USC Viterbi assistant professor gets research award from National Institutes of Health


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Unfolding the Mystery of Proteins

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Unfolding the Mystery of Proteins

Assistant professor Wade Zeno, an expert in proteins, wins the prestigious ESI MIRA award from the NIH

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Wade Zeno, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, has received the Early-Stage Investigator’s Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (ESI MIRA) from the National Institutes of Health.

The MIRA is a prestigious grant that supports an investigator’s lab to promote important scientific breakthroughs. The grant will fund Zeno’s lab for a total of $2 million throughout five years, as his team explores dynamic interactions between intrinsically disordered proteins and curved cellular membrane surfaces.

“I was really fortunate to get this award because I’m still pretty new to being a professor,” said Zeno, an expert in proteins who joined USC Viterbi in summer 2020. “This research is essential to understanding the mechanisms by which intrinsically disordered proteins function in cellular processes.”

Proteins are a key molecule that carry out all different kinds of functions in living systems. Historically, the field of protein biology believed that the function of proteins arose from their ability to fold into specific structures. However, it was recently discovered that many proteins don’t fold at all. These types of proteins, known as intrinsically disordered proteins, have good and bad implications. Many are innocuous and even essential, while others are heavily implicated in neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimers, as well as certain types of cancer.

Zeno studies how these proteins interact specifically with curved surfaces. For example, a protein may disrupt neurotransmission and become a key sign of Parkinson’s disease. Understanding the fundamental mechanisms of these protein interactions could help one day find a cure.

“The mechanism of sensing curvature is important for many cellular processes because that’s how cells shuttle things across the plasma membrane and throughout the cytoplasm,” said Zeno. “If the proteins can’t do that, the cells can’t function and that underlies various diseases.”

One of Zeno’s first projects at USC was a collaboration with a local biotech company to understand how a potential therapeutic for Parkinson’s disease functions in cells.


Zeno didn’t always like the idea of working in biological research.

“In undergrad, I actually really hated biology,” Zeno said. “The memorization was really boring, and I wanted to solve actual problems.”

It wasn’t until his senior year as a chemical engineering major at the University of Nevada, Reno, that he fell in love with the intersection of physics, chemistry, math, and biology in his bioengineering class. For his senior design project, Zeno designed and modeled a brewery–integrating many aspects of his studies, such as modeling the kinetics of yeast fermentation.

“Once I saw [this intersection] it opened up a world of possibilities for me,” he said.


After working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin for four years, Zeno joined USC Viterbi in August 2020 as an assistant professor.

At USC, he was awarded the 2020 USC Provost’s Assistant Professor Fellowship, which gave him teaching relief for his first year.

“It allowed me to focus on my research. I was able to train my lab and collect preliminary data. I think this gave me an edge over other applicants and develop a strong research proposal that ultimately ended up getting funded,” Zeno said.

With the ESI MIRA grant, Zeno hopes to continue building a solid understanding of the function of intrinsically disordered proteins and how to engineer or control them.

“I want to help develop new biotechnologies that change the way we understand, diagnose, and treat disease,” he said.

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Keck School of Medicine of USC Dean Carolyn Meltzer beats impostor syndrome


Editor’s note: Title IX — the landmark legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding — was signed into law on June 23, 1972. In recognition of this anniversary, we’ll be profiling Trojan Title IX trailblazers throughout the year.


As a student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the 1980s, Carolyn Meltzer remembers being plagued with feelings of impostor syndrome — especially each time she walked by the famous portrait of the university’s founding physicians known as “The Big Four.”

Title IX logo“It was where men are men and giants walk the halls,” she said. “If you were a woman, you were a bit of an outlier. My frame of mind was always to fit in with the guys and be twice as good to be recognized.”

Meltzer, dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the May S. and John H. Hooval Dean’s Chair in Medicine since 2022, describes those years as “an arduous journey” that she had to push through. Only one-third of her classmates were female, and positive reinforcement was hard to come by.

“I remember a moment when I was a senior medical student and a female chief resident said to me, ‘You know, you’re really talented. You really do a good job,'” Meltzer said. She was speechless, and the chief resident wondered why. “I said, ‘Nobody has ever told me that since I’ve been here.'”

Speaking out to help others

These are among the experiences that inform Meltzer’s work overseeing the operations and academic affairs of Keck School of Medicine and its 16 major research institutes and 26 basic and clinical academic programs. She is mindful that it remains more common for women and other underrepresented and marginalized groups to doubt their abilities despite successfully performing at a high level.

When you’re early in your career … it’s very hard to speak up for yourself.

Carolyn Meltzer, Keck School of Medicine

“It’s only as I’ve gotten more senior that I’ve been able to speak out, to maybe be able to help others,” she said. “When you’re early in your career and at the bottom of the power and privilege gradient, it’s very hard to speak up for yourself.”

Meltzer has done a lot of work in the diversity space and has often heard people talking about impostor syndrome as if it were a character flaw that people need to get over.

“There’s a big part of our environment that helps create it,” she said. “Speaking now as a senior leader, we have to create environments that ensure people are feeling included and valued for the identities they bring to the table.”

Despite any self-doubt she battled as a student, Meltzer believed in equal opportunity “from a pretty young age” and “didn’t see a reason I shouldn’t be able to do anything the guys could do.”

Early role models

Meltzer earned her undergraduate degree with honors from Cornell University, where she was president of the Women in Medicine club and would try to find female physicians to come and share their experiences with students.

At Johns Hopkins, she was influenced by Catherine D. DeAngelis, a professor and physician who went on to become vice dean for academic affairs and faculty at the university and the first woman editor in chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Some of those giants who walked the halls were women,” Meltzer said. “Not too many, but just their presence had a great impact on me.”

Meltzer became an expert in neuroradiology and nuclear medicine and has conducted research to understand the structure and function of the brain during normal aging, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and psychiatric disorders later in life. She also specializes in cancer imaging research.

“I went into a field that was very male-dominated with a lot of technology, innovation, PET [positron emission tomography] imaging and research areas — just very physics-heavy,” she said. “We still struggle with having women go into the hard sciences at equal rates.”

