Episode 5: Social Engagement

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Transcript

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:03

Hello and welcome to a special series of the LiveWell Podcast called six feet apart. This is about how to take care of your emotional and social and physical well-being while physically distancing from one another. In other words, how we must act now during the COVID-19 pandemic. My name is Dr. Wendy Slusser, Associate Vice Provost at the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA, and I hope you can join us as I interview leaders from around the world about how we can maintain our emotional, social, and physical well-being during these unprecedented times. Today, I’ll be chatting with UCLA Professor of Psychology Dr. Ted Robles. He’s also the Semel HCI EngageWell Pod Co-Leader, we’ll be talking about the psychological impact of quarantine, and how to stay socially engaged while you are six feet apart. So Dr. Ted Robles, thank you so much for coming on to the LiveWell Podcast Special Edition around social well-being and the ramifications of our social well-being in light of our Coronavirus pandemic. You’re an incredible leader for all of us in this subject of social well-being, in academics, and also on our campus as a co-lead of the EngageWell Pod for our Semel HCI Center at UCLA. And I think in light of this pandemic, our social well-being is critical to be cognizant of supporting and we’d like to hear your wisdoms today, so that all of us can manage our current social well-being, and also our long term social well-being in light of what we’re experiencing, which many of us are doing self-quarantining or even being quarantined or being isolated if you are in a hospital with this and you’ve been diagnosed and under treatment for COVID-19.

 

Dr. Ted Robles  01:57

Thanks for having me on. It’s just unbelievable what kind of unprecedented times we’re living through. And of all the things that have brought this issue of, you know, social isolation and disconnection to public awareness, it’s kind of, this has really brought it into sharp focus, I think over the last couple of weeks. So on one hand, none of us would like to be in this situation at all, and especially the first responders and physicians and patients, obviously. And it’s also potentially an opportunity for us to kind of, you know, with all difficult times grow a little bit closer together and figuring out how to do that is what we all have to do. You know, I keep hearing meeting the moment the term that our governor has been using a lot and it definitely applies in this social well-being space.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  02:44

And I’d like our listeners to understand what precisely social well-being is compared to emotional well-being. How do you define social well-being?

 

Dr. Ted Robles  02:53

Well, the way we think of it is the number and quality of the connections that you have with other people. So it’s not the case that if you have 1,000 followers on Instagram that you have really high social well-being. But if you have good quality, close relationships with people who you can talk to, who you can trust, people that you feel close to, people that can do things for you, and that you can do things for, doesn’t have to be 100 people, it doesn’t even have to be maybe 50 people, but playing different roles for different people in the world and having these sort of mutual exchange of support in all its forms. If you have those things you have really good social well-being.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  03:38

So to summarize that it’s like if you have supportive relationships and love in your life. Is that it kind of a good summation of what you’re describing?

 

Dr. Ted Robles  03:47

Yeah, absolutely. And people that you can do things with, people that you feel like you can trust, not just romantically, of course, but friendships, co-workers, neighbors and relatives.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  03:59

Do dogs count?

 

Dr. Ted Robles  04:01

Dogs definitely count. There is a really interesting study showing that if you are, a  classic thing we do in psychology research is have people give speeches in front of unfriendly audiences. And if you do that with your pet, you have smaller blood pressure responses compared to when you don’t. So yeah, pets count, at least dogs do.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  04:19

Um, is that cause I’ve heard they have compassion.

 

Dr. Ted Robles  04:23

So, one of the things that I’ve been thinking about a lot through all of this is the idea that we’re social beings. And our brains are sort of wired to be social, which means that we are designed to operate where we have close others people that we can trust near us around us, sources of warmth, sources of support, and yeah, a pet can do all those things. So because of that, that’s probably one of the reasons, in addition to the cardiovascular fitness that you get from walking your pet; that’s one of the reasons why we think maybe pets have these benefits.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  04:54

What concerns me is the baseline. Right, when we call a community resilient it means that some people are coming in with higher social well-being than others. And one of the parts that you described as a higher social well-being in people that have people you can confide in or rely on, and the data that I’m aware of was like 25%, or one out of four Americans don’t. They didn’t start out with that kind of baseline. So, one of the other aspects you just described about social well-being is being able to give to others that gives some people a sense of well-being. What would you recommend if you are in a community where you know that there were some isolated people that maybe didn’t have this kind of infrastructure of relationships and partnerships?

 

Dr. Ted Robles  05:45

Well, one of the things that has been sort of a blessing in this time is that we live in an age where you can reach out to people and connect with them more so than you ordinarily would be able to. So, let’s just think about neighborhoods for example. As amusing as the Nextdoor app typically is, when you are sort of reporting on neighbors that are doing unsavory things, it’s also a way to reach out to people who are literally, potentially just a block down from you, which we didn’t really have before. And in this era, where it’s really hard to actually get out of the house and go up to someone’s house, or to someone’s apartment, there are now ways facilitated through technology that you can learn about someone who might be in need, and then you can reach out. If there was anything that I think is sort of the most important thing in these times, it’s to find ways to think about other people and what they’re going through. And there’s all sorts of ways we can do that now. I’ve seen on Twitter, for instance, people saying, you know, I am isolated, or it’s my birthday, and I have no one to spend it with. And they are actually getting people sort of providing support, wishing happy birthday, and you know, maybe one out of those 100 interactions leads to something, but it’s one more than there used to be the day before. And so you know, we’ve talked a lot about the challenges and threats that come from social networking and social media, and this is presenting a really interesting time where that actually is a great tool that we can make use of.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  07:17

Yeah, that neighborhood app actually helps me find my dog that had been taken from in front of CVS Pharmacy while I was printing some photographs for my husband.

 

Dr. Ted Robles  07:27

Oh wow.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  07:28

And I think shamed whoever had taken the dog.

 

Dr. Ted Robles  07:31

Right.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  07:31

To inform the store that the dog had been left at the shelter. But yeah, it was a moment of togetherness because I was sobbing in front of CVS. Coming out, finding, discovering my dog was gone, and so many people hugged me. This is before the coronavirus epidemic, or pandemic, but anyway, would I love those hugs now.

 

Dr. Ted Robles  07:56

Exactly.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  07:57

Miss those hugs. You know, one of the things that I’m curious about is that, you know, there is research that shows, of course, that social well-being is one of the strongest predictors of positive health. So it’s paramount that all of us, in this day and age where we want to stay healthy, that this pandemic is raising the bar to where health is equivalent to wealth in our countries.

 

Dr. Ted Robles  08:20

Yeah, absolutely.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  08:20

Or supersedes it. What do we do in this situation that we can help promote our own personal social well-being and others.

 

Dr. Ted Robles  08:29

So it’s interesting, because this is, again, another time where if we needed to think about others, to preserve our own personal health, this is that time. And so the way I think about it is like this. There’s a couple of these, these are preprints. So, they’re sort of research still in the early stages where they’ve done surveys of individuals, and these are all cross sectional. So you know, who knows if this would hold up. But across three different surveys, I think one was in the US and two were in Germany. People who reported like thinking more about others, they were more likely to endorse that they intended to stay in the house, basically. So that they intended to do the things that are being asked of them in terms of staying home and not going out as much. And the people who were less inclined to think about others were…they were more inclined to, at least report, that they’re not going to heed those messages as much. And I think a lot of the positive, more effective messages that I’m seeing from public health departments focus on let’s do this together. We’re in this together. Let’s help stop this pandemic together. Really emphasizing that you’ve got to think about your neighbor who’s not necessarily older but who has a chronic medical condition and what the consequences of you’re not listening to the orders to shelter in place or stay at home. Like, what are the consequences for that other person? What are the consequences for your friend who’s a physician who is on the front line and is already overwhelmed. Do you want to add to that? And I think really the biggest thing for in terms of public health, and we can talk more about what happens, you know, in terms of when UCLA gets back into session and later. But in terms of public health, keeping other people in mind is really, really critical. It’s very easy to become self-interested in this time and the challenges is how do you make sure you’re doing things that are for the long term benefit of everybody and thinking about other people is really critical.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  10:28

That’s really a wise and compassionate suggestion. I’m thinking that it’s almost like a checklist. My experience with preparedness, working with California State of Maternal and Child Health, preparedness is that you have to take care of yourself and your family first, and then you can take care of others. And that’s the advice for first responders. In light of the fact that this is a public health emergency, I think we need to be considering all of us as first responders. That we all have the capacity to make a difference to each other. And so being selfless, or being you know, as you so nicely shared with us this wonderful, quick, rapid review article that I’d like us to move on and talk about. But the appeals to altruism, I think is a critical piece that this group of researchers that wrote this article describes. This article is called The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence, and it was published in Lancet. Can you summarize this article and say what your thoughts are on it?

 

Dr. Ted Robles  11:38

Yeah, sure. So this was an attempt by these researchers, who actually don’t know, to kind of look at all the available literature that exists on the psychological impacts of quarantine. And in particular, they use a specific definition of quarantine which is, “if you’re sick, being separated from others,” which they distinguish from isolation which is, “if you’re in contact with sick people, you need to stay away from others as well.” So it is a very specific context, right, where it’s people who are sick and what they should do to minimize their exposure to other people. And so, while that doesn’t generalize to like, your experience or my experience right now, it’s very similar, because we’re not supposed to have close contact with other people. And so, what they did is they reviewed both the qualitative literature and then also really large studies. I was really impressed to see that there were studies of several 1000 people. And they wanted to see what were the impacts on emotional well-being: symptoms of depression, symptoms of PTSD, and what predicts how people are going to do? So, are there certain factors, like demographics, that matter, or what we might call individual differences that matter, like personality factors and that kind of thing. So, I think one of the takeaways was that probably the big sociodemographic factor that’s important is that if you’re under resourced in some way, quarantine is going to be much more challenging. So, if you’re lower income, have less access to resources, and also if you come into the experience with pre-existing mental health concerns. So, if you have a history of depression or previous trauma exposure, those are going to be things that are going to put you at greater risk for more psychological harm from the quarantine experience. And then they go through to describe factors that could potentially promote, you know, doing well. So, shorter quarantines matter. Having access to resources, so making sure you have sufficient supplies to get you through the quarantine. But also, they do talk a little bit about the motivations for quarantine being important, and if you can appeal to altruism, that might be a really important factor in helping people keep motivated to stay away from others. And so, even though this situation is a little bit different, these are people who are actively sick. Although not, I guess, now that I realize that some of these larger studies included people who were subject to quarantine, but they weren’t actually sick. The broader point for all of us right now is that there are things that can make shelter in place and safer at home more reasonable and manageable. And we have to figure out ways to incorporate that in how we are, you know, I’ll just loosely use the term “quarantining” ourselves.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  14:19

So, how do you appeal to people’s sense of altruism? How would you frame that?

 

Dr. Ted Robles  14:25

So again, the idea being that we’re doing this together, it’s very counterintuitive. Right, because one of the big reasons that we are social beings is because there is safety in numbers. So, if you think about way back in evolution, the way we protected ourselves from another tribe threatening us, or a stampede of wild animals, was we banded together literally, physically and defended ourselves and defended our turf. And that’s not quite the same here because I can’t huddle with you and feel safe. But I mean, I can huddle with my family, but even the other people who I care about, I cannot be with them. At the same time, you can create that feeling of togetherness. And I think that’s what a lot of the, again, effective messaging is doing. I went to a restaurant the other day to pick up some take-out, and on the door was a “We’re in this Together” poster. That was the very first thing that I could see. And you can still encourage people to feel a sense of togetherness, even with this separateness. So that’s kind of one of the big things, is that everything that we’re doing is for our collective benefit. And that’s sort of what altruism is. I guess the second thing would be—and this is where the social media, I think, has been really valuable—is hearing stories from physicians, from nurses, from patients who have been directly affected and knowing what they’re going through. I think that’s probably been one of the most impactful things, at least for me personally this week from the things I’ve been reading. And it’s what keeps me motivated to do the things that I’m doing. Is knowing that there are people who are putting their lives on the line and that I need to do something for them. One of those things is by making sure their lives don’t get any more difficult. Just hearing those stories has been very important. Again, the idea of keeping other people in mind. It’s much more easy to be altruistic when you know what people are going through. You know, while we should all measure our exposure to all the COVID-19 stuff that’s happening, this is a human disaster and knowing what human stories are—it is really important to keep us motivated to do what we’re doing. So I think those two things are important. They are sort of what the public health structures can message. And then just understanding the actual lived experiences of other people that can help create this empathy and altruism.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  16:51

That’s really useful. So, if we had to do like a checklist for people, how do you improve your social well-being or maintain it? One, make sure you’re taking care of yourself in a healthful way, and your family or close loved ones or your animals. Two would be to read or listen to stories of frontline workers that are actually confronting this pandemic and what they’re doing about it so that you know what they’re up against. Three would be what can you do for them? And what’s most important, simplest thing which is also what would be for yourself, is to stay home.

 

Dr. Ted Robles  17:32

Exactly.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  17:33

If you can.

 

Dr. Ted Robles  17:33

Right, right.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  17:35

Or minimize your exposure outside.

 

Dr. Ted Robles  17:37

So the other one I would add is that, which we haven’t talked about, is finding ways to connect with everybody that you usually connect with. And so everything from…so it’s been adorable to do this for my children because, you know, they’re not able to be with their friends at school. My right when I picked up my daughter on the last day before school closed, she was coming down the stairs. And then she was taking awhile with her friends and I was getting kind of annoyed. I was talking to a parent and I’m like, what are they doing? Why are they taking so long? And then they all did this really big group hug, which I’d never seen before. It was really touching. And so in over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been trying to arrange Google Hangouts for my daughter and some of her friends. And then the same for my kindergarten age son as well. And those have been kind of adorable to watch because you know, you or I never did anything like that. And just to see this sort of six-year-old in front of an iPad saying, what do you want to talk about, is really, really adorable. But doing that is also really important. You know, checking in, there’s still ways you can do it. I know, Chris, my colleague talked about doing virtual happy hours. All those things are still very much available. Fortunately, given our technological age, imagine if this was 20 years ago, or 30 years ago, it would be much tougher.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  18:52

It’s true. It’s very true. So, for our students who are coming back to classes this quarter, what would be some of the steps they could do?

 

Dr. Ted Robles  19:03

It’s been, I tried to put myself in their shoes. And I—it’s just so hard, especially the seniors—I think they’ve been really hard to think about because these are students where they were looking forward to their last quarter, to graduation, to walking across the dice to get their diploma, Visa, or these last experiences, whether it’s a banquet or something, and just that that will be missing and lost is really, really heartbreaking. I think I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t want to underestimate it if I were many of my colleagues working with students. That they’ve had a significant chunk of their life that they’re just not going to have right now. And then I think about other students where, you know, probably for those of us with privilege, you know, like professors, when we think about our kids coming home from college, I mean besides the usual kind of adolescent annoyance and stuff like that, perhaps it feels like it’s going to be a reasonably comfortable experience, right. But that’s not necessarily the case for other students were anything from limited access to internet, to very different expectations about what children are supposed to do when they’re at home, even if they’re adults. There’s a lot of students that are going to be running up against these major challenges, and this is already after having to uproot themselves from their dorm, or from their apartment. In some cases, fly back to the countries where they’re from. And so I think having a significant amount of, for faculty I should say, having a significant amount of empathy again for their experiences is really critical. Now what about for this for students themselves? I mean, just the amount of stuff that they’ve had to go through over the last couple of weeks is more than any one of us at that stage of our lives would have wanted to go through in a lifetime. I think what’s important for students as we come back together is, you know I always do this with students at the beginning of quarter where, you know, I let them know if there’s anything that you think is going to be an obstacle to succeeding in this particular class, let me know up front because maybe there’s ways I can be of help. Sort of giving study tips given a certain circumstance or just knowing what it is upfront that that’s critical. And I think students should feel like they can do that part of that, as faculty, need to give students a space to let us know what they’ve been facing and what they think they’re going to face over the next three months. And students have to be willing to do that, too. So, I think that’s probably the biggest piece of advice, is to really let your faculty know, like what it is that you’re facing now. What the uncertainties that are weighing over your head are as they relate to how you’re going to do this quarter. Because I think it’s very easy for us to kind of go, I don’t want to bother my professor, he or she is still trying to figure out this Zoom thing. He or she looks really stressed out trying to figure out how CCLE works. And it can be— and there’s already a power differential anyway, so it can be very easy not to disclose things that would be very important factors in their academic success.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  22:13

That’s very practical advice. Really appreciate it. So, I guess two questions. One, what keeps you up at night?

 

Dr. Ted Robles  22:22

Well, so that’s what’s one. What’s the second one?

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  22:26

How, as a community in Los Angeles, what what your what your hope is for ah, what’s your vision, like utopic vision.

 

Dr. Ted Robles  22:36

Right, right. I mean, the number one thing, you know, we’re here during spring break. And I had always figured just looking at the numbers, you know, look at these logarithmic plots that, you know, this was going to be the start of the worst week in terms of death and cases and impact to society. And what scares me is what that’s going to—I guess what scares me is next week. You know, I, somebody had a really nice tweet that was like, if you thought that this week was bad, just wait to the end of this week. And so what keeps me up at night is just what’s going to be happening to our physicians or nurses or health care system, or patients, older adults, younger adults, in the next couple of weeks. You know, over where you are it’s just terrifying to think about what next week is going to look like. And so in some ways, it would be nice if time could stretch on for a long time. And it already feels like, it has right, like this feels like last week feels like a year ago. But that’s what keeps me up is I just worry about the loss of life and the impact for others. So with the utopian vision…I will say one of the really, there’s sort of two things I think about which is the air right now is really quite something here in LA. You know, every time I’m out walking the dog or walking the kids or running after the kids, and I take a deep breath. I’m like, wow, this is…it’s kind of amazing how this feels in my lungs, because the air pollution has just plummeted here. Now, I’m not saying that this kind of pandemic should be what we do in order to sort of get air like this. But imagine a world where we slow down just a little bit. It’s not that, but it would be nice, right? So that sort of thing number one. Thing number two is I’ve seen so many more of my neighbors than I have seen in a long time because we don’t have anywhere to go. And I hope that that sort of, being able to see neighbors, have conversations that are a little bit more, or a little bit less than six feet away. I hope that that can continue and as well as for everybody. It’s a shame that it takes something like this for that to happen, but maybe this is what we needed to shake ourselves from our isolation and our hustle and bustle.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  24:56

That’s, those are two really lovely observations and it seems that we should all be taking on a moment in our day to think about what we find that’s different and kind of the silver lining.

 

Dr. Ted Robles  25:10

Right, right. It’s hard to think about silver linings right now knowing what’s coming, but you know, we have to hold on to something right?

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  25:17

And I mean, I know during, in the history of medicine the major breakthroughs for surgery took place during war time. And so, we might have some major breakthroughs not just only related to medicine, but other aspects of our lives. That includes social well-being, emotional well-being, physical well-being so very, very into spiritual well-being. I think I’d like to end this with part of a Maya Angelo poem because it has to do with Alone. Lying, thinking. Last night. How to find my soul a home. Where water is not thirsty. And bread loaf is not stone. I came up with one thing. And I don’t believe I’m wrong. That nobody, But nobody, Can make it out here alone. Alone, all alone. Nobody, but nobody, Can make it out here alone. Now if you listen closely. I’ll tell you what I know. Storm clouds are gathering. The wind is gonna blow. The race of man is suffering. And I can hear the moan, ‘Cause nobody, But nobody, Can make it out here alone. 

 

Dr. Ted Robles  26:25

That’s really something. Yeah.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  26:26

Shes an amazing poet, sums it up.

 

Dr. Ted Robles  26:29

Exactly. Everybody’s in this together in some way.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  26:33

Ted, thank you for all your wisdoms. All your incredible brainpower on this. We’re going to be airing this, but we’re also going to be sending out other Bruin posts that will address some of these key points you brought up. You’re just an incredible treasure for this campus and our community. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

 

Dr. Ted Robles  26:53

Well, thank you for being the hub for various wisdoms. I appreciate, the you know, all the energy that you’re putting into this. So…

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  26:58

Thank you. Thanks. Well, it gives me, as you said when you enhance your social well-being, giving is one of the big steps on my end. So thanks.  Thank you for tuning in to six feet apart. A special series of the LiveWell podcast. Today’s episode was brought to you by UCLA Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center. To stay up to date with the rest of the episodes in this special series and to get more information on maintaining your emotional, physical and social well-being during COVID-19, please visit our website at healthy.ucla.edu/livewellpodcasts. Thank you and stay remote.

Episode 16: An Opportunity for “Green Commuting”

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Transcript

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:02

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged all sectors and industries to adapt to a new normal, oftentimes forcing a switch change in operations. The transportation sector has been hit particularly hard, as millions of residents minimize their travel and shelter-at-home. At the same time, essential workers, including health care workers at the UCLA, Ronald Reagan Hospital, rely on public transportation to get safely to and from work. Today, I chat with Renee Fortier, the executive director of UCLA Events and Transportation, about how UCLA has responded to ensure safe transportation during these uncertain times. Renee, it’s so great to have you join us today. You know, over the past couple of months, we’ve seen how COVID-19 has affected different industries and sectors in profound ways. I’m really excited to talk to you about how UCLA Events and Transportation has responded to COVID-19. So I’d like to start off broadly and learn from you how COVID-19 has affected your work, and also the shelter-in-place orders.

