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Living the Brand

When you walk into a clothing store, do you notice how the sales associates are dressed? Their hairstyle? Skin color? Body type? While you might not think those things matter, many store chains have established unwritten specifications for whom they want working in their stores—and representing their brand.

In their book, Walking Mannequins: How Race and Gender Inequalities Shape Retail Clothing Work, UMass Provost Professor Joya Misra and Kyla Walters ’14MA, ’19PhD explore how racism, classism, and gender bias impact retail employee demographics. Throughout many studies on the subject, they’ve found these biases influence every element of retail jobs—from a worker’s experience with customers, managers, and the personal aesthetics and beauty requirements they endure while on the job. All while wearing the clothing they are trying to sell (another job requirement). The studies most notably detail how white-associated beauty standards are perpetuated through dress codes and hiring practices.

“We wrote the book for our students working retail jobs,” explains Misra. “We admire our students so much, working so hard, trying to make a difference, even when they face low pay, variable and unpredictable schedules, and poor working conditions. Our goal is for the book to make things better for young workers.”



Potential Energy

A person with a beard stands with his arms crossed on the UMass campus.

During his childhood in rural Uganda, Aggrey Muhebwa ’24PhD had access to electricity for only a few hours each week. That gave him firsthand insight into the impact that a stable, renewable energy source could have on remote communities. Today, Muhebwa is a graduate research assistant in the lab of Assistant Professor Jay Taneja, whose work explores using machine learning to measure and manage infrastructure systems—such as energy, transportation, water, and sanitation—in industrialized and developing regions.

“Affordable energy underpins any economic development,” says Muhebwa. “To lift people out of poverty, there is a need to have affordable and reliable energy sources.” But cost isn’t the only consideration. According to the World Bank, climate change is likely to disproportionately affect poorer communities, and has the potential to push more than 100 million people into extreme poverty. “We have to go beyond affordability and make sure that is it clean and sustainable,” Muhebwa says.

Muhebwa is the first UMass Amherst student to receive a prestigious international scholarship from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, given in support of his work. He emphasizes that measuring the effects of climate change in the developing world benefits people everywhere. For example, he says, “This scholarship has allowed me to tap into a network of like-minded individuals with shared goals and interests in utilizing big data and artificial intelligence to further understand the cascading impacts of climate change on water resources.”