By Lara Drasin

Read Part 1 of this interview HERE.

Bryonn Bain is a UCLA professor jointly appointed in the African American Studies and World Arts and Cultures/Dance departments, as well as a prison activist, spoken word poet, hip-hop artist, actor and author. He is the founder and director of UCLA’s Prison Education Program, which was launched in 2016 to create innovative courses that enable UCLA faculty and students to learn from, and alongside, participants incarcerated at the California Institute for Women (CIW) and Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall (BJN). 

Rosie Rios is the administrative director of UCLA’s Prison Education Program. 

LD:     Many of the concepts behind Theater of the Oppressed sound a lot like improv.

BB:     Absolutely. The culture of “yes, and” is really about being solution oriented [by saying] “here we are, how are we going to make this work?” Being flexible and able to adapt in the correctional facilities is an essential skill. You cannot survive if you can’t figure out a way to deal with constant change.

I taught courses at Rikers Island over a 10-year period. The city jail in LA has more people than any other city jail in the country – or the world – but Rikers Island is the largest penal colony. It’s 10 jails on one island and there were between 14 and 15 thousand people incarcerated there when I first started teaching classes. I developed relationships with a lot of the folks inside and over that time, enough trust built up that I was able to work with them to do poetry, theater, and film classes.

They actually let me film Lyrics From Lockdown there. It was the last December of the Obama administration. Rikers Island rarely lets anyone film there, but we had been planning the shoot for nine months, and two weeks before we were going in to film, we got a call from the White House. The Obama administration invited Academy Award winner Tim Robbins and my crew to go there and bring the production. We were like, “That’s great! That’s amazing!! When?”

And they said December 17. That was the day we’d been planning to go to Rikers Island. So we turned down President Obama and the White House to go perform at Rikers Island. Of course, we showed up at Rikers and it was raining cats and dogs. We had a 20-person film crew covering their equipment with garbage bags so that it didn’t get destroyed. And as we get to the wing where we were supposed to shoot, the correctional officers come out and tell us that they actually had a lockdown. They tear-gassed the wing where we were supposed to perform and weren’t sure if we were going to be able to go through with the shoot.

In that moment, you can imagine the kinds of things I’m thinking to myself. But what are you going to do? “Yes and,” right? So we figured out how to adapt to the situation to make it work. After seven hours, we were able to go in and do the show and bring a little bit of hope and, hopefully, a little bit of joy to our brothers who were there and could use some of that at that time.

“Some of those people behind bars are our most talented folks and brilliant minds. We cannot forget they locked up Mandela and Martin and Malcolm and Socrates.” — Professor Bain

LD:     How did the incarcerated students you were working with respond to being asked to write poetry?

BB:     It’s overwhelmingly positive. There is sometimes some initial hesitation, especially the younger you go, for a range of reasons. But two experiences crystallize what I find most valuable about those experiences.

One was the first time I taught in a juvenile facility that was not predominantly black and brown, which most of the facilities in New York and LA are. I was in the Clark County Detention Center in Ohio doing a residency with Wittenberg University. I asked if we could do something at the juvenile hall since it’s right down the street and they let me bring in professors and students.

On a Monday, I performed there and hosted a workshop for mostly 15-year-old white boys. I’d never had a class like that, but I did my thing. They got really into it, so I decided to go back on Wednesday and do a poetry slam. There was this one student – named James, who was sentenced to 98 days at the facility and was scheduled to be released that Tuesday.

LD:     He stayed for the slam?!

BB:     He requested a 99th day so he could be in the slam on Wednesday — and then he won! So he left the next day a champion of language; of education; of poetry. He had a new relationship to literacy and his own sense of agency with the wind at his back.

Another situation that stayed with me is when we launched the NYU Prison Education program, the first for-credit program at NYU in 2013. We created an application process for all of our courses so they are taken very seriously. We asked every student, “Why do you want to participate in higher education while you’re in prison?”

One young brother looked at me and said, “I need to pursue college in prison because prison is like Medusa. If you focus on it too much, it will turn you to stone. I need to focus my attention somewhere else.” And that just gave me chills. All I could say was, “Please take my class!” That stays with me.

I think people in prison are some of the easiest folks to forget about. Part of the Prison Education Program’s mission is to make sure we realize that we have folks who are valuable members of our families, our communities, our city and country who are incarcerated. And some of our greatest minds — our greatest geniuses — are incarcerated. Look at the statistics, and it’s not even just 1 in 10, but as much as 1 in 3 or 4 of the folks in our communities are incarcerated, depending on which demographic you consider.

Some of those people behind bars are our most talented folks and brilliant minds. We cannot forget they locked up Mandela and Martin and Malcolm and Socrates.

Many in prison simply could not stay on the conveyor belt and do what everybody else did. Some folks made mistakes they should be able to learn from by being introduced to more humane interaction with others than prisons make possible. Others rebelled in a certain way, or just didn’t fit into the mold or the system, or simply made bad choices.