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  01:18

So COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place orders have had a really significant impact on events and transportation operations, and on our revenues that support all our services, including our sustainable and active transportation. From an operations perspective, we had to really quickly shift into high gear to put in measures to keep our bus drivers and mechanics and parking valet staff and the customers safe, because we’re continuing to provide essential services in support of the Ronald Reagan Medical Center. And we also had to really quickly bring our Customer Service Center to remote operations in order to continue to answer the questions that are coming in from students, staff, and faculty about their commute. And also, some of them wanted to change their mode of transportation. So we had to assist them with that remotely. But from a financial perspective, it’s also been really difficult. It’s been a really major reduction in funding that will be available to support our projects or our services. But really, we’re fortunate that we’d already put in over seven miles of bike lanes on campus and a lot of pedestrian and other improvements for mobility. So we’re also rethinking how we do business so that we can continue to provide mobility and access for the UCLA community, even as our resources are stretched thin. So personally, I have never been busier. I really thought perhaps when I was working from home, it might be less busy. But any time that I might have saved on my commute has been more than taken up by having even more things that we are looking into and having to track and deal with from COVID. And also figuring out how we’re going to work differently as we begin to return to campus.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  03:11

Yeah, well, it’s certainly ironic for you in particular, and transportation, who’s not transporting yourself back and forth to the campus to be even more full of your days fuller for the work you do. And you have always been a huge champion of active transport. And I’d like to understand, you know, when you think about a disaster, you think about it in four stages, right? Preparedness, response, recovery, and resurgence. And I have to get my hat off for you to really give you recognition on the preparedness that you’ve done in regards to active transport. I’d like to understand what does that mean, as you recover and research? Where do you think you’re going to go with the shifts that might be happening due to COVID-19?

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  04:03

For one of the things that we’re trying to do, Wendy, is to look at this as an opportunity. So right now, the streets are pretty empty, and there have been other cities around the world who have used that as an opportunity to turn over more of the real estate on the streets to walking and biking. So we are going to be pushing with the city to see if it’s possible to get a jumpstart on some of the bike lane projects that we have been talking about for years with them, particularly to see whether or not it wouldn’t be possible to get either a study going for the Westwood bike lane or even better a pilot, so we’re going to be pushing on it. Hopefully we’ll have success on it. But it is an opportunity to look at things differently. Now that we have less cars on the streets and to encourage active transportation because people may be more reluctant to do some of the other, especially ride sharing modes, this is a great time to have more people walking and biking.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  05:05

One thing that Renee that really has stuck with me for so long is your capacity to market active transport in a way that is supporting health and well being. And that was a huge selling point compared to the environmental impacts of active transport. I’d love to hear more about your reflection on that for our listeners.

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  05:28

So we’ve been really successful in marketing that. We have had hundreds of people on the campus give up their parking permits with our Earn-a-Bike program. And that is something that people understand the health benefits of really well of cycling. What is probably more surprising is that public transit is actually a quite active transportation mode. There’s a really significant connection between health and public transit commutes. So for example, there was a study done in the city of Charlotte, that transit users lost an average of 6.5 pounds, and 1.18 BMI points, and had an 81% reduce odds of becoming obese. And of course, that’s because they’re actually getting more exercise going to and from public transit.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  06:20

That’s, that’s incredible. And I know that we use that in medicine. We suggest with active transport, getting out a stop earlier or stop later to add a few more blocks here, walk to and from the stop you’re at, form of active transport, which usually, I guess is the bus, or now we have trolleys and some other opportunities. You know, Rahm Emanuel, came out with a quote that I think is very apropos of this time, which is, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.” Is there something that you think you could not have done before this COVID-19 that maybe is in the horizon now in terms of transportation or other work that you do?

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  07:10

You know, the number one thing is the grand experiment that we’ve all been doing with telecommuting and COVID-19. There was a lot of resistance before among managers, in particular, to do telecommuting. And now what we’re seeing is that it’s working. So it’s great to have a green commute, but it’s also great to have no commute sometimes. So this is going to be, I think, a great opportunity. It will have, I believe, long lasting impacts on the remote work as an option. Because people are seeing that not only are they getting productivity, in some cases, they’re even getting more productivity out of employees who are telecommuting. So hopefully, as COVID-19 fades out, and we have herd immunity from a vaccine, folks are going to both return to sharing a ride on public transit, but also to look at not having a commute at all on days of the week, so this is something I think is going to stay around.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  08:15

And are you finding that with your staff as well, that the productivity’s gone up?

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  08:21

Oh, yes. Yeah, in fact, one of my managers was working from home and his wife is working from home too. And she said to him, “Oh, I didn’t realize that you work so hard.” And it’s interesting, because I also read an article that many people are seeing that they’re actually working an average of two to three hours more a day, telecommuting. So I guess maybe one of the other benefits of this is people’s partners and spouses may be appreciating them even more.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  08:58

Yeah, it’s a really nice silver lining. I love that. You know, moving to the other form of commuting outside of the act of transport, although buses are considered active transport, what would you say to students, faculty and staff who relied heavily on buses to get to campus? Once campus reopens, what what kind of assurances are you going to be offering up to these students and staff and I happen to be one of them–faculty members–who takes the bus frequently. And in fact, when we closed down the campus, I was probably one of the last people to take the bus–me and another grad student back home that day.

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  09:42

Well, I’m glad you’re still taking in and I just wanted to say that in terms of what the public transit agencies are doing, the CDC has guidelines that they are asking the transit agencies to run additional service, lower the number of people allowed on board and even install physical guides to ensure riders can stay six feet apart. They also recommend daily health checks for transit workers. And both the CDC and LA Public Health have also issued guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting procedures. Now in terms of our Bruin Bus, and we carry about 1.3 million rides per year on it, we’re going to be also limiting the number of passengers and requiring them to wear face coverings while they’re on board. We’re also fully disinfecting our Bruin Buses daily. And we’re going to be doing all throughout the day, cleaning of handrails and hand straps and doors and providing hand sanitizer on the buses and asking patrons to use it. And we will be doing temperature checks of our drivers at the start of every shift and installing plexiglass barriers in the driver compartments as well. We’re also going to ask our customers that they not board the buses if they’re experiencing any symptoms, and ask them to maintain six feet from other passengers while they’re on board. So all of these things should give some assurance to people that this is not only a good way to get around, but that we are doing everything we can to minimize their exposure. And the transit agencies are going to be doing the same sorts of things to public transit agencies.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  11:19

And so currently, Renee, you said you are one of the essential workers on campus. So you’re continuing the rides, especially be given the health care workers that are coming and going. Is your operation at a different level in terms of numbers of buses running or how is that playing out right now?

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  11:40

Oh, it’s it’s very, very much truncated. We’re just helping with transport of medical personnel right now. And we are also doing maintenance and doing things like cleaning the ambulances. So our maintenance staff are also helping out with the medical employees. And then we also have our valet attendants at the Medical Center at Reagan. And they are continuing to help patients with their parking.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  12:10

Right, right. So I forgot about the ambulances, because we run a series of ambulances as well. Is that under your purview of transportation?

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  12:21

No, the ambulances are actually with the Medical Center. And the fire department actually has an ambulance that runs on the campus as well, our UC Fire Department

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  12:34

So it sounds like from your point of view, you’ve got some good guidance from the CDC, you’ve got some good guidance from the city. And you’re following these steps as we speak now. So the only difference will be, once we reopen that you’ll just have a higher number of buses in your fleet operating. Is that how much you forsee?

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  12:59

So, we actually have a plan that’s not only increasing the number of buses that we have running today. But we also know that that’s not going to be enough with social distancing. So we are working with Santa Monica Big Blue Bus to reroute one of its lines so that it can pick up more passengers at places that we have very heavy loads at certain times a day. So one of those is the Weyburn Terrace Graduate Student Housing. So we’re hoping that they can help with this because otherwise, it will be an issue, because we don’t want crowding on the buses, nor do we really want people to be left behind.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  13:39

Very interesting. Yeah. So you’re working with the city and figuring out ways to leverage each other’s resources. That sounds very promising. Of course, my pipe dream is to see more bike lanes and see them go up during our resurgence or even our recovery phase.  Are there any opportunities with the monies that are coming from the federal government that could actually kickstart some of this work?

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  14:07

Well, I’m not sure about whether or not there would be any funding from the federal government. But good news is that this is a very good time to do construction, because there’s less traffic on the roadways, and the City of Santa Monica has actually started some of the work on the health pathway study, so we’re very excited about that. And we’re hopeful that we can kind of use that the City of Santa Monica has already started to prod the City of Los Angeles to do the work on its section of the health pathways. It’s a great opportunity to do it when there’s very, very little car traffic on the roads.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  14:46

Yeah, could you explain? That’s such a good point. Can you explain for the listeners with the health pathway is referring to?

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  14:53

So, we had a study done between the two hospitals: the Santa Monica UCLA Hospital and the Ronald Reagan UCLA Hospital. Because there are a lot of employees that go back and forth between the two places, and patients to some extent as well, and there is not a good bike route today. So that study recommended some changes both within the City of Santa Monica city limits and on the streets that are in the City of LA as well, such as Ohio, and they’re not huge changes, but they would make it so much safer and so much better to get between the two hospitals. And Wendy, as a cyclist, I’m sure you know that there are many times during the day when you can actually get faster on your bicycle than you could if you’re driving a car.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  15:44

Oh yeah easily, like three times faster or three times less time. Yeah, 20 minutes versus an hour by car, 20 minutes by bike, yeah. And I’m so grateful to you for doing that since I have been doored, hit by a car, flew over my handlebars on Ohio, so having a bike route that doesn’t have cars that could potentially do one of those three things would be probably much more encouraging for people to actually bike in general. I think people are picking up their bikes and biking right now because of the concern about public transportation, but also because there are less cars on the road. So this is exciting, very exciting to hear that that’s moving ahead at this stage, but also employing people so that is like a win win win for everybody.  Well, you know, one of the things that, I’m sure you have a lot of worries on your mind, but what is the biggest thing that keeps you up at night? Like if you were to wake up and have your mind sort of ticking away, what are you worried about?

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  16:52

So currently what’s keeping me up at night is concern about our staff’s safety. You know, we are still supporting the Medical Center during this first phase of COVID-19. We’re doing everything we can to supply them with masks and gloves and regular disinfecting and cleaning their vehicles and their workplaces, but exposure is always a worry. But looking forward, my concern is more that as a campus we continue to embrace healthy and sustainable transportation options and continue to stay out of driving alone and continue to reduce traffic and the resultant air pollution for the good of the community the planet us as individuals. So if there’s really been a silver lining with this deadly pandemic, it’s been a dramatic drop in traffic and the resultant wonderful clean blue skies in Los Angeles. So how can we make that crisis an opportunity and have the campus continue to embrace sustainable healthy commutes or even commute free days as the stay-at-home orders ease we return back to campus?

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  17:58

Yeah, I mean I could see the flip side of everybody being afraid of group travel and go more in their single occupancy car, which is counterproductive to all of the sustainability goals and health goals, really. That’s probably one of the single forms of poor commuting, I mean commuting that contributes to poor health right, single occupancy cars, social and physical well being?

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  18:26

Yeah that’s why it’s one of my worries. We’ve made such great progress over the years and it would be just too bad to have it backslide during this, so I’m hoping that we can use things like having people telecommute, but also encouraging more bicycling and walking as ways that would counter the fears that people might have of being on vanpools or buses.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  18:52

Well it’s really reassuring and comforting to know that you’re in charge of transportation during this time that is going to have to redefine the new normal, and really, I think take on some opportunities that can enhance our well-being coming out of this pandemic. And I’d love to know from your own personal point of view, what would you like to see as part of the resurgence for our campus and for our society? What would you like to see that might not have been there before COVID-19 in a big manner?

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  19:33

Well what I’d really like to see is people seeing how wonderful it is to have the clean air and the blue skies right now and not so much traffic on the streets and saying, hey this is a really great lifestyle change, we support more bike lanes, we support more walking and that would be a wonderful thing if people can say, let’s take this time to rethink how we interact and how we commute and put health and well-being ahead of the few minutes maybe that people might save, who are driving, and think about, I’m gonna do a healthier mode, I’m going to get on public transit, because it’s healthier, and I will be less stressed. Or I’m going to bicycle or walk because I am going to use this time to make myself healthier, and at the same time, it will make the whole community healthier. So that’s my hope. I’m hoping that people will realize that we can have a better and healthier way forward.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  20:44

So on your buses, you often have these great encouraging kinds of statements or advertisements that do promote health and well-being. What do you foresee for the next ad campaign? What will it be?

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  21:00

I think we’re going to be heavily pushing, walking and biking. These are great ways to get to and from campus, and we’ve had a lot of people successfully switching to both of those modes, and I’m hoping that that will continue. But that’s what we plan to really push for the Fall, along with continuing to embrace telecommuting. Right now we all have to, and maybe people are getting tired of telecommuting every single day of the week. But there are advantages to it, too, for doing it maybe two days a week or three days a week if you can, because it allows you to not have a commute to be productive, but to also maybe have more time to spend, with your family or taking breaks that are maybe not as easy to attain when you’re in the office. So this is something that I think will stay. And I think that, along with active transportation, are where we really see things more heading as we go back.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  22:01

Yeah, I agree.

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  22:03

If I look forward to the future, the subway construction is beginning. It’s beginning later this month. We we actually have mass transit on the move in Los Angeles, and that is going to be a real game changer for the city as well.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  22:18

Well, the telecommuting piece that you’re describing, Michael Pfeffer, from the UC Health System IT, he found that it actually retained more of his employees by instituting telecommuting and it saved on rent. And it also made people much happier in his division, and he was able to retain people more. So I think you’re right, and they are very personalized in how they determine who should telecommute and who shouldn’t. And for what days, there’s a contract written up for each person. So it can be very individualized. But it also can be a real game changer in terms of emotional well-being, social well-being, and also our planet’s well-being. So I think that between that and your active transport messaging, it will be really important moving forward for us to continue this conversation. The subway is definitely going to be another kind of interesting step forward. Hopefully, by the time it opens, there won’t be a COVID-19 pandemic, but I’m sure they’ll continue the kinds of practices that we’re doing now, because there’s probably going to be other threats in the future that will come our way. And we have to recognize that we are all a community, our world as a community, and we have to be respectful of each other, other communities, and also respectful of our planet. And this is a big, I think wake up call for all of us.

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  23:56

Yeah, Wendy, I really think that there’s going to be a lot of change that’s lasting out of this, and hopefully those changes or changes that are going to make us all work toward a healthier individual lifestyle, but also a healthier lifestyle for our communities and for our planet. So, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that out of what is a crisis and what is not so good, there will be good that comes out of it in terms of how we view our individual health and the health of our community, our planet as well.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  24:32

Yes. Well, I think that’s a great note to end on. I am with you on the hope and the hopefulness and together we are stronger so we’ll do it together. Thank you for all you do, Renee, and leading also the BEWell Pod and all the work you do for Semel Healthy Campus Initiative, but for the entire university. You’re a real trendsetter and leader in our community on so many levels, and you’ve also really been supportive and inspiring for other campuses in terms of your active transport campaigns, and also you’re reducing the number of parking spaces on campus that would potentially have held another single occupancy car parked. So all of that, we thank you for that.

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  25:24

Thank you, Wendy. And thank you for your leadership. It’s really been great to have transportation really married in a really good way with health through the BEWell Pod and Healthy Campus Initiative. So it’s really been a wonderful experience, and we hopefully will continue to do even greater things going forward.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  25:49

Yes, exactly. In our recovery and research enstasis, we’re going to do great things. Who knows what will be the next step? We don’t know. Thanks again. And have a great day.

 

Dr. Renee Fortier  26:02

You too. Thank you.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  26:06

Thank you for tuning into 6 feet apart, a special series of the LiveWell Podcast. Today’s episode was brought to you by UCLA Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center. To stay up to date on the rest of the episodes in this special series, and to get more information on maintaining your mental, social, and physical well being during COVID-19, please visit our website at healthy.ucla.edu/LiveWellPodcast. Thank you, and stay remote.

Episode 20: The Circuitry behind our Social World with Dr. Ted Robles

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Transcript

Dr. Wendy Slusser 00:02

In the United States, almost 8 out of 10 members of the Gen Z generation and 7 out of 10 millennials reported being lonely in 2019. As if it could get any worse, many experts say even more people are lonely since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Today, UCLA social well-being expert, Dr. Ted Robles, will discuss with me how stress, social support, and close intimate relationships can impact our health and well-being. Please join me in the first of a two-part episode, as we dive into Ted’s research. In this first part, we will explore how each of us can build stronger and moreresilient social networks and prevent loneliness. Ted, thanks so much for coming today. And we’re super excited to talk to you about your work, especially since it’s been real -actually, I’ve had a really steep learning curve related to your work, which I would like to say what your laboratory is called, which I think is kind of cool: Relationship and Health Laboratory. And your team focuses on a range of topics like relationships between social support and digital spaces and health, to how family functioning can actually worsen the effects of outdoor air pollution, which -it blows my mind even thinking about what that means. I think we’re going to delve on all those subjects. But before we get started on the details, I think it’s really important for everyone -because it was a real learning moment for me –is what is the definition of social well-being and also social connection?

 

Dr. Ted Robles 01:41

Oh, sure. Well, there is -depending on the discipline -there’s a lot of different definitions. The way I like to think of social well-being is: do you have a good number of relationships with other people that are high quality? So are these people that you can rely on for help if you need it? Are they people that can support you when you’re feeling down?And are they people who you can turn to for advice? And if you feel like you have that present, if you know that that resource is available to you, then I think you’re someone who has a pretty good degree of social well-being. Doesn’t have to mean that you have 500 friends, but what it really means is that you have people that you know you can turn to and that you can rely on.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 02:23

So it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 02:26

It’s a little bit about quantity because it’s got to be more than zero, right? And there’s something to be said for not having, you know, one or two people that you rely on for all things. And there’s also something to be said for having a diversity of people who fill a lot of roles in your life, and that you fill a lot of different roles for a lot of people. But it doesn’t have to mean that you’re the most popular person who has, you know, every weeknight booked or anything like that, either.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 02:52

So I just heard you say it’s not just about what you can get from someone else, but what you can give to someone else. So it’s a two-way street.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 03:00

Yeah, absolutely. When we think about social support, and what it does for health, there’s some really interesting work suggesting that -reporting that you can give help to other people may actually be a little bit more beneficial than what you report getting yourself. Some of that obviously has to do with if I’m in the position to help, I’m obviously probably a little bit more functional. But at the same time, there may be benefits to providing care, not just you know, in a sort of parental sense, but giving back and that there may be benefits to doing that as well.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 03:34

And so, yes, speaking of like familial relationships, would you define social well-being to include family members?

 

Dr. Ted Robles 03:43

Absolutely. Yes, of course. Because those are relationships where you rely on people for support, you’re also giving support to people, especially as the kids get older to some degree. But even, you know, the young infants give us something, as well, in terms of feeling a sense of love and connection. And so, certainly, family relationships are a very important part of this overall construct of social well-being.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 04:08

So talking about children -thinking about what I started to do later in my practice, as pediatrician, was to be sure to ask children if they had a best friend. And what is that -does that sort of signify that that child has someone they can rely on if you define them as best friend? What does that mean in your discipline?

 

Dr. Ted Robles 04:33

Yeah, I think partly: 1) that you have a source of companionship -someone to spend time with, someone that maybe over time you develop an understanding with, you know, of each other or that someone understands you. You know, certainly, even you know, in kind of early childhood, or I’ll say sort of elementary school age, you know, it’s important to have someone who kind of sees the world in slightly the same way. Just so you feel like you’re not as, you know, alone or different, so to speak. And then that becomes ever more important, you know, as we grow older. And so having friends, certainly during -well throughout all of the life course -but the capacity to do that, and the capacity to be a good friend, are really important. You know, they’re evolutionarily important skills that we’ve had to develop over time.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 05:25

And that sort of -again, thinking about children and feeling accepted -that’s something else I’ve heard you and others in your discipline talk about is a sense of feeling included or inclusion. So can you address that a little bit?

