

The ethanol spray, the scientists discovered, damaged the integrity of the respirator’s fit and seal after two sessions, and they do not recommend it for decontaminating N95 respirators.

The researchers stressed that anyone decontaminating an N95 respirator should closely check the fit and seal over the face before each reuse.

Co-authors of the study include Amandine Gamble, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher in Lloyd-Smith’s laboratory, as well as researchers with Rocky Mountain Laboratories, part of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Funding sources included the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the National Science Foundation.

In a widely cited study, Lloyd-Smith and colleagues reported in March that the virus that causes COVID-19 remains for several hours to days on surfaces and in aerosols.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

 

A photo of Professor Lili Yang.

How a UCLA scientist is using stem cells to take on COVID-19

A photo of Professor Lili Yang.

Lili Yang (Photo Credit: UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center)

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, UCLA researchers are rising to the occasion by channeling their specialized expertise to seek new and creative ways to reduce the spread of the virus and save lives. Using years’ — or even decades’ — worth of knowledge they’ve acquired studying other diseases and biological processes, many of them have shifted their focus to the novel coronavirus, and they’re collaborating across disciplines as they work toward new diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccines.

Here’s a look at one project in which UCLA scientist Lili Yang, associate professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics in the UCLA College is using stem cells — which can self-replicate and give rise to all cell types — to take on COVID-19.

Invariant natural killer T cells, or iNKT cells, are the special forces of the immune system. They’re extremely powerful and can immediately recognize and respond to many different intruders, from infections to cancer.

Yang is testing whether iNKT cells would make a particularly effective treatment for COVID-19 because they have the capacity to kill virally infected cells, offer protection from reinfection and rein in the excessive inflammation caused by a hyperactive immune response to the virus, which is thought to be a major cause of tissue damage and death in people with the disease.

One catch, though, is that iNKT cells are incredibly scarce: One drop of human blood contains around 10 million blood cells but only around 10 iNKT cells. That’s where Yang’s research comes in. Over the past several years, she has developed a method for generating large numbers of iNKT cells from blood-forming stem cells. While that work was aimed at creating a treatment for cancer, Yang’s lab has adapted its work over the past few months to test how effective stem cell–derived iNKT cells could be in fighting COVID-19. With her colleagues, she has been studying how the cells work in fighting the disease in models of SARS-CoV-2 infection that are grown from human kidney and lung cells.

“My lab has been developing an iNKT cell therapy for cancer for years,” Yang said. “This means a big part of the work is already done. We are repurposing a potential therapy that is very far along in development to treat COVID-19.” Read more.

For more on campus-wide research efforts related to COVID-19, visit: https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/stem-cell-research-covid-19

A photo of Kevin Love.

NBA star and alumnus Kevin Love to fund chair in psychology

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love, a former Bruin basketball player who has publicly shared his struggles with panic attacks, anxiety and depression, has committed $500,000 through his foundation — matched by a $500,000 UCLA Centennial Term Chair Match — to establish the Kevin Love Fund Centennial Chair in UCLA’s psychology department.

The $1 million investment will support the teaching and research activity of UCLA’s faculty working to diagnose, prevent, treat and destigmatize anxiety and depression at one of the top-ranked psychology departments in the United States.

“Kevin Love has shown not only tremendous leadership, but also tremendous heart, both on and off the court,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said. “Thanks to his gift, the UCLA psychology department will be able to further its efforts to help those who suffer from anxiety and depression and the stigma that surrounds these conditions.”

Photo courtesy of Kevin Love

The NBA star founded the Kevin Love Fund in 2018 to help people improve their physical and emotional well-being, with the goal of assisting more than 1 billion people over the next five years. On June 21, Love was honored at the ESPYs as the 2020 recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for his work as a mental health advocate.

“I’m concerned about the level of anxiety that people are feeling. Recent events, including the novel coronavirus outbreak, have put our society under enormous stress,” Love said. “I am happy to be able to help UCLA, my alma mater, work toward solving some of society’s biggest underlying issues. I hope one day we are able to erase the stigma around anxiety and depression, and we can only do that by improving diagnosis and treatment, fostering public conversations about mental health and encouraging people to seek help when they need it.”

Love’s contribution, bolstered by the Centennial Term Chair Match, will go to a scholar in the psychology department whose research could help advance more personalized treatments for people living with anxiety and depression.