Meltzer was recruited to Keck School of Medicine after spending 15 years at Emory University School of Medicine, where she was chair of the department of radiology and imaging sciences. She also served as executive associate dean of faculty academic advancement, leadership and inclusion and as chief diversity and inclusion officer.

Meltzer had earlier held various academic and administrative appointments at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, including creating and leading the school’s clinical PET center.

Protecting hard-earned rights

Although she wasn’t yet in high school when Title IX went into effect, Meltzer is grateful for the law and the protections it provides.

“It often takes federal legislation to put a stake in the ground and move the world forward, whether it’s civil rights or gender rights,” she said. “I don’t think we would have made as much progress in higher education and created as many opportunities for diverse individuals if Title IX hadn’t become law when it did.”

Progress is not linear, and it tends to be made by a series of tipping points. Then there are also moments where things slip back.

Carolyn Meltzer, Keck School of Medicine

While she celebrates Title IX’s 50th anniversary, Meltzer remains very concerned about gender equity overall in the United States, including women’s reproductive rights, the rights of the transgender community and the rights of professionals who provide gender-affirming care.

“Progress is not linear, and it tends to be made by a series of tipping points,” she said. “Then there are also moments where things slip back. I feel like we’re in a moment where there are both tipping points and slides back happening at the same time.”

Meltzer is working to make sure these setbacks don’t happen at USC.

“I think it’s a very optimistic place through the lens of Title IX,” Meltzer said. “I work with some wonderful women leaders and men leaders, and we’re trying to build a diverse team to give more voice to the complexity of the problems we’re focused on.”

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Trailblazer Elyn Saks sees ‘gender-inspired mental health activism happening all the time now’

Editor’s note: Title IX — the landmark legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding — was signed into law on June 23, 1972. In recognition of this anniversary, we’ll be profiling Trojan Title IX trailblazers throughout the academic year.

When Professor Elyn Saks was a college student in the mid-1970s, she was in the minority. At Vanderbilt University, where she studied philosophy with a minor in ancient Greek and graduated as valedictorian, 28% of students were women undergraduates. At the University of Oxford, where she earned a master’s degree in philosophy on a prestigious Marshall Scholarship, one-third of the students were women — and all of her professors were men.

Title IX logo

Saks had the full support of her parents — “There was never any sense that as a woman I could not earn multiple degrees and have a good career,” she said — and she recognizes that when she was hired as a professor at the USC Gould School of Law in 1989, she was on a path that had been forged by Title IX, passed in 1972.

“Title IX is an extremely important law that changed the rights of women, and others, to participate fully in government, work and education,” Saks said. “When I started working at Gould in 1989, we were aware of the rights and interests of all groups. Since that time, it is great to see that more women are professors and students at USC.”

Saks, founder and faculty director of the Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy and Ethics, went on to Yale Law School. During this time, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, which presented the greatest personal challenge of her life, eventually guiding her toward a distinguished career in mental health advocacy and scholarship. That includes writing the groundbreaking 2007 memoir The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, which earned wide acclaim and made the New York Times Best Sellers list. In 2009, Saks was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, aka the “genius grant,” which she used to launch the Saks Institute.

Saks’ interdisciplinary career intersects fields of law, public policy, and mental health research and advocacy, which is no surprise considering her life experiences.

Finding her calling

Diagnosed with depression while at Vanderbilt, Saks’ symptoms became more intense at Oxford. Her studies were interrupted by a monthslong stay in a psychiatric hospital, which she kept from her family for fear of worrying them. While hospitalized, she realized that being alone in a hospital room did not improve her condition. Studying and being with friends anchored her. Saks’ doctors agreed and let her get back to her studies at Oxford.

After earning her master’s degree, Saks, who had considered pursuing philosophy but realized her analytic thinking processes were more suited to law, began law school at Yale. Saks says her knowledge of Title IX became more prominent while at Yale, which is when she had returned to the states after five years. “Yale Law was also very keyed into civil rights and civil liberties,” Saks said. “It was common knowledge that Yale Law students went on to become professors or public interest lawyers.” Saks began incorporating mental illness topics into her student papers. One of the first was about how painful and degrading mechanical restraints in psychiatric hospitals were. She was shocked at her professor’s reaction to the paper.

“He said, ‘You don’t understand, Elyn. These people are psychotic. They don’t experience restraints as we would,'” she said. “It was only by ‘othering’ us that this professor could feel OK about doing to us what he never would want done to himself or loved ones.”

At Yale, Saks was eventually hospitalized and diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia. From her 2012 TED Talk, “A Tale of Mental Illness,” she mentions her “grave” prognosis as a woman with schizophrenia was not hopeful, according to the doctors. “At best, I was expected to live in a board-and-care [facility] and work menial jobs,” Saks said.

A community of support

Saks says mental illness treatment has certainly changed over time. For years, many women could be institutionalized for simply standing up for themselves or being “difficult.” Saks was fortunate that her family and friends believed in her abilities and supported her efforts to treat her mental illness and succeed academically.

“Many women were put in hospitals by their husbands for terrible reasons,” Saks said. “When I developed serious mental illness and was expressing pessimism about my future life and career, my father’s response was that people with serious cancer overcome their prognosis, and there was no reason to think I couldn’t overcome mine.”

After receiving her law degree, Saks worked as a staff attorney at a legal services agency in Connecticut but found it unfulfilling. She decided that her goal was to become a law professor.

“I truly enjoy introducing the next generation of students to the joys of thinking and writing about important societal issues,” Saks stated. “As a law professor, you can choose what you spend your time on. I love writing books and articles in my area of law and mental health.” When Saks joined the USC faculty in 1989, the university had only six female law school professors. As of 2022, there were 26 female professors.

Fighting mental health stigma

The Saks Institute is a think tank that studies issues at the intersection of law, mental health and ethics. The Saks Scholars, a yearly cohort of graduate students from various USC schools, spotlight one important mental health issue per academic year in a collaborative effort with faculty. Even within the institute, Saks has seen a decrease in mental health stigma over the years, which promotes more positive and open discussion about mental illness.

Because of Title IX, I believe things are getting better.