We have countless folks locked up for the use or sale of substances state governments have either since legalized, or should decriminalize since the Center for Disease Control determined addiction is a disease. It should be treated as a public health and wellness issue — not a matter for criminal prosecution or punishment. You can’t lock away addiction and the economies it generates and expect them to disappear. Prisons are an ineffective solution to this problem as they are most others. They only make it worse.  There is a trillion-dollar, global pharmaceutical industry turning profits by engaging in the practice of medicating to treat trauma, illness, and addiction that we are locked up for every day in this country — and the U.S. is the number one importer of pharmaceutical drugs in the world.

Countless others still are wrongfully charged and awaiting trial for stretches of time so long they are undeniably cruel. And others, like my friend Nanon Williams in Texas, are convicted of a crime they did not commit. He was thrown on Death Row at 17 for a crime even a federal judge says he didn’t commit, and has been behind bars surviving in cages for over 26 years.

So I think about the work we do not as for charity, but for change and transformation. It’s for creating opportunities not just to teach folks who are incarcerated, but also to learn from folks who are incarcerated and ensure more voices are heard and involved in shaping the direction in which the nation and the world are moving. If we forget about these folks, we are losing out on the invaluable opportunity to actually participate in learning with and from them.

LD:     I know that you work in facilities for both men and women, as well as boys and girls. What are the similarities and differences have you found in introducing your curricula in both male- and female-serving facilities?

BB:     We should ask Rosie — she just came directly from teaching the girls inside today.

RR [Rosie Rios, UCLA’s Prison Education Program Administrative Director]:     At the juvenile hall, a lot of the girls are coming from very, very traumatic experiences. Today, we asked about their neighborhoods. We were talking about how our neighborhoods are at night. You hear the helicopters and hear gunshots and you’re coming from this place of almost war, right? War between neighborhoods, and you have to survive.

The girls even wrote a letter to UCLA professors and students who are going to come into the facility saying, “Please understand where we’re coming from. It’s like we never got a chance to be kids. We never had a chance to really live. The only thing we know is how to survive.”

And that applies to both boys and girls. But I think the girls just need a lot of care and more therapy. Their focus is also very different, because they’re thinking about back home. A lot of them are mothers at a young age. So a lot of them are figuring out who they are, but also thinking about how they’re going to care for their kids.

LD:     When did you know you wanted to focus on prison education? When did you get involved with the arts, and how did that factor into your decision to go to law school?

BB:     I was always a student activist and involved in organizing, but I actually went into a prison for the first time not as an activist, but as an artist. I was a teenager when I was invited to perform inside by a sister named Paula Medina (Black Paris Productions, Middletown, New York). My brothers, cousins and I had a crew — a hip-hop, spoken word poetry crew. We sang blues songs and performed all over New York. Paula was the head sister in charge who helped young artists to get a platform — and we wanted a platform. She said to us, “If you come perform in the prison with me for the holiday show, then I’ll put you on!”

We didn’t want to act nervous, but in 1989, we were like, “Are we going to be okay?” We had all the assumptions of everybody who’s been fed misconceptions of what’s in prisons through television and movies. But the experience was so amazing for us — it was transformative. We performed; we sang; we rapped; I spit poetry; we banged on the tables. Then we broke bread, and the brothers in there looked like our uncles, cousins and fathers. They were us. And once we saw that they were us, it changed how we understood and thought about the experience of incarceration.

We went back every year for the next decade or so and performed during the holidays. The brothers inside were so grateful that we didn’t forget about them. A decade later in 1999, I had my own experience of being behind bars. And when it was NOT on a voluntary basis, I felt very differently about the situation. It makes a big difference when you have the privilege of going in and leaving at the end of the day.

So the shift in bringing activism into the prison space happened when I had my own experience with the NYPD and was locked up for a brief amount of time, but in several correctional facilities in New York City. My days inside can’t compare to decades of trauma experienced behind bars — or the 44 years in solitary one of our elders from the Angola 3 survived, but it was enough to change my relationship to prisons forever.

I finished law school and suddenly had a different kind of access to these institutions because I had this very elite, very privileged education. And so my thinking was, “How can I be of service to the movement we need to end this prison crisis? How can I leverage my skills and talents, the media, and my access to educational institutions to be an agent of change? To share resources up on the hills that universities gather them on to folks who have been denied access, but would do so much good with them? How can I bring together those in these vastly different spaces who have so much to learn from each other? I felt that would transform not only the lives of incarcerated people, but also the lives of folks in the university space, and the communities most of us ultimately return to after our experiences in either (or in my case, both). Building bridges between these spaces of extreme privilege and extreme marginalization I have been thrown into is a direct result of my life experiences.

But I also had a professor, Kellis Parker, who came and got folks out of jail when we were politically active in college. He was a law professor, and as an undergrad, I would sneak into his lectures. After graduating top of his class at Howard Law, he was the first black law professor at an Ivy League school. Tenured at 26, Dr. Parker — or “Doc” as we called him — taught classes at Columbia Law School with his trombone, using jazz principles, and it blew my mind. He taught law using slave narratives to talk about how when the American legal system did not protect the rights of enslaved Africans, the Indigenous, or immigrant communities of people of color, we had to find ways to create a sense of right and wrong for ourselves. Black folks actually used our stories and storytelling as a powerful tool to understand how should we treat each other.

