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Anna Spain Bradley: How Can We Be More Inclusive? 

How does one create a more equitable learning environment? Anna Spain Bradley, UCLA's new vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, has been thinking a lot about this question. Despite the political polarization of our time, Spain Bradley — a scholar of international law, global racism and human rights — says it's imperative that we sit down and have conversations with people we disagree with. 

"If people communicate and we look at each other and see each other and value each other, it's not easy, but it's worthwhile, and it can lead to creating solutions that didn't exist before," she said. 

Spain Bradley sat down with the host of UCLA Arts' podcast "Works In Progress" for a broad ranging conversation that touched on the events in her own life that led her to the field of international dispute resolution, and how she's applying those experiences at UCLA.  

She'll also be a panelist for the final session in this year's "10 Questions: Reckoning" discussion series, on Monday, Dec. 7 at 7 pm PST, responding to the question "What Matters?"  
 

The following are some highlights from this episode of "Works In Progress." 

On the challenges we must face together: "We together will have to survive the pandemic. We'll have to continue these long fights for justice that we face in America and around the world. We have to rise to the challenge that's going to be required of all of us to mitigate the impacts of climate change now and in the future. And to do those things and more, we have to be rooted in a commitment to, and a pursuit of, a common humanity." 

The importance of dignity as a precursor to dialogue: "Dignity is a cornerstone framing for me as somebody who comes into the world having experienced a lot of different forms of discrimination in my life and as somebody who has been trained as a lawyer, a human rights advocate at the United Nations, and as a law professor, educator and scholar. And dignity is this principle that we all have inherent value because we are human. And it is that principle that the framework for our international universal human rights system was built around... So dignity is not just important as a lofty goal or aspirational value. It's really a building block for peace and for a peaceful world." 

How working and learning virtually has impacted our relationships: "People in our daily lives do feel like things are getting tense and people are not treating each other with not even kindness, but just like basic respect. And I think we have to ask why. There's been important research showing that this move to virtual life, because we can't be in person because of the pandemic, causes people to treat each other with less empathy, because we're not across the room. We can't look each other in the eye. We can't read each other's body language. And it's easier perhaps for some people to be cruel when you have a computer screen separating you from the other person. So I think as we reach a 2021 world where we're still going to be remote, at least for a while, we have to have a renewed commitment to increasing our awareness that we want to be dignified, treat each other with dignity, and that that is a common value that we all strive to uphold." 

Anna Spain Bradley | Courtesy of UCLA
Anna Spain Bradley | Courtesy of UCLA

When the law doesn't uphold our values or our desire for justice: "I have a book coming out, it's called "Human Choice in International Law," it's out on Cambridge University Press this spring. And it's making the case that law is not something that just appears written down as a rule, that embeds a norm with consequences. Law is something that comes out of human heads and hearts. And our very own ways of thinking, memories, emotions are connected to what we envision the law and the rules to be and how we set up structures and systems to uphold and enforce them. And we can see that really powerfully in the United States today, when we look at decisions that perhaps the Supreme Court are taking, or the way that Congress is pushing through new regulations and legislation. And we say, is it possible to have laws that don't uphold the Constitutional values? Is it possible to have laws that are indeed harmful? And the answer throughout history is yes. We've seen many times where something that was legal, like slavery – completely legal for a very long time – was morally and ethically reprehensible. And so how does this happen? Well, it happens because humans make the law." 

How to unite the country in a time of political polarization: "You want to encourage dialogue. You want to be able to hear people's positions and separate them down into the underlying interests and needs. You want to be able to negotiate the differences and come out the other side with some kind of an agreement. The difference is that that kind of platform, which is very common in mediation and negotiation and all those spaces, doesn't deal well with the other challenge that we see in racism and other forms of discrimination, which is where one person or group truly believes that they are superior in their identity and in their existence to another group on the basis of whether it's race, gender, sexual orientation, et cetera. And mediation, dialogue, et cetera, is not set up to deal with, well, it's not traditionally set up to deal with these kinds of tensions over people's very identity. And there we have to take a more nuanced and careful approach. So the question is, if I'm sitting across the table from someone else who identifies as a different race than me and identifies as a different gender – I identify as a woman, they identify as a man – and they truly believe they're superior to me, that's not the conditions in which you can have an effective dialogue." 

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How the COVID-19 pandemic is posing new problems and exacerbating inequities among students: "Not every student has a quiet space to take an exam at a particular time. Not every student has access to a steady Wi-Fi that you can count on at a particular time. And so students, just on a purely academic standpoint, need a lot more flexibility in their classroom assignments and the ability to take exams, et cetera... I think beyond that the students are facing the challenges that we're all facing, which is, how do you stay healthy? How do you have good mental health when you're quarantined, when you can't see people, when you can't get out in the world or move around as much? It's a real challenge." 

How her family history sparked her interest in international law and dispute resolution: "Everybody who comes into international law, much like mediation, has a backstory. We all do. So I am the child of my dad, who is a black man from the rural South, who grew up before desegregation. And my mom who is white and British and from the very north of England, the area of Newcastle. They met in a fabulous love story when they were in the Peace Corps, the British version of that, in Malawi. They got married before Loving vs. Virginia, and my sister and I grew up in the United States mostly, a little bit in England, but I have family all over the world. I have a cousin-in-law who survived the war in Sierra Leone. I have cousins in Gibraltar. I have people in my family from North Carolina and not far from the place that was formerly the plantation where my ancestors were enslaved. And so all of these people who are in my family early on helped me see that there was a world out there." 

You can hear Anna Spain Bradley, UCLA's vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, speak at the final UCLA "10 Questions: Reckoning" session of the year on Monday, Dec. 7, responding to the question "What Matters?" alongside opera, film, theater, and festival director Peter Sellars, and teacher, writer, and medieval and early modern historian Teo Ruiz. RSVP and find more information here

 

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