UCLA’s psychology department is among the nation’s top-ranked departments of its kind and one of the largest academic units on campus, with more than 3,700 undergraduate students and 180 graduate students. In addition to its depth of expertise in anxiety and depression, the department’s faculty is renowned for its studies in multiple areas including human relationships and social networks; the adolescent brain; substance abuse and addiction; health psychology; neuroscience of behavioral health; and cognition and consciousness.

“When heroes like Kevin come forward and share their vulnerability, it shines a light on anxiety and depression, and that helps chip away at stigma,” said Michelle Craske, a UCLA distinguished professor psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. “I want to thank Kevin for his leadership and his courage to share his personal story with the world. He has inspired and provided hope to many. Through his continued efforts, he is changing people’s lives.”

Love first connected with Craske in August 2019 when they took part in a public conversation for “Minds Matter: Raising the Curtain on Depression and Anxiety.” Co-hosted by UCLA College and the Geffen Playhouse, the event explored the causes of depression and anxiety, the public stigma associated with the conditions, and potential advances in diagnosis and treatment.

UCLA’s psychology department has long been at the leading edge of research and clinical programs aimed at alleviating the suffering caused by anxiety and depression, which are among the leading causes of disability worldwide. The department’s faculty also are integral to the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge, which aims to elucidate the basis of depression, integrating basic brain science, genetics and other disciplines.

“We are immensely grateful to Kevin and the Kevin Love Fund for this generous and impactful gift,” said Victoria Sork, dean of life sciences in the UCLA College. “Kevin lives his values of service and investment in his communities. His gift will be of incalculable benefit to society for many decades to come.”

The chair’s establishment is pending approval by the UCLA Academic Senate and Block.

A photo montage of 2020 Virtual Celebration speakers. Top: George Takei, featured speaker during the UCLA College’s 2020 virtual celebration. Lower left: UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. Lower right: student speaker Kristie-Valerie Phung Hoang.

Graduates encouraged to envision and build a better future

A photo montage of 2020 Virtual Celebration speakers. Top: George Takei, featured speaker during the UCLA College’s 2020 virtual celebration. Lower left: UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. Lower right: student speaker Kristie-Valerie Phung Hoang.

Top: George Takei, featured speaker during the UCLA College’s 2020 virtual celebration. Lower left: UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. Lower right: student speaker Kristie-Valerie Phung Hoang. (Photo Credit: UCLA)

UCLA’s class of 2020 celebrated their graduation today while scattered across the globe. For the first time, the university’s largest graduation celebration took place remotely, honoring the roughly 8,800 students of the UCLA College.

“Today we gather virtually to celebrate the conferral of your degrees in a uniquely 21st century high-tech way – but, rest assured, your hard-earned degrees will be real. You guys are so futuristic!” the graduates were told by actor, activist, alumnus and social media icon George Takei. The man who helped others imagine a brighter future through his role on “Star Trek” called on graduates to build a better world. “With the experience of the pandemic, challenge yourselves to imagine the unimagined. You have technology that dazzles the mind. Soar with it. Aspire as no others have.”

Though the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus means most students haven’t set foot at UCLA since March 13, classes continued remotely. While in-person ceremonies are planned once group gatherings are safe again, graduating students more than earned a celebration on what would have been their commencement day. Among the Centennial class, graduating at the close of UCLA’s first 100 years, nearly a third are first-generation college students, and more than 35 percent come from low-income households.

The ceremony opened with a moment of silence to recognize and honor victims of COVID-19 and also racial oppression. This was followed by a pledge by the six College deans to continue to fight social injustice.

“While we have all been affected by recent events, we have not all been affected equally,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of the division of social sciences. “We will continue to shine a light on inequality.”

Speakers borrowed from an array of real and fictional inspirational figures, quoting the words of activist author James Baldwin, historian Rebecca Solnit, wizard Albus Dumbledore, and Vulcan Starfleet officer Mr. Spock. The virtual celebration featured views of familiar buildings, fountains and hilltop vistas to soothe homesick Bruins, and senior Margaret Miller sang the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Students viewed the livestream or the later recording from couches with their parents, in apartments with roommates, or on laptops in empty rooms. Some added homemade pomp and circumstance by crafting their own mortarboards or using free graduation profile frames and yard signs from the Alumni Association they would soon join.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block praised the graduates’ resilience at completing their studies and acknowledged those who also found ways to get involved, whether by treating COVID-19 patients, making face masks to slow the spread of the virus, or joining the nationwide wave of protests against the murder of Black men and women by police.

