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Combating Veterans Issues through Gardening

Encompassing 14 acres behind Jackie Robinson Stadium on the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs (VA) Campus is a garden undergoing restoration. At one time, this space was a fully functional sanctuary for veterans, as well as a food source for local restaurants. After nearly ten years of abandonment resulting in overgrown natural grasses, UCLA is teaming up with the VA to restore it. UCLA has worked closely with the VA for years through various capacities, such as providing doctors and volunteer events. Despite the presence of this VA, Los Angeles has one of the highest rates of veteran homelessness in the country according to Quil Lawrence of NPR news.

Gardening’s popularity among veterans has risen as of late. Chicago already has a prominent space for veterans to garden in their City Botanic Garden. Just like West LA’s potential garden, the Chicago Botanic Garden has a historical relationship with vets. In 2013, a group of therapists visited the garden and realized the potential it had for therapy. They initiated the momentum to get Veterans more involved through the foundation of a horticulture therapy program with a specific curriculum for planting and harvesting.

Joanna Wise, a prominent horticulture therapist in Chelsea, London, elaborated on the benefits of gardening in her book Digging for Victory: Horticultural Therapy with Veterans for Post-Traumatic Grow. Horticulture therapy simply refers to therapy programs utilizing gardens and other outdoor spaces. According to her work, human beings “have an emotional affiliation to other living organisms, which is part of our species’ evolutionary heritage, and a competitive advantage.” This level of emotional connection is especially important for those with otherwise stressful conditions, like many veterans.  

Vets Garden Blog Pic 1

Photo by Abraham Ramirez

Colt Gordon, President of the Student Veterans of America at UCLA is a key supporter of the VA Garden restoration project. Colt is a 4-year Marine Veteran who finished service in 2011. He told me his life has “been an incredible journey. In 2013, I was your typical homeless veteran. I had mental health issues, but I overcame them. I come from a broken family due to drugs and alcohol. I’m very open about these things because I think it’s more useful than hiding behind the stigma. Now I’m at UCLA and I want to promote and perpetuate healthy living throughout the veteran community. I’ve started here in this garden. Our goal is to turn this into a fully functional agricultural center that will help feed our community.” According to occupational therapist Barbe Kreske at a “garden, [Veterans] receive therapy while learning job skills. Job training is important for Veterans as almost half a million are unemployed.”

Through restoration, the garden is also hoping to address malnutrition, a common health problem among veterans due to, among other factors, high rates of food insecurity. Local and organic produce grown in the garden will be distributed back to the veterans on the VA campus. There’s even a test kitchen on site to help them learn about healthy cooking.  

Photo by Abraham Ramirez

Jesse Flores, the VA Garden Restoration Program Assistant, graduated from UCLA last year with a degree in Geography and is now pursuing a master’s in Urban Planning. According to Jesse, “just working and being at the space is where my interest in the built environment comes from. I love learning and seeing how built environments can promote health among at-risk communities, such as veterans, who need our help. This space can become a fully functional agricultural center that will not only help feed our community but also help homeless veterans get jobs.”

At the moment, beautifying the entrance to the garden is prioritized, as this is the first place everyone will see when they enter. Different zones of the 14-acre space will be worked on individually and then tied together upon completion. Maintenance is difficult as well. Jesse and Colt, as well as other members of the team, welcome any help or advice at the garden. If you would like to get involved, please fill out this sign-up form for volunteering. Volunteer dates will be announced shortly. Additionally, on Wednesdays at 6pm meetings are held at the Veteran’s Resource Center  located on campus in Kerckhoff Hall, Suite 132 for anyone interested in helping with the garden. Supporting this effort is a great way to learn gardening techniques while giving back to those who protect our country.

Teddy Tollin is a third year Geography major and Geographical Information Systems minor at UCLA. Besides working at his position as the BEWell pod blogger, Teddy is a member of the Transfer Student video team, Co-Chair of the Built Environment Public Health Coalition, and is passionate about Urban Planning. 


Try Some Green Space for Your Finals Week Blues

Happy Almost Finals Week Bruins! The end of the quarter can be a stressful time for many of us. Between studying for exams, finishing final projects, and making last-minute preparations for winter break, it often seems like taking care of ourselves is the easiest thing to cross off the list. If you just can’t bring yourself to take time out for that bike ride or bubble bath, a simple change of scenery might provide some stress relief and even help sharpen your mind for those tenth-week to-do tasks. Spending time outdoors in green spaces can help relieve anxiety, sharpen attention, and improve mood. Luckily for us, UCLA has plenty of beautiful natural spaces that are perfect for a last-minute study session. Here are some of my favorites!

Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden

Why it’s awesome: Located in the south-east part of campus between the School of Nursing and the Terasaki Life Sciences Building, the botanical garden is the perfect study oasis. Natural amenities include the cool and shady atmosphere, private benches tucked into leafy nooks, and a soundtrack of birdsong and burbling stream.

What to know before you go: The botanical garden is a decidedly analogue study spot. Wifi is spotty, and if there are any outlets hidden beneath the leaf litter I have yet to find them! Bring that book that you’ve been struggling to concentrate on or the set of math problems you’ve been meaning to work through.

Nearest coffee: Terasaki Café, Café Med

Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden


Photo Credit:

Why it’s awesome: The sculpture garden is a cool, green north campus retreat with a rolling lawn and a stunning grove of Jacaranda trees. As advertised, it’s also filled with an impressive collection of sculptures to contemplate while paging through your study guide. Secluded seating areas are scattered around the perimeter of the garden, but many students prefer to sprawl out on the lawn instead.

What to know before you go: Shady spots are in short supply, so the sculpture garden may not be the best choice for a hot and sunny day. While this spot has great wifi, the sunlight’s glare may make it difficult to see your computer screen. Recharge your devices at the nearby Charles E. Young Library.

Nearest coffee: Jimmy’s Coffeehouse, Café 451

Dickson Court North

Dickson Court

Photo Credit:

Why it’s awesome: Few places on campus rival the leafy collegiate beauty of Dickson Court North. With its brick accented walkways and shady fig and sycamore trees, Dickson Court is a high traffic area ideal for studiers who prefer a little background noise and people-watching over silence and solitude.

What to know before you go: Dickson Court North is great for lounging on a sun-dappled lawn, but there’s no formal seating in the area. If you’re averse to sharing your study space with ants or suffering the occasional grass stain, Dickson Court may not be the place for you. The court is also a popular spot for campus events, so watch out for the occasional closure.

Nearest coffee: Jimmy’s Coffeehouse

Good luck with your finals! And remember: spending time outdoors can have health benefits, but the benefits don’t outweigh the health risks when the air is smoky from a wildfire. If air quality is poor or the air smells smoky, play it safe and stay indoors.

Rebecca Ferdman is a graduate student at UCLA pursuing dual Master’s degrees in Urban Planning and Public Health. She is the graduate student researcher (GSR) for the BEWell pod of the Healthy Campus Initiative.

BikeShare UCLA

In Review: The Bruin BikeShare Program

Imagine you’re still on the hill and late for class. You need to make up for lost time and driving definitely isn’t an option. Alternatively, imagine you’re at North Campus, but you get the sudden urge to go see what’s happening in South Campus. Lastly, imagine you’re in the middle of campus, but need to catch a bus in Westwood. These and many more dilemmas can now be solved with the introduction of the Bruin Bike Share. Since October 3rd, the Bruin Bikes have become available to ride for all students on campus who sign up for the program.

Bike Share programs have been popping up recently in cities across the country. They support and accomplish several health-related goals of U.S. cities such as public health, sustainability, and traffic reduction. According to the Washington D.C. Department of General Services, “you can burn between 215-500 calories during a 30-minutes bike ride (based on a 10 mph average commuter pace).” Therefore, bikes are perfect for sustainability because they produce zero emissions. Bike Share programs also reduce traffic by promoting multimodality. Multimodality involves using different forms of transportation to reach one’s destination. Bike Share programs promote this by providing people with a faster way of traveling to and from bus, train, or shuttle stops.

CycleHop, the company behind Bike Share programs in Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Long Beach, are also the ones behind the design of the brand new UCLA Bruin Bikes. Our bikes come with 8 adjustable speeds, a built-in lock, a bell, LED lights, an adjustable seat, and basket. And, of course, they are Bruin Blue in honor of one of UCLA’s main colors.

CycleHop is also partnered with Social Bikes, Inc. (SoBi). This company provides the wireless technology that enables users to reserve and unlock bikes with their smartphones. SoBi’s smartphone app provides the platform with which you create a pin code and account number to unlock the bikes for use. You will need to enter these numbers into a keypad on the bikes to check them out and use them. Using the SoBi app you can also view where the BikeShare hubs are located and how many bikes they are holding. This map is available at as well.

