Crisis, like power, reveals character. COVID-19 has revealed much of the American character, illuminating some of the best — and worst — of this nation at this moment.
As spring turned to summer and then fall, some leaders grappled in earnest conviction to save lives, while others, well, did not. Americans fought over the efficacy and politics of masks, even as nations around the world protectively closed their doors to visitors from this country. Supermarket employees kept the U.S. fed. Delivery workers kept it supplied. Doctors and nurses risked their lives for the health of others. By the thousands, businesses shut down, fueling desperation.
Some realizations became clear: Caring for friends and family often meant separating from them — an act of love rather than rejection, and yet a painful one.
No one was immune. No family, no employer, no community could wish this scourge away. Responding required sacrifice and patience, neither of which are strong suits of the contemporary American character.
All of those currents buffeted UCLA, as the university is many things at once — a center of research, an employer, a place of healing, a midsize city and a lively home of debate. All of those functions and commitments were tested as the crisis deepened through the summer.
And yet, life persisted: Students learned, professors taught, doctors healed, researchers pressed ahead. Quieted of bustle, the campus was home to serious decisions — whether to remain open, how to protect students from the coronavirus — and also the rub of the everyday. Learning moved to Zoom, and birds reclaimed silent corners of the campus. Activism bubbled up, and the mayor stopped by to reflect with students. Coaches canceled practices, dancers and musicians rehearsed at home — all wondering when, and under what conditions, they might gather again.
Those glimmerings of life, spirit and character have been captured in the voices of those living them; those voices are featured here. — Jim Newton
BRAND NEW BALANCE
Marco Antonio, yoga instructor, UCLA Recreation
He began teaching virtual yoga classes.
When quarantine started, I was on the brink of giving up, because I didn’t see a future for the fitness industry. I felt quite emotional and uncertain when Elisa Terry [’94], my mentor at UCLA Recreation, asked me to do virtual classes and explained how important it was to help students maintain some normalcy. I thought I was doing her a favor, but looking back, it meant so much to me, because I was about to tap out.
Now we’ve built a creative new experience that lets me keep in touch with students who went home to Northern California, the East Coast and even other countries. People always used to ask me, “When are you going to open your own yoga studio?” By building a set in my apartment and investing in equipment, I’ve created my own studio. This is my future.
THE GARDEN WON’T WEED ITSELF
Jules Cooch, manager of public outreach and education, UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden
The Garden stayed open during quarantine to serve UCLA students, staff and community.
We had to rethink everything, from sanitizing tools to triaging weeds. The Garden is a living collection that is essential to maintain, and, as an outdoor space, we decided to stay open. Pivoting programs into virtual formats increased participation and, for one event, reduced the carbon footprint of flying an expert in from Europe.
We’re offering virtual field trips for the fall, with video tours and activities, encouraging students to explore the outdoors and try nature journaling. I’ve noticed people are walking around their neighborhoods more and appreciating nature. Maybe outdoor spaces will be better valued in city design going forward. It has been a strange moment, but a hopeful one that change is possible.
THE SUPPORT OF FAMILY
Ratna Shukla M.B.A. ’20, UCLA Anderson School of Management
Currently, Shukla works at the UCLA Film & Television Archive, a division of UCLA Library.
To come to such a prestigious college as UCLA was a dream come true. I was waiting for my commencement ceremony because my family from India was going to visit me for the first time. My parents are very proud that I’m here. It was going to be an emotional commencement. But to not have that — I broke down crying.
Going back to India was ruled out, so I stayed on campus. But staying at home day after day, week after week, became quite depressing. For a few weeks, I barely saw a human face in person. I was completely self-isolated. Mentally, it impacted me a lot.
I’m very close to my family. We have very open communication. We had video calls every other day, and I would update them on what’s happening here. Talking to them regularly helped, because I could see their faces on-screen. We’re always there for each other.