“A global pandemic has upended our lives and prevented us from being together,” Block said. “We’re all reeling, once again, from the pain of racial injustice … The horrible killings of unarmed African Americans have reminded us of our society’s inequities, but strengthened our resolve to address them.”

History shows that catastrophic events can expose “the failings of the status quo” and lead to reforms, Block added, referencing Solnit before calling on the graduates to build a more resilient, compassionate and just society. Though in almost any year, graduates are asked to make the world a better place, current events added extra resonance to that plea.

“The imagination to envision better times, especially in hard times, is vital,” Block said. “James Baldwin wrote that ‘not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’ … Now is your time to envision the role you’ll play in changing our world and creating a new one.”

UCLA Broadcast Studio

 

Filmed in an empty Royce Hall, student speaker Kristie-Valerie Phung Hoang grieved the loss of the students’ final months on campus, but reminded her fellow graduates that they have already begun to improve the world.

“It is at UCLA where we’ve felt compassion for each other, and drove our support toward undocumented students, first-generation students and immigrants working to make a better life of their own,” she said. “We poured our minds towards driving research in hopes of finding life-saving cures … We created paths towards a greener, healthier planet … We lived and breathed the spirit of equality.”

Though the campus’ graduation season shrank from the usual 60 or so ceremonies and celebrations to a little more than 30 virtual events because of the pandemic, UCLA awarded degrees to nearly 14,000 students from its undergraduate and graduate programs. Other speakers include guitarist Carlos Santana for the Herb Alpert School of Music, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for the UCLA School of Law, and California’s first surgeon general, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris for the David Geffen School of Medicine.

In introducing Takei, Block praised his activism in speaking up for Muslims, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community, and tied Takei’s activism to his days as an actor playing Mr. Sulu beginning in 1966.

“George made history on a multi-ethnic new TV show called ‘Star Trek,’” Block said. “The show premiered at the same time that the Vietnam War was fueling decades of anti-Asian bigotry. As a Japanese-American child during World War II, George had endured that bigotry first hand in America’s shameful internment camps. George’s presence as one of the heroes of the show was a rebuke to the prejudice of the time. Star Trek imagined a future in which all of Earth’s races lived together in peace.”

Sixty years after his own graduation from UCLA, Takei observed the highs and lows of the pandemic, from tireless medical and frontline workers, to unemployment and economic havoc.

“We live in a time of heroes and menaces,” Takei said. “And where we expect leadership, we find shocking dysfunction. It is a virtual dystopian state.”

But amidst this “dark moment,” he added, the air has cleared from the decreased use of fossil fuels for vehicles and factories, giving the world a glimpse of a cleaner planet. He urged the graduates to learn from it and find ways to improve the human condition.

“We look to you, the high-tech generation, to seize this moment,” Takei said. “Revitalize our civilization. Discover new challenges. Stretch as far as you can. Boldly go where no one has gone before. May the UCLA Centennial 2020 class live long and prosper.”

The virtual celebration closed with a bittersweet view of the Inverted Fountain, where graduating seniors traditionally take a dip to celebrate their years of hard work.

“Our 2020 graduates will be the class that persevered,” said Patricia Turner, vice provost and dean of undergraduate dducation. “Let this moment of adversity forge in you a strength to overcome, to persevere, to know that the world is inherently beautiful, and that your future has only just begun.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Join UCLA College for the Virtual Celebration

Q&A: George Takei on activism, humor and social media

George Takei, once best known for his role as Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek, has since become known to the next generation of fans as a social justice activist, author and social media star. The UCLA alumnus will speak at the virtual celebration of the UCLA College’s class of 2020 on June 12, publicly viewable online. In advance of the big day, Takei talked with UCLA Newsroom about some of the forces that shaped his activism, his advice for the class of 2020, and a couple of his guidelines for harnessing humor and social media in support of human rights.

George Takei, pioneering actor, social justice activist, author and social media star

George Takei majored in theater at UCLA. (Photo Courtesy of George Takei)

As a child during World War II, you were among thousands of Japanese Americans imprisoned in internment camps by the U.S. government, based solely on your heritage. How did that early experience inform your understanding of authority and your commitment to social justice today?

I was 5 years old when my family and I were imprisoned in a barbed wire camp in the swamps of southeastern Arkansas — too young to understand the experience. But, as a teenager, I became intensely curious about my internment. I couldn’t find anything in the history books of the time about the camps. So, my father and I had many after-dinner discussions about our imprisonment — some became quite heated.

