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.

Giant kelp can grow up to 2-3 feet per day, and it creates dense underwater forests like the one pictured here.
Photo credit: Ron McPeak.

By Kyle Cavanaugh

Assistant Professor, UCLA Department of Geography

As efforts to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources intensify, scientists, government organizations, and corporations are eyeing a new source of renewable energy: macroalgae, more commonly known as “kelp.” Giant kelp, the largest species of algae, is incredibly productive – it can grow up to 2-3 feet in a single day – and recent breakthroughs in the conversion of kelp to biofuel now make kelp a potential alternative to land-based biofuels such as corn and sugar cane.

Transitioning to kelp-based biofuels would have a number of environmental benefits, as kelp farms would not compete with food crops for land or require freshwater, pesticides or fertilizer. Furthermore, the United States has the world’s largest “marine exclusive economic zone,” i.e. area over which a nation has special rights regarding the development of marine resources, and the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that these marine resources could be leveraged to produce enough domestic kelp-based biofuel to support approximately 10% of the nation’s annual transportation energy demand. However, the United States has lagged behind many other countries when it comes to developing large-scale kelp farms. Significant increases in farm efficiency and productivity are needed to make a kelp biofuel industry economically feasible.

This is the challenge that is being addressed by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) through an ambitious new program called Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources (MARINER). The goal of MARINER is “to develop the tools needed to allow the United States to become a world leader in marine biomass production for multiple important applications, including the production of biofuels.” The MARINER program recently announced that it would provide $22 million in funding to 18 projects that fall into one of 4 categories: (1) farm design, (2) computational modeling of farm hydrodynamics, (3) farm monitoring, and (4) development of advanced breeding and genetic tools.

I am part of a team of scientists from UCLA and University of California – Santa Barbara (UCSB) who have been awarded $2.1 million from this program to develop and test technologies that can be used to monitor large-scale giant kelp farms. This project builds on our previous research using satellite imagery to monitor changes in natural kelp forests along the coast of California. Large-scale kelp farms would need to continuously monitor kelp productivity, biomass, and condition in order to maximize yields by harvesting at optimal times and avoid losses of kelp. We are developing tools to automate this monitoring in order to minimize farm labor costs. Our Scalable Aquaculture Monitoring System (SAMS) uses unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and aerial drones to monitor kelp biomass, physiological condition and production, along with the environmental factors known to affect kelp growth. Eventually, this system will deliver near-real-time information to farm managers through all stages of the farming process, from planting to harvest.

This summer, a team of students and faculty from UCLA and UCSB will start testing UUVs and drones in natural kelp forests off the coast of Santa Barbara. Within a few years, the team hopes to be working with new kelp farms off the coast of California to produce a more environmentally friendly biofuel.

Giant kelp deposited on a beach near Santa Barbara after a large wave disturbance event.
Photo credit: SBC LTER

 

Dr. Kyle Cavanaugh is an Assistant Professor with research interests in coastal ecology, biogeography, spatial ecology, and remote sensing.

Photo Credit: Veena Hampapur, UCLA Labor Center

By Kent Wong

Director, UCLA Labor Center

The Supreme Court decision in the Janus case is being celebrated by the Trump Administration as a major setback for the US labor movement, one that will undermine the last bastion of strength for unions who still represent millions of workers in the public sector. However, this conservative attack not only exposes the Supreme Court’s pro-corporate bias, but also may serve as a wake-up call for unions and workers who are fed up with growing economic inequality and attacks by the Trump administration on workers, women, and people of color.

While the 5-4 Supreme Court conservative majority claims to uphold the first amendment rights of workers, in fact this decision promotes corporate interests and attempts to silence the collective voice of workers through their unions. The timing of Janus is not an accident. For the first time in our history, the number of union members in the public sector is greater than in the private sector. Fully 30 percent of government and education workers are unionized versus only 6 percent of workers in private industries.[1] The public sector is the last piece of our economy where family medical benefits, paid sick and vacation days, and pension plans are still the norm. The Janus decision threatens these benefits and could further undermine the country’s dwindling middle class.