Elyn Saks, USC Gould

“Over 10 years, 80% of the Saks Scholars had disclosed in their application that they or a loved one had mental illness. When we first met as a group and we went around the room to discuss why they wanted to be a scholar, only one person self-disclosed,” Saks said. “Quite surprising for law students who were about rights, liberty and dignity. But, within the last year, almost everyone self-disclosed, including one woman who said she’d never mentioned to anyone that she had bipolar I with psychotic features.”

Saks is also encouraged by changes in terms of gender equality.

“Because of Title IX, I believe things are getting better. We see that in my area of research, mental health and mental health law,” Saks said. “We see gender-inspired mental health activism happening all the time now.”

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USC Dornsife’s Percival Everett elected to American Academy of Arts and Letters

Celebrated writer and Distinguished Professor of English elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters

Celebrated writer and Distinguished Professor of English elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters
USC Dornsife’s Percival Everett joins a select handful of notable figures in literature, music, art and architecture who were elected this year.
Darrin S. Joy May 05, 2023
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Percival Everett, Distinguished Professor of English at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Founded in 1898, the academy stands as an honor society of the country’s leading writers, artists, composers and architects.

Everett is one of just 19 individuals — only six of whom are in the literature category — elected as members this year.

He is the fourth USC faculty member elected to the academy and the second at USC Dornsife. (Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English and Writer in Residence Emeritus TC Boyle was elected in 2009.)

“I believe that the arts make us better, smarter,” Everett said. “I feel fortunate to be able to make a living as an artist and so participate in this ongoing discourse.”

Everett, whose research centers on American studies and critical theory, has authored 34 books as well as more than 70 shorter works including poems, essays and short stories.

His writing has garnered numerous awards, including the PEN/Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature for his novel Big Picture (Graywolf Press, 1996), the Pushcart Prize for his 1996 article “The Appropriation of Cultures,” and his first Hurston/Wright Foundation Legacy Award in 2001 for Erasure (UPNE, 2001).

Erasure also earned Everett an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

He earned a second Hurston/Wright Foundation Legacy Award in 2010 for I Am Not Sidney Poitier (Graywolf Press, 2009), and a third in 2021 for Telephone (Graywolf Press, 2020), a novel that placed him among the 2021 finalists for a Pulitzer Prize.

He earned a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in 2014 and a Guggenheim Fellowship a year later, and he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016.

The National Book Critics Circle presented him with the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022.

After earning an AB in philosophy at the University of Miami in 1977 and a master’s degree from Brown University’s Graduate Writing Program in 1982, Everett held faculty positions at the University of Kentucky, University of Notre Dame and the University of California, Riverside. He joined USC Dornsife’s Department of English in 1998 as a full professor and was named a Distinguished Professor of English by the university in 2007.

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Structural biologist Helen Berman elected to the National Academy of Sciences


Structural biologist Helen Berman elected to the National Academy of Sciences

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Structural biologist Helen Berman elected to the National Academy of Sciences

The USC Dornsife professor (research) of quantitative and computational biology is recognized for “distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.”
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Helen Berman, professor (research) of quantitative and computational biology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Bridge Institute of the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

The academy is a private, nonprofit institution established during Abraham Lincoln’s term as U.S. President to recognize members’ achievement in science and advise the federal government and other organizations on matters of science, engineering and health policy.

Berman, a Professor Emerita at Rutgers University, joined USC Dornsife in January. She is among 120 members and 23 international members elected to the academy this year.

“This is a wonderful achievement that comes on top of many honors that Professor Berman received for contributions to the field of computational and structural biology,” said Remo Rohs, chair of the Department of Quantitative and Computational Biology and professor of quantitative and computational biology, chemistry, physics and astronomy, and computer science.

“The careers of most cell and molecular biologists have been enriched in amazing ways by the work that Helen has performed. Her co-founding of the Protein Data Bank has created the most important dictionary we use in studying the language of life,” said Scott Fraser, director of Bridge Institute and Provost Professor of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Physiology and Biophysics, Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Pediatrics, Radiology, Ophthalmology and Quantitative and Computational Biology. “The field would be decades behind if not for her visionary efforts.”

Berman studies nucleic acids, such as DNA and RNA, and how proteins interact with them. She also studies collagen, a protein found throughout the body that provides structure and strength to muscles, bones and skin as well as the tissues that connect them.

She says she’s driven to pursue her research by a love of learning and discovery, and she tries to foster that drive in others, as well. “In my work, I try to balance time between conducting my own research with ways of enabling scientific discovery by others.”

She co-founded the Protein Data Bank archive, an international archive that stores all experimentally determined structures of molecules and their complexes. The PDB enabled the important, artificial intelligence-driven breakthrough, AlphaFold. Developed by Google’s DeepMind and openly available to the scientific community, AlphaFold can predict the three-dimensional structures or folds of all existing proteins using their amino acid sequence.

“This work would not have been possible without Helen’s groundbreaking contributions,” Rohs said.

Berman has also pursued an interest in sharing her work with the public through film and digital arts. She was executive producer of the documentary series Target Zero, which uses high-quality animation to illustrate how anti-HIV drugs work. At USC Dornsife, she is contributing to the World in a Cell project, a collaboration between the Bridge Institute and the USC School of Cinematic Arts that uses virtual reality to provide a view of the inside of a pancreatic beta cell, where insulin is made.

“Scientists need to analyze and weigh in on issues as they relate to the public good,” she said. “We have a responsibility to help educate not only our students but the public at large.”

Renowned among her peers, Berman is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Society for Computational Biology among other organizations. She is the recipient of numerous awards including the Benjamin Franklin Award for Open Access in the Life Sciences, the Distinguished Service Award from the Biophysical Society and the DeLano Award for Computational Biosciences from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

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With operatic flourish, activist Dolores Huerta and younger cousin to receive USC doctorates on same day

When June 5, 1968, began, Robert Kennedy seemed to be on track to be elected president in November.

Minutes past midnight, Kennedy addressed his supporters from the lectern of the Ambassador Hotel, 4 miles from USC. Next to Kennedy was his friend, ally and farmworker activist Dolores Huerta. She was wearing a red frock, and her face seemed filled with hope.

Then, Kennedy left the stage.

So ends the first act of Dolores, a new opera based on Huerta’s life that was composed by her cousin Nicolas Lell Benavides, a USC lecturer who will receive his doctorate this week from the USC Thornton School of Music.

