Student Spotlight – Helya Salarvand

Meet third-year undergraduate researcher Helya Salarvand!

Helya Salarvand majors in Gender Studies and is in our Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (URFP). The title of her project is “(Re)Locating Pride: Borders, Space, and Policing at Los Angeles Pride.” She hopes that her project can support the rethinking and reshaping of Pride so that all Queer people can feel welcomed, safe, and celebrated. Her best piece of advice to hit the ground running!

How did you first get interested in your research project?

The initial seeds of my interest in research regarding Pride were planted during my attendance of several Pride events in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. I was mesmerized by the scale of these celebrations of Queer love, joy, survival, and resistance. That mesmerization was also coupled with a subtle sense of disconnectedness which only grew as I got older and mended my lesbian identity with my Iranian identity and radical politics. I was compelled to examine why I felt disconnected from mainstream Queer spaces and that is a small bite of what my research is trying to chew off.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

The most exciting aspect of my research has been learning about Queer history. Though my research ultimately maps the evolution of Pride and LGBT liberation from its radical, anti-capitalist, anti-police origins towards neoliberal, homonationalist, and homonormative ideals, I found myself really intrigued and touched by these Queer histories. I’m also excited by indications that there is a genuine interest in the Queer community now to shift back to the radicalism which ignited the movement, signified by boycotts of Pride events sponsored by mammoth corporations and military entities. Last year’s LA Pride was conceptually relocated as an All Black Lives Matter March (which also received intense criticism due to their initial invitation of police) so it’s exciting examining the greater impacts of that conceptual relocation too.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

There are a few discoveries in my research that took me aback, the first being that police have never been absent from Pride. Though Pride is a commemoration of the Stonewall Riots, the most notorious successful violent uprising by Queer and Trans people against police, the first Los Angeles Pride (which occurred on the one year anniversary of Stonewall) required police “protection”. Though police were reluctant to extend their labor, the official permitting of Pride required their presence at the event. Something else that surprised me was learning about the Alpine project or “Stonewall Nation” which was literally an attempt at Queer settler-colonialism in California. This project sought to establish a gay separatist community in Alpine County and it would’ve entailed a relatively small group of Queer people moving to the rural county (which had a population of 430, 367 of them unregistered voters), recalling the county government, and replacing it with an all-gay party.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

Hit the ground running! As a transfer student I felt at a disadvantage not having established rapport with any professors at the university yet. Once you have your research proposal, send that and a bit of information about yourself to any professor you might be interested in working with. Having a healthy relationship with your mentor is the most important part of this process so don’t settle on a professor you don’t vibe with!

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

The aim of my research is to highlight the harm that is done by the exclusivity of Queer spaces (namely LA Pride). I want to suggest that Pride as we currently know it does not serve our community but aids in the corporatization and militarization of the Queer identity. I hope that my research can support the rethinking and reshaping of Pride so that all Queer people can feel welcomed, safe, and celebrated regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, ability, class, or gender-identity. Our spaces need to prioritize Queer people rather than corporate interests, police or profit.

 

 

Student Spotlight – Louisa Edwards

Meet fourth-year undergraduate researcher Louisa Edwards!

Louisa Edwards majors in Studio Art and minors in VAPAE and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (URSP). The title of her project is “The Sky.” Her project will focus on the natural phenomena of the sky and how information including binaries are permeable. She hopes that her project is generous to the viewer and can give to and receive from people in the ways that they need. Her best piece of advice to just do research as it is a great opportunity!

How did you first get interested in your research project?

An interest in the ways systems of space, time and persona are formed and organized has long been evident, in my practice. The investigation of the sky is a continuation of ideas about the dichotomy day/night. On the New Year of December 2018/January 2019, in the Mojave desert, I danced as the sun/moon moved from one side of the Earth to the other. Cradled in darkness, and kept alert by the 50’ degree air temperature; the night moved through a small sea of bodies. I watched the sun slip away in the West, and emerge in the East. This experience of watching sunset/sunrise, for the most part uninterrupted, got me hung up on the oppositional view of these two transitionary periods. At this point, I was most interested in how this experience of sunset/sunrise related to the concept of a mirror. When we look in the mirror, we see a reflection and we presume it exists as a replica of what is being reflected. However, it is a reversed version. Fascinated by this, I created a diptych of painted tapestries, that hang facing each other with about 5 feet between them creating a portal like effect for the viewer, that suggests dusk/dawn as mirrors of each other rather than opposite transitions, subsequently challenging the dichotomy of day/night. Branching off this idea of multiplicity, I began creating schedules of activities that defined time-period specific identities. I was interested in the multiplicity of identity, which often (falsely) feels unmoving and stubborn. The aim of this exercise was to single out this stimuli and culture that created my identity in five year periods. The most direct way I could track the influence of the world around me in congruence to my identity, while simultaneously exploring time, was by using the rigid format of a calendar; A calendar is both profoundly personal and distinctly public.” Additionally, I began to document my dreams; In doing so, I realised I was living as much while sleeping as I was while awake. It became important for me to incorporate my dreams into these drawings, as a part of my daily life. After exploring how my surroundings and the microcosm I existed within had influenced my identity I wanted to think about universal elements that shape the reality of all human beings. Thus, I was led to focus, once again, on the sky.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