As the actions of the Trump Administration, the Republican-controlled Congress, and the conservative Supreme Court hurt the vast majority of working people, increasingly more Americans believe that corporate America is not working in their interests and are fighting back. Public sector unions are ideally positioned to link and gain strength from the broader social movements that are rising up to oppose the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant policies, Muslim ban, opposition to women’s right to choose, and racially offensive rhetoric and actions. Public section unions represent large numbers of people of color and women, due in part to discriminatory practices in the private sector. The presidents of some of the largest public sector unions, such as the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Service Employees International Union, are all women. And all three women have been outspoken advocates for not only worker rights but also women’s rights, immigrant rights, and racial justice.

The largest group of organized workers in the country are teachers and education workers, and their demand for quality public education has been front and center. In reaction to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s attempts to privatize public schools, teachers have organized actions in Virginia, West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Colorado, all demanding better wages and working conditions as well as increased funding for public education.

While Trump gives massive tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy elite, we have also witnessed successful campaigns to raise the minimum wage and to oppose wage theft, from California to New York. Unions led the fight for the $15 an hour minimum wage in Los Angeles and California, a victory that will benefit millions of low-wage workers.

The Los Angeles labor movement has emerged as a focal point for the new American labor movement. Some of the most dynamic labor organizing campaigns in the country are happening in Los Angeles, and many are led by women, workers of color, and immigrants. For janitors, hotel, home care, and car wash workers, unions have inspired a new generation of activism and built powerful alliances between unions, community organizations, students, and people of faith.

The renewed spirit of organizing in Los Angeles is building on a strong labor history tradition that began long before there were legal protections for unions. Without labor laws to protect them, unions fought for the eight-hour day, worker’s compensation, social security benefits, unemployment insurance, pensions, and health and safety regulations. Unions fought for and built the middle class, which is now being threatened by corporate policies to reward the wealthy elite and undermine the interests of millions of working poor.

Undoubtedly, it is a challenging time for unions across our nation, but we can take lessons from the LA organizing playbook to organize new and existing workers. We can continue to expand diverse coalitions of working people who embrace worker rights, immigrant rights, gender equality, and unionism. And with the November 2018 elections around the corner, voters will have an opportunity to challenge Trump’s campaign to “Make America Great Again” for the corporate elite.

 

Kent Wong is the director of the UCLA Labor Center, where he teaches courses in labor studies and Asian American studies.  He previously served as staff attorney for the Service Employees International Union. He was the founding president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the founding president of the United Association for Labor Education, and currently is vice president of the California Federation of Teachers.

 

[1] “Union Members Survey,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 19, 2018, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm.

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.

 

By Abel Valenzuela Jr.

Professor and Director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment

The increased ICE raids, daily attacks on immigrants, children separated from their parents at the border, and a host of other mean-spirited, chaotic, and destructive directives from the White House often leave me feeling numb and helpless. Then I get angry, I remind myself that elections matter, and I double down on the work I do at UCLA. The impact of the research we undertake at UCLA proves that facts, data, and empiricism matter in our search for solutions to the most vexing problems that confront us. At UCLA, we nurture tomorrow’s leaders, who draw on their UCLA experience and training to better our country and our world. I am proud and inspired to teach, work, and research alongside some of the best and brightest that UCLA has to offer.

On June 18th, the Dream Resource Center launched the 8th annual national Dream Summer Program, showcasing the power of young immigrants and their allies coming together to grow and sustain the national immigrant youth movement. More than 600 Dream Summer alumni are working hard to build an intersectional immigrant rights movement, and many are leading national organizations. These leaders employ sophisticated social media tools, power mapping, network building with labor and faith-based organizations, storytelling, and cultural interventions and performance to push an agenda of immigrant inclusivity beyond just “dreamers” — to include undocumented families, new arrivals, and the working poor.

