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Jasmin A. Young is currently a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UCLA in the Department of African American Studies. As a historian, her research focuses on African American history, 20th Century U.S. History, and gender studies. She specializes in African American women’s history, social movements, and the Black radical tradition.

Originally from Los Angeles, Jasmin Young began her academic career at California State University, Northridge. After graduation, she moved to NYC to attend Columbia University where she received her Masters in African American Studies and worked with the late Dr. Manning Marable. With a desire to ground herself in gender theories, Dr. Young moved to the UK to study at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), earning a second Masters of Science from the Gender Institute.

In 2018, Dr. Young graduated with a Ph.D. in History from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Her dissertation, “Black Women with Guns: A Historical Analysis of Armed Resistance 1892-1979,” offers a long history of women’s political engagement with Black militant activism from the Reconstruction to the Black Power era.

She is developing her book manuscript, Black Women with Guns: Armed Resistance in the Black Freedom Struggle, which is the first intellectual and social history of Black women’s use of armed resistance as a tool to achieve freedom in post–World War II America. While historical studies have assumed armed resistance was a male prerogative, she makes a significant intervention in the historiography by recovering a history of Black women who engaged in and advocated armed resistance from 1955-1979. Using archival research and gender theories, the book argues that Black women increasingly politicized armed resistance, both in theory and in practice, as the Black Freedom Movement shifted its objectives from integration to self-determination. Ultimately, Black Women with Guns broadens our understanding of the Black freedom struggle by expanding what we regard as political thought and action. It also reveals a more multifaceted struggle whose objectives and strategies were continually contested and evolving.

She presented her research to a packed house at UCLA’s Black Forum this past year where she fielded questions and led a great discussion on the intersection of state violence resistance and Radical Black Feminism. Dr. Young has presented her work at various national conferences including the Organization of American Historians. Her work has garnered general public attention and has been featured in the media. You can listen to her interview for the Black Agenda Report with Glen Ford HERE. She was also the historical consultant and writer for a documentary entitled, “Tracking Ida.”

Dr. Young is regarded as a rising junior scholar with cutting-edge research that connects the historical and contemporary understanding and contributions of Black Feminism. Many have attested to her accomplishments and many are eager to read her book when published. For example, fellow scholars at UCLA have said, “Jasmin’s intellectual maturity and complete dedication to research are among her most salient qualities. I was particularly impressed by how she theorized on Malcolm X’s intellectual development as influenced by the Detroit activist community, as well as when she investigated the contradictions of hyper-visibility and invisibility of Black women transnationally in hip-hop culture.”

She has been a great scholar to have in UCLA’s African American Studies Department as well as across campus. Dr. Young’s research reflects the caliber and innovation UCLA offers students, faculty, and the broader community.

Photo Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Dr. Kelly Lytle Hernandez, Professor of History and African American Studies at UCLA, has been awarded the 2019 MacArthur Fellowship. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation honors 26 luminaries, who each receive $625,000 over five years. The Chicago-based foundation has awarded these “genius” grants every year since 1981 to help further the pursuits of people with outstanding talent.

As the Director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, Professor Lytle Hernandez is one of the nation’s leading experts on race, immigration, and mass incarceration. She is also the author of the following award-winning books, Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol and City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles.

Currently, Professor Lytle Hernandez is the principal investigator for Million Dollar Hoods, a university-based, community-driven research project that maps the fiscal and human cost of mass incarceration in Los Angeles.

The following is an excerpt of a LA Social Science interview with Professor Lytle Hernandez reflecting on her significant and impactful research:

LASS:     Why is it important to do this type of research?

KLH:       Well, I’ve now written two books. The first book was a history of the US Border Patrol, so it’s about race and policing on the US Mexico border. And the second book is about the rise of mass incarceration here in Los Angeles. This too was about race and indigeneity and policing in our local area. And what I’ve learned in the last 20 years of study and in the completion of those two books, is that our carceral regime is really geared toward a system of what we call in settler colonial studies is, mass elimination, that this isn’t a responsive system to so called deviancies that are happening out in the community, that on its grand mass scale, in fact, it is geared toward removing, encouraging, i.e. eliminating targeted populations, namely for Black folks or Brown folks and Native communities and queer communities.

