We are Scientists: Atom Lesiak

Note: Since this interview Atom Lesiak has started a new position at UW Genome Sciences as the Director of Genome Sciences Education Outreach.

How did you get interested in science?

In hindsight, my path looks really linear, but it really was super circuitous. I’ve been all over the place. I guess it started when I was really little and I watched a Nova documentary on sight. I had a really hard time with the concept of colors. When I learned that our eyes are sensing wavelengths of light and assigning the experience of color to that,  I went to my parents and said “How do I know that I’m seeing the same colors as everyone else, if all I’m doing is encoding a wavelength of light, how do I know that my experience of color is real?” That began my deep thinking into neuroscience and wanting to learn how the brain creates experience. This was tied into my early experience with gender in the sense of being told one thing and having a very different experience. Currently, I identify as genderqueer, but I’d been closeted throughout middle and high school.  I learned that having gender conflict is not considered, y’know, normal. I constantly asked questions like “Why is my brain like this? What makes my brain different than other peoples?”

How has your struggle with gender identity shaped your interest in science?

I struggled with that all throughout middle and high school, so initially, of course, I approached science with my gender identity in mind; I had a strong desire to understand how cells work in my brain in particular. I decided to go into biology and engineering but found I liked the biology side better.

What drew you to biology?

I liked the blend of physics, chemistry, biochemistry, cells, and physiology, and connecting the dots from big to little and back to big. It fascinated me to learn how cells communicate. Neuroscience in particular jumped out at me so I took all of the neuroscience courses that I could. I went to undergrad at Colorado State University. I studied philosophy there as well.

Cool! What philosophical questions interested you most?

My thesis was on free will and neuroscience. The question I tackled was: what does modern neuroscience have to say about free will?

Unfortunately, I had an advisor that did not care about my thesis whatsoever. He fell asleep during my presentation.

Oh no.

Oh yeah. In retrospect, I don’t feel like I had anyone that could really advise me on my thesis topic. I was tackling a lot of the questions that the people that write about neurophilosophy weren’t tackling at the time, or if they were I didn’t know how to find those people. Essentially what people were arguing was you can’t tell if people are going to make these more complex decisions, and I wanted to say “well duh, it’s way too coarse for that.”

What sort of neuroscience research were you doing at the time?

I worked at an occupational therapy lab working with fMRI data. The lab was full of psychology or cognitive neuroscience majors. So I had a lot of things going on at the time. I had the philosophy of mind kind of area, the cognitive neuroscience side, and at the heart of it was this cognitive behavioral fMRI research I was doing. But every time I got the measurements back from the data I collected I wanted to know what’s actually happening inside of the brain that’s causing that change in blood flow at the level of the neurons. You’ve got a change of firing rate in this area, so what’s causing that change? Is it the chemical signals or the hormone signals? I didn’t fully understand the depth and breadth of neuroscience research that was really out there.

How did that realization change your research path?

Well, that junior and senior year I was also really depressed. That’s when I first came out as transgender. I came out slowly. When I started applying to graduate schools, I came out in all of my graduate school applications as transgender. I essentially wrote: take me as I am or don’t take me at all. So, I didn’t get accepted to many schools. The only school that actually accepted me was Washington State University, and they accepted me without a campus visit about a week before the admissions decision deadline. Before knowing where Pullman was and what the school was like, I said yes. I went with the assumption that that was the place where I was going to transition.

We had a transgender professor in the program, and the first day of class I heard my four or five labmates say some of the most transphobic stuff I have ever heard in my presence. Pullman didn’t end up being a safe place to transition. Part of my going there was that it was going to be my time to transition. I think the canonical transition from one gender extreme to another didn’t feel very good, so I decided to kind of stay in the closet and just kept pushing on.

What factors about your environment influenced your decision to stay closeted?

I didn’t fully understand the difference between gender expression, sexual orientation, and gender identity. For me, it was kind of exchanging masculine drag for feminine drag. It felt like this artificial thing that I was doing. Neither extreme felt good, so I was confused about what I was doing because I still felt like I was transgender.

I was really close to dropping out my first year, partly because of the transphobia that was around me, and partly because I had a traumatic experience with my first rotation.

I transitioned to a cellular and molecular neuroscience lab, where we were doing neuronal cultures and looking at how different proteins determine neuronal morphology. For me, that was a much better fit. It’s like solving a puzzle: how does one protein affect the development and morphology of a neuron? What happens to neural networks when you underexpress or overexpress a gene?

