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Open Access Publications from the University of California


Welcome to the UC Merced Undergraduate Research Journal, a fully Open Access publication of research conducted by undergraduates at the University of California, Merced.

Issue cover
Cover Caption: Photos and design by Pacha Vang, Spring 2022


Beyond the Armchair: Defying the Myth of 1950s Fatherhood From Outside of the Household

A strong, well-balanced family doesn’t always have to be driven by an equally strong and well-balanced father. However, the all too recognizable idealization of the media-perfected, everpresent, firm-but-fair father of the 1950s continues to resonate with us even after 70 years of his evolution and progressive change. It is assumed that he governs the household with a stern, yet not iron fist, he comes home after a long day of honest work with poise, and he cares for his wife and kids with an equal reserve—not affectionate but not cruel. The father is supposed to be the rock of the 1950s home, and he does this in the way in which society believes he should. In Taylor Sheridan’s Hell or High Water, divorced father and disconnected brother Toby Howard provides none of these characteristics for his family, and it would be impossible for him to follow this mythological lead. Unlike the traditional ‘50s father figure, Toby robs banks with his ex-con brother, Tanner, in an attempt to save his recently deceased mother’s ranch to secure a prosperous future for his children. Yet despite his deviation from what cultural tradition demands, Toby does for his family what a father of that era would never think to do: provide for his family even in separation, maintain his loyalty to his brother even after his tumultuous past, and remain a father figure to his sons despite the unorthodox model he presents. Through his endeavors, Toby breaks the mold of the nuclear father that the nuclear family demands by displaying how a father can be just as virtuous, admirable, and worthy of reverence by not taking on this memorable role. Instead, Toby defines this role through what he is willing to do in pursuit of supporting his family, his commitment to his brother despite his turbulent history, and the position as a role model he is able to maintain despite the immoral actions that accompany his mission.

Reivindicación feminista generacional: Lo que cuentan las mujeres

En su novela, Fronterizas: Una novela en síes cuentos, Roberta Fernández nos presenta las historias de síes mujeres que pertenecen a una familia intergeneracional mexicana. Las mujeres en estos cuentos reflejan un ambiente multicultural y la interseccionalidad de la identidad de la mujer. Aunque es una recolección de cuentos que demuestran una identidad familiar entre ellas, la autora le da su respectivo espacio a cada mujer para acentuar diferentes identidades y experiencias. Este ensayo discutirá el uso del cuento entre familia como un indicador de la interseccionalidad de identidad del individuo. Demostraré como los mitos, chismes y propia experiencia se relaciona con los diferentes aspectos de la identidad chicana usando la perspectiva de Nenita. En cambio, los cuentos interfamiliares también sirven como aprendizaje de valorar las identidades que poseen. Las identidades varían entre ellas por causa de diferentes aspectos como clase social, ciudanía, papel de casa, etc. Además, hay una gran reivindicación del feminismo que se acumula a medida de la narración de las historias. Relacionaré esta narración con la de Paletitas de guayaba escrita por Erlinda Gonzales-Berry, las dos novelas demuestran las varias identidades de la mujer chicana y la lucha personal entre ellas y la sociedad que trata de asimilarlas

Echoes In Familiar Spaces: Audio Styling and the Audience’s Invitation to the Worlds of Limetown and Within The Wires

Podcasts are useful for influencing the way the audience thinks – audio drama especially lends itself to this application, with writers being able to cloak stronger political messages within the fictionalized worlds of their narratives. Podcasts like Limetown and Within The Wires can effectively tell stories about political and social issues through their involvement of the audience in the world of the work. The familiarity of the audience with the auditory styling of the podcast as well as the clear audio signposting used in both podcasts gives the audience a touchstone to their everyday life that makes it less strenuous to situate themselves in the fictional world and focus on the narrative despite other potential distractions. Through close listening examinations of both podcasts, I analyze and discuss the impact that the scripting and use of audio elements have on the audience's perception of the narrative and the implications for audio drama and podcasting as a whole. While Within the Wires is slightly more effective in the use of formats that are fairly universal in their recognizability to the audience, Limetown is more familiar to those who have listened to other podcasts before; this combined with Limetown's similarities to the critically acclaimed investigative journalism podcast Serial had significant impacts on each podcast's popularity.

Keywords: podcasts, audio drama, Limetown, Within the Wires, Serial, audience perception

Sexual Imagery: Why Does It Still Matter?

