Faculty Accomplishments

Check out Occidental faculty members’ scholarly accomplishments from 2020!

Articles, Essays, and Chapters

Despite the notable successes of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) activism in the region, individual European countries have varied considerably in the extent and speed with which they have adopted legislation to recognise the rights of their LGBTI citizens. Scholars have often turned to modernisation theory to explain these variable outcomes and argue that high levels of national wealth are an important factor in the success of LGBTI movements. Although the correlation between modernity, economic development and tolerance of LGBTI lifestyles is often treated as a truism in the literature, scholars have paid less attention to the precise mechanisms by which the complex processes associated with modernisation facilitate policy change. Drawing on the classic works of both modernisation theory and gay and lesbian history, DWA Prof. Phillip Ayoub and his co-author examine a less explored route by which modernisation leads to the expansion of LGBTI rights. In their new article, "(Same)‐sex in the city: Urbanisation and LGBTI rights expansion," they posit that urbanisation facilitates the adoption of rights policies by strengthening LGBTI movements and enhancing their political effectiveness. To test this proposition, they use event history analysis and an original dataset that contains measures for institutional, cultural, economic and movement variables, as well as measures of urbanisation in 44 European countries between 1980 and 2015. Their findings support the contention that urbanisation has a strong effect on the formation of LGBTI movement organisations as well as the speed with which European states adopt both same‐sex union and anti‐discrimination legislation.


Economics Prof. Andrew Jalil’s study, "Eating to Save the Planet: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial Using Individual-Level Food Purchase Data," was published in the journal Food Policy. Using a dataset of 50,000 meal purchases over eight months, the study examines the effectiveness of an educational intervention to shift consumers towards more sustainable food purchases. For months following a 50-minute lecture, participants in the treatment group reduced their purchases of meat (high greenhouse gas emissions) and increased their purchases of plant-based meals (low greenhouse gas emissions). Merging food purchase data with surveys indicates that the lecture largely worked by persuading and motivating people who already cared about global warming to change their behavior. The findings help to inform the international food policy debate on how to counter rising global levels of meat consumption to achieve climate change goals.


In this study, "'Us vs. them' pair housing: Effects on body weight, open field behavior, and gut microbiota in rats selectively bred on a taste phenotype," Psychology Professors Nancy K. Dess and Dale Chapman show for the first time that the lines express different behavioral strategies in a novel open field. In addition, weight gain and open field measures indicate that other-line housing was stressful. A previous finding that the lines possess different gut microbiota was replicated. These findings add to the characterization of non-gustatory correlates of a taste phenotype and suggest that rats differing strikingly on the taste phenotype and/or its correlates may be socially incompatible.


In a new study, "The social perception of intervocalic /k/ voicing in Chilean Spanish" by Spanish and Linguistics Prof. Mariška Bolyanatz Brown and her co-author investigate what social meaning is attributed to a nascent change in progress in Chilean Spanish, examining whether intervocalic voicing of the phonologically voiceless stop /k/ affects listener judgments along several perceptual scales. Eight brief excerpts of spontaneous speech were digitally manipulated to vary only in voicing in tokens of /k/, and thirty listeners responded via an online experiment. They find that listeners are not sensitive to voicing along three of the measured scales and are not sensitive to voicing at all in female speech. They also determined that listeners are only sensitive to intervocalic voicing when assigning values of Chilean identity to male speakers, and that this effect is mitigated by headphone use. Some of listeners’ insensitivity matches previous production data in this dialect, while we expected some sensitivity along other measures but found none. We posit that this mismatch is due to the salience of the variable: because listeners may be unfamiliar with intervocalic voicing of /k/, they have not yet indexed voicing of intervocalic /k/ with particular speaker features, aligning with Campbell-Kibler (2009).


In a new article, "Women Leaders and Pandemic Performance: A Spurious Correlation"—published in the peer reviewed journal Politics & Gender as part of University of Cambridge's Coronavirus Collection—Politics Prof. Jennifer Piscopo tackles the popular media narrative that women presidents and prime ministers were better at containing the coronavirus. Instead, she argues that countries with high capacity -- meaning countries that are wealthy, democratic, with strong bureaucracies and citizens that trust the government -- are more likely to be better at containing the pandemic *and* more likely to elect women. In other words, pandemic performance is not about women leaders, but about the kinds of countries that elect women leaders.


Just transition policies aim to mitigate economic losses and provide an equitable transition away from fossil fuel extraction and use. Yet, just transition is often contested in the regions the policies are meant to aid. In a newly published paper, "A just transition for whom? Politics, contestation, and social identity in the disruption of coal in the Powder River Basin," Urban & Environmental Policy Prof. J. Mijin Cha presents a case study of thePowder River Basin, Wyoming, the largest coal mining region in the U.S where the energy transition is deeply contested. The research conducted explored whether sudden mine closures changed perceptions toward the energy transition or just transition polices based on interviews with decision makers, environmental advocates, coal industry officials, and union officials. Cha finds that the energy transition and just transition remains deeply contested and opposed, even after the sudden closure of the mines, indicating that transition may always be contested due to the long-standing role coal has played in the region. Despite opposition and efforts to prolong the life of the coal industry, an energy transition is occurring and a government-led managed decline with just transition policies is the best way to prevent severe economic distress in the region.