Overall there are 130 bikes between 18 hub locations. Users may unlock a bike at one location and leave it at another. This is especially beneficial for people who want to take one way bike rides to avoid lugging it around. Hub locations are currently available near popular spots on campus like the Wooden Center and Court of Sciences, as well as, Westwood Village. New locations may be built in the future based on data collected from the initial rollout.

Bruin Bikes can be paid for with yearly plans, monthly plans, or you can pay as you ride. For members of the UCLA community, a Founding Annual Plan can be purchased for $60.00 per year. It includes 90 minutes of pre-paid ride time and a UCLA helmet with other gifts. Users outside the UCLA system can purchase the same plan for $69.00. If you’d rather pay monthly, plans are $7.00 for UCLA members and $25.00 for others. These also include 90 minutes of ride time per day. Daily rates are $7.00 per hour and unused minutes can even be saved for a later date.

Overall, the Bruin BikeShare program has now been running successfully for three weeks since it launched at the start of the month of October. Usage and returning of the Bruin Bikes has been noticeable at the different hubs around campus, and students can be seen riding their rented bikes to and from classes, and around Westwood Village. If you’re interested in trying out the program yourself, please check out the Bruin BikeShare website at

Teddy Tollin is a third year Geography major and Geographical Information Systems minor at UCLA. Besides working at his position as the BEWell pod blogger, Teddy is a member of the Transfer Student video team, Co-Chair of the Built Environment Public Health Coalition, and is passionate about Urban Planning. 


Five Reasons Why Green Spaces are Awesome

Recently at our annual Celebration, the Healthy Campus Initiative officially launched the Jane B. Semel Community Garden and Living Amphitheater located at Sunset Recreation Center, adding a new green space to UCLA’s campus. Opening the living amphitheater was a dream come true for the Healthy Campus Initiative, but it is also a valuable addition to UCLA’s campus that holds amazing potential. Read on to find out 5 reasons why green spaces like the Living Amphitheater are awesome for our well-being.

1. Green Space Boosts Attention

In this study, college students were assigned to three different conditions: nature walk, urban walk, or relaxing with a magazine in a comfortable room with light music. Afterwards, students were tested on their capacity for direct attention. The study found that those who went on a nature walk performed significantly better on the attention tests than those who went on an urban walk or relaxed indoors.

2. Green Space Encourages Physical Activity

Whether it is something as casual as taking a walk or something more intense like hiking, green spaces provide an environment that is conducive for physical exercise. As obvious as it may sound, having easier access to green space has a positive association with an individual’s level of physical activity. For instance, this study found that people who live closer to parks are “more likely to achieve physical activity recommendation and less likely to be overweight or obese.”

3. Green Space Improves Mental Health

One of my favorite things to do on campus is smelling different trees and flowers. The fresh smell of newly cut grass and sweet fragrance emitted by different flowers make me smile as I walk to my classes.

Research also demonstrates that green space provides benefits to mental health. This study found that among monozygotic or identical twins, those who had greater access to green space had fewer depressive symptoms than their twin counterpart with less access to green space. This is significant because by studying identical twins, the researchers were able to control for genetic and childhood environment factors. The reasons for why green space may benefit mental health are not yet clear, but it is promising that exposure to green space has a positive influence on our mental health.

4. Green Space Cleans the Air

This may not be surprising that trees can improve the air quality. Here are the details:

According to the report from the Forest Service Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in areas with complete tree cover, trees can remove as much of air pollutants as 15% of the ozone, 14% of the sulfur dioxide (SO2), 8% of the nitrous dioxide (NO2), and 0.05% of the carbon monoxide (CO) from the air. This is because vegetation, especially trees, can act as natural filters for the air pollutants. Thus, increasing green space will help us breathe well.

5. Green Space Helps Us Eat Well

Green space, especially community gardening has shown to improve food security. According to this study, people were 3.5 times more likely to consume at least five servings of fruit or vegetable on a daily basis if they or their family members were involved in a community garden in the last 12 months. Another study also suggested that gardening increases the likelihood of people meeting the national recommendation for fruit and vegetable consumption. More specifically, 56% of those who participate in a community garden met the recommendation, compared to 37% of those who have a home garden and 25% of those who have no gardening involvement.