So when I came to this really chilling understanding of what’s happening around us, it’s not just the prison industrial complex, that is about generating profits off of our bodies, but it is also about banishment and elimination. One has to ask themselves who they are, not just as a scholar, but as a person, do I simply document what’s happening around us in this world or do I try to intervene? So that’s where Million Dollar Hoods came from. It’s really a community-based research project that we have grounded here at UCLA. I work with a variety of community based organizations to determine what we want to know about the current trends in policing and incarceration, so that we can interrupt them and that we can move us in a new direction.

LASS:     What is the impact you are hoping that your work provides?

KLH:       It’s twofold. So we hope that our research advances the movement not just to end mass incarceration, but to reinvest in education, in healthcare, and employment and housing and counseling, and parks, and so on and so on – that certainly is one aspect of it. The other is that we are highly committed to training a new generation of data analysts and public scholars. So if you look at our team, we probably have one of the most unique data teams in the country, where we are Black and Brown majority, we are residents of million dollar hoods majority. We have a sizable number, notable number of formerly incarcerated students, and what we’re doing is training people up to be the researchers, to put the power of the data in their hands moving forward. We’re really proud of that dimension as well.

So yes, it’s the research, but anyone can do the research and in some ways any team – if they figured out how to work with community – can do the research. We are transforming who has access to the skill set to run those analyses and we’re proud of both of those accomplishments.

LA Social Science would like to congratulate Professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez on this well-deserved honor, and wish her and the other awardees much success as they continue to demonstrate “extraordinary originality.”

***SAVE THE DATE***

The Inaugural Mark Q. Sawyer Memorial Lecture in Racial and Ethnic Politics

Sawyer Memorial Lecture Details:

Thursday, January 10, 2019

153 Haines Hall (Black Forum)

12:00-12:30 PM (Lunch)

12:30-2:00 PM (Lecture and Discussion)

PLEASE RSVP: https://tinyurl.com/sawyer-lecture19

The goal of the Mark Q. Sawyer Memorial Lecture in Racial and Ethnic Politics is to highlight the outstanding research of an advanced assistant or associate professor whose research focuses on racial and ethnic politics in the United States and internationally.   We are excited to welcome Assistant Professor, Dr. Danielle Clealand from Florida International University-Department of Politics and International Relations, to present her new book, The Power of Race In Cuba: Racial Ideology & Black Consciousness During the Revolution (Oxford University Press)—Winner of the 2018 Best Book Award for the Race, Ethnicity and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association (APSA).

This lecture honors the legacy of Dr. Mark Q. Sawyer, UCLA Professor of African American Studies and Political Science from 1999-2017. His first book Racial Politics in Post-Revolutionary Cuba (2006), published by Cambridge University Press, received several book awards. Dr. Sawyer also published widely on race, ethnicity, politics, gender, immigration, and coalition politics in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the United States.  Dr. Sawyer was a key institution builder at UCLA.  In 2006, he co-founded the field of Race, Ethnicity and Politics (REP) in the Department of Political Science and served as founding director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Politics (CSREP).  As Chair of the Inter-departmental Program (IDP) in African American Studies from 2011 to December 2013, Dr. Sawyer drafted and shepherded the application that ultimately resulted in the establishment of the Department of African American Studies at UCLA.

Co-Sponsors:

Division of Social Sciences

Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Politics (CSREP)

Department of Political Science-Race, Ethnicity of Politics Workshop Series

Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies

Department of African American Studies

Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI)

Chicano Studies Research Center

César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies

Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE)

LA Social Science e-forum

By Preeti Sharma, Saba Waheed, and Vina Nguyen

With the holiday season upon us, many people will visit salons to be pampered and have their nails done. Once a place of luxury for elite women only, US nail salons were democratized in the 1980s when new immigrants and refugees opened salons to a wider clientele. However, lower prices came at a cost to nail salon workers.