The most exciting aspect of research is also the most difficult. Recently, I have been thinking about the limitations of my imaginary. Earning to make art objects that do not add to the colonial and capitalist agenda, from the ground on which we stand, is nearly impossible. In this entirely interconnected world we live in, what actions can take that are benevolent; humans are harmful; existence is violence. So what is left? I want honesty but not despair. At times find myself very frustrated and at times very driven by this predicament. The main blind spot I am encountering in this project as with countless other artworks, is about the aestheticization of nature and how by aestheticizing something you are enforcing a certain gaze of and control over said form. I mean, how do you say I love you to a living thing? You can of course, but it is really only self serving. Nature as framed as separate from humans (which it is not) would be better off without the human hand. In doing this project about the sky, I find myself avoiding discussing the sky as a ploy to muddle this issue. For the most part, I only talk about things surrounding the sky and when discussing or using the motif of the sky directly I earn to make it evident that this is from and for a human perspective. I suppose, I have never decided on if I am entirely on board with humanism and this research project is throwing this debate right at me.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

The amount my project has transformed in so little time has been exciting, nerve-wracking, and surprising. When I proposed this project in Spring 2020 I felt I had a definitive idea of how it might take shape. It has been difficult to be okay with not following my agenda to a T when the project is taking me in a different direction.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

I am not sure I have any advice, really, other than to do it! It is a great opportunity; when I applied, I thought I had no chance of getting this opportunity. I would definitely recommend applying even if you think your project is petty or not doing enough to change the world. If it is important to you and you are keen to commit the time, apply!

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

I hope that the work I make is generous to the viewer. I hope it can give to and receive from people in the ways that they need. I hope they feel understood, or confused. I hope it is interesting and curious. If the sky could be proud, I would want the sky to be proud.

Student Spotlight – Daniella Efrat

Meet third-year undergraduate researcher Danielle Efrat!

Daniella Efrat majors in Political Science and minors in Public Affairs and Labor Studies and is in our Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (URFP). The title of her project is “Immigration Related Retaliation Facing Undocumented Low-Income Workers: An Archival Review.” She hopes to shed light on an under researched topic and aid scholars and policymakers in understanding the experiences of undocumented workers. Her best piece of advice is to reach out to professors and students doing research in your field of interest!

How did you first get interested in your research project?

In 2020, I interned at the California Labor Commissioner’s Wage Unit, a unit that ensures that workers are getting paid what they were promised by their employers. Many of the claimants I interacted with were undocumented and expressed hesitance to go forward with their wage claim. They were afraid because their employer threatened to retaliate against them by calling immigration authorities if they were to assert a claim. Despite the fact that it is illegal in California to retaliate against undocumented employees, many claimants still expressed this fear.  I became interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the profile and experiences of these claimants by conducting an archival study of all immigration-related retaliation wage claims in California since 2013.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

I have very much enjoyed analyzing the data and identifying trends to aid me in developing a main narrative for my study.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

I have been surprised by how individually driven the research process is. The success of your research depends on how much you are willing to put into it. I enjoy the independence of research, and I have found that I am much more motivated to work on my research project because I know it is something that reflects my efforts.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

Reach out to professors and students doing research in your field of interest! While it may seem intimidating, you might be surprised how many people are willing to share tips and their experiences with those who are interested.

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

My research project is the first archival study examining immigration-related retaliation claims in California. I hope that my research will shed light on an under-researched topic and aid scholars and policymakers in understanding the experiences of undocumented workers to help them conceptualize better policies to address these problems.

Student Spotlight – Zoe Reinecke

Meet fourth-year undergraduate researcher Zoe Reinecke!

Zoe Reinecke majors in International Development Studies and minors in Education and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (URSP). The title of her project is “Non-Governmental Organizational Responses to the Educational Needs of Refugees in Kenya During the COVID-19 Pandemic”. She wishes to inform of ways in which policy can be leveraged to improve the educational experiences of refugees. Her best piece of advice is to go for it! She recommends finding a mentor you respect and who is invested in your research and your future.