Sexual imagery, why does it still matter today? Or better yet, why does it still matter in Emily Dickinson’s poetry? Dickinson is one of the many writers that touch up on topics about sex and sexuality. Two taboos that for years have been demonized by western society. Dickinson’s work matters today because it allows discussion on sexual liberation, sexuality in literature, teaching queer studies, and the removal of heteronormativity. Dickinson’s work investigates these societal plagues that started during the 19th century and continue today.

The Isolated Youth’s Modern Musical Aesthetic

Starting in 2020, the rise of the “aesthetic,” music playlist (playlists that appealed to a particular aesthetic or theme) had skyrocketed on Youtube. From referencing studies about the effects of isolation and creativity to directly analyzing the musical playlists themselves, this paper examines the growing trend of aesthetic playlists on social media by identifying how particular combinations of songs evoke certain creative or emotional expressions as well as what those expressions mean to the listeners in an online community. While lacking a definite or singular reason as to why it had sprung into popularity, multiple studies lend evidence to the theory that the COVID-19 lockdowns had stripped away socializing opportunities with peers and friends during key stages of development, leaving ample room and need to develop other means of sharing sentiments via online internet; aesthetic playlists thus have become a new medium of universalizing a creative effort to engage in a vague, self-written and often self-serving story with others in order to cope with the loneliness that followed months of solitude. Additionally, this paper provides an inspection of how the youth adjusts to mass trauma in the modern day.

Keywords: musical aesthetic, isolation, romanticization of solitude, social media, music therapy

My Parents’ Immigration Stories as a Microcosm of American Colonialism

The purpose of this study is to outline the prevalence of American colonialism present within the values of Philippine culture and the Philippine identity. Aspects of colonialism and assimilation into American culture are highlighted through my parents’ immigration story. Many Pilipinos/Pilipino-Americans struggle with a sense of identity, especially growing up or being exposed to a bicultural environment. I utilize the idea of identity conflict to examine how aspects of identity are represented through Philippine cultural values. The value of historical texts regarding American colonization, assimilation, and topics confined under the complexities of the Pilipino-American identity are investigated and evaluated. My parents’ stories and their conformity to American culture/ideals as an exemplar for how this social phenomena manifests itself in those who identify with an identity related to the Philippine culture. Primary texts and secondary texts are evaluated to describe the impacts of colonialism on Philippine culture. It is also important to note my identity as a second-generation Pilipina-American. I was not raised in the Philippines, but raised with Philippine culture through my parents. I tie in my parents’ immigration story and the values they had imposed on me growing up. I was raised with these values; many of them are a part of my identity, which I argue, are rooted in American colonialism. My parents’ identity is rooted in American colonialism, therefore my identity is also rooted in American colonialism.

keywords: assimilation, colonial, colonialism, imperialism, American colonialism, Filipino, Filipino identity, Pilipino, Pilipino identity, identity, immigration, ethnic identity, ethnic studies, assimilation

Social Sciences

COVID-19 Vaccination Hesitancy in African American and Latinx Populations

In the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated health disparities among African American and Latinx populations with particularly low vaccination rates. Vaccine hesitancy is a key barrier to African American and Latinx groups from acquiring the COVID-19 vaccine. Studies highlight that contextual influences, individual and group influences, and vaccinespecific influences have prominence in COVID-19 vaccine hesitation. This literature review summarizes COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy characteristics and the health communication strategies that legislators may consider when developing COVID-19 vaccination policies and programs in the United States.

Key Words: literature review, coronavirus disease-19, COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines, COVID19 vaccines, vaccine hesitancy, minority health, health disparities

Latinx Men in the Central Valley: Perspectives on Mental Health

Minimal studies have been conducted on the effects of traditional Latinx/Hispanic gender roles on the mental health of Latinx men. However, those conducted concluded that young adult males have the most negative attitude towards mental health treatment (Gonzales et al., 2005) and the endorsement of traditional male gender roles of machismo relate to negative cognitions and emotions (Nuñez et al., 2016). Therefore, to contribute to the need of Latinx mental health research, a survey was distributed to Hispanic/Latinx men ages 17 to 48 in the Central Valley to find if Hispanic/Latinx men have a negative attitude towards mental health treatment due to machismo and cultural gender norms factors. The results of the survey concluded heterosexual Hispanic/Latinx men between the ages of 17-26 did not have an overall negative attitude towards seeking mental health treatment, participants considered themselves masculine without it being influenced by their culture, and those in the 28-48 age bracket agreed that their culture influences their perception of gender norms while the 17-26 age bracket did not. An analysis for these findings and future research recommendations are provided to better assist the needs of Latinx male mental health research.

