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Harm reduction would help prevent drug-related deaths at raves

HARD Summer music festival 2012 took place at the Los Angeles State Historic Park. (Creative Commons photo via Wikipedia)
HARD Summer music festival 2012 took place at the Los Angeles State Historic Park. (Creative Commons photo via Wikipedia)

On Aug. 1, Tracy Nguyen, a rising second-year business economics student at UCLA, died at HARD Summer music festival, one of two deaths that were linked to suspected drug usage.

With her death will come a butterfly effect of outcomes. These may include opinions shifting away from a tolerant attitude of Ecstasy-fueled rave culture, the possible banning of music festivals on L.A. County-owned property and further push-pull between the two fronts of drug education and legislation: efforts to educate the public on avoiding adverse drug reactions versus an abstinence-based approach.

Efforts at spreading awareness about how to use Ecstasy in a “safe” manner, known as “harm reduction,” have been shot down in the past in Los Angeles County, largely due to the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003. This federal law makes it unlawful to knowingly operate a venue that functions as a place to use illicit drugs, which has sent electronic dance music event organizers scurrying to cover their legal tracks.

However, as people continue to die at almost every major rave in Southern California, these efforts, which persist despite government opposition, are insufficient to quell the maelstrom of injuries and deaths due to club drug use.

Although I did not know Tracy personally, her death hits close to home. Last summer, I was en route to the very same HARD Summer music festival. Having wanted to go to the music festival a few years prior, my strict Asian parents pointed to the death of 15-year-old Sasha Rodriguez at the Electric Daisy Carnival in 2010 and said, “No.” It wouldn’t be until I turned 18 that I would go. That day in 2014, I was just like Tracy: a female Asian UCLA student attending a summer rave.

Like many others, Tracy loved electronic music and the festival experience that comes with it, according to Jasmine Lin, a rising third-year communications studies student. At the same time, the increased reliance on rave culture both as emotional and stress release may be putting Asian-Americans at risk for Ecstasy-related adverse reactions, including death, even as rave attendance and Ecstasy usage become more commonplace in the general population. Whether that experience involves drugs is up to the individual, but the draw is obvious: The emotional effects of Ecstasy are well-documented and include euphoria and personal revelation.

Even before the integration of EDM into the mainstream, Asian-Americans, their drug use and the Asian-American dance club/rave scene have been studied, such as in a 2011 study of 100 Asian-Americans. In another paper based on a survey of 250 Bay Area Asian-Americans involved in the dance club/rave scene in 2010, all but three had tried at least one “club drug”: Ecstasy, LSD, methamphetamine, GHB, ketamine or Rohypnol.

Asian-American EDM culture may be something we are all marginally aware of as we pass by people flyering for Asian Greek EDM events on Bruin Walk, but beyond mere observation, the phenomenon begets the question: Why is Asian-American rave culture a thing?

Among other proposals in the literature, a few overarching theories seemed relevant. One, supported by a statement made by one Chinese-American woman, was that her experience with raves and Ecstasy helped her “balance out” the “unemotional and introverted” manner in which she had been brought up. Ecstasy and rave culture may give emotionally rigid Asians and Asian-Americans the freedom to express more emotions.

As a secondary point, one of the authors of the study, Geoffrey Hunt, also summarized another interview subject’s point of view: Asian-Americans “are stressed out and … need an outlet – and using Ecstasy and dancing can provide this.”

Natalie Tantisirirat, a rising third-year music history student and an attendee of this year’s HARD Summer, agreed. “There’s just this sense of community and carefree vibes that people don’t normally get to experience,” she said.

The desire for this unique and oft-revelatory experience, and the musical genre and event industry associated with it, aren’t going anywhere, even as young people continue to die at events in circumstances relating to Ecstasy usage, and as, in response, institutions call for harsher drug-related laws and bans on electronic music festivals in Los Angeles County.

Drugs can never be 100 percent safe, but most deaths caused by drug use have the potential to be prevented with widespread access to harm reduction resources and education. Rather than, as with every new announcement of a young life taken prematurely at a music festival, vilifying rave culture and trying to ban raves, why not come to terms with the reality: Illicit drug use, as it has been for many decades, will continue to at least partially define the coming-of-age experience for some.