 

Dr. Ted Robles 05:41

So oftentimes in our research we like to think of -I sort of traffic in a lot of romantic relationship kind of research, but I think the construct still applies across relationships -which is this idea of people being responsive to you. And I think that can also be subsumed under kind of the umbrella of inclusion. So responsiveness in our work is: do you feel that the people you’re with understand you? Do you feel like they value you -that they value your importance as a person as part of the group? And do you think that theycare about you? And if you’ve experience your social world as such -so if you experience your friends and your family as people who understand you, that they value you, and that they care for you -then we would say that you have sort of a high degree of, or you would describe the people around you as being very responsive. And so if we just broaden that a little bit more and think about an organization or workplace or an institution or a school, do I feel like the people here -maybe not everybody -but a good number of them understand my experience? Do they value my experience? Do they think that I’m a person who -it’s good that I am here in the place that I’m at? And do I feel cared for by the people who I work with, or by the people who instruct me, or through the staff that I work with? I think those things are also kind of a very important part of this overall inclusion experience. Because if you are at a place where you don’t feel understood by others, where you don’t feel like people care about you, where you don’t think that people think you have value, then that’s a recipe for feeling separate, and not feeling like, you know, then not feeling included, certainly. So there’s very, there’s sort of interesting similarities. There’s this -I come outof this close relationships work in psychology, but learning more about the sort of social belongingness work that you see in other areas of social psychology in particular, there’s an interesting merging there. And I think it all comes back to all of us as human beings want to feel like we’re part of something -whether that be the person I’m with right now, and also, you know, the larger group as well.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 07:56

I mean, you’re talking about feelings, which really leads me to consider what you’ve been doing, which is measuring people’s reaction, physical reaction. And feelings certainly are an emotional reaction, but also they stimulate a physical reaction. Can you explain to me what you’ve been doing with that because I find that fascinating.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 08:18

Yeah. So I like to think of how we -and I’m not alone in this. I’m very influenced by a lot of our colleagues here at UCLA in terms of ideas around how our biology was sort of evolved to interact with the social world. So I like to think of us as we walk around in our experiences, we’re constantly evaluating the environment for making sure that we feel safe, to make sure that life is as predictable as we can make it. And that includes the people around us. We like to have predictability in our social lives. You know I like to expect that someone who I can rely on today is someone who I can rely on tomorrow, or you know, a week from now, regardless of how I’m doing or how they’re doing with some boundaries, of course. And then having that certainty, having that safety is something that we monitor just like we monitor our energy state; or whether or not we have an infection; or whether or not our immune system is actively fighting something like an infection, or, you know, some sortof environmental pollutant. And so one of the functions of our brain is to really monitor the totality of our world, including our social world, and then direct our body to respond accordingly. And so, if we feel so short of any kind of physical exposure.So we’ll just sort of take, you know, infection and pollution, or other things out of the equation and just think about not feeling safe. If I don’t feel safe -if I feel very uncertain about my environment -that’s going to lead to these physiological changes to help me try to get back to a state where I feel more certain or where I feel more safe. You know, I might, you can think about the physiological changes that occur when you are nervous or when you’re uncertain. Some of that has a communicative value. So I’m trying to express to somebody: “I’m really unsure about what’s going on here. I need some reassurance,” for example. And maybe through that biological activity that’s happening in my brain and also in the periphery, outside my outside my brain, that then leads me to kind of get back to a state where I feel more safe and more certain. And that can also activate other aspects of our physiology that for them, it’s really important to know that I don’t feel safe or certain. So I studied the immune system, for example, and we know that the many aspects of our stress biology prepare our immune system to deal with impending threats. So some of my early work was on stress and wound healing. My graduate advisor studied stress and wound healing. Yep, like cuts. Exactly. And there’s really interesting animal literature showing that animals in sort of uncertain social environments, their immune system is primed to respond to infections much more quickly. And we think that’s because if they’re in an uncertain social environment, they just anticipate that they’re going to get hurt. And so their innate immune system needs to be more active and more prepared to respond when there’s an opening in the epidermis and bacteria starts to flood in -flood in through yourskin. And then there’s other work suggesting that, again, in uncertain social environments, that your immune system may be programmed to prepare to deal with infections, and maybe preference, dealing with certain types of infections like bacterial infections, but down-regulating other aspects of immunity, like antiviral immunity. And so just like, you know, our immune system responds to changes in our physical environment. So now we’ll bring back in things like infections and things like environmental pollutants, your immune system is also aware of what’s happening in our quote, unquote, social world as well, because it’s all part of the same world, right? And so that’s been really fascinating to kind of, learn, contribute to, and try to unpack over the course of what I’ve been doing over the last, you know, 12 years or so here.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 10:56

Wound healing. Like cuts? And do you think that’s brought some merit to your field in the sort of the medical world, so to speak, because often it’s reallynot even focused on -your social well being.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 12:31

Right? Yeah, I definitely think that’s part of it, for sure. So some of my work has been -we’ve been trying to demonstrate some of these ideas at the level of gene expression. And so when you can say that -so this is not my work, but this is a collaborator’s work, Steve Cole -when you can say that across several studies, people who report feeling socially isolated, that they have up-regulations of genes that are responsible for the inflammatory processes for promoting inflammation –

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 13:04

Which is associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and cardiovascular –

 

Dr. Ted Robles 13:09

Right. And cardiometabolic illness. And when I can say that, you know -being in a family environment where there are relatively higher levels of conflict, relatively lower levels of support, whether you’re a child or a parent, that both those things can activate some of the same molecular machinery, as well; that that does help, certainly, in gaining credibility with medicine. But I’ll also add that one of the things that’s been really important for my work and others, too, is demonstrating that this has clinically relevant impacts that you could observe. So that was why there was an initial interest in wound healing, not just on my part, but my graduate work at my graduate mentor. That’s why I was interested in assessing patient reported outcomes, like symptoms of the common cold or the flu, because those are the things you see as a physician, and that your patients come in and talk about and are concerned about; and I wanted to make sure that the link between the kinds of social things that I was interested in, linked back to the very complaints that patients would walk in the door with.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 14:21

But you know, I mean, there has been new research following -there’s that aging longitudinal study that talks about the risks of being healthy or being dead in the next five years. Right? And social isolation is one of the risks.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 14:38

Yep. Right, right.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 14:40

And it overcomes any other sort of medical diagnosis in terms of its risk -it’s among the highest.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 14:46

It might be sort of -it might contribute to many of those,at least the progression of many of those conditions, as well, whether it be through behavior -so being sedentary, not eating well, and also some of this physiology, too.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 15:01

Yeah, it’s really remarkable, emerging science -it sounds like -in terms of being able to link physiological changes with the emotional changes that are around being socially isolated or not. There are a couple of things I want to unpack here: 1) I mentioned emotional -and I’ll never forget being educated about the fact that, you know, emotional well-being and social well-being are distinct, but obviously interrelated. Can you expand on that a little bit?

 

Dr. Ted Robles 15:33

Well I always think of -so certainly social relationships, there is a significant emotional component. I mean, they’re one of the major sources of positive emotions, certainly. So when you think about things like feeling gratitude, and feeling compassion, and feeling joy, one of the main contributors to having sort of high levels of emotional well-being is certainly the social relationships that we have. And if you -people who study emotional well-being, they often find that one of the major contributors to emotional well-being is the social realm -having high quality social relationships. But of course, emotions are generated by lots of things; and certainly, not just the people that we’re with, but also the things that we experience as individuals, but also within sort of larger groups beyond just our, you know, the people that I interact with on a sort of one-to-one basis. So I mean, it’s kind of a simple example. You know, the experiences that you have, when you’re cheering for people, you know, for a team in an event, you know; that’s a really large communal experience, it’s not necessarily predicated on my relationship with the person sitting next to me on my left or right, but it is something that is bigger, and doesn’t necessarily involve these sort of one-to-one relationships. And also, having really unhappy relationships is oneof the major contributors to poor emotional well-being, as well. So you think about what puts you at risk for depression -interpersonal rejection is a major contributor to that, as well. But again, one of the really interesting things that we’re finding in psychoneuroimmunology is that not all depression is the same, and that’s actually -that’s not just a psychoneuroimmunology thing -that’s a psychiatry, psychology kind of finding. There’s many different ways to experience depression, some of which may involve how our immune system responds to our environment. And so there may be for some people, when you are exposed to even say something like the common cold or the flu, that that may -by generating these inflammatory processes -affect how we process information that then impacts how we feel. And so some of that may not necessarily be a function of the people that we’re with. I kind of am biased. I think that a lot of it has to do with how we process our social world, but at the same time, you know, things like experiencing anhedonia, or just things don’t feel rewarding anymore; that doesn’t necessarily just extend to people, it could extend to: “I don’t enjoy the movies that I used to enjoy”; “I don’t enjoy the food I used to enjoy.” And so that can be a way that emotional well-being is affected, but not necessarily through these sort of social processes.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 18:21

So of course, it’s quite complicated, right?

 

Dr. Ted Robles 18:23

Right, right. They’re highly intertwined.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 18:24

Yes, exactly. At the same time. You know, something that strikes me that I experience when I’m around someone that I really feel accepted by and that is giving to me and the expression, “it warms my heart”…explain to me what that -what’s happening in that situation?

 

Dr. Ted Robles 18:44

You know, there’s a really interesting literature on -I’m trying to remember. I just saw a kind of -something flew across my Twitter recently about a conference where they’re gonna be talking about the intersection between thermoregulation, so how we control our body temperature and how we experience temperature, and our social experience. So there are these really interesting studies where if you are holding a warm cup, that might actually affect how you perceive a person that you’re with. You might perceive them as being more socially warmer, for example. So this all goes back to some ideas around how some of our basic needs are processed by our brain; so things like hunger, things like warmth and temperature, things like pain that the circuitry that we then evolved over time, in our kind of really thick cortices, co-opted some of that same machinery. And so things like social pain of being rejected, so that feelings of being cold because you are left out, or warm because you had a really intense and meaningful experience with somebody, or hunger because you really miss somebody; that some of the neural mechanisms might have used some of the same machinery that we work in longer-term married couples showing that if they are more negative in these discussions, and these are couples who’ve been married for, you know, at least a decade or more, that their wounds heal more slowly, the more negative they are towards each other during these kinds of discussions.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 21:30

They’d volunteer for this? So, you know, getting back then to this concept of inclusion or not being included, that really translates to certain groups in our society that can feel this throughout their lifetime, right?

 

Dr. Ted Robles 24:07

Absolutely. Certain groups like African Americans, and I know African American women had this kind of data that’s related to their birth, you know, pregnancy and birth. Can you expand on that? Well certainly anybody who is experiencing marginalization of any form, right? And that can be because of ethnicity, as you alluded to, that can also be because of being a sexual minority, as well, and either experiencing both explicit forms of discrimination and prejudice, but also implicit forms that kind of live in the background –

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 24:43

Implicit. Explain implicit.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 24:45

So I’m thinking about, on one hand, the ways that people think about other people, but aren’t consciously aware of, and then how they act accordingly. But in addition to that, I was also gonna say the sort of stuff structural pieces that form the kind of invisible but highly impactful framework in which we live. So if I live in a state where there are laws that discriminate against me, they may not be discriminating against me at this particular moment in time, but the accumulation of experiences that occur because of those laws, the norms that people have about how I get treated, that those can be highly impactful, and again, make someone feel like they’re not part of society, not part of this world. And we know that social rejection, kind of generally speaking, is definitely a risk factor that kind of amplifies our stress biology. We’re more vigilant for threats in the world, and our immune system, among other systems, responds accordingly by being prepared. And unfortunately by having an over-vigilant, prepared immune system, that has costs over the long-term for the very conditions you were describing before: cardio metabolic disorders, etc.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 26:03

Pregnancy.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 26:03

Right -pregnancy outcomes. Absolutely.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 26:05

I mean, this is definitely an emerging field in the degenerative diseases, as well, in particular, the aging brain. So what you’re describing is that social well-being and promoting social well-being and promoting inclusion and reducing prejudice is a really critical intervention for us to be able to enhance people’s well-being and physical well-being.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 26:33

Right, absolutely.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 26:35

Part of the argument, initially, for why we wanted to focus not just on emotional well-being but social well-being as a distinct entity at UCLA, here, in the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative was this just incredible statistic or data point that came out about cigarettes. Can you explain to me this? This is scary.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 26:57

So one of the things we’re always interested in -the sort of psychosocial factors and health folks are interested in -is we want to make sure or we want to know, okay, if we benchmarked the risk related to being lonely, or to having very few friends against other known risk factors, like you know, how much of a problem is this if people are reporting high levels of loneliness? Because on one hand, you could imagine that the effect size is not big. I mean there’s a lot of things in this world, that in psychology, where the effect sizes are relatively small and –

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 27:28

And what does that mean? The effect size?

 

Dr. Ted Robles 27:29

So I guess, the way I like to think of it is, if -let’s just pretend we’re talking about the likelihood that you’re going to get heart disease in 10 years. And if we imagine that there’s a cup, and that cup contains all the things that can put you at risk; and if different parts of that cup were different colored liquids, or different density of liquids. So let’s say I fill half that cup with exercise, so half of the reason that I’m at greater risk for developing heart disease is because of my exercise, or lack thereof, you know. Where does social isolation stack up? Is it about the same amount of -does it explain the same amount of variation and why somebody gets heart disease? Or is it less, and if it’s like a miniscule amount in that cup, then maybe it’s not that important for us to focus on. And so that’s why we wanted to kind of benchmark, and all of us who’ve done these kind of meta analyses, where we look at all the studies that have been done. And then we look at the size of, you know, what is the size of the relationship between marital quality, that is how you evaluate your relationship, and risk for death? Does that look about the same as something like exercise or something like smoking? And certainly for social isolation, you know, I didn’t do these analyses, but you know, my colleague, Julianne Holt Munstead did. And then when you look at how something like social isolation stacks up to not smoking, you know, the effect size is very similar, and in some cases, depending on your metric, it might be bigger. And so what that told us is that, you know, if you could mitigate social isolation, you might get some bang for your buck, you know, 10 years, 20 years down the road, and that it would be something that would be important to focus on. And so that was much of the motivation for trying to find, you know, how does this stack up next to something that we already devote a lot of money and time towards?

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 29:25

And no, really. It can cause serious illness and death.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 29:30

Absolutely.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 29:31

Social well-being is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 29:35

Yeah, so I think they’re -they were looking at studies where, again, it was probably a meta-analysis of, you know, to what degree of smoking exposure over a certain amount of time was related to risk of early mortality. And so yeah, that ended up being the sort of equivalent effect, size-wise.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 29:52

So we just removed and actually have a tobacco ban on campus.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 30:00

Right, right.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 30:01

So, but meanwhile, we have to also be looking at how we can promote social well-being on campus because unbeknownst to us people are getting a dose of the negative impact.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 30:13

A couple -a pack and a half, right?

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 30:16

I don’t know how many cigarettes are in a pack.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 30:18

But it is interesting that that is that statistic and other quarters that I have revolved in, I remember presenting some of my findings on marital quality and health at the Gerontological Society of America Meeting and a symposium. And that was really the thing was, wow, it was just amazing that this social factor was equivalent to like a smoking, for example. Yeah, yeah.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 30:40

And so I mean, what has evolved, clearly since you started as a grad student is, the World Health Organization lists social support networks as a determinant of health.

 

Dr. Ted Robles 30:41

Yeah. Right.

 

Dr. Wendy Slusser 30:42
So can you explain to me what that means for us now that the World Health Organization is talking about this?
Dr. Ted Robles 31:02
Yeah, I think what it means is that we typically think of, you know, let’s take something like physical activity, where we now have a good set of strategies that one must -that a society and that public health, and that medicine has to go through in order to try to increase physical activity. And it’s not just things that one person has to do, you know. It’s not just that, I, as an individual have to know that I need to get 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise in order to prevent my risk of –
Dr. Wendy Slusser 31:02
Per week.
Dr. Ted Robles 31:08
Per week, yes, to prevent my risk of, you know, disease later on down the road. It’s not enough that I have to know it; I have to know what to do, I have to live in a world that can make that easier for me to do. And so you think about the bike lanes that are here now on campus, or just you know, of lots of efforts to try to increase access to being able to bike, for instance, from one part of town to the next. That’s not something that that, I, as an individual can do, but I have to rely on the stakeholders and people in the community who can control those things: policy, taxes, etc. And I think being able to do that involved being recognized by public health and policymakers, as you know, that physical activity is important, and that there are these ways to change it that can’t just involve one person deciding. They have to involve these structural changes. And so that’s kind of what I’m hoping to see for social networks as a social determinant -is so much of how -you know, when you talk to somebody about loneliness is a problem, andpeople are lonely, and –
Dr. Wendy Slusser 32:46
And how many people are lonely in our country?
Dr. Ted Robles 32:49
You know, depending on the estimate, you know, it’s probably somewhere around like a third, or maybe even 40 percent on the survey. There was a recent one done by –
Dr. Wendy Slusser 32:58
40 percent? How do you define ‘lonely’?
Dr. Ted Robles 33:00
So there are measures. One was developed here at UCLA called the UCLA loneliness scale. And so they’re basically measures that ask -I mean, you can even just ask the question, “I feel lonely,” and how much of the time does someone report that? It can be that simple. And so, there was a recent one. I can’t remember the name of the health insurance company or provider that did this very large survey of tens of thousands of individuals. And so again, it was around a third to 40 percent –
Dr. Wendy Slusser 33:25
Cigna -I think.
Dr. Ted Robles 33:26
Yeah, Cigna. Thank you. And so you could think of not -so when we think of, you know, someone’s lonely, how can we combat that? Well, they should get out more, they should go, you know, get on Facebook, they should make an effort to talk to people, or people should make an effort to talk to them. And those things are totally true, but the idea of recognizing social networks as a social determinant at the level of public health opens up the door for thinking about this problem the way someone who does work in public health would, which is: are there structural features of the environment, for instance, that might impact this? For instance, our work culture, our work at physical environments. Are we making it easy for people to congregate, when you think about the design of a workplace or a school? Are there things that we’re doing that make it harder -that make it too easy for people to feel isolated? So you think about something like family leave policies, you know, around the time that you have a child. You know, that is a time where it’s really nice to be able to have the time and space for people to provide help, for you to seek the help. And those are things that our current culture and policies don’t necessarily support. When you think about, you know, providing care to say an adult in your life who needs help, same kind of thing. We don’t necessarily support that sort of social giving. And then we haven’t talked about technology yet, but that certainly is another issue, of course, which is how can we best use technology to benefit our face to face relationships and be less of a barrier to our interpersonal relationships? Those are things that yes, I, individually could make the choice to, you know, be on Facebook less. But are there other ways that corporations and companies can design, you know, our social environment? Because they clearly are designing our social environments for us.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 35:18
Well you’re really touching on the point that it’s going to be a transdisciplinary solution topromoting or preventing loneliness. And then your point about family leave, I learned -much later, after my children were two -but I learned that people tend to be the most lonely when they have a two year-old. And you explain to me what is happening, then? And that’s so important. I wish I had known, because I felt quite lonely and sad.
Dr. Ted Robles 35:49
Right. I think part of it, and I didn’t touch on this a second ago, but this sort of culture of self-reliance is one major contributing factor, I think. And when you’re someone who’s -I like to think of myself as competent and educated. And so I like to think that I can take these things on myself. And in some ways, perhaps we’re socialized to think that way.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 36:13
In the United States.
Dr. Ted Robles 36:14
In the United States. Yeah, absolutely. Then you could imagine someone being more likely to want to take on taking care of my two year-old at home, for instance, or not wanting to ask someone to watch my two year-old while I do some social thing. You know, that the social thing is not as important as me making sure my my child is sort of safe, you know, at home in the evening or something like that. And, you know, on one hand, those are trade-offs that we’re willing to make; but on the other hand -and that’s good in some ways -but on the other hand, if you think about how we evolved and the environments in which we evolved, we had these rich social networks, right nearby us, where we could pass on childcare temporarily, while I had to go over to this other part of my village. And I think because of the size of the worlds in which we live in, and the number of people that were around, there’s this simultaneous push for us to kind of like shelter ourselves away from this busy world and all the people in it. And we sort of lose the wanting to be able to connect, and we made it harder for ourselves. So you know, it’s not like we always rely on our immediate neighbors for, can you look after my child for a second? Because I would like to go, you know, take some time for myself. That’s harder now, I think, relative to a long time ago.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 37:35
And so you’re really touching on some ideas about how you could, as an individual or family, promote social well-being by maintaining or creating connectivity, and also be willing to ask for help. How about population base? Because you just -you talked about that a little bit with World Health Organization. And that’s something that we’re really challenged with -that question.
Dr. Ted Robles 37:59
And certainly to create cultures where self-reliance isn’t the norm, then you have to think about how to restructure the world as such. And that is a harder one for me, in part, because, you know, I’m trained as a psychologist; and so I think about very small kind of groups of people, and I often think mainly about the individual and their sort of internal experience. But you, you know, are there structural ways that we can support people connecting with one another, more and relying on each other more? You know, on one hand, there’s always going to be some barrier in the sense of getting over -yes, you do need to have someone help you with your child from time to time or with your work from time to time. But can we create structures in which, again, that feels like an easy choice, as opposed to a hard choice? I don’t have any good answers for that. But I think the same principle applies. You know, those kinds of things that we would like to encourage, how can we how can we build worlds where those are straightforward decisions and actions to take?
Dr. Wendy Slusser 39:05
Well, you know, I mean, if you sort of go into the transdisciplinary world, I’ve been talking a lot to people about resilience. Not just about their emotional resilience, but climate change, and how much we’re going to have to deal with the resilience of, you know, at least at this point, very big swings of nature. And so being able to ask for help, but also being socially connected is a form of resilience, correct? So what would you, like, for the listeners, what would you recommend as simple steps that they could take?
Dr. Ted Robles 39:32
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, it would be a tragedy if the first time that you really got to know your neighbors -it would be good to get to know them, of course -but like if the first meaningful experience you had with your neighbors was because -God forbid -some disaster happened to either you or somebody in the neighborhood or something like that. And there’s definitely something -again, going back to some of these evolutionary ideas -you know, we evolved in these sort of small social groups that we could then band together to deal with, you know, a very uncertain world. And what we’ve done is we’ve made the world a little bit harder for us to connect with each other in these sort of close groups, and we’ve made the world a little bit more complicated and more prone to these kinds of disasters that we would have to deal with. And certainly, just as one would seismically retrofit your office, or seismically retrofit your house, yeah we have to think about ways that we would seismically retrofit our kind of communities and social lives when the thing happens. Right, and this is where on one hand, when you study health behavior and when you do research in health behavior -on one hand, you’re comforted because it’s pretty straightforward, right? You know, exercise, eat right. You know, those things seem simple, but of course, we live in a much more complicated world that makesit hard to do those things. Same thing: reach out, get to know the people right next to you. Those kinds of things, again -and again, I hate to sound like someone who’s just suggesting that the individual do this, but it does start with that in some ways. In terms of getting to know the people that you’re around, and you know, coming back to this idea of understanding, valuing, and caring for people -communicating that, certainly, to the people that you know well, and then trying to develop that with -Imean you don’t have to be best friends with everybody, right? But it is certainly possible to communicate those same kinds of messages to people that are still in a slightly outer circle but still somewhat physically closer, right?
Dr. Wendy Slusser 41:44
So if you were to have to identify some of the pressing issues in your field today, what would you identify, and what keeps you up at night?
Dr. Ted Robles 41:52
Yeah. So in my work on like family and intimate relationships and health, I do a lot of observation. I mean, I do entirely observational research, so you know I’m very interested in looking at associations between support in the family and these biological mechanisms and health outcomes. I’m not an intervention person, but we do have interventions that do improve the lives and well-being of families and that do improve the lives and well-beings of couples, for example. What we know much less of is the health impact of those things, and so I think the most pressing issue for us is to really demonstrate that these social factors impact physical health. Really the best ways to do that are, you know, randomized controlled trials, where you’re testing the health impacts of family and marital interventions or intimate relationship interventions. And there are people making steps towards that. There’s been some really interesting work on families, particularly African American families in Georgia, by some groups there. But there’s not -there needs to be more of that; and that’s the big challenge, I think, is melding the expertise and studying health from the people who know how to do that with the expertise of the people who study interventions, and then one last piece of that is really studying that in people who really need both, which would be people who live in populations where they’re disadvantaged in terms of their health and in terms of the economic and social factors that put strains on families and couples. That would be what I would ideally like to see in this research.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 42:21
Well in a way, you are doing a natural experiment here at UCLA with the Diabetes Prevention Program. So stay tuned to that, right?
Dr. Ted Robles 43:43
Right, exactly. Yeah, yeah. It’ll be really interesting to see what happens with that.
Dr. Wendy Slusser 43:47
Yeah. Thank you for joining us today, and please tune in next week for the second part of this conversation. Ted and I will pick up where we left off and explore how social well-being affects the biological processes behind stress, how social media can hijack our reward systems, and much more. We hope you can join us next week. Thank you for tuning into LiveWell today. Today’s podcast was brought to you by UCLA’s Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center. To learn more about Ted’s research, please visit our website @healthy. ucla.edu/livewellpodcast. To stay up to date with our latest podcasts, make sure to follow our Twitter and Instagram @livewell_ucla