The infamously dehumanizing Dred Scott case told us that you cannot go into court and expect your rights to be respected over any white person’s rights. So it was powerful for law students to get exposed to that. It was life changing for me to get exposed to that and his whole thinking about jazz as a metaphor for democracy and every voice being heard. At the same time, he helped me understand that improvisation is not just chaos. It’s not “anything goes.” It’s learning how to adapt to an ever-changing environment and develop that muscle.

I think this is a core piece of education that is missing in so many spaces today. We do not know what jobs, what world we’re preparing students for 10 years from now — even five years from now. The world is changing way too fast. You used to make a five-year plan and follow through. Now you have to change your five-year plan from week to week. Well, we do know that whatever the challenges are that we’re preparing students for down the road. They’re going to need creativity. They’re going to need adaptability. They’re going to need those improv muscles to be in shape.

LD:     Right. In order to create change, we have to first be able to imagine it. And we can’t do that without encouraging everyone to be creative.

BB:     We all have to find the artist within. Rosie and I just spent time in two prisons in the UK with two other UCLA students and several from Cal Poly Pomona. We spent days in workshops and building with staff, educators, and men incarcerated in the Brixton prison and the Whitemoor prison, where Cambridge University and the University of London just began offering courses. We are working to develop relationships with them like the ongoing exchange we have with the Center for the Theater of the Oppressed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

One of the English educators who we brought here last year is Ken Robinson. He came here as part of Professor Pedro Noguera’s conference on transforming schools. Robinson tells this revealing story about a young girl in England who was punished because she was misbehaving. She was seen as “badly behaved,” so the teacher said, “Get out of my class!” and told her mother to take her to a doctor to get her checked out for a mental disorder of some kind.  So her mother took her to a doctor who spoke with her for a while and then at a certain point said, “I’m going to sit outside and speak with your mother. We’ll be right back.” As he walks out of the room, he turns the radio on and as soon as the mother and the doctor walk out, the little girl stands up and starts dancing and moving to the music. She’s in the zone. The doctor peeks through the blinds, sees her, and shows her mother.

When they go back in the room, of course the little girl sits down because she’s like, “I got to be still now; there are adults in the room.” The doctor says to the mother, “Your daughter is not sick. She’s a dancer. She doesn’t need a hospital. She needs a dance school! Take her to this dance school and come back in a couple of weeks.” So they go to the dance school and a couple of weeks pass. They come back and the doctor says, “So how was it?” The girl says, “It was the most amazing place! It was filled with people just like me. People who had to move to think.

The little girl grew up and later became part of the Royal Ballet. She had a brilliant career as a dancer and then left to be one of the leading choreographers on Broadway for blockbuster hit shows like Cats. Had this little girl never been introduced to a doctor who could see her untapped potential — who believed in her capacity for genius — possibilities in her to do something beyond just “be a problem” (which is how she was written off initially) — she might have been seen as having ADHD. She might have been injected with psychotropic drugs, or given Ritalin, or otherwise misdiagnosed, just as I was when they didn’t believe that I could actually be who I said I was when I was unjustly arrested.

She went on to make millions of dollars, bring joy to millions of people’s lives, and by all measures, had a very successful career as an artist. And it was because of somebody who was not an artist, but still saw the value of her creativity and the value of imagining possibilities beyond those that had been imagined previously as within reach. I think that’s the role of artists: the artists in each of us, and of the arts in the social sciences and law. My mentor’s mentor, Paul Robeson, said “Artists are the gatekeepers of Truth.” I believe challenging folks to use imagination — to see a world that’s better than the one that we’re living in, one in which we find the common humanity in all of us, that is the greater vision of the work we do.

LD:     How do you decide to focus on systemic change versus focusing on maybe just making someone’s day better? Do you even decide, or do you focus on both?

RR:     It goes hand in hand, right? You can’t just choose one over the other. But even our going into a class once a week or once a day is going to turn into a long-term change. We never know which of these (incarcerated) girls are future senators. She will be making systemic change. I think there’s no one right place to start. Just start somewhere. It’s hard to see it, but especially with such personal work, eventually you will see the change.

That’s what keeps me going, too.  I see it and I have so much hope for these girls. Knowing that they’re not going to be in there for the rest of their lives. They’re going to be changemakers. They already are.

###

This interview has been edited for clarity.

On October 11-12, 2018, the California Center for Population Research (CCPR) commemorated its 20th anniversary. Its first session on Thursday engaged population research in Los Angeles on families and neighborhoods, schools, eviction and homelessness, and social policy. The Friday research symposium showcased an accomplished and collaborative group of CCPR alumni from around the nation. This event highlighted the exceptional research of faculty and former students within the Division of Social Sciences at UCLA. For more information about the event, check out the CCPR Research Symposium_Final Schedule.