The bacterial membrane has been suggested as a good target for future antibiotics, so it is important to understand how naturally occurring antibiotics like antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) disrupt those membranes. The interaction of the AMP magainin 2 (MAG2) with the bacterial cell membrane has been well characterized using supported lipid substrates, unilamellar vesicles, and spheroplasts created from bacterial cells. However, to fully understand how MAG2 kills bacteria, we must consider its effect on the outer membrane found in Gram-negative bacteria. In a newly published article, Chemistry Prof. Eileen Spain and co-authors use atomic force microscopy (AFM) to directly investigate MAG2 interaction with the outer membrane of Escherichia coli and characterize the biophysical consequences of MAG2 treatment under native conditions. While propidium iodide penetration indicates that MAG2 permeabilizes cells within seconds, a corresponding decrease in cellular turgor pressure is not observed until minutes after MAG2 application, suggesting that cellular homeostasis machinery may be responsible for helping the cell maintain turgor pressure despite a loss of membrane integrity. AFM imaging and force measurement modes applied in tandem reveal that the outer membrane becomes pitted, more flexible, and more adhesive after MAG2 treatment. MAG2 appears to have a highly disruptive effect on the outer membrane, extending the known mechanism of MAG2 to the Gram-negative outer membrane.


Since its publication in the seventeenth century, John Milton's Paradise Lost has caused readers to feel overwhelmed by its difficulty and discouraged by the specific challenges presented by its last two books, which depict the consequences of Adam and Eve's fall on human and cosmological history. When English Prof. Ross Lerner teaches the poem, my students often echo these concerns in compelling, self-reflective ways. Their comments prompted his latest essay, “The Astonied Body in Paradise Lost,” which tries to explain the significance of such readerly responses through an analysis of"astoniment" (or “astonishment”) in Paradise Lost, the experience of being overwhelmed by an experience you cannot cognitively or emotionally process. It demonstrates how the experience of astonishment in the poem relates to the prosodic, rhythmic, narrative, and ideological changes in the poem's final two books, offering a new interpretation of the poem's fascination with the petrification of bodies and landscapes, and with its own rhythmic "astoniment" that follows its depiction of the fall of humankind.


During the worldwide shutdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many reports emerged of urban wildlife sightings. While these images garnered public interest and declarations of wildlife reclaiming cities, it is unclear whether wildlife truly re-occupied urban areas or if there were simply increased detections of urban wildlife during this time. In a new article, "What can we learn from wildlife sightings during the COVID‐19 global shutdown?" Biology Prof. Amanda Zellmer and co-authors detail key questions and needs for monitoring wildlife during the COVID-19 shutdown and then link these with future needs and actions with the intent of improving conservation within urban ecosystems. They discuss the tools ecologists and conservation scientists can use to safely and effectively study urban wildlife during the shutdown. With a coordinated, multi-city effort, researchers and community scientists can rigorously investigate the responses of wildlife to changes in human activities, which can help us address long standing questions in urban ecology, inspire conservation of wildlife, and inform the design of sustainable cities.


The heat transport law in turbulent convection remains central to current research in the field. Our present knowledge of the heat transport law for Ra > 10^{12} is inconclusive, where the Rayleigh number Ra is a measure of the strength of convection. Massively parallel simulations of the three-dimensional convection have progressed to Ra = 10^{15} in slender cells. In a newly published paper, "Classical 1/3 scaling of convection holds up to Ra = 1015," Physics Prof. Janet Scheel and co-authors resolve velocity gradients inside thin boundary layers and show that the turbulent heat transport continues to follow the classical 1/3 scaling law with no transition to the so-called “ultimate” state that is variously argued to have 1/2 scaling. Their work suggests that the boundary layers remain marginally stable and continue to act as the bottleneck for global heat transport.


Studies indicate that Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, are safe to consume, but many adults remain skeptical. What kind of input are children receiving about GMOs? And how does that input shape their understanding of what GMOs are? In a new article, "OMG GMO! Parent-child conversations about genetically modified foods," Psychology Prof. Andrew Shtulman and co-authors--including Oxy alum Ilana Share '17 and Rosie Silber-Marker '17--investigated this question in the context of parent-child conversations about food product decisions. Seventy parent-child dyads were shown a series of food product pairings and asked to discuss their preferences. The products differed by whether they were made from GMOs, as well as whether they contained gluten and whether they were grown organically. Non-GM foods were preferred over gluten-free foods, and conversations about GM foods contained more moral language than conversations about gluten. Preferences for organic foods equaled preferences for non-GM foods, and conversations about organic foods were as morally charged, but parents were less knowledgeable about the meaning of GMO than they were about the meaning of organic. Children’s knowledge of these terms varied with their parents’ knowledge, and their participation in the food-product conversations varied with their parents’ use of moral language. Taken together, these findings suggest that children’s conceptions of GMOs are shaped by their parents’ conceptions, despite the fact that parents’ preferences and attitudes toward GMOs outstrip their knowledge of what GMOs actually are.


Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) has upended our modern lives in unimaginable ways, questioning the very basis of our political economy. In a special virtual issueof Politics and the Life Sciences (PLS) on Coronavirus: Politics, Economics, and Pandemics, co-edited by DWA Prof. Sophal Ear, the articles provide insight on what we might learn going forward by looking at past research appearing in the pages of PLS.


French Prof. Arthur Saint-Aubin's new essay, "Chuck Berry's Autobiography: Rock Music, Racial Practice, and One Black Man's Problematic Relationship with White Women," examines the autobiography of Chuck Berry--the "Father of Rock & Roll"-- as a narrative that functions, inadvertently, to expose how racial practice determines how rock music is made and listened to in the US. Saint-Aubin demonstrates how Berry’s account of his life story, though not necessarily accurate in every detail, helps readers to understand how rock music, a genre initiated by and whose first stars were black performers, has evolved into a genre dominated by white men. Berry’s account of his life as a songwriter and performer exposes, in addition, the racial and gender ideologies that underpin the historically fraught relationship between black men and white women.

In a new article, "'Improbable Spectacles': White Supremacy, Christian Hegemony, and the Dark Side of the Judenfrage," Religious Studies Prof. Ben Ratskoff argues that the twin premises of American liberal democracy—racial whiteness and political forms that 'materialize' Christianity—explain how Jews can be both the targets of white supremacists and among the members and ideologues of Trump’s xenophobic, racist administration. Supplementing Karl Marx’s observation in On the Jewish Question that the United States was a nation state without a Jewish question with a reading of debates around the 1790 Naturalization Act, Ratskoff observes that from the perspective of U.S. law, Jews have always been classified as white, and thus 'implicated in racial whiteness.' Yet while racial whiteness historically 'neutralized religious differences between Europeans,' establishing an abstract individual equivalence within a civil society that rested on the subordination and exploitation of non-whites, that whiteness, Ratskoff insists, has never been monolithic: it neutralizes but does not dissolve religious difference, leaving Jews subordinate within a genealogically when not overtly—Christian (and particularly Protestant) political formation. The ambiguities of American Jews’ racial and political status today can be traced back to this foundational tension.


Urban & Environmental Policy Prof. Mijin Cha and co-authors published a new paper, "Environmental Justice, Just Transition, and a Low-Carbon Future for California" that presents the results of a community-informed research project analyzing the challenges and opportunities of a just transition for environmental justice communities in California. Through interviews, case studies, and original data analysis, a framework for just transition policy development is presented built on four pillars: strong governmental support, dedicated funding streams, diverse and strong coalitions, and economic diversification.


Citizen scientists can help professional scientists amass much larger datasets than would be possible without their input, but the quality of these data may impact their utility. Therefore, it is imperative to develop standard practices that maximize the accuracy of data produced by citizen scientists. One method increasingly used to improve data accuracy in citizen science-based projects is just-in-time training (JITT), in which volunteers are given on-demand resources to train them on the spot or in conjunction with the research they are performing. In a new article by Biology Prof. Amanda Zellmer and co-authors, "Just-in-Time Training Improves Accuracy of Citizen Scientist Wildlife Identifications from Camera Trap Photos," they examine whether JITT improves citizen scientist ­accuracy ­of ­subject ­identification,­ specifically­ wildlife ­identification ­from­ camera­ trap ­photos. ­Ninety-four­ participants with varying degrees of experience in biology were asked to identify photos from camera traps in Los Angeles, California set to capture photos of wildlife in an urban habitat. Without access to JITT, citizen scientists with no background in biology had lower accuracy than professional biologists. However, when participants with no background in biology received JITT, they were able to identify wildlife with a similar level of accuracy as professional biologists. ­There ­was ­a ­significant ­interaction­ between­ biology background and training treatment. The increase in accuracy of novice ­citizen ­scientists ­who ­received ­JITT ­was ­due ­primarily­ to fewer ­misidentifications ­of ­species ­overall­ but ­also ­to ­increased­ confidence ­in ­classification­ of ­species. ­From­ these ­results,­ the authors ­conclude ­that ­the ­use ­of ­JITT­ can ­significantly ­improve ­subject­ identification ­accuracy ­for ­citizen­ scientists ­with ­no background ­in ­biology.


