About Joanne Park
Hello! My name is Joanne Park, and I am a second year student at Columbia University studying Philosophy and History, originally from the Bay Area.
Hello! My name is Joanne Park, and I am a second year student at Columbia University studying Philosophy and History, originally from the Bay Area.
My work is directly supervised by the legislative coordinator at the ACLU office, although it is a small enough office such that I'm able to work with everyone directly. My coordinator, Becca, primarily lobbies in the issue areas of gender, sexuality, and reproductive justice, as well as privacy—which are coincidentally the areas that interest me the most as well. Becca has been incredibly helpful in conducting my project because she is candid and straightforward in how she talks about the legislative process; while it is necessary to engage with bad policy (and to work towards better policy), it is also not possible to expect legislators to make the actually necessary, sweeping reforms. Becca has also taught me about the importance of advocating within impacted communities, instead of advocating on behalf of them. For instance, in her work to decriminalize sex work, she has recruited current and former sex workers to take part in the lobbying process. From Becca, I have learned how to be a leader that prioritizes the community over one's personal objectives, and also the importance of being pragmatic and realistic when dealing with problems. Regardless of whether I continue to stay involved in the legislative process, I think that Becca's leadership and attitude towards political change will influence me.
What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other media submission!
I typically wake up around 7:30, get ready and pack lunch, and ride my bike to the planetarium by 9. About three times a week, a class of students from the area takes a field trip to the planetarium for a lesson. First, they're given a presentation in the dome, which offers a projection of the night sky and an explanation of the movements of planets and moons solar system, the Earth's rotation/revolution, and the constellations. One of my coworkers leads this presentation. Afterward is a lab, which is typically an arts & crafts project related to the planets or constellations, which I help to set up, assist during, and clean up. My Italian level is luckily good enough to communicate with younger children about the project! When I'm not doing this, sometimes I've gone in to a local high school to speak in their English classes about university life in the U.S., and to help students practice having conversations in English.
My afternoon schedule varies. Even in my third week, it still involves a lot of training and instruction to familiarize myself with the planetarium and speaking in Italian. But each afternoon, I spend some time preparing for whichever event I have coming up. The steps are: research, write a script, create a slideshow with images, translate to Italian, check the translation, and practice my pronunciation. If I'm not doing this, sometimes I plan curriculum for a lesson or activity that I'm not going to teach here. Because of the language barrier, curriculum planning has been my strong suit. Throughout the afternoon, I take breaks in the director's office for espresso with the other volunteers at the planetarium.
In the evenings, sometimes I go to a meeting with another astronomy club in Modena: GAGBA, who specialize in telescopes and sky observations, and COSMO, who specialize in space exploration missions and launches -- both topics which I don't know much about but have always wanted to learn. Sometimes, I stay late for English lessons for adults hosted at the planetarium -- it's fascinating to see how English is taught because it's something I never thought about as a native speaker. On other evenings, I go to the city center with my coworkers at the planetarium. I end each evening by going back to my host family, eating dinner, and reading a book!
It's super exciting to hear more about your project, and how it integrates astronomy research/learning with teaching and working with kids. Like Avi said, the discussion about the role/significance of language in your work is super intriguing to me; it's especially exciting to hear about how you are able to share a lot of your work and interests in English while also putting your Italian to use! I hope that this project continues to offer a wide range of learning opportunities to you, and that you also have many chances to experience the culture.
Has your research or work in a community to this point introduced you to any new fields or topics that are of interest to you? How, if at all, has your work narrowed since the beginning of the project?
Before my work at the ACLU, I did not know very much about governmental and consumer privacy, or the extent to which privacy impacted both civil rights and civil liberties. Since then, however, I learned that there are many intersections between privacy issues and other areas that I am more familiar with, such as racial and economic justice or reproductive justice, and that technological advances often make it more difficult to forward effective legislation in these areas. I have also learned that while California's legislature is generally progressive on most issue areas, it lags behind on privacy—particularly due to the lobbying influence of big tech. My work has narrowed in the sense that I have begun to develop deeper and more substantive knowledge of my issue areas; for example, while doing an analysis of new proposed regulations in existing California privacy law, I was able to do a deep dive on dark patterns and global opt-outs. I am excited to see how other issue areas I have been working on intersect.
I am working with an NGO in Paris and the communities I work with most closely are the homeless people within the center of the city, during our three weekly food distributions. Mostly, our conversations stem around how we can best help them, whether that is finding out what food they would like to eat, or what articles of clothing they would like if some are available. However, sometimes when people are in good spirits, we will talk about what brought them to France (as most people have come from other countries), as well as their lives and interests in general. For example, one of the distribution routes involves going through an encampment where a lot of people have lived for over a year, and have accumulated libraries full of books, and gardens by the river or little collectible items they stack on the wall. People, especially those who may not face the same level of harsh policing as homeless communities face in New York for example, are able to create lives for themselves in spite of a difficult situation. When they are willing to share parts of those lives with us, that makes the day even better.