The California Center for Population Research (CCPR) was established in 1998 and has since, been a leading research center for research and training in demography. CCPR is comprised of over 90 active faculty researchers from an array of academic disciplines, such as epidemiology, public policy, economics, sociology, and public welfare. CCPR researchers span several schools, including the College of Letters and Sciences, the Division of Social Sciences, the School of Public Health, the School of Medicine, and the School of Public Affairs, as well as academic departments within UCLA.

 

Dr. Karen Umemoto is a professor in the Department of Asian American Studies and the Luskin School.  She is also a UCLA alum, who has some big plans as the new Helen and Morgan Chu Endowed Director’s Chair of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center.  We recently met up with Dr. Umemoto to learn about her experiences growing up in LA and how that has shaped her work to affect change in her home city.

LASS:     Thank you for joining us today. Please tell us about yourself.

KU:         I’m a third-generation, Japanese American, born and raised in Los Angeles. I’m a proud Bruin, having started my college education here at UCLA and then returning for my master’s degree in Asian American Studies, and then returning now, after 22 years of teaching at the University of Hawaii. I’m happy to be back.

LASS:     I know you did some really important and impactful community-based research work while you were there. Can you talk about that and how you’re bringing that work to UCLA?

KU:         Yes, I have a strong interest in community-based development and I worked primarily with Native Hawaiian communities over the past 22 years while in Hawaii. I was heavily involved in building community-university partnerships, some lasting the entire two decades. I gained a lot of lessons there, about how people at the university can engage with communities in a way that is empowering for them, that is mutually beneficial in terms of a co-learning process, and that leaves a long-lasting, positive impact in communities. I’d like to apply that through my position as a faculty member, as an instructor, and as the Director, here at UCLA Asian American Studies Center.

LASS:     What plans do you envision for the UCLA Asian American Studies Center?

KU:         As the new Helen and Morgan Chu Endowed Director’s Chair of the Asian American Studies Center, I’m working with our staff and faculty to launch a couple initiatives in the spirit of being relevant to the world and to our communities. One is a digital media initiative. We’ve gained a lot of knowledge and we’ve collected a lot of primary source materials over the course of the last 50 years since we were established. I see our role as helping to push that out to the public over the next 50 years. We’ll continue the research and collection of historically important collections, but I really see the need to utilize the latest technologies and digital media to make this knowledge in Asian American and Ethnic Studies more accessible to the public and to the world.

The second initiative is focused on public policy. Though there is important work on Asian American and Pacific Islander policy issues being done at many universities, I’d like to see UCLA play a role in collaborating with others to further policy relevant research on Asian American and Pacific Islander populations. We have the critical mass of applied researchers here at UCLA. We have good models for policy centers that we can learn from. And, we have the strong infrastructure of UCLA and its standing in the public to be able to mobilize research efforts to make an impact on issues affecting our communities both in the realm of national public discourse and in local policymaking.

LASS:     What about your own personal research interests?

KU:         I’m working on several book projects, one based on the juvenile justice research and reform work I did in Hawaii and another on the history of urban renewal in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo.  I’m also very interested in race relations in Los Angeles, which I’ve done research on in the past.

To me, community development issues and race relations are very interconnected. I grew up in Gardena in the 1970s, which was named the most diverse community in the country at that time. And the 1970s was one of the most prosperous times in Southern California. Race relations was relatively positive compared to other places and other periods. So I grew up in somewhat of a bubble, thinking that race relations with as good everywhere else. And when I left Gardena, I realized that it wasn’t.

Fast forward to graduate school when there was growing controversy over the concentration of liquor stores in South LA, many of which were Korean owned. And there was the horrific incident in which Latasha Harlins was shot and killed by a Korean American grocer, which was a precursor to the civil unrest in 1992. I remember sitting in my dorm room when the police officers involved in the Rodney King beating were acquitted. And I watched my community and my city go up in flames.  I had already been planning to study racial conflict at that time, but this sealed it.

So, when I returned to Los Angeles to do my dissertation work, I was really committed to understand racial conflict—how it escalates and how we could better handle it. But I was looking for a way to study day-to-day racial conflict, not necessarily explosive incidents, because it’s the day-to-day conflicts that then build up to these explosive moments. The most violent form of everyday racial conflict at that time was interracial gang violence, so I ended up studying a gang war between the Culver City Boys and the Shoreline Crips. I did a three-year ethnographic study of the gang war, which resulted in a book called The Truce: Lessons from an LA Gang War.

I think that many of the lessons from that gang war and from police and community responses to it are still very relevant today. I think we see a lot of problems today that stem from that same phenomenon where people are not able to see the world from other people’s point of view and work more collaboratively to address controversies that lead to racial tensions.

“I’m reminded of the period of history where my parents were incarcerated in US concentration camps during World War II. I think about all of the things that lead up to their incarceration and you see many of the same things happening today—the untethering of discourse from material realities, the demonization of different people from the top echelons of government.” – Dr. Umemoto

LASS:     So what types of challenges do you see out there and how do you hope to address it?