People who hold scientific explanations for natural phenomena also hold folk explanations, and the two types of explanations compete under some circumstances. In a new paper, "Competing Explanations of Competing Explanations: Accounting for Conflict Between Scientific and Folk Explanations," Psychology and Cognitive Science Prof. Andrew Shtulman and co-author explore the question of why folk explanations persist in the face of a well‐understood scientific alternative, a phenomenon known as explanatory coexistence. They consider two accounts: an associative account, where coexistence is driven by low‐level associations between co‐occurring ideas in experience or discourse, and a theory‐based account, where coexistence reflects high‐level competition between distinct sets of causal expectations. We present data that assess the relative contributions of these two accounts to the cognitive conflict elicited by counterintuitive scientific ideas. Participants (134 college undergraduates) verified scientific statements like “air has weight” and “bacteria have DNA” as quickly as possible, and we examined the speed and accuracy of their verifications in relation to measures of associative information (lexical co‐occurrence of the statements' subjects and predicates) and theory‐based expectations (ratings of whether the statements' subjects possess theory‐relevant attributes). Both measures explained a significant amount of variance in participants' responses, but the theory‐based measures explained three to five times more. These data suggest that the cognitive conflict elicited by counterintuitive scientific ideas typically arises from competing theories and that such ideas might be made more intuitive by strengthening scientific theories or weakening folk theories.


In a new paper, "Congruence primes for automorphic forms on unitary groups and applications to the arithmetic of Ikeda lifts," Mathematics Prof. Jim Brown and co-author provide a sufficient condition for a prime to be a congruence prime for an automorphic form f on the unitary group U(n,n)(A_F) for a large class of totally real fields F via a divisibility of a special value of the standard L-function associated to f. We also study p-adic properties of the Fourier coefficients of an Ikeda lift I(ϕ) (of an elliptic modular form ϕ) on U(n,n)(A_Q) proving that they are p-adic integers which do not all vanish modulo p. Finally we combine these results to show that the condition of p being a congruence prime for I(ϕ) is controlled by the p-divisibility of a product of special values of the symmetric square L-function of ϕ.


UEP Prof. Mijin Cha contributed a chapter to We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism, American Style, a new volume edited by UEP Prof. Peter Dreier, Michael Kazin, and Kate Aronoff. Prof. Cha's chapter, "We the People: Voting Rights, Campaign Finance, and Election Reform," argues that democratic reforms are needed in order to adopt policy measures advocated by democratic socialists. She discusses the distorting influence money has in our political system and details the wide-scale voter suppression efforts under way, specifically targeted towards voters of color and low-income voters. Prof. Cha concludes by offering a policy agenda that ensures every vote is counted and our electoral system is no longer dominated by monied interests.


Prof. Ben Ratskoff (Religious Studies) published a chapter in the first essay collection to consider the Caribbean’s relationship to Jewishness through a literary lens. Caribbean Jewish Crossings takes a pan-Caribbean approach, with chapters addressing the Anglophone, Francophone, Hispanophone, and Dutch-speaking Caribbean. Prof. Ratskoff's chapter, "Splattering the Object: Césaire, Nazi Racism, and the Colonial," argues that Aimé Césaire's particular surrealist style and unique rhetorical figures of the choc-en-retour and the horticultural graft align Nazi racism within the scope of European colonialism and, in contrast to the conventional discourse on racism, as continuous (rather than deviant from) Western humanism. In turn, Césaire de-exceptionalizes the Jewish experience of Nazism as racism’s urtext while suggesting the incorporation of European Jewish history into anti-colonial critique.


History Prof. Sharla Fett's new chapter, "'Fugitive Liberated Congoes': Recaptive Youth and the Rejection of Liberian Apprenticeships, 1858-1861" examines the experiences of recaptive African youth, removed from illegal slave ships by the U.S. Navy and then transported to Liberia during the peak era of American slave trade suppression. Under the Liberian apprenticeship system thousands of young people were contracted out to six hundred Americo-Liberian households and missionary stations. Yet, recaptive shipmates of illegal slaving vessels often viewed Liberia as one more stop in a long series of forced migrations. In the initial period of resettlement, many responded to detention and apprenticeship with protest and collective attempts at escape. A close analysis of the records of U.S. Agent for Recaptured Africans John Seys, together with missionary accounts, indicates that a sizeable group of recaptives rejected their apprenticeship under the colonial hierarchies of Liberian society as an arrangement akin to the slavery from which they had purportedly been rescued. By examining recaptured Africans’ resistance to the terms of Liberian apprenticeship soon after their arrival, we catch a glimpse of both their initial hopes and the true cost of surviving enslavement and becoming Liberian “Congoes.”


