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A Conversation with Dr. Beth Ribet, Co-Director and Co-Founder of Repair and UCLA Lecturer in Gender Studies and Disability Studies

By Lara Drasin

TOMORROW, September 27, from 6:30 to 8:30 PM in UCLA’s Young Research Library conference room, Repair, a nonprofit organization engaged in research, education, and community-level advocacy regarding health challenges, health disparities and disabilities that result from social problems – along with co-sponsors the UCLA Center for the Study of Women (CSW) and the Positive Results Corporation – will present “Hope.” Hope will be the second of a seven-part series of events titled Transformation: Lectures, Conversations, and Stories About Healing and Social Action.” The other events include Resilience, Imagination, Clarity, Integrity, Trust and Solidarity, which Repair’s Dr. Beth Ribet says are all a part of the transformation process.

“We decided to run this series, really, just as something we thought was deeply needed by a lot of people – those we know, and those we don’t know – in Los Angeles,” said Ribet, who started Repair with co-director and co-founder Claudia Peña in 2014. “There is a lot of legitimate fear and concern about the state of our world, and of the nation, right now…  The messages we’re getting about our future are deeply disheartening, and I think there are so many of us who want to imagine how things could be different but are overwhelmed by that process. So the series is, in one sense, about creating a space for people to imagine social transformation.”

In describing the philosophy behind the event, Ribet stressed that the focus will be not just on each individual’s own healing process, but also the idea of healing as a collective process for the community.

“The themes of healing and social action are meant to be both personal and collective, as most very good things are,” Ribet said. “We think about healing as something that people need to do individually because there are so many reasons that we have to be traumatized, whether by family violence, poverty, racism, policing and incarceration, interpersonal violence, exhaustion, fatigue, or overwork. And so we wanted to focus on healing in a sense that a lot of us need, but also understand that we feel best individually when our communities are healing too. So we’re healing together.”

Ribet acknowledges that the term “community” can be defined in multiple ways. “One of the things that can be true about community,” she explained, “is that it’s the place where you find the people who affirm your reality and make it easier for you to be the person you need to be.”

This particular event, Hope, was named for what Ribet describes as an elemental part of the change-making process. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t need more hope,” she said. Ribet explained that after one survives personal or political trauma, for transformation to take place they must be able to imagine that good things can and will happen, even if it seems impossible or hasn’t been something they have experienced in the past.

“Having hope makes it more likely that you will reach for the possibility [of things getting better],” Ribet said.

Attendees can expect an environment focused on sharing, listening and support on Thursday. Ribet will say a few words, followed by an introduction from Dr. Rachel Lee, Director of UCLA CSW, and then multiple storytellers will share their own experiences. Storytellers for “Hope” include:

Kandee Rochelle Lewis

Kandee Rochelle Lewis is the Executive Director of the Positive Results Corporation, and works to address trauma, teen dating violence, and domestic violence and sexual assault. Her awards and accolades include, but are not limited to the 2018 Hope Award in Education, 2017 “Woman of the Year” from the LA Commission on the Status of Women, and the Vanguard Award for most influential African-Americans in Los Angeles. She is also a founding Board Member for the South Los Angeles Homeless and Foster Care Collaborative.

Dr. Shawna Charles

Shawna Charles holds an MBA and a PhD in Clinical Psychology. As a coach, she identifies as an ‘ACTIONIST’, who motivates people to intentionally choose happiness. She is the creator and founder of ‘Think To Be Happy,’ and has more than ten years experiencing coaching and mentoring. Dr. Charles is a graduate of Howard University and has been recognize by the City of Los Angeles, University of Southern California, and New York Rescue Mission among other organizations, for her community work.

Anam Ella Durrani

Anam Ella Durrani is the founder of A.E.D. Designs, a successful made-to-order clothing line she established at the age of 16 years, while living in Karachi, Pakistan. She worked 14-18 hour days to launch and build the company and its brand, and helped to catalyze an influx of new Pakistani female designers, as her company achieved recognition and acclaim. She identifies becoming an entrepreneur as a teenage girl — in defiance of social taboos and constraints limiting and stigmatizing female independence — as her proudest accomplishment. She is the newest, and youngest member of the board at Repair, and is now the CEO of Durrani Investment Corporation in Los Angeles. As part of her philanthropic work, she is currently building a school for street children in Karachi.

“Storytelling and commitments to healing go way, way back in communities that have always needed to be about resistance,” Ribet said, “whether it’s to colonization, legacies of slavery, or systemic economic inequality, telling stories – preserving stories – is often part of how people who are subordinated or oppressed preserve history, socialize children and come together.”