“In that moment, the Chicano civil rights movement, the United Farm Workers, they were in a crisis,” Benavides said. “They had spent their resources to help get him elected, and now he’s not there for them. Dolores said: ‘What matters is our dream, our perseverance. We go on. There is no one human who represents this movement, or the loss of hope.'”

Although the two were born years apart, their lives will intersect at USC’s commencement on Friday as Huerta is awarded a USC honorary degree and Benavides receives his Doctor of Musical Arts in composition.

“It seems like just yesterday he graduated from Santa Clara University,” Huerta said. “And now he’s getting his doctorate.”

Decades apart but close in heart

Benavides, 36, is more than 50 years younger than his cousin. She’s known for leading the 1960s grape boycott that led to a landmark labor contract, but her work as a civil rights leader never stopped.

“Growing up, she was always the most patient listener,” Benavides said. “She still is, and that’s what makes her a great leader. I know it sounds like propaganda at some point, but it’s true.”

Benavides was not fully aware of Dolores Huerta’s status as a civil rights leader until 2007, when he was studying at Santa Clara University earning a bachelor’s degree in music with a minor in Spanish.

“It was a course called ‘Intro to Chicano Studies,’ and we came to a point where we were to study Dolores. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s my cousin.’ Then, we had this midterm essay project and I asked, ‘Do you mind if I call her and interview her?’ I got a good grade on that paper because nobody could refute anything I wrote. I went to the source,” he said.

“That was one of the first times I realized what a big deal she is. That’s a testament to her humility.”

Dolores: It’s not just about opera

Raised, as were many of his family members, in New Mexico, Benavides grew up around music of many kinds — except classical.

“I did rancheras, folk music, jazz, a lot of popular sounds, and it wasn’t until I graduated high school that I first heard an orchestra,” he said. “I’m one of those weirdos who heard an orchestra play when I was 18 and thought, ‘That — that’s what I want!'”

“He gets his musical genius from his mother,” Huerta said. “His mother and grandfather had a band, and they played Latino songs. They made a record when Nick was very young, and it’s still being played on radio stations in Mexico.”

In 2014, Benavides earned his master’s degree in composition from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He then spent four years in the music industry writing, teaching and running a nonprofit before arriving at USC Thornton in 2018. While finishing his dissertation, he served as a lecturer, and he will continue to teach aural skills and composition for non-majors after commencement.

Benavides’ operatic progress moved at a fast tempo: He worked with the Washington National Opera and the Nashville Opera, and he earned support from the National Endowment for the Arts for a new opera with librettist Marella Martin Koch.

The pair were commissioned to develop a full opera about Huerta in 2021.

The genesis for Dolores began in late 2016 — a time of tumult and fear surrounding the presidential election.

“Friends were down. Some of them felt powerless,” Benavides said. “I thought, that’s crazy, because historically there are so many examples of people who’ve been hit with difficult situations, and they persisted. I saw no excuse to give up.”

“I think it’s quite exciting,” Huerta said. “And I’m really happy that he chose to do this.”

Civil rights history condensed in music and time in Dolores opera

The opera covers a time span of a few months, but most of the action takes place over the course of a day.

“I would be honored to stand by your side, as you have stood by ours,” Huerta sings to Kennedy just before his assassination.

“It plays with the tropes of an opera, but turns it on its head,” Benavides said. “The female protagonist has a lot more power. She’s not a soprano. She’s a mezzo soprano, so she’s more down to earth because she’s someone of the people.”

Historical figures including Cesar Chavez, Richard Nixon, Larry Itliong, Paul Schrade and Ethel Kennedy play into the story.

Audience members will hear English, Spanish, Spanglish, a chamber orchestra, trombones, trumpets, electric guitar, saxophone and an opera chorus.

“The chorus is vital,” Benavides said. “It’s the sound of the people, people moving, organizing, it’s a sound that inspires the hair on the back of your neck to stand up.”

Dolores opera: A not-so-close collaboration

Huerta is, of course, an adviser to Benavides. But she has given her younger cousin plenty of creative space.

“I haven’t given him any advice,” Huerta said. “I’m just really thrilled he chose to do this.”

She’s told me, ‘I’m here for you as a resource, but you write the work you want to write.’

Nicolas Lell Benavides, Dolores opera creator

“She’s been generous, helping us with inspiration, with rights to things, but she’s hands-off,” Benavides said. “She’s told me, ‘I’m here for you as a resource, but you write the work you want to write.'”

“For me, it’s an origin story of Dolores Huerta, the person who invented ‘Si se puede‘ [‘Yes, we can’], the person who rallied generations — especially people like me, Chicanos in this country — to fight for our rights, especially farm workers, the most vulnerable among us.”

Dolores has been commissioned by four opera companies and is expected to premiere across the Southwest during the 2024-25 season. West Edge Opera in Oakland, Calif.; The Broad Stage in Santa Monica; the San Diego Opera; and Opera Southwest in Albuquerque, N.M., all plan to stage it.

“I’m really looking forward to it. And to think that Nick was chasing a tragic moment, like the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and put that into musical form so that memory can be transformed into a spiritual remembrance. It gives us a better way to remember him, through music,” Huerta said.

“Had Bobby Kennedy not been assassinated, we would have a different world right now,” she added.

When the opera debuts, Benavides hopes to see plenty of family members in the audience.

“I come from a family that doesn’t know anything about classical music. Opera at its worst is full of gatekeeping and exclusivity, but opera at its best is a beautiful story that’s sung on stage. It’s just an emotional vehicle. For the audience, it’s a beautiful ride.”

