Alum Tank

Hear from California alums: Does knowledge come with a moral obligation?

We asked some of our California alums to let us know whether knowledge comes with a moral obligation:

“Unquestionably, knowledge is inherently moral and calls us to certain orientations and actions. But what’s more is that knowledge is constituted by the movements of ideas between communities. We don’t “hold” knowledge, it is in motion through us and around us. I would say those who regularly read op-eds make up a certain kind of knowledge community, and writing persuasively for that community is both an art and a science. I’m so glad to have The Op-Ed Project’s help in figuring all that out!”

unnamedInterfaith expert Rahuldeep Singh Gill PhD guides leaders in business and higher education to more inclusive environments for work, collaboration and cross-cultural understanding. His engaging lectures and workshops deepen appreciation of faith and cultural diversity and inspire compassion. He develops leaders with broad perspectives who can collaborate in teams and achieve goals that drive innovation.

“Knowledge comes with the moral obligation to communicate wisely. Every bit of knowledge has the potential to galvanize communities, to influence policymakers, and to create enormous positive change, but its impact can be lost, or worse, arouse suspicion, hatred or fear if not communicated properly. As a lobbyist for a workers’ rights organization, how I communicate my knowledge to lawmakers can make the difference in whether meaningful legislation is passed.”  


Mariko Yoshihara is the lobbyist and political director for the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA), the largest and strongest statewide organization of attorneys who advocate on behalf of workers.  She also directs the CELA VOICE, a project dedicated to promoting the voice of workers and the attorneys who represent them.

“If taken to heart, the potential value and moral obligation of our knowledge can replace questions like “Is my punctuation perfect?” with more meaningful declarations, like “It’s time to get serious about creating an affordable, accessible child care system for working parents”. Most important, this moral obligation can encourage us to replace the often pompous pronouncements that populate our nation’s opinion pages, and move our knowledge, our stories and our voices center stage.”


Kate Karpilow directs the California Center for Research on Women and Families (CCRWF) and is founder of the Women’s Policy Summit. She brings 30 years of hands-on experience managing policy initiatives on child care, poverty, working families, women’s health, child welfare, and the representation of women in politics and government.


“The Publisher Came Looking for Me:” How One Alum is Setting the Agenda

Guest Post by OpEd Project Chicago Alum, Meta Brown.

Meta Brown headshot 2At the April 2013 OpEd Project workshop in Chicago, facilitators Michele Weldon and Katherine Lanpher did an amazing job of unearthing the accomplishments of the attendees. It was a real-eye opener as we went through the “I am an expert in” exercise, and the seemingly commonplace group of faces surrounding me revealed themselves as authorities in topics ranging from natural African-American hairstyles to the legal rights of immigrants in the United States. What an inspiring experience.

Since attending that workshop, I’ve published more than 20 new articles in industry publications, launched a blog on women in analytics that is drawing attention from journalists, and published 3 books. My new book, Data Mining for Dummies, will be out in September 2014. To many readers, the For Dummies book defines the subject, so I could not have hoped for a better opportunity to set the agenda in my profession. And here’s something I want you to know: the publisher came looking for me, based on the work I had already done. There’s living proof that sharing your knowledge and voice will lead to good things.

Hear from California Alums: How Does Your Voice Contribute to the Conversation?

We asked some of our California alums to tell us how their voices contribute to the conversation:

“I guest-starred on an episode of NBC’s “Grimm” which portrayed the very first Filipino-centric storyline on American Network television. As an actress in Hollywood and a person of color, my experience is twofold: my career must both traverse the systemic roadblocks that limit my inclusion, and I must pursue paths that lead to change — from diversity programs, to self-produced work, and just plain persistence. Participating in The OpEd Project helped me understand that publicly sharing my unique journey is valuable in shaping the dialogue and paving the way for more cultural visibility and more “firsts.”” 

 Tess Paras is an actress & writer most recognized for her viral video,”Typecast”. She wrote and performed in the 2014 CBS Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase and guest-starred as Dana Tomas on the NBC drama series Grimm.




“I was thrilled to learn that my op-ed was accepted for publication back in my hometown paper, within weeks of completing The OpEd Project training at the ACLU of Southern California. It’s important to amplify the experiences LGBTQ people face in the South because so many individuals who live there do not have the freedom to speak honestly and openly about who they are–or the hurdles they face as a member of the community. Thought leaders, lawmakers, and educators need to know that the decisions they make about LGBTQ issues affect large segments of their communities.”