Keywords: Latinx mental health, Machismo, negative cognitions, Hispanic men

The Role of Racial/Ethnic Pride in Relation to Racism/Ethnocentrism

In recent years, the idea that racial or ethnic pride can be positive has grown in popularity, even as popular sentiment has turned increasingly against racism and ethnocentrism. Being able to celebrate our differences (racial or ethnic dignity) without acting on them in a prideful, negative way (racism or ethnocentrism) seems more possible today than at any time in American history. Yet today there is also growing concern that our differences are not just cause for celebration, but grounds for separation, among other things with the goal of pursuing political agendas. From affirming the racial identities of schoolchildren to stoking the racial, cultural and religious conflicts that divide Bosnia and other nations (including the United States), racial and ethnic pride have historically been forces for both good and evil depending on how they were defined. Pride as dignity is the act of giving oneself a basic level of self-worth, which every human is allotted based on our modern concept of equality. Pride in one's race or ethnicity as superior, by contrast, challenges the modern concept of equality. Such definitions are not just semantic as racial and ethnic dignity lets us celebrate our individuality without sacrificing unity as a whole, while racial and ethnic pridefulness divides us by color, kin or creed. A large portion of this country’s history has been dedicated to eliminating these divisions, most recently through things like the civil rights movement. Current trends focusing on racial identity pose a risk of undoing these efforts and returning us to a nation that is separate and unequal, this time by choice rather than by force.

Keywords: racial/ethnic pride, racial/ethnic dignity, racism, ethnocentrism, equality

Mass Incarceration: Prisoners are People, Not Slaves

Slavery has remained alive in the United States, well past the implementation of the 13th amendment. It has simply taken on a different name: The United States Prison System. The prison system was the scapegoat for our country to continue to take advantage of people without any repercussions. I have compiled research from various sources to highlight the negative impacts of our current prison system on minoritized individuals and their communities. The research demonstrates that the mass incarceration of minoritized individuals is caused by the selfishness of prison corporations and is supported by United States policies and judicial systems. Mass incarceration does more harm than good and serious reform such as changing the penalties of certain offenses, choosing rehabilitation instead of imprisonment for drug charges, stopping private prisons from profiting off of prisoners, and changing the three strikes law and plea bargains is needed.

Keywords: Mass incarceration, Three Strikes Law, racial discrimination

UC Merced Through a Socio-Environmental Imagination Lens

The socio-environmental imagination will be applied to the University of California, Merced, in hopes to understand the connection between society and UC Merced. UC Merced is located in Merced, California. It is the 10th university in the UC system and the first American research university of the 21st century. It has both undergraduate and graduate divisions. Consisting of three schools: Engineering, Natural Sciences, and the Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts. There are currently two schools in the making, the E&J Gallo School of Management and a future medical school, which will begin enrolling students in 2023. UC Merced is the leading UC campus with the highest percentage of students from underrepresented ethnic/racial groups, low-income families, and first-generation students. I decided to choose UC Merced for my research because I am a first-generation, low-income, UC Merced student, and I wanted to add onto my knowledge of campus. The socio-environmental imagination can be seen as a framework that analyzes personal troubles as social issues which can then lead to environmental issues. This framework consists of three infrastructures. Those being cultural infrastructures (CI), material infrastructures (MI), and ecological infrastructures (EI). Cultural/social infrastructure refers to the organization of ideas, social norms, values, policies, and institutions. Material infrastructure is the organization of things to produce. This infrastructure focuses on building materials, scientific compounds, and the structure of a place. Ecological infrastructure refers to the ecology and environment. It is useful to know about the different infrastructures of the university since they impact the students culturally, financially, and environmentally. These factors impact the city of Merced, public policies, and people who do not attend the university. The socio-environmental imagination is important because it allows us to see how social issues can be interrelated to environmental justice problems. In this paper, I will apply the socioenvironmental imagination to UC Merced, in order to explore the interconnection between UC MERCED THROUGH A SOCIO-ENVIRONMENTAL IMAGINATION LENS 3 society’s values to production and its corresponding environmental impacts on ecosystems and workers.

