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Director’s update: February 2023

By Dylan Rodríguez

It continues to be a privilege and pleasure to participate in shaping the work of the Center for Ideas and Society. I trust that this brief correspondence will help encourage you to attend, participate in, and organize activities that reflect the experimental, inter/trans/counter/anti-disciplinary, creative character of the Center. As always, please feel free to reach out to me if you have ideas or questions:

Success! AFD Grant update
I’m happy to report that the Faculty Commons Project will continue to be supported through 2023-2024 as a result of our successful application for renewal of the UC Advancing Faculty Diversity (AFD) grant. I especially wish to acknowledge the Center’s Executive Katharine Henshaw and Grants and Finance Analyst Kathy Ann Hitchens for collaborating with me on this successful grant renewal. Crucially, the AFD grant will enable the expansion of the Faculty Commons Project to include two new and vital components: the creation of a Queer and Trans Studies Faculty Commons Group, and support for the heretofore unfunded work of the Dreaming Retention Think Tank.

Fall 2022 partial recap
A busy Fall 2022 quarter at the Center for Ideas and Society included several events co-sponsored by the Decolonizing Humanism(?) programming stream i proudly curate, including:

  • “Menino 111,” a lecture-performance with visiting Brazilian scholar/artist Aline Serzedello Vilaça;
  • “Unbreakable Resolve,” a presentation and discussion with nationally recognized community leaders and formerly incarcerated organizers Jerome Morgan and Robert Jones, co-founders of Free-Dem Foundations in New Orleans;
  • “Protests in Iran,” a national panel of experts discussing the ongoing Iranian protests, moderated by Prof. Fariba Zarinebaf (History);
  • and Race, Neoliberalism and the Transformation of the University, a daylong workshop with scholars from across the UC system, convened by Prof. David Lloyd (English).

I hope all of you will continue to reach out with other programming ideas that can include the Center as a collaborator and co-sponsor.

Upcoming: “Rethinking Retention, Redefining (Faculty) ‘Diversity,’” with UCOP/UCR administrators
On February 13, 3-5 pm, the Dreaming Retention Think Tank will host “Rethinking Retention, Redefining (Faculty) ‘Diversity,’” a potentially impactful online roundtable event featuring six UCR faculty colleagues and several UCOP/UCR administrators, including UC systemwide Vice Provost for Academic Personnel and Programs Douglas Haynes, UC
systemwide Vice President and Vice Provost for Graduate, Undergraduate and Equity Affairs Yvette Gullatt, UCR Vice Provost for Academic Personnel Daniel Jeske, and UCR Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer Mariam Lam. (Register at

This roundtable is the result of a collaboration between CIS and Imagining America, a peer research center at UC Davis led by our wonderful colleague (and fellow 2020 Freedom Scholar) Erica Kohl-Arenas.

I urge you to attend this roundtable. It promises to address significant and ongoing institutional challenges that require creative, concerted responses guided by our collective Insight and will. The roundtable will be held online and will be recorded for posting on the Center for Ideas and Society YouTube channel, which is in the process of becoming our primary site for hosting recorded events.

Open invitation: February 9 happy hour
Finally, i hope you will join us on Thursday, February 9, from 4-6 pm in INTS 1113 for the Faculty Commons and Dreaming Retention Think Tank happy hour. Faculty Commons participants and potential participants are all welcome! Appetizers, soft drinks, beer and wine will be served.

February 6, 2023|Tags: |

Postcard from Hamburg

Dear colleagues and friends of the CIS,

I hope you have all had a good start into the new academic year! My CIS letter today comes from Germany, where I am in residency at the Institute for Advanced Study in Hamburg (HIAS) until June 2023. It is a trip down memory lane for me. My mother and her family are from Hamburg, and as a child I spent many summers here and on the beaches of the nearby North Sea. I thought I’d share some impressions from where I am with you.

The “Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg” is the second largest city in Germany with almost 2 million people. It is a wealthy town with a long history as the main trading hub of the “Hanse,” a powerful alliance of harbor towns that dominated the foreign trade in the North of Germany from the 12th to the 17th century. Situated on the banks of the river Elbe, it has a particular charm – with its impressive town hall from the Renaissance, its nineteenth-century arcades that add a Mediterranean vibe to parts of downtown, the spectacular architecture of the new Elbphilharmonie, and the beautiful Alster lake with its many swans right in the city center. Its harbor is one the largest in Europe, and the city has always been more international than the rest of Germany – Hamburg calls itself “the gate to the world.”

The HIAS ( is a fairly young institution, located in the city’s Rothenbaum district by the Alster. It is funded through the city’s universities and art schools as part of Germany’s federal ‘excellence initiative’ – a competition under the auspices of the Ministry for Education and Research that, every seven years, awards money to the most promising and innovative academic “future concepts.” Good and bad things can be said about the initiative, but in a country whose university system is almost exclusively public, it provides the most important opportunity to kick-start forward-thinking academic projects.

My fellow fellows at the HIAS are a mixed bunch of lovely people from five continents. We have a composer, an economist, a writer, a biophysicist, a mathematician, a medical researcher (from UCSF), philosophers, political scientists, historians, a philologist, a lawyer, and an oceanographer. Three scholars are from Ukraine, and one of them – Oksana Koshulko in Refugee Studies – is currently organizing a large international conference on “Russia’s War in Ukraine. Trauma, Victory, Future in the E.U. and NATO” at HIAS, probably in January 2023. Once we have a date and program, we will publish a link in our CIS newsletter.

The shock waves of the war in Ukraine are very palpable here. In a way, it is a different Germany that I have returned to – different from even a year ago. Many people are anxious and on edge. There is a split through the middle of European societies, not unlike the US. It is a worrisome trend fueled by the insane pace of inflation, the restrictive approach of the German government to the pandemic, a new pandemic fall surge, the looming energy crisis and, in consequence, the forced reversal of Germany’s nuclear phase-out, diplomatic frictions with France, a new government from the far-right in Italy, the political mess in the UK, the situation at the Russian-occupied nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhya, the war crimes, the deaths, the hate… In the US, one tends to forget how close the many European countries and cultures are – geographically, economically, and through the political structure of the EU –, and just how interdependent. Let’s hope that the domino-effects we are seeing at the moment can be contained in the future.

While it is good to be back in the hustle and bustle of a European metropolis, I also miss California and will remain present at the CIS with a small number of events. The first, on December 14, is a workshop/tutorial with members of a grass-roots initiative located in London, “100 Histories of 100 Worlds in 1 Object.” It is a much-noticed project that seeks to rewrite the narratives of museum objects, empowering groups and voices formerly excluded from museum discourses to tell their own histories, in their own ways. We will publish the event in November.

Then, in the winter quarter, the Being Human Initiative at CIS will continue addressing Big Questions with a conversation between physicians and philosophers on “The Art of Dying (Ars moriendi).” And early in the spring quarter, we will launch the new Desert Spotlight series with a talk by Anne-Lise Desmas, curator at the Getty Museum, in our Palm Desert location.

In the meantime, a big and heartfelt thank you to Katharine and the CIS-team for shouldering the time-consuming move to College Building South and making a new home there! I have not seen it yet, but I am sure that you will find a warm and welcoming atmosphere in a safe environment.

Wishing you all a healthy and productive fall quarter, and Moin Moin! as the locals here say for good morning – which oddly they say all day long.


October 27, 2022|Tags: |

A year of collective work

Colleagues, it has been a privilege to serve as Co-Director of the Center this year. I have taken special joy in the numerous collaborations reflected in the collective work of the Decolonizing Humanism(?) programming stream, which I proudly initiated in Fall 2021. As the nationwide attacks against Critical Race Theory continue to saturate the politics and institutional culture of K-12 schooling, it has also been distressing to observe how overlapping and related forms of intellectual reaction and academic repression have crept into public university settings. Of course, such attacks, reactions, and repressive responses are neither new or surprising: in fact, their apparent spread and intensification is an indication that the creative, world-making labors of multiple communities of scholars and artists are indelibly reshaping humanities (and related) paradigms, archives, and epistemologies. I could go on, but would rather encourage you to click this link to check out some of the recorded events that I’ve had the pleasure of curating and facilitating during this past year as part of Decolonizing Humanism(?).


June 7, 2022|Tags: |

A year of changes and opportunities

Dear colleagues and friends,

At last, summer is around the corner – after what felt like an unusually long and demanding academic year. We did get a lot done at the Center for Ideas and Society, with the revamping of our internal structure, two new event streams designed by Dylan and me with Katharine’s input, and a variety of activities on zoom and in person, most notably perhaps our two impromptu zoom events at the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, attended by a lot of you.