Episode 25: : Being a Changemaker with Savannah Gardner

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:03

Today I chat with Bruin alum Savannah Gardner about her amazing journey. As a change banker at UCLA and beyond. Struggling with food insecurity, Savannah began to see her struggle from a new perspective while taking a UCLA food justice class. Through the UC global food initiative Fellowship Program, Savannah, in turn, was able to take substantive steps to help other UCLA food insecure students. Keep listening to hear Savannah story and her insights on finding one’s path in college. So anyway, Savannah, thank you so much for being here. What a pleasure.

 

Savannah Gardner  00:40

Thanks for having me, Wendy.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:41

Yeah,

 

Savannah Gardner  00:42

I’ve been on the side of the microphone. Yeah. Behind the scenes, right.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:47

I mean, you’re the one who really helped kick off this podcast in the production side of things. So it only bodes well for the podcast that you get to be interviewed.

 

00:58

 

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:59

I hear that you’re also behind the original ideas. So I’d like to open up our conversation with your story of how you came to UCLA. I know you just graduated just about a year ago. And what was your journey, you know, to get here to this wonderful university?

 

Savannah Gardner  01:17

Sure. So I was born in New York from the Bronx. I moved here when I was nine. I went to public school on the east coast. My mom remarried and moved to Los Angeles, he moved to the San Fernando Valley. And I started in LAUSD, the highly gifted magnet, I moved to middle school in the valley. My mom separated from my previous stepdad. Then we moved to the west side of Los Angeles. And then I ended up going to a private school on the east coast to boarding school to Phillips Exeter. And then that was my first kind of taste of

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  01:54

How the heck did you get to Phillips Exeter, from the west side of Los Angeles?.

 

Savannah Gardner  02:02

You know, they came to this is like, why tracking is a real thing. The  Dean of a different private school came to our school just talked and, I could get out of science class, if I got a signed note from my mom saying that I could go to this dean of somewhere, you know? Yeah, I forged her signature, and I went to the Dean’s talk. And then I was like, Oh, this is like an interesting private school, I was kind of pursuing alternative high school options anyway. There’s like the Cal State LA program with you take your GED, essentially to skip most of high school. So that was an option for me, or maybe pursuing a non traditional route anyway. So then this kind of came up. And then I just picked a couple of schools applied, and ended up in New Hampshire. And then by the end of my time there, and I applied to colleges, I came back to Los Angeles, my family was a big pull, and that my mom and my three younger siblings. And then five years later, I’m here. I’m graduated, very thankful of everyone that got me here, including myself. And throughout that time, I kind of got involved in food justice and environmental justice and environmental racism and learning about my place in Los Angeles, really learning to appreciate the city for all its good and his bad. And being a change maker in that. So that’s how I’m here. And I’ve worked for HCI most of the time.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  03:26

Right on so, you know, what were the challenges that you faced along in that journey? It sounded like one  was not a challenge that you just sort of landed on this opportunity that took you to New Hampshire and  to your high school years. But what what did you face that were facilitators or challenges?

 

Savannah Gardner  03:47

Sure. So I included my, the part of my life where I went to New Hampshire because I think that was a me being in boarding school, this very elite school coming from a low income background with a single mom and three younger siblings growing up on CalFresh, which is California food stamps. There was a lot of dissonance that I felt there, but I was kind of at a point where I really wanted to assimilate to this and kind of hide my where I came from. And then I came to UCLA and I was kind of carrying that. I always worked, I always helped support my family. And I took a food justice class here at UCLA where I learned more about the systemic reasons why families like my own end up in situations like my own and I think that gave me a lot of solace and empowerment and being able to feel like I was a Changemaker in my situation you know, as opposed to feeling like I had to hide that I supported my family or how to hide where I was from that if anything it made me more proud of myself for being there and proud of my mom and my siblings for going through so much with so little but still being on the other end of it

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  04:56

and being loving and a family.

 

Savannah Gardner  04:59

Yeah, and still doing are part within our community despite it. I think i needed kind of that juxtaposition in order for me to have really appreciated where i come from as opposed to think a lot of folks because of the situations where i’m like want to hide it or you don’t you know there’s a lot of shame associated with being poor, but through this  experience at UCLA, I was really able to kind of harness it and use it as something that makes me inexplicably me as opposed to a part of me that I’d rather change

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  05:31

And accepting of that. So it’s  interesting, I think you know of course during a developmental stage in high school everyone wants to belong right, and so you ended up in a situation where you were more different than some of the other people in your class or maybe not. Everyone might have been hiding something that was fit into  something that didn’t didn’t feel like it was assimulating in you know or being equivalent. So in  your sort of journey of this realization, how did find that? I mean it sounds like you learned about food justice through this great summer program right and we’re going to get to some of that what you’ve done with that which is so empowering and so admirable. In terms of that realization was it just like one moment it was an ah-ha? Or how did it  evolve? I know it’s it’s hard to know because it was in real time and then now it’s retrospective.

 

Savannah Gardner  06:36

I think that part of it did kind of originate in high school when you’re given a lot of autonomy in boarding school which is I think good and and bad and it can be very challenging

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  06:50

But you didn’t get kicked out no which is a huge badge of honor these days!

 

Savannah Gardner  06:58

Yeah, I’m very grateful for the opportunity because it gave me one of the opportunities was to really see myself in that space and find myself and like find friends that came from the same background and really finding solace in other people and other women there and having  mentors or femtors  that were really wanted us to graduate. That was having people that really wanted to cultivate for you, rooting for us, and having that when you’re away from your parents especially when my mom had a lot going on here you know she was having a newborn and a three and five year old or a four and six year old at that time. So that was I think kind of the first part of it for me where I really had people in my corner

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  07:39

to sounds like that would be a piece of advice you’d give others if they found themselves in the position you were in .

 

Savannah Gardner  07:46

Yeah, and I mean I’ve for a lot of reasons I’ve had the privilege of being trapped in my education of being like in a gifted program or being selected to go to the public school or got into UCLA. Those are the kinds of things where if you find your environment there and those people that do root for you there, it can make all the difference especially when you’re questioning you know your place there, if you have imposter syndrome or whatever it may be. I think that was a big part of it earlier on. I think a lot of it the challenges were associated with my socioeconomic background you know I worked at least 25 hours a week, I really had a kind of section of my life around how I could work, how I could support myself and support my family. Financial aid is great but there’s a limit to it. Rent is high here so there was kind of that necessity I had but also the essential part of my being here is also needing to embrace myself and me being a student and taking this time for me trying to find a balance of the two was one that took a really long–I’m still on that balance-but you know are trying to find that balance but I think that really happened here at ucla and being able to see that I can do what I need to do for me as well as my family and I could have both, like I could have my cake and eat it too even if I gotta pay bills you know. I think that I was really lucky that I had support systems and jobs that allowed that flexibility. So that challenge I think is probably going to be a lifelong challenge for me, but I think it really kind of crowned and I started to understand it more much more during my time at UCLA.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  09:21

Well I had the chance to observe you and you really did do a great job balancing all of that and having first met you when you were in the food justice class and learning about the work you did with food forward, I feel that you really embrace and take on opportunities as they come your way and in a very, I think not only productive way, but imaginative. So I’d like you to give me a little bit of background or reflection on and explain what first of all the Global Food Initiative and  the fellowship that you did with them and what that led to. You identify that as a big turning point in your sort of own self realization of  acceptance.

 

10:08

Yeah, I really did kind of have a moment where like one class changed my life i had gotten a freshman year i had gotten an offer for an internship in dc for the summer but i didn’t get as much money as i had needed to be able to they could pay for like part time stipend and i couldn’t swing that um in order to send money home and i was kind of at this point where i was like oh god what am i going to do for the summer you know how can i kind of find that balance and further myself but also makes money and make sure I don’t have to worry about the fall and a friend just kind of a friend actually from Swipe Out Hunger which is a student group here that addresses food insecurity amongst students primarily but also just the greater LA community.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  10:51

And tell me a little bit before you go on, what’s Swipe Out Hunger just so people  understand.

 

Savannah Gardner  10:55

Yeah, so Swipe Out Hunger is a national organization that started here at UCLA. Its primary goal is to address student food insecurity in a sustainable way primarily through using campus meal plans and repurposing the leftover meal plans that are already paid for for folks that need, primarily students in need so kind of a student helping student model. Our chapter here at UCLA also kind of did more traditional outreach of general awareness among the student body, helping in research we did  big events like Sandwiches for Smiles where we’d make sandwiches that would stock the food closet here on campus, which is a anonymous command come out exactly what it sounds a food closet you can just grab what you need.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  11:39

So you were already involved in some sort of form of alleviating hunger for your peers and others?

 

Savannah Gardner  11:48

Yeadh and I really had a moment and kind of at the same time that I chose not to take this internship cause of my own financial security was kind of the same point where in Swipe Out Hunger, I had originally joined Swipes because I had been a part of working with people experiencing homelessness in high school, I thought it’d be a great thing for me to continue in college. I really loved it and made me feel like I was bridging a gap of the inequities that we have in society but on a personal basis, and I love that so i joined Swipes and Swipes really, although we went and worked at soup kitchens or worked with folks experiencing homelessness, it was really about alleviating student food insecurity and being able to name that you know move from Oh I’m serving someone to actually  the club is serving people like me. Like I’m going to the food closet and I’m receiving these meal vouchers that we collect was really difficult and they kind of happen at the same time where I was introduced to this food justice class and I was having this moment where I was like maybe I shouldn’t be in this club. You know like if this club is supposed to be serving people like me, why should I be here, why do I deserve a seat at this table? Obviously I stuck with it, I moved through that. End of freshman yea, I signed up for the class on food justice. They had a paid internship as part of the service learning class for this dual part model where you learn about an aspect of society or social inequity and then you also serve within it.  The Global Food Initiative under President Napolitano also paid the first cohort which is why I was able to do it. I’m very grateful for that.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  13:22

That Global Food Initiative paid for three cohorts, three summers worth, not necessarily the paid internship part but the other the classes.

 

Savannah Gardner  13:32

Yeah I mean that was that was a perfect example like model for me later and that if you want people from a background that you’re serving, you have to incentivize and make it accessible for the people that you’re serving. So if you want food insecure people to take this class and learn about their own community in Los Angeles, then you have to take away the stress of applying for summer financial aid and  finding dual funding for this internship,  the class.  So I kind of at the crowning where I was learning, I was really trying to see whether or not I fit into Swipe Out Hunger. I felt like I fit, always fit, but it was hard feeling like I was questioning whether or not I was the person to do the work.  And then I took this food justice class and you know we’re learning about CalFresh and WIC and sustainable food systems and food apartheid and all sorts of stuff, and it was very interesting for me to finally feel like the situation was flipped you know? When we start to talk about food assistance and what people what access people have to food assistance in the city of Los Angeles, I can describe what WIC was to the class because my mom is on WIC which is for women with infants and children that’s like a select meal program for mothers with children under five and pregnant moms. So you know like being able to take that initiative around this table of 20 really bright people and being like oh god I know what it is, like this is what it is and these are the problems with it, you know, and I can now name that inequity, you know, like on WIC, you you don’t have a lot of autonomy, there are certain criteria of things you can buy, right? So you could buy like 24 ounce cereals, or in total 64 ounce of these certain types of cereals at the certain stores that accept WIC and being able to describe that frustration of not being able to buy the cereal my family would buy if we had the money to without WIC, and then being able to be given the space to talk about that in the circle. And also have other people build off and share their own experiences. Or have folks who never experienced that, ask questions about it, you know, and ask, why is this the way it is, was really a turning point for me and understanding, I’m great, because I made it here, and I deserve to be here. And I’m really grateful for having that experience much earlier on than a lot of folks do when they come to college, especially like first generation students.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  15:54

And so tell me about your internship with Food Forward. Yes, which was the one with your food equity class that summer.

 

Savannah Gardner  16:01

I really wanted to work with Food Forward, but it was the farthest one I took the bus. So there was kind of that accessibility factor. I wasn’t sure but thankfully the person I was paired with had a car. And I just kind of made it work when I couldn’t get there with him. And we got paired. So it’s an LA based gleaning organization that centers around three main gleaning platforms, which involves using produce that would otherwise go to waste and we purposely get for folks in need. So there’s the backyard harvest program which gleans from local orchards, people backyards, really a community-centered. You have volunteers come to someone’s backyard to clean this 40 year old orange tree that’s been sitting in the middle of Brentwood since before the house was built, right. And so that that those ornages  don’t go to waste. Maybe that family doesn’t  have the capacity to eat 200 pounds of oranges, but  can’t have the capacity to clean them themselves. But you have volunteers come collect that and that goes to a local food insecurity reduction organization. Or you have the farmers market gleaning program, which is what I worked with, which goes to local farmers markets and has a relationship with farmers where the farmers donate their extra produce from the like two dozen farmers markets in Los Angeles.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  17:08

I see you guys at the Brentwood one every Sunday.

 

Savannah Gardner  17:11

Yeah, we’re there. Then the last one is the wholesale produce market, which goes to kind of the big shop downtown at 3am, where Ralph’s would buy their produce from or in Vons, and gleans the excess produce from that, and that’s on a millions of pounds scale. The farmers markets are on anywhere from like 500 to 2000 kind of pound scale that gleans, so that we would collect it per bucket. And then the backyard harvest really depends. But it’s normally on a smaller scale, unless it’s like a larger gleaning of an orchard or something. But yeah, I got placed with Food Forward, and they needed help with their farm Farmers Market recovery program doing outreach. And I really loved their their model of being a middle person organization where they see this excess that would otherwise this produce that would either go back to compost for the farms, or go to waste, or go to like chicken feed. And then these people in Los Angeles that, you know, the city has a huge food insecurity rate and high social inequity. So being able to bridge that gap of the best produce that we could get in Los Angeles from these farmers markets and being able to give it to the people who would have the least access to it. And it’s a really wonderful experience, just go to the farmers market and talk to farmers and have them fill up some boxes and collect them and weigh them at the end. And then you get to see the organization’s pick them up at the end of the day. So I spent a summer interning with Food Forward and learning about the farmers market recovery program. And then I was approached by the Healthy Campus Initiative in conjunction with Cathy O’Brien, who ran the food justice class, asking if I would like to further this program and bring it actually to a campus that would be able to glean produce for food insecure students. And so this was also kind of like the situation where I was like, I could get paid to do something that I really like, awesome. I’ll take it. I don’t really know what’s going on. But I’ll take it. And it was a fellowship, it became a fellowship under the Global Food Initiative, which was President Napolitano’s initiative to feed the world sustainably and equitably, by 2050.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  19:11

And we were starting in our own backyard, so to speak.

 

Savannah Gardner  19:14

Yeah. So the fellowship really focused, you know, people that were researchers that have been working on, like the effects of climate change and food for years, to people like me, you know, sophomore, students 19, that were just working on a local farmers market trying to feed families that they went to school with, and everywhere in between. And I’m really grateful for having that fellowship support me and not being able to be exposed either.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  19:39

And you were in that fellowship for two years, right? Let’s Yeah, well, I think that you know, the example of you picking up your experience with the food justice course and really being responsive to the requests, you know, that we had for you through Semel Healthy Campus Initiative to really bring it to life over the course of now, four years really, it’s been tremendous. It’s a real asset because you identified something that was really useful. And then you partnered, as I remember with Tyler Watson and brought it to our graduate student housing and here to our food closet into a cafe 580, which is a nonprofit that serves our population here at UCLA and graduates as well. And one of the things that is striking to me that really came to light in your sophomore year was this myth that students in four year elite universities like, like UCLA, aren’t food insecure, that everyone is food secure. And the data rolled in early on in your sophomore year that showed that, indeed, there’s some real challenges that we have on our campus and across campuses in the United States. And it sounds like part of that might have been the fact that we didn’t know this is because people weren’t sharing. It sounds like but now, are you finding now  since that data rolled in and there’s more attention to this as a challenge that people are more open and less shameful of their experiences?

 

Savannah Gardner  21:17

I sure hope so. Yeah, yeah, I think that it is changing. Like the food closet here at UCLA started in 2009, kind of post recession, so did a lot of our other economic crisis response teams. The 580 cafe opened up at this turn where there were so many more students that no longer had support, possibly from their families, right, if they were going through some part of the recession. But that I think, brought to light that this is always been happening. And there’s always been food insecure students at elite colleges, and now that there, you know, are diversity initiatives or initiatives that get folks from different socio economic backgrounds or this slow buff up of financial aid, that more students started to come here and really make their own communities here. I think people have been talking about it, if they’ve had the support, to, you know? Food insecurity happens at higher rates, and different depending on what community you’re from, depending geographically where you’re from, it can look different. And I think people were sharing it, but not on a scale that it currently is, you know, now it’s, I think people have always been sharing about it with people that they felt comfortable and supported with, but now it’s, you know, you can have these high level meetings where someone’s like, yeah, I’m food insecure. And this is, or I have been, or I’m on CalFresh. And you’re talking about it with people that maybe you aren’t as comfortable with, because it is coming out more in the open, I think is the barrier that is being broken down after the food insecurity study come out?

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  22:43

Yeah, I mean, we here at UCLA, actually had a survey prior to the UC wide survey that I feel was helpful to us to then dive into more deeply a focus group sessions that really brought to light, sort of more personal experiences of food and security that Hannah Milan and Tyler Watson ran. And what’s striking to me is that, you know, when I shared it with the more senior administrators here at UCLA, like the VC of research at the time, was just so saddened by it, that he offered funding from further research to help support the understanding why this is occurring. And you know, what’s interesting is that the data, if you look at it, the majority of students are food insecure, probably associated with their economic circumstances, family circumstance. There is a percent though, and we found it also in the focus groups of students that probably are food insecure, because of not having the food literacy to prepare food, or even those that are food insecure, from a financial point of view, need that kind of component, which means, you know, learning skills to actually prepare healthy foods on a budget. And what’s your feeling about that?

 

Savannah Gardner  24:00

I think that both are really necessary in order to be able to see the entire spectrum of food insecurity and seeing that it doesn’t just look one way, it’s not about not having food, it’s about not having enough food, it’s not about the type of food you eat, it’s all of it, you know, it’s all of the above. It’s how to cook it. It’s everywhere from where you get it to how you dispose of it, like all of that encompasses someone’s food security. I think that the really interesting part that came out of those food focus groups that Hannah and Tyler did, was that students didn’t  necessarily feel supported in learning those skills here at the university, before the university, depending on where they came from, and didn’t really feel like they had an avenue that they could harness those if they wanted to.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  24:47

Right, so thankfully, now we’re gonna have a teaching kitchen. It was something long and hard fought but we got it.