He explained to me that ours was a “peoples’ democracy” in which the people have the capacity to do great things, and, at the same time, people are fallible human beings. Presidents are human with the fallibility of all humans. They make mistakes. However, our democracy is a participatory democracy. It is existentially dependent on people who cherish the ideals of our democracy to actively participate. In the early 1950s, my father took me to downtown Los Angeles to the Adlai Stevenson for President campaign headquarters and we volunteered. Actually, he volunteered me and I understood what he meant by participatory democracy. Since then, I have been active in electoral politics and social justice campaigns.

You are an activist known for speaking up for human rights, and you also have a big social media presence with a very specific brand of humor. How do you think about using humor to shine a light on injustice?

Politicians, like all of us, sometimes say ridiculous things. They become ripe for lampooning. When their proposals reflect their silly statements, they become wide open to mockery. It’s fun to kill those bills by laughing them to death.

On social media, you publicly call out prominent people when you think they are wrong. What guides your decisions on how to engage with people who disagree with you?

I put the statement of the person with whom I disagree in a larger context that that might underscore the inappropriateness or the unjustness of their point. If humor can do it, I avoid using ridicule or parody.

The class of 2020 is graduating into a global pandemic, a depressed economy, a climate crisis and what some are calling the biggest civil rights demonstrations since the late 1960s. What advice do you have to help these graduates tackle the problems they face?

It certainly is a dauntingly challenging world into which the 2020 class enters. As I wrote in my speech, they face a tough new world where they will be severely tested. They have to rise to the challenge — be as tough, even tougher, than the challenge. Be innovative as we have never been. We are counting on them to invent a new society we have never known before. Boldly go …

You became a theater major at UCLA despite warnings from friends that an Asian American would have limited acting prospects, and you went on to become an icon as Mr. Sulu on Star Trek in the late 1960s and beyond. You lived through a time when you couldn’t be openly gay, and now you and your husband are gay-rights activists. For others who need similar perseverance, what is your advice?

Same advice I gave above. When my father warned me about the Hollywood scene and its history of stereotypes, I, more out of audacity than thought, said, “Daddy, I’m going to change it!” And perhaps I ultimately nudged it a bit.

But that same teenager, as a man, was “closeted” most of my adult life because I desperately wanted my acting career. It was torturous for me as an activist on myriad social issues to be silent while other bold and determined people sacrificed their jobs, careers, everything, fighting for LGBTQ equality, an issue so personal to me. It wasn’t until I was in my 60s when California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the Marriage Equality bill in 2005 that I was angry enough to make the decision to “come out.” And I came out roaring! But I am not that heroic man I urge the 2020 generation to become. I, too, am a fallible man.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of the UCLA Court of Sciences.

More than 300 UCLA scientists condemn acts of racist violence

A photo of the UCLA Court of Sciences.

UCLA Court of Sciences (Photo Credit: UCLA Newsroom)

UCLA Newsroom is committed to promoting UCLA news, including faculty members’ research and their appearances in outside media. We typically do not post letters from faculty about current issues or serve as an open forum of ideas. However, given the gravity of this moment, and out of a desire to illustrate how our community is united in showing support on these important issues, we have decided in this rare case to share the following letter from our faculty.

The full letter and a partial list of signers follows; the full list of signers, which has continued to grow, is posted here

Dear Students and Colleagues,

We are enraged and horrified at the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis. We are enraged and horrified at the murder of Breonna Taylor, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, and the murder of Nina Pop, murders that have occurred amidst a pandemic that is disproportionately killing Black Americans. We are enraged at the extreme acts of racist violence on display and we are enraged at the everyday operations of a white supremacist society that precipitates and seeks to normalize pervasive suffering and harm targeting Black people.

As scholars dedicated to the study of the sciences, we know that there are intergenerational effects of trauma, and that the longstanding racism and injustice perpetrated against some of our citizens by police and by others in positions of power has worked to hobble the very nation we love. However, just as efforts to reverse the effect of trauma in individuals can reverse even epigenetic impacts, so we see hope for the possibility that dismantling the systems of oppression in our country – our counties, our neighborhoods, and our homes — will bring healing to “we the people” of all races, religions, and creeds.

We also know that complicity with these systems of oppression is deeply rooted in the origins of this country, from the expulsion and murder of Native Americans, the kidnapping and enslavement of Black peoples for almost 250 years, to generations of Black and Brown communities disregarded and destroyed by settler colonialism and the idea of white supremacy. We seek an immediate end to the perpetration of this injustice and a healing of our land.