In November 2018, the UCLA Labor Center in partnership with the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative released Nail Files, a report on the national nail salon sector. While a few studies on the industry have focused on customer health and environmental issues, this report takes a comprehensive look into the multibillion-dollar nail salon industry through a labor lens. We analyzed existing literature, policy reports, and government data to paint a picture of current labor conditions for salon workers.

The majority of nail salons are immigrant-owned mom-and-pop establishments. More than two-thirds of nail salons have five employees or fewer. While there are some large national and regional chains, since immigrant and refugee women transformed the industry in the 1980s, mom-and-pop salons have dominated the sector. The labor force is predominantly Asian—Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Nepali, and Tibetan—but also includes Latinx workers. California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Georgia are the states with the largest population of nail salon workers. 

Eight out of ten nail salon employees are low-wage workers, more than double the national rate for low-wage work of 33%. Strikingly, full-time salon workers earn less than half of what workers make in other sectors.

Nail salon workers experience challenging work conditions, including misclassification. These challenges include low wages, low flat-rate pay that amounts to less than the hourly minimum wage, other minimum-wage and overtime violations, and harassment and surveillance. In addition, 30% of nail salon workers are self-employed, a rate triple the national average, raising the concern that some manicurists are purposely misclassified as independent contractors and are therefore deprived of workplace benefits like health insurance and workers compensation, labor protections, and the right to organize.

What can be done?

The nail salon industry is projected to grow, and it will to continue to innovate to bring in a new clientele. Current trends include extending services to a male clientele using advertising and décor aimed at attracting men, expanding the sector with luxury and chain salons, and developing on-demand and app-based services.

As the sector expands, we recommend improved enforcement of workplace protections, best-practice training that encourages high-road businesses, customer education about fair pricing, and stronger government policies to protect the health and safety of nail salon workers.

Read the full Nail Files report here. Report authors: Preeti Sharma, Saba Waheed, Vina Nguyen, Lina Stepick, Reyna Orellana, Liana Katz, Sabrina Kim, and Katrina Lapira.

 

Preeti Sharma is a UCLA PhD candidate in gender studies and a graduate student researcher at the UCLA Labor Center. Her research interests include feminist theories of work, racialized and gendered labor, service economies, worker center organizing, women-of-color feminisms/queer-of-color critique, and Asian American studies. Her project “The Thread between Them” explores South Asian threading salons in the Los Angeles beauty-service industry and the neoliberal immigrant-service sector.

Saba Waheed is research director at the UCLA Labor Center. She has fifteen years of research experience developing projects with strong community participation. With her team at the Labor Center, she coordinated the first-ever study of domestic-work employers, launched a study of young people in the service economy, and conducted research on the taxi, garment, nail salon, construction, and restaurant industries.

A first-generation student, Vina Nguyen graduated from UCLA in 2018 with a BA in human biology and society. As a graduate student researcher at the UCLA Labor Center, she investigated current trends and labor issues in the US nail salon industry and the impact of erratic scheduling practices on the lives of retail workers in Los Angeles. She continues her research with the Multicenter Aids Cohort Study, a thirty-year study of HIV infection in gay and bisexual men.

The demonstration against government and corruption in the The demonstration against government and corruption in the Esplanada dos Ministerios (Marcello Casal Jr / Agência Brasil) (http://www.coha.org/combatting-grand-corruption-in-brazil/)

By Sergio Guedes Reis, UCLA Master of Social Science ‘18

Citizens all over the world consistently rank corruption as one of the most important public issues of our time. For instance, global market research firm IPSOS polled 21 thousand people from 28 countries and found that 35 percent of respondents cited corruption as the most important problem facing the globe today. A close second was ‘unemployment,’ which was mentioned by 34 percent of respondents.

