Professor Rebecca Jean Emigh

Young people often want to change the world. But when facing a gamut of social problems and inequalities around them, it’s easy to wonder how any one person can make a difference and hard to know how to take the first steps. Undergraduate students at UCLA are attuned to the challenges around them, whether in their own school and city or across the world, but how can they help bring about positive change?

Students in UCLA Sociology Professor Rebecca Jean Emigh’s Winter 2019 Fiat Lux Seminar, “Do We Make a Difference? Social Change in Theory and Practice,” not only studied sociological approaches to achieving social change, but spent the quarter putting their knowledge into practice. Each student initiated a project of their choice designed to effect real change in the world around them even after the quarter concluded. Students addressed a variety of social issues, from the local to the global, motivated by insights gleaned from social theory and empirical research.

Noting that “we get caught in what we can’t do and not what we can do,” one student worked to design a course for the Undergraduate Student Initiated Education program using psychological principles to motivate students to engage in social activism directed towards the UCLA administration. Through this course, she hopes “to show students that they’re not alone in their problems if they just reach out and start talking until someone listens.” Another student collaborated with members of the Cambodian refugee community in an effort to empower them to connect their personal and community histories to social change. “At first, many were dismissive of their own perspectives,” she explained, “but after a few weeks they began to fully engage in our dialogue about social conditions and theory.”

Other student projects included a campaign to spread awareness of the negative effects of gentrification on the Chinatown neighborhood of Los Angeles; initiatives to promote environmentally sustainable lifestyle changes through simple household and dietary interventions; and a positivity campaign to encourage students to show kindness to one another.

Students found that not only did their projects lead to positive change, their interactions as a class had a positive effect as well. “Listening to the presentations my classmates in this class [gave] greatly inspired me,” explained one student. Said another, “This class has allowed me to not only learn from other students in the class and participate in their social change projects… but continue to find meaningful ways in my everyday life to recognize the way my actions can impact and be valuable for those around me.”

The course will be offered again in Winter 2020, so look out for more Bruins in pursuit of a better future!

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