We were also dealing with an unexpected event at the beginning of spring quarter: the abrupt loss of our home in College Building South, which gave us a big headache Luckily, we now have a new temporary home on the top floor of College Building North, right next door. Please come and join us there for in-person events, starting in the fall (fingers crossed)!

That said, I will be on leave for the entire year of 2022/23, on a fellowship at the Hamburg Institute for Advanced Study (HIAS). While I am very much looking forward to the extended time in Germany, I also know that I will miss UCR and the CIS. I am planning to participate in a couple of events each quarter, and I will be returning to SoCal for several weeks in the spring. In my absence, Dylan and Katharine will take care of most of the CIS programming, with the exception of a few events that have already been in the making for the “Being Human” event stream.

I also wanted to update you on a couple of other things: “Being Human” is partnering with UCR Arts for the 2024 Pacific Standard Time (PST) initiative, a collaboration of art institutions across SoCal, made possible largely through Getty Foundation grants. We are planning for additional programming around the CMP’s “Digital Capture” project, which is part of PST. A huge thank you to our Vice Provost for International Affairs, Marko Princevak, who agreed to fund our first international CIS Visiting Scholar for this project collaboration with the CMP, and to Susan Laxton (Art History) and Judith Rodenbeck (MCS) for taking the helm on things.

Conversations with the Getty Research Institute and Museum have been started about joint events with the CIS on our Palm Desert Campus in 2023/24, such as curator talks and events with guest scholars. Another set of conversations with the Medical School and the Center for Health Disparities Research as part of a new CIS “Connecting Colleges” initiative is underway; the series of joint discussions with physicians (When Will This Pandemic End?, What Happens When We Nearly Die?) will be continued with an event on Life at all Costs? in 2022/23.

Finally, a heartfelt shout-out to our donors Barbara Brink and Georgia Elliott for generously sponsoring two graduate student travel grants to Germany in 2022/23. We never have enough of those, and their contribution to the education of our graduate students will make a big difference! You will hear from us from Berlin in this newsletter.

If you have ideas for events or collaborations, please do not hesitate to be in touch! My involvement with the CIS will be noticeably reduced in 2022/23, but I am looking forward to robust and energetic planning for the year after.

Warmly, wishing you a productive and calm summer,

June 7, 2022|Tags: |

CIS Advisory Committee Statement

We the members of the Advisory Committee for UC Riverside’s Center for Ideas and Society learned with grave disappointment that the university will not preserve College Building South, which has been the Center’s home for nearly a decade. This historic structure, built in 1916 as a residence for the Director of the Citrus Experiment Station, offers a retreat-like setting for research and writing. We are distressed that the Center which serves as a center of gravity for faculty research, intellectual community and retention efforts will have no permanent location, with no apparent plans to re-allocate such a space. The Center’s offices and meeting spaces serve Center staff, affiliated faculty and fellows, students, the broader campus, and the community. Over the last decade, hundreds of faculty and students have worked in residency at CIS, which hosts dozens of conferences, symposia, and workshops each year and is home to the prestigious Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows Program. 

We write to register our concern about the Center’s ability to carry out programming given the lack of consultation or planning. Importantly, the haste of this announcement illustrates the administration’s lack of vision for the Center’s future. Yet the directors and advisory committee have an ambitious vision for CIS, which we want to continue to fulfill. As faculty representing multiple disciplines, departments, and colleges, we witness and benefit from the Center’s support of interdisciplinary and transformative research advancing humanistic studies, intellectual exchange, and creative activity. 

We serve on the CIS Advisory Committee because of our gratitude for the Center’s support of us, our colleagues, our community partners, and our students in scholarly and creative endeavors. We host colleagues from around the world here, extending the reach and reputation of UCR in doing so. Our students learn and are celebrated here, bringing this experience into their professional lives as alumni. The Center is essential to the campus because it plays a unique role in enabling rigorous humanistic intellectual work, fostering trans-disciplinary dialogue and community building necessary for creatively addressing the overlapping global crises we face today. Such challenges require active, community-engaged scholarship, which requires physical space–a healthy and positive workplace–for staff, scholars, and the community to convene in order to collaborate, co-imagine, and co-create.

We urge the university to make public its plan for the Center’s future, especially what will serve as the Center’s physical home–a space with capacity for staff, scholars, and community to continue their work–in the immediate term. Without a clear site for the important work CIS accomplishes every day for UCR, faculty and students risk losing crucial momentum and productivity in their current and upcoming projects. Faculty, staff, and students require a representative space that reflects our vision and mission, that enables community building, and that fosters the innovative, interdisciplinary, and community-based scholarship that CIS supports and that can be found in no other location in CHASS or on campus. 


Paulo Chagas (Music); Andrea Denny-Brown (English); Kim Yi Dionne (Political Science); Cathy Gudis (History); Tamara Ho (Gender and Sexuality Studies); Ruhi Kahn (Media & Cultural Studies); Matthew King (Religious Studies); David Lo (Biomedical Sciences); Vorris Nunley (English); João Costa Vargas (Anthropology); Ni’Ja Whitson (Dance)

April 23, 2022|

War in Europe

by Jeanette Kohl, Center for Ideas and Society Co-Director

In the summer of 2011, I wrote an article on Vladimir Putin for the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.  Dmitry Medvedev was still president of Russia, with Putin, then prime minister, eagerly waiting in the wings. His aspirations to take over power in the world’s largest country were unmistakable. In my article, I looked at the ways in which Putin made use of historical image types of military prowess, sexualized male power, and the Machiavellian qualities associated with Renaissance rulers – some of them updated for a 21st century audience, others not so much: Putin bare-chested on a stallion in the Russian Taiga, Putin hunting a Siberian tigress on foot, Putin piloting a firefighting plane, Putin whale hunting on a rubber raft. The images and their blatant message, circulated internationally by his office, were strangely atavistic and to a considerable degree ludicrous – at least to the Western eye. Yet they were also surprisingly successful in establishing Vladimir Putin’s image as a fearless man of action, a confident ruler in the long lineage of mythical superheroes, a Machiavellian prince of the proletariat.

I am sharing this brief story with you barely a week after the same Vladimir Putin launched a brutal military attack on Russia’s neighbor to the West, Ukraine, a democratically ruled state that shares borders with several NATO states. Yesterday morning, the world woke up to the unsettling news that Putin has put his nuclear forces on alert. There is war in Europe – something I, a convinced European, hoped I would never have to say during my lifetime. The world is left in a state of shock and disbelief: How can this happen in the 21st century? Is this the beginning of a third world war? What has gotten into Putin?

One wonders, indeed, what has gotten into the man who was once celebrated by Time Magazine as “Person of the Year 2007,” with a cover story about his intelligence, ambition, and the beginning of a new era for Russia and the world. The puffy, ashen-faced man who last week delivered a bewilderingly convoluted one-hour history lesson to the world – filled with anger, baseless claims, historical falsifications and interrupted by weary sighs – is a different Putin altogether. With Putin’s agonizing tirade on my laptop screen, I could not help but think that it marks a historical moment: the beginning of the end of Russia as we know it, and the beginning of the end of Putin. It certainly meant the beginning of immense suffering for Ukrainians.

Putin is a politician with Machiavellian beliefs, and the idea of ‘limited warfare’ as a natural extension of failed diplomacy is self-evident to him. But why war now? While I am not a political analyst and certainly not qualify to comment on the political workings of Russia or Putin’s inner circle, I still want to share the following brief thoughts with you.

This war, terrifying and saddening and outrageous as it is, seems to be the symptom of something larger, more than an autocratic ruler accidentally pushed over the edge. Might it say something not only about Putin and his claim on territories historically entangled with Russia but also about the state of our own western democracies, our societies, and our lives? It will not have escaped Putin’s attention that democracy, a political system that we have taken way too much for granted in the past decades, has reached a point of deep crisis; that the world’s oldest and seemingly strongest democracies – the UK and the US – have become particularly prone to erosion by loudmouth populist leaders who care little about the principles on which these democracies are built; that we are fighting culture wars on the inside whose bitterness has entrenched us and weakens our solidarity with one another; and that the ideological warfare between left and right, the loss of a common ground of middle-class values, and a general climate of censoriousness, mistrust, and self-righteousness is weighing us down. My own aversion for aggressive political agendas and hermetic belief systems and ideologies, left or right, sits deep. As a German I grew up in a country ravaged by radical ideologies that lead to dictatorship – first by the Nazis, then by anti-fascist socialism on the other side of the German wall. Russia’s war on Ukraine is a clear sign of the return of an age of ideologies and the havoc they cause, and it is the symptom of societal crises around the globe, crises that transcend geopolitical borders.