In Brazil, a large-scale criminal investigation initiated in 2014 has unveiled a multi-billion dollar money laundering and bribery scandal involving almost every political party, as well as some of the major engineering and contracting firms and state-controlled oil companies. The subsequent political crisis ultimately led not only to the ousting of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016, but also a severe decline in people’s trust of institutions.

Interestingly, while narratives about the seemingly endemic nature of corruption in Brazil are widespread, polls suggest that actual levels of corruption may be much lower than the average rates found in other Latin American countries. That said, it is very hard to measure corruption, as it inherently happens under the radar. Taking this issue into account, watchdog organizations and survey companies usually look to gauge citizens’ perceptions of ongoing rates of corruption in their countries, ask local experts for their views on that matter, or even interview contractors about their experiences negotiating with public officers.

So in what circumstances do people accept engagement in corrupt activities or believe that corruption is positive? And why do Brazilians believe that corruption is their #1 problem, when polls consistently show that only a small percentage of citizens claim that they have had to bribe a public official themselves?

Based on this paradox, I decided to investigate what factors influence the tolerance for corruption in Brazil. After all, if so many people think corruption is a big problem in Brazil and nonetheless only a few admit engaging in corrupt practices, then it becomes crucial to understand whether certain conditions provide more room for corruption to happen than others.

In order to do so, I used two of the most recent Latin American surveys on public opinion, the 2016 Latinobarometer and the 2017 Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) surveys.

Then, I defined 3 basic forms of tolerance for corruption:

1) When citizens say they accept “corrupt, but efficient governments”

2) When they state that “bribing is sometimes acceptable”

3) When they declare that they do not feel personally obliged to report a case of corruption

There are several interpretations to why corruption exists in a society. For example, authors argue that people who advocate for authoritarian values are more prone to accept corruption, because they believe that being compliant with democratic procedures does not solve one’s own problems and thus people must take illegal, yet efficient action to achieve their goals. Others propose that low levels of trust (in other people and in institutions in general) are positively related to corruption, as discrediting others leads subjects to adopt more self-interested behavior to get things done.

I opted to test variables associated with these and other possible explanations in order to comprehend the issue at stake.

The most important findings I had were:

  • Depending on the type of tolerance towards corruption, a different set of factors was more strongly associated with it. Variables associated with authoritarian values and socio-economic and demographic attributes (such as low development, high income and inequality) were more correlated with acceptance of corrupt (but efficient) governments, justification of bribery, and low levels of trust with avoidance of reporting cases of corruption.
  • Individuals who trusted in people in general, had confidence in certain institutions or were well informed about them (the Parliament, political parties, and even groups from civil society) were also more prone to accept corruption.
  • Citizens who stated they believed in typical markers of the status quo (such as claims about the fairness in the distribution of income, the impartiality of the Judiciary branch or the existence of equality of opportunity among Brazilians) were also more likely to accept corruption.

Survey-based research can usually only capture subjects’ opinions regarding a given topic, and not their actual practices. So, it is not possible to state that a moral agreement with corruption would imply acting corruptly in a real setting. Nonetheless, a pro-corrupt attitude may represent an open door for the occurrence of rule violations if the context allows. In the Brazilian case, the presence of structural factors (such as inequality and developmental levels) as predictors of tolerance towards corruption suggest this issue to have deep roots in the country’s social fabric. It also indicates that anticorruption solutions need to be connected to welfare and redistribution policies if they are to become more efficient and effective.

Future research considering other countries, cultures and contexts may disentangle other factors and particular mechanisms through which corruption becomes an acceptable enterprise. For Brazil, at least, it seems that fostering democratic values, political accountability, social equality and education would offer a way out of the large-scale turmoil it currently faces.

 

Sergio Guedes Reis is a Federal Auditor at the Brazilian Ministry of Transparency and a 2018 graduate of UCLA’s Master of Social Science (MaSS) program.