What research are you working on now?

I work under John Neumeier, studying stress and addiction. My main project in the lab is to study the regulation of neuronal morphology by the serotonin receptor 5-HT6, which I found is targeted to neuronal primary cilia. I also was integral to establishing the RiboTag technique in the lab to isolate RNA from specific neural networks both in vivo and in vitro.

Now, we use RiboTag in a number of different contexts. I think it would have really helped with the type of research I was doing in graduate school. The problem with trying to understand what specific genes do to a neural population is that if you want to know what happens to a subset of cells when I, for example, knock out a transcription factor, which is most commonly done using a virus, is that viruses really only transfect like 10% of all cells in a culture. With RiboTag, you can look at just the population that is transfected, isolate these cells, and look at all of the genes that are expressed in those cell types. 

What are the potential uses of the RiboTag technique?

Well, for example, say you want to understand what the effect of a drug has on transcription of proteins in hippocampal neurons. To do that you find a promoter that is specific to hippocampal neurons, express RiboTag in these neurons, and then you measure the ribosome-associated RNA before and after you deliver a drug. That allows you to figure out whether there are changes in protein expression over time due to an increase in transcription or translation unambiguously.

How has your identity influenced your research?

I became interested in stress personally, because it’s something trans people have to deal with a lot. I identify as genderqueer, but it’s taken me a long time to get there.

Coming out at work was scary. I think being genderqueer has influenced my career quite a lot. It manifests in a lot of different ways.  I can sense that people are uncomfortable with my gender expression and my pronouns. People are awkward around me or will not engage with me. It’s tough because science requires so much collaboration. I mean, I’ve heard before that people don’t really know how to treat me as a genderqueer person. I’ve heard “I know how to treat you as a man, and I know how to treat you as a woman…but…” and I’m like, “Why don’t you just treat me as a person?” I’ve heard a lot of transphobic comments from PIs and potential employers. In addition, there aren’t many genderqueer people in science, especially in power. So that’s taken me a long time to learn to navigate. 

If you had any advice for gender nonconforming people who are younger than you, what would it be?

I think it would be…to assess the confirmation bias around you. The people that are your mentors  are the people that it worked out for. I’ve found that the possibilities for my life are beyond that of my mentors. Our imagination and our understanding of possibilities are limited by the things we have access to. If someone told me ten years ago, “You’re going to identify as genderqueer–neither a man or a woman–and you’re going to have a ton of great friends, you’re going to have some great partnerships with a ton of great people, you can be out at work…” I would have laughed in their face. I’m routinely surprised at what I can be surprised about.

Link to Atom’s Story Slam.

We are scientists: Rapheal Williams

By Ray Sanchez

Chronic stress is an all-too-prevalent problem that can increase the risk of conditions ranging from heart disease to diabetes. Recently, neuroscientists have been gathering evidence that chronic stress has detrimental effects on decision-making, a finding with important implications both for understanding the brain, and for understanding how societal factors that lead to chronic stress (e.g., socioeconomic status) can alter decision- making. This idea drives the research of Rapheal Williams, a PhD candidate in the UW Neuroscience Graduate Program. In the lab of Paul Phillips, Rapheal seeks to understand how chronic stress affects the release of dopamine in a brain area called the nucleus accumbens, and why this leads to changes in decision- making. He’s especially interested in how these changes may manifest differently in male and female brains, and how chronic stress and decision-making relate to psychiatric disorders like major depression.

“The hypothesis is that chronic stress can contribute to the causes of major depressive disorder,” Rapheal said. “People with treatment-resistant depression are often simultaneously experiencing chronically stressful circumstances.”

Rapheal hasn’t always known that he wanted to study the brain. When he began undergraduate coursework at Georgia State University, he majored in computer science, but quickly realized he was more interested in understanding human behavior. Raphael says that his experiences with high school peers struggling with addiction were a catalyst for his interest in decision-making.

“I became interested in how drugs work to affect behavior,” he said. “I knew some people who would have exposures to drugs and turn out just fine, and others who would become addicted and even die of overdoses. I wanted to understand individual differences in addiction, and especially why people relapse.”

After becoming one of the first students to join the Neuroscience major at Georgia State, Rapheal got involved in undergraduate research in the lab of Dr. Kyle Frantz. There, he studied how addiction propensity changes during adolescence, and circumstances leading to relapse. Over time, his interests evolved to include not only addiction, but the neural basis of personality traits present in many people who become addicted to drugs, such as impulsivity and high susceptibility to stress. This led him to his current focus at the nexus of stress and decision-making, but he’s already starting to think even bigger.

