And in the blink of an eye, five years has come and gone.
This is my 11th Forum column. I write after an extraordinary period of change in the world, and at UCLA Luskin. We do our work in the world, on real problems facing real people, families and communities. When I arrived five years ago, I made a commitment to embrace and enhance the School’s well-established mission of helping, of doing good in the world. I believe we have kept that promise, and each day I am stunned to see the astounding efforts of my colleagues in implementing that vision through research, training and action.
Five years ago, I could not have envisioned the pandemic, the insurrection and the myriad crises of these last two years. New challenges and new opportunities, daunting and exciting at the same time, have emerged from this upheaval. Out of the old will emerge new patterns, changed institutions, terrible losses and unanticipated opportunities. Exactly what those will look like is hard to foresee. But the Luskin School will certainly be trying.
What can UCLA Luskin do to enhance our understanding of COVID-19, of the political upheavals of the last years, of the social changes being set into motion by both? In this issue, we highlight ways in which Luskin research has immediate impact on the world around us.
Our work on inequality and displacement is never more needed than now, when the homelessness and affordable housing crises collide with large-scale economic struggle during the pandemic, and
a 40-year growth in income inequality.
Our work on housing and transportation can certainly inform our understanding of the “great resignation” or the withdrawal of substantial segments of the workforce from active participation. There is very little question that priorities have shifted for millions of Americans, less willing to work for minimum wage, less willing to take that second job (or, for couples, third job), less willing to
commute for hours a day. The death of hundreds of thousands of our countrymen, the 18 months of remote work, clearly reshaped choices.
Similarly, our expertise in these areas cannot help but inform the changing nature of work and workplaces after nearly two years of remote employment for many. Telecommuting pre-dates the pandemic, but these last two years have revolutionized our understanding of what tasks require in-person labor, and how supervisors can effectively monitor those working from home. Clearly some of this work was not ideal, but we discovered that some workers did just fine! In this context, hours of commuting and parking costs are hard to justify when they don’t improve productivity or enhance service.
Our expertise on health and health care disparities, disruptions in the insurance market, depression and mental health challenges, and lack of services to the poor, to marginalized communities and the homeless is made more urgent in the wake of clear and undeniable effects of this inequality on Los Angeles and beyond. We have witnessed wildly uneven mortality rates, testing and vaccination efforts, and untreated morbidities that have made a terrible situation worse for those who have the least.
Communities of color, among those most disadvantaged in the pandemic, have also seen their political voice weakened by vote dilution and voter suppression, and by a history of the use of the criminal justice system as social regulation. The UCLA Voting Rights Project at Luskin may be coming to a courtroom near you as we fight to protect the franchise and American democracy. When those most disadvantaged take to the streets in frustration, they are likely to face hostile law enforcement and attempts at suppression. Minority experiences in the U.S. justice system have historically been problematic under the best of circumstances and even more so in these times of social stress and the ongoing tragedy of unjustified killings. Thankfully, these events, too, are the subject of inquiry in all Luskin departments.
The distinction between the Luskin School and much of academia is reflected in words written by Marx 133 years ago in his 11th Thesis on Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”