Chemistry Prof. Jeff Cannon, Emeritus Prof. Don Deardorff, and Oxy undergraduate co-authors, Scott Niman, Mark Paulsen, Anasheh Sookezian, Meghan Whalen, Christopher Finlayson, Collrane Frivold, and Hilary Brown published a new article: "Development of a Combined Enzyme- and Transition Metal-Catalyzed Strategy for the Synthesis of Heterocycles: Enantioselective Syntheses of (–)-Coniine, DAB-1, and Nectrisine." The enantioselective syntheses of (−)-coniine, DAB-1, and nectrisine have been developed, utilizing a complementary strategy of enzyme- and transition metal-catalyzed reactions. The initial stereocenter was set with >99% enantioselectivity via an enzyme-catalyzed hydrocyanation reaction. Substrate incompatibilities with the natural enzyme were overcome by tactical utilization of ruthenium-catalyzed olefin metathesis to functionalize an enzyme-derived (R)-allylic fragment. The piperidine and pyrrolidine alkaloid natural products were obtained by a route that leveraged regio- and stereoselective palladium-catalyzed 1,3-substitutive reactions.


DWA Prof. Anthony Tirado Chase's new chapter, "Broadening Human Rights: The Case for a Pluralistic Approach" (co-written with Indiana University professor Hussein Banai, a former Oxy colleague) asks if and how human rights could help constitute an alternative to rising populist xenophobia. Chase and Banai argue that this question implies a challenge rather than a definitive answer. The challenge is if human rights are discursively and conceptually capacious enough to be (re)conceptualized in two essential ways. The first of these is to foreground how it is that human rights might specifically address embedded structural inequalities in local and global political economies. A second challenge is if human rights can be re-conceptualized to move beyond modest reformism toward informing ambitiously pluralistic foundations of political community.


Small and medium multifamily properties—defined as buildings having between 2 and 49 units—house over 20% of the U.S. population, yet they remain an understudied segment of the housing market. Using a rich, transaction-level dataset in eleven major urban counties, UEP Prof. Seva Rodnyansky and co-authors' new paper ("Why Are Small and Medium Multifamily Properties So Inexpensive?") finds that they transact at a significant price discount relative to both single-family and large multifamily properties on a per square foot basis. Controlling for both unit- and building-level structural characteristics, small multifamily structures (with 2 to 4 units) transact at a 13.2% discount relative to single-family houses. Further analysis shows that neighborhood characteristics can explain 48.5% of this difference, leaving a sizable residual unexplained. They also find that medium-sized multifamily structures (5 to 49 units) are similarly discounted relative to larger multifamily buildings. This persistently remaining discount may result from asset-specific characteristics. On balance, the analysis reveals a U-shaped price gradient, with the greatest discount for the smallest multifamily properties (2 to 9 units) and a diminishing discount for greater building size.

Books & Edited Volumes

Clinton's nomination by a major party changed the political landscape in significant ways, and the results of the 2016 election provoked a large number of women to run for office at all levels of government. In a new book by CTSJ Prof. Caroline Heldman and Lori Han, Madam President? Gender and Politics on the Road to the White House, critically analyzes the barriers facing women on the road to the White House―from gender stereotyping to biased media coverage, the conflation of masculinity and the presidency, gendered conceptions of leadership, and more.


English Prof. James Ford's first book, Thinking through Crisis: Depression-Era Black Literature, Theory, and Politics, was published with Fordham University Press In the book, Ford examines the works of Richard Wright, Ida B. Wells, W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes during the 1930s in order to articulate a materialist theory of trauma. Ford highlights the dark proletariat’s emergence from the multitude apposite to white supremacist agendas. In the works of these thinkers, Ford argues, proletarian, modernist, and surrealist aesthetics transform fugitive slaves, sharecroppers, leased convicts, levee workers, and activist intellectuals into protagonists of anti-racist and anti-capitalist movements in the United States. As such, the book intervenes in debates on the 1930s, radical subjectivity, and states of emergency.


We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism--American Style, edited by Prof. Peter Dreier (Politics and UEP) and co-editors, offers a road map to making a socialist alternative a reality, giving readers a practical vision of a future that is more democratic, egalitarian, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable. The book includes a crash course in the history and practice of democratic socialism, a vivid picture of what democratic socialism in America might look like in practice, and compelling proposals for how to get there from the age of Trump and beyond. With contributions from some of the nation's leading political activists and analysts (including UEP Prof. Mijin Cha), We Own the Future articulates a clear and uncompromising view from the left--a perfectly timed book that will appeal to a wide audience hungry for change.

Grants and Fellowships

Biology Prof. John McCormack has received a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for oBird, a project to create photo-real 3D models of bird specimens in the Moore Laboratory of Zoology. The project will create 2,000 models, one for each genus of birds, to facilitate virtual research and teaching. The method for creating the models was developed by Oxy alum Josh Medina '18, a Comparative Studies in Language and Culture major who received an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and began graduate school at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst this Fall. The peer-reviewed article, "A rapid and cost-effecive pipeline for digitization of museum specimens with 3D photogrammetry," outlining the method was recently published in PLoS One and was earlier featured on NPR's Science Friday website.