LEARNING LIFE LESSONS
Chris Waller ’91, UCLA gymnastics head coach
The team was poised to contend for a national championship until COVID-19 abruptly ended the season.
When we were told our season was over, it hurt, but it didn’t take away from what we built together. Our team was ranked No. 3 in the country and had a chance to win a national championship.
Since the end of the season, we’ve had many meaningful conversations and we’re preserving what really matters. One powerful exercise was for each member of the team to write a note to COVID and discuss what everyone wrote. Some were angry at COVID for stealing their ability to compete and to be with their teammates. Others saw a silver lining, spending more time with their families and growing in different ways. And some wrote about how they are so fortunate, and that many people in Los Angeles and our country are facing much more difficult challenges. COVID’s been very tough, but we can grow from this and grow closer together. And we have.
Isabel Dobrev, jazz bassist and global jazz studies major, UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music
She tried to improvise with her bandmates virtually but ended up mostly practicing technique and composing.
It’s hard to practice jazz on your own — I mean the improvisation part, which is basically the main part. To improv in jazz, you have to interact. You improvise off of each other. It’s really hard to do that alone.
We tried playing together on Zoom, but it was always subpar and lagging. I mean, it was just never going to work, especially with the loud instruments that the sound cuts out.
I did have more time to practice my instrument, though, like the actual technique of it, rather than preparing for a particular performance. And also composing my own music — that was a big highlight. Surprisingly, I hadn’t really composed much before spring quarter.
I think social-distanced jazz classes might be able to happen, but without singers and horn players, because they actually use their breath. There’s spit flying everywhere!
CANCER IN LOCKDOWN
Brian Wood, assistant professor of anthropology, UCLA College
His first year at UCLA was 2018–19.
In February, my wife, Carla, was diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s life-changing in itself, but to happen during the pandemic made everything surreal. We spent March and April driving to appointments all over L.A. Luckily, the freeways were empty.
Normally, when there are results that determine whether your wife has stage 4 cancer, you sit together and hear it from the physician. But for our appointment at UCLA Health Santa Clarita Cancer Center, I wasn’t allowed to go in because of the pandemic. I sat in the car waiting for what seemed like an eternity, crying my eyes out, convinced I was going to hear the worst news.
Thank heavens, it was stage 2 cancer. Carla had a mastectomy and began chemotherapy. Hopefully, she’ll live the rest of her life cancer-free. Meanwhile, with her immune system compromised, we are in complete lockdown. The fact that this isn’t out of sync with most of society has made that easier.
THE BIG SERVE
Charles Wilcots, associate director, UCLA Dining Services
He manages eight residential restaurants on the Hill.
I work with a team that oversees eight residential restaurants. Pre-COVID, we had over 14,000 residents living in our halls — that’s 32,000 meals per day.
When the pandemic hit, we had to ensure we had the right systems in place. Are we educating our employees as well as our guests? Do we have the right equipment to operate safely? We’re no longer doing self-service. We set up a lot of sanitizing stations, we’re serving in to-go containers, there’s no more inside dining and we closed some of our facilities.
Our mission was to keep as many people employed as possible. We’ve incorporated training that wouldn’t be possible during a typical term. We also deployed team members to deliver meals for essential workers on campus. It’s not business as usual.
JUMPING IN WITH BOTH FEET
Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, vice provost of Enrollment Management, UCLA Student Affairs
A variety of digital media was used to welcome prospective and new Bruins.
Our hearts go out to our students and their families in this COVID-19 environment. Students have worked incredibly hard to achieve admission to UCLA, and this is not the celebratory outcome we had hoped for. Our staff was determined to make sure we created interactions with prospective and new Bruins that would be memorable, personal and impactful. Despite being quarantined, we jumped in with both feet.
We used Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Zoom, LinkedIn, TikToc, texts and emails to be sure we met our goals. The students were really happy with the results, and our staff was just as proud of their accomplishments. Now we look forward to welcoming our new Bruins. Even if we’re still working from home, we’ll always be there for them.
