UCSC’s year in review: giving voice to the challenges of our time
With purpose-driven and persistent effort, UCSC sought to advance justice, push the envelope of knowledge, and advocate for transformative change. Look back on the university’s momentous year with these ten compelling stories.
As the events of the past two years continue to take a toll on previously “normal” facets of society, particularly schools, UC Santa Cruz was no exception to the fast-changing standards of offering higher education in the midst of a pandemic.
That didn’t stop UCSC from fulfilling its mission of teaching, research, and service—and the campus had some major accomplishments and noteworthy research findings in 2021. Take a look back at some of the year’s most memorable moments.
The university recently announced that College Ten—an undergraduate residential learning community founded on principles of social justice and community—will be named in honor of the late congressman and civil rights icon John R. Lewis. Lewis was a renowned student leader in the civil rights movement who stood against racism with bravery, conviction, and organized action during many pivotal moments that helped pave the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Underscoring a reputation of pushing for positive change, UC Santa Cruz has been named the No. 3 public university in the nation for students focused on making an impact on the world in the Princeton Review’s latest college rankings.
“This reaffirms so much of what UCSC and our students are all about. You’ll find everything from art exhibits on prisons, policing and justice to research that documents the collapse of kelp forests. The work of our faculty and students opens minds, informs policy, and helps to create a better, more equitable world. I couldn’t be more proud of what unfolds on our campus.”
— Cynthia Larive, UCSC Chancellor
Most of Northern California’s kelp forest ecosystem is gone, replaced by widespread ‘urchin barrens’ that may persist long into the future, according to a new study led by UCSC researchers. Satellite imagery shows that the area covered by kelp forests off the coast of Northern California has dropped by more than 95 percent, with just a few small, isolated patches of bull kelp remaining. Species-rich kelp forests have been replaced by “urchin barrens,” where purple sea urchins cover a seafloor devoid of kelp and other algae.
Psychology research designed by UCSC cognitive science undergraduate Grayson Mullen demonstrates a unique ‘time compression’ effect of virtual reality. Mullen, with support from Psychology Professor Nicolas Davidenko, wanted to know how virtual reality’s effects on a game player’s sense of time differ from those of conventional monitors, so he designed a maze game that could be played in both formats.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $1,977,000 grant to support Visualizing Abolition, the nation’s most ambitious and sustained art and prison abolition initiative, led by UCSC Feminist Studies Associate Professor Gina Dent, and Rachel Nelson, Director of the Institute of the Arts and Sciences. The funding provides three years of support for the development of new work by artists, musicians, humanists, and other researchers. Visualizing Abolition is an ongoing public scholarship initiative designed to foster creative research and to shift the social attachment to prisons through art and education.
UC Santa Cruz emerita professor of literature Karen Tei Yamashita has received the 2021 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from The National Book Foundation (NBF), presenter of the National Book Awards. Yamashita used her acceptance speech, in part, to emphasize the significance of this medal being awarded to an Asian-American writer “especially this year, post-pandemic, having weathered the Twitter absurdity, corruption, and mendacity; the brutality of racial profiling; and the provocation of anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-Muslim, [and] anti-Asian hatred.”
A new Center for Live Cell Genomics, funded by a five-year, $13.5-million grant from the National Institutes of Health, will bring together researchers at the UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute to develop new methods and experimental platforms for biomedical research using live cells and tissues. The center will deploy this new biotechnology to study neurodevelopmental diseases and cancer.
“We are creating a disruptive technology with an open-source bent to it, which we hope will ignite a revolution in biotechnology comparable to what has happened in information technology. We are moving toward a new way of building equipment and doing and sharing experiments on living cells, experiments that are crucial for understanding diseases and developing new ways to treat them.”
— David Haussler, Professor of Biomolecular Engineering and Director of the UCSC Genomics Institute
Unprecedented observations of a nearby supernova in 2020 have given astronomers an extraordinarily detailed look at the explosion of a massive star, including images taken immediately before and after the explosion. The result is a complete picture of the death of a red supergiant star when it runs out of fuel, collapses under its own gravity, and explodes in a core-collapse supernova.
Psychology Professor Phillip Hammack’s latest paper, published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, is shedding light on the social factors that can either hinder or support expression of diversity in sexual and gender identity among teens and young adults. Hammack led a research team to uncover how regional differences and other social factors affect expression of diversity in sexual and gender identity among younger members of Gen Z.
“I think the language is finally evolving to represent the actual diversity of experience that exists. On the one hand, teens seem much more liberated and have a much more expansive vocabulary than previous generations, but you also still have these unresolved issues around things like masculinity.
— Phillip Hammack, Psychology Professor
Rhythmic gymnast Izzy Connor (Crown ’25, Astrophysics) was the first UC Santa Cruz student to compete in the Olympics—the result of years of both personal struggle and success. Connor was a member of Team USA’s rhythmic gymnastics group, a five-member squad whose sport combines elements of dance and gymnastics with equipment like hoops, balls, ribbons, and clubs in heart-stopping routines.
“Though we sometimes seem superhuman, we athletes are human and experience the same emotions and struggles that everyone else does. The important thing is that things such as anxiety and depression don’t need to stop you from doing what you dream about or define you. They should be normalized and addressed accordingly.”
— Izzy Connor