KU:         I think there are three major challenges many others here at UCLA, and I, are concerned about. One is the growing wealth gap and economic inequality of opportunities, between the haves and have not’s.

The second is the lack of better opportunities through which individuals and communities can engage in the civic decision making processes in ways that build capacity and lead to greater social justice.

And third, I think because of the tenor of national politics and national political discourse, we have a problem of people at the very top levels of government playing up racial divisions and implementing policies that target people of color and demean people of color and instill fear in communities of color.

I’m reminded of the period of history where my parents were incarcerated in US concentration camps during World War II. I think about all of the things that lead up to their incarceration and you see many of the same things happening today—the untethering of discourse from material realities, the demonization of different people from the top echelons of government. It’s the demonization of entire groups of people by those in the top levels of government, and the fanning of fear amongst the majority population about these groups, tapping the economic precarity that people feel, that leads to tragic consequences for the most vulnerable.

LASS:     So with all that in mind, what’s the impact, through your own work and through the Center, that you’re hoping to make?

KU:         I think one way that we can contribute to addressing these problems is to push out Asian American Studies and Ethnic Studies—disseminating knowledge and educating students and the broader public about Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and other historically marginalized communities. If we can nurture greater empathy, greater understanding, and greater respect towards all populations across society, then and only then is civic democracy and greater societal justice possible.

LASS:     With that in mind, any parting words?

KU:         Just that this is the only job I would have moved back home for. UCLA is the only university that I would have been interested in. I’m a strong believer in public education. I’m a product of the LA Unified School District. I’m a product of the California State University system and the University of California system. I think we play such a critical role in educating the next generation of thought leaders, changemakers, and citizens of the world who can make a positive impact. I think this is the right place to be at this time.

LASS:     That’s wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing your work and experiences with us.

 

Dr. Karen Umemoto was interviewed by Mike Nguyen, an assistant editor and contributor to LA Social Science.

Credit: Getty Images via Inc.com

By Sarah Gavish, UCLA Master of Social Science ‘18

In an era where adult Americans consume 12+ hours of media per day, the relationship between media and public perception has never been more complex – or fascinating.  Does media actually have potential to shape our perceptions?  If it does, how, and why?  Some studies claim that the news media is responsible for stoking our greatest fears.  I interrogated this claim, as well as existing literature and research methodologies, with the following questions:

  1. To what extent do Americans consume news media that caters to their fears?
  2. What are the factors that may influence this relationship?

My investigation began by looking at the top 10 fears in America as reported by Chapman University’s Survey of American Fears in 2017, a random sample of the fears and anxieties of the US population.  The ranking top 10 are listed below listed below:

  1. Corrupted government officials
  2. American Healthcare act/Trumpcare
  3. Pollution of Oceans, Rivers and Lakes
  4. Pollution of Drinking Water
  5. Not having enough money for the future
  6. High Medical Bills
  7. The US will be involved in another World War
  8. Global Warming & Climate Change
  9. North Korea using weapons
  10. Air Pollution

I examined the relationship between these fears and news consumption habits, considering individual consumption of three of the top news networks in the United States: MSNBC, Fox News and CNN.  Immediately I found that higher levels of fear of the Survey’s top 10 were associated with higher consumption of MSNBC and CNN, while lower levels of fear of these topics were associated with higher consumption of Fox News. To me, this very interesting finding begged further investigation.

Let’s consider timing: The 2017 Survey of American Fears was deployed and compiled in June of 2017, within six months of Donald Trump’s inauguration. Perhaps unsurprisingly, conservatives and Republicans watch more Fox News, while liberals and Democrats watch more MSNBC and CNN.  With that in mind, the study yielded two additional relevant findings: conservatives and Republicans (who watch more Fox News) say that they have little to no fear of the top 10 issues.  Liberals and Democrats on the other hand – who watch more MSNBC and CNN –  say they are afraid or very afraid of all of these things.

What we can determine, then, is this simple idea: both the news media and our fears are not only politicized, they’re partisan. 

It is important to note that conservatives and Republicans are not necessarily without fears altogether, is it simply that the top 10 fears in America in 2017 more closely mirror those of liberals and Democrats..  Further research might dive more deeply into the Survey’s sampling methods, or the sample population’s characteristics to understand if there were other socioeconomic or influencing factors pointing to specific fears, beyond political leanings.

I would hypothesize that there is an entirely separate set of politicized fears held by conservatives that are in turn stoked by the programming they regularly watch – namely, FOX News.

The screaming presence of division across party lines in our media and our fears is no coincidence, especially if you consider the content put out by these networks. Using keywords from the daily News Minute put out by the Associated Press and UCLA’s NewsScape database, I found that CNN, which bears a significant audience overlap with MSNBC, showed the most coverage of the top 10 fear topics. Fox News showed far less and, in some cases, the least.