LEADING WITH ALL IN MIND
Gene Block, UCLA Chancellor
He issued safer-at-home directives and calming statements throughout.
Early in March, as COVID-19 crept into Southern California, it became clear that many of the ways we’re so used to connecting with our fellow Bruins — in classrooms or at events — could also put us at risk. Guided by safety concerns, alongside a desire to keep UCLA moving forward, on March 10 we made the decision to move to remote work and instruction, putting 5,000-plus classes online.
Helping to shepherd UCLA through this pandemic is the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my 40-plus-year career. The scope of the problem is enormous, from sorting out how lab work should be conducted to reenvisioning how we teach online. The pandemic has affected members of our community unevenly, depending on factors like age, race, socioeconomic status and access to child care. And the evolving shape of the virus’s spread, along with changing public health directives, means we must be flexible in our planning.
Still, I’m heartened by and grateful for all the ways in which members of our Bruin community have responded, showing the kind of ingenuity and resilience that will help us get through this together and emerge stronger.
PARENTING DURING THE PANDEMIC
Gaye Theresa Johnson, associate professor, departments of Chicano/Chicana and Central American Studies and African American Studies
She learned how to teach remotely, still be inspiring and home-school her daughter.
I’m a single mom, so as the shutdown unfolded, I prayed my daughter’s school would stay open one more day than UCLA so I could go grocery shopping and prepare. Knowing I had 150 students for spring, I was also thinking about converting to online instruction, including a community engagement section. The thought of home-schooling a third grader at the same time was daunting — that’s just not part of my skill set as an educator.
Watching my daughter’s feelings of sadness is difficult. But there have been happy times. I’ve taught her how to ride a bike and how to boogie board. She loves making stop-motion animation films, so we created a multilevel movie set out of a bookcase. If I’d been warned about a coming pandemic, I would have chosen her, this job and this home for the journey.
Kelly Inouye-Perez ’93, UCLA Athletics softball head coach
She begins her 15th season leading the Bruins softball team.
I’m fortunate my kids are old enough to be cooking, cleaning and helping out. My daughter is 15. She’s a freshman in high school and a soccer player. My son is 21. He just finished his second year on the UCLA baseball team. He’s going to live with a bunch of baseball players next year. I told him, “You’re going to have to learn how to clean your own bathroom.” You realize, as a parent, there’s still a lot you can teach your kids.
I feel very fortunate in a time like this to have my job, to stay connected to my Bruin family, but also to have this precious time connecting with my immediate family. I’ve got a great, healthy family, but usually we’re all really busy. Now we can slow down and spend time together. I’ll value this time for the rest of my life.
ENGINEERING TO THE RESCUE
Jacob Schmidt, professor of bioengineering, UCLA Samueli School of Engineering
His department made face shields for hospitals using a 3D printer.
It’s week 10 of the [spring] quarter, and we’re closing the UCLA Samueli makerspace to students at the end of the week. Doug Daniels [’14], who runs the makerspace at the library, reaches out to me and asks about 3D printing of face shields for hospitals.
It seems like the whole world has been caught by surprise, and suppliers are not ready. I’m like, “Holy cow! I’ve got a fairly powerful prototyping setup and a bunch of idle machines. I’m at the right place at the wrong time. Let’s do it!”
The next day, I start printing — 80 face shields a day at first. Then we get a design for a disposable face shield that only uses the laser cutter, which is a lot faster. I work on that laser cutter for eight or 10 hours a day, making thousands of shields, then go home and collapse. But I’m just happy to do my part.
QUARANTINE IN MYANMAR
John Chang, second-year business economics major
As the pandemic spread in Los Angeles, he flew to Myanmar to be the new student ambassador.
At the start, it was pretty hectic. If I were to attend classes according to L.A.’s schedule, I’d be on Zoom from 12:30 to 4:30 a.m. Myanmar time. But my professors were accommodating, and three classes offered prerecorded lectures. Midterms and final exams were offered at two different times. One was arranged around 7 p.m. L.A. time — which was 8:30 a.m. in Myanmar — so other time zones would be able to answer at the same time.
