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UCLA’s Activist-in-Residence program selects five new members for its 2024 cycle

The Meyer and Renee Luskin School of Public Affairs is pictured. The Activist-in-Residence program spans across four different centers across UCLA. (Megan Cai/Photo editor)

By Aimee Zhang

Feb. 20, 2024 9:46 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Marisa Lemorande is the deputy director of the Activist-In-Residence program. In fact, she is the deputy director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

This post was updated Feb. 21 at 10:50 p.m.

The UCLA Activist-in-Residence program selected five new residents for its 2024 cycle, which spans from January to May.

The program is committed to providing opportunities for a diverse group of Los Angeles activists to strengthen their work in generating social, racial, spatial and gender justice, according to the program’s website. It also allows activists to engage with the UCLA community by connecting with university staff, faculty and students. The program was founded in 2016 by Ananya Roy, the director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

“We wanted to accompany movement organizations and think about knowledge-making partnerships between UCLA and movement organizations,” said Roy, who is also a professor of geography, social welfare and urban planning. “It brings movement leaders to the university as our teachers, as our guides, and (stimulates) wonderful informal interactions with students, activists and residents.”

Roy added that both the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy and the Activist-In-Residence program have similar commitments to collaborating with communities that have been directly impacted by displacement and dispossession.

In addition to the Luskin Institute, other UCLA centers have also joined the program, including the Asian American Studies Center, cityLAB at UCLA and the UCLA Center for the Study of Women.

Each activist within the program is housed in one research center based on their focus, creating a cohort of five activists across four research centers at UCLA, said Marisa Lemorande, the deputy director of the Luskin Institute.

“We’ve heard time and time again from so many of our community partners that having the luxury of time, a physical space with a door and resources is so rare when you are working in the face of so many struggles, particularly when those struggles are in the very broad arenas of social justice that are truly issues of life and death,” Lemorande said.

The program accepts new activists annually who are compensated $7,500 over the five-month period and are eligible to receive up to $2,500 in research support. The Activists-In-Residence are chosen through a Luskin Institute review committee, which this year included Roy, Elizabeth Blaney – a former Activist-in-Residence – Chris Herring, who is a professor of sociology and Alicia Virani, a professor of law.

This year’s five Activists-In-Residence include Ron Collins II and Tiny Gray-Garcia housed in the Luskin Institute, Sole Yu housed in the Asian American Studies Center, Robert Clarke housed in cityLAB, and Narges Zagub housed in the Center for the Study of Women.

Gray-Garcia, who also co-founded POOR Magazine, said she decided to apply for the Activist-In-Residence program because she wanted to try and implement her solutions of “homefulness” to address poverty and homelessness that are based on her experiences of being unhoused.

“Homefulness doesn’t happen without a solidarity economy, meaning that folks who have resources, who have access to trust funds, or stocks, or bonds or inheritances, walk alongside for the homeless people to lift up and build up a homeless-people solution to homelessness, and do what I call a radical redistribution of resources to those of us who have none,” Gray-Garcia said.

As part of her residency, Gray-Garcia will lead a series of workshops for unhoused people in LA, along with two workshops at UCLA titled “UnSelling & UnSettling Mama Earth.”

“As poor folks, we have solutions. It’s just nobody listens to us,” Gray-Garcia said. “The beautiful thing about this Activist-In-Residence project is that it’s a space for silenced voices, of poverty, disability and homelessness to actually be listened to.”

Sole Yu, an Asian American history social justice educator, said she believes the values of the residency program align with her want to combine the power and rigor of academic research with grassroots community activism.

“Part of that founding history of how Asian American studies exists, how ethnic studies exist, was very much grounded in student activists’ desire to have educational curricula that included us,” Yu said. “I’m organizing with different Asian American groups that organize both around our specific histories and identities, but also to increase socio-political power and political consensus and unity among the community.”

Yu said she is currently working on the Xi Sheng project, which produces progressive perspectives, guides, articles and workshops that combat myths and disinformation that is spread about Asian American communities.

“Previous Activists-in-Residence are all folks that we still work with, that we still are in touch with. … (who) We’ve integrated into ongoing research projects that are going on at the institute.” Lemorande said. For example, Blaney will be giving a guest lecture in a faculty’s course next quarter and Melissa Acedera, a former Asian American Studies Center Activist-in-Residence, is currently working with the law department regarding food policy related courses.

“Being a part of this program and the potential to have the friendships and collaborations with other activists, but also with faculty and other UCLA folks who are working on things in different ways, through research, through activism, etc. That gives me a lot of hope,” Yu said. “We need to find each other in order to nourish and support each other to not lose hope, to not lose heart”

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