Last week’s opening retreat convened 60 participants to workshop, caucus, and network with Dream Summer alumni and immigrant rights leaders, activists, and workers. Presentations by alumni, national leaders, and elected officials provided first-hand insights into the legislative process, political landscape, and the inner workings of the electoral process. Interns participated in workshops on wellness and self-care, which is vital in an era of increased hostility toward immigrants, uncertainty, and political unpredictability. Other workshops focused on the deconstruction of mass incarceration and detention/deportation, gender and reproductive justice, and freedom cities that draw on the principles of sanctuary to ensure safe geographic spaces. Participants learned about community organizing, social justice research, legal advocacy and access, and social and digital media organizing. Leadership training also included job skills like public speaking, networking for introverts, cover letter writing and resume building, event planning, and strategic communications.

Following this retreat, participants disbursed to their respective community-based organizations and labor unions to begin their hands-on training on issues that directly impact immigrant communities.

It is both historic and fitting that UCLA hosts this summer fellowship program, and it reflects well on our unique and historical relationship to immigrant and undocumented students. We are, after all in Los Angeles, home to one of the largest concentration of immigrants in the country. UCLA was also home to Tam Tran and Cynthia Felix, champions of undocumented students in higher education, whose lives where tragically cut short in an automobile accident. They demonstrated the impact of engaging with public and elected officials, pushing a broader and more inclusive immigrant rights narrative, and empowering other young immigrants to collectively organize for social change.

The Dream Summer Program provides me with a great deal of hope and excitement, witnessing young immigrants challenging and changing our country for the better.

 

Abel Valenzuela Jr. is Professor of Urban Planning and Chicana/o Studies, Director of UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, and Special Advisor to the Chancellor on Immigration Policy. Professor Valenzuela is one of the leading national experts on day labor and has published numerous articles and technical reports on the subject. His research interests include precarious labor markets, worker centers, immigrant workers, and Los Angeles. His academic base is urban sociology, planning, and labor studies. 

 

 

By Kayuet Liu

Associate Professor, UCLA Sociology

Affiliate, California Center for Population Research

Medical science presumes biological risks drive disease patterns, but they have a hard time explaining many epidemiological patterns. Social network processes may be the key.

For example: diagnoses of autism – which is supposedly the most genetically determined of all neuropsychiatric disorders – have increased rapidly in the past 3 decades. Yet it takes multiple generations for the human gene pool to demonstrate any fundamental changes. My collaborators and I have researched other factors that might be responsible for the increase, and found that living close to someone with autism increased the chance of an autism diagnosis. After ruling out explanations such as viral transmission and the sorting of similar people into neighborhoods[1], we think that parents learn about autism and diagnostic resources from their neighbors, which has led to an increase in diagnoses.

If the number of autism diagnoses (not the underlying condition) has increased because we learn about it from our neighbors, a proper model of the social processes should be able to predict when and where they will be diagnosed. This is a quintessential test of the potential spread of autism diagnosis through social networks. We built a “synthetic” population of all parents in California that resemble the real population and check if the chance for them to meet another parent with a child with autism matters[2]. Indeed, while a traditional approach would have put the main cluster of autism in San Francisco due to a high concentration of parents at risk (e.g., giving birth when they are older), our model including social interactions correctly put it in Los Angeles. So social, rather than biological, factors are responsible for the spatial patterns of autism.

An unintended consequence of the autism epidemic is the current wave of vaccine hesitancy. My former graduate student Ashley Gromis (now a post-doc at Princeton) and I are now using a large computational model to figure out how much more likely we are to see an outbreak of measles due to geographic pockets of vaccination exemptions. What we found is that effective vaccination rates in these pockets actually decrease by a few percentage points. A few percentage points may seem not much, but our results show that it is enough to put the whole community, including areas with high vaccination rates, at risk. Thus we need interventions not only to maintain vaccination levels, but also to make sure the exemptions do not concentrate in certain areas.