There are three students who will be coming to UCLA from Myanmar. It’s their first year. Even in normal times, the first year is hectic. Combined with the COVID situation, I knew they’d be very nervous. I told them that if they needed help, just text me and I would be there for them.
DANCING IN SEPARATE SPACES
Tria Blu Wakpa, assistant professor of dance studies, UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance
Live workshops given by guest artists via Zoom helped her and her class stay connected.
While students mostly elected to submit their dance and performance assignments via video, we did have four guest artists give live workshops in the courses that I was teaching and co-teaching. Although many students and participants kept their videos off for these workshops, some people would do the movement practices in their home spaces with their videos on.
Students expressed that they appreciated having the opportunity to move together in class — although they were in separate spaces — and see each other dance. Choreographer and dancer Amelia Butler, who taught a haka workshop in our Introduction to Dance class, encouraged students to turn the sound on while we sang with her in Maori. I enjoyed the cacophony of our voices cutting in and out on Zoom.
TOGETHER IS BETTER
London McBride, UCLA Police Department detective
A detective during COVID-19, he transitioned to training officer in July and is now patrolling campus.
Crime took a break for COVID. There has been much less violent crime around campus. The pandemic has changed how we do things. There aren’t many people to interact with, which I miss, even just dropping off paperwork downtown, getting judges to sign warrants. But I miss seeing people. We are designed for community.
I’m back on campus for patrols, but I also have been home-schooling my five boys. I’m home much more with my family. The ordeal has taught me to respect and appreciate the relationships I’ve made over the years. I stop and reflect that it could all be gone in a minute.
And for that reason, we [police] have to win the community back. Our officers demonstrated respect and provided a safe environment during the protests, escorting the marchers, but the bad cops are giving us a bad rap.
IT WON’T BE A RETURN TO NORMAL
Pamela Hieronymi, professor of philosophy, UCLA College
She found the transition seamless — at first.
At the beginning, I just felt fortunate, even guilty. I’m not worried about a paycheck or my personal safety. I’m a homebody. I enjoy sitting alone, writing. My two graduate courses transitioned online fairly easily. I found ways to connect with friends, to exercise.
A few weeks in, it started to hit me. I think some of it is loss — a sense of grief — along with strange uncertainty about what, exactly, has been lost. Wherever we end up, in a year or two or three, it won’t be a return to normal. I’m sad, too, that we are missing an opportunity to come together. America, land that I love, is not rising to this occasion. People need physical safety, financial safety. We need big thinking, bold action, unifying leadership. Watching the protests, though, I felt hope, seeing so many take part, and seeing some listen and respond.
HELPING IN SMALL WAYS
Travis Bourdon, ASUCLA student employee
He stayed on campus and worked in the Hill Top Shop during the quarantine.
This was my first year, so fortunately I got a little extra taste of normal times from doing a summer program in 2019.
Deciding to keep living on campus was difficult. I quarantined alone, but was getting paid. At home, I’d have been with family, but I wouldn’t have a quiet area to study or speak up in classes. It was already difficult to learn to juggle classes, work and a social life.
The virus jumbled everything up, and I had to relearn everything. I had just been promoted to supervisor in the shop, and the virus made our supply chain all messed up. We wished we’d had the foresight to set limits on things like toilet paper earlier.
So many students said they were grateful that we were still open, and it made me appreciate the small ways I could help.
EXTROVERTS STAY IN TOUCH
Julie Sina, associate vice chancellor, UCLA Alumni Affairs
She’s grateful for the human contact and alumni engagement.
I’m high on the extrovert scale, a social animal, so I’ve been very grateful to be able to still come into my office. No other staff is here, but even a short conversation with the mail person every day helps. At night I hang out with my best friends, Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon, on CNN.