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How to write a commencement address


Natalia Molina, a historian, award-winning author and Distinguished Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, will deliver remarks at USC Rossier’s doctoral hooding ceremony on May 10. Molina’s work examines the historical roots of narratives about race and citizenship, how they shaped public policy and how they continue to play a role in today’s racial inequities. Much of her writing, which earned her a MacArthur Fellowship in 2020, also focuses on sharing the stories of the under-documented. Here, she discusses the art of the commencement speech, the importance of the humanities and offers advice to the Class of 2023.
As you prepared your remarks for USC Rossier’s doctoral ceremony, were there any commencement addresses that inspired you?
Commencement addresses mark the end of a journey. But actually, the speech that I remember best was from the beginning of a journey, when I was a freshman at UCLA. At orientation, they said, “Look to your left. Look to your right. One of those people won’t be there at graduation.” They were trying to emphasize how difficult this process is. But when I went through the orientation for students of color, they said, “Look to your left. Look to your right. Hold their hands and make sure they’re there at graduation.” And all these years later, I still remember that because I think that is the mentality we need to get through our programs and life.
What are the essential elements of a commencement address?
I imagine the commencement address as a Venn diagram, where I’m bringing myself, my life experience and my research, and I’m seeing where it lines up with not just where the graduates are at but where they’re going and their hopes of them feeling seen.
Recently I was listening to the remarks by President Biden marking the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement–and he was talking about George Mitchell, who was the American statesman who brokered that agreement. George Mitchell often said he had “700 days of failure and one day of success.” In a commencement speech, you’re trying to give a message of hope that maybe one of those days of failure–or challenges–will actually get them through to that day of success.
Commencement addresses often reflect on the unique challenges that today’s graduates face. What are some of the challenges that the Class of 2023 will face, particularly those working in education?
As we come out of the pandemic, many of us have seen challenges. But USC Rossier graduates are entering one of the fields that we most need now, and yet one that is most challenged. This has always been a difficult job, whether you’re an educator or a leader in education, and it’s even more daunting now as they lead into the unknown. Yet, that’s what makes it so exciting, right? You can use a crisis as an opportunity. You don’t have to do things like you’ve always done them. As much as the pandemic was challenging, it did away with these restraints that people said we could never do away with. It’s both a time of tremendous challenge and tremendous opportunity. The pandemic really showed us how adaptable and resilient we all are.
There has been a troubling decline in students majoring in the humanities. As a historian, does this trouble you, and if it does, why does it?
I was in a public space and told somebody that my son had recently graduated with a BA in history, and that he was working in this field. Somebody overheard it, interrupted the conversation, and said, incredulously, “How is he using a history degree?” We have this sense that the humanities aren’t like other fields, where you take the skills you learn and apply them directly to the situation you’re in. People that major in humanities and social sciences are also thinking about social issues. They’re looking at examples of how we’ve done things in the past, or through novels, through fiction. They are asking how we can study this in other cultures, and see how we can make the world a better place. I hope we always have people doing that.
I don’t see it as a crisis in the humanities, but a scarcity crisis. People feel that they need to major in something they will use, and where they can readily imagine what that means. I get it! A lot of that started with the 2008 recession. As the cost of education has escalated so much, we tend to think, “What is our ROI?” But imagine how bankrupt we would be without these tools of imagination, tools that allow us to connect with one another, and imagine the journey of someone different than ourselves. That’s when we’re really talking about scarcity–when we can’t empathize.
You coined the term “racial scripts.” Can you tell us a little bit about what that means, and the importance of recognizing the deployment and redeployment of these scripts?
This dovetails nicely with what we’re talking about in terms of empathy. Racial scripts are essentially a way for us to see our experience in others. The usual way that we learn the experience of groups other than ourselves is in a series of silos. Traditionally, we learn about Latino studies, African American studies, Asian American studies and Indigenous studies separately. My theoretical framing and research unearth visible connections between these groups and also the more hidden links. Racial scripts highlight the ways in which the lives of racialized groups are linked across time and space, and thereby affect one another, even when those groups don’t directly cross paths. The central goal of racial scripts is to expose those connections.
Could you give us an example?
Because my first book focused on the way public health and science inform how we shape categories of race, I was called on to do a lot of consulting and interviews during the pandemic to shed light on anti-Asian racism. I was asked, “Are you surprised by this?” I wasn’t because we’ve seen anti-Asian racism in the past. We can trace it back into the late 1800s and the fact that the first anti-immigrant exclusion law was directed at Chinese immigrants, forward to Japanese internment camps and 100 other data points in between. But what if we look at the ways that other groups were racialized along the way? The forced sterilizations of Latinos here in our own LA County Hospital, the forced sterilizations of African American women, and the way that public health shaped border policy to make certain immigrants–including those that we consider White now, like Eastern Europeans–seem more susceptible to disease. If we broaden it in that way, we see that reinforcement of that othering is not just about a specific group, but various groups. The exclusion of one group serves to reinforce the exclusion more broadly.
Your most recent book A Place at the Nayarit, How a Mexican Restaurant Nourished a Community, traces the history and impact of your grandmother’s iconic Echo Park restaurant. You write about how places like this, urban anchors–neighborhood cafes and restaurants–were and are incredibly important to immigrant communities in Los Angeles. What do these spaces offer the marginalized?
We tend to think about public space as being the most democratic kind of space–that everybody has access to it. But we know by studying history that buses, public schools, beaches, schools–even if they’re public–aren’t always readily accessible to everyone. By turning to the semi-public spaces–what I call urban anchors, places that immigrants create for their own communities–people are able to find a sense of safety and recognition. When they go about their lives, especially working-class immigrants, they go around kind of in one dimension as a worker. But in these urban anchors, they can come into a space where they can unfold into three dimensions. They can speak their language, dress in clothes that they choose, enjoy good food, and enjoy that sense of connection and community. We see why these semi-public spaces, these urban anchors, are central to communities, especially as people are trying to gain a foothold in a new homeland. Think about when you go to a place, and then they have some kind of food that you grew up with, and you have that moment. Proust called it the madeleine moment. Urban anchors are a way of bringing home there.
With the gentrification of areas like Echo Park, what do you think is at stake as these Los Angeles neighborhoods change?
The impetus to tell this story at this time was that people kept suggesting that gentrification was bringing progress to an area that had no story or history of its own. The book is trying to show that, even if they don’t have a $9 latte, these places, with their immigrant place makers, establishing their urban anchors, were establishing a powerful sense of community. The book offers a kind of warning of what happens if we don’t actively work to tell the stories of these folks. If we don’t even see how they’re represented in their past, how are we going to see them, account for them and plan for them in the future?
The Latinx workforce that built the Huntington Library is the subject of your next book. How did you go about selecting this topic and why, in this forthcoming work and A Place at the Nayarit, have you chosen to focus on workers?
I’ve been going to the Huntington Library for over 25 years. And while it is a rich place to study in terms of the resources that they have and the community of scholars, when I first started going there, it could also be an alienating place for a woman of color. One of the times that I was there, I invited my dad–a Mexican immigrant–to have lunch with me. He was saying how beautiful the place was, and I said it can also be intimidating when you’re the only person of color in a reading room with 70 people. He leaned over and said, “Why would you ever be intimidated? We built this place.”
It was such a jolting reminder that we tend to tell the stories of certain institutions, of certain events, from the top down. As a historian, I’ve always worked to tell stories from what we call the bottom up, or the perspective of the community. Community histories can tell us so much about how people find space and belonging. And yet, for the Huntington, in our present I hadn’t quite thought about it in those terms. For a long time, there were no archives to tell that story, and there still aren’t. But as a historian, I have 20 years of experience under my belt of using different tools to get at these little shards that can be pieced together to archive and build a story about the history of this well-known cultural institution, but from the perspective of the people who built it.
Looking back at your schooling, from kindergarten to your graduate studies, is there an educator who was particularly influential?
Do you know the story of Roger Bannister? When he was 25 years old, in 1954, he was able to break the 4-minute mile barrier. Nobody had broken it before. Once it was broken, 46 days later, somebody broke that barrier again. And then, a year later, three other runners broke that barrier in a single race. And so, to me, there’s something to be said about following in the footsteps of people who have broken those barriers.
I’m the 22nd Chicana to receive a PhD in U.S. History. That shows you how new we are to this field; how little we’ve been represented. But once you know that somebody did it, you can do it, too. It was the community of women who actually showed me the list of 21 Chicana PhDs that they had written down. And when I was a graduate student they told me, “You will be number 22.” And I thought, “Oh, how could I let them down?” There’s something in that, being part of the community, being seen. Sometimes we find it in one single educator, and sometimes we find it in a community.
USC Rossier’s doctoral students include leaders in education, business, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Despite the wide and varied next steps our graduates will make, achieving educational equity is at the center of their studies at USC Rossier, and so is addressing disparities that affect the historically marginalized. As these grads continue or enter new positions in their professional lives–often in leadership positions–what would you urge them to remember as they lead their respective organizations and make decisions that affect the workforces they manage?
I think the keyword there is lead. As a leader, you’re breaking new ground. When you’re breaking new ground, you’re not necessarily going to please everybody. And so, it’s remembering your why, which is based on your training, your education, and your life experience. When I’m faced with these situations, I think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was fighting not just for civil rights, but also against the Vietnam War, against economic disparity and for wage equity. Seventy-five percent of Americans disapproved of his viewpoints. If we look for approval on what we’re doing when we’re engaging in breaking new ground, that’s not always going to happen. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. When you’re a leader, that is part of the responsibility that you must shoulder.