 

Dr. Ka-Yuet Liu conducts research on social networks and health, micro-macro links, and the diffusion of non-contagious conditions. Dr. Liu argues that networks are crucial to solving epidemiological puzzles.  Her research has appeared in American Journal of Sociology, Demography, Social Forces, International Journal of Epidemiology, and other journals. Dr. Liu teaches courses on quantitative research methods and network analysis. 

 

[1] Liu K, King M, & Bearman PS (2010) “Social Influence and the Autism Epidemic.” American Journal of Sociology 115(5):1387-1434.

[2] Liu K & Bearman PS (2015) “Focal Points, Endogenous Processes, and Exogenous Shocks in the Autism Epidemic.” Sociological Methods & Research 44(2):272-305.

Featured in photo: Tom Worger, Bill Worger, and Bantu Holomisa, future leader of the United Democratic Movement, at a wedding in Gazini, Eastern Cape, 2002

Dr. Bill Worger, Professor of History at UCLA, is working on some really interesting projects.  Recently, we caught up with Professor Worger to chat about teaching online classes, a research initiative that digitizes anti-apartheid posters, and comic books.

LASS:     Where are you from and where did you go to school?

BW:        I grew up in New Zealand, first generation New Zealander. I became a teenager in the 1960s when most African and most Asian countries were becoming newly independent states, and I got fascinated in studying their history.

LASS:     Where did you go to school and why did you study what you studied?

BW:        I went to the University of Auckland, and I think something that was unique about the University of Auckland in the 1960s compared to practically every other university in New Zealand or in Canada or Australia or another part of the so-called “white Commonwealth,” was that there were three professors of history: one of them did New Zealand history; one did Africa; one did Southeast Asia. I didn’t grow up as a person who was going to spend my whole life studying Europe and the United States.

LASS:     Now fast forward to UCLA, what do you do here at UCLA and what do you study here?

BW:        I came to UCLA in 1989 to teach African history in general and South African history specifically. Looking back, I first came to the United States for my PhD in 1975. Most New Zealanders were expected to go overseas and most went to Britain and became part of the expat colonial community. I decided to come to the States. After my PhD which I received in ’82 from Yale, I taught at the University of Michigan, I taught at Stanford University, and then I came to UCLA, which had arguably one of the best African history programs in the nation and has had that since the 1960s.

LASS:     What are you currently teaching right now that excites you?

BW:        I’m teaching two courses: one course is History 10B, the history of Africa since 1800, which I’m teaching as an online class to 420 students, most of them first- or second-year students who need a GE. I’m finding that fascinating because of the various work that they do, such as exploring all the resources we have on campus by, for example, doing a field work assignment which asks them to take selfies with an Africa-related item at the botanical gardens, at the Fowler Art Museum, and at the map collection in the library. They are finding out that they’re discovering the campus thoroughly for the first time in their lives. The other class I am teaching is a graduating senior research seminar where I’m asking the students to use two series of comics. One, Mighty Man, was published surreptitiously by the South African government in the 1970s to persuade residents of Soweto to fight crime and support apartheid; the other, the Black Panther, has a lengthy storyline published in 1989 which focuses on the struggle against apartheid. I want my students to see the ways in which popular culture is developed and the ways in which publications such as comics represent history, reflect it, and affect it.

LASS:     That’s amazing. Can you tell me more about the initiative that you started with the comics and how you’ve worked with the UCLA libraries to share them with the world?

BW:        I first went to South Africa in 1977, probably two months after Stephen Biko, a major leader of the anti-apartheid movement, had been killed in prison by the South African authorities, although they never admitted their responsibility until 20 years later and maybe not even now. Much the material then had been banned, the African National Congress had been banned for a long time, I mean it was an incredibly authoritarian society, essentially a police state, and it was highly segregated. Different entrances to the post office. I could go in as a white person. If you were black, you had to go through a separate entry.