Working from home blurred all kinds of boundaries, so creating check-in moments, like hosting half-hour coffee chats every week with staff — where we talk about anything but work — became really important. Up until early July, I would send out morning and evening messages with thoughts and links; it became a kind of daily blog.
One thing I’ll take away from this is pride in what we’ve created. We’ve hosted more than 390 virtual programs for UCLA alums — all really responsive to the moment, like help with job hunting, exercising or practicing mindfulness.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF COVID
Michelle Popowitz ’91, J.D., M.P.H. ’97, assistant vice chancellor for research and co-founder of UCLA Grand Challenges
She became an ordained minister so she could perform a wedding for a friend and colleague.
My colleague Kathleen had a long-term boyfriend who had been in Japan for two years. A few days prior to the campus transition [to remote instruction], she came to work wearing an engagement ring. I was shocked and honored when a few weeks later she called to ask if I would get ordained so I could marry them! As she is super organized, she followed up with a link. It was simple.
A week later, Kathleen sent me a script for the ceremony that highlighted the dichotomy of their relationship — years separated by 5,000 miles to now spending months fewer than 50 feet apart. On April 11, they exchanged vows they’d written, while the Popowitz family played minister, photographer and witness. We had champagne and fruit. It was a time of joy during such uncertainty.
Yifang Zhu Ph.D. ’03, professor in the environmental health sciences department, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health
She tracked a decrease in Southern California’s air pollution.
Traffic is a major source of air pollution in Southern California, so with the COVID lockdown, I thought, “No commuting means a drop in traffic flow.” There was a 30% to 50% reduction of passenger vehicles, so we expected to see improved air quality. We haven’t seen such good “green” Air Quality Index days in a row in U.S. history. We’ve also seen nitrogen oxide levels go down by as much as 50%, depending on location. That’s a huge reduction.
The data led me to ask, “People are dying, the economy is slowing down and we are breathing cleaner air, but do we need a pandemic to bring clean air?” I think the answer is no. We recently designed a road map for California to meet net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. There are tools we can embrace for a more sustainable world in which people live healthier lives.
Aidan Arasasingham, 2020–21 external vice president, UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council
The 2020–21 USAC election had its highest voter turnout since 2016.
One of the best things that came from the safer-at-home order was that the student body had more time to become aware of the issues at hand. There were students organizing online, on Zoom calls, talking about COVID-19 health concerns and social reform. It was great to see.
Usually you’re campaigning in person, meeting with supporters and other candidates on campus, at meetings after classes. All of us who were running had to try new things. Instead of living our busy lives on campus and in the city, where students might get distracted and forget to vote, we were spending a lot more time in front of our computers. So it was easier for people to get involved and vote.
Kristy Edmunds, executive and artistic director of UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance
Her entire fall program will be virtual.
I used to collect comic books. The tightly drawn pages carried epic battles, where unknowable forces were threatening human existence. There were grave miscalculations by overconfident leaders, and all forms of internal and external chaos were playing out. The superheroes — often mutants with latent skills or powers — would band together to save the planet or better, the whole universe.
These surreal narratives keep popping into my mind, as if I’ve practiced this pandemic and every associated struggle from these epic fictions. Only this is not a fiction, and the big difference is that we don’t have fantastical superheroes flying around. The heroes I see are everyday human beings trying to look after a neighbor and trying not to break. I oscillate between the strategies found in childhood comic books and the everyday wisdom of the exceptionally real world, where so much is going to be up to us.
LOOKING FORWARD TO JAN. 16
Richard A. Burns, lead custodian, Custodial Services, UCLA Facilities Management
He plans to have a party for his grandmother’s 100th birthday next year.
We deal with viruses every day, but when the pandemic made headlines, I knew it was bigger than most. Yet our day-to-day work hasn’t really changed. If you washed your hands a few times a day, now it’s a countless number. The full suit — the mask and gloves — can become uncomfortable, but this is something we do every day.