Instead of trying to stifle this trend, as generations before us have seen with the war on drugs, we should push for the use of more harm reduction tactics. Currently, harm reduction information is easily available online through documentaries like “What’s In My Baggie?” and other sources.

Nevertheless, this information is less utilized thanks to a lack of advertising, especially on-site at raves. In recent years event organizers have provided better access to emergency medical services and free water – severe dehydration is associated with Ecstasy-related deaths. Though drug usage will never be risk-free, drug-related deaths could possibly be prevented through harm reduction and acknowledgement, as in the case of many states’ curriculums on sex education, where abstinence-based education regarding societal temptations has proven ineffective.

For all the failed D.A.R.E. education many of us received as children, it seems our generation has come to realize that drug use can be enjoyable and relatively safe in moderation, with the first-hand experiences of older millennials and scientific information available online.

Tracy’s passing is recent, and her absence will continue to be felt in the UCLA community for some time. It’s important to not lose sight of what her loss could mean for EDM fans, Asian-American or otherwise, whether or not they choose to partake in drug use, and what can be done, realistically, to make sure no family, community or social network has to feel the same pain again.

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Timeline: A brief history of activism at UCLA (1969-present)

As it approaches its centennial, UCLA will almost certainly be celebrated as a university with a stellar academics, deep commitment to research endeavors across many disciplines and, of course, a legendary 112-NCAA-title-winning cluster of athletics programs.

Not-so-surreptitiously missing from that list? Any mention of student activism.

When it comes to protest-happy campuses, Berkeley first comes to mind. Cal was center of the Free Speech Movement, after all, and the legacy continues – just look at how many protests are reported on its counterpart to the Daily Bruin. Even oft-ignored UC Santa Cruz has a stronger reputation of activism, especially of the left-leaning sort.

Though the so-called “three Bs” – Bel Air, Brentwood, and Beverly Hills – surround UCLA and effectively insulate the campus from plenty of socioeconomic hardship and urban grit, the school is not without a protest history of its own. And with the country recently reminded of inequalities in income and injustices in race, this history will continue to unfold before our eyes.

What follows is an abridged timeline of the Daily Bruin’s coverage of UCLA protests over the years.



May 1969 – In a decade well known for activism and progressive politics, UCLA was not excepted from student movements that had been sweeping the country. In an unprecedented move, municipal and state officers were brought in to disperse enormous protests calling for dialogue between the chancellor, Charles Young, and an activist student coalition. The Bruin reported that it was the “first time in campus history” law enforcement had to be mobilized to such effect on campus. It would not be the last.


May 1970 – A “state of emergency” was declared and the Los Angeles Police Department was called in to deal with student unrest that had ensued as a result of the Kent State University shootings in Ohio. Black UCLA students painted a mural, still standing in Ackerman Union, as a visual expression of their beliefs and feelings during a tumultuous period of time to be a college student.

April 1985 – In a precursor to today’s calls for university divestments from private prisons and companies connected to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, CSU Northridge students staged a sit-in and 2,000 UCLA students boycotted classes and organized a rally to call for their respective institutions to divest from apartheid South Africa.


May 1993 – Administrators’ hesitance to establish a Chicana/o studies department led to an occupation of the UCLA Faculty Center by 600 demonstrators, property damage and ultimately, a hunger strike. Chancellor Charles Young eventually implemented a program, though the department was only formally established in 2005. The public face of the protests, then-first-year student Cindy Montañez, went on to become a California assembly member and municipal policymaker.

October 1995 – Students at all nine UCs, including UCLA, protested an impending UC Board of Regents vote to ban affirmative action in university admissions and hiring. “More than 2,000″ students blocked Wilshire Boulevard and 33 arrests were made, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. The efforts would be largely fruitless, however, as the vote not only passed, but a state ballot initiative banning affirmative action ban – the first in the nation – passed the following year by way of Proposition 209.


November 2006 – Before a University of Florida student cried out “Don’t tase me, bro!”, a phrase that became part of the popular lexicon, UCLA police unnecessarily stunned student Mostafa Tabatabainejad at Powell Library, presumably for resisting arrest. Hundreds of students marched toward UCPD headquarters, decried the incident as police brutality, and called for an independent investigation. When it was undergone, it found wrongdoing on part of university police; Tabatabainejad subsequently sued over the incident and won $220,000 in damages from the university in 2009.