If you were “Coloured,” a South African legal definition of the time, there was a separate bus for you. The apartheid government defined everybody as either white or African or Indian or “Coloured.” So many different divisions in daily life. As I have taught the history of South Africa, I’ve been interested especially since the end of apartheid in 1994 when Nelson Mandela became president, to see the ways in which materials that were previously banned or pushed underground or censored or were not supposedly available in the archives can now be accessed. There’s so much that’s creeping out.

In this particular case, I became aware probably about five years ago of the existence of these comics. I’m not quite sure how I found it. But it was partly through looking at comic blogs. And I’m also a believer in collecting things off eBay. This collection became available on eBay simply because some American had collected Mighty Man, and I purchased the whole collection and have worked closely with people at YRL [Young Research Library at UCLA] to digitize it to make it available. Not only to all of us here at UCLA but to the wider public both in North America and in South Africa where they’re seeing these for the first time since most of them were destroyed literally in 1976.

http://southafricancomicbooks.blogspot.com/2015/01/afri-comics-mighty-man-series.html

“What I find is in many of these initiatives we are pursuing at UCLA that they are being very well received and accepted in South Africa, particularly by black historians, who have been still and to this present day remain marginalized by academia. But these young scholars are the people on the ground and the ones who have the community knowledge and the language skills to understand their own history.” – Professor Bill Worger

LASS:     Why is this work important?

BW:        I think it’s important work in terms of people finding out and rediscovering their history. I’ve gone to South Africa and talked to younger people, younger black students in particular, who feel that much of the history of apartheid is the history of their parents. It’s not something that affects them immediately since they are often students born after 1994 and they can’t quite understand why their parents either won’t talk about apartheid or why they have so many terrible memories. What I find is in many of these initiatives we are pursuing at UCLA that they are being very well received and accepted in South Africa, particularly by black historians, who have been still and to this present day remain marginalized by academia. But these young scholars are the people on the ground and the ones who have the community knowledge and the language skills to understand their own history.

What I feel like is that it’s important to provide these people with access, which we can do uniquely at UCLA. The materials that they themselves can access or digitize, either because they’re not in their libraries or because of the costs involved. This is part of understanding their history and learning more about it, because they’ve got a fragmented notion of their past particularly because history has been so controlled by white authorities in South Africa both during the apartheid era and even to the present day in terms of those who teach in universities.

LASS:     What types of new knowledge does this project and initiative generate?

BW:        It produces new knowledge, new sources, and new ways of talking about the past, particularly the student uprising in Soweto in 1976. There’s a fascinating television series “When We Were Black” made by black South Africans, including Professor Sifiso Ndlovu, who as a 13 year-old was one of the student protestors in 1976. This TV series in a very low-key way shows the ways in which children, high school children, were politicized by daily activities. It’s a very powerful film. Access to the Mighty Man comics (none of which remain in public circulation in South Africa) for Professor Ndlovu and his peers and students provides yet another form of evidence to show the ways in which the government was trying to manipulate young people during the apartheid era. Trying to affect their minds in visual ways particularly through the utilization of comics. This is just one project in which I’m engaged but there are so many ways in which you can delve back in, and, in a sense, disinter hidden histories.

LASS:     There’s such relevancy to that with what’s going on today, right, in popular culture and in the media and in the news. I imagine your students are able to when they learn about these materials and take these classes and participate in this research, are developing a critical way to extrapolate.

BW:        I emphasis generational empathy and understanding in a lot of my classes. What I like to ask my students to do, most of whom are in their late teens, early to mid twenties is to think about their own family histories. Think about where they are right now. In the seminar, I’m teaching on comparing Mighty Man and the Black Panther. I’ve got a fair number of students who were born in the United States, but they’re of Iranian descent. With them, I’m asking them, think about what was happening in Iran as of the 1970s or what was happening as of their parents’ generation.