There are numerous places on campus where we can reap these benefits of green spaces. There is, of course, the newly opened Living Amphitheater Garden at Sunset Rec. But if you are on campus and just want a quick stroll to enjoy the nature, consider visiting Botanical Gardens in South campus or the Sunken Gardens and Sculpture Garden in North campus. If you have any other suggestions for green space on and around campus, please share it with us by commenting below!

Miso Kwak is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Psychology with a double minor in Disability Studies and Education Studies. In addition to blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she plays the flute with the UCLA Woodwind Chamber Ensemble. Outside of school, she works as a mentor for high school students through Accessible Science, a nonprofit organization that facilitates science camp for blind youth.


Do Scramble Crosswalks Really Save Lives?

One of the City of Los Angeles’ ongoing efforts is VisionZero LA, which is an initiative that aims to end traffic-related death by 2035. One of strategies that has been implemented to accomplish this goal is installation of scramble crosswalks around the city.

Typical crosswalks are designed so that vehicles and pedestrians travel together in the same flow of traffic. For instance, when a walk sign is on for pedestrians traveling in North South direction, vehicles are allowed to travel in North South direction as well. At this time, pedestrians and vehicles traveling in East and West directions must wait.

Scramble crosswalks, on the other hand, allow pedestrians to travel in all directions, including diagonally. When pedestrians are crossing, vehicles are not allowed to travel at all. If you are curious about an example, you don’t have to look far. In Westwood there is a scramble crosswalk on the intersection of Westwood Boulevard and Le Conte Avenue.

This may sound like a great idea to ensure the safety of pedestrians. In fact, Los Angeles Magazine published an article titled L.A.’s New Diagonal Crosswalks Are Literally Saving Lives.

But are they really?

On one hand, yes. Statistical data shows that installation of scramble crosswalks is actually decreasing the number of traffic related injuries. The prime example is the intersection of Hollywood and Highland. According to VisionZero, the intersection used to have in average 13 crashes per year, but after the installation of the scramble crosswalk in November 2015, there have been zero crashes. This is indeed a significant and promising improvement.

However, one vital piece is missing: accessibility for people with disability. Currently there is no measure in place that requires implementation of accessibility features for scramble crosswalks.

First, scramble crosswalks are challenging for those who are blind and visually impaired. The Guidelines for Accessible Pedestrian Signals published by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program states that scramble crossing “makes it difficult for pedestrians who are blind or visually impaired to recognize the onset of the WALK interval, particularly at locations where right on red is permitted.” This is because in a scramble setting, it is not safe to rely on parallel traffic to determine crossing. Also when there is no vehicle movement, it is hard to determine whether it is safe to cross, because it is difficult to tell where vehicles are. The Guidelines for Accessible Pedestrian Signals recommends that accessible pedestrian Signals (APS) provide more detailed information when the button is pushed. For example, the button could say the following: “Wait to cross Howard at Grand. Wait for red light for all vehicles. Right turn on red permitted.” The installation of APS that provide such detailed information will ensure that blind and visually impaired travelers can cross with greater safety and certainty.

Secondly, safety must be ensured also for those who use mobility aides, such as wheelchairs and crutches. According to this study, pedestrians who travel using a wheelchair have a 36% higher risk of dying from a car-related injury as compared to those not using a wheelchair. Scramble crosswalks should be helpful in addressing this alarming statistic. However, the crosswalks must be made accessible in order for them to be effective. Making crosswalks accessible includes installing appropriate curve ramps and level landing, as well as providing sufficient time for crossing.

So, do scramble crosswalks really save lives?

Yes but not completely. Scramble crosswalks may have been proven to be effective in “saving lives” but the city of Los Angeles must do more so that they become accessible for those with different modes of travel such as white canes, wheelchairs, and crutches.

Miso Kwak is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Psychology with a double minor in Disability Studies and Education Studies. In addition to blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she plays the flute with the UCLA Woodwind Chamber Ensemble. Outside of school, she works as a mentor for high school students through Accessible Science, a nonprofit organization that facilitates science camp for blind youth.

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The Built Environment of Studying

As finals week approaches, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the academic demands. From exams to papers to group projects, there’s so much to keep track of! Read on for some tips on how you can optimize the built-environment of your studying so that you can be as productive as possible.