My German colleague Yascha Mounk (Johns Hopkins), in a recent op-ed on his Persuasion platform, emphasizes the far-reaching, sad historical significance of the recent events: “Putin’s invasion of Ukraine puts to rest the hopeful view of the future which dominated the western world in the decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The certainties on which we built our worldview have long been morphing into illusions; the missiles which fell around Kharkiv, Kyiv and Lviv in the early morning of February 24, 2022 confirmed that the metamorphosis is complete. (…) Nothing, from the survival of democracy in its traditional heartlands to our collective ability to check the ambitions of the world’s most ruthless dictators, seems certain any longer.”

Let us stand firmly against aggression, censorship, and fundamentalism of any kind. And let us pause and think about the sort of values it will take to strengthen and mend our democracies again from the inside, enlightened values such as tolerance, solidarity, science, and reason, all of which should be non-negotiable.

My thoughts are with the people of Ukraine. Let us hope for the best.



February 28, 2022|Tags: |

From the Directors

Dear CHASS community, colleagues, friends:

It would have been nice to start our “monthly musings” from the Center for Ideas and Society with a heartfelt “Welcome back to campus after the holiday break!” As things stand, we might have to wait a while before we can all meet, teach, and talk in person again. In the meantime, we all the Center for Ideas and Society do wish you a happy, healthy, and productive year 2022, looking forward to many new and stimulating collaborations!

Dylan, Katharine, and I sat down, mostly on zoom, for a series of brainstorming sessions in the fall. We discussed the cornerstones of our visions for the CIS, and we are excited to present some of the outcomes to you today. As can be expected, there were both distinctly separate fields of interests as well as shared visions for the Center, and the future of our college.

In the new year 2022, we are launching a series of events jointly with Graduate Division, dedicated to the future of Graduate Studies in CHASS: Arts and Humanities 2.0: Re-Imagining Scholarship, Study, and Graduate Education at UCR. There will be a UCHRI Stories from the Field presentation discussing shared experiences of recent UC graduates in March, a roundtable on the future role of the Arts in graduate education in April, a chairs and directors forum in May, and two workshops organized by CHASS faculty in spring and fall. We will share more details with you in the coming months.

We are particularly excited to present two brand new initiatives at the CIS: Decolonizing Humanism(?), a programming and activity stream organized by Dylan, and Being Human with a series of activity bubbles that I put together. They are dedicated to the humanities in motion and a global society in transformation. Both are permeable, growing structures, and they are meant to be in flux. We aim to inspire your creative input so that both initiatives can expand and flourish into various directions through collaborative processes.

The Decolonizing Humanism(?) stream, in Dylan’s words, “invites all forms of inter-/trans-/anti-disciplinary collaboration that address the categories of ‘human’ and ‘humanism’ as formations of colonial power/violence. ‘Decolonizing Humanism’ centers knowledge, archival, and aesthetic practices that challenge the presumptive coherence of the ‘humanities’ as such, including canonical and hegemonic institutionalizations. This collaborative labor cultivates conversations and connection across intellectual sites, within and beyond university and academic spaces.” Recent collaborations within this stream have included sponsorships or co-sponsorships of activities with UCLA’s Racial Violence Hub, Prof. Courtney Baker’s (English) Black Horror Salon series, the CHASS Black Study Departmental Initiative, and the Oakland based Black Organizing Project (alongside the statewide Cops Off Campus coalition). Videos of recent events can be viewed at the CIS’s own Vimeo page here. The Decolonizing Humanism(?) stream will support a series of events and programs in the Winter and Spring 2022 quarters, including a January 28 event with Critical Resistance Abolitionist Educators and Spring events with Imagining America (based at UC Davis) and the UC Berkeley Black Studies Collaboratory.

My own Being Human Initiative is a moving platform for innovative thinking between the disciplines and colleges at UCR. With the humanities at its center, it tackles ‘big’ questions about the human condition in times of altered pandemic realities, climate change, rising nationalisms, and shifting academics. Being Human promotes experimental research collaborations, global education and cosmopolitanism, and inquisitive, open-minded thought. Under its umbrella, we are presenting a series of conversations on Big Questions: (When) Will This Pandemic End? with David Lo (SoM) on January 13, 2022, What Happens When We (Nearly) Die? with John Fischer (Philosophy), Brigham Willis (SoM), and William Stigall (Cook Children’s Medical Center, Austin/TX) on January 31, 2022, and “Do We (Still) Need Nation States” with Reza Aslan (Creative Writing) later this year. (Post)Pandemic Futures organizes events such as “Why the Arts / How the Arts in a Post-Pandemic World?” (Erith Jaffe-Berg, TFDP), “Objectivity in the Humanities” (Paul Kottman, Institute for Philosophy and the New Humanities at the New School in NY) and “Resilience” (Michele Salzman, History). Roots and Wings: Global Education launches the Center’s new guest scholar program. Funded by the Office of the VPIA, we will host an international guest scholar for a workshop with students and a lecture inspired by ideas of cosmopolitan education. Desert in Action – still in the making! – brings UCR faculty out to the desert for off-campus salons and on-campus lectures.

Stay tuned for more details as we update our website over the coming weeks– and join us for these and more events at the Center in winter and spring! And for those who enjoyed our first Happy Hour event in November, rest assured: There will be more.


Jeanette and Dylan

January 12, 2022|Tags: , |

Welcome to the new Co-Directors: Jeanette Kohl and Dylan Rodríguez

The Center for Ideas and Society is pleased to announce that Jeanette Kohl (History of Art) and Dylan Rodríguez (Media & Cultural Studies) have been appointed as co-directors. This innovative and ground-breaking partnership will draw on their combined visions, strengths and experiences to develop new projects and opportunities for the UC Riverside campus. Special thanks to interim Dean Juliet McMullin, Dean Daryle Williams, and all the faculty, students and staff who contributed to the search.

Dylan Rodríguez:

“To embrace the privilege of this co-directorship is to accept the responsibility of sustained, rigorous, active engagement with the conflicts, innovations and massive questions shaping this historical moment. The terms and conditions of academic scholarship are being radically confronted and constructively disrupted by a range of intellectual and scholarly movements as well as emerging creative and artistic insurgencies. Within this tension and irruption, the Center for Ideas and Society is an invitation to a build decolonizing collegiality, feminist fellowship, queer interdisciplinarity, Black study, and many other projects still to be thought, honored and created. My aspiration is to be your co-conspirator, co-planner and creative collaborator rather than a mere co-director. I invite you to inhabit this moment of disruption, transformation, danger and still unknown possibility with the Center at your disposal.”

Jeanette Kohl:

“We stand at a crossroads, and it is with tremendous excitement about the experiment of a co-directorship in CIS that I am looking forward to many inspiring collaborations and celebrations will all of you. I bring to this position a vision that is based on three main pillars: an interest in intellectual history and in innovative projects that integrate deep and critical interdisciplinarity to incubate new research directions and help pave new ways in graduate education; the internationalization of the Center’s projects, fellows, and guests – which means connecting our students and faculty with the world and bringing outside views to the Inland Empire; and an emphasis on human integrity and inclusion, with a particular eye on the Center’s role as a place that fosters diversity and equality on all levels and in a broad array of constellations. The current planetary crises have served as a powerful reminder that we need to rethink our traditional academic and social strategies to find sustainable solutions, work together, and concentrate on our shared humanity in times of increasing rifts in our societies. As co-director, I am here to listen and support while we forge networks, think about novel forms of cross-disciplinary and transnational dialogue, and continue to build an open and respectful discussion culture together. Together, we have the unique chance to collaboratively reinvent the Center as an intellectual and social powerhouse that leads by example and moves the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences right into the heart of the university.”

September 27, 2021|

UC Humanities Research Institute Award Winners for 2021-22 | Part 2

Congratulations to the following UCR faculty and students for being awarded a UCHRI grant for the year 2021-22!

Brittany Carlson, English, UC Riverside
(Re)mediating Math Anxieties with The Narrative, the Ephemeral, and the Visual, 1830-1930
✪ Graduate Student Dissertation Support Grant

Jorge Leal, History, UC Riverside
The Discursive Power of Rock en español and the Desire for Democracy
✪ Podcast Support Grants

María del Rosario Acosta López, Hispanic Studies, UC Riverside
On the (In)audible in Art: Tracing the Sound of lo inaudito in Latin American and Latinx Interventions
✪ Podcast Support Grants

Jennifer Syvertsen, Anthropology, UC Riverside
Healthy Disruptions
✪ Podcast Support Grants

View full list

May 27, 2021|

In Focus: Melina Packer

Melina Packer
Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in Gender & Sexuality Studies (2020-2022)
Faculty Mentor: Jade Sasser

Top three texts I would take to a desert island: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Mating by Norman Rush
Favorite Activity: Hiking with my dog
Something people might be amazed to know about me: I am deathly afraid of swimming.
A ‘famous’ scholar I would love to meet: Michelle Murphy
Theme song: “I Want to Break Free” – Queen
URL to share:

Q: Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

I am interested in how sexual and racial ideologies seep into modern science, and how these embedded biases affect broader applications of scientific knowledge.

