Dean’s Message

I am writing this note at a time when UCLA and many other universities around the country are in a state of upheaval, conflict, anger and sorrow. War and violence are still raging in Gaza. In the United States, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protests have become common occurrences on university campuses. Academic officials are caught between often conflicting responsibilities — to uphold freedom of speech and the right to protest, while also ensuring safety, well-being and a welcoming environment for everyone regardless of their political views. As we witnessed during the violent confrontations that took place at a pro-Palestinian encampment on our campus this spring, efforts to satisfy this dual mandate are not always successful.

In the past, social causes often have served to unite university communities around an overwhelmingly shared view during controversy. This time, it is different. The core issues are complex, divisive and deeply tied to individual identities and beliefs. As a microcosm of society, UCLA faculty, staff, students and alumni encompass a wide range of characteristics and perspectives, many of which inform passionate opinions about the tragic ongoing developments in Gaza. Significant, deeply held divisions exist about the Middle East and what type of responses are appropriate to the related protests at UCLA and other universities.

The path forward is uncertain, but I feel strongly that the most important role that universities can play is to foster tolerance, openness and appreciation of our disparate identities, ideologies and religions. Universities have been and should remain society’s premier public forums — places where competing ideas are nurtured and conflicting ideologies are given opportunities for explanation, discussion and thoughtful debate. Universities foster scholarship, which helps us understand the historical roots, context and impacts of current events and policies. Through a deeper understanding, we seek to promote sound policy solutions and compassionate responses to conflicts. We treasure diversity — not just in gender or ethnicity or upbringing, but in ideas as well. The Luskin School must seek to lift up all voices and provide a place where competing ideas are not just tolerated but welcomed.

This issue of Luskin Forum was in production before conflicts on campus came to a head. Even so, in some ways it exemplifies the power of our School as a public forum. One example is the Luskin Briefing in Sacramento, which in mid-February brought together in the state’s capital an assemblage of scholars and Advisory Board members with senators, assemblymembers and other state officials to discuss two issues of vital importance in California: water management and housing affordability.

Later, the sixth annual Luskin Summit provided a wonderful forum for discussion of a variety of topics and policy responses to extremely pertinent issues in Southern California. Panels on mobility, transportation infrastructure, elections, governance, climate resilience and equity were bookended by presentations from two prominent public servants. Former Los Angeles Councilman and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky opened the Summit with findings from the ninth Quality of Life Index, a survey that presents the pulse of Angelenos on important matters affecting the region. And Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass closed the event in conversation with Jacqueline Waggoner, president of our Board of Advisors and an urban planning alumna. In a frank, open-ended Q&A with Waggoner and the audience, the mayor related her vision regarding the city’s efforts on homelessness.

These two events highlighted the terrific research carried out by UCLA Luskin scholars and the School’s many research centers. Additionally, our continuing series of Luskin Lectures furthered our mission to serve as a public forum. This year, attendees heard from former L.A. Laker and current housing developer Devean George and others working to advance real estate development in Black neighborhoods. Professor Barbara Ransby of the University of Illinois, Chicago, delivered a Luskin Lecture on the “new McCarthyism” on college campuses. And the series featured a joint presentation by three UCLA Luskin alumni who now serve as elected or appointed government officials — Lourdes Castro Ramírez, Caroline Menjivar and Isaac Bryan — on their efforts
to address homelessness and the affordable housing crisis.

These events represent just a few examples of the academic environment’s potential at its best — a positively transformative agent for society, one that espouses diversity and tolerance of ideas and people. I remain proud of our university and the Luskin School, and I know that our academic community will survive the traumatic experiences of recent months and continue to thrive.

Anastasia

Using Technology to Make Public Transit Safer

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, interim dean of UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the possible use of facial recognition technology and fare gates on the LA Metro system following a recent fatal stabbing and other attacks taking place on public transportation. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board has asked Metro staff to explore various measures to increase security across the vast citywide system. Loukaitou-Sideris, distinguished professor of urban planning, noted that cities across the country are dealing with crime on public transit and trying to find ways to make transportation safer. Technologies like facial recognition may raise privacy concerns, she said, suggesting that the use of fare gates and Metro transit ambassadors could help. “Transit environments are really very open environments. Everybody can get in and enter, and if you try many of these measures, you put delays into the system,” she said. “The public is not going to like it. So it’s a dilemma.”


 

Poco Kernsmith Appointed New Chair of Social Welfare Alumna will return to her doctoral alma mater this summer as a professor

By Stan Paul

Poco Kernsmith, a social welfare scholar from the University of Texas at Arlington, has been appointed to serve as the next chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare.