First, the lighting. Lighting may seem somewhat mundane but think about it… lighting plays an important role in setting our moods for different occasions. You may prefer a dim light when you are trying to relax, while you may prefer a brighter lighting when you want to feel energized.

Guess what? Lighting can influence our academic performance too. This study done by Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology demonstrated that lights of varying correlated color temperatures (CCTs) measured in Kelvin can be optimized for different activities.

The study was conducted in a laboratory with adults as well as in a 4th grade classroom. In both contexts, the researchers found that light with 3500K, which emits warm, yellowish white light is optimal for encouraging recess activities while 6500K light, which emits cool, bluish light that is similar to natural light, is optimal for academic performance. The authors explained that this may be because higher CCTs cause higher levels of arousal, although “there might be a point of diminishing returns at which higher CCT no longer improves human performance.”

What about the color of the walls of the room in which you study? In this study, the color of private study spaces was one of the six variations, including vivid red, vivid yellow, vivid blue, pale red, pale yellow, and pale blue. Subjects in the study reported feeling more pleasant and relaxed in the pale colored conditions, but scored significantly higher on the reading comprehension test when they were in the vivid color condition.

In addition to the visual elements, auditory cues can also affect our studying. If you are like me, you may prefer to listen to the music while studying. But is it really effective?

Findings from research in this area have been mixed. This study, which was a comprehensive meta-analysis in this domain of research, showed that background music in general disrupts reading comprehension. However, another study which put subjects through slow and soft; slow and loud; fast and soft; and fast and loud background music found that only fast and loud music resulted in negative performance of reading comprehension. Given the complex results, it may be difficult to reach a firm conclusion. Nonetheless, we should be more mindful of what kind of music we choose to listen to when we are studying. It would be important to find songs that enhance our focus rather than distract our attention.

The concept of built-environment may feel distant at times, but lighting, color, and sound are factors that create our built-environment, and could have direct impact on our academic performance. Do you have favorite study space on campus that include these elements or favorite songs to listen to while studying? Comment below!

Miso Kwak is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Psychology with a double minor in Disability Studies and Education Studies. In addition to blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she plays the flute with the UCLA Woodwind Chamber Ensemble. Outside of school, she works as a mentor for high school students through Accessible Science, a nonprofit organization that facilitates science camp for blind youth.

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How tomorrow’s election could affect your built-environment

Bruins, are you aware that there is an election tomorrow?

It is a local election conducted by the County of Los Angeles. Los Angeles voters will be electing a new mayor, city council, and school board, along with a number of county-wide and city-wide measures. Read on to find out what role you could play in shaping the built-environment of Westwood and city of Los Angeles through your vote.

City Measure S — This is a measure that aims to increase regulation of general planning and development of housing in Los Angeles. Passing of Measure S would impose moratorium on constructions of many development projects and increase restrictions on getting new projects approved in the city of Los Angeles. Proponents argue that this will strengthen the integrity of the process in which development projects are approved. Opponents of Measure S, on the other hand, argue that moratorium and greater restrictions on development projects will result in housing shortages, exacerbating homelessness and decreasing tax revenues for public services.

While development projects – both for business and housing – may seem solely like a social issue, it is an important factor for the built-environment and consequently for the well-being of our city. For example, a study has shown that housing insecurity is associated with poor health, lower weight, and greater developmental risk for young children. The study further recommends that policymakers should prioritize policies that promote greater housing security.

In another study, researchers surveyed 68,111 adults in twelve different states, and found that housing insecurity significantly increases the risk of frequent insufficient sleep and frequent mental distress.

Thus, whether or not Measure S passes could have a long-term consequence for the well-being of Angelinos. Make sure to read more about this initiative and vote mindfully.

Another issue that is particularly relevant for Westwood residents is election of a council member for District 5, which includes Westwood. There are three candidates running for this position: Paul Koretz, Jesse Creed, and Mark Herd. While each candidate has a number of campaign agendas, this post focuses on each candidate’s position on bike lanes, public transit, and pedestrian safety.