In the face of recent acts of racist violence, we recommit ourselves to understanding that the wellbeing of all people is interdependent, and that science and our society are made better by a diversity of minds, viewpoints, and approaches participating as a team in a non-threatening, healthy, and welcoming environment. In the words of Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, “#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important — it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide-reaching and transformative for society as a whole.”

We want you to know that we share your pain, your grief, and your outrage. We will work to ensure that our classrooms and endeavors and workplaces engage and support struggles for racial justice on and off campus, and that our science and teachings will embrace the strength of our diversity.

For those who are looking for resources, we include several below this list of initial signatories.

Signed,

Gina R. Poe, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology

Alan D. Grinnell, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology

Barney A. Schlinger, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology

Ronald M. Harper, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, Department of Neurobiology

Kelsey C. Martin, M.D., Ph.D., Dean and Professor, David Geffen School of Medicine

Stephanie Correa, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Integrative Biology and Physiology

Stephanie White, Ph.D., Professor, Integrative Biology and Physiology

Liz Koslov, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and Department of Urban Planning

Aradhna Tripati, Ph.D., Associate Professor,  Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and Departments of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences & Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences, American Indian Studies Center, Center for Diverse Leadership in Science

Priyanga Amarasekare, Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Jesse Rissman, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences

Deanna Needell, Ph.D., Professor, Mathematics

Michael Hill, Ph.D., Professor, Mathematics

Scott H. Chandler, Ph.D, Professor, Integrative Biology and Physiology

Felix E. Schweizer, Ph.D., Professor Neurobiology, Chair Graduate Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program

David Glanzman, Ph.D., Professor, Integrative Biology and Physiology, and Neurobiology

Mark Frye, Ph.D., Professor, Integrative Biology and Physiology. Department of Neurobiology.

Shanna Shaked, Ph.D., M.A.T., Senior Associate Director, Center for Education Innovation and Learning in the Sciences

Robert Eagle, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Stephanie Pincetl, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

Roy Wollman, Associate Professor, Departments of Integrative Biology and Physiology and Chemistry and Biochemistry

Caroline Beghein, Associate Professor, Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences

Rebecca Shipe, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

Deepak Rajagopal, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and Department of Urban Planning

Thomas B. Smith, Ph.D., Professor,Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and Department of Ecology and Evolution

Alan Barreca, Associate Professor, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

Karen McKinnon, Assistant Professor, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and Department of Statistics

Jacob Bortnik, Professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

Avital Harari, M.D., M.Sc., Associate Professor, Department of Surgery

Larone Ellison, Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology

Justin Wagner, M.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery

Brian E. Kadera, M.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery

Kevin Y. Njabo, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

Tonya Kane, Ph.D., Lecturer, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Marco Iacoboni, M.D. Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Chao Peng, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology

Dean Buonomano, Ph.D., Professor, Departments of Neurobiology and Psychology

Jack L. Feldman, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Neurobiology

Weizhe Hong, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Departments of Biological Chemistry and Neurobiology

Zili Liu, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology

Dr. Hasan Yersiz, David Geffen School of Medicine, Department of Surgery, Division of Liver and Pancreas Transplant

Rachel Kennison, Ph.D., Interim Director, Center for Education, Innovation and Learning in the Sciences

Daniel T. Blumstein, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Professor in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

Morgan W. Tingley, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Lawren Sack, Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

William Boyd, J.D., Ph.D, Professor, UCLA School of Law, and Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

Guido Eibl, M.D., Professor, Department of Surgery, David Geffen School of Medicine

Pablo Saide, Assistant Professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, and Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

Jasper Kok, Associate Professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

Marco Velli, Professor of Space Physics Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences

Elaine Y. Hsiao, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology

Patricia E. Phelps, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology

Pavak K Shah, Ph.D, Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology

Hakwan Lau, D.Phil, Professor, Department of Psychology

Andrew Wikenheiser, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Psychology

X. William Yang, M.D., Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Science

Yi-Rong Peng, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology and Stein Eye Institute

Michael S Fanselow, Distinguished Professor, Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry.

Gal Bitan, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Neurology.

Catia Sternini, M.D., Professor, Division of Digestive Diseases, Departments of Medicine and Neurobiology

Vickie M. Mays, Ph.D., MSPH, Distinguished Professor, Departments of Psychology and Health Policy & Management and Director, UCLA BRITE Center for Science, Research & Policy

Nicholas Brecha, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, Departments of Neurobiology, Ophthalmology and Medicine.