I consider the results of my research a sincere call to action for conscious news consumption.  The “fact” of the matter is, if you watch, read, or listen to the same news sources all the time, it is very likely that you’re operating in a political echochamber of your own thoughts and fears.  It is important as individuals and as a society to recognize that our fears can be shaped by the news we consume, and that the news we consume is often airing topical programming that caters directly to our fears.

 

Sarah Gavish is a social scientist interested in solving humanity’s problems through conversation, collaboration, and an eventual upheaval of unquestionably flawed cultural institutions.  She also likes to meditate, cook, argue, and read books.  Sarah is not on social media and is happy to explain why (you shouldn’t be either) if you email her.

 

 

Credit: Caitlin McKown/UW Applied Population Laboratory, https://www.wiscontext.org/changing-faces-wisconsins-foreign-born-residents

Comparative historical sociologists, Professors Dylan Riley and Patricia Ahmed (UCLA alumni) and Professor Rebecca Jean Emigh (UCLA faculty) highlight the pitfalls of Trump administration’s current immigration and census policies, using historical referents. The Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, has pushed to include a citizenship question into the 2020 census. Opponents suggest that this will depress the count in regions with a lot of immigrants, thereby depriving those areas of federal funding. Proponents suggest that this will correctly count only citizens in the apportionment process. However, the census was never designed to count only citizens, as they show in their recent two volume work, How Societies and States Count. See the article on the citizenship question HERE.

 

Dylan Riley is Professor of Sociology at University of California, Berkeley. His work uses comparative and historical methods to challenge a set of key conceptual oppositions in classical sociological theory: authoritarianism and democracy, revolution and counter-revolution, and state and society.

Rebecca Jean Emigh is Professor of Sociology at University of California, Los Angeles. Her research focuses on how cultural, economic, and demographic factors intersect to create long-term processes of social change.

Patricia Ahmed is Professor of Sociology at South Dakota State University. She specializes in structural adjustments and censuses.

Co-authors: From left to right, Professors Riley, Emigh, and Ahmed

By George Chacon

Dream Resource Center Project Manager, UCLA Labor Center

When people are allowed to tell their own stories, they can provide insight into and connection with groups of people we may not ordinarily interact with. But when other people tell those stories, they can be used to paint a negative and unfair picture. No one has done this more, and with more disregard for facts and hatred toward the immigrant community, than Donald Trump. Not a week goes by where he does not say something inflammatory about immigrants, and his supporters echo those stories. Thankfully, working for the UCLA Labor Center’s Dream Resource Center (DRC) has provided me with opportunities to hear positive stories and experiences from my coworkers and community partners. Some of these stories are featured in the DRC’s Undocumented Stories exhibit, hosted by the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach.

MOLAA will be showcasing Undocumented Stories, a multimedia exhibit that lifts up the personal stories and experiences of immigrant youth, from August 4 to September 9. Undocumented Stories was curated by UCLA students, staff from the UCLA Labor Center and the DRC, and SolArt Media & Design. It includes personal stories, video, and photographs of unaccompanied minors and undocumented youth who built a movement to change US policies on access to higher education, immigration, and deportation. The exhibit aims to humanize the undocumented immigrant experience, empower the immigrant community, and incite critical conversations about the future of US immigration law and policy. Undocumented Stories has traveled to various locations around the country, including Washington, DC, and Boston through a partnership with the National Education Association.

The exhibit features the stories of people like Set Rongkilyo, who does communications for the ICE Out of LA coalition. Set and his family migrated to the United States with the hope of naturalizing their status through an employer. Unfortunately, Set’s family could not fulfill the extensive requirements, became undocumented, and were eventually separated. Set’s father had to return to the Philippines to care for his sick mother and will have great difficulty ever returning to the United States because of his undocumented status.

Then there’s Diego Sepulveda, currently the director of the DRC. I met Diego in 2009 when I was an undergraduate student at UCLA, and I remember how fearless and persistent he was as an undocumented student. The exhibit chronicles his experience as a transfer student attending UCLA and his advocacy efforts in LGBTQ and environmental issues.

My experience working at the DRC and with MOLAA has strengthened my commitment to the movement to ensure that all immigrants are treated with respect and humanity. By uplifting the stories and leadership of immigrants in these unfortunate times, the Undocumented Stories exhibit functions as a necessary and vital counter to the falsehoods coming out of the White House.

 

George Chacon is the Immigrant Justice Project Manager at the Dream Resource Center, where he guides immigrant leaders in developing rapid response networks for immigrant communities as they face increased threats of detention and deportation. He graduated from UCLA in 2010 with a BA in international development studies and a minor in education studies. He is an LA native and has worked on issues such as workforce development, health and wellness, and college readiness.

By Lara Drasin

UCLA Master of Social Science 2018

Every day we’re influenced by the news, television and the movies we watch, and even family legends and community lore. In writing my master’s thesis, I wanted to understand: what exactly is it about a narrative that can be so powerful? What are the key elements – the magic ingredients – that touch people on a core level?