 

Savannah Gardner  24:55

Yeah, I think UCLA is doing a lot to ensure that we are kind of working on those short term and long term goals of addressing the whole spectrum of food insecurity.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  25:05

Yeah. And you worked on that too, with your CalFresh initiative. So tell me a little bit about that.

 

Savannah Gardner  25:12

Sure. So the first year of my fellowship, under the Global Food Initiatve was specifically to really structure this program sustainably and efficiently per Food Forward program from the farmers market to student housing, or to students. And we actually had a roundtable with the Chancellor, where it had students primarily from the community itself, so food insecure students, but also food insecure students that were changemakers. In kind of these first conversations or large scale conversations about food insecurity on campus. So like students with dependents and students from Bruin shelter, which was UCLA’s first sponsored student run homeless shelter for other students in Los Angeles, came and really had a roundtable with their Chancellor, and we’re able to kind of share some of the things we’re working on. And it was a very enlightening for me in that moment, when we had that roundtable and made it really clear that I could be really, I could tell what we’ve done with the cleaning program bringing 1000s of pounds of produce to students with dependents and family housing and the food closet. But ultimately, this is a short term, if anything, the shortest term solution,  it’s really alleviation or a poverty alleviation or giving you some food. So we wanted to bring it to the next level, you know, like people are having their lights turned off, you know, or going to school and having to stay in the library because they don’t have heating, or they got an eviction notice, you know that there’s the oranges we bring on a Sunday, one Sunday a week, although they do a great job, they’re not addressing that disconnect. Right? So we started to move forward with enrolling students on CalFresh and having our CalFresh initiative,

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  26:50

So that’s the snap or the food stamp program.

 

Savannah Gardner  26:53

Yeah, so Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for the state of California. So students are able to qualify, it’s kind of like a sliding scale, depending on how many dependents you have and how much money you make. But students are eligible. And a lot of students knew that they were know that they’re eligible. There are of course, eligibility requirements. But we thought, one, the next step in really giving people the autonomy to buy what they eat, and having a longer term solution of food insecurity would be establishing CalFresh and working with Department of Public social services.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  27:25

There was a really great article that featured you in the Daily Bruin here our daily UCLA newspaper. I want to say a quote about what you said in that article, you said, “if you were food insecure, not making ends meet CalFresh gives you the option where you don’t have to take loans out for food, or go to a place that’s too far from campus. We’re just trying to break the system and let students know that’s there. And it was only 1% of students are enrolled in CalFresh. at UCLA, even though 42% are reported to be food insecure throughout the UC system.” So that means that of course, 42% are necessarily eligible. But there is some need there that isn’t being met clearly.

 

Savannah Gardner  28:09

That was kind of our first step in really seeing, like, who would be eligible if we tried this on campus, you know, could people get $194 for food in a month, you know? Which may not sound like a lot, but when you’re already struggling to make ends meet, that could be the difference of more meals a week, that could be the difference of, you know, being able to cook something that’s  culturally relevant to you and what something you want to eat when you’re right before you study in the library all night. So we started having these kinds of CalFresh fairs on campus by word of mouth, I was helping enrolling students out of 580 Cafe, before we had this kind of really more established program. But we were working with  MSW or a Master’s in Social Welfare.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  28:53

And where are we now in the percent of people? It was only 1% that were enrolled a couple years ago. So where do you do you know where we are?

 

Savannah Gardner  29:03

I’m not sure where we are now. That’s the UCLA CalFresh initiative has really grown exponentially in the last year and a half.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  29:09

So we hope that it’s higher at least.

 

Savannah Gardner  29:11

Yeah, but we have you know, we have hundreds of people coming out to the fairs over the course of the year, are applying. And we have 40,000 people, right, on campus kind of across disciplines. And then we have 42% of them are potentially food insecure, right? So it’s about 20,000. And even if 5% of those food insecure people on campus, you’d have 2000 more food, secure people on campus, and that would mean healthier communities on campus and more people are eating,  more people want to be happy, more people  are eating what they want to eat,when they can would make this campus a better place for everyone and more equitable in that way. And I think that’s really why that was so important to our initiative.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  29:57

Yeah, I mean, what strikes me so profoundly and I am going to do a plug for a TEDx talk that I featured your story because it really, to me, says so much about somebody who has the capacity to turn something that can be challenging into something so positive and working towards bettering not just your peers lives, but But you’ve had great impact, I think across  California being a real model for other students and other UC campuses. And I’m just curious, because in the TEDx talk, I talk about, like what it takes to perhaps have better well being, after graduation, citing this Gallup Purdue survey that identifies the people who find professors who care about them or a mentor who encourages them or engaging in an internship that allows you to apply what you’ve learned in the classroom. I feel like those kinds of features in your four years at UCLA you did all of that. You found like the Catho O’Byrne to inspire you and you did this internship. Did you ever think you would, and you would end up where you are now? If you were to look back in time, what were your expectations when you first arrived?

 

Savannah Gardner  31:23

Yeah, I thought I was going to be a marine biologist. And I thought I was going to work on a boat and dive with sharks. That was kind of my goal. So since I moved to California, I really fell in love with the Pacific Ocean. And having my course at UCLA really showed me that I have a different purpose, and that I really have the responsibility to address the inequities that we have for families that look like mine, or families that don’t look like mine, and being able to do that in a way that’s holistic and with love and care. And that’s where I am now. And I’m really grateful for that it took me a long time to get here.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  31:59

But what were those challenges? You laughed?

 

Savannah Gardner  32:04

It’s something that I think we’re oddly told that, you know, from a young age like, well, you know, you’re asking something, I asked my little sister, like, what do you want to be when you grow up? And I’m like, she’s six, I don’t know what I want to do, why am I asking her? You know, we have this one track, or we’re taught to have this one track. And veering from this one track can be kind of hard, especially in college, when you’re like, you think your major is so important to what you do for the rest of your life, you know, or you’re wondering if this is this is it, you know, I had to make all these decisions right now is if you don’t have a lifetime ahead of you. God willing. So I think that was hard for me. And then also being able to kind of grapple like being a first generation student, especially from a low income background, like you have that expectation where you have your whole family to look up to, and so kind of grappling with like, okay, well, like I still want to buy my mom house, so that she doesn’t have to work till she can’t anymore, you know, for whatever reason. I want to do that in a way that is oriented and community justice. And that could be kind of hard sometimes. But making like seeing that those are my priorities. And just like I had to find the balance before I can find the balance, again, is really important to me.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:08

And so what would you give your freshman self advice? What would be the advice you’d give yourself?

 

Savannah Gardner  33:15

Oh, my gosh, there’s so much advice I would give myself. I think I would tell myself to not worry so much.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:23

About what?

 

Savannah Gardner  33:24

I think I spent a lot of times worrying whether or not I mean, rightfully so worrying or what worrying whether or not I had a place here, you know, whether or not what I was doing mattered by my family, of course. And I think that sometimes the university community  and just the way of life on a quarter system can allow you, you know, can kind of foster that worrying, you know, you got to test tomorrow, you got work the next day you got this and this to do. And I think I could have enjoyed a lot of that time a little bit more than I did, until I did start to find kind of my rhythm and my purpose. And that balance. I think I also would have told myself to ask more questions earlier on, just to people I admired. I think especially coming from that perspective, you’re like, you have this professor, that’s amazing, you have a like a mentor, that’s incredible, or you have someone that you haven’t met yet, but you want to and that could be kind of intimidating. And there are a lot of people that I lost opportunities to just being able to, like thank them or for talking or being able to ask them more questions that, you know, if I could have done that experience over, you know, ultimately, what time I got to lunch didn’t matter as much. Or whether or not I thought I should ask question didn’t matter as much, you know, to, to the kind of brains that come to this environment. I think I should have, I could have just done it more often and not worried about it.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  34:45

There was more trying to be a little bit more assertive or brave in situations and not rushing around. Definitely taking a breath.

 

Savannah Gardner  34:56

Yeah, and I deserve that breath, you know that I was allowed to have and I was deserving of it.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  35:03

That’s a good piece of advice for everyone isn’t it, and also to be more loving and forgiving to yourself.

 

Savannah Gardner  35:10

Mm hmm. Especially in post grad, I think I had such a purpose and intention on campus. I really had a community, I really had this thing that I was so heavily involved with, you know, with food insecurity on campus, or really basic needs on campus and ensuring that people had access to everything that they deserved, and the university that when I graduated, I was like, I wanted to take a step back from it, because I think I needed it. But I also lost my sense of purpose in that and you know, it changes from being at UCLA to who am I in the city of Los Angeles? Who am I in the state of California, who What am I doing as a citizen or as a person?

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  35:52

I’ts hard to manage that.

 

Savannah Gardner  35:53

It was. It’s really hard, it was really, really hard, especially because I mean, it’s not like a situation change, you know, I’m able to work more on it, because I don’t have class. But it’s not like I’m not, things don’t magically change once you graduate. Because graduating is so important, or was so important to me and my family that it was, I didn’t think much after it. I just knew I needed a break. And I deserved one. And I wanted to take one for myself. I farmed in Hawaii, I stayed at a farm in Hawaii for a month, on a coffee farm, which is awesome, but kind of, I think I’m kind of finally coming out of being in this point post grad that I wish I was taught a little bit more about or just kind of mentored a little bit more in and being like it can be confusing to not have as much of a purpose as you did when you’re a student, but that that’s also really necessary to find what you love to do.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  36:43

So, as you transition, is there any challenge or problem that’s sort of hovering over you that you want to continue to really work on and grapple with? What is it that you’re going to take with you in terms of this food justice?

 

Savannah Gardner  37:01

My involvement in food justice, and community justice on campus and for students with families, was really pivotal for me, in order to be able to learn, you know, how things happen on a system wide level, or how things happen systemically, people don’t have access to food and isolation. You know, it comes with your basic needs and housing and your education opportunities. And, you know, your access to healthcare and tons of other things, transportation and whether or not you know, the city of Los Angeles is accessible to you, depending on can depend on whether or not you could afford a bus for an Uber, right? So I don’t think if I had as much time really sitting in food justice and being able to kind of see or learn about how food justice is social justice and community justice, and that they’re not really separable, and that they’re one in the same. It kind of gave me the knowledge I needed to want to pursue and learn more about other types of social justice, like environmental justice, or education justice.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  38:03

Yeah, you’re really touching on the fact that food I mean, the food system itself has so many intersections with justice, starting from how it’s grown,  to prepared, delivered and, and eaten and then discarded. So which part of that sounds like you’re interested in a lot of points? Well, not too many, never too many, especially at your at your stage. I think at your stage, you know, you’ve got to sort of discover, right, this is the time and it is uncertain when you have this these sort of transitions. It’s common to feel that way. So I guess one question is where do you start seeing yourself hovering in that sort of line of food systems for justice? And then the other is, what kind of advice would you give others who are entering UCLA with, you know, interests in areas of wanting to do good, and make the world a better place?

 

Savannah Gardner  39:04

I think I see myself moving really in towards an environmental education lens, simply learning about CalFresh made me embrace the fact that my family was on CalFresh. And that knowledge empowered me to then be a change maker. And I think I have the responsibility to kind of pass that baton. So I see that as kind of maybe my next step, but also just learning my relationship with the Earth more. And that kind of comes from the production end of food justice or side of food justice. And that’s why I went to Hawaii and farmed, you know, I wanted to be able to see a food system, outside of urban farms in LA, really be able to see a community make their own food. And learning more about that

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  39:49

It had that feel being in that Hawaii farm land.

 

Savannah Gardner  39:53

It was amazing for a lot of reasons. I think it also showed me though, that there’s so much more I have to learn, you know. I’m gonna spend my lifetime learning and I think my advice to whoever wanted to do this work  is that they already can, they already have the ability to be a change maker whether or not it’s they’re initiating it, but also that they will also spend their lifetime learning things. So to, you know, embrace themselves and be humble, and ask questions and also get off campus.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  40:29

What do you mean by that?

 

Savannah Gardner  40:31

You know, it just it becomes a bubble, it becomes kind of a self fulfilling prophecy, you go to school, you go to library or party, depending on what day it is. And then you go, you know, you go to the dining halls or back home to lunch, depending on if you’re commuting student or not. And I think, for me, it was really volunteering off campus and taking the bus in the city made me know that I had a purpose beyond I think that’s helping me postgrad knowing that like, I have a purpose beyond just university so that when they leave, they can see the university contextualized, like, within the wider community that we are UCLA, because we are of Los Angeles, and not kind of the other way around.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  41:10

Right? Especially us, such a large urban, university and a larger, one of the largest cities in the country.

 

Savannah Gardner  41:20

Yeah, you don’t have to leave Westwood  if you didn’t want to right? But  I think you would have a skewed picture of the city and what it has to offer, and what it does, then if you didn’t, right?

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  41:32

Yeah, those are really good points. Well, you know, Savannah, it’s just such a pleasure, I have to say, knowing you and seeing you grow and talking to you and feel like you’re really continuing to be, you know, evolving into somebody who has and will continue to make a difference. Certainly have done it on campus and you see wide and I feel that I can’t wait to see your next chapter in your life. It’s going to be incredible.

 

Savannah Gardner  42:00

Thank you. Oh, my gosh, yeah, I think I’m really blessed to have had spaces on campus that have supported me like HCI has, or you know, like CPO as any other part of the Community Programs Office that is helping  people and spaces that have supported me, and given me kind of what I already had, was like the power of believing in myself and in the work that we do.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  42:26

Right on

 

Savannah Gardner  42:26

Yeah, thanks Wendy.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  42:34

Thank you for tuning into UCLA live well. For more information about today’s episode and the resources mentioned, visit our website at healthy ucla.edu backslash live well podcast. Todya’s podcast was brought to you by the Semel healthy campus initiative Center at UCLA. To stay up to date with our episodes. Subscribe to UCLA live well on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts, get to know us a little better and follow us at healthyUCLA. If you think you know the perfect person for us to interview next, tweet your idea please. Have a wonderful rest of your day. And we hope you join us for our next episode as we explore new perspectives on health and well being.

Episode 23: Disability Culture & Accessibility with Michael Garafola and Carolanne Link

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:03

The Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Eudaimonia Award is an annual recognition award given to members of the UCLA community who exemplify living a life of meaning and purpose. Project manager for UCLA’s Disabilities and Computing Program, Carolanne Link, and adaptive program coordinator for UCLA recreation, Michael Garafola, work every day to make UCLA a more accessible and empathetic campus. Join me as I chat with Carolanne and Michael and learn about their life stories that brought them together under the Eudaimonia umbrella. Carolanne and Michael, what a treat to talk to both of you today on our LiveWell podcasts. And it’s really a unique opportunity for us to be able to interview a Eudaimonia awardee, and that person who nominated the Eudaimonia awardee, the nominee, and maybe we’ll let everyone in the listener world try to guess who was nominated and who nominated the other. But before we get to that, I want to just give all our listeners a little bit of background of what eudaimonia means, right? Something I didn’t know about until we started this a couple years ago, honoring people who live a life of rich meaning and purpose. And it was Aristotle who distinguished between hedonia, which is the brief fleeting happiness derived from immediate satisfaction, I think most of us know that word. But many of us might not know the word eudaimonia, which is the sustained happiness that comes from living a life rich in purpose and meaning. And every year, our MindWell pod, led by our wonderful Dr. Bob Bilder, who is a neuroscientist and studies creativity in the brain, and Dr. Nicole Green, who is a PhD psychologist who leads our CAPS, which is our group that addresses the emotional wellness of our students on campus, and now working remotely. And one of our interviewees today is a Eudaimonia awardee, and one nominated that person, so maybe I’ll let each of you, Carolanne and Michael, just say a little bit about yourself and maybe everyone in the audience can guess maybe who was nominated.

 

Carolanne Link  02:37

Oh, I’m not even sure where to begin. But my name is Carolanne Link. I am the DCP’s slash UWAI project manager that stands for the UCLA Web Accessibility Initiative and the Disabilities and Computing Program. And what I do is help manage the program that ensures that UCLA’s web content is accessible to those with different disabilities. So the largest group of that is those with visual impairment and blindness, but also we consider those who have many different disabilities that could include epilepsy, or dyslexia, or amputation. And so I love what I do, because I always feel like no matter what the battle is every day, we’re always making some little change. I always see a step forward every day, I met Michael, at the UCLA Committee on Disability meeting a few years back now, while I was a student at UCLA, and then I am now the subcommittee lead for the physical spaces subcommittee for UCOD, and I love the projects we’re working on there. Since we’re not on campus right now, we’re conceptually mapping the campus space to figure out accessible routes, to figure out accessible bathrooms, all this sort of resource and route inventory, which we’re looking to do not just to improve our campus currently, but also as a proactive measure for LA 2028 when we host Paralympics, so also a really cool thing to be involved with. So I love being involved with both the physical spaces, but also the digital spaces. It’s just a really amazing way that UCLA gives me opportunities in many different facets of disability culture and advocacy.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  04:17

Thank you, Carolanne. Well, before we get to Michael, I’d like to just unpack two things that you said that might help the listeners understand what you do more. What is Paralympics, what’s the difference between that and Special Olympics for instance?

 

Carolanne Link  04:31

Ah, okay, so the Paralympics started in 1960. It is a world class elite sporting competition in parallel to the Olympics, which of course is an able bodied sporting competition. And the difference between the Paralympics and the Special Olympics are two main prongs. One is the fact that the Special Olympics is specifically for those who have an intellectual impairment. While there are certain events in the paralympics that have intellectual impairment athletes, it’s mostly for physical impairments which have seven different categories, physical impairment and visual impairments. And then additionally, the Special Olympics is built on a culture of how sport and community come together to build healthy lifestyles, while Paralympics as I said before parallels the Olympics in this structure of elite and world class competition, so while the special olympics have world games and international renown it has a different structure and a different organizing body than the Paralympics do.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  05:38

That’s very important for all of us to understand and I understand that that’s where the Paralympics, when you say in parallel with the Olympics, they are held in the same space or the same town that the Olympics would be held, is that correct?

 

Carolanne Link  05:52

That’s correct, since 1988 in Seoul the Olympics and Paralympics have been hosted in the same host city. This happened after actually LA hosted in 1984, because there were some organizing difficulties and therefore the Paralympics ended up not being in Los Angeles at all, they actually were host partially in New York and partially in Stokes Mandeville in the United Kingdom. And because of that organizing issue, they decided that for Seoul and for the games at going forward, that it should be hosted together with the same resources and give it that symbiotic relationship so that the Paralympics could help grow off of the momentum that the Olympics had and that the Olympics could include more diversity in perspective by having the Paralympics be a partner as well.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  06:40

And so it’s in the summer, the Paralympics are always coincident with the Summer Olympics that’s correct is that how it works?

 

Carolanne Link  06:48

They are parallel in both the summer and the winter, so there are both, and it’s on the same rotation, so as most people know the Summer Olympics is on a four year rotation, next one which was supposed to be this year in 2020, the last one which was Rio in 2016, but on the other even year, so it’s 18 and 22 in this case, they also have a Winter Olympics and the Winter Paralympics which also partner and run parallel to each other.

 

Michael Garafola  07:15

So one more question about that, and then we’ll talk to Michael because I do know he has a lot to talk about with the adaptive forts and Paralympics certainly is the feather in the cap for many of these adaptive sports. I recall how you got this job at UCLA and I think it would be great for grads who are on their way to looking for jobs to be inspired by the story of has a graduating UCLA senior found a way to really parlay your passion and interest and knowledge of UCLA to a job.

 

Carolanne Link  07:49

Yes of course, so as I came to the end of my undergraduate study I also was becoming more and more comfortable with my disabled identity. While I have been disabled from birth, congenital cerebral palsy, I became a wheelchair user much later in my late teens due to wear and tear on my body. And so there was a huge shift for me identity wise and I became more and more active in the disabled community, which is how I ended up going to the UCOD meetings, how i ended up meeting Michael and participating in adaptive rec. And so I became more interested in exploring these resources and ways that I could advocate. And at the time I was a student worker with the Semel HCI center team, and I had my boss Senna, at the time, who was very enthused about ways that I could take this knowledge, this very special knowledge, and use it constructively to help the campus, and so we came up with this project called the ACI accessibility toolkit to help those planning events on campus to make it more accessible to those with physical disabilities. And so I spent six months after graduation working as a disability consultant with Healthy Campus to create this awesome website that has all of these tips, all this technical knowledge, from the ADEI and checklists to help you just conceptualize event planning differently and go into it thinking about accessibility, and at the forefront, instead of as an afterthought, because when it’s an afterthought, it becomes a burden not only on the planners, but it also can make events feel unaccessible, inaccessible to the participants who need accommodations and certain degrees of accessibility, so that was an amazing project that I’m super proud of. And so while working on that project, I developed relationships with different disability resources on campus, and I came into the current job I currently have because my boss currently was a part of the DCP and saw me doing a bunch of advocacy work and research for this project. And so when my contract ended, he notified me that there was a position open in the DCP office, which is the Disabilities and Computing Program, which is out of the office for information technologies. And I applied for it and things worked out. And as I said, I love what I do, and so excited to be a part of accessibility and disability advocacy in a new way.