I have a 99-year-old grandmother; she has become uneasy about this. We just talk to her on the phone instead of visiting. Her goal is to reach her 100th birthday on Jan. 16. We will have a party.
Nurit Katz M.B.A. ’08, M.P.P. ’08, executive officer of Facilities Management, chief sustainability officer and faculty adviser for the Bruin Audubon Society
She helped with the annual L.A. raptor survey.
I live with my grandma, and my mom is immunocompromised, so I’ve had to be extra careful. What’s helped is participating in an L.A.-wide raptor survey through Friends of Griffith Park, led by Dan Cooper, a UCLA Ph.D. candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and recent Grand Challenge Fellow. The study finds and monitors hawk and owl nests to help understand how raptors are adapting to an urban environment.
People often don’t realize how much wildlife is right around them in the city and on campus. L.A. County is home to more than 4,000 species, including 52 endangered species. You could have no idea a hawk is feeding young right above your head. The same pair of great horned owls — they can mate for life — has returned every year for over a decade.
Seeing the fluffy little owlets and hawklets, these amazing moments of new life, has been moving. It’s helped me feel hopeful during this challenging time.
Annabelle de St. Maurice, assistant professor in the department of pediatrics and the department of pediatric infectious diseases
She worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015–17.
We started hearing about cases of COVID in Wuhan toward the end of December. Initially, it sounded like there was limited human-to-human transmission. I remember reviewing data from China, but there were no cases in the U.S. yet. At the time, we expected to maybe see one or two patients. Weeks later, we realized that wasn’t going to be the case. We had to scale up our practice with specialized, multidisciplinary teams and adapt very quickly. It was tough.
Before coming to UCLA, I worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I’d be deployed to a particular outbreak, there would be an end point and I’d return home. The most challenging part about this outbreak is we don’t know when the end point will be. The hard part has been realizing things won’t be fixed overnight. We have to think about this in the long-term. We still have a lot of work to do.
Amed Galo Lopez ’20, graduate student, African Studies at UCLA International Institute
Playing his trumpet was a way for him to cope.
Playing the trumpet every night has helped me. I’ve been playing since March 15 — the day after my brother’s wedding, the last grand event of the year for me. And every night since the protests began, I play a song written by or originally performed by a Black artist.
I’ve also been very grateful to spend so much time with my family. It’s been great to be surrounded by love. I don’t think I’ve ever had that before. To be educated at a great university like UCLA, and at the same time be surrounded by the love and care of your family, I think many of us can take that for granted, as we are dorming or living in our apartments.
CAPTURING THE NEW NORMAL
Idriss Njike, associate director, UCLA Residential Life
He took photographs to document students and a new way of life.
When the safer-at-home order came out and students had to leave the Hill, I felt it was a moment in history that we may never see again. So I started taking photos to capture the new normal on campus. My favorite is one of a vacuum cleaner outside a resident assistant’s [RA] room. In normal times, it was a way for RAs to communicate with residents — those who needed the vacuum would visit the RA’s room. Seeing the vacuum and all the locked doors brought out a lot of emotions for me.
The team I work with wanted to interview graduating seniors and offer them a free photo shoot. We arranged everything, including hand sanitizer and ways to keep everyone apart. Students reflected on their time at UCLA and shared who their biggest supporter was. Little did they know, we had asked their supporters to send us congratulations videos, which we showed during the interview.
A NEW CHANCE TO CONNECT
Renee Romero ’14, science librarian, UCLA Science and Engineering Library
She hopes to improve communication across campus.
When COVID-19 started, there was a defining moment when I noticed businesses were closed, the streets were empty — there was no one around. It made me realize how systems we think are unshakeable can change at a moment’s notice.
Working in the library, we were already offering remote consultations, so I was lucky to have a seamless quarantine transition. The library is still thriving. It’s been an adjustment, though. Going from one meeting to another can literally take 10 seconds. We’ve had to learn how to balance our time.
