Jazmine Miles: Hands on research brings learning full circle

Jazmine Miles came to UC Santa Cruz looking for a place to grow.

Today, thanks to an unexpected class choice, an inspiring sociology professor, and an opportunity to do hands-on research about the growing youth power movement in a once-conservative corner of California, the senior sociology major and film minor at Merrill College has done just that.

Miles, 21, said she came to the forested campus expecting to major in biology. Normally an excellent student, she found herself struggling with college life and her rigorous classes. A Merrill College counselor suggested an introduction to sociology course taught by Professor Christy McCullen.

“It [the class] was the first time I learned how systems of oppression had affected me and people who look like me,” said Miles, who is African American. “I was always aware I had different experiences because of my race and gender but this [course] opened a new door and made me passionate about wanting to learn and grow in a topic I was truly interested in.”

Offered a research opportunity by former UC Santa Cruz Assistant Professor of Sociology Veronica Terriquez to explore youth movements in the rapidly changing Inland Empire (Riverside and San Bernardino counties), Miles eventually decided to accept. Terriquez is now a professor and director of the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA.

Gathering statistics and doing interviews while the pandemic kept her at home, Miles said she discovered a world of young, dedicated activists working to better their community—something that had flown under her radar even though she’d grown up in the area.

The 2020 report, Emerging Youth Power in the Inland Empire, was published on the Dornsife Equity Research Institute website and also appeared on UC Santa Cruz’s Institute for Social Transformation website. It highlighted work youth did in the area to get out the vote during the presidential election. 

Doing hands-on research, Miles said, helped make the lessons she learned in the classroom come alive. 

“I was able to see the way in which communities are being impacted by the social structures in place,” said Miles from her home in Murrieta, California. 

At work on another research project exploring the effects of social media on young women, Miles said these hands-on learning experiences have helped her find a passion “for something I truly love doing.”

She hopes to get a master’s degree and doctorate on her way to becoming a documentary-style filmmaker in the manner of Oscar winner Chloe Zhao, whose 2020 film Nomadland won Best Picture, making her the first woman of color to win the category.  

“I see myself researching the new social dynamics that are emerging and the ones that are beginning to diminish,” Miles said of the kind of films she wants to make. “So many social structures are settling in and old ones are falling away.”

Noting how important it is to have history recorded and reported by a diversity of voices, she said, “There is so much taking place at the moment and someone has to document it.”