 

Michael Garafola  10:19

Great, so the key ingredients are, Carolanne looked at her strengths, she went with her passion, she had a creative idea that a group was willing to support, and she showed how effective she was, and that’s often how many people can get a position or be recruited for a position. So as you mentioned earlier, in your conversation of when you met Michael, is how important he is to your growth on campus and being more in tune with your abilities. And so I’d love to hear from Michael, not only what brought you to UCLA, but also your insights on the Paralympics, but also as a mentor for Carolanne. What would you say was your memories of when you first met with her? So let’s start with the first question. Just talk about yourself and what brought you to UCLA. Awesome, super stoked to be here. My name is Michael Garafola, and I work for UCLA recreation, and I run adaptive programs for UCLA recreation. My journey, I’m going to take you guys back many, many years. My journey started in 1990. I was injured in a car accident when I was 15 years old. I was an athlete before I was injured. I played high school sports for one year, but I was playing when I was in elementary school and literally since I can reach the basketball hoop, I was playing basketball, but the element of sports was gone for me after I was injured, no one told me about what Carolanne was just talking about. No one told me about the Paralympics, I thought it was the Special Olympics. So I love that you asked Wendy, what’s the difference between the Special Olympics and the Paralympics, because as a 15 year old, newly injured spinal cord injury, I didn’t know what that was. I didn’t know if I was allowed to play for the Special Olympics, and I didn’t know what the Paralympics were. So I basically lost out on almost 13 years of my athletic career, or my recreational career, because I didn’t know, so a lack of information kind of was a barrier to access for me. So fast forward in 1999, I moved from New York, from Staten Island, New York to Los Angeles, and I was dating a girl at the time, and we were having some troubles and we wound up parting ways. But in that time, she had gotten a brochure for the Lakers wheelchair basketball team, and I was searching for something in my life. I did not work and adaptive sports, I actually worked in the music business when I first got to Los Angeles. So I was not on a sports path yet alone and adaptive sports path. I picked up this brochure, called up the gentleman that runs the team, and he asked me what my injury was, and if I’d ever played wheelchair sports before, and I went down to a gym in East LA and started watching these guys and was just blown away. I had never seen a sports wheelchair. I had never seen people in wheelchairs, doing anything but wheeling around the malls and the places in our little town in Staten Island, so I was blown away. I started making up for lost time. I started participating and just trying every adaptive sport that was out there from waterskiing, to hand cycling, to basketball, to tennis, pretty much anything that I saw, I wanted to try, again making up for lost time and getting back into life as an athlete. The good thing in my life was that I filled those 13 years with other positive things. I went to school, got a degree in college, but I’ve seen a lot of people who don’t have those things, go down the wrong path, and not have such a productive sort of lifestyle. So I am grateful to my family and friends because they kind of helped me, I call it my therapy, they were my therapy for those 13 years, and it filled that void of sport that was missing. So I was healthy mentally and physically, at the time when I started playing adaptive sports. It also led me to UCLA. I actually started participating in the adaptive program at UCLA with my old boss and mentor, Dr. Jamie Hoffman. She started the adaptive program at UCLA. She was an aquatics director and approached Mick DeLuca and said she wanted to start an adaptive program and Mick being the visionary and understanding adaptive sports and sports in general and people in general, he said yes. And that started the program, Mick is just a proponent. He just gets this whole world that we live in, in this adaptive and physical disability world. So I started participating, which gave me and then I started volunteering with her and helping with certain programs. And then I actually started working part time with her. Jamie actually was moving on to another job, so I thought to myself and to UCLA, I said I’ve been around, and you said it earlier that Carolien kind of knew the UCLA system. And that was one of my advantages. I had enough experience as a volunteer and a participant to understand a little piece of how recreation was running and being ran. So I interviewed for her job and UCLA, we discussed me going back to school for therapeutic recreation. I went back to Cal State Long Beach and received the therapeutic recreation certificate from them. And I am a CTRS to-be. So I’m not certified yet, I have to pass the exam, the written exam to become a certified, so a CTRS is certified therapeutic recreation specialists. And he’s the knowledge behind the practical, I add a lot of practical knowledge I was, I call it in the trenches, I was out in the field, as an athlete, never really considered myself, probably still don’t consider myself a mentor. When I talk about students and people like Carolyn, I kind of say, my friend, my friend, Carolanne, I never say the girl that I mentor or things like that. But someone helped me, as cliche as that is, people took me under their wings, knowing that I had a late start to the adaptive game. And I just, I always wanted to help people, I never knew how. My mother used to say you should go out and talk to people. And the stubborn Italian kid from Staten Island that said, I’m not doing that that’s stupid, I don’t want to talk to people. I just was doing my thing, basically. But yet, people would notice that I would have conversations with people, and not only would I help them, they would help me, I would figure out a new way to do something in this disability world, whether it was physically learning the wheelchair or navigating a space and things like that. So I found that I was in this world, even though I didn’t know formally that I was in this world of adaptive and being mentored and mentoring people. So for me, the universe put me on this path, and it’s been an incredible path for me. And I just, I love sports. I think it’s amazing. And I love helping people who don’t have sports, recreation, and things in their life discovered, because I was that kid basically that lost out or didn’t have this in my life for so many years, so I know how important it is. And, again, as big a fan of sports and recreation as I am, I know that it’s so much more than that. It’s about community, it’s about meeting people with similar disabilities, getting out there and just being a part of something. Because unfortunately, there aren’t as many opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities to get out and play and participate in things like sport and recreation. It has come a long way, Carolanne has given you the history, and it’s been around for many, many years, but we’re still not at the forefront. The information is not easily accessible. And programs are not easy to join and to be a part of, so that’s another thing that we’re working on. So to answer your question from 30 minutes ago, Wendy, I met Carolanne. And for me again, seeing I call it transformation. I don’t know if that’s a great word, but coming in everyone seems to be, I mean Carolyn wasn’t timid, but seeing people when they first come into that element and trying adaptive sports, it is intimidating, I think. It’s a different chair, and it’s you know, you’re not in your comfortable chair, in your everyday chair, which you’re used to. It’s different people, it’s different people with different competitive fires, and people who are more laid back, and you’re learning how to navigate the group, get along, navigate the sport. But I think Carolanne, again, from the get go, I sense that Carolyn had a mentorship mentality as well. Because the great thing about Carolanne, and it’s great to have someone participate and play with us, but it’s also, you know, I rely on the people in the program, to be mentors, to be coaches, to be advocates for disability and sport. And from the get go, Carolanne was and still does, obviously helps people teaches them. People that pick it up quickly, like Carolanne and who can pass it on and explain it in terms that make sense to someone with a disability. And also keeping in mind that there’s an emotional component involved, that this is scary for people. I see Carolanne as a mentor, as well. And I think that started in the beginning. And then on the sports side, just watching Carolanne grow in the sport and you know, getting better at shooting and understanding, specifically wheelchair basketball, because that is a sport that we we’ve played the most together. It’s just a pleasure. It’s kind of what it’s all about. And I get to sit back and watch them and also learn from the things that the participants do. Because sometimes you need to take a step back and think and see it through the eyes of the participant, not just the one who’s leading the events. So it’s been awesome. We miss it. I’m sure Carolyn, you miss it, too. This pandemic sidetracked us a bit. I’ve missed those Tuesdays for wheelchair basketball, but just knowing that it’s there, knowing that we’ll pick up when this is over is the bright light.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  19:48

So Michael, you’ve covered a lot of ground and I feel that part of your story of how you came to UCLA and got your job is sort of similar to Carolanne’s in the sense that you started out as a volunteer, and you grew with a program and then got hired. it’s very interesting because actually, for me, I first started as a volunteer at Venice Family Clinic, which is part of UCLA, and then got hired. And now 25 years later, I’ve been at UCLA. So it’s a great, I think, lesson for all of us to know, to go and do what you care about, and it might turn into a job potentially not that we all expected that, but that’s what happened. I’d love you to explain a little bit also, Michael, about the degree you were describing, because that’s probably also something a lot of people aren’t aware of, that is that kind of certificate that you worked on at Cal State, was it Long Beach did you say, so what exactly does that entail? And how did that also influence just, you even play sports?

 

Michael Garafola  20:53

It’s a great question. I again, as I said earlier, I had a lot of practical knowledge. I was playing and out there learning from other coaches, I went to basketball camps, I was actually invited to try out for the men’s Paralympic basketball team in my third year of playing wheelchair basketball, so I got a ton of knowledge and a ton of exposure to it. But that educational side, I didn’t know, I didn’t know why we were doing certain things in this adaptive world, or what they, what I learned was the therapeutic recreation world. So it was super important to get that part of it, get that side of it. I think a lot of it was understanding or trying to understand, there’s so many disabilities and there’s not one, there wasn’t a manual for each disability, that was how do you make it work for multiple disabilities? How do you look at it through an inclusive lens? How do you adapt things for different people and stuff like that. So it was, it was the educational background, it was the history of disability, which is important to know and understand and was learning the ADA and things like that. So it was a lot of, it was the practical, and then it was anatomy and physiology, it was the body and things like that. So I think it was really important. And then also, I think inevitably, you’re surrounded by people who are in a similar field, so you’re learning from their stories. And I love that a lot of people I felt were listening to me. Now granted, I was a little bit older than the undergrads there. But I always thought it was just a real compliment when people would turn around, and if I was telling a story about adaptive when my personal experience, turn around and listen, can really take it in and come up to me after and say, hey, I want to volunteer, are there any other programs in the country. A part of it, oddly enough, is also a networking thing, because we’re all spread out all over Los Angeles. And it was an opportunity to figure out new places to volunteer, new sports that were happening, new activities, there was a lot of non traditional sports, hiking and voting and things like that, not just basketball and tennis, so it was a really good place to plug in to other like minded people. For me, it was important to, again, I’m not certified yet, but it’s important to be certified. It’s important to have that, so when you go and apply for grants and things like that, that you have, what they call, the alphabet soup next to your name to make sure that people know that you’re you know, you’ve got the background and what you’re doing.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  23:15

So Michael, wheelchair basketball has been talked about a lot in this conversation. And I know Carolanne has recruited many people to that, Sanna being one who was a recent UCLA grad that worked for us at Semel HCI. You say, you know, people are afraid, though, and I think anyone would be whether they’re a wheelchair user or not, like, how do you teach someone to play wheelchair basketball? Like what does it take? Where do you start with?

 

Michael Garafola  23:45

Well, the first thing is, and Carolanne is an amazing recruiter, and we love that, that’s an important component of what we’re doing. And it’s open to able-bodied students and students with physical disabilities, and I think that’s one of the cooler things that we do. But the first thing is, and specifically for a student or community member with a physical disability, I think the first thing is, as you ask, I don’t like to say afraid, but it’s intimidating, and it’s a different environment, regardless of the sport that we’re playing, I think is just to make sure that they’re comfortable. And the way that I do that is, I tell people just come out and watch, just come and sit. A lot of people, and Carolanne, can attest this, they say what time is the game. Even as cliche or as basic as that is, I say, it’s not a game we’re not, we do play games, but you’re not, you’re not going to be thrown in. There’s not a referee. There’s no whistles, we’re not getting yelled at by a coach. It’s an open recreation event, and just come out and watch, just meet the other people. If you don’t want to go into a sports chair, you can stay in your everyday chair or even if you’re ambulatory and you don’t want to sit in a chair for now, that’s great. Come out and shoot with us and just meet the people. So for me, as lame as the term is, it’s a meet and greet in the beginning and that’s kind of how I think I get it. I think that It’s effective. It’s not as intimidating. I also get a lot of people on campus, when I’m wheeling around, I see someone in a chair who I’m assuming has a physical disability. And I say, do you want to play wheelchair with us, and they say no. And that’s great, too. Not everybody wants to play the sport. But what I do is I say, well it’s not just wheelchair basketball come out and meet, you know, there’s individuals with spinal cord injuries, and amputees, and CP and different types of disabilities, so maybe you can find a friend or a mentor, or you can find some information that you don’t have through that person. So basically, if you can get them to come out, I feel like that’s 90% of the battle. And when they do come out, we have sports chairs, UCLA has, we own I think about 20 or 19, sports chairs, specifically to wheelchair basketball. And if the person wants to, if they’re able to, if they feel comfortable, we’ll get them either out of their everyday wheelchair or if they’re an amputee and they feel comfortable, get them in the sports chair. And the first thing is just show them the safety things with the chairs and how the chairs work, and how they move and how they move differently if you are an everyday wheelchair user, how they move differently than the everyday chair, because a lot of people get in, and they want to do the same things that they’re do in the everyday chair. And they definitely perform at a different level. But once we get them in, we do some basic introductions just to make people a little bit more comfortable. We don’t like to get too personal. Sometimes, depending on the group, if we know the people in the group, we can ask to share our disability. It’s not the common thing that we do. But most of the time, we’ll just say something, what did you do over the holiday, if it was a Christmas vacation or something like that just to get people comfortable, do some stretching, do some warm up drills push a little bit. And the great part is and again, I said this earlier, with people like Carolyn with people, like my fiancé, who comes up, Tiffany, and helps and then other volunteers that we have, friends that run it, and then eventually participants that wind up becoming informal volunteers. If there’s 10 people or 15 people, I don’t have to go to every group, like for instance, Carolanne, take a group of five or six or whatever it is, and teach them the same things that we just spoke about, because she’s been doing it for many years now. So that’s the great part of it. And a lot of times, which is interesting, it’s great if there’s a female with a disability, it’s easier sometimes to relate to another female. And that’s the great thing. And if it’s someone with a spinal cord injury, they may might relate to me a little bit better. And if someone has CP, Carolyn can explain the differences and the challenges with that. So it’s really a team effort, I always get embarrassed, I don’t like taking credit for it, because, it’s really, without the participants, without the friends and the volunteers it’s hard to run. So I rely heavily on a lot of the participants and volunteers to help out. And I think that’s effective. I think that’s part of why I rely so heavily on it. It’s because it’s super effective.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  27:56

Yeah. And I know how much you have grown that program and tell me where it’s, what’s happened to it. And how are you feeling right now during COVID?

 

Michael Garafola  28:06

Well, right now, I’m blessed to still have a job through silly recreation. And we’re all working on different subcommittees. One of the subcommittee’s that I’m on is the Facilities Reopening Committee. And first off, personally, it’s been challenging. You don’t realize how much you do until you’re not doing it, so just the physical stuff, it kind of leads into another discussion. But there’s already limited opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities to exercise, to participate in sports and rec. So it’s been really challenging for me personally, to figure out how to stay healthy physically, how to get out and be active and be safe as well and not have access to a gym, where all the sports chairs and things like that. So another part of it is equipment. If you don’t have a lot of this equipment, it’s really hard to participate. And not every individual owns a sports chair, or a race chair, or a trainer, or even a gym, or weights and things like that. So you kind of have to be even more creative. So it’s been very challenging for me personally and programmatically as well. I’m not a physical fitness instructor, I’m not a trainer. So when you’re doing the sports, it’s fun, and you can have people go kind of at their own rate, but I’m not leading a weightlifting class or a virtual yoga class. It’s not my area of expertise. But thankfully UCLA recreation does do that. And they do offer programs that do have those components that students and people with physical disabilities are able to participate in and they’re modifying, and they’re adapting those programs to work for those individuals. So it’s been, it’s been challenging. I obviously miss wheelchair basketball, for many reasons, a lot of the reasons that we talked about just the social aspect and keeping in touch with our friends and our colleagues and the students that we work with. It’s been challenging. It’s been hard to stay in shape, obviously, and then the big part of it is the opportunities. They’re just, there aren’t, in a perfect world, in a non COVID world, there aren’t hundreds of opportunities for people with physical disabilities to participate and that’s been kind of a bummer and it’s oddly enough in this time it’s always something that’s on our minds but now it’s kind of retaken focus on hey when this ends and hopefully it’s soon we need to get back and start really creating more opportunities for students for community members for people with physical disabilities to get out and play because there’s not very many and we’re just that group we feel like or I feel like, we’re that group that still kind of doesn’t fit in to these groups. We’re not the able-bodied group, we’re not part of the special olympics with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. Where do we fit in, where are these opportunities, how do we create these opportunities, and also where do people get the money to buy this equipment and things like that? And there are resources out there, there’s a lot of great resources, but it’s not easy to navigate this space, to get those things into fine programming and we also need coaches and mentors and people. Thats why I repeat myself people like Carolanne and people that are in our programs that go and pay it forward, that’s super important because I play wheelchair tennis and I don’t have a wheelchair tennis coach. They’re not, there’s not some directory where you can say I want a coach or a mentor, someone to show me how to use a race chair or hand cycle. You have to go through the grapevine, and you have to talk to your friends and you have to reach out and then kind of fall into it and that’s a lot of the problem with adaptive sports as many of us, including myself as I shared and Carolanne shared, we kind of fell into adaptive sports. We weren’t guided to it, we weren’t placed in it, we fell into it, and that’s a really, it’s a really bad way to do it and that’s how a lot of us are doing. We’re blessed to have fallen into it, but we don’t want to fall into it. We want people to be able to say if God forbid you’re in an accident and you wind up with a permanent physical disability, we want to be able to go here, find the resource, reach out, and get started, and that’s not how it is right now.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  32:05

I think that COVID -19 pandemic has unveiled or magnified or brought a spotlight to a lot of inequity in our world, and one of the areas that you’re pointing out is the ability and the access for differently abled people to recreate and also just stay in shape right? So what kind of systematic approach would you see going forward that could build a more equitable and anti-prejudice future and specifically for those with physical challenges.

 

Carolanne Link  32:40

To start, I think I will start when I think about what I want to see for the future, what my vision for the future, for this demographic is perspective and cultural change. So in my mind, the biggest thing I see when I’m out and about doing advocacy for my job or for Paralympics or adaptive rec is this hesitancy to have the conversation, to talk about disability. As Michael was saying, there’s some hesitancy to show up to it after record disabled people. Some people think oh maybe that’s not for me maybe I’m not going to be good, maybe I’m going to be judged, or maybe I’m just not comfortable with my disability yet. And for able-bodied people, they’re like oh well that’s for them and creates the sense of other and that sense of other, that kind of subconscious alienation is what I think would be awesome to see just become non-existent, and one way I think that we can do that as far as the UCLA campus is concerned is as we do, we have an EDI office for equity, diversity, and inclusion, is just have disability conversations become more commonplace and have them become more comfortable. I think every time I talk to a group about digital accessibility for example, I very rarely come across someone who goes oh that’s not worth my time, or oh I don’t care. It’s always like wow I had no idea about this information, like I had no idea who to ask, I didn’t even know this was a problem, and that was the same idea for me with adaptive rec. When I was growing up as I said I was born with a disability and I never knew adaptive rec was for me. I didn’t know it existed. I didn’t know that I was eligible or that I could be a part of that community, and I feel like one of the biggest roadblocks in my life and that I see in the communities is this lack of access to information, because that’s what creates these incredibly isolating situations where you think you’re suffering alone or you’re dealing with your disability by yourself, and in COVID that is exacerbated by the actual physical isolation of some people not being attached to their needs anymore. As Michael was saying like Tuesday nights playing wheelchair basketball was not just about the physical fitness that we were all getting from being active. It was all about the community, the friends we were making, the experiences there that we shared together and could talk about and support each other. So as far as cultural change, just having conversations and becoming more aware, and being both able to talk about your experiences and to listen, because not only is it hard for people to find information, but of course, it’s hard for people to talk about some of these issues. It’s a very personal topic. As far as more tangible development, as I already touched on, I love to see enthusiasm for projects, especially at the university level, that move us forward, because the conversations are great, and the knowledge and dissemination is great. But I love seeing these projects pop up, where they go, Oh, we want to think about accessibility as well. And they seek the information. So as I mentioned before, like we’re doing this mapping project, and we’re finding out that a lot of different campus entities would love this information, they just didn’t know where to begin. For example, an application is, of course, LA 2028 and the idea that we can better prepare for thinking about accessibility on such a large scale. They estimate about 1900 wheelchair users being housed in the Athlete’s Village. Being able to adequately provide and accommodate all of these athletes would be an amazing challenge, but also something I think UCLA is equipped for. We just need to band together and do the work.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  36:23

Excellent. I feel that culture change, education, outreach, those are really important to reduce prejudice, and also to build a more inclusive and accepting and empathetic. So those are really important ingredients in the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion office can definitely be a good place to emphasize that work. I agree.

 

Michael Garafola  36:48

To build on what Carolanne was saying too, I think one of the approaches that we share is, in the therapeutic recreation classes that I took, it was always societal attitudes towards individuals with disabilities. And well, that is valid and it’s a great point. I think what Carolanne and I do, and I think we do it really well, is we hate the expression, the squeaky wheel, because we don’t want to be seen as the squeaky wheel. And we don’t want to go brick by brick and fix every brick on campus. We want to have a bigger conversation about disability and also approach the conversation with class and dignity and not be angry about why don’t you know about this and why don’t you help the people with the disabilities? I think that’s a big part of it. It’s such an intimidating conversation and rightfully so. We don’t expect able bodied people to know everything about disability. So when you approach a conversation, it’s important to approach it in an open manner. Because sometimes, there’s a lot of things in your personal life where you are not so happy about things, and that carries into the conversation. And regardless of the topic, people don’t want to have conversations about things if there’s anger, and emotions involved. That being said, that doesn’t mean it’s not an emotional topic, or you can get angry, but it needs to be an open conversation for people to make change. And I think that is across the board. Right now, we’re learning, we’re seeing in our society, but that’s super important for us to know that it’s not here comes  the cranky, old crippled people with their complaints and their the stairs are too many, you know, the doors are too heavy and things like that. We need to get away from that and think universally on how can this help all of us, not just people with disabilities?