“Ultimately my goal is to understand not only how chronic stress affects decision-making, but the impacts of impoverished environments more broadly on decision-making and motivated behaviors,” Rapheal said. “There are so many aspects to poverty – food insecurity, stressful circumstances, hereditary factors, and most importantly, socialization.”

While he recognizes that the biggest impact of his current research lies in helping the neuroscience community to answer basic questions about brain and behavior, he hopes research like his will one day have and impact on how we understand and discuss issues of structural inequality.

“I hope this kind of work will eventually impact the way we see impoverished people, particularly when it comes to our legal system,” Rapheal said. “Why are some groups of people more likely to commit crimes, to end up in the system? A lot of it comes down to resource inequality and lack of basic comforts.”

As a first-generation graduate student, Rapheal’s path to academic success was not always straightforward.

“Growing up, my family didn’t have much money, and I had to switch schools a lot,” he said. “No one ever told me the things I’d need to do to prepare for an academic career, I just went to college because I figured I’d be better off than if I didn’t. When I got in, I had to work a lot harder than many of my classmates that had more background knowledge from their high school classes.”

Rapheal said he often feels like the lack of educational opportunities he faced as a person of color, and his experience with socioeconomic disadvantages, still impacts his career trajectory. When he got to graduate school, he realized he wanted to help other students who face similar struggles.

“I was lucky to have people in college who helped me get to where I am today, who taught me to think and behave like a scientist before I ever got into graduate school,” he said. “Ultimately, I want to give back and help people in my community realize their potential.”

Outside the lab, Rapheal works as an outreach and recruitment representative for the Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program (GO-MAP), where he talks to prospective students of color about graduate education and works to increase diversity in graduate recruitment at UW. He wants to start visiting underrepresented students in high schools and colleges to let them know that it’s possible for them to pursue a graduate education, too.

“As a black man in neuroscience, I see how important it is to increase black representation in the sciences. It can be unsettling to walk through the halls and realize there isn’t anyone else that looks like you,” Rapheal said. “Even knowing where I stand now in the neuroscience community, I still think a lot about how my peers and mentors interact with me. I sometimes feel judged, and thought of as being less able than some of my counterparts.”

When reflecting on how to best advise other students of color struggling with these issues, he stressed the importance of resilience and self-confidence, even when fighting seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

“If you want to make a change, it gets much more difficult to actually do it if you start believing that you can’t,” he said. “If you’ve made it this far, you’re an even more valuable resource to your community than you realize. Your perspective is priceless.”

Rapheal credits his own resilience to a series of strong female role models, first in his family, and then in the lab.

“It’s cliche, but my biggest inspiration is my mom,” he said. “She’s been through a lot, and watching how hard she worked as a single mom, working simultaneously as a firefighter, an EMT, and a model was so inspiring for me.”

“The star of my undergraduate experience was my first PI, Kyle Frantz. She is an absolute superwoman in science,” he said. “She picked me apart and put me back together as a very curious and able scientist. When I was with her, I never doubted my abilities, and I never doubted that I’d be able to make it in science.”

Despite her busy schedule, Rapheal recalls Dr. Frantz not only being available for feedback in the lab, but dedicating time to advocating for women and people of color in science, something he now seeks to make an integral part of his career.

“Seeing her drive for social justice inspired me. I really looked up to her and want to be able to do that for people in the future,” he said. “Now I draw inspiration from peers and mentors working to make changes in their own communities.”

While looking back on his academic journey, Rapheal holds a small, painted turtle given to him by a high school counselor who helped him get into college.

“This symbolizes the experience I had growing up. It represents the hard shell people of color are forced to create to be able to get through life,” he said. “Progress is never going to be a fast-paced thing. Some turtles might get lucky and crawl into a catapult that slings them forward, but mostly, it’s a slow and steady race that you have to take day by day.”

We Are Scientists: Shua Sanchez

By: Natalia Mesa

The image of the apolitical scientist is a relatively new one, though one that has become entrenched in the popular conception of what a scientist should be: impartial, dispassionate, and motivated by reason. Recently, however, this image has begun to shift. For many researchers the scientific and the political are once again becoming inextricable — the current political climate has necessitated melding the two. Joshua (Shua) Sanchez is devoted to both science and activism, managing to balance his graduate work in solid-state physics with organizing for and serving on the graduate student union, UAW 4121.