The day after the Taser incident, hundreds of students called for the overturning of Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action, outside the regents meeting being held at Covel Commons. Saying that the UC demographic situation was a “diversity crisis,” students also called for a funding increase for underrepresented student outreach programs.



regents protest 2 - DL


November 2009 – The UC Regents chose UCLA to hold the meeting where they voted and passed a staggering 32 percent tuition increase. They probably later realized that was a mistake. Hundreds of students – some accounts say over a thousand – some from other UC campuses, descended upon Covel Commons to protest the hikes, enacted in response to the recession and state budget cuts that ensued. The protests were regarded as a precursor to the Occupy Wall Street movement and its focus on wealth and income inequality in the United States.


October 2012 – Angered by UCLA law professor Richard Sander’s findings on race and admissions at UCLA and a Daily Bruin column and editorial which implicitly acknowledged the validity of or agreed with the later-disputed findings, a few hundred students rallied at Kerckhoff Hall to voice their dissatisfaction with the paper’s coverage and the professor’s research. Speakers at the rally called attention to the difficulties in climate and representation faced by underrepresented minorities on campus.


February 2014 – Bizarre and offensive fliers sent to Asian American studies centers at UCLA and USC spurred student groups to call attention to instances of discrimination faced by Asian Americans. Former student Alexandra Wallace’s infamous “Asians in the Library” video was also referenced during the UCLA rally as an example of racism’s pernicious and subtle ways of hurting campus climate and Asian American experiences at UCLA. Chancellor Gene Block mentioned the flier in a campus statement affirming his commitment to diversity.

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Misinterpretation of professors’ tweets leads to accusations of racism

Editor’s note: Starting this summer, Mojo is moving toward covering a broad mix of news, politics and culture on top of its current discussion of student life, campus events and entertainment within and outside of Westwood. The following is a sampling of the kind of news commentary you will find in the new Mojo.

It’s been a tumultuous year for American society, especially with a series of race-related and racially-motivated incidents that have rocked suburbs and communities around the country. We have been forced to reconsider the salience of race and how that affects what it means to be American.

That these incidents have been occurring with astonishing regularity also means that sociologists, especially those who focus on race – such as myself – have been having something of a field day, as the topics and phenomena we study, be it affirmative action, police brutality or mass incarceration among communities of color, are being articulated in real time as incidents occur and the lawsuits unfold.

Naturally, when the subject matter of something that is being covered nationally in the media happens to be in your academic purview, you get excited. So, many academics have taken to Twitter to express their ideas through sharing links, research and delivering commentary – all in 140-character blurbs. Also naturally, when your ability to opine on issues as complex as institutional racism and race relations in the United States is limited to a few sentences at a time – condensed from thousands of pages of reviewed scholarship and journal articles that are between 20 to 50 pages long – lots of things get lost in translation.

Which is exactly what has happened to two black, female sociologists of race –Saida Grundy and Zandria Robinson. Of Boston University and the University of Memphis, respectively, both have been embroiled in Twitter controversies over expressing what mainstream America thought was “race-baiting” and “racist” commentary but sociologists and African American scholars see as social scientific consensus. Their experiences tell us how great the social and intellectual distance is between the so-called “ivory towers” of academe and the Average Joes and Jills in the Midwest or Deep South – and most importantly, how truly awful Twitter is as a platform of expressing complex and multilayered sociological theories, regardless of profession or ideology.

Grundy, a new hire at BU, was forced on the defense late May for her Twitter comments about race in America; most notably, she labeled young white males a “problem population” and explained that all whites bear some responsibility for the long-abolished institution of slavery. It does not take much explaining to see how these tweets were seen as outrageous or outright racist to some people, especially conservative bloggers. However, the concepts she talks about are uncontroversial and have been widely accepted for decades among sociologists. By “problem,” she presumably meant that white men (think fraternity brothers) are standard bearers of both race and gender privilege and unless they are able to frankly acknowledge and work toward dismantling social systems that afford said privilege, they are not working toward creating a more just society.