How did you first get interested in your research project?

During the summer of 2018, I had the privilege of working with refugees and victims of human trafficking in Europe. Upon returning to the United States, I continued to grapple with how to strategically decrease one’s vulnerability to human trafficking. I was unsettled by the harsh reality of the systemic and perpetual nature of human trafficking. When one person was able to leave human trafficking, more times than not there was another individual that replaced them. I turned my attention to strategic ways to decrease the vulnerability of refugees to trafficking. Education emerged as a necessary factor.

At UCLA, I pursued opportunities within my coursework, internships, and research projects to engage with refugee education in greater depth. These experiences eventually led to working with organizations in Kenya, which informed my focus for my honors thesis. Further, as the world continues to suffer from the impacts of the coronavirus, I knew I needed to investigate how the coronavirus has impacted the educational experiences of refugees in Kenya and how non-governmental organizations are responding to the changing educational needs of refugees.  To gain a greater understanding of the educational realities of refugees in Kenya during the coronavirus pandemic and non-governmental responses, I am conducting semi-structured interviews with non-governmental organizations, teachers, and refugees.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far? 

Throughout the last six months, I have enjoyed witnessing my research evolve and change. Although stressful at times, it is ultimately exciting to allow existing literature and conversations with scholars and community members inform my work. Additionally, it has been exciting to meet incredible individuals, in Kenya and the United States, through my research.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process? 

Before pursuing my research, I had never worked on the same research project for the same amount of time as I am with this project. Inevitably, this has meant that it has been a learning experience. I have been surprised by how often I am adjusting my project, something that I had not allowed myself to do in other research projects. I have also been surprised by how much I have enjoyed the research process, which has informed my decision to pursue a graduate degree.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research? 

If you have any desire to do research, I encourage you to do it. UCLA offers many opportunities to conduct your own research or work with others. These opportunities are much harder to access and participate in after graduating. You will meet incredible individuals who are eager to invest in you and your future. Also, research is a great way to improve your writing and critical thinking skills. Ultimately, research is an exciting process and you will learn a lot if you are willing to invest in the project.

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world? 

I hope that my research will provide policy suggestions for non-governmental organizations to better meet the educational needs of refugees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, I hope that these insights will extend beyond the pandemic and translate into more efficiently and effectively delivering education to refugees.

Student Spotlight – Teresa Xu

Meet third-year undergraduate researcher Teresa Xu!

Teresa majors in Art History and minors in Anthropology and Digital Humanities and is in our Undergraduate Research Fellows Program (URFP). The title of her project is “Intercultural Museum Display: an Investigation on Tangibility.” She hopes that her project can bring a new way of seeing intercultural exhibitions or help museums to deal with the problematic magic of tactility. Her best piece of advice is to enjoy the learning experience and find the stance you want to take.

How did you first get interested in your research project?

I took an Art History class called “Art and Empire” which examined the creation of art through the lens of imperialism. There was a museum accident at the Franklin Museum in which a man accidentally snapped off a thumb of a 2000-year-old terracotta warrior on loan from China, and I connected this incident with the remaining effects of postcolonialism and became interested in museum exhibitions, especially the contextualization of intercultural ones.

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

My focus has primarily been on current art historical scholarship: books, magazines, and other scholars’ research. I have a rudimentary idea about how we can use replicas to better design intercultural exhibitions. I will design a short questionnaire and collect answers from the public to learn how people’s opinions about using replicas in museums change before and after understanding their cultural context. The questionnaire will be conducted in both Chinese and English to see how different cultural communities will perceive the replicas differently.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

Even though I was not able to visit the museums I planned to use as case studies in person, the pandemic has allowed me to see so many more digital exhibitions and see other directions future museums can take. Exhibitions and art media will no longer be restricted by the limit of physical spaces. We can expect new forms of representation that may transcend time and space in the near future.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

Don’t feel rushed or obligated to have research experience just because other people are doing it. Enjoy the learning experience and find the stance you want to take. It doesn’t have to be something that has never been done before. Start with what you like.

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

I hope my research can bring about a new way of seeing intercultural exhibitions and/or help museums deal with the problematic magic of tactility. Sometimes people just want to touch the marble sculpture, become closer to the cave painting, sit on the fragile wooden chair that is over 200 years old just because of the beauty of these objects. But museums visits are not only about sightseeing. We need museums to not only provide the artifacts, but also the stories behind them so that visitors can find their own relevance. Otherwise, what museums are displaying are just lifeless gravestones of what has already been killed by history and ourselves.

Student Spotlight – Ngoc Nguyen

Meet fourth-year undergraduate researcher Ngoc Nguyen!