Shua is studying solid-state physics with Dr. Jiun-Haw Chu, studying superconducting crystals: materials with no electrical resistance once cooled to sufficiently low temperatures. Passing a current through a typical conducting material results in loss of some amount of energy as heat; the use of superconductors, however, avoids this energy loss. Superconductors have a myriad of applications, such as in MRIs, electronics, and particularly in energy storage. “Energy storage is a super hard problem for sustainable energy sources, such as solar panels,” Shua says, “Since the sun isn’t shining at night, all of the energy needs to be stored, and currently the way we do that is with chemical batteries, which isn’t the most efficient way to do things.”

Shua is trying to understand why superconductivity happens, and what properties crystals need to have in order to be superconductors. Shua works with different types of crystals that are anti-magnetic. While most materials are weakly magnetic, some materials possess the property of anti-magnetism, in which the magnetism within the crystal cancels out magnetic fields applied to them.“We know that [superconductivity] is linked to suppressing magnetism,” he says, “so I’m trying to figure out why suppressing this magnetism, cooling these crystals, and putting pressure on these crystals, improves their superconductivity.”

Even as a child, Shua knew that he would have a scientific career. Shua talks about science like a close relative, rather than a career or something that he discovered along the way. “When you’ve been with someone for so long you learn to love them in new ways,” he says of physics.

I asked Shua when his career as a scientist began. “Well, in 1846 the United States invaded Mexico,” he begins. Shua identifies as Mexican-American — his father is an immigrant from Mexico. “My dad loved science. He didn’t get the educational opportunities that I think he should have had.”

Despite not being able to pursue science, Shua’s father was one of the driving forces for fostering Shua’s interest in science. Shua says that he and and his brothers were raised on a steady diet of the Discovery Channel and National Geographic.

Shua’s decision to study physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, seemed natural and inevitable. He started his freshman year as a physics major, but halfway through became convinced that he wasn’t good enough at physics to get a physics degree, so he switched his focus to neuroscience. As an undergraduate, he worked in a human cognitive neuroscience lab, studying sleep. He studied sleep issues in people with depression, insomnia, and parasomnia, trying to answer the question: “What is different in the sleeping brain of people with these illnesses?”

Still, Shua never actually left the physics major. “I just never got around to switching out, and as I got closer to the end of the degree I just decided to finish it.”

After graduating college, Shua worked on Democratic political campaigns in Texas, North Carolina, and Illinois. Shua is now an active member of the University of Washington’s graduate student union, UAW 4121. Shua has been involved in some form of political activism each year since 2010. He canvassed for the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, for Obama and Clinton, respectively, registering voters and recruiting volunteers.

Shua can pinpoint the moment that solidified his commitment to political activism: the 2010 Wisconsin midterm general election.  “I didn’t vote in the 2010 primaries in Madison. That was the Tea Party wave when tons of college students didn’t vote. The Tea Party took over and all sorts of bad things happened…Pregnant women lost health coverage, there were massive, massive cuts to the education system. Plans for the light rail got scrapped. The result came as kind of a shock, especially since I’d been volunteering on getting a light rail system in place, but I didn’t even vote when it came time for the governor’s race.” In 2010, Republican Scott Walker ran a successful campaign against the Democratic incumbent Jim Doyle, who had plans to connect downtown Madison to Milwaukee and Chicago via rail. Walker ran his campaign with promises to “stop the train,” and went on to prevent the station from ever being built. The Republican-controlled legislature went on to halt many public transportation initiatives in Wisconsin and strip public-sector unions of their bargaining power. “From that point forward there has not been a single year where I haven’t been involved in a political campaign in one way or another,” Shua says. “That took me from not participating to doing what I do now.”

Shua spent much of the past year coordinating a six-month contract campaign for UAW 4121. Every three years, UAW 4121 and the UW administration bargain to replace their current agreement, which was last set to expire in April 2018. The contract covers a variety of working conditions, from wages, accessibility, and healthcare, to appointment security and sexual harassment protections for academic student employees (ASEs). UAW 4121’s bargaining committee consists of graduate students from various disciplines who, while completing their graduate work, make time to fight for a fair contractual agreement between the administration and graduate students. Shua was an elected member of the bargaining committee and represented the interests of ASEs in the Physics, Astronomy, Atmospheric Science, and Biology departments.