Pepper the dog sitting with Melina on the couch, looking superior as always. (Photo credit: B. Nahid.)

Q: Six words that describe your work:

queer feminist science studies, critical race theory, political ecology

Q: How would you characterize the contribution you are making to your field of study?

Like other work in critical feminist science studies, my research emphasizes that science is neither neutral nor objective, and that being more honest about the inextricable politics of science will produce better, more justice-centered scientific research and applications.

Q: What are working on currently?

My current project is a critical feminist analysis of US toxicology. My archival and ethnographic research shows that founding toxicologists were aligned with chemical manufacturer interests (military and industrial). I argue that these early allegiances help explain why toxicants remain so ubiquitous, poorly regulated, and unevenly distributed today.

Q: What led you to this topic in particular?

What started me on this research path/topic was a hunch that the “evil corporations” vs. “pure scientists” explanation (for why harmful toxicants are so pervasive) was not telling the whole story, particularly in terms of the imperial ideologies haunting synthetic chemical production and deployment.

Q: Do you have a favorite book you like to recommend?

Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest, by Anne McClintock, because this book so clearly and powerfully demonstrates the physical/material and psychological/spiritual reverberations of “the implacable rage of male paranoia,” as she phrases it.

Q: What do you find rewarding about the process of research?

I am repeatedly blown away by the generosity and thoughtfulness expressed by the people I interview for my research. I learn so much from my interviewees, and love hearing their stories.


In Focus is a interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

May 10, 2021|Tags: |

In Focus: Claudia Holguín Mendoza

Claudia Holguín Mendoza

Department: Hispanic Studies
Assistant Professor
# of years at UCR:
2.5 years
Top three texts I would take to a desert island:
“Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico: Photographs,” The Tao Te Ching,” and “The Dispossessed” by Ursula Le Guin.
Favorite things to do:
Hiking and gardening.
Something people might be amazed to know about me:
I can cook very tasty food.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic…
Theme songs:
Betty Davis as an inspiration.
Learn more about Claudia’s work at

One of the many photos taken during Claudia’s writing retreats/hiking trips to Joshua Tree National Park.

Q: My research agenda summed up in one sentence:

I study the intersectional relationship between language, race, class, and gender in the Mexican borderlands and Mexico, as well as Critical Pedagogies in higher education.

Q: What do you hope to learn from studying these relationships?

I want to develop practical and concrete ways to increase our critical awareness about race, class, gender, ability and other social constructs inside and outside the classroom.

Q: What experiences led you to this research focus?

I was a volunteer teacher for adult literacy in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, while I was a college student in the late 90s. Since then, I have personally witnessed how Critical Pedagogies work by empowering students.

Q: What are you working on currently?

I am so excited about my current collaboration with a wonderful group of Mexican women scholars developing Critical Pedagogies for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Mexican university students.

Q: What do you love about your work in higher education ….and what would you change if you could?

I love teaching and collaborating on exciting projects, but I would change assessment. I would like to change how we evaluate our students and how we assess faculty’s work as well.

Q: Any favorite resources to share?

“English with an Accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the United States” by Rosina Lippi-Green.

Q: What advice would you give to new teachers/instructors?

Create an intimate safe space to share personal experiences that can potentially impact student’s learning more than any particular lesson plan.

April 13, 2021|Tags: |

UC Humanities Research Institute Award Winners for 2021-22

Congratulations to the following UCR faculty and students for being awarded a UCHRI grant for the year 2021-22!

Melissa Wilcox, Religious Studies, UC Riverside
Queer and Trans Studies in Religion in the 2020s: Defining the State of the Field

✪ Conference Grants

Jacqueline Shea Murphy, Dance, UC Riverside
ICR Pachappa: Navigating Place
✪ Conference Grants

María Regina Firmina-Castillo, Dance, UC Riverside
ICR Pachappa: Navigating Place
✪ Conference Grants

Grecia Perez, Anthropology, UC Riverside
California Economies Collective
✪ Multicampus Graduate Student Working Groups

March 31, 2021|

In Focus: David Lo

David Lo
Advisory Committee Member, Center for Ideas and Society

Department: Biomedical Sciences, School of Medicine
Rank: Distinguished Professor, and Senior Associate Dean of Research
# of years at UCR: 14
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: The Eighth Day of Creation, Horace Freeland Judson. (it’s a history of modern molecular biology); Joy of Cooking, Rombauer, Becker (enough said); A History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell (it’s fun for triggering internal arguments with the book)
Favorite thing(s): Anything SciFi/ComicCon, and a well-stocked and equipped kitchen with lots of different spices and condiments!
Something people might be amazed to know about me…. I had a brief stint as a professional musician. I was a union card carrying violinist in the local symphony orchestra, and even played in the pit orchestra for Tony Orlando and Dawn. In medical school with a group of classmates, we started an orchestra and put on a few Broadway musical shows. But I decided that science held out a better long term career for me.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic: Having a day out at a museum, including a nice quiet lunch
My theme song: Once in a lifetime (Talking Heads)
URLs to share: ( ( (

Part of David’s SciFi collection.

Q: Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

My main research interest has always been in how the immune system is regulated to produce responses to triggers such as vaccines or allergens, or how it may instead be convinced to produce no response at all.

Q: Broadly speaking, is there a central problem you are trying to solve?

My projects explore how immune regulatory pathways can be misled into developing patterns of responses that lead to chronic inflammatory diseases, such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or allergic asthma. For example in some of our work, we are looking at how environmental exposures may increase susceptibility to chronic inflammatory disease even in areas where man-made pollutants or toxins are relatively low. If we can figure out how these systems go awry, we might find more sophisticated or targeted approaches to clinical treatments instead of resorting to nonspecific immunosuppression.

Q: What are you working on currently?

We are working to solve the puzzle that living near the Salton Sea is associated with a high incidence of asthma. The Salton Sea is a drying salt lake, and a stressed ecosystem, so we are asking whether certain aerosol components produced by the sea cause lung responses triggering allergic responses and asthma. Alternatively, do these aerosols induce a different kind of disease that resembles asthma but has a rather different mechanism?

Q: What led you to a focus on health disparities in your research?

I came to this approach by an indirect path, where colleagues got me interested in the questions of health disparities and how air quality and health effects could be a particularly interesting health disparity research topic in smoggy Southern California. But I learned about the health disparities in Eastern Coachella Valley, that childhood asthma was unusually high among Latino families living near Salton Sea. Asthma is already an interesting but difficult immunology problem, but this also brought in the additional aspect of disparate impact on a specific community.

Q: What do you love about your work?

I enjoy solving difficult puzzles and discovering new biological mechanisms. I particularly enjoy finding problems that require an interdisciplinary approach that requires a diverse team of researchers. Our asthma project has been a great example of an interdisciplinary team, because we’ve engaged in a partnership with affected families to learn from them about the illness, collaborated with climate scientists to understand how seasonal winds affect the residents’ exposures to dusts from different origins, worked with environmental microbiologists to study the aerosols in the region, and worked with engineers to build a novel experimental system to test the biological effects of aerosols.

Q; What would you change about the academy, if you could?

It would be to change the perverse incentives in the power structure that incentivizes selfish behavior and penalizes cooperation; it reinforces an environment where there is little interest in learning about other academic disciplines and cultures across campus. Yet we still call it a university!

Q: Is there a key resource you often encourage students to access?

Their professors. Students are not encouraged enough to engage with the faculty and simply sit down and have them tell stories about how they got to the university. Hearing all those stories from both sides can be just as valuable as formally organized career development and mentoring; my own career was shaped by a lot of these early conversations.

Q: What have you learned from the experience teaching?

That each individual has their own path to knowledge and understanding, and being trapped by teaching evaluations, or trying to bribe the students will only block you from finding that new unique path for the next student. It seems that those unique students are the most rewarding as a teacher.

Q: How are you maintaining a connection with students during the pandemic?

I set aside plenty of time for one-on-one discussions with those students who are committed to understanding; this can also help lead to customizing their path.

Q: What service do you wish UCR provided more of in the future?

Providing diverse and quality food options, especially permanent spots for food trucks! So much productivity, conversation and teaching happens when people eat enjoyable meals together!