I started researching persuasive mass communication but soon realized I needed to understand its foundation, which is narrative. And, apparently, the most effective narratives have mythological dimensions. So to understand what makes a story powerful, I needed to understand myth. A “myth” is a very simple story that is encoded with the values of a society.

We see this in political communication: politicians often rely on simple messaging that resonates deeply with people as being “true,” even if those messages are not actually based in fact. And as it turns out, at the center of myth is our ideology: our beliefs and the way that we see the world. I started to wonder: what does that look like today? What is a “modern myth?”

I didn’t mean to get into politics with this project, but as I moved from narrative to myth to ideology, I soon realized it was unavoidable. Stories influence and reflect the way we think society should be, which sounds a lot like politics to me.

I needed to understand political ideology, and what factors influence how each of us develops the internal narratives that correlate with our ideological beliefs. In this case, political narratives are ongoing stories that each side tells about an issue –how they understand and describe it; who their heroes and villains are.

So, where could I go to find people sharing the opinions and stories that help explain their political decisions?

Twitter: the modern public square.

I decided to look at the stories we tell around guns in our society on social media, since guns are, according to the Pew Research Center, arguably the most politically and ideologically polarizing subject in the U.S.

I analyzed a sample set of pro and anti-gun control tweets, looking for the values prior research associates with liberals and conservatives. The theories I used were:

  1. Linguist and political philosopher George Lakoff’s theory that we unconsciously view the nation as a family, and that conservatives tend to value strict “parenting” styles, whereas progressives tend to value more nurturant “parenting” styles.
  2. Political scientist Nicholas Winter’s assertion that we unconsciously cognitively pair liberal values with stereotypically feminine characteristics and conservative values with stereotypically masculine characteristics.
  3. Moral Foundations Theory (MFT), which isolates 5 core values: Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority and Purity, and says that liberals are driven most by Care and Fairness, while conservatives are also driven by Loyalty, Authority and Purity (which they sometimes elevate above the others).

All 3 theories pretty much tracked. But there were 2 “wild card” findings I did not expect:

  1. The concept of authority showed up as much in liberal tweets as conservative tweets. However, that could be because on Twitter, people are trying to impact others’ views, so their tone will be more authoritative. If I had more time, I would analyze other forms of media, like news articles, to see whether the tone changed with the medium.
  2. The other wild card was the moral foundation, “Care.” Care shows up on both sides, most often in the form of “defense,” but is expressed differently. Liberals expressed concern for the safety of schoolchildren. Conservatives expressed the importance of self-defense, defense of one’s family and the 2nd amendment. This finding suggests that the differences in values systems may lie even deeper than we think, beneath the bedrock of language and understanding. It would be interesting to take a closer look at these distilled moral values like “care” and “loyalty” to see how, in an unexpected reversal, one’s values can actually dictate their meanings, instead of their meanings explaining one’s values.

My research has fueled my desire to further examine how the values encoded in the narratives we share on social media, in the news and entertainment, reflect and reinforce our worldviews. I truly believe that if we are more tuned in to this as a society, we can more consciously teach and learn media literacy, co-create new myths, and overcome polarization.

 

Lara Drasin is a communications and creative impact strategist, writer and 2018 graduate of UCLA’s Master of Social Science (MaSS) program. She (clearly) is on Twitter, @laradras.

Diagram by Berto Solis; Art files courtesy of the Noun Project and the following designers: arejoenah and Elena Rimelkaite.

By Berto Solis, UCLA Master of Social Science, 2018

First-generation, or “first-gen,” students are the first in their families to go to college. When a first-gen student graduates from college and gets into a graduate program it’s a cause for celebration, but the story doesn’t end there.

Using focus groups conducted with first-gen students in grad school, I gained insight into the challenges these students face on their way to academic success—insights we can use to make sure that these high-potential students thrive.

I reached 4 main findings:

  1. First-gen students don’t always know how graduate school works. What’s worse, people in the university often make assumptions about what these students know: for example, about how to get financial support, find academic support, or fit into their programs socially and culturally. This often places first-gen students in an awkward position: they must admit that they don’t know these things and face the shame that comes with that admission, or hide their ignorance and constantly feel like they’re lost.
  2. First-gen students often feel like they’re stuck between worlds: the culture that they come from and the culture of academia, which is new to them. Since they often don’t feel like they fully belong to either world, graduate school can be a lonely experience for them.
  3. It turns out that their length of time in graduate school influences how first-gen students feel about the experience. Contrary to my initial expectations, the longer first-gen students are in graduate school, the more they may feel like they don’t belong, in contrast to other students whom first-gen students feel “always knew they’d be there.”
  4. To address these issues, first-gen students build community and support systems among themselves and institutions are often eager to help. Despite their good intentions, institutions are often not equipped to address first-gen graduate student challenges, since there is little research into these issues.

It is my hope that research like this will help close that knowledge gap. This research is also important to me because I’m a first-generation student myself and I experienced much of this firsthand.