Kate Wassum, Ph.D., Psychology

Riccardo Olcese, Ph.D., Professor, Departments of Anesthesiology and Physiology

Pamela Kennedy, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Dept of Psychology

Nanthia Suthana, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Departments of Psychiatry, Neurosurgery, Psychology, and Bioengineering

M. Belinda Tucker, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences

Mark S. Cohen, Ph.D., Professor, Staglin Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Departments of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, Neurology, Radiology, Biomedical Physics, Psychology and Bioengineering.

Catherine M Cahill, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Daniel H Geschwind M.D., Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, Senior Associate Dean and Associate Vice Chancellor, Precision Health

Christopher C. Giza, M.D., Professor, Departments of Pediatrics and Neurosurgery, Interdepartmental Programs for Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering

Onyebuchi A. Arah, M.D., Ph.D., Professor, Department of Epidemiology

Tracy Johnson, Ph.D., Professor, Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology

Brenda Larison, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Allen Gehret, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Michael J. Andrews, Ph.D., PIC, Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Albert J. Courey, Professor, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry

Michelle Basso, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Jerome Engel Jr. M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Neurology, Neurobiology, and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Robert M. Bilder, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences and Psychology; Co-Lead, MindWell pod, Semel UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative

Larry Zipursky, Ph.D., Department of Biological Chemistry

Igor Spigelman, Ph.D., Professor & Chair, Section of Oral Biology, School of Dentistry

Emeran A. Mayer, M.D., Distinguished Professor, Departments of Medicine, Physiology and Psychiatry

Gaston M. U. Pfluegl, Ph.D., Director Life Sciences Core Education Laboratory

Peyman Golshani, M.D., Ph.D., Professor, Departments of Neurology and Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior,

Ye Zhang, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral sciences.

Abby Kavner, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences

Nader Pouratian, M.D., Ph.D., Professor, Department of Neurosurgery

Melissa Sharpe, Ph.D, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

Lara Ray, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry

Pamela Yeh, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Michael Alfaro, PhD, Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Mikhail Hlushchanka, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Michael Gandal, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Ron Brookmeyer, Ph.D., Dean and Professor, Fielding School of Public Health

Van Savage, Ph.D., Professor, Departments of Computational Medicine and of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Marilyn Raphael, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Geography

Ladan Shams, Ph.D., Professor, Departments of Psychology and BioEngineering

Laura DeNardo, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Physiology

Diane M. Papazian, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Physiology

Rolando de Santiago, Ph.D., Assistant Adjunct Instructor and UC Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Mathematics

Alison Lipman, Ph.D., Lecturer, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Greg Grether, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Elissa Hallem, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics

Palina Salanevich, Ph.D., Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Marcelo Chamecki, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

Jeffrey Donlea, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Neurobiology

William I. Newman, Ph.D., Professor, Departments of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences; Physics and Astronomy; and Mathematics

Howard C. Jen, M.D., M.S., Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery

Diana G. Rickard, M.D., M.S., Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics

Thomas J. O’Dell, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Physiology

Gregory A. Miller, Distinguished Professor, Psychology and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Xian-Jie Yang, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Ophthalmology

Diana Azurdia, Ph.D., Director for Inclusion, Graduate Programs in Bioscience

Bogdan Pasaniuc, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Human Genetics, Computational Medicine.

Kirk E. Lohmueller, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Sylvester Eriksson-Bique, Ph.D., NSF Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Asgar Jamneshan, Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics

Artem Chernikov, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics

Ricardo Salazar, Ph. D., Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics.

Nicholas Ramsey, Hedrick Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Alan Garfinkel, Ph.D., Professor of Medicine and Integrative Biology and Physiology

Jorge Torres, Ph.D., Professor, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Hangjie Ji, Ph.D., PIC Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Susan D. Cochran, Ph.D., M.S., Professor, Epidemiology and Statistics

Stefano Filipazzi, Ph.D., Hedrick Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Daniel Hoff, Ph.D., Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Allison Carruth, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of English, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

Nina Otter, PhD, Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Benjamin Harrop-Griffiths, Ph.D., Hedrick Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Peter Petersen, Professor, Department of Mathematics.