I’ve been really proud of the fact that we’ve come together and had open, authentic and transparent communication channels for everything. Now I want to connect even more with different communities on campus to learn about the issues that everyone’s facing. I feel the strongest way to help students, staff and faculty succeed is by reaching out and creating good support systems.
Robert Watson ’20, 2019–20 president, UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council
He helped address students’ questions during the pandemic.
When it was announced that we were going to go online for spring quarter, students had a ton of questions and were worried. “What happens to my housing contract? What happens to the courses that I’m taking?” Our roles in student government became less about accomplishing our own initiatives and more about coming together and addressing students’ needs during the pandemic.
I drove home during the middle of finals week — I was literally taking finals in my car. And also in my car, on my cellphone, I was trying to address students’ needs, trying to figure out what was going on with spring quarter.
We capitalized on our online means of communications — whether it was GroupMe, Facebook Groups, Twitter. It was truly unprecedented. I know that’s kind of a buzzword nowadays, but we had to completely alter how we do student government.
STAND AND BE COUNTED
Natalie Masuoka, associate professor of political science and Asian American Studies, UCLA College, and mother of a 2-year-old
Her work has been focused on census equity.
During winter quarter, I was teaching about 35 students how to conceive and implement a campaign to encourage community participation in the census. For spring, I’ve continued working with two students, but they’ve had to adjust what were intended to be in-person campaigns. We’re trying to ensure inclusion, equity and representation in our politics and the census.
My husband and I are balancing work with being stay-at-home parents to a 2-year-old. One of our neighbors put in this sprawling fairy garden, and every morning my daughter and I walk over. She has been in daycare since she was 3½ months old. She started walking and said her first words there, but she really started talking since we’ve been home. And to hear her express herself? It’s wonderful. It’s truly life-altering.
JUST IN TIME
Annelie Rugg M.A. ’96, Ph.D. ’01, director and chief information officer of HumTech (Humanities Technology) and chair of the Common Systems Group
She oversees technology solutions and support in the humanities at UCLA.
Serendipitously, we had just rehearsed working remotely. Not anticipating a pandemic, but people had trouble getting to work due to the wildfires last year. I wanted to see if we could function if all of us were unable to come to campus. So then it became a matter of helping faculty adapt.
The pandemic opened eyes to the possibilities of technologies, where in the past there were other priorities. We take classrooms for granted — spaces set aside for students to openly discuss controversial ideas, without worrying about family overhearing. We, as staff, may also be dealing with ill parents, crawling toddlers, isolation or less-than-optimal workstations. We have to do the best we can and give each other permission to figure it out and to be human. Though we’re dispersed, we’re getting to know each other better as people than we did when we were all in the office.
Kaumron Eidgahy, lead resident assistant on the Hill
Most of the 11,000-plus undergraduate residents left campus.
It was kind of sad to see all my residents and friends start packing up and moving out. The Hill felt emptier. When I came back after going home for spring break, it was super, super empty.
As long as I have things to do, quarantine isn’t the worst. But I am a people person, so not having people around definitely made it harder. I tend to be a busy person, but the pandemic allowed me to fit even more in my schedule. I got to work on a lot of the projects that I really enjoy, that I don’t think I would have had time for in another quarter.
“WE’RE ALL INTERCONNECTED”
Vickie Mays M.S. ’98, professor of health policy and management, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health; professor of psychology, UCLA College; and Special Advisor to the Chancellor on Black Life
She was honored with the Academic Senate’s 2020 Senate Service Award in May.
I knew early, starting in January and February, that some of the deaths of my friends’ parents back in Chicago, where I grew up, were being dismissed as caused by preexisting conditions. But, in fact, it was obvious they were dying earlier than the family expected because of COVID-19.
Advice like washing your hands frequently has not been helpful for African American and Native American households in rural, resource-limited areas, which are less likely to have access to indoor plumbing and running water.