Shua was an integral part of the at-large bargaining team throughout contract negotiations. In addition to organizing rallies and attending eight hour bargaining sessions, Shua was tasked in engaging the rest of the graduate student population in the bargaining process as well as representing their interests. Shua canvassed academic building to academic building, asking graduate students to come to rallies or sign up for the union. During the bargaining campaign, the UW administration was unwilling to accept many of the graduate students’ demands, including trans-inclusive healthcare, language to protect ASEs from harassment and discrimination, and an increase in wages, resulting in a series of rallies and a one-day strike. UAW 4121 saw historic turn-out from ASEs throughout these events, and in the end won fully trans-inclusive healthcare, mental health coverage, sexual harassment trainings run and developed by graduate students, and the implementation of climate surveys. “But I didn’t do anything,” he insists, “It’s what we did. What we won absolutely required the majority participation of the graduate student population.” UAW 4121 is continuing to organize and plans to fight this year to enforce the current contract and to improve transit equity for UW employees.

Shua says his commitment, at its root, comes from a desire to make science education accessible to everyone. Living in Seattle, Shua sees the rampant inequality that exists due to the high cost of living. “Whenever I walk to the light rail from my apartment in Capitol Hill there is at least one homeless person sleeping on the sidewalk. People are getting priced out of the city, and 80% of graduate students pay s third or more of their income to rent. I think a lot about my dad. He grew up really poor. He didn’t have the best educational opportunities. He had to deal with a lot of racism in the 70s and 80s. I think that he would have been a really good scientist. There are a lot of poor people and people of color who would make great scientists, but they can’t because of the way our society is structured.”

Following the 2016 election, many scientists have felt the need to get more involved in political activism. I asked Shua what he thinks the role of scientists in the political sphere is.  “I think a lot of scientists think that the appropriate way to do activism is through science outreach, which is really important, but it’s not everything,” Shua says. “Activism can be union-based and political too. It’s hard to dislike a scientist. We have a lot of privilege in our ability to introduce ourselves as scientists. You automatically have some credibility just by virtue of the field that you’re in, so anyway you choose to use that, you have some influence.”

We are scientists: Dr. Andres Barria

By Ray Sanchez

How are connections between neurons in the brain, called synapses, formed and maintained? How are they modified by experience, and what can thesemodifications tell us about the molecular basis of learning and memory? These are questions that have long occupied Dr. Andres Barria, an Associate Professor in the Department of Physiology & Biophysics. Dr. Barria wants to understand how proteins called NMDA receptors contribute to both normal and pathological synaptic function, and how these receptors are regulated.

“My interest in synaptic physiology started while I was an undergraduate studying biochemistry in Chile,” said Dr. Barria. “We started talking about the nervous system in class, and specifically about cell membrane receptors – things that capture a chemical compound in the environment and cause changes within the cell.” A classmate pointed him to an article in Scientific American that argued memory could be explained in terms of molecules – proteins, enzymes, and receptors.

“I was fascinated by the idea we could understand something as complex as memory from a molecular perspective,” said Dr. Barria. As he progressed through his undergraduate education, he found himself enjoying lab work and the academic freedom of the university setting, and decided to pursue a career in science.

When he started his PhD program at Universidad de Chile, he knew he wanted to study synaptic receptors and long-term potentiation (LTP), the process by which connections between neurons are strengthened. When he realized there were no labs at his home university focused on this topic, he began reaching out to investigators outside of Chile. Eventually, he landed in the lab of Tom Soderling at Oregon Health Sciences University, where he made discoveries about synaptic proteins called AMPA receptors that are now key to our understanding about how LTP works. From there, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory before joining the faculty at UW in 2005, where his lab continues to study synaptic physiology.

These days, his lab is interested in the FMRP protein, which is associated with autism when mutated. The mechanisms underlying this relationship remain unclear, but Dr. Barria noticed that mutations in FMRP also alter the expression of NMDA receptors, a hint that changes in synaptic function may contribute to the complex symptoms of autism-spectrum disorders.

“The FMRP model is an attractive system to test some of our hypotheses about NMDA receptors being critical for synaptic function,” said Dr. Barria. “When you don’t have functional components of the synapse, it makes sense that you don’t end up with a functional neural circuit that can support higher cognitive functions.”

When asked about the most rewarding aspects of his job as a professor, Dr. Barria emphatically states that it’s his students.