Ngoc majors in International Development Studies, Asian American Studies, and Sociology and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program (URSP). The title of her project is “Hidden in Plain Sight: On the Legal and Grassroots Organizing against Thai Labor Trafficking in the United States,” which focuses on the role of grassroots organizing in the El Monte case by exploring questions regarding labor laws and rights of immigrant communities. She hopes that her project will bring light to challenges that the Thai community experiences and promote effective change.

How did you first get interested in your research project?

Coming from a low-income immigrant family and seeing my parents being exploited by the unjust labor system as they work long hours with low wages have inspired me to pursue an education to learn about immigration and labor law and advocate for the rights of immigrant communities. Although I have always wanted to research immigration and labor law, I did not know what topic I want to pursue until I met my faculty mentor, Professor Jennifer Chun, who suggested that I learn about the El Monte Thai Garment worker case.

Interning for the Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC) has taught me about the case and the role that non-profit organizations such as the Thai CDC played in the case. I was extremely inspired by the ways in which grassroots organizations, activists, and community members came together in the mid-1990s to demand justice for the workers and create systemic changes. This experience led me to research this case for my senior project. Through this project, I focus on the role of grassroots organizing in the El Monte case by exploring the following questions: How did grassroots organizations, lawyers, and community members come together to advocate for the workers? How was the coalition formed and what role did each organization play? What strategies did these organizations use to advocate against state violence and to demand justice for the workers?

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far?

The most exciting part of my research has been getting the opportunity to research archival materials about the El Monte case and talking to community organizers who were involved in the labor movement in the 1990s!

What has surprised you about your research or the research process?

I never would have expected to grow this much through this process! Not only have I been able to meet and listen to stories of amazing community organizers, but I have also become more inspired to pursue a career in the legal field. Learning about immigration and labor organizing has helped me realize who I want to be, what kind of activist I want to become in the future, and how pursuing a law degree can help me achieve my aspirations.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research?

I would advise students to challenge themselves, go out of their comfort zone, and actively pursue opportunities. As a first-generation college student, I struggled to navigate UCLA and find opportunities to pursue research. However, talking to my professors, friends, and mentors has helped me narrow down my research and apply to opportunities.  

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world?

I hope that my project will bring light to challenges that the Thai community experiences that continue to remain hidden in mainstream discourse and promote integral dialogues about how grassroots organizing can advocate for effective change.

Student Spotlight – Michael To

Meet fourth-year undergraduate researcher Michael To!

Michael majors in Psychology with a minor in Biomedical Research and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program (URSP). The title of his project is “The Outbreak of Anxiety in Tandem with COVID-19: A Health Anxiety and Media Use Analysis,” which he hopes will better illuminate the interaction between health anxiety, media consumption, and psychosomatic symptoms.

How did you first get interested in your research project? 

I’ve had an interest in the interaction between the brain and body for several years, starting with my work on Brain Computer Interfacing Systems to create moveable prosthetics in 2018 at California State University, Fullerton. Through this experience, I realized that I wanted to look at the brain-body interaction in a more macroscopic sense. Upon transferring to UCLA, I was able to meld my interests in the brain and body by looking at the psychosomatic interaction between health anxiety and unexplained somatic symptoms at the Brain and Body Lab. 

What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far? 

The most exciting part, for me, is that I work with a diverse, interdisciplinary group of people who wholly enrich my academic experience at UCLA. I love the process of learning, and at the BAB Lab I have been routinely challenged to learn new skills, new programs/tools, and new ideas through the process of interaction with my laboratory peers, my lab managers, and principal investigator. Significant results are exciting and provide a sense of satisfactionbut they are a smaller part of the overall, intellectually stimulating atmosphere I am immersed in through my URSP research experience. 

What has surprised you about your research or the research process? 

The research process is so much more than just sitting at a bench and crunching data. There is a huge outreach portion of research that goes into raising awareness about your work, disseminating that information in your community, and marketing your ongoing studies to future participants. I really enjoy the communication aspect of research, and it’s an area I didn’t know I was interested in until I got involved in my lab. 

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research? 

I would say that its important to keep in mind that research labs need you just as much as you need them! You have leverage, in that sense. Although at times it can be intimidating reaching out to labs, at this stage of our career, principal investigators are not expecting you to have a resume filled with relevant experience. What they are looking for is for you to display an avid curiosity and passion for the subject you are interested in. Research skills can be taught, but passion – well, you have to bring that with you. Be persistent, engage with what you do, and the rest will follow.

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world? 

I hope that my research will better illuminate the interaction between health anxiety, media consumption, and psychosomatic symptoms; by having a greater understanding of these relationships, we can develop protective guidelines surrounding healthy media consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as future regional, national and global health crises. 