I recently completed my own graduate school journey along with thousands of other Bruins. However, the findings in this project raise the possibility that education alone isn’t the great social equalizer it’s so often framed to be. Sure, it’s a start. But there are many hazards along the way that we still need to address and I feel fortunate to have learned the tools of social science research in the MaSS program to understand, address, and contribute to this massive undertaking. After all, the best social science is the kind that brings people together.

 

Berto Solis became obsessed with higher education the moment he left for UC Santa Barbara in 2003. Though he’s changed institutions a few times, he has worked in college campuses for nearly 15 years. You can contact him at berto.solis@ucla.edu or through his website bertosolis.com.

For more information about UC and UCLA efforts to provide support for first-generation undergraduate students, click HERE.

By Rahim Kurwa

Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago

“…They came in with shotguns. They came in in vests. They came in in riot gear, and they held guns on us like we were wanted criminals. They surrounded my house… And when I say they looked, they did a massive search on my house. They went in my drawers. They held guns on my kids. They went in my kitchen drawers. In my son’s drawer. They pulled out an I.D. and some money and said bam – threw it across the table at me and said hah, who is this? That’s what the officer said. Yeah. We got her. Who is this?”

Sandra is a black woman living in the Antelope Valley – Los Angeles County’s northernmost suburb. In this quote from my interview with her, Sandra, who uses the Section 8 voucher program to rent her home, describes the experience of a surprise housing inspection. In this case, inspectors thought they had caught her violating the program’s residency rules (which bar unauthorized tenants from living in the home), but she was able to prove that her son had been approved to live there. Had she not, the inspection might have led to her eviction. Stories about inspections like this are a common thread in the interviews I conducted with voucher renters in the Antelope Valley. But how and why did this encounter occur – in a historically white suburb with little history of low-income housing assistance?

The explanation in large part traces back to the Civil Rights Era and the ways that white hostility to black residents has changed over time. The year 1968 produced two major housing landmarks – the passage of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and the publication of the Kerner Commission Report. The first barred discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. The second identified racial segregation as foundational to a broader system of racial inequality and urged integrationist housing policy in response.

In the 50 years since, programs like housing vouchers have come to dominate federal low-income housing assistance, on the premise that vouchers could help renters move out of poor and segregated neighborhoods. In Los Angeles, the program tends to generate movement either within South Los Angeles or to far-flung suburbs like the Antelope Valley. But like white residents around the country who generally prefer not to have black neighbors, many in the Antelope Valley have also resisted racial integration.

A map of L.A. County, the Antelope Valley shown in orange. Photo: laedc.org

When I talked to local residents who weren’t using vouchers, I found that two-thirds were opposed to the program, voicing stereotypes and misconceptions about it and its participants that echoed the ideas used to undermine other “social safety net” programs over the past several decades. Some local residents referenced the city’s nuisance code as a tool they could use to exert power over neighbors or get rid of them altogether. They knew, for example, that five calls made about a single rental property could penalize the property owner or landlord, pressuring them to evict the tenant. I think of these practices as a participatory form of policing, illustrating the ways that policing operates outside of the traditional institutions and actors we associate with the term.

Nuisance laws are notoriously vague and subjective. The version employed by the city of Lancaster (one of the Antelope Valley’s largest cities) considers a nuisance to be anything that is “indecent,” “offensive,” or otherwise interferes with “the comfortable enjoyment of life or property.” It isn’t hard to see how these codes can be weaponized against people based on their race, class, or gender. In other cities their applications have had disastrous consequences for tenants. Here, local residents could simply observe unwanted neighbors and then report their perceived infractions to this hotline as a way to trigger fines, inspections, or even evictions. Some proudly admitted to doing so. And while many voucher renters I spoke to were determined to stay, they often knew others who had been evicted or simply decided that their neighborhoods were too hostile to remain in.

50 years after the landmark Fair Housing law that marked the legislative end of the Civil Rights Movement, we can now more clearly see how the attitudes of that time have persisted until today, and how their expression has adapted to changes in our country’s laws. To better combat racial segregation, we must see how policing contributes to it.

 

Rahim Kurwa recently completed his Ph.D. in Sociology at UCLA and will be an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the fall of 2018.

 

The UCLA Alumni Association will be honoring several distinguished alumni for their contributions to UCLA and beyond at this year’s alumni awards on June 2.  Among the honorees are several alumni from the Division of Social Sciences, including:

Mebrahtom “Meb” Keflezighi, marathoner and Olympic medalist, who graduated with a bachelor’s in communication studies in 1999, and is this year’s recipient of the UCLA Award for Professional Achievement.

Angela Sanchez, who graduated with a bachelor’s in history in 2013 and a master’s degree in education with a focus in student affairs in 2015, will be receiving the UCLA Award for Community Service for her important work assisting K–12 homeless students in navigating postsecondary education.

Mark Stull, who graduated with a bachelor’s in political science in 1971, will be honored with the UCLA Award for Alumni Volunteer of the Year for his work as an active board leader in the UCLA Club of San Diego and as a vice chair of the San Diego Chancellor’s Society Board.

For information about the awardees, click here, and for more information about the alumni awards ceremony, click here.