“One of my biggest satisfactions is seeing my graduate students finish their dissertation work and progress to the next stage of their career,” said Dr. Barria. “Lately I am thinking a lot about my contributions to training the next generation.”

As a native Chilean pursuing a scientific research career in the U.S., Dr. Barria has faced formidable obstacles. When he first arrived in Oregon, Dr. Barria spoke no English. He described an experience with his graduate mentor in which they had to diagram experiments they planned to perform because of the language barrier.

“This issue of being a minority, being a foreigner in a foreign land – I’ve had to fight some heavy battles,” said Dr. Barria. “I want to share my experiences with people and let others know that it’s possible, to open doors for new trainees to do the same.”

In addition to communication struggles, Dr. Barria often encountered negative stereotypes as he progressed in his career.

“I found that Americans often have a narrow view of what Latinos can do and offer, and I had to fight a lot of stereotypes. For example, when people thought I would always be late because I am Latino, I felt I had to make an extra effort to always be early, and that was unfair,” said Dr. Barria. These experiences have influenced his approach to social justice and how he advises the next generation of scientists.

“As an underrepresented minority, it’s important for us to fight for equal representation. But every time we open up a new space, that comes with responsibility,” he said. “This is something that people of privilege don’t realize. Even when you make the field more even for everyone, you still have to keep fighting stereotypes so that the space keeps growing for everyone.”

Dr. Barria’s commitment to social and political justice has deep roots. As a child, Dr. Barria and his family were exiled from Chile during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. As a result, he spent parts of his childhood in Argentina and Venezuela, before finally returning to Chile for college in 1985.

“When I first got to the university, the government had just eliminated all student-led organizations, which had a strong tradition of political involvement. They knew that to quiet dissidents, you had to target the student population” he said. “Still, they were working to reform, and I was eager to join them.”

Despite their efforts, several leaders of student organizations were facing jail time, political exile or in hiding from the police. Dr. Barria pointed to a poster hanging on his wall which reads “Por la paz…libertad para los estudiantes” – translated, “for peace…freedom for the students.”

“We would go out at night and hang those posters around the university and in the streets,” said Dr. Barria. “I kept one after all of these years and hang it in my office because that’s what I am – it’s what gave me my conviction and made me fight for what I believe in. It’s why I’ve spent time living all over the world, and why I have this commitment to political justice and democracy.”


Your safety is canceled. (response to 2/10/18 UWCR/Patriot Prayer event)

February 9, 2018

Your safety is canceled

This morning, President Ana Mari Cauce has asked students to stay away from the Patriot Prayer rally, sponsored by the University of Washington College Republicans (UWCR) and staged to occur at Red Square, UW, February 10th, from 8am to 5pm. Patriot Prayer, a right-wing group, frequently holds rallies in the Pacific Northwest with the intent of provoking strong reactions by counter protesters. Violence is often incited at these events. Due to the threat of violence, the main campus libraries will be closed, and events, such as the Everybody Every Body Fashion Show and the Young, Gifted, and Black conference for high school students, are canceled. By enabling this rally, UW is sending a message to its students: your safety, your body is less important than this event.

It is unacceptable that a Young, Gifted, and Black conference for high school students is being canceled due to threats of violence at the rally. Access to education is something that was denied to black students just generations ago. School systems are still segregated– even in progressive Seattle. Black bodies are under increasing threats of violence, aggression, harassment, and murder, which is why spaces for black students and other students of color are so important to protect and preserve.

Everybody Every Body, as stated in the email they sent to UW students, is an event that regularly draws around 500 people. Its goal is to open up a dialogue about identities, intersectionality, and bodies. It is peaceful and celebrates the beauty of diverse bodies.

Last year, University of Washington College Republicans (UWCR) sponsored an event featuring Milo Yiannopolous. At this event a man, one of the counter protesters, was shot in the stomach. The harm to his body ended with the blame, via an official statement from UWCR, being shifted onto him and the counter-protestors. “If you keep prodding the right you may be unpleasantly surprised what the outcome will be,” it said. While the UWCR have accused UW of “chilling, marginalizing, or banning the expression of conservative viewpoints,” the school is allowing yet another potentially violent rally to take place. In doing so, President Cauce and UW have succeeded in further marginalizing students of color.

We urge President Cauce and the administration to call an end to the rally. Risk being sued, UW – it’s worth protecting black spaces and lives.