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.

By Lara Drasin

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. 

Part 1 of the series will first focus on the interview with Professor Bain

LD:     What do you [Professor Bain] tell people you do when you first meet them?

BB:     It depends on the context. On this campus, I think students identify me first and foremost as a professor, and as the director of the Prison Education Program. But before I was any of those things, I was an artist; I was an activist; I was an educator. I really am excited about the intersection of those identities, where they come together and create sparks and possibilities for transformation.

I’m inspired by people who consider themselves to be change makers. I’m inspired by people like Robin Kelley, who recruited me to come [to UCLA]. Cheryl Harris. I’m inspired by folks who see that when you bring together ways of understanding the world that aren’t often put together, all these amazing possibilities exist.

I’m also the son of immigrants, from a little island in the Caribbean called Trinidad and Tobago. My father was a storyteller — he was a calypsonian — and so I have some of that in me. I’m a storyteller. It’s part of my artistry as a poet; as an actor; as a theater maker. That’s part of my identity.

My mother is a healer. She’s been a nurse for 40 years. I think from her as a healer, and having all these aunts who are healers, I was definitely inspired to be an activist and to use whatever skills and talents and time I have on this planet — between womb and tomb — to try to impact the lives of those around me. So I think that’s where my desire to try to make change happen through activism comes from. I think there’s an intersection between arts activism and education that is at the heart of who I am.

LD:     Tell me about your work within the different contexts, [Professor Bain].

BB:     We do a lot of work in correctional facilities. We have offered courses at two correctional facilities in California, and we’ve taught five courses between the women’s prison and the juvenile hall. At the end of this year, we will have taught seven more. In those spaces, we’re here to represent students and faculty, to create opportunities for incarcerated students and students at the university to engage in higher learning and education together. So, they see me as a professor.

When I’m in a performance space I’m an actor, I’m looking at scripts, and I’m just one of the folks in the room who’s trying to tell the story together. We’re storytellers.

We all have these different layers, right? It’s not just me, or just [Rosie Rios, Administrative Director of the Prison Education Program], or just you.

Kimberlé Crenshaw and W.E.B. Du Bois before her were onto something when they talked about a double or triple or multiple consciousnesses. It’s dealing with, for example, the NYPD who didn’t believe me when I told [the officer] that I was a law student; didn’t believe me when I told them that the Sony VAIO laptop I had in my bag was mine — not that I stole it — or the public defender who told me that rather than believing my resume, she was more inclined to believe that I had a lengthy rap sheet. I think if we look at each other as full human beings, we’re multidimensional. People are not like those old school TV sets, where you could change from one channel to the next. Our identities all flow into each other, right? And so we have to get comfortable understanding that people have these multiple parts to themselves.

Members of the UCLA Prison Education Program team. Front row: Dianna Williams, Daniel Ocampo, Lyric “Day-Day” Green-Brown, Rosie Rios, Joanna Navarro. Back row: Gabrielle Sheerer, Dominique Rocker, Bryonn Bain, Derrick Kemp.

 

“…I think we’ve become numb and desensitized to a lot of the suffering that’s around us, and I think art is one way to say ‘No, wake up.'”

— Professor Bain

LD:     How are the arts initiatives you bring to prisons received — not only by the students — but by everyone that you’ve had to go through in order to make this happen? Do you present it as a healing modality? How do you justify it to them when so many institutions still don’t take the arts seriously?