New methods for the formation of carbon-carbon bonds are always at the forefront of organic reaction development. Of particular interest are those that require benign reagents, are atom-economical, and have low energy input. Chemistry Prof. Jeff Cannon has been awarded a grant from the National Institute of Health to develop new umpolung carbon-carbon bond forming reactions with visible-light mediated photocatalysis. Specifically, the projects seek to generate radical species by electron transfer to ketone-containing functional groups. This reactivity will be enabled by photocatalytic electron transfer either to or from an activated carbonyl species. Two specific goals will be approached: 1) Initial work will extend preliminary experimental results that have shown that ketyl radicals can be generated by the combined activity of photocatalysts and Lewis acids to enantioselective 1,4-additions with the use of chiral Lewis acids. 2) Electron transfer from 1,3-dicarbonyls is proposed to generate electrophilic radicals for carbon-carbon bond formation with nucleophiles. A variety of carbon-carbon bond forming reactions that involve 1,3-dicarbonyl radicals are proposed, including hydro-, amido-, and dialkylation of alkenes. In total, these new catalytic processes will provide highly efficient methods for the use of visible light to construct carbon-carbon bonds in complex and biologically relevant molecular settings. The achievement of the designed umpolung reactivity of carbonyl- containing compounds by single electron reduction or oxidation would broaden the scope of reactivity for these widely available reagents. As a result, this project will contribute to the general toolbox of carbon-carbon bond forming reactions with new methods that are able to simultaneously build molecular complexity and adjust oxidation state. Because the project is specifically tailored to be carried out by a research team composed entirely of undergraduates and is therefore broken up into discrete individual projects, it will also enhance the research training and outcomes of a diverse group of undergraduates pursuing careers in the biomedical sciences.


DWA Prof. Phillip Ayoub was selected as one of eight 2020-2021 fellows in International Security at the Hertie School in Berlin.The fellows provide expertise and counsel to the Centre; collaborate with the Centre and its faculty on specific teaching, research and policy advocacy activities within the framework of mutually agreed projects; promote the Centre and its mission in the general public;and participate in public and research events hosted by the Centre.



The National Science Foundation has awarded Occidental College $1,000,000 for a grant entitled “Creating Opportunities for High-achieving Students in Science and Mathematics through Scholarships, Research Experiences, Leadership, and Community” (COSMOS 2.0). The purpose of the grant is to strengthen and broaden the pipeline into science and math at colleges and universities nationwide. More formally, “The National Science Foundation Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) Program seeks to increase and understand the success of low-income, academically talented students with demonstrated financial need who are pursuing associate, baccalaureate, or graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).” Congratulations to the grant PIs Prof. Gretchen North (Biology), Prof. Ron Buckmire (Mathematics), Prof. Carmel Levitan (Cognitive Science), Prof. Justin Ning Hui Li (Cognitive Science, Computer Science), Prof. Janet Scheel (Physics), and Prof. Aleksandra Sherman (Cognitive Science).


Politics Prof. Thalia González and Rebecca Epstein (Georgetown Law) were awarded a $25,000 grant from Grantmakers for Girls of Color for their Initiative on Gender Justice and Opportunity to address the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on girls, fem(mes), and nonbinary/gender expansive youth of color. González will serve as the research lead for the project examining how youth-led restorative justice practices may mitigate the pandemic-related experiences of girls of color and promote inclusive learning environments.


Chemistry Professors Jeff Cannon, Emmanuelle Despagnet-Ayoub, Michael Hill, Raul Navarro and Andrew Udit were awarded a Major Research Instrumentation grant from the National Science Foundation to purchase a new 400 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer for research and teaching in chemistry. This new instrument will support research projects across all the disciplines of chemistry and is a critical piece of infrastructure for examining molecular structures. The instrument will be used in projects ranging from the synthesis of biologically relevant small molecules, to designing new methods of energy storage, to finding synthetic replacements for heparin, to new green catalysts for electrochemical oxidations. This instrument also has new capabilities that allow its direct integration into chemistry teaching laboratories so that every chemistry student will have the opportunity to use this important type of instrumentation.


Art & Art History Prof. Amy Lyford was awarded the competitive NEH Summer Stipend Fellowship to pursue her research for a book project on the photography of the Paris-based surrealist artist Dora Maar (1907-1997). Lyford will travel to Paris in Summer 2021 to complete her research, whose work is planned to be exhibited at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles summer 2020 (pending coronavirus restrictions)


Computer Science Prof. Kathryn Leonard's project titled Geometric and Semantic Structures for Two- and Three-dimensional Shape Understanding has been funded by the National Science Foundation's Division of Mathematical Sciences for $160,000 over three years. The project will contribute foundational mathematical theory and robust computational implementation of 2D and 3D shape understanding, which is a crucial gap in the existing image analysis pipeline.


History Prof. Marla Stone has been awarded a Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation Research Grant for research in Venetian archives during the spring of 2021. She will conduct research for her book project, "The Enemy: The Politics and Propaganda of Italian Anti-communism."