Gregory S. Payne, Ph.D., Professor, Biological Chemistry

Clover May, Ph.D., Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Jochen Stutz, Professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

Terence Tao, James and Carol Collins Chair, Department of Mathematics

Paul Micevych, Plumb Professor and Chair, Department of Neurobiology

Wilfrid Gangbo, Professor, Department of Mathematics

Heather Zinn Brooks, Ph.D., CAM Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Daniele Bianchi, Assistant Professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

James Bisley, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Neurobiology

Daniel McKenzie, Ph.D., Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Leif Zinn-Brooks, Ph.D., Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Joshua Trachtenberg, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Neurobiology

Matt Jacobs, Ph. D., Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics.

TIm Austin, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Mathematics

Anna Lau, Professor, Department of Psychology

Ziva Cooper  Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Melissa Paquette-Smith, Assistant Professor of Teaching, Department of Psychology

Jennifer Sumner, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

Alicia Izquierdo, Professor, Department of Psychology

Jennifer Silvers, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

James Cameron, Ph.D., Hedrick Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Craig Enders, Professor, Department of Psychology

Bridget Callaghan, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

Jonathan C King, M.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery

Adriana Galvan, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology

Sorin Popa, Professor, Mathematics

Noah White, Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Michelle G. Craske, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychology & Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences

Theodore F. Robles, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology

Samy Wu Fung, Ph.D., Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Douglas Black, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics

Noa Pinter-Wollman, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Roger Woods, M.D., Professor, Departments of Neurology and of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Paul Mathews, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in Residence, Department of Neurology and The Lundquist Institute

Matthias Wink, DPhil, Hedrick Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Samantha Butler, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Neurobiology

Bennett Novitch, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Neurobiology

Jonathan Mitchell, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences

Lauren Ng, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

Stan Schein, M.D., Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology

Carolyn Houser, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Neurobiology

Katherine Karlsgodt, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Yiannis N. Moschovakis, Professor Emeritus and Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Mathematics

Carrie E Bearden Ph.D., Professor, Departments of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences and Psychology

Steve S. Lee, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology

Istvan Mody, Ph.D., Professor, Departments of Neurology and Physiology

Tina Treude, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Science, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science

Carole H. Browner, Distinguished Research Professor, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies

Karen H. Gylys, Ph.D., R.N., Professor, School of Nursing

Christina Palmer, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, Department of Human Genetics, Institute for Society and Genetics

Jessica Gregg, M.Ed., Associate Director for Educational Development, Center for Education Innovation and Learning in the Sciences (CEILS)

Katherine Narr, Professor, Departments of Neurology and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Alex Hall, Professor, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

Baljit S. Khakh, Ph.D., Professor of Physiology

Sandra K. Loo, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Mackenzie Day, Assistant Professor, Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences

Ursula K. Heise, Professor and Chair, Department of English

Carolyn Parkinson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

Marcia Meldrum, Ph.D., Adjunct Associate Professor, Center for Social Medicine and the Humanities, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences

Joel Braslow, M.D., Ph.D., Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and History, Center for Social Medicine and Humanities

Laura Cladek, Ph.D., Assistant Adjunct Professor, NSF Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Mathematics

Joseph DiNorcia, M.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery

Minna K. Lee, M.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery

Michael Willis, Ph.D., Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Yuen Huo, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology

Thomas Bradbury, Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychology

Marco Marengon, Ph.D., Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Mathematics

Wotao Yin, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Mathematics

Nathan Kraft, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Ippolytos Kalofonos, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Center for Social Medicine and Humanities, International Institute, West LA VAMC

Please see this webpage for the full, current list of signers. The page also includes links to books, websites and articles chosen by the authors about racism. It also lists resources for members of the UCLA campus community:

●      UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services (310-825-0768)

●      For mental health related concerns, consider signing up for STAND. An online questionnaire is followed by professional care if necessary.

●      Wellness resources for UCLA graduate students

●      Behavioral Wellness Center for confidential counseling for biosciences graduate students (310-825-9605)

The faculty members also provide links for donating to the NAACPACLU, and SPLC.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

A photo of Priscilla Stephanie Molina.

Thanks to family, graduating senior is driven to bridge cultural gaps

Growing up in Los Angeles, Priscilla Stephanie Molina would frequently go to work with her parents, doing homework while her mom cleaned houses or her father fixed someone’s leaky pipes. While some may have seen them as laborers, she saw leaders.

A photo of Priscilla Stephanie Molina.