Paul Coretz — Coretz has been a council member for District 5 since 2009. His response to the survey conducted by Bike the Vote indicates his efforts to promote biking for District 5 as well as his support for biking, more efficient transit, and pedestrian safety. However, it appears that his position on supporting Vision Zero seems inconsistent. Vision Zero aims to eliminate traffic-related death in Los Angeles in the next 20 years. Coretz states that he will continue to advocate for the safety of walkers and bikers. However, he is opposed to installing bike lanes on Westwood Boulevard, a project supported by UCLA and the Westwood Village Improvement Association. Westwood Boulevard has been identified as one of most dangerous streets by the L.A. Department of Transportation’s High Injury Network. Coretz’s proposed alternative is to put a bike lane on Gayley Avenue instead.

Jesse Creed — Like Coretz, Creed is also in support of safety. However, his concrete plans are different. First, he has expressed his commitment to continuing the study for bike safety, which has been abandoned by Coretz. On the survey conducted by Bike The Vote, he stated, “The City’s job is to make it not dangerous” regarding the current status of Westwood Boulevard. In addition, Creed also highlights ensuring safety for all people regardless of their age, ability, and mode of transportation.

Mark Herd — Based on the Bike The Vote survey, Herd appears to support “the community’s needs.” However, compared to Coretz and Creed, his stance does not seem clear and knowledge on the issue limited.

While bike lane, public transit, and pedestrian safety reflect only partial vision of each candidates, these are issues that can influence our daily commute and long-term health and safety. Ensuring that we elect a council member who advocates for and prioritizes the mobility of their constituents is a vital step to making our community healthier. If you’re unsure of your polling place, you can find it here.

Miso Kwak is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Psychology with a double minor in Disability Studies and Education Studies. In addition to blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she plays the flute with the UCLA Woodwind Chamber Ensemble. Outside of school, she works as a mentor for high school students through Accessible Science, a nonprofit organization that facilitates science camp for blind youth.

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New Year, New Lifestyle: Ride Public Transit

It’s almost end of January. How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions?

Exercising more, saving more, and enjoying life more are some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. Yet, you and I know these are not easy ones to keep.

However, there’s no need to worry, because there is a practical change you can make to fulfil all of the three resolutions at once! The solution is riding the public transit.

Exercise More

It is widely known that physical activity is positively associated with better overall health. Riding the bus or rails is an excellent way to increase your daily physical activity.

This study indicates that those who commute via bus and rail walked significantly more often than those who commuted by car. More specifically, another study showed that public transit users were more likely to walk 30 minutes or more per day than those who do not use public transit regularly.

If you are feeling frustrated that your busy schedule does not allow you to go to the gym on a regular basis, riding public transit to school, your job, or the grocery store instead of driving your car could be a great way to incorporate exercise into your daily routine.

Save More

As convenient as it may be to have access to a personal vehicle, there is a lot of financial cost involved, from gas to parking to car insurance to occasional repairs. With public transit, however, you need not worry about any of these expenses. You can save even more if you are a UCLA student or employee. UCLA Transportation Services offers discounts for accessing various public transportation options around UCLA such as the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, Metro buses and rails, and Culver City Bus. There is also the Bruin Bus service, which offers transportation between campus and its surrounding areas.

The amount of savings may seem small at first but with persistence, riding public transit will help you cut down costs associated with driving a personal vehicle.

Enjoy Life More

The way to define “enjoying life more” would be different from person to person. However, one common aspect could be appreciating our surroundings, from scenery to people to simply atmosphere.

Riding public transit may feel like slowing down the pace of your life, which could be frustrating at times. However, said slower pace allows us to observe and appreciate our surroundings like city streets and our neighbors. I am confident that you will find many beauties of the city like exchanging a friendly hello with passerbys or absorbing delicious smells from restaurants and street vendors on your way to school or work — things you would not notice if you were in your personal vehicle.

It is never too late to make choices that will lead to healthier and happier lifestyle. Start with riding public transit. It will positively influence your health, finance, and appreciation of the surroundings.

Miso Kwak is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Psychology with a double minor in Disability Studies and Education Studies. In addition to blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she plays the flute with the UCLA Woodwind Chamber Ensemble. Outside of school, she works as a mentor for high school students through Accessible Science, a nonprofit organization that facilitates science camp for blind youth.

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Community Mother and Graduate Student Led Project, Creating Spaces Paves Way for Lactation Support

In September of 2014, new mom LeighAnna returned from summer break to her graduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) only several weeks after giving birth due to threats her funding would lapse. She was determined to breastfeed her child saying, “I wanted to show my daughter it was possible to be both a mother and professional. I wanted her to have the best start in life and, frankly, I couldn’t afford to feed her formula.”