James Gilliam is the Deputy Executive Director at the ACLU of Southern California. He also teaches Law andSexuality and other public interest courses at Loyola Law School. Read his latest oped in The Tennessean.


“”Water is the next oil.” 1 in 8 people do not have access to water and this issue affects women and girls the most. The images people see–provided they know about it–are wells or other technologies. But what they don’t hear are the stories about how technologies are only a tiny part of the solution. Putting a face to the crisis and raising the voices of those who are most invested in the solutions are crucial to the conversation, and brings the focus back to people-driven solutions and not technology-based solutions.”

Gemma Bulos is a multi-award winning social entrepreneur, musician, speaker, Director of the GlobalWomen’s Water Initiative, and a Social Entrepreneur Fellow at Stanford University. Watch her TEDx talk: “How to Accidentally Change the World.”



“I’ve long explored how diverse communities can come together in student support efforts through projects based in schools, districts, cities, community organizations, and the government. Recently my colleagues and I added our voices to this conversation by writing a piece about the “Achilles heel” of math education in San Diego. We hope to raise public awareness about math as a stumbling block for student success.” 

Mica Pollock is a Professor of Education Studies and Director of CREATE at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of Colormute, Because of Race,and Everyday Antiracismand the forthcoming book Schooltalking: Communicating for Equity in Schools.

“As a civil rights attorney whose 35 year career has focused on employment discrimination, I have been an active participant the in evolution of discrimination law. My voice contributes to the conversation through filing amicus briefs in the United States and California Supreme Courts, speaking engagements to attorneys and academics about the interplay between law and social science, writing opinion pieces for the public on cutting edge issues such as “implicit bias,” stereotyping” and “family friendly” policies, and my work as a founder, co-chair and editor of CELA Voice, the blog of the California Employment Lawyers Association.”

Charlotte Fishman is a plaintiff-side employment attorney in San Francisco whose practice emphasizes glass ceiling discrimination, implicit bias, and work/family conflict. She is a founder and co-chair of CELA VOICE. Check out her latest piece.





The Moment I Realized that I Wanted a Bigger Voice

Guest Post by OEP Chicago Alum Christine Wolf. 

Christine Wolf

Christine Wolf

I never set out to be an opinion columnist — it just happened while I was writing a children’s novel.  As a preschool teacher and mother of three, I’d taken a year off from teaching to write a book. I’ll write a kids’ book, I thought. Shouldn’t be that hard, right?

I was wrong. It’s incredibly hard. And, despite the “new frontier” of publishing, new writers must still invest unlimited patience, perseverance and practice.

And so, disappointed that I wouldn’t land a quick book deal or a segment on Oprah, I started a blog, just to have something to share. But I wondered: Who’s even going to read this? What am I supposed to write about? I had no writing credentials. Nothing published. Just who the hell did I think I was?

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I started with my unique expertise, writing about books that moved me and authors who inspired me. About what it’s like to attend a writing conference. And about my son renting his room to his sister.

That last post caught the eye of an editor hiring writers for a new, hyperlocal news source called “Just look around and write what you see. It’s an opinion column, so write your opinion.”

My opinion? Who cares about that? As it ends up, more people care about my opinion than I’d ever imagined.

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In four years I’ve grown along the way, publishing more than 500 columns for I’ve written about homeless vets living in my local park. About a scary result on my mammogramAbout accidentally dousing myself with gasoline at the local Shell station. About a young boy’s murder by gunfire two blocks from our high school.

I didn’t understand how to write a true opinion column, but I wrote from my heart because that’s all I had – and it resonated with readers. My neighbors, local business owners and government leaders started sending ideas for columns. When I heard about some middle-school students protesting a ban on leggings and yoga pants, my column went viral. I’d simply hoped to motivate the school board to review the confusing dress code policy (they did and they changed it), but the column also prompted an international discussion on body image and gender dynamics. And that’s the moment I realized I wanted a bigger voice, because I knew I had it in me. I just didn’t understand how to use it most effectively.

It took me four years and 500 columns to gain what a one-day seminar at The OpEd Project confirmed: that I am a thought leader whose voice absolutely matters.

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The OpEd Project has inspired me to write a piece I’d otherwise be too nervous to tackle. Thanks to one stimulating day with Michele Weldon and The OpEd Project, I now have the tools, the support and the confidence to craft an op ed exposing a national organization’s negligent policy which has the potential to put thousands of unsuspecting families in harm’s way. Please stay tuned, because I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the piece.

