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Convocation Heralds New UCLA Ed&IS Academic Year

By Joanie Harmon
Omi Salas-SantaCruz, President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in Transgender Studies at Penn State University, delivered the Convocation keynote on Sept. 27. Courtesy of Penn State

Wasserman Dean Christina Christie and keynote by Penn State’s Omi Salas Santa-Cruz welcome students, faculty, and staff back to campus.


Unique connections between the two departments of the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies were highlighted during the fall Convocation, held virtually on Zoom on Sept. 27. Amy Gershon (’99, Ed.D., Educational Leadership Program), director of the Office of Student Services, emceed the program, which included welcoming remarks from Wasserman Dean Christina Christie and a keynote by Omi Salas-SantaCruz, the President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in Transgender Studies in the Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State University. Representatives of student organizations also addressed the SEIS community and encouraged students to participate in their activities and publications, including Jaime Ding, co-editor of the SEIS student research journal InterActions; Flora Zempleni of the Graduate Students Association in Education (GSAE); and Alyssa Davis, representing the Student Governing Board (SGB).  

Dean Christie began the meeting by welcoming new and returning students and faculty back to UCLA, thanking the staff, and asking for a moment of silence to recognize family and friends who have supported the students throughout their academic journey. 

“We’re here to mark the start of a brand-new academic year, and for many of you, the start of a new chapter in your professional lives,” said Dean Christie. “I’m so happy to have the chance to wish you well as you embark on this exciting new endeavor.”

Christie highlighted the fact that, “UCLA is in fact, the only major research university that has combined education and information studies into a single school, and this partnership gives us a unique advantage in the work that we do.” She spoke on the advantages of this partnership, and also offered the idea that, “…academic work can best be understood as a conversation.”

“In our research, our writing and our coursework, each of us joins a conversation already in progress,” she said. “We listen and we consider what's been said before, and then we make our own thoughtful contributions informed by life experience, the research we have read or conducted, and the lenses through which we view the world. As in any good conversation, there's room for many voices and there is space for agreement as well as dissension. And when in conversation [that is] rich and ...thoughtful, it pushes our thinking forward.

“This analogy feels especially appropriate for Ed&IS,” said Christie. “Both of our departments are committed to a common mission: to use teaching, scholarship, and service to dismantle systematic inequity and to promote social justice. We share the conviction that education and information are not just fields of study but are in fact, human rights.” 

Dean Christie commended the students for choosing UCLA Ed&IS to fulfill their educational goals. 

“You have chosen to become part of this community because you understand the imperative to create a better world through the study and practice of education and information. You understand the importance of robust conversation … and you share an optimism that comes from knowing that our voices do not go into a vacuum. 

“You represent the future of our fields, and you give me great hope. Collectively and individually, you are the ones who will push our thinking forward, addressing the many serious challenges ahead. Today, I welcome you. I welcome the addition of your voices to this powerful, sometimes chaotic, but always forward-moving discussion.”

Professor of Education Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, chair of the UCLA Department of Education, echoed Christie’s sentiments, and underscored the path ahead for the students.

“I want to say that this journey [on which] you are about to embark is not just about success or failure,” said Rios-Aguilar, who also serves as SEIS Associate Dean of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. “It's about learning, growing, discovering, writing, erasing, re-writing, reading and collecting [data].”

Todd Franke, interim chair of the UCLA Department of Information Studies, stated that the information and library professions have evolved to meet the ever-changing demands of these fields, and celebrated the growth of the department’s enrollment this fall, with 55 new students admitted to the MLIS program and five admitted to the UCLA IS doctoral program.

“Our profession by design promotes social justice, diversity, and equity through informed and respectful appreciation of differences and cultures and practices, and the recognition of the need for self determination of communities and their own culture and evidence-based legacies,” noted Franke. “The goal of our program is to prepare all of our students for the diverse professions and leadership roles in the contemporary world of information, which we all know is growing increasingly complex and difficult to navigate.” 