Let’s say if I’m talking about South Africa in the middle of the 1870s when we get the development of an industrialized, very modern, but very repressive racial society. What would your family have been doing at that time? I’ve had students who are African American who are only a few generations removed from slavery, or the Jim Crow racism of the late 19th and 20th centuries. I’ve had students who are descendants of white slave owners in the US South. I’ve had students from other parts in the world, from Asia and the Middle East, who I have asked to think about what their families were doing as of around 1870, because I want people to reimagine themselves into these situations. It’s not just solely an objective past to be looked at, it’s something to be rethought and relived in. We use a multitude of sources.

LASS:     What type of solutions will be derived from that?

BW:        I’m old enough now to know there are never any solutions. What I emphasize to my students, and this is the most remarkable thing, which is if we really want to find social mobility in the world, in a world that’s basically unfair and obviously discriminatory in many ways, education is the way in which you can achieve some social mobility. It’s absolutely key. It’s the way no matter how oppressed you are, how discriminated, how marginalized, through education you can succeed in both changing your own position and those of your family and those who surround you. You can also change yourself in terms of how you think about anything. You can always be free in your own mind.

In a way that for so many of the people that I study in South Africa, for example, the end of apartheid has not meant the end of poverty or marginalization or discrimination. But, people in their minds have become free and that gives them a very different perspective at how they look around at other people and at the problems they have in their lives.

LASS:     In all your work, your teaching, your research, the projects that you engage in, what’s the big impact that you’re hoping to make?

BW:        It’s always incremental. It’s always the little things. I’m delighted to engage in conversations and have my students take over. I would hope that one or more of those 420 students in 10B go away with an understanding that history is not just the statistics and the facts and that there’s a solution and life gets better all the time, but there are constant struggles and everybody needs to be respected. In dealing with my South African colleagues, I understand history has to be transformed there; it has to become possessed by the people who are the majority of the country, and the people who have indigenous knowledge of the 11 or so languages there. They’re the people who are going to revolutionize history. I’ve been part of the incremental change, but it’s only a small part.

LASS:     I know prior to the turning on the recorder we talked a little bit about a new research grant that you’re applying for, that you are hoping to get funded. Tell us about that. I’m excited to learn more about that.

BW:        I told you about two research grants. One of which actually has already got funded by the Office of the UC President, which will enable me to go to South Africa with my wife, Professor Nancy Clark, who is also an historian of South Africa and where we will actually work on developing lectures based on site, at the places where events actually happened and where we will do a different history which focuses the majority of the people in the country. We hope that we can then share it with the people there and again be part, a small part, of the development of the historical profession in that country. I’m also waiting to find out about another grant that I worked on with a couple colleagues at UCLA. This is a grant to support another UC-HBCU initiative to hopefully bring to UCLA each summer, 10 students from Spelman, Howard University and North Carolina Central University, who will come to UCLA and spend their time meeting with faculty and with fellow students who are interested in what I would in term the engaged social sciences. That is academic study that is aimed towards improving society. A very general term, I know, but we can incrementally make the world around us a slightly better place on the basis of what we discover and what we find out in our academic work.

LASS:     With that, thank you so much. It’s there anything that I didn’t ask or I should know about?

BW:        So we have in Los Angeles probably the world’s biggest collection of political posters at the Center for the Study of Political Graphics. It’s just an incredible resource in Culver City. I’m working with colleagues in South Africa and with colleagues at YRL to develop a grant so that we can digitize the approximately 1,000 anti-apartheid posters that this collection has.

These are posters that were made in the United States, they were made in the Soviet Union when it was the Soviet Union. They were made in Cuba. They were made in all parts of the world and they are posters that were created as part of the anti-apartheid struggle. None of these posters are available in South Africa because they would have been banned so they could never have been circulated.

If any of them did circulate, say surreptitiously, in South Africa the police and military would have destroyed them so they are not available there. So what I am working with, as I say, with colleagues at YRL and in South Africa is to get a grant to digitize these materials so that we can create a public archive of anti-apartheid materials that would then be accessible to young black South Africans who can see the ways in which the entire world was engaged to end apartheid and end white supremacy in their country.

