Teaching Togetherness

Published: The California Aggie. January 26, 2017. Viewable here.


After becoming interested in yoga her senior year of high school, fourth-year clinical nutrition major Megan Settles decided to complete the 200 hours of training needed to become a yoga instructor. Settles, who now teaches yoga classes at the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC), said the activity has significantly changed her for the better.

“[During] your first sun salutation […] you’ll probably feel a little tight and not super relaxed,” Settles said. “Once you do a million of them, you’re going to feel better. [You will feel] a sense of strength in your body which will [allow] you to feel strength outside of class. Feeling good can bring out […] confidence. It has this domino effect. You feel really powerful and lifted up.”

On and off campus, students and faculty are engaging others in wellness activities as a means to self-improve and create communal bonds. One pioneer of this is Stacey Brezing, the director for the UC Davis Staff and Faculty Health and Wellbeing Program. Brezing and two student assistants use a small budget and pre-existing resources to organize wellness activities for the campus community.

The upcoming Mindfulness Meditation series, a four week class starting January 31 which will be offered at the Mondavi Center, is one such activity aimed at increasing wellbeing.

“Going back to work after meditation, [staff and faculty are] a little more resilient, [and] able to handle more,” Brezing said. “It [also] decreases stress levels.”

Another event, the 4-part Lunchtime Gentle Yoga series, had 50 slots available and sold out in 20 minutes, Brezing said, with another 70 on the waitlist. From this high demand came the inception of the Meditation Ambassadors and Wellness Ambassadors program. The Meditation Ambassadors program trains those interested in meditation so that they can provide meditation to their colleagues, whereas a Wellness Ambassador is a voluntary position in which volunteers promote wellness activities.
“Especially with [the] Wellness Ambassadors, they can do something as simple as passing on the word about what’s happening on campus,” Brezing said. “It’s kind of a grassroots effort to promote stress reduction and wellbeing.”

According to Brezing, data from surveys given after the meditation series in the fall showed that 94 percent of those in attendance felt their health had improved, 97 percent felt their wellbeing had improved and 83 percent felt their work performance improved following the series.

Engaging in wellness activities can be an individual experience, but can oftentimes shape and create new bonds.

Wellness activities can definitely be communal,” Brezing said. “A lot of groups get together and knit, color, play four square, meditate, bring in group exercise instructors, et cetera. The social aspect of these activities can really help motivate people to make long-term behavior changes. It also increases employee morale.”

One drawback in seeking out wellness activities such as yoga classes is the typical cost associated with involvement. Yoga classes at the ARC can range from around $50 to $70. Due to their own passions for yoga and the desire to bring it to students, fourth-year clinical nutrition major Athena LeMay and fourth-year food science and technology major Ana Skomal co-founded the UC Davis Yoga Club.

“The Yoga Club offers free classes and workshops every week,” LeMay said. “We have guest teachers and provide a variety of all sorts of yoga styles. We have worked with sororities […] and the new Manetti Shrem Museum [on their] opening day. The Yoga Club also offers hikes for building community and relationships with fellow yogis.”

With almost 300 “yogis,” or members, on their Facebook page, the Yoga Club’s activities are addressing the student demand. However, Skomal said that they aim to provide more than just yoga.

“The simple mission of the Yoga Club is to provide a safe community for students to relax, meet new people and practice the art of meditation and yoga for free,” Skomal said. “For being a fairly new club, I believe we have engaged many students to start and continue their yoga journey in the midst of the college environment. Each yoga class or workshop is beginner-friendly and all levels are welcome.”

In addition to the Yoga Club, Skomal has sought out additional ways to teach others about yoga. In addition to instructing donation-based yoga classes at a studio in Davis, in which all proceeds went to Wind Youth Services for homeless youth, Skomal also taught mindfulness and meditation classes at the Center Against Sexual Harm in Oak Park.

“I made a commitment to continue on my path of yoga outreach,” Skomal said. [I want to] create a community within the UC Davis campus where yoga is available to all students who are interested in starting and continuing their yoga journey.”