The ethos behind this form of community healing is a constructive one, as Ribet says it helps further the process of reimagining the world in which we live. “We heal as individuals who care about social change not just to feel better, which is important in and of itself,” she explained, “but because we have to, in order to be there for each other, for our children, our parents, our dear friends, our community members, our faith-based and cultural based institutions. We don’t have much to give if we don’t heal, and if we aren’t intentional about creating spaces and resources that enable us to do that. When it shifts, then you start to see social mobilization that’s so much more powerful and sustainable.”

Over 20 co-sponsors have signed on to help promote the “Transformation” series.  Click here for more information and to RSVP for “Hope” — Part of Transformation: Lectures, Conversations and Storytelling about Healing and Social Action.

For more information about Repair and their work, and to join their mailing list, visit http://repairconnect.org/.

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.

CSW

By Gracen Brilmyer, Graduate Student Researcher, UCLA Center for the Study of Women; Alexandra Apolloni, Program Coordinator, UCLA Center for the Study of Women; Rachel Lee, Director, UCLA Center for the Study of Women

Eating a Tide Pod might make for a good YouTube clip, but we all know that it’s dangerous.

However, it’s not just eating  detergent that’s harmful. Many of the ingredients in common detergents and fabric softeners have not been rigorously tested for safety–and yet, we’re exposed to them through daily physical and respiratory contact.

Commonly used laundry, cleaning and personal care products contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which can mimic hormones and disrupt one’s metabolism, even at low levels. EDCs are present in synthetic fragrances, which can cause more immediate adverse reactions including headaches, respiratory difficulty and difficulty concentrating.

Exposure to these chemicals is actually a feminist social justice issue. Since women perform a disproportionate amount of domestic labor (such as housekeeping, laundry, etc.) and use more personal care products, they are more exposed. Additionally, environmental pollution is often concentrated near where people of lower economic status or people of color live.

There has been little effective chemical regulation in the United States, but feminist environmental and disability activists are pushing for change on this issue through organizations like Women’s Voices for the Earth, Canaries Collective, and others. Women scientists have also been innovators in this area: UCLA’s the Center for the Study of Women (CSW) is currently building on Anne Steinemann’s work on consumer product emissions, Ana Soto’s discoveries on the endocrine-disrupting potential of BPA and Claudia Miller’s research on illness caused by exposure.

CSW’s Chemical Entanglements initiative is mobilizing UCLA students and faculty to be leaders in these efforts. Chemical Entanglements is a multi-pronged initiative that involves public events; undergraduate and graduate mentorship, writing and research; and collaboration across departments and communities. We’ve created original artwork for educational materials with artist/activist Peggy Munson; we’ve gathered researchers and activists from across the country at an innovative symposium that explored new approaches to public health and education; we’ve begun to document the social and cultural histories of chemicals and the people whom they’ve harmed; and we’re surveying UCLA students to assess how much of an issue chemical sensitivity is on our campus. Ultimately, we want to change policy so that our communities can be safer and healthier, and we want to raise public awareness so that people can better protect themselves and others from exposure to toxins.

Our CSW Undergraduate Research Group is on the front lines of this work. Students Vivian Anigbogu and Sophia Sidhu have been using UCLA’s archives to document the history of scent and fragrance in manufacturing. Sophia has created an interactive timeline that traces the development of synthetic detergent and the introduction of the carcinogenic additive 1,4-Dioxane in Tide products, while Vivian has shown how the history of racism ties to the history of soap advertising. Undergraduates are also leading the way to make campus healthier. Hannah Bullock has developed a survey that we are beginning to roll out across campus. The survey will help us understand how UCLA students are impacted by chemical exposures, including, for instance, whether the smells of fragrances make it more difficult for them to concentrate while taking tests or live safely in their dorms. Our students are also developing outreach and education resources, including a short film produced by members of last year’s undergraduate group. It depicts the kinds of exposures a UCLA student might encounter on an average day.

You may be wondering, other than avoiding the temptation of a deliciously colorful tide pod, what can you do to keep yourself safe?

  • Use products that are labeled “fragrance free”
  • Avoid products that have “parfum” or “fragrance” in their ingredient list (these are prevalent in scented shampoos, lotions, deodorants, etc.)

But this kind of consumer activism can only go so far: exposure to EDCs is an issue that impacts everyone, and disproportionately impacts people who are the most marginalized and can’t afford “safer” “green” products or move to less polluted neighborhoods. Through Chemical Entanglements, we hope to build toward policy change that will support the health of people of all genders.

For more resources and information visit CSW’s Share the Air website.

Learn more about the Chemical Entanglements project.

Watch videos from the Chemical Entanglements symposium.

Participate in a survey to help CSW learn more about the impact of fragranced products on UCLA students.