UEP Prof. Bhavna Shamasunder's project titled "Race, Immigration, and the Public Understanding of Science: The Case of Skin Bleaching" has been funded $479,480 by the National Science Foundation's Division of Science, Technology, and Society. This project is a multi-sited study of women in immigrant communities in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and New York City who use potentially toxic beauty products to lighten their skin. Its goal is to examine women's understanding of the risks involved in using the products and their rationales for doing so. The project first uses archival sources to understand the global skin lightening market, how mercury came to be added as an ingredient, and efforts by companies to replace it with less toxic alternatives. Second, it examines how diverse communities perceive scientific and public health information about chemical toxicity, their reasons for purchasing skin lightening products, and whether and how scientific and public health data influences consumer choices.


UEP Prof. Mijin Cha and Prof. Manuel Pastor (USC) received a $125,000 grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation to continue their state-level just transition work. As co-PIs, Profs. Cha and Pastor will explore what policies are needed to help equitably transition fossil fuel workers and communities into a low-carbon future, known as 'just transition' and what political conditions must be necessary to advance those policies. The project will analyze just transition and political conditions in CA, KY, LA, and NY.


Symbiotic partnerships involving two or more species are widespread in nature and we can expect to find them in every type of environment, from rainforests, to urban landscapes, to the oceans. Prof. Shana Goffredi (Biology) has been awarded a $213,809 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the identity and role of symbiotic bacteria in numerous groups of blood-feeding marine invertebrates, from leeches to isopods. The proposed research--titled 'Marine Vampire microbiome Project (MVP): Blood-feeding marine invertebrates, and their bacterial accomplices'--combines a variety of molecular, imaging, and experimental approaches to examine whether internal bacteria positively influence the success of this unusual group of marine parasites. Integrated with this proposal are research opportunities for undergraduates, the expansion of a course that incorporates active exploration of symbioses, and an interactive exhibit at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium.


Math Prof. Jim Brown was awarded a $23,750 grant by the National Security Agency and a $19,125 grant by the National Science Foundation to support the conference "Building Bridges: 5th EU/US Workshop on Automorphic Forms and Related Topics." This is a workshop for researchers from around the work to get together and share their research results in the field of automorphic forms. The workshop will take place at the University of Sarajevo. (This workshop immediately follows the summer school funded by the NSF.)

Exhibits, Performances, Films, Scripts, and Compositions

Statute 21.06: Homosexual Conduct, a new play in development by Theater Prof. Sarah Kozinn, imagines the events surrounding the 2003 United States Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, weaving together documentary evidence with imagined scenes. It was intended to open at the Oxy Arts space on York Blvd in late March, but had to pivot last minute into an audio play. With the expertise of sound designer, Gahyae Ryu, and collaborator and co-director M. Graham Smith, this play, never meant for an audio experience, was transformed into just that. The recording evidences the actors' resilience when faced with the closing of their show in these most uncertain times. Using whatever equipment they had available, they recorded their parts remotely. The result is a tapestry of sound quality that marks this moment in time. We hope you listen to these blips in sound not as mistakes, but as a reminder that despite their distance and access to technology, these actors gave it their all. Read more about the project and listen to the audio play.


Music Prof. Jongnic Bontemps wrote the original score for two new, critically praised films, Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story on Netflix and The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel on Lifetime. His score was praised in this review from Variety, and you can learn more about The Clark Sisters in this NPR piece.


Art & Art History Prof. Linda Besemer’s art is currently on disply in the queer abstraction exhibition at the Nerman Museum. This exhibit features the work of twenty artists who create abstract art to convey the complexities of sexuality and gender identity in the 21st century. Alternative identities, desires and communities are explored through the artists’ manipulation of color, form, texture and materials. Many of these works defy the categories of painting or sculpture, while others camouflage reality in the guise of abstraction. Underlying the art is a fundamental and defiant commitment to pushing the limits of abstract art’s capability. Queer abstraction invites all visitors to leave preconceived notions of the body, sex, gender and love behind and discover abstraction’s queer possibilities.

Awards, Appointments, and other Accomplishments

DWA Prof. Phillip Ayoub had joined the new editorial team at the European Journal of Politics and Gender. Led by Jessica Fortin-Rittberger and Khursheed Wadia as Lead Editors with Phillip Ayoub, Althea-Maria Rivas and Emily St Denny as Associate Editors. This team will take over from the Founding Editors in September 2020.


History Prof. Jane Hong was featured in two episodes of the PBS documentary, "Asian Americans," a nationally televised 5-part docuseries telling the history of Asians in the United States. In episode 2, she speaks about Japanese American incarceration. In episode 3, she explains post-World War II immigration reform and shares her own family's migration story in the 1970s. "Asian Americans" is the latest installment in a longer set of PBS docuseries, which includes "Latino Americans," "African Americans," "Jewish Americans," and "Italian Americans." The live premiere was May 12-13, but the series is available to stream on pbs.org through June 9.