Maria West teaches a variety of yoga classes, including several at the ARC. West taught yoga at the Juvenile Detention Facility in Woodland and says yoga can bring personal growth and much-needed reflection.

“The practice of yoga encourages letting go of thoughts that do not serve you,” West said. “I remind my students [that] this is where [they] are today […and] nothing is permanent, so tomorrow might be different. Tomorrow, [they] just might be more steady in this pose, or not. We’re all trying to do our best. Yoga is also the unfolding experience of humility.”

Both Skomal and West share a passion to use their yoga expertise as a way to give back to the community.

“Initially, it was not my intention to teach, [but] after I taught my first class, I was hooked,”  West said. “There’s something about teaching that feels like a privilege – [a] privilege to serve and give back, to encourage, to break through walls and help someone feel good, not just about their body but about themselves.”

Brezing said that after meditation or other engagements in wellness exercises, workers are invigorated. Similarly, Settles said that over the course of the ten-week period she spends teaching yoga to students at the ARC, she sees a definite change. A change which brings positive results.

“If you can find five minutes to lay or sit and meditate […] just with yourself and try and focus on your breath […], I feel like that would have so many benefits on this campus,” Settles said. “I think an awesome aspect of [yoga] is community. We’re not all like-minded […] but we’re all here, together, in that time, practicing the same thing. There’s such a powerful, almost magical, experience to just feel so connected to so many people.”


Hart Hall: A Hearty History

Published: The California Aggie. November 27, 2016. Viewable here.


Newspaper clippings displaying images of advocates including Malcolm X and Angela Davis and articles documenting UC Davis protests adorn the walls of George H. Hart Hall. The hall is included in the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the earliest-constructed buildings on UC Davis’ campus.

“If someone just walks through, I don’t know if they pick up on [a] vibe, but it’s here for sure,” said Veronica Passalacqua, the curator for the C.N. Gorman Museum currently housed in Hart Hall. “People in this building are extremely passionate about their ideals.”

Hart Hall was originally known as the Animal Science building since it housed the Animal Science Department — the only department of its kind in the UC system. The building was renamed in 1983 to its present title in dedication to George H. Hart, a former chair of the Department of Animal Science who helped bring it to international fame.

Hart Hall is currently home to the ethnic studies as well as other departments and programs including American studies, the Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, Gender, Sexuality and Women’s (GSW) studies and Human and Community Development.

Asian American Studies professor Sunaina Maira credits student activist movements to the creation of ethnic studies programs at UC Davis. Both Maira and Chicana/o studies professor Natalia Deeb-Sossa led the creation of the UC Davis Race Projectwhich hangs in the hallways of Hart Hall. Showcasing a culmination of images and copies of Third World Forum newsletters, the project displays a history of social struggles and is a prominent feature of the building.

“The Race Project document[s] the history of the [UC Davis] student movements,” Maira said. “We wanted to […] create an archive and also a public exhibit that would try to educate the campus community about the long history of activism [at UC Davis, which] is not very well-known. Davis was actually […] a really important [place] for […] social struggles and student movements from the 1960s and ’70s on, and those movements led to the creation of ethnic studies programs that are housed in Hart Hall today.”

Additionally, Nicki King, chair of the Department of African and African American Studies housed in Hart Hall, said that a similar exhibit will be opening during Winter Quarter.

“The [African and African American Studies] Department, along with the other ethnic and cultural studies programs in Hart Hall, will be sponsoring an upgraded Third World Forum exhibit,” King said. “The concepts of equity, social justice and empowerment are important for the advancement and recognition of all underrepresented groups, and we want our students to understand that there is a strong historical precedent for their involvement in these causes.”

After an $8.9 million renovation in 1992, departments such as Native American Studies (NAS) moved into Hart Hall as well. The NAS Department is one of only two departments of its kind in the country that offer graduate programs.

“We’re the only [department] anywhere that offers a hemispheric perspective to the study of indigenous peoples,” said Inés Hernández-Ávila, NAS professor. “[This] approach to the study of indigenous peoples was central to our program from the beginning. It was the vision of one of our founders, Jack Forbes; he truly believed in this perspective — it is his legacy to us.”