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How their mother’s love helped scholars bloom

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How their mother’s love helped scholars bloom

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How their mother’s love helped scholars bloom

In celebration of Mother’s Day, USC Dornsife faculty reflect on the ways their moms encouraged and inspired their academic careers.
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In honor of Mother’s Day, five faculty at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences share how their mom inspired and encouraged their academic pursuits, from teaching them to code to modeling collaborative relationships.

Michael Campbell, assistant professor of biological sciences, writes about his mother, Nellie Campbell:

My parents were born in Jamaica, independently moved from their home country to England in pursuit of a better life, and then met in Canada where I was born.

My parents possess very different gifts that complemented each other, and they harnessed these gifts to shape me into who I am today (a scientist, scholar and responsible human being). My parents continue to inspire me every day, and their immigrant story is a testament to what is possible with patience, faith and hard work.

My mother in particular is an incredibly resourceful, savvy and independent person who taught me to persevere and to never give up finding ways to overcome obstacles. She was also unwavering in her dedication to my personal and academic development. My mother was the parent who took me to my first day of school and helped me with my homework in the evening (after a full day of work). She attended every one of my award ceremonies in high school, took me to piano lessons, encouraged my interest in science and proudly accompanied me to my freshman orientation at the University of Toronto.

In addition, she introduced me to the world of computers to enhance my education at a relatively early age, laying the groundwork for my interest in computation, which is the backbone of my research.

My mother has supported me unconditionally my entire life, and she taught me not to be deterred by anti-Black racism but to passionately pursue a life and career that were meaningful to me. Without a doubt, my mother, who infused me with grit and modelled compassion, is a key part of my life’s journey, which has now led me to the West Coast of the United States and to my current position at USC Dornsife.

The love, security, safety and guidance that my mother provided me during my childhood serve as the foundation upon which I build my life, and because of her I am able to offer these qualities to others as an adult.

Peter Kuhn, Dean’s Professor of Biological Sciences and professor of medicine, biomedical engineering, aerospace and mechanical engineering, and urology, writes about his mother, Rosi Kuhn:

I am the youngest of four children and grew up on a fruit orchard in southern Germany. My mom was always there for us, every day, every morning, every lunch and every dinner. Still to this day, when any one of us is stopping by home, there is a meal on the table seemingly emerging out of nowhere or a piece of cake with a cup of coffee.

I had just turned 17 when my dad sat us all down and explained to us that our mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. While I had no idea what it really meant, somehow it was clear that everything had changed from one moment to the other. I also had no idea what to do, but it was clear that it now had to be us who had to be there for her, every day.

Very quickly my main job was to bring sunshine into her hospital room (and carefully block dark voices from entering). All the while, my mom enjoyed bossing me around telling me what needed to be done at home. Although my mom recovered, her roommate wasn’t so lucky and relapsed from her cancer early on. During one of our last conversations, the roommate told me, “Keep doing what you are doing in physics, and one day you will help other moms to not suffer from this disease anymore.”

This set me on the journey that eventually brought me to USC and is the very foundation of the USC Michelson Convergent Science Institute in Cancer.

Jazlyn Mooney, Gabilan Assistant Professor of Quantitative and Computational Biology, shares memories of her mother, Sonya McKeown, and her grandmother, Gloria Madrid:

My mother and grandmother have been my best friends my entire life. They have inspired me and my work in too many ways to count.