Natacha Cesar-Davis (’20, Ph.D., HEOC; ’17, MA, Higher Education/ Higher Education Administration), Assistant Dean of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for SEIS, also welcomed the students, particularly those entering the School.

“This is undoubtedly a fascinating and life-transforming journey you are embarking on. I know this very well because I was in your shoes not too long ago,” she said. 

Cesar-Davis described the mission of the SEIS Office of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion – known across the School as JEDI – and its role in creating “…accessible, welcoming and respectful environments for all the members of the Ed&IS community.

“Practicing these values requires that each of us - students, staff, and faculty - contribute to learning and working environments that support the interactions necessary to live the socially just education that we seek,” she said. 

In their keynote, Professor Salas-SantaCruz described their personal experiences of being criticized as a child for "terquedad" or stubbornness, not feeling comfortable in an assigned gender, ten years of multiple jobs with only a high school diploma, and the layoff and housing crisis that propelled them to seek an academic journey, beginning with community college.

“My stubbornness insisted that there was something else for me,” said Salas-SantaCruz. “I met educators who saw my stubbornness as a strength. As I ventured into academia, I was surprised by how many graduate students - just like you - faced criticism and were ostracized for their stubbornness. The cultural arbiters dubbed them ‘defiant,’ ‘non-conforming,’ or ‘bad trouble,’ when they brought unique cultural viewpoints, experiences, or even gender expressions that didn’t match the usual academic standards of professionalism. Some even faced expulsion for these perceived shortcomings. 

“This made me ponder: why is stubbornness defined as detrimental? Throughout my studies, I realized that my embodied stubbornness was a profound tool that enabled me to critically evaluate the world, even if I did not have the words. In a field that often values the set path, I delved into the unconventional subjects in education.” 

A scholar of decolonial and Latinx trans feminisms with a focus on trans* and queer of color space-making & resistant practices, Salas-SantaCruz grew up along the Tijuana-San Diego border, an experience that informs their research and teaching. Their current project examines questions at the intersections of race, Latinidad, the epistemology of trans inclusion, and practices of being.

“Stubborness in this scenario manifested as a refusal to settle for the most obvious interpretation,” said Sala-SantaCruz. “I personally knew that my gender transgressions and identity had more to do with the U.S.- Mexico border and migration than any case of gender dysphoria. 

“I asked more questions and sought multiple sources to understand the TransLatinx student experience by first understanding the ontological dimensions of what it means… to be trans and Latinx, especially as students engage with institutional programs and services … based on institutional understandings of TransLatinidad. The complex entanglement of identities that TransLatinx individuals possess is … beyond the binary understanding of gender. It delves into spaces where coloniality, language, culture, access to knowledge, and migration intermingle and redefine one another.”

Salas-SantaCruz emphasized the importance of students’ pursuit of degrees in education and information, outlining the value of stubbornness in the study and practice of these fields.

“In an era plagued by misinformation and fake news, stubbornness is an asset for media literacy,” they said. “Today’s youth engage in stubborn resistance daily, responding to social, cultural and political events though hashtags, tweets, memes, and even TikTok videos. This is terquedad in the digital age – a persistent, uncompromising demand for social justice, access to knowledge, the free exchange of ideas and truth, expressed in every medium available. It is multicultural and multilingual, refusing to be confined by geographical and linguistic boundaries.

“Faculty and future educators, this takes us to your domain, the classroom,” said Salas-SantaCruz. “Students who stubbornly question every sentence, who argue, who poke holes in theories, who challenge our conventional wisdom… instead of seeing this as an impediment, we should be fostering it, recognizing this behavior for what it is: an expression of critical engagement, a demonstration of alternative knowledge in its purest form. It means they care deeply about the subject and they’re willing to engage with the material, even if it means challenging it through outside perspectives they find relevant. This force, which is the embodiment of critical literacy, can disrupt and question oppressive ideologies and frameworks and can push toward a more egalitarian, just, and decolonial education space.”