It becomes a research resource for people who are interested in history, but it also becomes something whereby people understand communication and mutual interest across generations and across boundaries.

LASS:     Thank you!

UPDATE: As of June 6, 2018, Professor Worger informed us that a fellow historian from South Africa, Dr. Chitja Twala, Head of the History Department at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, had been awarded a fellowship by the Mellon Foundation that will enable him to spend three months at UCLA in 2019.  Dr. Twala will arrange the digitization of the anti-apartheid posters at the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Culver City, CA. UCLA’s Young Research Library will then arrange for the uploading and archiving of these posters so that they will be freely available worldwide.

 

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

 

By Drew Westmoreland, MSPH, PhD

2018 Thinking Gender Coordinator

Thinking Gender, now in its 28th year, is an annual graduate student research conference organized by the UCLA Center for the Study of Women (CSW) that features original student research on gender and sexuality. This year’s conference theme, Pre-existing Conditions, explored ongoing discussions around the connections between gender, health, and healthcare.

Academic graduate student research presentations—including panels and posters—have been the staples of past and present Thinking Gender conferences, highlighting research being done within UCLA and beyond. This year, however, we wanted to do something new, and we incorporated the first-ever Thinking Gender, Pre-existing Conditions Art Exhibition into our proceedings. This week-long exhibition was held in Kerckhoff Gallery from February 23rd to March 2nd and featured works that use artistic expression to further conversations about health and well-being. To celebrate this artistic exploration of health—and the successful completion of our first day of our conference—we invited presenters, faculty, students, and other guests to join us for an Art Reception and Film Screenings networking event on the evening of March 1.

We partnered with a number of UCLA organizations to extend this event’s local impact. The UCLA Art and Global Health Center kicked off the evening with a performance piece called Sexophonic Choir, which invited volunteers to vocalize lessons about sexual health. Then, they led us on an interactive art walk from the main conference venue at the UCLA Faculty Center to Kerckhoff Grand Salon and Gallery. At Kerckhoff, we were joined by our partners from the UCLA Cultural Affairs Commission who helped us curate the exhibit and connect with students across campus.

Our week-long exhibition included a photography exhibit (Guarded) by Taylor Yocom, featuring images of women and the objects they would use to defend themselves from sexual assault; a fiber art piece (No.Stop.Help.) by Sarah Fahmy about sexual assault victim blaming; public health-themed poetry (data entry and statistics) by Uyen Hoang; and abstracted photographs of body skin impressions (Suspicious Warping: Close to the Skin) by Cecily Fergeson. We also featured digital installations and experimental art pieces. One life-size, digital installation piece (inter-I) by Elí Joteva explored physical body movement through light reflections and refractions off of water. Two other pieces offered attendees an interactive experience to expand understanding of neurodiversity and mental health: Breathe, by Christina Curlee, was a video game that let players experience life with an anxiety disorder; and Kristin McWharter’s The Chameleon Spacesuit invited viewers to engage with the artist, who was clad in a robot-like costume meant to represent the challenge of interacting with the world as an autistic woman.  

Our two films showcased untold stories: one, for example, provided commentary on queer Filipino college students’ mental and physical health as a motivating factor for Alaskan Natives’ environmental justice activism.

This year’s Thinking Gender art show told stories designed to expand and challenge how people conceptualize health. From women “Guarded” and prepared to defend themselves from sexual assault, to the relative intimacy of data entry and cold perceptions of statistics, to alien feelings of being unable to express yourself emotionally (The Chameleon Spacesuit), our artists tackled topics of mental and sexual health, reproductive justice and body imagery as art and health collided.