Hart Hall is also home to research studies programs including the Self-Esteem Across the LiFespan Lab (SELF Lab), which researches the influences and factors related to self-esteem.

At the head of the SELF Lab is Kali Trzesniewski. Trzesniewski is an associate cooperative extension specialist in the Department of Human Ecology, who works with both undergraduate and graduate students, including Michelle Harris, a sixth-year graduate student of self-esteem and personality development in the Human Development Ph.D. program. Harris said she enjoys working in Hart Hall because it has a sense of home and community. She helps to conduct research, design surveys and publish data.

“Our most recent paper […]  is validating a new survey that we created that can measure global self-esteem,” Harris said. “This new survey […simplifies] existing surveys so kids can understand them a little better, and we found that their responses are reliable and valid. [The] survey works and it can be administered across the lifespan.”

Another noteworthy feature of Hart Hall is the C.N. Gorman Museum, founded in 1973. The museum, which displays contemporary Native American and Indigenous artwork, has been housed in Hart Hall since 1992 and has displayed over 200 exhibits. It is named after Navajo artist Carl Nelson Gorman.

“[C.N. Gorman] was really inspired by the students [who] were here,” Passalacqua said. “He soon amassed quite a big collection very quickly, [and] because he had this collection […] the university officially dedicated it as a museum in his name. We’re a university museum and we’re dedicated to teaching and research, but […] there’s no other venue like ours until you get to Arizona and New Mexico.”

The C.N. Gorman Museum’s next exhibit in January is entitled ‘Protest and Prayer’ and will display photographs of protests including Standing Rock and the Idle No More Movement. The exhibit fits into the air of social justice and advocacy evident in Hart Hall. Hernández-Ávila, who also worked as co-director of the UCD Social Justice Initiative, said she hopes people associate Hart Hall with social advocacy.

“I teach what matters to me,” Hernández-Ávila said. “I hope that the way that I teach [and] the way that I carry myself shows all students that  […] I want to contribute to awareness, consciousness, social consciousness [and] an understanding of social justice in a way that is inclusive of everyone. I think most of my colleagues in this building do the same thing.”

King, who has worked in Hart Hall for a number of years, said that the building’s location signifies what it represents.

“I have always felt that its location, right on the Quad and in the physical ‘heart’ of the campus spoke volumes about our commitment to be a vital part of the life of the university,” King said. “I can look out of my office window and see every demonstration on the quad, so it puts us right in the middle of what the students are thinking and feeling, especially about issues related to social justice.”

Although the departments in Hart Hall function separately from one another, Hernández-Avila said that faculty members from the ethnic studies departments, as well as the American studies and GSW studies departments, try to stand with and support one another.

“Historically, we’ve always worked in solidarity with each other,” Hernández-Avila said. “If one of the programs needs support from the other, we usually come forward and support them. I like the idea that the name of the building is Hart, because I think of it as the other, h-e-a-r-t.”

Four friends are building a sandbag wall in New York for their “Wall in Trump” project

Published: Fresh U. August 18, 2016. Viewable here.


  Four friends are teaming up to create a wall made from approximately 250,000 pounds of sand. Said wall will be built in front of a Trump-associated building in New York, and the piece will protest the business magnate who popularized the idea of building a wall during his campaign for the presidency.

  The friends, who introduce themselves on their project’s Indiegogo page, will construct the proposed 200-foot long wall on August 30. Three of the friends met in college, and the four – who are all interested in design – state that they “know this U.S. election is too important to idly stand by and watch, and feel compelled to do something about it.”

  “America was built by people of different ethnicities and creeds, who came to this country with a dream,” their Indiegogo site reads. “This has made America great – walls and bigoted statements are the antithesis of this country. Our event will support others in achieving their American dream. We have chosen to donate all proceeds to the NYC-based  “I Have a Dream” Foundation, whose mission is to empower low-income students in achieving higher education.”

  This project, named “Wall In Trump” is selling sandbags for $10 each. When a sandbag is bought, it is inscribed with the buyer’s personal message and name. Wall In Trump is asking for about $60,000 and has only brought in about $8,500.