LeighAnna knew pumping breast milk on campus was her right as stated in the 2010 Affordable Care Act, 2015 California Education code 222, and 2002 Labor code 1030. These laws mandated that as a university and employer, UCLA must provide sufficient break time to pump, and appropriate, clean, and private lactation spaces. Under UC student insurance policy comprehensive women’s healthcare, LeighAnna should have lactation education resources.

While policy was designed to protect LeighAnna’s rights, the reality of her pumping experience was discriminatory. Recounting her first days back LeighAnna said, “I was not aware of how the built environment on campus would make it nearly impossible for me to mother my child.” Lactation spaces are far and she did not have sufficient breaks so she went hours without pumping. LeighAnna was forced to use public bathrooms or basements that were unclean and demeaning. Soon she noticed painful swelling in her breasts but said, “there was no one to turn to for information about what was happening to my body.” From the stress of feeding her child, LeighAnna developed a painful abscess sending her to the emergency room.

LeighAnna’s experiences were not uncommon, as several PhD mothers have shared similar experiences. These courageous women organized together to change the narrative of mothers on campus forming the Mothers of Color in Academia de UCLA (MOCA) to mobilize for institutional change. As part of their advocacy efforts they meet weekly with university stakeholders representing student parents interests. MOCA’s organize monthly and quarterly events and actions on campus building community and raise visibility. They have put forth a petition highlighting childcare access, financial support for parenting students, and other resources to ensure UCLA supports diverse student populations, especially parenting students who are often unseen in academia. Lactation spaces and breastfeeding are at the forefront of their petition’s demands and their petition has over 700 supporters to date.

Experts agree that breastfeeding is the best nutritional practice, with numerous benefits both for the individual, child, and society. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends six months of exclusive breastfeeding. Dr. May Wang, Professor at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and Maternal and Child Nutrition specialist, explains, “Babies that are exclusively breastfed for six months are less likely to get infections and develop allergies while the mother has decreased risk for cancer. Breastfeeding also promotes bonding and natural birth spacing.” The Surgeon General of the United States notes that exclusive breastfeeding could save between $1,200-$1,500 annually on formula costs. Breastfeeding also lowers healthcare costs and improves worker productivity.

Despite the benefits of breastfeeding, women still struggle with discriminatory burden in education settings. A 2016 press release from Breastfeed LA reported, 60% of working breastfeeding mothers do not have access to appropriate break time or spaces and most schools do not have lactation policy. This leads to a drop in breastfeeding rates once mothers re-enter the university. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report only 24% of mothers in California breastfeed exclusively for 6 months. Yet, few studies exist documenting the lactation needs on college campuses.

While UCLA policy states that UCLA will provide, “private lactation space” and “lactation break periods” for employees, evidence shows a different reality. The official map of lactation spaces lists 10 lactation spaces spread over 419 acres of land and 163 buildings. MOCA mothers recounted that they usually walked for over 20 minutes to reach a designated lactation space, which was still often inaccessible or inappropriate. In comparison, UC Davis has over 35 lactation spaces spread out to ensure no distance is more than a 5 minute walk. There is no data at UCLA on the needs of lactating individuals. The Student Workers Union (UAW-285) summarizes the situation explaining, “the university campus is configured to be less accessible to women, particularly mothers.”

In response, a new graduate student led project, Creating Space, has emerged to improve the UCLA breastfeeding climate. The project is born out of MOCA’s organizing efforts, founded by The Reproductive Health Interest Group (RHIG) and lead in dual partnership, bringing together a vast list of stakeholders including: UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, Health Campus Initiative Be Well Pod, UCLA facilities, UCLA transportation, ASHE Student Health & Wellness Center, UCLA Student Health Education & Promotion, Bruin Resource Center Students with Dependents, Student Workers Union (UAW-2865), Staff Assembly, and Fielding School of Public Health. Despite a long list of partners, Creating Space retains community ownership with the MOCA mothers.

The project involves four distinct phases implemented in 2016-2017 to improve the UCLA breastfeeding climate. The Creating Space stakeholder group, including MOCA, community stakeholders, student researchers from RHIG, will:

  1. Conduct a needs assessment capturing the qualitative experiences of students.
  2. Form a stakeholder group across campus to guide implementation of the project and strengthen the voice of parenting students.
  3. Increase access to lactation education by training UCLA staff in lactation counseling in Spring 2017.
  4. Map and assess existing UCLA lactation spaces and increase the number of lactation rooms on campus.