Hi Faith! Your project sounds super interesting and a really unconventional but enriching way to explore the city and the multitude of communities it contains. Sadly, I find it pretty difficult to imagine homeless communities that have been relatively protected from high levels of policing, but it's relieving to hear that a lot of people in France have managed to create lives for themselves that are not overly defined by violence and aggression. I hope that throughout your time at the NGO, you're able to have lots of really meaningful and edifying experiences with members of the community, just like you described.
Because my work is so closely connected to the California Legislature's schedule, each day is pretty fast-paced and somewhat unpredictable. Usually, I have 2-3 coalition meetings, where the ACLU collaborates with other organizations in similar issue areas to decide positions on legislature (and gaps in the current laws). Today, for example, I was in a privacy coalition meeting that involved the ACLU lobbyist, as well as lobbyists and lawyers from several other privacy-centered organizations, to discuss state bills that were potentially threatening consumer privacy. The rest of the day is spent working on any number of assignments, including letters to legislators, analyses of bills and amendments, drafting bills themselves (which, I admit, is probably the coolest and most intimidating assignment I've received), or doing research on public policy issues. Notably, I've had the opportunity to do a research project on current laws and how they impact the rights of California transgender, gender nonconforming, and intersex individuals. I also participate in internal ACLU meetings that discuss strategy for different issue areas and how we might approach particular pieces of legislation.
Because my work is primarily online, my picture isn't super interesting, but it shows me working with a website I've gotten very familiar with—leg info, a bill/law tracker for all California bills and chaptered laws.
Image Attached Here
I'll begin by introducing my project: this summer, I am working with an oral historian and playwright in London to collect the oral histories of delivery workers that we will then use to write a verbatim play for the stage. I arrived in London last Friday—hard to believe I've only been here for a week! So much has happened already. In the week leading up to my departure, I attended a virtual course on writing oral history-based plays, taught by my mentor in conjunction with the Oral History Society. Tragically, these four-hour Zooms began at 4 in the morning because they were on London time. I expected it to be a bit of a torment (and did, in fact, consume an ungodly amount of coffee this particular week), but the discussions and exercises were truly so interesting that I had to pinch myself awake only once!
On Friday, my mentor picked me up from Heathrow and we drove to his house for some coffee, a delicious omelet, and our first in-person chat about the project. The original plan had been for my mentor to get started on collecting oral histories two or so months before my arrival, but he elaborated now on his earlier email to me calling this the most difficult project of his forty-year career. The main problem, he explained, was that the interviewees simply weren't turning up. He'd set a time and place with fourteen different delivery workers—only one had showed up. Others had declined from the get-go. Part of this had to do with the nature of delivery work itself: because it's a gig-based job, every hour of the day we requested from them was an hour they lost of potential gigs. Even if the delivery worker was willing to make this trade, their schedule was so unpredictable that they often couldn't make the time they'd committed to when the day actually arrived. The other major component, though, was that the delivery workers my mentor approached simply didn't trust him. My mentor is white, in his 70s, and sounds like the Cambridge-educated man he is. Most of the people we want to interview are of color, immigrants (some likely undocumented), and perhaps not fluent in English. As my mentor put it, they see him as a face of "the establishment." My mentor explained, then, that I might be part of the solution, which excited me because it truly means this project is a partnership: I am the mentee, yes, but I also have skills, advantages, and insights that are distinctly my own to offer.
On Tuesday, I attended another course, this one full-day and in-person at the British Library, also taught by my mentor. (I'd quickly like to add that I was the only university student in both this course and last week's, which has actually been a privilege because I got to meet professionals from various fields who all want to incorporate oral history into their work and, incidentally, were eager to meet the one young person in the room!) This course gave me a broader introduction to the oral history discipline as a whole and, more pertinently, made me realize that interviewing for this project was going to be far more difficult than I'd expected. I developed the suspicion (and indeed, had this suspicion confirmed when I interviewed my mentor for practice the next day) that my experience in journalism wasn't necessarily an asset—in fact, it could even be seen as a burden because I now had to unlearn all the journalistic interviewing habits I'd picked up over four years. (Who would've thought oral history interviewing was so disparate a practice?) Still, learning about the unique technical and ethnical intricacies of oral history has already been just as fascinating as I'd hoped it would be when I first cold-emailed my mentor about working with him, and I couldn't be more thrilled to see how the rest of the summer unfolds. My last update of the week is that I finally got the green light to go out and scout interviewees of my own, so I walked around an unofficial delivery worker rest spot near the Stratford Westfield mall today and was able to schedule five interviews for Monday. I did jot down phone numbers so I'm planning to call each interviewee the night before to confirm, but only time will tell if the story turns out differently for me than it has for my mentor.
