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Professor Rebecca Jean Emigh

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policy Fellows pose for a photo before a jam-packed day at the Greenlining Economic Summit. (From left to right: Julio Mendez, Celina Avalos, Amado Castillo, Eduardo Solis, and Vianney Gomez)

By Vianney Gomez and Celina Avalos

As policy fellows with the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative (LPPI), we are afforded unique opportunities to engage in professional development training and experiences that enhance our skill set as student policy advocates.

On Friday, April 26th, five LPPI Policy Fellows attended the Greenlining Economic Summit in Oakland to participate in a convening of scholars, policymakers, and stakeholders across a variety of different policy sectors to discuss pressing issues. Opening remarks by community leaders, students, and policy advocates left us inspired to pursue and find solutions to issues that personally affect us and our communities—gender equity, immigration reform, climate change, and more.

At the summit, we had the opportunity to attend various panels that dealt with a broad scope of policy issues, including equitable community development, environmental justice, and community organizing. We were also at the Summit to support LPPI’s Founding Executive Director, Sonja Diaz, who was a featured panelist in the “Building Health, Wealth, and Power: Advancing Health Equity Through Community Development” panel. The panel was moderated by Anthony Galace, Greenlining Institute’s Health Equity Director and featured remarks from the following experts: Pablo Bravo Vial, Vice-President of Community Health at Dignity Health; Aysha Pamukcu, Health Equity Lead at ChangeLab Solutions; and Tonya Love, District Director for Assemblymember Rob Bonta. The “Building Health, Wealth, and Power” panel focused on how to identify and combat racial inequities through development, health access, and social policy. Through an intersectional lens, the panelists described the myriad of ways that underrepresented and underserved groups across the state are denied access to health care. This included shocking statistics and data on the Black-White infant mortality gap and the estimated five centuries it will take to address California’s Latino physician crisis.

LPPI Executive Director Sonja Diaz shares research findings on the Latino Physician Crisis at the “Building Health, Wealth, & Power” panel. (From left to right: Anthony Galace, Tonya Love, Pablo Bravo, Sonja Diaz, and Aysha Pamukcu)

The “Building Health, Wealth, and Power” panel provided an important lens to address the social determinants of health and well-being. One of the greatest takeaways for us was seeing women of color leaders in action. As first-generation Latinas, it was refreshing to hear our voices reflected in a professional setting where, more often than not, women of color are left out. This is especially true in conversations around public policy and governance. With a majority women of color panel, we witnessed powerhouse leaders transform a seemingly dry conversation on healthcare to real-world exploration of racism, discrimination, and policy innovation. They helped humanize complex issues and structural dimensions of inequality. Moreover, they clearly articulated how high-level decisions impact the daily lives of our parents, grandparents, neighbors, and communities.

As students from underrepresented backgrounds, we felt included and seen in the conversation. We know first-hand how the lack of access to resources can pose a grave, life-threatening danger to the most vulnerable members of our communities. We are aware of how the slightest change in policy framing can positively improve the lives of marginalized communities. Panelists drew from similar personal experiences from our own lives to provide a human narrative, while unapologetically laying blame on implicit and explicit discriminatory policy frameworks that leave people of color worse off.

Our lives as low-income, first-generation Latinas deeply resonated with the work the panelists pursue every day as researchers, advocates, and political staffers. Data and policy analysis, centered on the needs of communities of color, is a tool to address the social and economic disparities facing communities like ours.

The Greenlining Economic Summit demonstrated the power that lies in coalition building and the importance of empowering policy advocates who are women of color. We feel grateful to have attended a conference like the Summit; a space that is receptive and welcoming to the ideas and concerns of students like us. Attending a panel, which featured strong women of color with new perspectives, enabled our motivation to pursue future avenues in public policy. It served as a reminder that policy advocacy is possible for us too!

LPPI Policy Fellows, Celina Avalos and Julio Mendez, networking with policy advocates, like Melina Duarte, at the Greenlining Economic Summit mixer. (From left to right: Celina Avalos, Julio Mendez, and Melina Duarte)