BB:     This is one of the few countries where the arts are not taken as seriously as the rest of the world takes it. And at the same time, we wouldn’t think about Los Angeles or California as being the same without Hollywood, right? So there is a certain amount of respect for the power of storytelling at some level. I think it’s also important for us to understand that there are other ways for the arts to live and to feed us. Prisons are a public health crisis for many reasons, one of them being that we have more people in prisons with mental health issues than we have in mental health institutions. So prisons are being used as a way to deal with mental health and public health issues that they are not effective at dealing with. Drug addiction is a disease — it’s a public health issue according to the Center for Disease Control — and we’re treating it like it’s a criminal justice issue by locking people up and denying access to what they need. And a lot of people still have access to many banned substances that are available in prisons. So I think we have to really expand our thinking about that. But I think the arts are a way to open people up to see things in different ways. There are many metaphors for art: art as medicine, art as healing, art as a weapon, a tool for resistance to fight oppression. There is no movement for justice that did not have the arts as a part of it.

Anne Bogart talked about art as dealing with the world of aesthetics. And so when you think about what it means to be aesthetic, you think about what “anesthetic” or “anesthesia” is, right? Malcolm X talked about how when you go to the doctor what they do is put Novocaine in your mouth right so you could suffer peacefully, that you can actually bleed all over your mouth and they’ll tell you you’re just fine. So an anesthetic, or “anesthesia,” is actually about numbing your senses: making it so that you don’t see smell, taste, or touch with the same level of intensity. It puts your senses to sleep. So aesthetics should be the opposite of that. An aesthetic should wake up the senses. I think about art as being an alarm clock, waking up the senses to things that we may have become numb to. I’m from a city where 20 million people can walk down the street — and there’s lots of love in the boroughs — but there are certain parts of Manhattan that are not like the block I’m from in Brooklyn. Somebody can be dead on the street and 50 people could walk over the body before anybody even asks if you’re okay. So I think we’ve become numb and desensitized to a lot of the suffering that’s around us, and I think art is one way to say “No, wake up. Human beings who share your experiences, and your oxygen, and your water supply, and in many ways are part of the same organism, are going through and experiencing things that we need to be awakened to.” I think art has the power to do that, to wake us up to realize that we actually have work to do. The social sciences are a direct connection to the arts, because it’s one place you can go to actually dig into the reality of the world: to actually figure out what change has to happen based on the research that many of my colleagues here are doing.

LD:     That’s a good segue into my question about the arts and science. They’ve been separated for so long, even though we know that they’re not actually separate. I know that recently you received a joint appointment to the World Arts and Cultures/Dance department. Do you know if there are a lot of professors on campus that have appointments in both a social or life science department and an arts department?

BB:     I heard of one other before me who was in Chicana/o Studies and also in World Arts and Cultures/Dance. But beyond that, I don’t know of any others. I know that Robin Kelley and Scot Brown are both African American Studies and History, and they also have an affiliation with the Global Jazz Studies program. Robin Kelley wrote the brilliant biography of jazz musician and legend Thelonius Monk, and Scot Brown does a lot of work around funk. So they have this connection between history, the arts and music that I think is really powerful.

Tricia Rose wrote one of the first scholarly books around hip-hop in 1994, Black Noise, and I had a chance to study with her at NYU as a grad student. I think my own experience was a little different because I identified as an artist. So while I wanted to study art to understand it, I also am a practitioner — I am a culture maker, a culture worker. It’s equally important to me to study the history, the culture, and the politics of the artistic media that I engage, and to develop my own craft.

I think there’s room for all kinds of art at all levels. But if we only have art that is about justice that is of a very low quality, we’re not helping the movement — we’re actually hurting the movement. So I try to challenge my students to explore terrain that they may have not experienced before, to think critically about the artistic practice and to think about the relationship between their art, the work they’re making and the world they want to build. I do that because I had amazing teachers and mentors who did the same thing with me. If you had to pay royalty checks for everything you take from your professor’s syllabus I would owe Lani Guinier a check every week. She is a brilliant, brilliant teacher who encouraged me to use collaboration in classrooms, to use creativity in the classroom, and to think critically in the classroom. So, those are things that are at the heart of how I connect to the arts and the social sciences.