My mother taught me how to code, which is the foundation of my work as a computational biologist. She was one of maybe 10 women to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1998.

My grandmother received her PhD in administration of higher education shortly before that, in 1997.

My mother became a software engineer and my grandmother remained in academia as a professor at a local community college until she retired. I guess you could say I have turned into both as a new assistant professor in quantitative and computational biology at USC Dornsife.

My mother showed me how much was possible if you know how to code and ask questions. My grandmother’s doctoral thesis was about disparities and barriers in higher education for women of color. Her work motivated me to start a group in graduate school for diverse students to build a community and support each other.

They both inspire me to continue to support my students and make academia a more inclusive space for minoritized people.

Neither ever told me I could not achieve something that I was passionate about, and they have comforted and encouraged me through every high and low.

My favorite memories with my mom and grandmother when I was young were my mom taking me to the pool every day during summer break. Then, we would split a Happy Meal together on the way back to my grandparents’ house. On days when my mom worked, my grandma would take me out to the zoo or the library, or make up stories with me.

Now, the thing I look forward to most when I am home is going on walks with my grandparents and running with my mom.

Gayla Margolin, professor of psychology, pays tribute to her mother, Grace Ann Margolin:

My mom has been my longest and most steadfast fan. “I’m behind you all the way,” she recently whispered. Beyond her unwavering support, my mom gave me two other gifts that contributed to my career.

First was her love of books. As a young child, my mom’s goal was to read every book in her local library — shelf by shelf. It thus was a rude wakening when she realized that the library constantly acquired new books.

Accompanying her each week to the library and carefully selecting an armload of new books was one of my favorite activities as a child. Her enthusiasm for reading clearly spread to me.

Second, my mom epitomized a collaborative spirit. My dad ran his building business out of our home and my mom was always right by his side. She speaks in the language of ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ and she showed me the value of doing things collectively. Perhaps this sparked my scholarly interests in the salutary value of close relationships.

Relatedly, what I have experienced throughout my career is that personal relationships are at the heart of innovative work. The synergy of learning from others — especially from students — when planning and writing up research or doing clinical supervision is the joyful part and the only way to produce meaningful and interesting results.

My mom never wanted to be a teacher like her mother and others in our family — but I am so grateful for her life lessons.

Darby Saxbe, professor of psychology, writes about her mother, Georgia Newman:

My mom went to Harvard Medical School in the late 1960s as one of very few women in her class, facing overt sexism from faculty and classmates who told her she was taking a spot from a man who needed it. But she genuinely loves medicine, is still working full-time at age 77, and will probably never retire.

Her small-town Ohio practice serves many elderly Medicare patients on fixed incomes, which means she is the worst paid doctor on the planet (an accountant once told her that her practice was an “expensive hobby”), but she is also the least materialistic person I know, so it works out.

When I was a kid, I used to complain that I wanted a traditional mom who’d greet me when I came home from school with a plate of fresh-baked cookies. Of course, the one time she actually met me at the door with cookies, I was totally weirded out. It must have been an April Fool’s joke.

Now, I’m grateful that I got a nontraditional mom who loves her work and exudes intellectual curiosity. She loves to learn languages and toggles between Spanish novels and Latin texts on her Kindle. She reads trashy sci-fi novels and once fixed her Nordic Trak by hand. When the cat dragged in a dead possum a few years ago, she dissected it just for fun. She is always busy and never boring.

In the late ’90s, she diagnosed herself with adult ADHD, which explained a lot. She is a nut, or, to borrow one of her favorite phrases, “a real character.” I can’t really keep up with her, but I admire her more than anyone.

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­USC Gould Title IX trailblazer works to put more women in leadership roles

Editor’s note: Title IX — the landmark legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding — was signed into law on June 23, 1972. In recognition of this anniversary, we’ll be profiling Trojan Title IX trailblazers throughout the academic year.

In 1992, Nickey Woods, associate dean of student affairs and DEI at the USC Gould School of Law and dean of students for the JD program, was a freshman at UCLA on a basketball scholarship. She knew about Title IX as far as scholarships and resources for female athletes went. But years later she realized, even 20 years after Title IX took effect, inequality was still the undercurrent in collegiate sports.

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“It didn’t dawn on me until years later that our training room was smaller and less resourced than the men’s training room,” she says. “That has obviously changed now, but that wasn’t very long ago. The fact that I had access to fewer resources than my male counterparts was so normalized, I didn’t even question it. Honoring Title IX and what it means ensures that we don’t normalize inequity and inequality.”

Woods assumed the role of USC Gould’s inaugural assistant dean of diversity, equity and inclusion in summer 2021, and was promoted to her current position in fall 2022. She has worked to build trust and rapport between her office and the USC Gould community, forging partnerships with other schools and departments like USC Athletics and developing new programs like the DEI Fellows and DEI Ambassadors, giving law students firsthand exposure to DEI work.

She is encouraged that USC takes female leadership seriously, with more female students, more women on athletic teams, more women in senior administrative positions and more female leaders — notably, USC President Carol L. Folt. The visibility of women in leadership roles is important for everyone, Woods says.

“While it’s critically important for women to see themselves in these roles, it’s also important for men to see women in these roles,” she says. “It’s how we challenge stereotypes and encourage people to expand the notion of who is capable of leading.”

Title IX trailblazer: working collaboratively

As associate dean of student affairs, Woods is inspired by the many opportunities to work collaboratively with students, faculty and staff on initiatives — she’s currently writing a practice brief and developing a conference presentation exploring the integration of DEI and well-being initiatives — and reaching out to other DEI practitioners to stay current on trends and identify experts who bring ideas to trainings and seminars on campus.

We can’t be silent about this for fear of appearing ‘political.’

Nickey Wood, USC Gould

Yet, as Title IX celebrates 50 years, it’s disturbingly clear that equality is not a nationwide goal, as proposed legislation in various states threatens progress on diversity, equality and inclusion. For Woods, honesty and bold action are needed to keep the momentum going.

“We must first reckon with what is happening that threatens to undo much of the progress Title IX has allowed us to make,” she says. “We can’t be silent about this for fear of appearing ‘political.’ This is about our right to exist, our autonomy, our safety, our future and equality.”

