By Stan Paul
“Diversity and excellence are not mutually exclusive.”
For Gerry Laviña, director of field education and associate director of the D3 (Diversity, Differences and Disparities) Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, those words by former Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. made “a clear statement and immediately said to our community that Luskin values diversity.”
In Los Angeles and around the world, “diversity is a social justice issue,” Laviña said. “And now we have seen this being challenged.” The unequal playing fields of opportunity and wages — as well as institutional barriers and discrimination — are the issues Luskin students and faculty members grapple with as practitioners and scholars every day, he said.
Laviña, who also serves as the faculty co-chair of the Diversity/Equity/Inclusion (DEI) Committee in Social Welfare, and advises the Luskin dean on related issues, said that, ideally, the products of the students’ and School’s continuing efforts are inclusive and equitable situations in which diversity and diverse viewpoints are valued.
“Luskin is a leader in validating diversity — look at our students, the communities we serve, the student orgs, the research centers, D3, the Gilliam Social Justice Awards, our Diversity Fair, etc. Yet, we always have more work to do,” Laviña said.
In this spirit, the Luskin School will be hosting its first schoolwide Diversity Recruitment Fair starting at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3. The all-day fair at the Ackerman Grand Ballroom and the Luskin School will bring together the departments of Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning for an informative program of interest to prospective graduate students, especially those underrepresented in higher education and professional fields.
Throughout the Luskin School’s history there have been diversity events and programs organized by student groups, said Laviña, who is on the organizing committee of academic advisers and staff as well as student diversity group representatives.
Diversity is a common thread at Luskin that runs from students and faculty to staff and alumni, all of whom are part of organizing the event. Luskin’s Leadership Development Program is also helping to organize and sponsor it.
“We have talked about it for a few years and this year decided to join together — pooling resources, knowledge, people power — to benefit each department and Luskin overall,” Laviña said. “We need to do more work collectively and across departments, so this will be a wonderful, concrete way to do so.”
Delara Aharpour, a second-year master of public policy (MPP) student representing the public policy student group Policy Professionals for Diversity and Equity (PPDE), said she was happy to see UCLA Luskin making a concerted effort on diversity. “It makes us really proud to be part of this program,” Aharpour said. “We all believe in making the School accessible to everyone.”
Other groups participating are Social Welfare’s Diversity Caucus and Planners of Color for Social Equity, an Urban Planning organization.
“We hope this is our largest, most successful diversity fair as well as an example of the great work that can be done when all departments have the opportunity to collaborate with each other,” said Ambar Guzman, a second-year master of social welfare (MSW) student representing the Social Welfare Diversity Caucus. “My hope is that prospective students will get a sense of the collaborative and supportive community we have continued to build within the Luskin School of Public Affairs,” she said.
Jackie Oh, a second-year master of urban and regional planning (MURP) student representing Planners of Color for Social Equity, said that the purpose of the diversity admissions fair is to demonstrate to prospective applicants the department’s commitment to social justice and urban planning, and to reach out to those historically underrepresented graduate programs. The fair’s workshops are meant to be both informative and geared toward strengthening the applications of aspiring planners, especially those of color, Oh said. Information on financial aid and statements of purpose will be available at the fair.
“The opportunity to network with our current students, staff and alumni welcomes our visitors to the department and helps them envision joining our community and advancing their planning interests at UCLA,” Oh said. Among participants in the event will be Ed Reyes, Urban Planning alumnus, Luskin Senior Fellow and former longtime Los Angeles City Councilmember.
Interim Dean Lois Takahashi explained why diversity is so important to the mission of the Luskin School: “At the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, we see diversity and excellence as mutually reinforcing dimensions of education, research, and public/community engagement. As such, we are committed to supporting diversity in ideas, in people and in projects across the school.”
For information, schedule and registration, please visit the Luskin Diversity Recruitment Fair web page.