Through the continued grassroots efforts of MOCA, support through the stakeholder group and founding organization RHIG, Creating Space will create a positive breastfeeding climate on UCLA campus. If successful, the Creating Space project could become a new model to update existing universities breastfeeding climate and breastfeeding mother’s like LeighAnna will have the institutional and cultural support they are entitled to. This groundbreaking work will pave the way and incite future organizing efforts, led by parenting students like MOCA, to advocate and demand lactation services and attention to parenting needs as a reproductive right.

Written by Jasmine Uysal, BA, MPH Student; LeighAnna Hidalgo, PhD Candidate; Christine Vega, PhD Candidate; Nora Cisneros, PhD Candidate; and Ingrid E.Talavera-Gutierrez, BA Student.

Bio: Creating Space is a lactation accommodation, support, and education program designed to improve the breastfeeding climate at UCLA. Creating Space was inspired from the courageous advocacy campaign centered around rights of parenting students started by the Mothers of Color in Academia (MOCA) and founded by The Reproductive Health Interest Group (RHIG) out of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Together the organizations have partnered their efforts going forward to maximize impacts and community empowerment with emphasis on community ownership. As community based participatory research, Creating Space seeks to meet the needs of lactating mothers on campus and while researching and documenting mother’s lactation experiences on UCLA campus. To connect with MOCA or RHIG please contact and

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Ways to conserve water in your apartment


As all California residents should know by now, the Golden state is experiencing a massive drought. We are now in our fifth year of drought and over 40% of the state is experiencing “extreme drought.” The severe lack of water has led to devastating forest fires and farmers have lost hundreds of millions of dollars; furthermore, produce prices have risen and the government has had to reallocate money from other budgets to provide drought relief. As the drought compromises the production of food, it impacts the health of everyone in California (as well as the rest of the country, since California is the largest producer of produce in the U.S.) through our nutrition.

While the California drought can seem like a far-away problem that is beyond the scope the individual, college students can make small changes to their daily lives to save water and keep the drought from worsening. Try out some of the tips below to save water in your apartment and do your part in conserving water.

  1. Take shorter showers (or take fewer!) — The average shower uses nearly 3 gallons of water per minute. If you shortened your showers or took one less shower a week, you could save hundreds to thousands of gallons of water per year! For example, if you take five showers a week and shortened them all by just one minute, you’d save almost 800 gallons of water in just one year!
  2. Turn off the shower while shaving — Another way to save water while showering is to turn off the shower whenever you’re not using it, whether you’re shampooing, shaving, or exfoliating. If you don’t explicitly need the water, turn the shower off until you do!
  3. Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth or washing your face or hands — Again, letting the tap run while you’re not using it in the moment is an easy way to save water.
  4. Fix leaks in your apartment ASAP — Leaks can account for more than 10,000 gallons of water loss per year. If you notice one in your apartment, contact your landlord immediately to have it fixed. In addition to conserving water, getting the leak fixed could save you a lot of money on your water bill!
  5. Use your dishwasher and clothes washer only for full loads — Dishwasher use 10-15 gallons of water per load while older clothes washers can use as many as 45 gallons (!) of water per load. If you only use them for full loads, you’ll have to run each appliance fewer times, saving money in the long run.
  6. Put a waterbottle in the fridge to cool down instead of running the tap until the water gets cold
  7. Use your leftover pasta water to water your plants — Repurpose your water! Your plants can’t tell the difference between tap water and pasta water, so reuse it!

If we all slightly change our habits, together we could make a huge contribution to drought relief in California. So, as we enter a new calendar year and a new quarter at UCLA, please consider setting an intention to save more water in your apartment, dorm, or on campus — it could even be your New Year’s Resolution!

Danielle de Bruin is a fourth-year undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Sociology with a double minor in Italian and Global Health. She is the blog coordinator for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative and the director of UCLA’s Body Image Task Force, which is a committee within the Student Wellness Commission. With the Body Image Task Force, Danielle organizes events, workshops, and campaigns to promote healthy body image, self-confidence, and mental health on campus. She is also published in the journal PLOS Medicine and the Huffington Post.