By Omar Reyes

The desk of Omar Reyes, an Arnhold Fellow who did individual research into the Vietnam War era, and shared his findings with a team.

The desk of Omar Reyes, an Arnhold Fellow who did individual research into the Vietnam War era, and shared his findings with a team.

At the time that I took on my research project, getting paid $500 to surf the web in my free time seemed like a deal that was too good to pass up.

But moving forward with my research into the history of social activism, I quickly realized that compiling various documents from a different era and then sharing them with my fellow researchers had something more to offer: the opportunity to be a part of a collaborative community. 

Here at UCSB, my research for the English Department is part of the Arnhold Undergraduate Research Fellows Program, which allows undergraduates to work in close collaboration with graduate students and professors.

The task my fellow researchers and I received was simple: to take a deep look into the 1960s and 1970s and find our own personal lens—an area that interested us—in order to provide commentary. I decided to research social activism, mainly focusing on dehumanization during the Vietnam War, by following figures who were often criminalized while trying to spread peace.

One example of such a figure is Chicano attorney Oscar Zeta Ocosta, notorious for being Hunter S. Thompson’s counterpart in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in which they embarked on a drug-fueled journey. My research tried to show that although Ocosta was often dismissed and criminalized on a political level as a result of his drug use, he made significant strides for civil rights. 

I presented published articles that highlighted some of his most important legal encounters, including a landmark civil rights case in which he defended members of the East LA 13, a group arrested after organizing walkouts to protest discrimination towards Latinos in Los Angeles high schools.

My Arnhold research had me digging through archives for information and meeting with the rest of the fellows to share my findings. I uncovered sources such as newspaper reports and recordings dealing with war protests, which I used in order to create a thorough report.  

Through this process, my favorite aspect of the project was the dynamic of all 12 of the researchers in my group when we worked together, all eager to discover resources that could help each other. Many of us were concerned with social activism in some way or another, so I often received helpful documents such like protest flyers, from my colleagues.

As a transfer student completing my first year here at UCSB, I’m still figuring out exactly what the school has to offer. Being a part of such a motivated group of individuals, all trying to help each other create the best work they can, gave me more insight into UCSB life.

Given that the school has a reputation for having a generally happy student population, typified by the slogan “I Gaucho back,” it shouldn’t come as surprising that working together is a large part of being a student here. But it wasn’t until I was at the round table throwing ideas back and forth that I truly understood this.

My Arnhold Fellowship research focused on those who made peace at a time of war and on loving one another in difficult political times. But this project is where I really learned about teamwork—working with my peers, sharing new opinions of the way people interacted at a different time, and asking each other what that says about where we are today and whether or not we are making the same mistakes.

Omar Reyes is a third-year student at UC Santa Barbara, majoring in English. He covered this event for his Writing Program course, Journalism for Web and Media.