  Why a wall? The website explains:

  “Our hope is that by building this ridiculously MASSIVE wall, we can use Trump’s words against him to grab the attention of media, Trump supporters, and Mr. Trump himself – in an attempt to fight the hate-speech and lies that pervade his campaign.  We want to start a conversation – to remind people that this election is about much more than Republicans or Democrats. We are deciding on the next role model for the youth our country, on whether or not diversity is seen as something to celebrate or fear.  We need to make the right decision.”

   If interested, donations can be sent in here.

  “Join us in making this the only wall of the Trump campaign,” their video states.

University of Rochester graduate hikes over 6,600 miles in about a year

Published: Fresh U. August 12, 2016. Viewable here.


  29-year-old Tyler Socash will soon return to his alma mater, the University of Rochester, to talk to incoming freshmen about the importance of pursuing one’s passion. Presumably, he will also speak about his year-long, three part, 6,600 mile hike.

  Socash started his journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which spans from Canada to Mexico and is approximately 2,633 miles in length. The second part of his hike continued in New Zealand where he hiked Te Araroa, adding an additional 1,864 miles to his log. And, recently, he ended his hike, after taking a short stop in the Adirondack mountains, hiking the 2,185 mile Appalachian Trail.

  “It’s been a dream come true, almost with a storybook ending,” Socash told Democrat and Chronicle. “Seeing the beauty and wild side of America has been the highlight of my adventure. I completed what I set out to do, and it feels unbelievable. It’s freeing and promising.”

  Socash completed the three part hike over the span of 13 months, but took a month-long break in between each of leg of the journey.

 His hike is displayed through Instagram photos on his personal account: @tylerhikes. Socash also documented his entire journey on his blog, viewable here.

  ‘I don’t think I got here by chance,” Socash wrote on a blog post uploaded after completing the second leg of his hike. “Every vacation I’ve ever made for myself has involved hiking.  That’s 10 years of hiking!  It may sound obsessive, but I’m doing what I love.  I made the jump.  I saved money for six years!  I lived in squalor with five other amazing dudes back in Rochester.  I never bought that tangerine Subaru CrossTrek.  Thank goodness thru-hiking happens to be a relatively inexpensive way to have a long holiday!

  “Thank you all for your support.  It can get a bit lonely being so far from home.  Your messages and well-wishes really matter.  Sharing my appreciation for the natural world with you… I hope that matters.  Not everyone can just walk away from life’s responsibilities right now, but if these posts do anything at all, I hope they inspire readers at work/home to value nature.  Not as something to exploit, but rather to cherish.”

New York ramping up to crack down on synthetic marijuana

Published: Fresh U. July 16, 2016. Viewable here.


  Over the period of three days, hospitals across New York City were treating over 130 different overdoses on the synthetic cannabinoid K2. The New York Times reported that just last spring city officials had triumphantly hailed their campaign to hinder the spread of the drug a success, but now Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that law enforcement will again increase their patrol of K2 following the outbreak in cases.

  In Early 2015, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there was an increase in adverse health-related consequences due to the synthetic cannabinoid. K2, also popularly known as spice or, plainly, synthetic marijuana, is entirely man-made and contains unknown chemicals.

  Robert Messner, an assistant deputy commissioner for civil enforcement in New York told a New York Police Academy that the drug is “made by persons unknown … under conditions unknown in unknown places,” and it is most often assembled by spraying unknown chemicals over leaves, creating the appearance of marijuana but being more similar to drugs such as bath salts.

  “The users of K2 are literally playing Russian roulette with their bodies,” Messner warned the Academy. “They have no idea what chemicals are in that package or at what concentration.”

  The Times also reported that city officials believe the spike in health concerns to be due to an especially potent batch of K2, rather than an increase in usage.

  According to CNN, the drug can be from 2 to 100 times stronger than THC. From 2010 to 2015, K2 was responsible for the deaths of three people, including teenager Connor Eckhardt.

