By Kevin Sprague (UCLA 2018)
UCLA International Institute, May 11, 2017 — On April 21, UCLA graduate students had a unique opportunity to present their research on international issues at the Fourth Annual International Institute Graduate Student Conference, “Going Global: Collaborative Visions for a Sustainable Future.”
The conference, sponsored by the UCLA’s International Institute, Graduate Student Association Social Sciences Council, Department of History, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, Department of Geography, Department of World Arts and Cultures, Interdisciplinary and Cross-Campus Affairs, UCLA Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Office and Graduate Division, was attended by students, interested members of the community and UCLA faculty and staff from a variety of fields. The diversity of majors and disciplines in the crowd reflected the conference’s aim of bringing together peers who normally wouldn’t interact to discuss unique, holistic solutions to global challenges.
Andrew Apter, a professor of history and anthropology who teaches in the International Institute’s African Studies, International & Area Studies and International Development Studies programs, began the conference by delivering a powerful opening address honoring the late UCLA Professor Mark Sawyer. Following Apter’s remarks, attendees were treated to a series of eight panels that explored themes related to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, economics and development.
Between presentations, participants had the chance to network over lunch and discuss the research presented. Many conference-goers remarked that the panels had introduced them to topics or regions that they had previously known very little about, or had surprised them by addressing issues of development in innovative and unusual ways.
Selected panel summaries
One of the day’s first panels, “Activism and Marginalized Communities,” featured research on three case studies of citizen action. Andrea Yewon Lee discussed the work of an organization in Seoul that has engaged commercial tenants in building stronger coalitions against gentrification. Michelle Medrado discussed the limitations of the “Fashion Revolution” movement, which aims to change exploitative labor practices in sweatshops around the world. And Ashley Fent described how organizational efforts against a mining project in Senegal required activists to expand their definition of who would be directly affected by exploitative mining practices.
At the “Migration and the Refugee Crisis” Panel, Jungwon Kim presented research on North Korean refugees' understanding of democracy in South Korea and the United States. The refugees’ understanding of democracy and freedom was determined by their access to and treatment in sociocultural and political spaces, she explained. Deisy Del Real focused on intraregional migrant rights in Mercosur, analyzing the benefits of the regional organization that allows for free trade and open migration between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. In her view, South America is attempting to use Mercosur is to answer the global refugee crisis. Lastly, Lucrecia Mena Melendez spoke on the correlation between Latino children's health and their parents’ immigration status. Melendez’s research challenged the belief that acculturation is detrimental to Latino health, concluding that acquiring legal status benefits the overall health of Latino children.
Healthcare was the focus of the subsequent panel, “Challenges in Global Health.“ Natalie Dickson, a dual master’s degree student in public health and African Studies summarized a research project on attitudes and beliefs towards HIV self-testing, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and early Anti-Retroviral Therapy initiation among serodiscordant couples (i.e., one with the HIV virus, and one without) in Tanzania. Elise Liu took discussed the home garden agricultural model as it related to low- and middle-income Asian countries. Home gardens serve as a means to provide both environmental and dietary biodiversity, she said, and are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to bridge hunger and health with sustainable agriculture. Amy Zhou discussed the challenge of ending the transmission of HIV from mothers to children in resource-constrained settings. Based on observations at clinics and interviews with providers in Malawi, Zhou explored the impact of new HIV policies for pregnant women on services in prenatal clinics, as well as the implications for women’s HIV treatment.
Another set of speakers presented research on the nature of complex conflicts around the world at the “Conflict, Peace and Justice” Panel. Kaitlyn Sanborn examined two very distinct Rwandan refugee populations and explored how these displaced populations can become involved in armed conflicts. Vera Burrows analyzed the moral justifications provided by Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt for the horrific genocide of Mayans in 1980s Guatemala. Her unique approach to understanding these atrocities involved probing the evangelical Christian religious underpinnings of Montt’s murderous political agenda, as explicitly cited in his written and spoken statements. Participating via video link from Nigeria, Adesuyan Bankole Isaac discussed the work of Nigerian filmmaker Afam Okereke and his use of the Ivorian civil war of 1999 to examine the role of traumatic memory in African conflicts. Specifically, Isaac used psychoanalytic literary theory as a lens through which to analyze the director’s work.
As the day concluded, the "Art and Alternative Visions of Development" panel explored the ways in which art intersects with major social issues. Chiao-Wen Lan, discussed the use of art as a tool for empowering people living with HIV/AIDS. Adrian Callado presented research on the intersection of art and alternative representations of the immigrant story in Spain. Finally, Tatiana Sulovska analyzed art as a subversive tool that individuals can use to engage with state power and the politics of violence.
After the graduate students had discussed their research, Robin L. Garrell, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate Division, presented four awards: Kaitlyn Sanborn and Tyler Harlan each received honorable mentions for their research on refugee violence in Africa’s Great Lakes Region and small hydropower in China, respectively. Amy Zhou, who discussed HIV treatment policies in Malawi, was named the runner-up for Best Paper. Finally, Andrea Yewon Lee was awarded Best Paper for her research on South Korean commercial tenants’ resistance to displacement. Following Dean Garrell’s remarks, attendees enjoyed a celebratory reception. Faculty, students and community members toasted to a successful and thought-provoking conference, with hopes that next year’s event will continue to inspire collaboration and discourse across disciplines.