February 22, 2021|Tags: |

In Focus: Worku Nida

Worku Nida
Developing African Studies Initiative Participant

Department: Anthropology
Rank: Assistant Teaching Professor of Anthropology
# of years at UCR: This is my 5th year.
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: 1) Mediocre, by Ijeoma Oluo, which I am reading now; 2) A Promised Land, by Barack Obama, 3) WE WANT TO DO MORE THAN SURVIVE, by Bettina Love.
Favorite activities: Tennis in sport, music (Ethio-jazz, various ethnic music), love museums and open-markets, walking, kitfo (Ethiopian dish)
Something people might be amazed to know about me: That I have a multiracial and multicultural family.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic: My wife and I have a plan to have a large out-door post-pandemic party.

Seals greet Worku on his morning walk near the marina.

Q: Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

My research examines how people craft their identities through migration, entrepreneurship, and diasporic processes.

Q: Is there a main focus or issue your work is trying to explore?

The central question my research addresses is how identities are formed and shaping people’s life chances.

Q: What can you tell us about your current project?

My current project is investigating the so-called “random” police searches in high schools and students resistance against such policy in LA.

Q: What led you to this topic?

This project evolved from my voluntary teaching cultural anthropology to disadvantaged minority students at an alternative high school in LA.

Q: What do you love about your work?

Teaching, and helping my students develop critical thinking skills.

Q: Is there a tool or resource that helps teach this important skill in a “virtual” classroom?

Critical Thinking Writing assignments where students engage course materials in juxtaposition with their own lived experiences.

Q: What would you change about the academy, if you could?

I would allocate a lot resources to make it more meaningful and accessible to all types of students, especially, those who are disadvantaged and marginalized.

Q: What is the most important thing that professors learn in the classroom?

One of the most valuable lessons I gained from teaching is that I can learn a great deal from my students.

February 17, 2021|Tags: |

In Focus: Bella Merlin

Bella Merlin
Advisory Committee Member, Center for Ideas and Society

Department: Theatre Film and Digital Production
Rank: Professor
# of years at UCR: 7
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: The Complete Works of Shakespeare (because I haven’t read them all yet); The Toe-Rags by Daphne Anderson (a poignant memoir of growing up in Southern Rhodesia by my husband Miles’s mother); The God on the Hill: Temple Poems from Tirupat by the fifteenth-century saint Annamayya (these poems wring my heart every time).
Favorite things with favorite beings: Walking with my husband, Miles, and our rescue dog, Dempsey, whom we adopted the day before lockdown in March 2020. She has not only saved our emotional sanity, but she also makes us laugh from the moment we wake up till the moment we go to sleep.
Something people might be amazed to know about me: It never occurred to me I’d be a university professor: I always thought I’d be a “movie star” or a singer-songwriter.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic… A road trip with Miles and Dempsey to New Mexico. And then go see my family in the UK. I miss them.
My theme song: “All you need is love” by The Beatles
Personal website:

Q: Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

My “research agenda” is pretty much my “life agenda”: to investigate and incarnate the invaluable role that actors play in how human beings collectively make meaning out of this extraordinary experience called Life.

Q: Is there a theme or central question that organizes your work?

I have always been passionate about acting as a serious human activity and stories as vital collective experiences. So, in both my creative activities as an actor and my practice-based research as a scholar, I’m probing how we can use fundamental actor-training tools to expand our capacity for empathy, insight and compassion. This central question has taken various avenues (and a few ‘dead ends’) over the years, but ultimately it all boils down to celebrating and elevating the mysterious activity of embodying other people and sharing that embodiment with audiences.

Bella’s husband Miles and Dempsey on one of their walks, Jan. 2021.

Q: What are you working on now, given that most performance venues have shuttered during the pandemic?

My current projects are taking me in a somewhat new direction: dramatic writing. At this very moment (January 2021), I’m composing five songs for a new Zoom-play to be created with UCR students in Spring 2021 entitled 20:20 Vision. I’m also in the research phase of a television drama called The 3AM Club, exploring what happens when our bodies are doing things (like getting older…), but we don’t necessarily feel we’re ready for them to do those things yet.

Q: What inspired this change of mode/direction?

I’d just finished co-authoring a book (Shakespeare & Company: When Action is Eloquence, my seventh academic tome), when I had a heart-felt drive to stop writing non-fiction books and, instead, explore the manifestation of stories through dramatic means. An inner rebel was rousing up inside. This inner rebel-rousing came (perhaps not by accident) just as COVID-19 was changing our lives. Since acting in both stage and screen ‘holds a mirror up to nature,’ it seemed imperative to provide my students with a means of recounting their own COVID experiences through the dramatic medium (which is what 20:20 Vision entails). Meanwhile, the place where I live – the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains in Sunland-Tujunga, near Los Angeles – has been a daily companion in my COVID-lockdown experience: there seemed to be a story striving to be born (The 3AM Club) about connecting a particular human body (i.e., mine) to the permanence, enormity and Native American ancestry of the surrounding land. It’s also about the body in transition: for women into menopause, the transition between genders, and the male body into older age. I’d written two one-woman theatre pieces before, but I’ve never been brave enough to try screenwriting. Yet I’m surrounded by terrific film and television professors (actors, directors, writers, dramaturgs) in my own department: so why not learn from their insights and experience? And I’m hoping at least two of them will be involved in the eventual manifestation of the project.

Q: Many people profess terror at the thought of “getting up in front” of an audience. What do you say when folks ask you why you love to do it?

How can one not love acting? It’s the ultimate transformative, transcendent experience. To put one’s own body, imagination, intellect, emotional landscape, spirit, heart at the service of another (the written character) is an artistic adventure of the most holistic kind. To take an audience on a journey that they might never have thought to go on before can enable us (actors and audience alike) to see other perspectives, other world views, other experiences. It is a collective act that can be healing, thought-provoking, empathic, and galvanizing in unexpected ways. Yes, it can feel terrifying – because it’s vulnerable and important. But ultimately, it’s fun!

Q: Turning to the academy, what is one thing you would change, if you could?

…it would be to change, once and for all, the ways in which the arts, humanities and social sciences are viewed. Qualitative, experiential research is all too often undervalued, under-resourced, under-funded, and undermined. In the arts, we are training something invaluable to all human beings: imagination. Elon Musk wouldn’t have reached space without imagination. Pfizer wouldn’t have come up with a vaccine without imagination. There would certainly be no artificial intelligence without human imagination. And in the performing arts, we’re training the embodiment of imagination: an electromagnetic communication between living, breathing human beings, which is manifested when we truly listen and connect. If I could change STEM to ASTEM, I’d be happy.

Q: Do you have a favorite resource that you find yourself often recommending?

That’s tough, there are many great resources, and even more being created during this lockdown time. Also, I find myself constantly shifting my ‘favorite’ resources, as acting constantly shifts according to what’s happening socially and globally. That said I love listening to Tami Simon’s ‘Sounds True: Insights at the Edge’ podcasts and Bryce Michael Wood’s ‘For Your DisComfort’. Both of these podcasts certainly inform my teaching. For my students, I’ve found Intimacy Directors International’s ‘5 Pillars of Intimacy’ very useful when working in the classroom, rehearsal room or on set.

Q: What have you learned from teaching students?

I have learned that I am always learning. My students teach me all the time. In an acting class, the students are the curriculum. So, I never really know what’s going to happen during the term until I meet the group and understand what their desires and ambitions for themselves and the course may be. Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I learned from my mentor and actor trainer Vladimir Ananyev is ‘Catch people doing things rights.’ Because acting is so vulnerable, I strive to nurture each student’s confidence and playfulness, before we start fine-tuning and correcting.

Q: How has Zoom impacted this kind of classroom connection?

I’ve found that Zoom actually brings a new kind of intimacy. It has surprised me how quickly we can create a classroom community, despite not being in the same room together. And using the Chat for the students to give each other feedback on their performance work means that everyone has a chance to share their responses and therefore everyone’s perspective is granted equal valence – not just the two or three who put up their hands or from whom we have time to hear.

Q: What university service opportunity have you found to be rewarding?

I have served on the Student Conduct and Academic Integrity Programs Committee since I arrived at UCR in 2014: I love this committee. I appreciate the deepened understanding of challenges students may be facing that might cause them to ‘err’ in judgement. I appreciate the student committee members’ sense of fairness and their deep valuing of UCR’s academic integrity. I enjoy striving to find ways of guiding individuals towards better choices in the future.


In Focus is a interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

February 1, 2021|Tags: |

In Focus: Thomas Cogswell

Thomas Cogswell

Department: History
Rank: Distinguished Professor
# of years at UCR: 21
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: Robert Caro’s volumes on Lyndon Johnson, Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair, and Melvin Bragg’s podcast In Our Time.
Favorite foods: A toss up. A nice Mysore Masala Dosa or Korean Tofu Hotpot.
Something people might be amazed to know about me …. I love exploring cities, one neighborhood at a time.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to: Returning to the Hoover Wilderness in the Sierras and the archives. Not simultaneously, of course.  But what if they moved the British Library and the Kew Archives to Yosemite?  I know. A harmless drone.
Little known – but fun!- resource:

Q: My research agenda summed up in one sentence:

How vicious rumors, scurrilous outbursts and rude libels helped Britain descend into revolution in the mid-seventeenth century.