Final note: I am actually working on my project for ten weeks, all the way through to the end of July. Since I have more time I'll be spacing out my posts a bit more, so bear with me if I skip a week or two—I haven't forgotten!
Hi Suan! First off, I just wanted to express how exciting and interesting this project is! I really like that you get to blend creative elements with historical analysis, and also that you have the opportunity to be the sole undergraduate voice in the room—that's very exciting. I was most interested by the point you made regarding how you, despite being the mentee, can bring unique insights into your role because of the disparity that often exists between academics and the individuals they are engaging with. Even though these academic disciplines have been around for (what feels like) forever, it's really interesting and exciting to think about how a lot of them are at a critical turning point, and how, even as students, we can contribute to breaking down their previously monolithic composition. I wish you luck with navigating this project (and with working on interviews of your own)!
If you are doing a leadership-in-action or community engagement project, how do you interact with community members, and what kind of conversations are you having? How do you connect with this community of people, and what common cause do you find?
Because I'm doing legislative advocacy work, I have found that I do not spend as much time working directly with affected constituents as I expected. However, I've found that I'm able to engage with my community in other, unexpected ways—that, to me, feel like more of a genuine and productive engagement. I have been in a number of coalition calls between the ACLU and on-the-ground community organizers to think of ways to allow legislation to best meet the demands of community members. For example, on a call about California policing practices, I was able to participation in a discussion over a bill that would reduce police presence in CA schools; while the ACLU perspective was more concerned with pushing forward incremental legislation, the community leader perspective emphasized looking for larger and more substantive changes. Through that discussion, I was able to help draft amendments for the bill that would make it more substantive. I have also found that a lot of legislative advocates and attorneys come from communities that are directly affected by ACLU issue areas. For instance, one conversation I had with a staff member at the office revealed that she was brought into immigration advocacy because of her own background as a DACA recipient. Given the expertise that a lot of these community members are bringing into the policy and advocacy space, I have found that the most effective way for me to engage—as someone who does not have a lot of policy expertise—is by listening actively, and by asking questions to bridge the gap between the state capitol and actual, on-the-ground organizers. The common cause I find is a demand for consistency and candidness from state legislators: even though California is seen as a progressive haven, it still has a lot of the campaign finance and lobbying problems that influence progressive lawmakers into pushing for dangerous legislation. It seems, so far, that the advocates are most concerned with making the legislative process more transparent, as that is a prerequisite to ensuring that community members are kept in the loop and just policy is passed.
Setting out on a research endeavor fresh of the semester is at once exciting and frightening. While in the semester tests, assignments, grades, etc. provide clear feedback, research is often different. The goals are looser, the methods vaguer. The process becomes, by far, more intriguing, however the theoretical end appears inexistent—this is the slightly daunting part. As a researcher, I hope to use this to my advantage. As the questions research poses are themselves uncertain, it is fitting the process and goals might be as well.
This past summer I worked in a basic Biology lab studying the molecular underpinnings of Mitochondria—the infamous powerhouse of the cell. This work strictly focused of discovering more about these organelles. While there are evident real-world implications (such as treatment of Parkinson’s disease or neurodegeneration), this was not the intent; my work was towards the pursuit of knowledge. This coming summer my project will similarly be focusing on this goal, but from another angle.
This summer I will be working with Professor David Helfand and other faculty at Columbia College to develop a Mass Open Online Course (MOOC) that will be disseminated to as many people as possible. This course will be geared towards those who don’t work in a lab and are not actively engaged in the scientific process. As its name implies, this course will be for the masses. Its goal will be to teach basic “scientific habits of mind” (as in Frontiers in Science at Columbia) and methods of inquiry. I am intrigued to work on this project as it represents another, often overshadowed, aspect of science: communication. As knowledge is only useful when it is shared, scientific communication is essential.
This past summer my work also focused on developing techniques that scientists can utilize to further investigate mitochondria. This coming summer I will be working to develop tools that everyday people can use to develop skills and knowledge of science. As these projects both focused on the pursuit of knowledge, they equally share the development of skills.
Hi Avi! It’s really exciting to hear about the project you will be pursuing, especially in contrast to what you were working on last year. I definitely agree that communication is a necessary component of knowledge production, and really appreciate what you said about scientific knowledge only being useful if it is shared—I feel like that’s true of all disciplines that involve some kind of technical jargon or background. I hope that the project you are working on successfully engages individuals that do not have formal lab experience and/or do not have a super rigorous scientific training, as it sounds like a great way to expand the accessibility and reach of a discipline you are already interested in.