 

“It’s a different time now and there is a whole lot that has not changed and needs to change. But I think our consciousness is expanding. I think the voices of people who were formerly incarcerated and are currently incarcerated are moving toward the center of the movement where they should be.” — Professor Bain

LD:     It seems like more people are accepting the fact that the stories we tell, including the media and entertainment we consume and create, are impactful in how they represent our lives and shaping who we are. Obviously, whenever there are these big shifts, we see it at different levels, and we sometimes see it commoditized or hijacked. What’s been your experience in observing this shift?

BB:     We’re in a time where there’s more of a movement to do many of the things that some folks realized need[ed] to happen 20 years ago, but there was no movement in place. Without a mass social movement, it’s very difficult to make change that is lasting, systemic and happens at an institutional level. So that is the biggest difference. I finished law school and I had a really unbelievable media platform: I had access to people who wanted to tell my story to 20 million people. And so because of The Village Voice and 60 Minutes, it was the strangest thing to really call out the NYPD and have, like, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley call me and offer me investment banking jobs. It was such an odd thing. I walked away from a lot of really lucrative opportunities — it just didn’t make any sense with my soul, you know? But I also realized that I could use some of that attention and energy to shine a light in other spaces that needed it more. So the show that I’ve created [“Lyrics from Lockdown”] just came out of touring in prisons around the country, and it emerged from me having a relationship with somebody who was put on death row at 17 — a man named Nanon Williams. “Lyrics From Lockdown,” the show, came from “Lyrics On Lockdown,” the tour, which hit 25 states around the country and ended up as a course in several states. The one I saw was first at Columbia, then NYU, The New School and Rikers Island. So seeing this sort of growth in attention to these issues over the last decade or two decades has challenged me to think about how to find ways to make sure that we’re shining the light in the right place.

I was able to actually bring some attention to Nanon’s case a year after we had the first public performances of the show. A federal judge looked at his case again and decided he should be released. Now the state of Texas appealed. He’s still locked up over 25 years for crime he didn’t commit, but we are closer than ever to getting some movement on his case. Folks like Bryan Stevenson went before the Supreme Court and argued in a case called Sullivan v. Florida that young folks we have locked up all over the country doing life sentences without parole, their brains weren’t even fully developed when they were charged for these crimes and marked for the rest of their lives. They should have the opportunity to actually have redemption. It’s not even second chances: in many cases, it’s first chances. Folks live in communities where the choices are not the choices folks have in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Bel Air and even Westwood, so that’s a big part of seeing this movement develop.

I feel like the folks that I’ve been blessed to work with have been a small part of building this larger movement because there weren’t editorials in The New York Times or the L.A. Times every week about mass incarceration. People weren’t even calling it “mass incarceration” or “hyper incarceration” or “racialized mass incarceration.” There was a network of folks — Critical Resistance through Angela Davis, a group called the Prison Moratorium Project, a group called the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights — who were talking about the prison industrial complex, connecting the dots and realizing that our communities are being devastated by the drug war, by aggressive paramilitary policing, and by the human caging that is still impacting us. But there’s at least a conversation and a movement. Black Lives Matter is in part to thank for the more recent wave of that. So I think that’s the biggest difference: we’re having this conversation in a larger context.

It’s a different time now and there is a whole lot that has not changed and needs to change. But I think our consciousness is expanding. I think the voices of people who were formerly incarcerated and are currently incarcerated are moving toward the center of the movement where they should be. Whereas 20 years ago, most of the policy that was being generated around prisons and policing was being driven by folks who had no experience in our communities, or any of these correctional facilities where our communities have been put in unprecedented numbers.

A larger movement requires a holistic approach to the problem. A larger movement is not about just folks changing policy, or changing legislation even. One of the things I learned in law school is that if you don’t change the hearts and minds of people, then you’ve got to send the National Guard to make sure that little black girls can go to school in the South.

LD:     I noticed that on the website for the Center for Justice, you say you’re “reshaping narratives through education, policy, research, advocacy, arts and culture.” Do you think that these are the channels through which we produce change?