Q: What is your current topic of research?

Figuring out why Lt. John Felton stabbed the Duke of Buckingham in 1628.

The Île de Ré is now a posh French resort. But in late 1627, it witnessed the slaughter of several thousand of British troops. Among the few survivors were Buckingham and Felton. Here I am visiting the French fortress on the island. Ah, the things I do for scholarship!

Q: Your research and writing goals have shifted in the past few years. Why?

Having produced a small mountain of proper [i.e. boring] scholarship [yawn], I now want to write things people might want to read.

Q: What is your favorite part of research?

Reading other people’s mail … that is four centuries old.

Q: If you could make one change to “the academy,” what would it be?

More tolerance and charity, less pomposity and pettiness.

Q: What books or resources do you often recommend to students?

G.E. Cokayne’sComplete Peerage, the Anglo-Saxon poem The Battle of Maldonand short clips from Monty Python and Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories.

Q: Any advice on how to capture students’ attention in lecture?

Abandon the podium and roam around the classroom, and use LOTS of visual images and music.


In Focus is a interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

January 26, 2021|Tags: |

In Focus: Sherryl Vint

Sherryl Vint

Department: English/Media and Cultural Studies
Rank: Professor
# of years at UCR: 8
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: There is no way I could pick just three. It would depend on the day and the project and so would always change.
Favorite entertainment: I love films, not just sf films, but films of many genres, periods, and countries.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic…I’d like to say travel, and certainly I love to visit ruins and galleries and I have been a frequent traveler in the past. But I’ve also learned during the pandemic that I can also enjoy not having to deal with airport screening. And so we shall see.
Learn more about my work @

Q: My research agenda summed up in one sentence:

I examine how popular culture responds to the ways that developments in science and technology have an impact on social and political life.

Q: Would you say that there is a central theme or aim in your various projects?

The central problem my research explores has to do with the relationships among popular culture, public imaginaries, and social change, focusing on speculative fiction. I’m interested in understanding how fictional texts reflect popular beliefs and preoccupations, sometimes serving to pave the way for certain sociotechnical changes to be accepted and at other times drawing attention to potential long-term consequences that might not be anticipated in the spaces of scientific research and technological design. Speculative fiction extrapolates both sociotechnical change and daily life, foregrounding questions of cultural values, social justice, family and gendered relations, and the like as it thinks about the possibilities and risks associated with scientifically driven change. It is also a genre deeply concerned with futurity and difference, with imagining life into the future, but also with challenging the status quo and thus imagining new social and material lives. This connection to utopian discourse is what motivated my initial decision to focus on speculative fiction.

Bell Lightbox Theater, the central venue of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Q: How is your current project developing these questions?

My current research looks at the intersections between economics and speculative fiction (“sf”), looking especially at the way that technology has become more central to financial practices, such as high-frequency trading via algorithms. I’m interested in the various utopian promises that are attached to innovations such as blockchain, including and beyond its role in cryptocurrencies, and in analyzing how sf writers take-up these promises to imagine concrete futures of social change (in both utopian and dystopian modes). I’m also interested in theorizing how sf and financialization share a future-oriented temporality, especially in the centrality of trading financial instruments based in debt (such as the CDOs that initiated the 2008 crash). Finally, this project will take up texts that imagine economic systems and a world beyond and after capital, looking at how they anticipate the achievement of social, racial and environmental justice.

Q: What inspired this area of inquiry?

My interest in economics emerged from my previous work on biopolitics and sf, which mainly explored the commodification of biology and its ethical and political implications. While conducting that research, I became aware of the importance of speculative narrative techniques in the documents written to secure venture capital funding in biotech, documents that I understand as a kind of speculative fiction. Another factor was that I was invited to write a chapter about the future of money for a book about the sociology of money, and the more I learned about money as a social technology, the more I began to see connections between financial innovations, especially blockchain, and speculative extrapolation.

Q: What do you tell friends and family when they ask you what you love about your work?

What I love most about my work is that I am always able to learn new fields and new frameworks of knowledge as I seek to understand how they have been taken up by popular culture. Each of my books explores how sf responds to research developments in a particular field, and much of my own process is learning about these fields as I theorize the sf response to them. In many ways I’d prefer to be the student, as I enjoy learning new things, and my mode of research allows me to take on something novel for each new project.

Q: What would you change about higher education, if you could?

If I could change one thing about the academy, it would be the centrality that grades to the classroom. I understand that students need feedback and that this includes some way of signaling if they understand the material well or need to improve. Nonetheless, I feel that anxiety about grades is detrimental to the learning experience, repressing curiosity and the sheer pleasure of learning in favor of a narrower focus on maximizing one’s grade.

Q: Do you have a favorite or “go-to” resource you recommend?

I often use the FutureStates short film series, available for free on YouTube, in my teaching. It offers a wide range of short films that illustrate the ways that sf responds to many problems facing the world today, from climate change, to surveillance by social media, to genetic engineering, to loss of jobs due to automation—and more. The films offer diverse perspectives on these issues and often highlight issues of inequality in how technology is distributed.

Q: Any tips for managing the online learning environment?

A tried-and-true teaching practice that also works well online is the small-group discussion. I think zoom would be a disaster without the break-out rooms feature, but this tool to enable smaller group discussion means that class can remain interactive and social, at least to a degree.


In Focus is a interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

January 20, 2021|Tags: |

In Focus: Eric Schwitzgebel

Eric Schwitzgebel

Department: Philosophy
Rank: Professor
# of years at UCR: 23 (~44% of my life)
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: The collected Borges, Montaigne, and Zhuangzi. See my Five Books interview on the philosophers of wonder!
Favorite activity: Long walks in beautiful places. Or maybe, during a lecture, the well-crafted pause — that silent moment when the attention of the audience slowly gathers.
Something people might be amazed to know about me: I doubt that anything about me would be amazing to most people. So instead, I will share a picture of my new pet garden snail named Mermaid (image below).
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic: Visiting England and Scotland with my family.
My blog: The Splintered Mind

Q: My research agenda summed up in one sentence:

Something very weird must be true about how human consciousness is related to the rest of the universe, but we’re not in a good position to know where exactly the truth lies among the various weird possibilities.

Q: A good portion of your recent work links philosophy and science fiction. Do your various projects have a similar or common aim?

Broadly speaking, my projects aim to lay out the various possible theories of the mind’s place in the cosmos. I aim to show that every viable theory of mind and cosmos is both bizarre and dubious. Sometimes these bizarre and dubious possibilities are best understood by way of philosophical argument. At other times, they are best understood by means of speculative empirical science or thoughtful science fiction.

Q: My current project…

…will hopefully convince you that the world is even weirder than you thought.

Q: What started you on this research path?

(1.) thinking about how scientific and philosophical theories of consciousness would or wouldn’t apply to hypothetical aliens, artificial intelligence systems, and group minds and (2.) thinking about puzzles in cosmology concerning multiverse theory, the consequences of infinitude, and simulation theory.

Eric’s pet garden snail, Mermaid, exploring his most recent book.

Q: When folks ask you what you love about your work, what do you say?

I tell them… about garden snail sex. Garden snails are some weird alien creatures right here in our gardens, and scientific and philosophical theories of the mind struggle to make sense of them.

Q: If you could change something about the structure of the university, what would it be?

I’d reduce the bureaucratic burdens on faculty and staff, especially concerning grant applications and grant expenditures. We should spend our time on the core missions of researching and teaching, rather than spending so much time requesting money.

Q: Do you have a favorite resource you like to recommend?

The TV series Black Mirror is doing some of the best thinking right now on the ethics of technology.

Q: What have you learned from teaching and mentoring students over the years?

I have learned to meet people where they are and show how what you want to teach them connects through to what they were already interested in.

Q: What tried and true teaching practice have you found also works well online?

Regular check-ins with your advisees. These are easy to do online and more important in this time when some students are feeling out of touch with campus life.


In Focus is a interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

January 11, 2021|Tags: |

2020 Emory Elliott Award Winner

Victoria Reyes’ book Global Borderlands: Fantasy, Violence and Empire in Subic Bay, Philippines is the winner of the 2020 Emory Elliott Award. For more information about her work, we are sharing an updated version of her 2019 interview in our In Focus series. A big congratulations to Victoria!