Hear from California Alums: As a Public Intellectual, Do You Have a Duty to Share Your Knowledge?

We asked some of our California alums to tell us about being a public intellectual, and whether they have a duty to share their knowledge.

“As a faculty member at a public research university, I have a responsibility to address the issues I study in public forums whenever possible.  Research and development of new knowledge is a key part of the mission of any university, but at publicly supported universities it is also critical to spread this information beyond traditional academic outlets.  This contributes toward institutional accountability to the public, and increases the likelihood that my research will have a positive impact on public policy decisions and society as a whole.”


Ann Huff Stevens is Director of the Center for Poverty Research at UC Davis and Professor  and Chair of the Department of Economics. She studies low income workers and labor markets, the incidence and effects of job loss, connections between economic shocks and health, and poverty and safety-net dynamics. Check out her latest op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

“There are two reasons I feel a duty to share my knowledge – one abstract and one concrete. In an abstract sense, knowledge is a universal human inheritance. Anything my teachers have taught me is a consequence of what others have taught them. My knowledge is not just my own; it is what I have learned from others. Concretely speaking, I have been in public schools all my life. Taxpayers have thus sponsored my education. Today, I work in a public university whose mission is to serve the state of California. It is not only my duty; it is a great privilege to be able to share my knowledge.”


Tanya Golash-Boza is an associate professor of Sociology at the University of California at Merced. She is the author of four books – the most recent is Race and Racisms: A Critical Approach (Oxford 2014). Her recent OpEds have appeared at The Houston ChronicleAl Jazeera English, and Al Jazeera America.


“Educators—whether they are classroom instructors, writers, researchers, scientists, or advocates for a cause—absolutely have a civic duty not only to share information, but to question and wrestle with it in order to promote a spirit of inquiry and innovation. As a teacher, however, I also withhold my opinions so that my students can assert theirs. Because the common notion of “sharing” amounts to self-promotion on facebook or the confession of private thoughts, it’s crucial that citizens (not only academics) engage in a rigorous, empathetic, and sometimes uncomfortable but productive exchange of ideas.”

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Lauri Mattenson is a Lecturer with UCLA Writing Programs. Previous publications have appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Mother Company, The Jewish Journal,  Turning Wheel: The Journal of Socially Engaged BuddhismMassage Magazine,  BruinLink, and The Daily Bruin.


“Although many academics also take on the role of public intellectuals, I have personally shared the knowledge gained through my research projects with two more limited audiences—my students and other members of the academic community. Increasingly, I feel a greater obligation and desire to contribute to broader public dialogue. The ability to conduct research over extended periods of time—often years—gives academics unique perspectives and knowledge on important issues that ought to be shared with broader public. Finding time to write for a public audience has been a challenge so far, but it’s a goal I’ve set for 2014.”

Rachel Brickner

Rachel Brickner is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics at Acadia University (Wolfville, Nova Scotia). She is currently researching teachers’ activism and the education reform movement. Follow her on twitter.


What it took for me to give a TEDx Talk

Rachel Piazza HeadshotThere’s something transformative about hearing your voice amplified by a microphone. Standing in front of a room, all eyes on you. Your voice resounds loud and clear. You hold the space. Your words resonate.

A few weeks ago, it was my voice that reverberated through an audience filled room. I had the honor of delivering a TEDx talk at the university where I teach. My message was simple. Sexist language is everywhere, and it has a quantifiable impact on women and girls. I argued that sexist language is like white noise. We hear it, but don’t even notice it. As I stood there, in front of that room, cameras and lights shining on me, I was the center of attention. Yet the words I spoke transcended me.  That microphone, that stage, and those cameras transformed me into a messenger. I became someone to be heard.

I was granted that status – as someone to be heard – simply because I believed in myself, put my idea out there, and received the approval of a gatekeeper. I submitted a proposal video to the TEDx committee where I claimed my expertise and owned my idea with confidence. As annoying and superficial as it may be, it’s not until we receive that seal of approval that we are deemed worthy of being heard – and subsequently published, hired, or put on stage.

The ironic thing is, that seal of approval doesn’t come unless we give it to ourselves first. One of the most valuable lessons I learned in The Op-Ed Project seminar I attended in New York City this past winter is that before someone else will think your thoughts deserve to be heard, you have to believe it yourself. (more…)