BB:     I think those are our essential areas. I think it’s hard to make systemic change without those areas being considered. I also think, at this location, at this time and place, those are areas that you cannot leave out of the equation because we’re in a city that has an impact on global culture: you have to think about the arts and culture. Because we’re in a Tier One research institution, you have to think about research and education policy. You have to think about those things because of where we are in the world, this time and place. So we’ve been able to think about and begin forging collaborations across the campus that actually do that. Last year we offered a course called Legislative Theatre For Racial Justice, about using the arts to shape policy. We have collaborations with the folks in World Arts and Cultures/Dance, the team at the Art & Global Health Center, the Law School, and African American Studies.

We brought a Brazilian visiting scholar, artist, and theatre-maker, Alessandro Conceição, from Brazil to work with us at the juvenile hall and to develop theater scenes – Theater of the Oppressed. I was introduced to this in law school, because I had a brilliant legal professor [Lani Guinier] who knew that the law is full of theatrics. She knew that the drama’s in every courtroom. But she also knew, practically speaking, that if you were to actually challenge young law students to think outside the box to say, “Okay, well, how are they creating legislation in Brazil?” and to get folks to act out the social problems they’re experiencing, and to actually propose solutions — not just to talk about or write about the solutions, but to act them out and have a dialogue around them — that might be something we could really use. And when I saw that, a light bulb went on, and I said, “this is what I’m supposed to be using.”

So to go to Brazil with our colleagues in World Arts and Cultures/Dance in December and actually begin a relationship between L.A. and Rio, which we hope to build over time and eventually send students and faculty back and forth — it was powerful. We had students at the juvenile hall tell their stories; do poetry; do theater. At the end of the course, in collaboration with UCLA students, they presented those scenes to legal scholars, judges, law clerks, a legislative brain trust, the UN Special Rapporteur against racism, in order to share those ideas, have a conversation, and then voted on legislative proposals that, through a training we just completed here at the [UCLA] Bunche Center, we’re now going to actually take to Sacramento and City Hall and work to have their voices be heard when usually their voices are never part of the process. So there’s a larger movement that made that possible. It’s also an opportunity to think outside the box, and to think about how we use the arts, theater, poetry, policy, research, and education and link those so they’re not siloed off in ways that there are seen to be irrelevant to each other.

 

Read Part 2 HERE

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: UCLA PubAffairs

UCLA looks forward to welcoming a diverse and inter-generational group of about 100 scholars to UCLA for its 2-day Collaborative Multiracial Post-Election Survey (CMPS) Summer Research Workshop and Planning Meeting This Workshop will be held at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, August 8-10, 2018.

The 2016 CMPS was the first cooperative, 100% user content driven, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, post-election online survey in race, ethnicity and politics (REP) in the United States. Researchers queried more than 10,000 people in five languages — English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. To include the most comprehensive list of over 350 electoral, civic and policy-related survey questions, a team of 86 contributors from 55 colleges and universities across 18 academic disciplines contributed question content.

This Workshop will provide CMPS users with an outlet to present their research to a broad group of researchers both inside and outside of academia. Workshop events will range from research presentations as well as planning and brainstorming sessions as we gear up for the CMPS 2020. Presentations will feature cross-racial comparative data analysis, from a diverse and inter-generational group of CMPS users from across the country.

UCLA Co-Principal Investigator, Professor Lorrie Frasure-Yokley says, “We encourage collaboration to strengthen the academic pipeline in the study of race, ethnicity and immigration, through co-authorships and research opportunities, particularly for graduate students, post-docs and junior faculty. This 2-day meeting will serve as a professional development and networking opportunity for scholars of race, ethnicity and immigration in the United States. The CMPS is changing the way high-quality survey data is collected among racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.  Through collaboration and inclusiveness, the CMPS broadens the scope of who has access to high-quality survey data in academia and beyond!”

For more information, please visit the CMPS website, http://cmpsurvey.org/.