Pieces from the first-ever Thinking Gender Visual Arts Exhibition that was on display from February 25 through March 2 at the Kerckhoff Gallery

Art walk participants collaborated on haikus that explored the question “what do women need to be healthy?” (Written by Jackie Curnick and Sheila Maingi)

UCLA Art|Sci Center Director Victoria Vesna welcomes attendees to the Thinking Gender Visual Arts Reception

Visitors enjoy viewing and interacting with visual art on display at Kerckhoff Gallery during the reception

Conference presenter Sav Schlauderaff and guest. In the background: inter-I, a digital installation by Elí Joteva

CSW Director Rachel Lee interacts with Kit Kirby, who is performing The Chameleon Spacesuit: Autism in Women and Girls

Arielle Bagood introduces her film, Queer Filipino American Students and Mental Health?

The UCLA Center for the Study of Women is an internationally recognized center for research on gender, sexuality, and women’s issues and the first organized research unit of its kind in the University of California system. Though CSW is funded by the Division of Social Sciences, it serves the entire university.  Read more about its Mission HERE.

Released by the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and the UCLA Labor Center

By Abel Valenzuela Jr.

Professor and Director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment

Last week, UCLA Labor Center researchers Saba Waheed, Lucero Herrera, Ana Luz Gonzalez-Vasquez, Janna Shadduck-Hernández, Tia Koonse and David Leynov published our institute’s latest study, More Than a Gig, on the nascent but rapidly growing transportation networking companies such as Uber and Lyft. After reading the report and participating in its release, I am struck by its findings and reminded of research that I undertook almost two decades ago on day labor—at the time, a growing and ubiquitous labor market that we knew little about other than through anecdotes, newspaper accounts or personal experience. My research contributed to discussions and debates about nonstandard and informal labor markets and how worker centers might serve as important intermediaries to improve conditions for day laborers. Adding empiricism, rigorous research, and analysis to debates on day labor and precarious labor markets moved the policy discussion forward in more inclusive and thoughtful ways.

Similarly, the ride-sharing industry is well known among Angelenos as we navigate our city’s sprawl; balance the confluence of space, time and traffic; and reduce our stress by letting someone else do the driving. But up until yesterday, we knew little about the labor market conditions of the ride-sharing market. It is my hope that these findings will begin a policy dialogue about how to improve conditions for these workers.

The findings of More Than a Gig  are significant and highlight three important patterns:

First, ride-hailing is neither supplemental nor temporary, and most drivers report that it is their full-time occupation. Full-time drivers tend to be older, come from an immigrant background, use the job to support their families and principally participate in this market for its flexibility.

Second, the study finds that costs of working as an Uber or Lyft driver decrease what are already mediocre earnings as drivers pay for car maintenance; car purchases or leases; cell phone mounts; floor mats; seat covers; and even passenger amenities like bottled water, mints or cell phone chargers to improve reviews and maintain employment security.

Finally, the study highlights how drivers are structurally and legally limited by the fact that they are independent contractors. Their nonemployee status releases ride-sharing companies from any responsibility for the driver’s wages, work conditions, benefits or workplace protections and safety.

Opportunities to organize workers in this growing industry will be difficult for numerous reasons, not least of which is drivers’ invisibility as they navigate the streets of Los Angeles for work. The lack of a brick and motor workplace, worker center or commissary makes the collective organizing of workers in this market even more difficult. The demand side of this industry is mostly unregulated, though municipalities, including many in Europe, are moving to regulate the industry with surprisingly positive impacts.

Other possible policy prescriptions—including encouraging fair, accessible, and equitable uses of technology work platforms and organizing with existing taxi collectives and emerging ride-sharing worker centers—could be promising first steps in increasing ride-sharing and taxi driver solidarity and in improving the ride-hailing industry.

Download the full report HERE.

Abel Valenzuela Jr. is Professor of Urban Planning and Chicana/o Studies, Director of UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, and Special Advisor to the Chancellor on Immigration Policy. Professor Valenzuela is one of the leading national experts on day labor and has published numerous articles and technical reports on the subject. His research interests include precarious labor markets, worker centers, immigrant workers, and Los Angeles. His academic base is urban sociology, planning, and labor studies.