Crowd pleasers

event photo of all attendees

More than 200 attended the first 5 for 10 event. Photos by Han Parker

5 for 10 draws a passionate crowd, passionate professors and a passionate dean

At the first-ever 5 for 10 Students’ Choice lectures in the UC Irvine Student Center on March 2, School of Social Ecology Dean Jon B. Gould gave the energetic crowd of well over 200 Anteaters something to really cheer about. Because the five faculty members and topics for each of their 10-minute, TED-like talks were chosen through the Dean’s Advisory Council of student leaders, and the lecturers were not being compensated, Gould revealed he created $300 scholarships in the name of each professor that will be available to School of Social Ecology students.

“So tonight, they’re really working for you,” the dean said over loud applause, hoots and hollers – a reaction that would be repeated before and after each faculty member spoke.

Up first was Hillary Berk, assistant professor of teaching in criminology, law and society and her topic, “Constructing a Mother: How Surrogacy Contracts Create and Control Family Membership.” Berk made the case that a woman who gives birth to a child for another person is defined differently than a traditional mother in the eyes of society and the law.

Legal contracts refer to a surrogate mother as a “carrier,” “gestational hostess” or “third-party assistant,” include language that treats her like an employee and impose breastfeeding restrictions to thwart bonding with the infant, said Berk. The goal is to create legal, emotional and cultural distance between the woman who gave birth and the family that will raise the child.

“Surrogate labor is under-valued, and its medical risks are really a proxy for how we value women's bodies more broadly in society,” said Berk, who has spent the past decade researching surrogacy contracts.

Next up was Jessica Borelli, clinical psychologist and professor of psychological science, whose topic, “Emotional Vulnerability as a Driver of Social Connectedness” is “something that I do really preach and that I try to practice as well.”

She explained that people tend to put guards up around others out of concerns over the way they will be perceived, but doing so hides their real selves when trying to establish emotional connections with others. Using as an example someone who had been hurt by the words of a co-worker, Borelli displayed the vague ways the individual might react and how that would leave the person still feeling disconnected. Being more specific and direct about why the co-worker’s words stung so hard lays the foundation for a deeper connection, explained Borelli, who had a homework assignment for attendees.

“Try to go back through your own history and recall times when people have been responsive to you, when they have responded to your needs, when they've noticed things that have been really wonderful for you and done loving things for you because everybody, no matter how adverse their history is, have moments when people have really been there for you,” she said.

“Gang Profiling is Legalized Racial Profiling” was the 5 for 10 topic of Ana Muñiz, assistant professor of criminology, law and society, who shocked the crowd with the ways law enforcement and prosecutors have built gang-related criminal cases against people of color based on benign tattoos, clothing, calls for justice and family ties to gang suspects.

Muñiz traced the gang-enhancing attitudes of law enforcement back to the days of slavery and explained that Republicans and Democrats continue to exploit the issue for their own political gains. But she also expressed hope because of the work she has seen from community organizers, gang-intervention specialists and her own students who refuse to take gang labels at face value. “I'm really excited to keep doing that with you,” Muñiz said.

The plight of people of color was also on the mind of the next speaker. “From the Hood to the Academy” followed María Rendón’s own path from working-class neighborhoods in LA County to UCI, first as a student of sociology and political science and now as an associate professor of urban planning and public policy and director of the Ph. D program in urban environmental planning and policy.

Like Borelli, Rendón talked about a disconnect, only hers zeroed in on the predominantly white  faculty that serves a student body that is much more diverse but should be more so considering how rapidly California’s demographics are shifting. She maintained the way students of color are taught make it difficult for them to engage in their material, and a lack of connections with peers and mentors from their college years keep them from reaching their full potential even if they leave campus with a diploma.

As an institution of social change, Rendón said, “we need to start thinking about our own personal responsibility to reach out to others. And this can be done in the classroom, through our research and through institutional policies.”

The final 5 for 10 speaker, Jason Schiffman, was the only professor whose cheering section included family members. The clinical psychologist, professor of psychological science and director of training in his department and the Psychosis-Risk Evaluation, Early Intervention, and Treatment (PREVENT) Lab, stood before a slide with the UCI Brilliant Future logo. It was created for campus marketers and fundraisers, but to Schiffman the motto represents the great things his students and two children will accomplish someday.  

“Sometimes people ask me, ‘Well, how can I make the future better? Like, what do I do?’ And I always fall back on the old advice about following your passion,” he said, advising those who do not know what their passion is yet to think about something they enjoy, are good at and that makes a difference. For him, it is researching psychosis, especially among young people, and he obviously was not lying because he said it out loud before excitedly drilling down on his research.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to share some of my passion with you,” Schiffman said in conclusion, “and I hope that you all find yourself in that intersection of things that you like, things that you’re good at and that matter and make a difference.”

A great message to end on, Gould said, “because all these faculty, all five of them, make a difference. They make a difference in their teaching and their teaching is so good because of two things: because they are highly dedicated to it and because they’re able to bring their research to the table as well.”

He then turned his attention to the audience.

“I want to thank you all for two reasons. Number one, thanks for helping to select the faculty to talk tonight. And then, second of all, thanks for coming out because what you've done tonight is you've set the record for the largest student gathering post-pandemic in the School of Social Ecology.”
— Matt Coker