As with slavery, the abolition of such has not eliminated startling inequalities between black and white America; in addition, the non-consideration of African Americans as persons 150 years ago and continued discriminatory policies (such as redlining) means that African Americans, as a group, own significantly less in assets.

That BU administrators momentarily caved in to accusations of hate speech and thought that Grundy’s tweets, which are admittedly unwieldy and lacking nuance, required censorship puts the protections of academic freedom in question – similar to the Steven Salaita controversy, where the then-University of Illinois professor-to-be’s job offer was retracted after backlash toward his inflammatory commentary regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the 2014 conflict in the Gaza Strip. Grundy has since closed her Twitter account, though her position is intact.

More recently, Zandria Robinson was the subject of a similar controversy because of her comments following the shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C. As with Grundy, she is also a woman of color who studies race whose comments were fodder for the conservative outrage” machine. Her outrage-inducing soundbites? Tweets that “Whiteness … is terror” and that when “whiteness is all white folk have left as property … racial terror + paranoia rises.” In an twist of confusion, however, people thought she had been fired by her former institution in Tennessee, which delighted her detractors. Only when she issued clarifications – also on Twitter – through an interlocutor did people figure out that, no, she had gotten a new job at another school.

To break down her comments like with Grundy’s: In the first, she talks about the oppression of living through social discrimination and institutional racism in white-dominated society that few whites can lay claim to experiencing. Her second claim is a contemporary articulation of UCLA law professor and pioneering critical race theorist Cheryl Harris’s seminal article on the material ownership of whiteness as a tangible expression of privilege and power. Though heavily cited in academe and even a source of pride for UCLA, Harris’s theory is undoubtedly controversial.

When acts of unthinkable violence and tragedy, like the Charleston shooting, occur among minority communities, it is completely reasonable that individuals who identify with and experts who study the community express their thoughts. So it is a bit unsettling that minority women like Grundy and Robinson are being chastised or even censored by administrators or by fragile whites – the very figments of society that they seek to critically understand.

But maybe, above all, they teach us a simple lesson regardless of profession, ideology, or creed: Even if you have a good point, don’t write stuff on the Internet that will be grossly misinterpreted.

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A Timeline of Daily Bruin Same-Sex Marriage Coverage

In a landmark Friday decision, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages are legal and must be recognized in all 50 states. The case, Obergefell v. Hodges, is the culmination of decades of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy. Mojo looks at the Daily Bruin’s coverage of this divisive cultural issue on the UCLA campus and in state and national legislatures, and how attitudes towards it have changed dramatically in a mere matter of decades.

May 1996: “Clinton targets same-sex marriages

“But opponents to the act … argue that some members of the heterosexual community simply do not want homosexuals entitled to the same privileges as heterosexual couples. ‘I get this impression that people are getting so bent out of shape about us getting married,’ said Jill Tordsen-McCall, a fifth-year English student who is getting married to her partner this summer.”

September 1996: Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Passes

The now-overturned law, which sought to define marriage as “between one man and one woman,” was passed by President Bill Clinton with overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate.

March 2000: Proposition 22 Passes

Sixty-one percent of California voters approved of the initiative, which defined marriage as an opposite-sex relationship. It was overturned in 2008, though another ballot initiative – Proposition 8 – effectively superseded this one.

February 2004: “A closer look: Same-sex marriages unlikely in Los Angeles”

For a month in 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom defied state laws and national attitudes by ordering the municipal-county government to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the state intervened. This led to questions of whether or not a similar situation could arise in Los Angeles.

Any decision to support same-sex marriages (in the city) would have to be passed by the five members who make up the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors with a minimum 3-2 vote.

“I cannot imagine the board taking that action,”  said Robert Bradley Sears, director of the Charles R. Williams Project on Sexual Orientation Law at the UCLA School of Law.

September 2005: “State comes out for same-sex marriage  finally

“We sat there for five seconds, 10 seconds, and nothing happened. We sat there for what seemed like an eternity, hoping and praying for one more vote.

Then, seconds before the voting was closed, Simon Salinas, of Salinas County, registered an aye vote, giving us the 41 we needed. The gallery erupted in jubilation, as couples laughed, wept and held each other in joy and relief.