What the pandemic brought home to me is how Americans need to realize that we’re all interconnected. There are a lot of mental health problems ahead — alcoholism, substance abuse and suicide — that we are not yet prepared for. And they could affect anyone, because not even one’s money, ZIP code or race can protect them from this virus.
Stephanie Mushrush M.S.W. ’13
She worked as a therapist for her Washoe tribal community, but moved back to L.A. to be with her parents in late May.
When it all began, I was working as a therapist for my Washoe tribal community in rural Northern Nevada. There, I had settled into the stillness that would define our daily lives during the pandemic. But it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to see my higher-risked parents in Southern California without also exposing our tribal elders on the reservation. I knew I had to move back.
It’s not ideal to move during a pandemic. It was stressful towing a car with a U-Haul when I knew there were protests I supported happening at the same time.
Something that has helped me cope is staying connected with my spirituality, Mother Earth and Creator. Visiting the mountains, being near water, hearing the wind in the trees — reminding me of sounds in the homelands. Being back in the city but finding ways to be in nature and practice mindfulness has been so good for me.
Mikaila Bantugan, fourth-year neuroscience major
She was a resident assistant for the UCLA Pilipinx Living Learning Community during the pandemic.
Normally, I’m busy planning lots of social events, where our residents can get to know each other. If there wasn’t a program, we used to just hang out in the hallways and lounges. During the pandemic, I created weekly newsletters with old event photos and health tips, and planned Zoom sessions a few times a week. We had really great turnout, and people used pictures of their dorm room or the lounge as their Zoom background. There was a nostalgic feeling.
When a name popped up that someone else was joining, everyone would get excited. I planned activities, but I realized they just wanted to hang out and talk. That feeling of community and family was what they were missing. On Zoom, we can connect to so many people at once, but I miss personal connections — high-fives, or bumping into people or getting dinner together.
Nicole Green ’97, psychology professor and executive director at UCLA’s Counseling and Psychological Services
She had to help her colleagues and clients adjust to remote therapy.
We have a big, functioning clinic with 60 clinicians. We were busy but starting to feel good, because we were finally fully staffed. Then, on a dime, we were doing telehealth via Zoom. I was working day and night, on Zoom every day, until 9 or 10 p.m. to set up [telehealth].
There was a disparity among the students who were seeking care. There were those who moved home to Palos Verdes and had their own room, and they could stay in contact. But there were people who did not have any space, who were sharing a room with a sibling or at work. Clinicians had the same issue — they were at home with kids, doing therapy from their bathrooms or cars. The mental health of our country is extraordinary and layered, and we are a microcosm of that at UCLA.
Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles mayor
In May, he spoke via Zoom to Zev Yaroslavsky ’71, M.A. ’72’s class at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
This is one of the first moments I’ve had to punctuate this crisis. That is kind of the life of an elected official. You don’t have many commas to even pause; certainly, periods to complete a moment; and very rare moments to celebrate with an exclamation point.
Leadership is usually defined not by the things you set out to do and how well you do them, but by what you don’t expect to happen and how well you react to them. For Los Angeles, for America, for the world, that really is the test.
These have been the hardest decisions I’ve made in my life, but they haven’t been hard to make. They’ve just been hard to hold, because there’s no decision that won’t result in the loss of lives or the loss of livelihoods. You read about these things in history books, so when they happen to you, they feel surreal.
— Compiled by Stacey Abarbanel, Delan Bruce, Zane Cassidy, Cheryl Cheng ’02, Mike Fricano, Dan Gordon ’85, John Harlow, Alison Hewitt, Wayne Lewis, Beth Massura, Peg Moline, Jim Newton, Lara Rabinowitz, Steve Ritea, Jennifer Shaklan M.B.A. ’02, Ricardo Vazquez ’90, Jessica Wolf, Stuart Wolpert ’81 and Bekah Wright
Read more from UCLA Magazine’s October 2020 issue.