Labor studies student mixer initiates new academic year at a crucial time for the study of work

Citlalli Chavez-Nava | September 23, 2021

“Social justice at work and in the community” — the tagline of the UCLA labor studies program was the guiding theme at yesterday’s Labor Studies Welcome: Information Session and Student Mixer. The virtual event celebrated the launch of the 2021-2022 academic year following an unprecedented 18 months of remote learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Labor Studies Faculty Chair Tobias Higbie welcomed over 30 student attendees into the virtual event and introduced faculty, lecturers, and staff of the program who were also in attendance. Attendees heard heartfelt pre-recorded messages from faculty members and lecturers of numerous disciplines reflecting the academic program’s interdisciplinary nature. 

“I am grateful for the safety measures being put in place that are making it possible for the return to campus. I’ve missed the in-person conversations and I’m very, very, very excited to get back to campus where discourse and dialogue thrive,” said labor studies lecturer Virginia Espino, in her recorded message. 

In the spirit of the engaged-learning approaches incorporated into labor studies curricula, program staff highlighted the unique courses, internships and career opportunities available to students. 

“Many of our graduates go into a number of different occupations. From labor relations, to law, to government, work, business, social work and education. But they all reflect a common theme. And that’s to empower and serve workers, young people and communities to thrive,” said Elizbeth Espinoza, labor studies student programming manager. 

Public Program Analyst Semi Cole at The Center for the Advancement of Racial Equity (CARE) at the UCLA Labor Center discussed a new labor studies course initiative launched in spring 2020 centered on the history and legacy of Black labor organizers titled: “We Gone be Alright: Developing the Next Generation of Black Worker Organizers.” 

“We bring in a host of Black labor leaders in Los Angeles, folks that do research, folks that do political advocacy, folks that work on the ground, ” said Cole. “We learn more about the current issues that are happening all across California, that are being tackled by some of the Black labor centers in our space.”

Another highlight of the event was a presentation by labor studies alumna Ashley Michel ‘21, who is now a community organizer for Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy’s (LAANE) Public Education and the Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles campaigns which aim to increase equity and investment in local public schools. 

“I really stand by the labor studies program as a really good foundation for the knowledge that has allowed me to thrive even just six months [since graduation],” said Michel. 

The virtual session also included some discussion surrounding the continued precarious learning environment created by the pandemic. For current student Ruth Rodriguez, third-year labor studies minor, who was in attendance, she finds it unrealistic to ever return back to “normal” yet she finds comfort in her labor studies community. 

“I think the most we can do right now is just be cognizant and mindful of each other. And I think that’s what I’m looking forward to in labor studies,” said Rodriguez shortly after the event. “Because I know that the individuals and the students in labor studies are some of the most kind, compassionate individuals so I know that masking and people not following the rules will not be a problem.” 

Amid the ongoing challenges, labor studies instructors  highlighted the urgency of finding solutions for the numerous pre-existing inequalities unveiled by the pandemic. 

“Not only were immigrant, Black, indigenous, and communities of color hardest hit by the coronavirus, but many lost work or were forced to work in unsafe conditions. Labor Studies focuses on work and community as key sites of inequality, and we study the people and organizations who seek solutions to these challenges,” said Higbie shortly after the event. “Moving forward, our society needs skilled organizers, researchers, and communicators who understand the dynamics of social movements and can help build a better future.”

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Labor studies at UCLA is an interdepartmental major and minor within the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, that promotes rigorous hands-on research and experiential learning in community and workers settings. The labor studies program initiated as an academic minor in 2003, the program began offering a major in 2019. In 2020, 20 students graduated with labor studies degrees and 76 students with labor studies minors. 

Below are various links shared at the Labor Studies Welcome: Information Session and Student Mixer for those interested in learning more about the program. 

Program website: Here

On-Campus academic advising: Here

Virtual academic advising: Here

Learn about upcoming Labor Studies events: Here