But this vote will not be the last word on this issue. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he will veto it, meaning it will never even become law.”

May 2007: Letter to the Editor

Whether you are homosexual or want gays wiped off the planet should not matter  because the government should not have its fingers on any marriage in the first place,” wrote the then-secretary of the Bruin Republicans, Jimmy Dunn.

November 2008: Proposition 8 Passes

The controversial ballot initiative banned same-sex marriage in California and was immediately subject to legal challenges.

February 2010: “Professor testifies at Proposition 8 trial

In my book, I look at why same-sex couples get married, and it’s for the same reasons as heterosexual couples, said Lee Badgett, who recently published “When Gay People Get Married.” “Also, after gay couples are allowed to get married, there is no surge in divorces or drop in heterosexual marriage.”

August 2010: “UCLA couple hopeful after federal court ruling to repeal Proposition 8

Yet even when members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community feel confident in their identity, they face judgment from strangers around them. Besides the uncomfortable stares Jason Bernabe and Peter Rodriguez get from passersby, Rodriguez said they have been hurt by other students simply for their love for each other.

“I was walking home from a frat party with Jason one night, and (people in) a frat house across the street threatened me,” he said. “People’s views can make you feel unsafe sometimes.”

February 2012: “Federal appeals court rules California’s same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional

July 2013: “Overturning of Proposition 8 affects individuals, states

It was hard for them to tell their 5-year-old son about Proposition 8.

UCLA alumnus Larry Riesenbach married his husband, Tim Ky, shortly before Proposition 8 was approved by California voters, banning same-sex marriage. The law that said same-sex couples should not be allowed to wed still caused their family emotional pain, Riesenbach said.

When the couple learned Proposition 8 was sent back to the state and they would be recognized by the federal government, they held each other and Riesenbach said he started to cry.

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Arts & Entertainment

Reading Rainbow: Throw It Back To the Childhood Favorites

Judy Blume was the woman who discussed coming-of-age topics often uncomfortable to discuss with children and young adults in an entertaining, revolutionary type of way. We all know her as the author of young adult novels such as “Blubber” or “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret.” If you think that her books may be under your reading level, fret not, because Blume is releasing her first novel for adults in 17 years.”In the Unlikely Event” centers on the tragic winter of the early 1950′s in her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, when three catastrophic plane crashes kill hundreds. Although the novel comes out June 2, we secretly wish we could start reading to distract us from all the studying we have coming up. So while we’re on the topic of Judy Blume and the revival of her writing career, here are some favorite childhood authors you probably forgot existed and wish you could read again (and if you have time, should).  


1. Roald Dahl  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach

Let’s be honest, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was a little twisted with the idea of children going into a factory and either dying or turning into a blueberry. And Matilda’s telekinesis only gave us a glimpse to what extent her powers can go to cough-Carriepromscene-cough.

2. Lemony Snicket (pen name for Daniel Handler)  The Series of Unfortunate Events (series)

Who doesn’t love reading about three siblings whose parents just got killed in a fire and their psychotic, freaky uncle is constantly murdering people in order to get to their inheritance? And you might as well catch up before the Netflix series arrives.

3. Beverly Cleary  Henry Huggins, Beezus and Ramona, Ramona (Series)

For the perfect, most relateable novels regarding relationships between oneself, siblings, parents and teachers, the “Ramona” series is on point.

4. Mary Pope Osborne  Magic Tree House (series)

Children’s fantasy + historical fiction. These books were your PBS Kids alternative that you would turn to when you maxed out on TV time after school.

5. Crockett Johnson   Harold and the Purple Crayon (series)

His imagination was endless. He had a picnic with nine pies. NINE.

6. K.A. Applegate  Animorphs (series)

The covers were really scary and you probably started reading them because you had to write some science fiction book report, but it sparked your love for Supernatural, so you don’t regret it.

7. Barbara Park  Junie B. Jones (series)

“My name is Junie B. Jones. The ‘B’ stands for Beatrice. Except I don’t like Beatrice. I just like B and that’s all.” Let’s be honest, you had that memorized. She might not have been hooked on phonics, but she was spunky and a little troublemaker, and it was appreciated.

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