Student Spotlight – J.W. Clark

Meet fourth-year undergraduate researcher J.W. Clark!

J.W. majors in Musicology with a minor in Philosophy and is in our Undergraduate Research Scholarship Program. The title of their project is “Voicing the Fox: The Zoopolitics of (Re)presenting Vulpine Bodies,” which draws on a number of disciplines including literary studies and critical theory, biosemiotics and behavioral ethology, and analytical philosophy and art history.

How did you first get interested in your research project?

 During my first quarter at UCLA as a new transfer student, I was lucky enough to be able to attend my first academic conference – the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society. The first panel of the weekend that I attended was titled “Plants and Animals”; at the time, the panel’s content struck me as incredibly peculiar for musicological work, with such papers as “Becoming-Tree: Heine, Grieg, Sibelius, and Musical Arboreality” (Daniel Grimley) and “Of Donkeys, Dogs, and Schubert: The Sonic as a Meeting Place for Species” (Knar Abrahamyan). While the “cultural animal studies” have generated some worthwhile work in the humanities within the past few decades, at many institutions such approaches are still viewed by traditional musicologists as “fringe” topics, at least with regard to music scholarship. But hearing these rigorous papers at a high-profile national conference made me realize that nothing was really off-limits when it came to scholarship. The whole conference for me was like that; that weekend also marked the start of my serious engagement with feminist, queer, and critical race theory – all of the “New Musicology” – approaches to music scholarship, though nothing stuck with me quite as persistently as that first panel. I ended up picking up a copy of Rachel Mundy’s Animal Musicalities at the book expo on my way out, and from there I really began thinking in earnest about the “animal turn” and how I could bring that more into musicological discourse. I then wrote a course paper in the spring as a kind of test-run for this kind of approach, where I looked at Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen and how animal representation was operating there with regard to the opera’s libretto, score, and staging techniques. I really liked engaging with that line of inquiry and started getting into posthumanist/animal studies scholarship at around the same time, and that more or less laid the groundwork for my current project.

 What has been the most exciting aspect of your research so far? 

The sheer breadth of work I have had to dialogue with has introduced me to countless new fields and subfields of which I had little or no prior knowledge of beforehand. “Animal studies” is far from a unified area of research; particularly given the lack of existing music scholarship on my topic, I’ve been drawing on everything from literary studies and critical theory, to biosemiotics and behavioral ethology, to analytical philosophy and art history. It’s been an immensely rewarding process.

What has surprised you about your research or the research process? 

I continue to be caught off-guard by the depth and pervasiveness of hegemony in the form of human exceptionalism; every time I think I’ve gotten to the bottom, something else comes along – a new comparison I hadn’t thought of, a nuanced apprehension of a certain relationship – and forces me to reevaluate what I think I know all over again. Getting “outside” anthropomorphisms is impossible given our status as humans, but at times it becomes incredibly easy to forget that that they exist. This is particularly the case when working with nonhuman animal representations in our artistic and cultural artefacts, given they are overwhelmingly ubiquitous in day-to-day life. This project has required a constant reimagination of what it would truly mean to relate to other species in a mutually respectful way.

What is one piece of advice you have for other UCLA students thinking about doing research? 

A lot of people (myself included) tend to stress initially over finding a line of inquiry that hasn’t been done before – because there is so much scholarship out there, it often seems like there is nothing meaningful you can contribute to your given field, especially as an undergrad. Don’t worry about coming up with something uniquely “original” – reflect on what you’re already interested in and connect those existing strands to your discipline and to each other. In my opinion, the most exciting and productive scholarship emerges from individuals who employ their field to work for them, rather than imposing limits on their work to fit rigid disciplinary boundaries. At base, research, reading, and just expanding your horizons in general allows you to better and more rewardingly reterritorialize what you already have.

What effect do you hope your research has in your field, at UCLA, in your community, or in the world? 

I’d like to push everyone who comes in contact with me and my work to scrutinize the habitual ways in which they navigate the world. We, as humans, have continued to orchestrate a horrifying genocide of mind-numbing proportions against those we have deemed to be “subhuman.” Most egregiously (though the least acknowledged) has been the violent subjugation of countless other animals, but comparable strategies have been and continue to be deployed against marginalized groups within our own species. Despite a popular conception to the contrary, music-making, and art general, is inherently political, and thus cannot be separated from such acts. Following Susan McHugh’s call to investigate how “forms of representation matter to the development of theories of species life” in her work on animal fictions, I hope to impress upon people the importance of critiquing how we look at, listen to, and talk about others.