Priscilla Stephanie Molina (Photo Credit: Idriss Njike)

“My parents are both immigrants from Guatemala and I’m very proud of that,” said Molina, a first-generation college student graduating from UCLA June 12. “My mom runs her own housekeeping business. She has people who work for her and she organizes everything. My dad didn’t know much about plumbing, but he learned by working with his cousin, and then he started teaching people who now work under him.”

Whether at home, work or church, she saw her parents stepping in to lead the community and help those in need. Molina, who plans to attend medical school, has done the same at UCLA. She created cultural sensitivity training for her classmates before leading them on medical missions to Mexico, and she helped form a tutoring and mentorship program for K-12 students at her church who would be the first in their families to go to college. She served as a resident assistant for two themed floors in UCLA residence halls, helping build communities with activities like organizing empowering events for other first-generation college students one year, and cultural celebrations like a Dia de los Muertos event for the Chicanx/Latinx floor another year.

“My parents were a great example,” Molina said. “This is what we do. If my parents can lead, then I can, as well.”

Molina plans to become a psychiatrist so she can research and find better ways to support underserved communities that often lack psychiatric resources. Born and raised in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, she’s seen how obstacles like language barriers, poor cultural awareness by doctors, and a lack of access can harm families. One of her older brothers was diagnosed with schizophrenia not long after she turned 10, and her parents didn’t know where to turn. Molina would join her mother at her brother’s doctor appointments to translate.

“They would give her information without explaining what it meant,” Molina said. “That has to change, and I want to help change it. We didn’t know what resources to connect to, what medicine to trust, or how to help my brother. I think a lot of that was because of cultural barriers. Public health, prevention and resources have to be culturally appropriate and meaningful to reach people. I want to be a doctor who is culturally sensitive.”

Molina’s sense of navigating and uniting two distinct worlds is apparent even in her name. Her parents and family friends know her by her middle name, Stephanie, while places that rely on registration forms use her first name, Priscilla.

“I always think of myself as Stephanie,” she said. “While Priscilla has always been my school-self. I enjoy it.”

By majoring in psychobiology and double-minoring in public health and in Latin American studies, Molina hopes to unite the three disciplines to address the problems she encountered growing up.

She already put her skills to use a few times with the Global Medical Missions Alliance. Her studies, combined with regular family summer trips to Guatemala, prepared her well to lead medical missions to Mexico. Though her friends in the university’s GMMA chapter prepared by studying Spanish, she didn’t see enough emphasis on learning about — and from — the people they were helping. She created cultural-sensitivity training for the group that was soon adopted by Global Medical Missions Alliance chapters in the United States, Australia and Canada.

“I wanted to emphasize how important it is to value the local people’s mindset, culture and knowledge, and not go in thinking we know better than they do,” Molina said. “There are things we can learn from them. The most important thing I advocated for was staying connected to the community’s leaders. They know best what their community needs.”

For her senior research project, she was able to combine all three of her academic interests in UCLA’s Psychology Research Opportunity Programs. Molina used a fotonovela, or graphic novel, in which a Latina character experiences symptoms of depression, and talks about it with her family and friends. She hoped that using this creative, culture-specific approach would make the Latino population she worked with more likely to seek out treatment themselves.

A photo of the Molina Family.

Courtesy of the Molina family

Her research found that people were more comfortable with the idea of seeking treatment if they had read the fotonovella showing someone from their culture. Unfortunately, she also found that readers with more barriers to mental health treatment still weren’t as likely to reach out for services as people who had fewer pre-existing barriers.

It’s an issue she hopes to research more. This summer, she has a paid position in a summer program with AltaMed Health Services, a health care provider that works in underserved communities. She hopes to either continue working with AltaMed or become an assistant resident director at UCLA while she takes some time off from school, and then apply to medical school.

Her parents always emphasized the importance of education, and encouraged her to think early on about a job that required education, she said.

“They always told me they didn’t want me to work a job the way they have to where they’re laborers,” she said. “And when I was little, I saw doctors as people who helped, and who made me feel better. So I wanted to be a doctor, but for a long time I didn’t really think I could.”

Living in the Valley, her schools had field trips to UCLA, and the university quickly became her goal. Though she’s disappointed that the current coronavirus pandemic and quarantine means there will be no graduation ceremony in Pauley Pavilion this June for her family to attend, she knows they are excited and proud of her for graduating.

“UCLA was my dream school,” Molina said. “I heard about all the optimistic goals. I knew I wanted to go into medicine, and you always hear that UCLA is one of the top schools for science and medicine and research. I felt like I belonged here. When I got in, it was a very happy moment for me and my family.”