In Focus

Victoria Reyes
Participant, Mellon Advancing Intercultural Studies, Contested Histories Seminar

Department: Sociology
Rank: Assistant Professor
# of years at UCR: Entering 4th year at UCR but 3rd year on campus because during my first year I was on leave for a Postdoc at University of Michigan
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: This is a difficult one…I’d say I would take my phone and internet connection
Favorite thing: Philippine brand dried mangoes

Q. Your research agenda summed up in one sentence:

I study culture, borders, and empires.

Q. Is there a specific question that arises in the intersection of these topics?

The question of territoriality – what is it? What does it look like in practice and on-the-ground? How has it changed over time?

Q. You have a new book out- congratulations!

Yes, thanks! I recently published my first book, Global Borderlands: Fantasy, Violence and Empire in Subic Bay, Philippines (Stanford University Press), and received an AAUW Postdoctoral American Fellowship to work on my second project during 2019-2020. Read UCR News article about Reyes’ book >>

Q. Why ‘borders’ in particular? What sparked your interest?

My initial interest was sparked by my grandmother’s migration story through marriage to a US serviceman. Her nostalgia of the former base in the Philippines clashed with my undergrad classes on empire. I was also fascinated by what sociologists call the socio-cultural boundary-making within the Filipino American community as my grandmother was ostracized, in part because marriage migration can have a stigma of sex work attached to it.

When I went to Subic Bay, Philippines, home to a former US naval base, the differences between inside what was now a special economic zone and outside further intrigued me and the first time I saw a military ship docked, I remembered my grandmother’s awe.

So the borderlands I’m interested in are what I call global borderlands – legally ambiguous places (like overseas military bases, special economic zones, embassies, cruise ships and the like) where rules of life differ within their walls and which are symbolically seen as either arms of empire or as ways to be a part of a modern, cosmopolitan community. It’s this tension that I’m fascinated by.

Q. What are you working on now?

My kids have been at home since March, so it’s been extremely difficult to work on my second empirical project, which is on how reputations (that are racialized, gendered and colonial) shape markets. What I’ve been working on instead is a book of essays that blend critique and the personal on what it’s like to be an outsider in academia. The title, Academic Outsider, draws on, and is a homage to, Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider. I was also inspired by recent books like THICK by Tressie McMillan Cottom. I’m thankful to have received funding from CIS for a book workshop and receive helpful feedback on the draft by scholars committed to public writing.

Q. What do you love about your work?

Everything! I love being able to research what I want, teach interesting subjects to bright students and engage in service work I find fulfilling.

Q. What is your top ‘take away’ from teaching?

The most valuable lesson that teaching has taught me is that the classroom is a partnership between myself, the TAs, and each student. We all learn from one another. Each and every student has something to contribute and I find UCR students to be inspiring.

Q: Given that you love your work, if you could change one thing about the academy….

It would be for the academy to be more inclusive. I dedicate my service time to DEI issues (whether on the UCR Senate’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, writing advice columns, or establishing new awards for grad students, publicly engaged work and teaching).

Q. Do you have a favorite podcast to recommend?

I’ve been listening to the podcast “Stay Tuned with Preet” which is hosted by Preet Bharara, a former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. It’s an informative take on contemporary U.S. politics under the Trump administration and he and his guests break down what various indictments, reports, and other legal matters mean in lay terms (e.g., like the Mueller Report).

Q. Any interesting facts about you that might surprise people?

I have aphantasia, which means I have zero visual processing and don’t have a “mind’s eye.” I always thought comments like “day dreaming” or how characters looked different on screen than how they imagined when reading books were metaphors! It amazes me that other people can visualize things. I’m also a true crime buff and spend whatever free time I have (which isn’t a lot with a 5 year old and a 1 year old!) reading about unsolved mysteries.

In Focus is a new interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

January 11, 2021|

In Focus: Crystal Baik

Crystal Baik
Mellon Second Project Fellow

Department: Gender and Sexuality Studies
Rank: Associate Professor (first year as a tenured professor)
# of years at UCR: this is my 7th year at UCR
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider; Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart; Lisa Yoneyama, Hiroshima Traces.
Favorite activity: Since the pandemic, I’ve taken up birding and 풍물 (poongmul/Korean drumming).
Something people might be amazed to know about me: I’m an identical twin and my partner is also an identical twin.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic: Hiking in the Inyo National Forest and birding around Mono Lake.
Website: Here is a link to an important collaborative space, GYOPO, I’ve been a part of that has compelled me to think more expansively when it comes to experimental research and experiential teaching.

Q: My research agenda summed up in one sentence:

My interdisciplinary research engages memory work that centers critical feminist orientations and racial justice, especially in relation to ongoing war, militarized migrations, displacement, and dispossession.

Q: Is there a theme or central question that organizes your work?

In my current research, I build on existing interdisciplinary scholarship to consider the creation of open-ended memory archives through methodological approaches that work against accumulation, possession, and extraction. In the broadest sense, I inquire into a myriad of consequences associated with institutional archives of memory when they are influenced by settler notions of property, whiteness, and ownership (for instance, solely defining oral histories as copyrighted products owned by institutions and organizations). Relatedly, I explore the possibility of creating memory archives that divest from a professionalized impulse to collect and accrue—especially during times of prolonged war, separation, and crisis. As a feminist memory worker, I prioritize radical care as an organizing principle by exploring what it means to approach relationship-building as an embodied form of memory archiving.

Headphones, 풍물 (poongmul) music sheet, and two books for research (E. Patrick Johnson’s Honeypot: Black Southern Women Who Love Women and Dylan Robinson’s Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies).

Q: How are you exploring these questions in your current project?

My current project is a creative non-fiction multimedia work that begins with 25 oral histories I’ve conducted these past two years with Korean/American feminist, femme-identified, transgender, queer, and non-binary activists, healers, and rebel rousers across social movements (and whose ages range from 21 to 80!). One of the goals of the project is to conceptualize listening, not only as a method, but as a mode of writing that attunes to “minor” moments of becoming rarely captured within traditional activist histories. I am slowly beginning to piece these narratives together and the creative writing process feels very differently from my first book project. I’m also creating an accompanying listening-archive-space for these interviews—one that is created, first and foremost, for narrators as the primary audience— alongside the book.

Q: What led you to this topic?

Before I entered graduate school in New York City and Los Angeles, I was a part of shifting networks of Korean/American feminist grassroots organizers, creative writers, cultural workers, farmers, healers, and troublemakers who, at that time, primarily worked outside of or at the very edge of formal institutions. While I moved away from these networks and spaces during graduate school for various reasons, I am circling back and returning to these people and conversations because they land for me as home in intellectual and affective ways.

Q: What do you say when people ask you what you like about your work?

For now, I’ll say that I am appreciative that my work gifts me with the space and time, as well as trusted allies, to messily struggle through and practice relational principles and ethics that are pivotal to who I am, who I am becoming, and how I want to live my life more broadly.

Q: How should – or could – the academy change for the better?

I wish the academy would prioritize critical, creative, and capacious collaborations among academics, artists, activists, and cultural workers in sustained ways that challenge how and what we define as “cutting-edge” or “rigorous” scholarship. More often than not, I feel like the academy as a whole privileges the individually-authored monograph (or article) or individual contributions to a field as the most significant criteria in determining intellectual heft, productivity, and of course, promotion. At times, I imagine what it would be like if we were actually provided with time, resources, and support to collaboratively create in ways that move away from (or at least, expand beyond) this individuation– for instance, podcasts, collaborative improvised writing, cultural work, and emergent syllabi (the latter also acknowledges how much intellectual labor, careful thought, energy, and time it takes to teach and conceptualize radical curricula).

Q: Have you gained any wisdom about teaching from your time in the classroom?

I don’t know if these are words of wisdom as much as they are part of an ongoing reflection, but I engage teaching as a mutual experience where educators and students are constantly learning from each other. Just as much as students enter the classroom to engage, learn, and/or be challenged, I also enter the classroom cognizant that my own perceptions will likely be challenged if not destabilized. This has made me incredibly humble as an educator because I have to be open to un/learning, improvisation, and changing directions depending on who is in the room and what emerges within “live” time (for instance: COVID-19!).

Q: How have you adapted your teaching “style” for the online environment?

For me, it is important that each student has the opportunity to listen to, share, and/or be heard in ways that resonate for each of them. Pedagogically, I’ve tried to scaffold different approaches that attune to the plurality of students in the space— for instance, through reserved time for journaling and/or flash drawing in class; virtual jam and collage boards; live reading and annotation; collaborative writing through shared Google documents; larger discussions and smaller group work; and tailored exercises with a peer. On Zoom, this has translated into mobilizing the small breakout room function, scheduling one-to-one meetings with students, creating structured time for students to journal and/or draw via critical prompts, using accessible platforms like Padlet to create virtual exhibits, and creating pockets of time for students to discuss questions on their own (I temporarily “leave” the Zoom space).