In a Washington Post news article, DWA Prof.Phillip Ayoub analyzes the Polish presidential election. Much as President Trump has campaigned in the United States by encouraging racial division, Duda ran in no small part on opposing LGBT life, saying “LGBT are not people — they are an ideology” that is “even more destructive than communism.” His challenger, Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski of the center-right Civic Platform (PO) party, offered a starkly different vision for the country, pledging to rehabilitate Poland’s strained relationship with the European Union and pushing back against Duda’s populist and inflammatory rhetoric. Trzaskowski’s defeat brought grieved commentary from Poles of the center and left, much as, in the United States, Hillary Clinton supporters reacted to Trump’s electoral college victory. Younger Poles were particularly grieved, having voted for Trzaskowski by large majorities. LGBTQ organizing continues with astonishing resilience.


Congratulations to Theater Prof. Will Power whose most recent work. Detroit Red, a multi-media exploration of a transformational moment in the early life of Malcolm X, was awarded “Outstanding New Script” by the Boston Theater Critics Association at the 38th Annual Elliot Norton Awards!


History Prof. Sharla Fett was selected to present the 2020 Stephanie M.H. Camp Lecture. Fett's talk, "Recaptive African Women and the Body Politics of Survival in the Era of the ‘Last Slave Ships’," merges the history of the body, to which Stephanie M.H. Camp contributed so crucially, with more recent work on black intellectual history in the Atlantic World.


Congratulations to Costume Prof. Jenny Foldenauer (Theater) for being awarded the LA Drama Critics Circle Award for Costume design for her design of Argonautica at A Noise Within in the past season!


In the 5 years since the Ebola epidemic, Art & Art History Prof. Mary Beth Heffernan worked to bring her PPE Portrait Project to patients unable to see their healthcare worker's faces. The project is now supporting COVID care at several hospitals (LAC+USC, USC-Keck Hospital, Stanford Medical School, UMASS, Mass General, Boston Children's Hospital, Providence St. Joseph) and advising nearly a dozen other hospitals across the US and beyond. The project has received wide new coverage and acclaim, including the Smithsonian Magazine, Hyperallergic, CNN, CBSN/Boston (WBZ), KIRO Seattle, and several scholarly publications are forthcoming. Read more here.


In a recent episode of the Transformation of European Politics podcast, DWA Prof. Phillip Ayoub discusses changes in LGBT rights and attitudes towards sexual minorities. He argues that norm brokers play a key role for how international norm pressure for more equality is translated into national discourse and legislation. Local activists and organizations can help frame rights expansion in a way that fits the national discourse. However, national actors in the form of religious/nationalist movements often constitute a strong antagonist to rights expansion. He discusses how the politics of queer visibility go beyond the question of same-sex marriage and what challenges lie ahead for equal recognition of sexual minorities. Especially trans rights and intersectional questions of queerness and for example racism remain strongly contested fields. While much progressive change has been achieved, many aspects of queer live remain invisible.


Politics Prof. Jennifer M. Piscopo wrote an article in Ms. Magazine about how the 2018 Blue Wave elected unprecedented numbers of Democratic women to the state legislatures. These women are passing feminist reforms at the state level, and outperform men when it comes to introducing and enacting their legislation.


History Prof. Marla Stone was appointed President of the Board of the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Southern California in March 2020. She has served on the Board of the American Civil Liberties Union and Foundation for thirteen years.


Biology Prof. John McCormack's National Science Foundation funded project to resurvey Mexico's birdlife was the subject of a video short published on Biographic's website. "Records of Change" follows Prof. McCormack and the Moore Lab as they travel to remote locations in Mexico and work with locals to assess how birds are coping with environmental stressors. The Moore Lab's bird specimens play a key role in providing a link to past bird communities recorded before industrialization changed Mexico's habitats forever.


History Prof. Sharla Fett presented a keynote address at a workshop titled "Postcoloniality and Forced Migration" at the University of Aalborg in Copenhagen, Denmark. This interdisciplinary and international conference brought together scholarship on borders, forced migration, and political theory, with critical research on humanitarianism, colonialism and slavery. The keynote was titled "Externalizing the “Problem” of Slave Trade Refugees: U.S. Slave Trade Suppression 1819-1861."


When Biology Prof. Joseph Schulz’s lab submitted an abstract related to the on-going research in his lab to the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology’s Annual Meeting--entitled "The Cone Snail Strikes Back: A Biomechanical Study of an Ultrafast Prey Capture"--it was selected for a talk (instead of a poster) and was selected as part of a selection of exciting new research to include in the meeting press. The Society conveyed that "Every year our committee picks some of the most exciting research being presented at the annual meeting to present to the general public and the press. Of the nearly ~1900 abstracts that were submitted, your abstract rose to the top of our list."


MAC Prof. Allison de Fren's scholarly video essay Mad Science/Mad Love and the Female Body in Pieces (2018), which examines a sub-genre of the Frankenstein film in which a mad doctor attempts to revive a disfigured/dead daughter/fiancée by stealing parts from female victims, was included in Sight&Sound's best video essays of 2019 list!