  Eckhardt had taken only one hit of the drug before he fell into a coma – his brain was deprived of oxygen and began to swell, and he eventually became brain-dead.

  According to The Daily Mail, although the drug is most commonly referred to as K2 or Spice, it has also been sold as incense, potpourri and herbal smoking blend.

  CBS News reports that after taking the drug users may experience from anything as mild as confusion to seizures. Because the drug is made with unknown chemicals, CBS reports, as soon as the ingredients for one recipe is banned, another version pops up.


California adopts LGBT-inclusive curriculum

Published: Fresh U. July 17, 2016. Viewable here.


  The California State Board of Education has unanimously approved changes to public school curriculum and adopted the first mandate in the nation which would require instruction in public schools about LGBT+ history and milestones as well as LGBT+ Americans who made history.

  The implementation of the new curriculum will satisfy legislation passed in California in 2012 that LGBT+ Americans and Americans with disabilities be added to Kindergarten through eighth grade textbooks. This legislation, SB 48, also states that “sexual orientation and religion … shall not be reflected adversely in adopted instructional materials.”

  Allyson Chiu, a senior at Cupertino High School spoke to the board before their decision as a member of the side in favor of implementing the new changes.

  “My classmates can solve quadratic equations or cite the elements on the periodic table,” Chiu said. “They can’t tell you who Harvey Milk was or the significance of the Stonewall Riots.”

  According to the Daily Mail, the curriculum approved by the Board of Education has mapped out specific changes to curriculum by grade level – differing family structures, such as having two mothers or two fathers, would be discussed in second grade, in fourth there would be discussion about California and the gay rights movement and teachings on gender roles through history would be touched on from fifth grade through high school.

  Although two unsuccessful attempts were made to repeal the law by Conservative groups who argued that discussions on the LGBT+ community and historical members ought to come from and be decided on by parents, many view the approved changes as a milestone.

   “You cannot understand where we are now collectively as Americans without understanding something of the LGBT past,” said Don Romesburg, chairman of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at Sonoma State University in his speech urging the board to make the affirmative decision they eventually decided upon.

  United States history teacher Miguel Covarrubias told The L.A. Times about the impact of teaching on the subject matter.

  “Some (students) are initially uncomfortable,” Covarrubias told The Times. “It makes a huge difference to know how they are part of the evolving American story.”

‘Drunkorexia’ apparent on college campuses

Published: Fresh U. July 4, 2016. This article was one of six featured articles of the week. Viewable here.

 Partying in college is an age-old tradition which predates many of the modern universities who perhaps proudly boast to be labeled a party school – a reputation which attracts applicants. The dangers of partying have become more emphasized over time – heightened risks of sexual assaults, alcohol poisoning, DUIs, etc. – but a new fad, coined drunkorexia, is seen to be more common than once thought, especially on college campuses.

  Drunkorexia is an act in which meals are skipped in order to either save calories for later consumption of alcohol or to intensify the effects of alcohol consumption. According to Science Daily, because alcohol works quicker on an empty stomach – food acts to absorb alcohol and slows down the process of getting drunk – those who partake in either skipping meals or bingeing and purging face a number of consequences.

  “Potential outcomes may include less inhibition that could lead to more negative alcohol-related consequences,” Dipali V. Rinker, a researcher and professor from the University of Houston said, as reported by Science Daily. “Additionally, restricting caloric intake to those from alcohol could lead to vitamin depletion, as it may keep the individual from eating more nutrient-dense foods.”

  Rinker was a lead researcher in a University of Houston survey of 1,200 college students which detailed drinking behavior and found that more than 80 percent of those surveyed were engaging in behaviors related to drunkorexia, according to USA Today.

  USA Today also reported that males, who are shown to engage in riskier behaviors, especially involving alcohol, are as if not more likely to engage in behaviors linked to drunkorexia than females. The University of Texas at Austin also published this fact sheet which highlights studies that suggests 30 percent of females between the age of 18 and 23 “diet so they can drink.”

  The sheet suggests that, to be safe, alcohol consumers should not restrict food intake before drinking, limit the number of drinks they consume and exercise to maintain heart health.