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  38:26

Very well said, Michael, and I think that your point about being open. That’s really what empathy is all about, being open because you can’t understand everybody’s culture, or we teach pediatric residents, not cultural sensitivity, more cultural openness, because we can’t be knowledgeable of everyone’s culture, but we can be open to everyone’s culture. Anyway, so let’s let’s end this podcast – love to hear who was the nominator and who was the nominee and in a brief one or two sentences, say why you nominated the nominee and then nominee, please tell me what did it make you feel to be nominated for the Eudaimonia award?

 

Carolanne Link  39:03

All right, so if you haven’t guessed already, I was the nominator. I nominated Michael for the Eudaimonia award. And as you probably have gathered from this episode, there are many reasons why he was well deserving of this award. But as we touched on a little bit for me, I was not exposed to adaptive rec until much later in my life. And he was the door for me to be exposed to all that for all these opportunities. And throughout that process from day one, until now, and I hope well into the future he will continue to be that for me and for many others. And that is a point that he’s super humble about and that I don’t think he gets enough recognition for.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  39:47

Thank you, Carolanne. Well done. And Michael, how did it make you feel?

 

Michael Garafola  39:51

I was super surprised and excited. Again, I kind of am more The Wizard of Oz. I feel like I’m behind the scenes. I don’t really consider myself, the coach or the leader. I am comfortable with it, I just don’t see it that way. I just feel like we’re all in it together, so I was super honored and stoked. And on a personal level to know, as Carolyn just shared, to know that you’re helping or you’re in some way you’re affecting someone’s life in a positive way, whether it’s sports, or whatever else it is, is super important to me. Because, again, like I said, there are still people in my life, but there were people in my life that did the same for me. And sometimes you don’t realize it at first, and then you look back and say, well, this is why or part of the reason I am who I am. But I just know how important it is. And again, I feel like, I feel like we both won the award because Carolanne does so much in her personal life and does so much with her job and does so much in my programs. Again, I get the credit for it, but really, it’s really a team effort. And I wish we were all the heads of adaptive rec because I need the help. And without the participants and without the volunteers and the people in UCLA support, stuff doesn’t happen. So I’m super honored. I don’t, I feel deserving, but I just feel like it’s an award that we should all get because a lot of the people that I know are doing incredible work, especially in recreation, especially in this disability world, there’s a lot of people doing a lot of great things. So I was honored and super stoked that Carolanne  took the time to nominate me and I received the award.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  41:21

Well, thank you, Michael and Carolanne, for all you do, for giving us the time today to talk to both of you and learn from your wisdoms and really look forward to the next phase of your work, which will be really important during the recovery and research in post COVID-19. Thank you once again, and have a great day.

 

Michael Garafola  41:21

Thank you. Thank you so much for having us.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  41:51

Thank you for tuning into UCLA LiveWell. For more information about today’s episode and the resources mentioned, visit our website at healthy.ucla.edu/livewellpodcast. Today’s podcast was brought to you by the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA. To stay up to date with our episodes, subscribe to UCLA LiveWell on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Get to know us a little better and follow us @healthyUCLA. If you think you know the perfect person for us to interview next, Tweet your idea to ask please. Have a wonderful rest of your day, and we hope you join us for our next episode as we explore new perspectives on health and well being.

Episode 24: Creating a Culture of Health with Dr. Michael Goldstein

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Transcript

Dr.  Wendy Slusser 00:03

In 2011, Dr. Michael Goldstein began developing and growing a social movement focused on creating a culture of health in the UCLA community called the Healthy Campus Initiative. This initiative was envisioned and supported by Jane and Terry Semel, and embraced by UCLA Chancellor Gene Block in 2013. Today, I chat with Fielding School of Public Health Professor and Medical Sociologist, Dr. Michael Goldstein, about the origins of the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center, and what it takes to create long lasting culture change. Keep listening to hear about how social change begins, not with rationality, but through social movements.  Thank you for coming for this interview.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  00:47

Oh, well, thank you for inviting me. Wonderful to be here. Great to see you.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:51

I don’t really know where to start. Because there’s so many places to start with you and how you have been instrumental in not only creating and starting up this Semel Healthy Campus Initiative, but also your pioneer, and work at UCLA overall. And I’d like to start with the fact that you’re a sociologist, and your career has been in the School of Public Health. How did that kind of intersection occur in your career?

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  01:25

Well, my interest going back to when I started studying sociology seriously as an undergraduate, and then later as a graduate student, a lot of it focused on two things. One was the role of inequalities in society in determining all kinds of outcomes, one of which was health and health status, about inequalities. I mean, in terms of income inequalities in the society– educational, racial, gender based inequalities. So I was very struck by how those things played out in many areas of peoples’ lives throughout their lives, and one was health. The other thing that I was interested in was the the study of the professions. And because of funding availability, most of the funding that was available to study professions when I was going to graduate school had to do with the medical profession- the health professions in general. So those two areas came together inequalities and the professions. And that’s what eventually led to my being able to get a position at UCLA in the School of Public Health.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  02:40

And that was your first position?

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  02:41

Well, I had taught for one year in a new medical school at Brown, Brown University was forming a medical school. And that’s where I got my PhD. And when they began it, they only had the first two years of study. And then the students moved on to another medical school. But it was an innovative curriculum. And one of the things that they required, which was very innovative at the time, was a course in medical sociology for all the medical students. And they hired a famous person to come and teach it and eventually lead the program there in social medicine. But as part of his contract to get the job, he got his first year off. And so they needed someone to teach the medical students this required course. And so I was sort of at the right place at the right time. So I taught there for one year. So then when this job came open at UCLA, in those days, it was pretty unusual to find a sociologist who had experience teaching in a medical setting, particularly a medical school. So on paper, it sort of looked like I knew what I was doing. And that facilitated my getting the job here. Really, I had no idea what…

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  03:07

In the School of Public Health?

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  03:52

Yeah, right because I had that medical school experience. So it was a coming together of my genuine intellectual interests with the way the situation was changing in the United States, the availability of funding for these kinds of positions and the growing awareness that things like social determinants of health were really crucial in understanding the health problems of our society.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  04:18

I want to unpack just what you said, because there’s so many pieces that I’d like to sort of explore with you. I think the first question just as a quick follow up is, was this when social determinants of health are emerging as a conversation in the academic world as well as the practice of medicine?

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  04:36

Well, I think that’s a complicated question. I’m not sure I can give a fully accurate answer. I think the answer is that in the academic world, it had emerged long before. The question was what kind of traction did that get within more of the world of both health education of health professionals and in terms of just general awareness of people who were powerful in the health care system that this had to be taken into account. And I think the way it came together, what would be of interest to us here was the growing interest in prevention as the nature of disease or illness or disability in society came to be so much more based on chronic problems, rather than acute problems- there was a growing awareness of the need to emphasize prevention or that it was going to be much better economically and medically and in every other way to prevent a problem than to try to deal with it, especially when there was no way of dealing with a lot of these problems very successfully.

 

So all of that came together just at a time when there was so much emphasis on the increasing costs of health care. And that prevention then came into prominence.  And that’s what was happening in public health, you know, public health had had a great deal of success dealing with acute conditions, infectious conditions, things like this. And now public health, we’re going back to late 1960s. So it’s a long time ago, there was an awareness of bringing a public health perspective, to what was now seen as the major health problems in the country, things like cancer, heart disease, of course, all the cardiovascular stroke, whatever, hypertension, all of that, and then eventually diabetes. And that prevention was so important, and that the social determinants of health was so important in just knowing where these problems existed in society, and where the emphasis had to be put. So all these things were coming together. So in that sense, it was a good time to come into academia with the interest that I had.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  06:49

So it sounds like from at this point in time, with your interest in inequality, and also, what sounds like the opportunity for funding through the health studies and professional sector that you were able to merge those interest with this emerging translation of what we now know quite well social determinants of health. Well, what did you teach when you had to teach that first year? How did you pull together something with the students at Brown? In the medical sociology? What was that?

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  07:23

Well, you’re going back so long, I don’t know that I can really give you an accurate…you know, when you start teaching, in any subject, what you do when you’re teaching in the beginning is you just teach what you’ve been taught. So, I guess what I did is I took my various courses that I had had, that seemed relevant, and, you know, came up with with readings. And what I remember of it is, of course, you know, medical students don’t necessarily take this stuff too seriously. And certainly back then, this isn’t what they saw themselves as doing. So who knows if they did the readings or not, but, you know, we just had a lot of discussions, it was a small program, and did emphasize small classes. So I had a couple of classes of maybe, you know, 15 students, first year medical students, and some of them were very interested in this kind of thing. They weren’t interested in doing the readings, but they’re interested in talking about it because of their experiences or whatever. And some of them, were completely uninterested in it.

 

And that’s the experience that I found carrying through right up until I stopped doing this stuff a number of years ago, that, you know, there are there’s a subset of medical students and medical professionals who are very interested, very aware. And then there’s a much larger group that just don’t see this as relevant for their work. Because most physicians and most health practitioners are not dealing with prevention in terms of what they have to focus on. They’re so overwhelmed with the problems, the real problems that they are seeing in the hospital or in their office or whatever, that prevention is an afterthought. They have so much they have to deal with today. So that’s another set of issues and thinks a little remote from what we’re talking about today.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  09:10

Right, so this focus on prevention, which germinated, it sounds like in this work that you did at Brown and then as you got invited here at UCLA. I’d love to know, you know, as you’ve evolved, and what you’ve taught me over time with the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative work is your ability to not just translate it to perhaps a single group, like a professional group, but your ability to start social movements and community organize. And I’d love to know, if you were to advise someone on, you know, wanting to work like “a culture of health”, for instance, which is really what the movement is now with the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative that you initiated eight years ago? And what did you know? What are these the key ingredients that you have found useful, at least on a campus level that you think would be useful for other people to know about?

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  10:13

Well, it’s a complicated question. I think some of it relates to my background and the perspective that I had about how social change occurs in a society and in institutions. And that’s where this notion of emphasizing social movements comes from. Because when I looked around, and I saw that American society had been going through and continues to go through a tremendous amount of social change and what was responsible for that, I kept coming back to this notion that it was social movements. When I looked at things like the Civil Rights movement, or changes in the consciousness– all of it, to my way of thinking, there was a social movement behind all those changes.

 

And so when I thought about something like changing the culture of health, it seemed to me that we had a model, an implicit model there of how change could occur in a society like ours, or an institution like a large university, such as UCLA. And that was to take a social movement approach to bringing about change, which was very different than the dominant model that existed in peoples’ minds. Let’s say in the health professions, the notion was that rationality was going to bring change that people, let’s say, if you wanted to get people to stop smoking, or if you wanted to get them to change their diet, or exercise more, there was data that would show that if you did a certain thing that things were going to get better. And people were rational. And if you just showed them that data, you educated them, or you sent them a pamphlet or something, they would, of course, behave rationally. And they would do it and that’s the way change would occur. And that’s not true. But that’s not the way change occurs, right?

 

If you have a population of smokers and today, there are millions of smokers in the United States, I think it’d be pretty hard pressed to find some who don’t know that smoking is bad for their health. You can tell them that over and over, they know that already, it doesn’t change their behavior. And that was the same thing, when we looked at, let’s say, attitudes towards gay people, gay marriage or something. And it wasn’t knowledge or rationality that was influencing people’s behavior was something else. And whatever that something else was, was, it seemed like very hard to change. On the other hand, we saw a change going on around us all the time in society.

 

So when I looked at, well, why is that change occurring? I was led back to this idea of a social movement. So that was really the key thing for me. And social movements are tricky. They’re hard. They’re very broad. They’re very amorphous. And they’re also very much based in conflict. Whenever you have a social movement, it comes out of that there’s a group of people who have a grievance, they have a complaint, there’s something they don’t like, and they want to change that. So it’s really conflict-based. It’s very different than this rationality model, which is, is anti-conflict. The notion is that rationality, there’s a rational answer two things, and that if people know what everyone will agree, once you see the data on smoking, there’s no argument what it is- it is what it is. But that’s not the way change takes place. If you want to get a no smoking legislation passed, if you want to raise taxes on cigarettes, or if you want to have rules that don’t allow cigarettes to be sold near schools, or whatever it is, right away, you’re involved in conflict, in reality. Some people think it’s terrible that cigarettes are available to school kids. And they’re angry about it. They’re furious about it. They see their own kids or their whatever kids they love, you know, smoking, and they’re angry, and they say, who’s doing this who’s benefiting from it.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  14:16

So it’s emotional.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  14:17

It’s emotional. But there’s also conflict, because then there are people who are selling cigarettes, and they’re interested in selling more cigarettes. So you can’t just say, well, here’s the data, and then everyone is going to coalesce around that and then say, ‘Okay, we have the data now, and I make my living by selling cigarettes, but I’m gonna stop now I’m not going to, I’m going to toss my income into the garbage can because I see,’ it doesn’t work like that. And for all these things, there’s conflict. So social movements are always built around conflict. I mean, if we talk about the environmental movement, we talk about gay rights, civil rights, whatever it is, it’s conflict isn’t grievance. People are angry about something, something’s wrong and they get together with the idea that’s- we want to change this.

 

So the notion that I had was, that’s the way change in the health area in terms of prevention would take place. Because it’s a little tricky, because on one level, of course, everybody, if you ask them, are you in favor of health? And would you like to be healthy? Everybody says ‘yes’. But that’s sort of an illusion, because that’s a foolish question to ask people. Because that’s not the way the question exists in the real world. If you ask people, ‘gee, would you like to have a healthy diet?’ Everyone’s gonna say, ‘yes’. But if you ask them, ‘how important to you is it to have a healthy diet if it means giving up the 10 foods you like best in the world?’ Then people are going to give you a different answer. Right? So it’s meaningless to say that, gee, everybody wants to be healthy.

 

In practical terms, most people only want to be healthy if it has no cost. And it usually does have a cost to them. In some way, I saw that I was very conflict-oriented, all my background had oriented me towards conflict in the world. And that progress- things only develop and change through conflict of various kinds. It doesn’t mean violence, but it means there’s all kinds of different ways that conflict can can exist in society.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  16:20

Like, what would be an example?

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  16:22

Well, just what laws should be passed, legislative conflict, value conflict, different religions, right? They’re often in conflict with one another. Different views about how important things like individual responsibility is for determining where you wind up in life, people just have different attitudes about things. And those, those views some often come in conflict with with other views, right? And that’s the nature of, of what you have. So I was oriented that way from the start. But to get back to social movements. Whenever I saw change occurring in our society, I saw a social movement behind that change. So I saw this idea of a grievance and a group becoming very active and trying to change that grievance, as leading to a kind of collective identity change and collective actions. And that’s how change came about in society.

 

So that was really the model for the Healthy Campus Initiative. At UCLA, as I’m sure other large universities, it’s a very diverse group of people who live and work here. And when I looked around, I saw that there were a lot of groups who wanted all kinds of changes in terms of health, a whole array of different things. And the idea was to mobilize them in terms of some sort of common effort, and to get them to, in a way, share their concerns, or share their grievances, and come together and try and build up a collective identity around that, regardless of how they differed on this on the particulars. Okay, so let’s say and Wendy, of course, you’re more familiar with this than I, there were lots of groups that were concerned about food and eating and diet. But they were concerned in different areas. Some of them were concerned, because there were a lot of homeless students who didn’t have enough to eat. Others were concerned that the food in the dining hall should be labeled with calorie counts, and some people who have more information about what they were eating. And others were concerned that the food shouldn’t be labeled with calorie counts, because we had eating disorder problems on the campus and that would make it easier for people to facilitate their eating disorders.

 

And there were all kinds of people, staff, people, and professors who studied everything for the basic science of food to people who were, you know, training dieticians over the VA, which was part of UCLA. And so there were hundreds and hundreds of different groups concerned with this. And my thought was, well, you want to get those groups together, and just sort of put them together and see what comes out of it, maybe they’ll find some commonalities, because they really do have some things in common. They were concerned about eating and the quality of food and people taking more responsibility for what they eat, knowing more about what they eat, etc. Then there were people who were concerned about the environment and farming and there were all kinds of things. Well, this is the way movement comes together.

 

So really, in terms of forming the Healthy Campus Initiative, that was the model that I had, that you just get these people together and something will happen and that is what happened, and then you just go from there, so that that oversimplifies it a bit. But that was that’s what I was thinking. And I had a very clear model in my mind because what I looked at these other movements or say feminism or civil rights, that’s what had happened there. The people who were part of that movement – they weren’t all interested in the same thing. But they had certain underlying themes in common. And what they had in common was a grievance. They were all angry and upset and dissatisfied with the way, let’s say, people of color were being treated in the United States, what they wanted to focus on what their solution was, across, varied across the map. But it was the grievance that brought them together. And that was a model for the Healthy Campus Initiative.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  20:38

I know in the first two years, in particular, you went and spoke to a myriad of different groups and over 60, 70 or 80 groups over those two years. Was there any thing that you were surprised by in terms of a grievance? Was there anything that you found during your course of sharing this vision of this Semel Healthy Campus Initiative as being the healthiest campus in the country?

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  21:05

Well, I guess, I was positively surprised by the amount of interest that there was in this, the negative things didn’t surprise me at all, because I began with the notion that the dominant culture, both in the United States and on the campus was either unconcerned or opposed to to health and prevention. So didn’t surprise me at all. And I want to speak to these different groups, most of them, of course, they’re, again, they’re, they’re agreeable, they’re not against health. And they’re not against the people that say, who work in that unit being healthy. But in terms of their, their practical considerations, what they need at the moment, most of them were just unconcerned, because they have other things on their mind, they’re not really interested in being involved. So going around and talking to those people had multiple purposes. One purpose was just to, to let people know what is going on, because it’s a very large campus. And, you know, we’re besieged by these initiatives, right, if you, you know, as a member of the faculty that as a member of the administration now, that you probably get every year 20 emails from the chancellor, or somebody telling you, oh, we have a new initiative for such and such, you never hear about most of them.

 

So after that, so that’s the, that’s the reality. So when most people heard about the Healthy Campus Initiative, they thought, ‘well, that’s nice, you know, so what?’ So, one task was just to make people know that this was a real thing, and it was going to happen. So the more people you talk to the better whether they’re involved or not, they know who you are, the initials HCI, means something to them in the back of their mind, they’ve heard it and whatever, just by the fact of going to them, because you know, so many of these initiatives get started and then people never hear about them. No one ever visits, all the different schools, there’s something like 128 departments on this campus.

 

So just by going around, that’s important in itself, the other thing I was trying to do is to get something going, it didn’t really matter what the important thing is, I’d say a year later, that you can write a report and say, well, we did these five things, because that right away sets you apart from these other initiatives. So if you can show people that you’ve actually done something doesn’t matter what you did, and that more people are involved at the end than at at the beginning, right away, people see whether they agree with what you’re doing or not, they take you more seriously. So that was the goal at the start. And it’s just to stay in people’s minds and to get anything going. Because whatever you get going, it’s going to lead to something else.

 

Okay, and you saw that yourself with what we call the, you know, the the EatWell pod- you get people together, and you throw them in a room and 20 ideas come out and 19 of them die on the vine, but one of them leads to something and that leads to something else that leads to something else and then at the end of five years, you’ve done 10 different things. And each of them has a core of people, there’s some people involved in all 10, but most of them are just involved in one or two. And then you really have accomplished something there. And they all know each other. And the whole culture starts to change on the campus, in terms of eating. And then you look at all the things that that the Healthy Campus Initiative has done in terms of whether it’s the gardens or the dining halls, or where they haven’t been the sole force involved, but they’ve been an element of it. And that’s, that’s the goal. That’s the power of it. Not that you do these things by yourself, but that you’re involved in all of these other things. And then all of them lead to other things. So you’re growing all the time, and it’s everywhere. Eventually, that’s the goal to be everywhere. And that’s the way these other social movements, you know, you couldn’t imagine an institution or society of business, for example, beginning these days without being cognizant of diversity issues. Doesn’t matter what it is that mentality has now- it exists throughout the culture. So that’s the goal here in terms of health and prevention.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  25:21

And so yet that you mentioned how there are groups of people within the health care field that still don’t consider prevention as a priority for lots of competing reasons. And I see it also on our campus.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  25:36

Sure.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  25:37

In terms of the health sciences, in particular, the medical side of our enterprise so to speak, they tend to, even when they hear the word help, think of it in terms of medicine, not in terms of prevention, what would you recommend on how to crack that nut? Because that’s a tough one.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  25:57

Well, you always– I mean, and I think by this point, this is pretty well established in public health, you have to start with people are. So if you go into a community, let’s say, and you say, oh, gee, I know what the problems are in this community, it’s diabetes. And so we’re going to get people together. And we’re going to give information about this and that diabetes and screening and changing your diet and get the people together. And they’re not concerned with diabetes, they’re concerned with the fact that their kids are unsafe walking home from school? Well, so then you’re in a situation there you have a decision to make, do you go with how they define what’s going to make them healthy now? Or do you say, in essence, look, I know better than you. Trust me, it’s not your kids coming home from school being unsafe, it’s diabetes, you’re at high risk for diabetes, and your kids are high risk. So that’s not going to work. Right? You have to start with where people are.