Q: Do you have any favorite resources that you recommend?

There are so many great resources, podcasts, and films that I incorporate into my teaching—so I’ll list two resources here! In courses like feminist oral history, I draw on Sin Invalid’s “10 Principles of Disability Justice” to provide an entry-point for students to engage disability justice (if they are unfamiliar with this concept and social movement). We then transition into discussing what it means to actually practice DJ in our oral history work (which is often anchored in audism, assumptions about what a “good voice” sounds like, the fetishization of the sonic record, etc.). Relatedly, I’ve very much appreciated Alice Wong’s brilliant work, which focuses on disability justice, race, feminism, and listening. I often assign episodes + transcripts from her podcast, Disability Visibility, in my courses.


In Focus is a interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

January 5, 2021|Tags: |

In Focus: Padma Rangarajan

Padma Rangarajan
Mellon Humanities Fellow

Department: English
Rank: Associate Professor
# of years at UCR: 3
Top three texts I would take to a desert island: The Mahabaratha, A Time of Gifts, David Copperfield.
Favorite shows to stream: Sci-fi shows from the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. I love Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5, all that stuff.
Something people might be amazed to know about me: My father pierced my nose. It took him three tries.
An “adventure” I am looking forward to, post-pandemic: Hugs. All the hugs.

Q: My research agenda summed up in one sentence:  

I study the literature and history of the British Empire.

Q: Any specific time period within the history of the empire?

My work focuses on complicating easy assumptions about Empire in the 19th century specifically, and the nineteenth century in general. It is such a pivotal period for understanding our present conceptions of culture, race, culture, and the globe.

Q: What can you tell us about your current project?

My book in progress, Thug Life: The British Empire and the Birth of Terrorism, locates the origins of modern terrorism in nineteenth century imperial literature and history.

Image text reads “Thugs about to strangle a traveler! These infamous Assassins in order that the neck of their unsuspecting victim may be the more exposed for their Satanic purpose, pretending to see something extraordinary, direct his attention to the stars or skies! and when he lifts up his head strangle him!” Source: Dialogues with Thugs and Narratives of Murders (1825-40).

Q: How did you get interested in the literary origins of terrorism?

Several years ago I came across a presentation on cybersecurity by someone working in the Department of Defense. It argued for the legitimacy of the Guantanamo Bay detention center by linking it to policing in British India (and Indiana Jones!). It was such a striking connection that I had to pursue it further.

Q: What do you say when people ask you why you love your work?

I get to spend so much of my time learning about fascinating things, and I never know exactly where my research will take me. I just spent half a day recently reading Victorian tiger-hunting narratives, which are disturbing and interesting at the same time.

Q: If you could make one change to the structure of higher education today, what would it be?

I would greatly reduce adjunct teaching and greatly expand the ranks of tenured professors. The precariousness and uncertainty of adjuncting, and the second-class status afforded to adjuncts at most universities hurts teachers and students.

Q: What have you learned about teaching from your time in the classroom?

Although it’s very tempting to simply repeat a course over and over, it’s far more valuable to experiment with different techniques for teaching a text, for teaching writing, and for getting students to connect to a text.

Q: Do you have a favorite resource that you encourage students to use?

The Oxford English Dictionary, which I tout over all others because it tracks the changing history of words over time and provides citations! For historical research it’s invaluable to know exactly when and where a word was first used. For my own project, for example, it’s so important to know that the word “terrorism” didn’t exist until the 1790’s.

Q: Have you discovered any tools or tips that enhance remote learning and/or online teaching?

I’m a low-tech instructor by choice, but tools like COVE (Central Online Victorian Educator) that allow students to virtually collaborate on editing and annotating texts are tremendously helpful for giving students dynamic access to rare/expensive texts and editions.


In Focus is a interview series that features faculty associates of the Center for Ideas and Society.

December 16, 2020|Tags: |

UC Humanities Research Institute Award Winners for 2020-21

A banner year for UCR in awards from the UC Humanities Research Institute! UCR students and faculty won 10 awards including two of the most competitive awards in the system: the President’s Faculty Research Fellowship, won by Gloria Kim (Media and Cultural Studies), and the White Graduate Student Scholarship in Medicine & Humanities won by Jared Smith (Philosophy). Kudos to all applicants and this year’s awardees!

✪ Multicampus Graduate Student Working Group

XIX to XXI: Bringing Spanish language in California to the forefront

Álvaro Gonzelz Alba, Hispanic Studies, UC Riverside
Evelyn Gamez, Spanish and Portuguese, UC Davis

✪ Short-Term Collaborative Research Residency

Reading for Infrastructure, Infrastructure for Reading

Susan Zeiger, English, and Kameron Sanzo, English, UC Riverside
With Adriana Johnson, Comparative Literature, UC Irvine

✪ Editors’ Residency

Moving in the Midst: Critical Indigenous Dance Studies

Jacqueline Shea Murphy, Dance, UC Riverside
Maria Regina Firmino-Castillo, Dance, UC Riverside

✪ The Andrew Vincent White and Florence Wales White Graduate Student Scholarship (Medicine & Humanities)

The Moral Psychology of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Jared Smith, Philosophy, UC Riverside

✪ University of California President’s Faculty Research Fellowship

The Microbial Resolve: Visualization, Speculation, and Security

Gloria Kim, Media and Cultural Studies, UC Riverside

✪ Graduate Student Dissertation Support

Exposed Flesh: A Literary History of Black Being

Sarah Buckner, English, UC Riverside

✪ Conference Grant

Co-Productions: Literature, Media, and Diaspora in the Japanese Transpacific

John Kim, Comparative Languages and Literatures, UC Riverside

✪ Junior Faculty Manuscript Workshop

Indigenous Inhumanities: California Indian Revitalizations and Postapocalyptic Research

Mark Minch-de Leon, English, UC Riverside

✪ Engaging Humanities Grant

Re-Visioning Abolitionist Futures: Beyond the Walls

Setsu Shigematsu, Media and Cultural Studies, UC Riverside

✪ Fall 2020 Residential Research Group

Disciplining Diversity

Mariam Lam, Comparative and Ethnic Studies, UC Riverside (Convener)

June 17, 2020|

Congratulations to the following Center for Ideas & Society award winners!

Conference Awards

¡Que Viva Mexico! – Transnational Film and Audiovisual Art
Paulo Chagas (Music)
Nikolay Maslov (Culver Center of the Arts)

Co-Productions: Literature, Media and Diaspora in the Japanese Transpacific
Anne McKnight (Comparative Literature)
John Kim (Comparative Literature)
Setsu Shigematsu (Media & Cultural Studies)
Traise Yamamoto (English)
Catherine Gudis (History)

(Re)Draft Manuscript Revision Workshops

Undocumented Desires: Fantasies of Latino Male Sexuality
Richard Rodriguez (Media & Cultural Studies)

The ‘Falls’ of Rome: Transformations of the City in Late Antiquity (270-603 CE)
Michele Salzman (History)

Interdisciplinary Working Group Awards

Global 19th Century
Susan Zieger (English)
Jonathan Eacott (History)
Heidi Brevik-Zender (Comparative Literature/French)
Fatima Quaraishi (History of Art)

Making Space: Emerging Theories and Interventions in Critical Anti-Violence Research
Alisa Bierria  (Ethnic Studies)
Andrea Smith (Ethnic Studies)

Retaining and Promoting Diverse Faculty: Intellectual Engagement and the Second Book Project
Victoria Reyes (Sociology)
Jade Sasser (Gender & Sexuality Studies)

Political Economy Seminar
Jana Grittersova (Political Science)
Matthew Mahutga (Sociology)

April 21, 2020|

Success! Book manuscript workshop hosted online

The Faculty Commons Latinx & Latin American Studies Workgroup recently hosted an online book manuscript workshop for Xóchitl Chavez (Music), who found the virtual workshop to be very helpful. “I’m sure it would have been nice to share a meal to build further collegial ties,” she said, “but otherwise what is essential at this point is the content from the workshop.” All the participants in the two-hour Zoom session agreed, calling the workshop a “success” and a “great template” for future virtual meetings.

For tips on virtual manuscript workshops, contact us at

March 26, 2020|

Intellectual community just got an upgrade

Dear colleagues,

In these stressful times, the work of building community is more important than ever. We’re re-designing our book talks, panel discussions, and reading groups so that you can join in online – where ever you are. As we develop our plans, we would love to hear your ideas for meetings, events or programs that help keep us all in engaged and moving forward. Email us at

Check back soon for more details!

March 18, 2020|
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