The Impact of Gamification on Motivation

Gamification is the concept of using game design elements as a means of attracting users to a product, initially starting as a business decision. There are benefits to understanding what makes gamification work, as a motivated userbase would result in better products, even helping individuals manage themselves and their energy consumption. Research has been conducted to show a clear link between gamification and motivation, as well as implementations of the subject in sustainability and individual health monitoring. This review highlights what game design elements have primarily been used in gamification and its effects on motivation, which could allow developers to better understand the relationship between games and the user, as well as see what other elements of game design which can still be implemented.

Keywords: game design, gamification, motivation, autonomy

Existence of Ideological Drift within the United States Supreme Court: An Analysis of Conservative Majority Votes

Ideological drift is the phenomenon in which an actor shifts their original political stance to the left or right of the political spectrum. Previous literature suggests that a liberal-inclined ideological shift occurs in the Supreme Court. However, there has been an absence of research confirming the presence of liberal ideological drift. The focus of this paper determines whether liberal ideological drift is prevalent in liberal justices and also perhaps the most surprising population: Conservative justices on the Supreme Court of the Modern Era (1946- present). We postulated that if a justice serves at least 10 terms, then a decreased frequency of majority conservative votes will be made evident, thus proving a liberal ideological drift. Our empirical findings support our postulation: a majority of conservative justices of the Modern Era have fewer conservative majority votes with the passage of 10 terms or more, therefore indicating an ideological shift to the left. There exist important caveats to our results, these include justices undergoing the acclimation or “freshman” effect (a phenomenon in which a justice will vote in accordance with the appointing president’s ideology). Our findings may provide useful information for the litigant community, advocates and opponents of Supreme Court term limits, and the general public.

Keywords: Supreme Court, Supreme Court Justice, Ideological Drift, Liberal Justice, Conservative Justice, Bloc, Majority Opinion, Acclimation Effect, Freshman Effect

The Possibility of Universal Health Coverage in the United States

This research paper intends to examine the ways in which universal healthcare coverage can potentially benefit the United States population, as well as investigate the challenges of implementing it. This paper found that there are many problems within the current U.S. healthcare system that can be improved by the implementation of Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Additionally, this paper includes evidence that UHC could have many economic and public health benefits in the United States. The paper then mentions the clear plans for implementing UHC in the U.S. and that there are other countries which have successfully implemented it. Finally, the paper ends by highlighting the certain difficulties that come with implementation as well as underscoring their possible solutions.

Keywords: universal healthcare coverage, United States healthcare, health insurance

Brain-Computer Interfaces: The Technology of Our Future

A Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) is a promising technology that has received increased attention in recent years. BCIs create a direct link from your brain to a computer. This technology has applications to many industries and sectors of our life. BCIs redefine how we approach medical treatment and communication for individuals with various conditions or injuries. BCIs also have applications in entertainment, specifically video games and VR. From being able to control a prosthetic limb with your mind, to being able to play a video game with your mind—the potential of BCIs are endless. However, as with any new innovative technology, ethical concerns are raised.

Keywords: Brain-Computer Interfaces; BCI; Brain-Computer Interaction; Technology Ethics; Cognitive Enhancement; Prosthetics

Natural Sciences

Graph-based featurization methods for classifying small molecule compounds

For over a decade, drug-induced liver injury (DILI) has posed significant drawbacks in the synthesis and development of drugs and remains a consequential concern. With finite success within the existing preclinical models, DILI is one of the main causes of drug withdrawal or termination from the market. Particularly, this withdrawal occurs during the late stages of drug development (Kullak-Ublick, 2017). Since DILI is difficult to diagnose and treat, it has become an obstacle in the drug production market that in turn affects clinicians, pharmaceutical companies, and consumers. We propose a method for learning features of DILI-positive drugs based on the graphical relationships and patterns they possess within a network of biological databases. We also train various statistical and machine learning models on these learned features in order to classify the drugs as DILI-positive or negative. Our methods include Random Forest, Neural networks, and logistic regression classification. We utilize labeled DILI-positive and DILI-negative datasets, which were developed by the FDA and the National center for toxicological research, as well as additional literature datasets (Thakkar, 2020) in order to validate our results and assess our featurization and model accuracy.

Keywords: liver toxicity, hepatoxic drug analysis, drug classification, FDA clinical trials, graph databases, data processing, graph embeddings, classification models, machine-learning featurization, model comparison.