 

So if they feel that way, you find out what they want to do about it. And you try to facilitate them accomplishing that. And hopefully, after a while, if they’re successful, and there is some change, it doesn’t mean that that everything magically is going to change about their kids being safe coming home from school, but their success and the structures that develop out of that and your feeling of collective efficacy, because they’ve done something. Some of them may decide, well, we want to talk about eating in the community, they may not talk about it in terms of diabetes, but they may talk about it in terms of food deserts, or talk about it in who knows what- the quality in the vending machines at school or whatever.

 

And you go where people are, again, and so there’s so there’s two points. One is that’s the way other social movements that have been successful, have developed over time, and you take a less professionally dominated approach, it gets back to some of the things we were talking about earlier- you don’t assume that you know more than the people know about what their needs are and what they want. You may know more about them, and the in terms of what the risk factors are for diabetes, but that doesn’t mean that you know what they want, and what they feel they need now, and it’s very hard to do. But you know, people in the health professions sort of develop this idea that they have rationality, they have more rationality than other people do. And so therefore, they’re willing to impose that rationality on other people.

 

I think a better way to think about it is that everyone feels that making rational choices. And if you understood how that person perceived the world, you would understand that the choices they are making are rational for them. So in the diabetes example, a person might think, yeah, I don’t want diabetes, and I understand that I’m at risk for diabetes. How important is that? And the doctor told me, if I don’t change my diet, I’m gonna have diabetes. And for this good year chance in a few years, I’m gonna have diabetes. But I have these three kids coming home from school, and one of them was bullied and beaten up, and then there is no traffic lights. And, again, that’s my worry today. And you know, the safety and well being in my children are more important to me than the chance that I’m going to get diabetes in five years. Well, is that irrational? Maybe it is for you if your job and your salary depends on getting people to be screened for diabetes, but it’s not irrational for a person to have that, to have that response.

 

So, you know, it’s not that I’m anti-rationality, but I don’t think- when it’s over emphasized in terms of certain types of policies, it doesn’t lead to what we want. And it doesn’t, it’s not the way change occurs. So we’ve just seen that, you know, people, progressive people are always saying they can’t understand why people don’t vote and act in their own self-interest. But sometimes they don’t really have an understanding of how people themselves perceive their self-interest. So, when we’re talking about a culture change, I think those are the kinds, that’s what it comes down to. And so that’s one thing I always emphasize with the Healthy Campus Initiative is, let’s not be a South Campus. In other words, at UCLA, the health sciences are all centered on the southern part of the campus. Let’s not be South Campus oriented. That’s not what we’re trying for, that’s going to lead us in the wrong direction. As you yourself said, most of the people down there are not concerned about prevention. They’re not concerned about the issues we’re talking about. Let’s be focused where the need is, and where a lot of desire for change is. But it’s not among health professionals. That’s a hard thing for people to hear, for some people to hear. But that was the perspective. I brought to it. And I think that’s a public health basic public health perspective.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  31:25

So distinguishing, of course, between the school, the students themselves, and the health professional students versus the practitioners because I think that there is hope for the students.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  31:37

Well, I think it’s the same thing you start with where the students or the way you describe it, I’m not intimately familiar with it or familiar with it at all anymore- the situation down there. But again, somebody seems to feel that we know what their problem is.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  31:52

Yeah.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  31:52

So we’re going to design a program, oh it’s going to be a great program, but we’re going to require you or pressure you go to the program. You start with where the students are you bring them together, and what do they want, right? And then you go, you go from there, and don’t worry if it’s not what you want. One of the things that they want, in fact, is to have what they want, not what you want, regardless of whether it’s the right thing or the wrong thing. And by by telling them, ‘Oh, no, we know better what you want them what you yourselves want.’ You’re putting them down, you’re telling them that their thought process is irrational, right? It’s just what doing with that woman with diabetes, right? You’re saying, ‘you don’t really know. You think you know, but I know better than you what you yourself want.’ And that’s probably not going to work out well. You know, so that’s why I say people, if it’s gonna work, people have to come together around a grievance. And you know, what your grievance is, I can’t tell you what your grievance is.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:00

Yeah,  that’s really good advice. I think that says a lot about the sort of important strategies about community organizing and social movements. And I’m wondering, before I move on to a sort of bigger, broader question about how do we keep the momentum going, which is, I think, really important. Where did you see some of the obstacles? And what were some of the ways you overcame obstacles or hurdles as you moved through developing this social movement of the Healthy Campus Initiative at UCLA?

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  33:34

In terms of the Healthy Campus Initiative, I think, when obstacles came and those obstacles were almost always that some group of people were opposed to what we thought should be done. Of course, sometimes the obstacles are insurmountable. But I think the general approach would be to try to incorporate those people into whatever the group is. So even people with very different views. So there was a time when we had some conflict with people who do physical planning on the campus. You know, the architects, the sort of urban planner types. Well, we were fairly successful in some ways, we’re getting those people involved. Instead of saying, gee, your values are different than ours, we’re not gonna have anything to do with you. Say, you know, gee, we need your perspective right here on the on this group in this pod, which is the language we use in Healthy Campus Initiative.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  34:34

In the BEWell pod.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  34:35

Right, so let’s, let’s bring you in. It’s crucial that you’re here. You know, will you come, wil you join the pod? And they’ll speak and let and don’t impose, I think the key to any kind of administrative success if you’re a person like yourself, or I was who’s charged administratively with running these programs is, is the old Zen adage which is not to become attached to any particular outcome. In other words, you may have an idea about what the right thing to do is, in terms of, I don’t know, Healthy Vending machines or some particular thing. But if that’s going to become something that’s really dealt with, and the vending people are going to be involved in the people who run, the stores are going to be involved in the transportation people, and God knows who else has to be involved in this kind of thing. You know what you want, but whatever comes out, it doesn’t really matter what comes out, as long as there’s movement in the right direction. And if people’s consciousness is raised, because even if you don’t get the outcome that you think is the right outcome, and people in the group are annoyed, that’s okay. That just means that they learn more about the grievance, and how, how resistant the culture is to changing things, and what has to be changed, and that maybe it’s not possible to change some things and why. So, once you become attached to a particular outcome, I think that’s that’s very, that’s not a good thing in terms of what we’re talking about here.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  36:11

So really, using the strategy of not becoming attached will help you deal with hurdles.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  36:18

Right. Yeah.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  36:20

And also increase engagement.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  36:22

Right. Exactly. Again, having a model of these other social movements in the back of your mind, I think, is useful, because when you think of another social movement, right away, you see how broad and amorphous it is. And you realize that in terms of the big change, it doesn’t really matter. The best thing for the movement, let’s take a look at something like the environmental movement or something, the best thing for the movement is simply that it grows. And more and more people adopt the perspective. And if people within the movement disagree, they’ll form segments and groups, and there’ll be a million different groups, and they’ll be at odds. But that’s, it’s sort of like the image should be like a big cloud of gas enveloping, you know, and it doesn’t really matter that it goes in this direction first, or whatever. But you just want people to have this basic feeling that they’re connected, that the role, pretty much want the same thing to happen. And let 1,000 flowers bloom. You know, if you think gardens are the right way to go, some people are gonna think gardens are so important. Other people you think gardens are the last thing that– it isn’t a matter of proving to ones that oh, well, you’re right, we’re going to have these gardens. No, the anti-garden people won. And that’s it when let everybody go to do their thing. That’s what the movement is- that it’s not a set of specific things that we must have.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  38:03

So what I’m hearing and sort of is answering some of the question that I was going to pose next, which is about how do you maintain momentum for an initiative that now has evolved to be a center. And I’m hearing that a strategy for engagement is to not have an attachment to any particular outcome. And at the same time, also, working in a bureaucracy, you need to be cognizant of agreeing, but agreeing with your vision in mind as you move forward, and how do you maintain a momentum? What are your thoughts about how to maintain momentum in general, and then more specifically to the Healthy Campus Initiative since this is sort of the case study we’re talking about as a social movement? Right?

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  38:47

Well, that’s a very good question. I guess, it seems to me, there’s no shortage of issues that people want to be involved with on the campus. And it’s just a matter of making sure that the Healthy Campus Initiative is involved with with those groups. So you’ve mentioned a good deal of the time, in terms of mental health needs for different groups on the campus. So there’s a lot of concern, whether it’s, you’ve talked about medical students, but of course, there’s similar concerns with with graduate students of all, you know, shapes and persuasions. So that’s one area. You know, there are specific issues. I mentioned things like traffic patterns and things that that some people are going to be very concerned with. There’s all kinds of disability issues. Obviously, Me Too movement is huge and has a million different repercussions or tangents that go off from it in terms of various types of sexual harassment and retaliation and things like that. So that’s, that’s an area I imagine there’s much emphasis now on the digital world, and sort of the health consequences of that in terms of information, or supposed that information that’s available. And some of it is good information. Some of it is not such good information. So curating that- there’s a lot of ideas there. You talk to staff people, and they have organizations and you see what they want to do. And then what’s the most important thing for them? And then you just read the LA Times. And you you go from you go from there. That’s, you see, what is hot, so to speak? I mean, you’re very sensitive to, to those kinds of things. And I think that’s great. I think that’s one of the real strengths that you bring to the, to the HCI.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  40:47

Those are great ideas and I see what you’re saying is that in order to keep momentum, part of it is just being keeping yourself relevant to what’s on people’s minds, and what are the sort of conflicts that are going on…

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  41:01

And what they’re complaining about.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  41:02

And what their concerns are.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  41:04

And their grievances.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  41:05

Yeah. Okay, that’s very, that’s very wise information and makes it relevant in terms of any university movement has to be really homegrown, because every university campus will have different…

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  41:20

Absolutely.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  41:21

Priorities, different challenges, and so forth. So on a larger scale going back, I’d love to talk a bit about your influential book you wrote on the origins and ideologies of three crucial health movements in our country: dieting, exercise, and non-smoking. It’s called The Health Movement: Promoting Fitness in America. And what is so important about these three health movements?

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  41:46

Well, of course, I wrote that book a long time ago. So I think, to my mind, they’re all just different aspects of the same underlying movement, which I call the health movement there. Well, first of all, throughout American history, there’s been a waxing and waning with concern, the kinds of things we’ve been talking about today, concern for health and prevention, and being healthy. And what does that mean? And whenever those concerns have been high, those three things have been together, the idea of eating in a more healthy way, whatever that means, being physically active, and eliminating contaminants from the body. And, of course, people of different times, people concern with different contaminants, but tobacco has been in American history, very, very important. So those three things have always, always come together.

 

And I saw them as related to each other in that sense, historically, because they concern with them comes from a shared set of values that people have. And that’s really what that book is about, as I remember it, my memory may not be completely accurate. So let me speak very briefly about those values, because there’s a whole bunch of them. And it gets back to a lot of the things that we’ve been talking about here about the healthy culture. The first one is that this idea of wellness or what some people refer to as high level wellness, and I think the key thought there is that wellness is not simply the absence of a diagnosis or symptoms. But wellness is something else. It’s independent. You can have a diagnosis of whatever and your wellness is independent of that. You can have low wellness or no wellness, or you can be…

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  43:41

Social well-being for instance.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  43:41

Or your well-being, your ability to function, your happiness, your whatever, resilience, whatever you want to call it, whatever the components are, that wellness is separate. It’s not just, you know, in the medical people you’ve been talking about, they understand health, in what I would call a residual way. They have a bunch of tests and a bunch of questions that they ask you and if the answer is no for all of them, and all the tests come back negative, you’re healthy. Health is the absence of symptoms, it’s the absence of a diagnosis. That’s not what this movement is about. Wellness is different than the absence of symptoms. It doesn’t mean we don’t want to reduce symptoms, we don’t want to, but it’s something different. So that’s, that’s one thing. So what is wellness, then, that brings us partially to the answer of your question, why those three things are together? Okay, so that’s one aspect of it.

 

The other another thing, and this is a very complicated area, we don’t really have time to get into a detail, that all of these things emphasize is personal responsibility. In some way, you have to eat better, you have to exercise. I can’t give you a pill that is the equivalent of you exercising, you know, if you’re going to stop smoking or stop drinking or whatever it is, you have to do it you have to be responsible for actively doing something. And again, that’s one of the things tensions with health professionals, health professionals tend to do things to you, they give you a prescription, they do an operation, they perform an operation, they whatever. With wellness, you’re doing it yourself in some way. You are responsible for doing it. A third thing is the interplay between mind, body and spirit and these things that, you know, we can talk about in terms of the work that you did so well and continue to do with the Healthy Campus, the food part of the Healthy Campus, where there’s a notion, there’s a biological part about what you put in your body, but there’s a motivational part. And more and more, there’s a kind of spiritual part in terms of for some people as being a vegetarian, or being vegan, or supporting local farms, or just the effect of having the gardens down at the hospital has on people, that these things all come together in some way. And the mind, body and spirit are seen as interpenetrating each other, and all can be causal in terms of the other two, any one, one can has causal implications for the other two, and is also a response, therefore, to the other two, okay, so. So that interplay of body, mind and spirit.

 

And another aspect of it is that to be healthy, or to be well means living in harmony with nature, whatever that means. But there’s clearly not, let’s say, on this campus, been a huge affinity between the people who are concerned with environmental issues and sustainability issues, and health issues. That that is, is there. There’s also a real ambivalence towards science, technology and medicine. They’re not against these things, but they’re ambivalent about if you’re feeling as if there’s too much emphasis on that it goes against these other things. And, you know, the nonprofessional the emphasis on non professionals, that’s been an undercurrent in the discussion here. So that’s tied up in all this. And then a whole set of values around what I call in the book, as I recall, prevention, vigilance and restraint. The idea that to be healthier to be well, you have to cast a middle ground balance, which means if you like something, you got to put some limits on it, that even if it’s a good thing, if you do it too much, it’s not going to be good.

 

And you have to sort of watch out, you have to be vigilant, the thing about being healthy. And this is what stops a lot of people, let’s say to eat a healthy diet. If you eat a healthy diet on Monday, that’s great. But when Tuesday comes, you still got to eat the healthy diet. So it’s this idea of vigilance. So you have to, you know, and those values go against the values in our culture, the values, our culture is, hey, if this is good, and you’re like this on Monday, on Tuesday, you’re going to do it again, if you went to Starbucks, and you had a whatever, this whatever thing they’re offering today, and that’s great. Well, the fact that it’s great means you just want to do it again, right? And so there’s a different set of values. And that gets back to the question you asked about diet, exercise, and the smoking business, all these values are in there. And they all come together in this what I saw as a health movement. And that’s a different angle of what we’ve been talking about here. But one of the problems in our society is that when things are developed, that are good for people, they immediately become unrestrained, because we have this notion that we just want to make more and more money out of things. So if I’m providing the service to get you to your class quicker, and it’s really good, and you’re really useful it, it calms you down so you don’t have to be so anxious- ‘gee, I’m not going to get to my exam on time and all of that.’  But somehow what comes out of it at the end is you want to do that every time, three times a day, back and forth. It ends up being unhealthy for you, you know, you don’t exercise, the traffic is clogged and all the things we talked about. So you have this idea of moderation in all these things.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  49:17

Balance.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  49:18

Balance and all of this. So those are the values in the health movement. And those are not necessarily the values in our society. Tolerance, things like that are very important, but we’re getting away from that. And I think one of the things that’s attractive to people about it and one of the things that the Healthy Campus Initiative should be focusing on in my view, although it’s very hard to specify this, is this idea of balance and moderation, right. And that’s so important to people, and yet so much in our society pushes us away from that. It isn’t that there’s anything wrong with with drinking a little bottle or a little glass of Coca Cola. What’s wrong is when all of a sudden, every fast food place is advertising for the same price as that little thing will give you a bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and you can have 64 ounces for what you’ve just paid for eight ounces, then somehow things have gone sort of crazy. And everybody knows it’s no good. But everyone wants it at the same time. So that’s sort of a little disjointed answer…

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  50:43

Well, I think that it’s sort of answers the question I was going to ask you Next, which was what? What do you think the most pressing health issue of our society faces today?

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  50:53

Well, I think the the issue is clearly access to healthcare, which is different than what we’ve been talking about. That’s number one. But the other thing is, and this will take us back to the very first questions that you asked. Inequality. That, you know, when I started being interested in these things, let’s say in the mid 1960s. Okay, so that’s, that’s a while ago. And at that time, I and everybody I knew had this image that yes, social change was taking place much too slow. But it was taking place and we were moving in a good direction, there was no question that in 10 years, things would be better than they were, let’s say, 1975, they’d be better than they were in 1965. And in 1985, they’d be better than… things were slowly going to get better. That was inevitable, right? I don’t think we have that image now. And I think one way we can see that is in terms of basic inequalities in a society, that inequality in the United States has gotten much worse, between 1965 or 1970.

 

And today, and in some respects, inequality in health, and education just reflects those inequalities, those more basic economic inequalities. So that’s really the major issue. And for me, the whole notion of the health movement are changing, making it a healthier culture, is that in some way that will contribute to reducing these inequalities, whether we’re looking at some specific health related goal, depression, or you know, diabetes, or any of these, any of these things, or smoking or whatever. And also reducing those will foster a reduction in those basic economic inequalities, as well. If people are healthier, especially young people, they will be able and willing to have better education. And that will lead to them being able to have more productive lives and have better jobs and have more money, when, etc, that all these things are part of the broad structure of society. So that’s really…but  inqualit and access, of course, is just one aspect of inequality. That’s the major issue that in my mind that we face today.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  53:18

So in essence, your journey of reducing inequality by improving the culture of health on a campus and now, thanks to your vision, and Jane and Terry’s, it’s really transformed UC wide; different cultures, different places, but feel that that’s a step forward.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  53:40

Right. I think, of course, it hasn’t gone nearly as far as you and II would like it to. The first step in this is just an awareness. And, you know, for the most part, people don’t have an awareness that just about every decision that is made, let’s say the campus is going to build a new building, that that decisions gonna have an impact on the health and well-being of the people who work in that building, the students who study in that building, the people who work surrounding it. Is it going to block all the light that we have? We’re sitting here in your office- wonderful, natural light, but there’s a parking lot out there. And that’s been part of the problem, right? The noise from the parking lot? Well, what if they say we’re going to get rid of that parking lot, but we’re going to build a huge structure, huge building there, and then there’s no more natural light here. Well, the first step, I’m not saying they shouldn’t build that building, but I’m saying the very first step is there has to be an awareness that all these decisions impact people’s well-being people should be thinking about this. So that’s, in that sense, I think we’ve made some baby steps forward. But they’re just baby steps and they can be wiped out in an instant. And we see right now politically in this country, how and just the the space of a couple of years how much consciousness has has changed about this, and that these gains that we thought were irrevocable, they’re not irrevocable.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  55:11

Right.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  55:11

And we look around the world and things that we saw- breaking down of barriers and borders doesn’t mean that they disappear, but interchange between people, it seemed like that was that was a good thing, and that etc and cultural diversity and all of that, it’s under attack in very basic ways. And it doesn’t, it doesn’t have to be that way. In other words, in my mind, it comes back that conflict that, that people have to assert their vision, and they have to be willing to fight for that.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  55:50

And be vigilant.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  55:51

And be vigilant about it. Otherwise, these gains will disappear very, very rapidly. So in a way, maybe that’s a negative message. Because the image about health at least used to be that oh, you know, once we cure these diseases, we’re not going back. But we see now even here in California with something as fundamental as the measles and the vaccine, it’s very easy to go back and people… It’s really, it’s a constant struggle.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  56:26

Yeah. So I think that well, to wrap up, for anyone who sees an issue and wants to do something about it, what would your advice be to them?

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  56:35

To get involved, doesn’t matter. That the thing is to be involved and because that will do something good for you. It may not be what you expected to do, like, Oh, I’m going to be involved in the issue is going to be resolved. But just involvement and engagement in the world is a good thing. And to do it in a way that reflects what you think is the best version of yourself, the values that you hold to be true to you. And to just do that. So I think that’s what, what, what people have to do. And, you know, if it’s a health related thing, that’s great, but whatever it is, that’s, that’s just just do it. And to understand that when you do things like that, you know, it’s not just that you’re doing things for other people, but you’re doing something for yourself. And just to try that and then see, I think people will see that that is that is true, or at least most people will.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  57:38

Michael, well. you do it all the time. You’ve been an incredible leader, not just in the Healthy Campus Initiative here at UCLA. You’ve resolved a lot of challenges on this campus and thank you so much.

 

Dr. Michael Goldstein  57:52

Oh, you’re very welcome.

 

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  57:56

Thank you for tuning into UCLA LiveWell. For more information about today’s episode and the resources mentioned, visit our website at healthy.ucla.edu/livewellpodcast. Today’s podcast was brought to you by the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA. To stay up to date with our episodes, subscribe to UCLA live well on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Get to know us a little better and follow us @healthyucla. If you think you know the perfect person for us to interview next tweet your idea to us, please. Have a wonderful rest of your day and we hope you join us for our next episode as we explore new perspectives on health and well-being.