Title IX trailblazer remembers her mother and grandmother

When Woods thinks of Title IX, her mother and grandmother come immediately to mind — the true trailblazers who encouraged her to push past obstacles that challenged them in the past and even the present.

“These women navigated America in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s at the intersection of being both Black and female, and I can’t imagine the struggles they had to endure and overcome in a world that is still profoundly misogynistic and racist,” she says. “When I first started playing basketball and running track, they were so proud and supportive and instilled in me the attitude that I could do anything. I imagine their encouragement was their way of ensuring that I was not hindered by the barriers they faced.”

That reinforcement and the forward-thinking people who helped to make Title IX a reality are the guideposts Woods heeds as she forges her path as a strong advocate for DEI.

“Our society isn’t free from discrimination, but Title IX ensures that these types of negative impacts don’t go unchecked,” she says. “If we can continue moving forward, the future is very bright.”

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Velina Hasu Houston has been carving out her place since she was a girl

Editor’s note: Title IX — the landmark legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding — was signed into law on June 23, 1972. In recognition of this anniversary, we’ll be profiling Trojan Title IX trailblazers throughout the academic year.

Velina Hasu Houston learned at an early age that she needed to carve out a place for herself in a male-dominated world.

Houston, USC resident playwright and Distinguished Professor of Theatre in Dramatic Writing at the USC School of Dramatic Arts, grew up in the predominantly white community of Junction City, Kan. She stood out from her peers simply by being a young girl from an immigrant family of mixed-raced ancestry that includes Japanese, African American, Native American, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Korean roots.

Title IX logo“Even as a little girl when I was attending elementary school, I was well aware of differences in terms of how males and females were treated,” said Houston, who cited one example of the reaction she witnessed when she won a county spelling bee in sixth grade. “My success generated a lot of discussion, not just because I was a female, but also because I was a person of color and the child of an immigrant. I was retested on the spelling of the winning word and the audio recording of my win was replayed for several white male evaluators.

“When I went to the state spelling bee, the skepticism about an immigrant-kindred female being able to win a county spelling bee was even more pronounced,” she said. “Indeed, there were many more young men in the room than there were young women, and the presence of females was disconcerting to many. Sometimes I felt that I was expected to prove myself just a little bit more than my white male counterparts.”

The attitudes did not hinder Houston. Instead, they motivated her. She went on to be a gender equity and racial equity trailblazer in her work at USC and beyond. Houston’s work is internationally acclaimed, with over 30 playwriting commissions and other outputs in musical theater, film, television, essays, poetry, journalism and blogging. The former Fulbright Scholar also teaches story-building at the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy, and is an associated faculty member of USC’s Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture, affiliated faculty with East Asian Studies and American Studies and Ethnicity, and a member of the USC Asian Pacific Islander Faculty and Staff Association.

The courses that Houston teaches organically embrace inclusiveness. While she integrates elements of Eurocentric, patriarchal culture into her curriculum, she firmly believes it is vital for students to be educated in the perspectives of nonwhite, nonpatriarchal cultures as well in order to function meaningfully in society, including as a global citizen. Beyond her curricula, she creates artistic panels and invites guest artists to engage with her students. With intentionality, she includes guest artists who are ethnically diverse, gender-inclusive or from other marginalized groups.

Title IX trailblazer ensures a level playing field

In addition, vis-a-vis her artistry and academic endeavors, she is committed to ensuring a level playing field for students who are historically at a disadvantage and marginalized by the mainstream.

“I feel that if we don’t actively bring in our perspectives in terms of gender bias and other types of biases then students affected by such attitudes are left to climb uphill and without any water,” Houston said. Marginalizing bias is in the DNA of heterosexual, Eurocentric patriarchy and its institutions, Houston noted: “With regard to openness and fairness, we must be active and intentional about how we teach, create and indeed live our lives to make sure that students feel comfortable in the room and to ensure equal access to all.”

I believe students appreciate hearing perspectives that are filtered through varied backgrounds and not just one.

Velina Hasu Houston

Her students have noticed and appreciated the efforts as well, Houston said. “The richest feedback for me is what my students will say to me once they’re exposed to that kind of thinking,” she said. “When it comes to literary creation, I believe students appreciate hearing perspectives that are filtered through varied backgrounds and not just one.

“They feel that it’s beneficial for them to be able to hear a woman or a person of color speak about their involvement in writing. It gives them a path forward for their own work and an understanding that, as a female or as a person of color, they too can achieve success.”

Title IX trailblazer: Motivated by the groundbreaking legislation

Houston said that Title IX has been an important personal motivator, creating a means for her to take her rightful place at the table for whatever situation she may encounter — the classroom, the faculty meeting, the campus — even when she faces microaggressions that often show up as inquisitive looks about why she is in the room.

“In Tokyo while choosing where to have dinner with a friend, he teasingly suggested a sushi bar that only had male patrons,” Houston recalled. “I asked him why and he said it simply had always been that way. Immediately, I decided on that place.” Clearly, the male patrons were surprised to see a woman present, she pointed out, noting that history has erected barriers for too many people. There is an invisible sign that says no women or BIPOC people allowed, she remarked. “And so I go in.”

She’s also becoming more aware of the issue of age bias as she gets older. Much like her feelings about gender bias and biases against people of color and immigrants, Houston is not deterred by ageism, but, rather, she is motivated to continue her work with vigor and not waste her energy on any form of hate-based biases.

The marriage of gender, race, immigrant and age bias is potent, but a circus to which I don’t buy a ticket.

Velina Hasu Houston

“The marriage of gender, race, immigrant and age bias is potent, but a circus to which I don’t buy a ticket,” she said. “My focus is my work. Artistic projects and academic experiences have not slowed down, and I approach them with innate energy and dynamism.”

She expressed feeling bolstered by USC’s recognition of Title IX’s 50th anniversary because it highlights the ongoing importance of advancing gender equity. “Diligence and intentionality are required,” she said. “I think Title IX has changed USC in terms of attitudes toward women, which has a significant impact on the overall culture of the university. There is still work to do, and we must continue to do it. None of us can afford to sleep on the job. Gender bias requires a constant, active conversation.”

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