Kernsmith, who earned her PhD in social welfare at UCLA Luskin in 2002, currently serves as the doctoral program director at UT Arlington’s School of Social Work. Previously, she was a longtime faculty member at Wayne State University in Michigan, where she recently finished a second master’s degree in public health focused on public health methods.

Originally from Minnesota, she graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1994 with a bachelor’s in psychology and women’s studies, then earned a master’s in social work at the University of Michigan in 1995.

“We are excited to welcome Poco to Luskin this summer,” announced Interim Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. Kernsmith will officially join the UCLA Luskin Social Welfare faculty as professor and chair on July 1.

Kernsmith said in an interview that she is looking forward to coming back to the Westwood campus after more than two decades and getting reacquainted with the Luskin School.

“Really, I want to understand this whole experience and the people who are in the School and the students, so that I can get a big-picture understanding of what’s happening now.”

Loukaitou-Sideris noted Kernsmith’s expertise in violence prevention, school-based violence interventions and intimate partner violence. Her research has received substantial funding and recognition from federal sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In 2020, she received $2.25 million in federal funding to strengthen violence prevention and response efforts in Michigan schools. Other CDC support has included a $1-million grant for Supporting Healthy Adolescent Relationships and Environments (SHARE), which explored causes of intimate partner violence and identified school connectedness, parental engagement, hopefulness and community involvement as important protective factors for preventing violence perpetration among youth.

Kernsmith’s current work involves the analysis of school policy to create inclusive, trauma-informed environments to prevent and respond to violence or threats of violence in middle and high schools. Other areas of her research include sexual health education, hate-motivated violence and domestic terrorism.

“She will also bring her leadership experience in directing the PhD program at UT Arlington for the past two years and her experience for 20 years prior to this, as a scholar, teacher and faculty member at Wayne State University School of Social Work,” Loukaitou-Sideris wrote in a memo announcing the appointment.

Kernsmith said she is also interested in mentorship and best practices related to graduate and doctoral students — as well as faculty — over their careers, explaining that people who are just starting out or new to a position are generally the only ones considered for mentorship.

“Mentorship is something we need across our lifespan … any time you are making a change to the next step in your career and even into retirement,” she said. “Every transition brings new questions and new opportunities.”

For Kernsmith, one of the biggest challenges in education is promoting respectful dialogue and a free exchange of ideas from different perspectives.

“How do we engage in our intellectual curiosity to better understand separate perspectives when the issues are so heated and emotional? … It’s always a balance.”

Kernsmith will step into a leadership position held by Laura Abrams, professor of social welfare, for seven years. Under Abrams’ leadership, the program saw its reputation grow, achieving the No. 8 standing among social work programs nationally in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings. During that time, UCLA Luskin Social Welfare also hired more than a dozen new faculty and graduated hundreds of skilled practitioners and scholars.

“It has been an honor to serve as the department chair in social welfare for the past seven years … and it is now time to pass the baton,” Abrams said. “I am thrilled that Dr. Kernsmith, an alumnus of our PhD program, will be joining us in the fall as our next chair.”

Loukaitou-Sideris on Making Transit Hubs More Welcoming

Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, interim dean of UCLA Luskin, spoke to WHYY about efforts to restore confidence in the SEPTA public transit system serving the Philadelphia area. Financial pressures have delayed infrastructure projects to improve safety and accessibility on the system’s aging subway network, and some riders say they are anxious about recent episodes of violence. Loukaitou-Sideris, an authority on transit safety who studied SEPTA during the COVID-19 pandemic, said the openness of transportation hubs is a mark of both inclusivity and inherent risk. “If we all start getting afraid of agoraphobia and not going to these public spaces, we will end up in a cocoon of private spaces,” she said. Loukaitou-Sideris added that she is encouraged by Philadelphia’s Hub of Hope, a space within the SEPTA system where unhoused individuals can receive essentials such as food and medical care.


 

Social Welfare Rises to Top 8 in U.S. News Rankings Luskin School also continues to rank among the nation’s top graduate schools overall in public affairs

UCLA Luskin’s overall ranking this year remains among the top public affairs graduate schools in the nation based on the latest U.S. News & World Report ratings released today, including a boost in ranking among social work programs to No. 8.

The School’s Social Welfare program moved up a notch nationwide, sharing its No. 8 position with Boston University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Texas, Austin. Among public universities, the UCLA Luskin Social Welfare program is now one of the top 5 nationwide and remains among the top 2 in California.

“It is an honor to be rated so highly by our peer institutions for our master’s in social welfare program, and that our ranking continues to climb,” said UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Professor Laura Abrams, who has served as chair for the past seven years. “Our program’s mixture of pedagogy, cutting-edge research and opportunities for leadership continue to attract an amazing group of motivated MSW students. I am very proud to see our program acknowledged on the national stage.”

The School — with graduate departments in Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning, and a Public Affairs undergraduate program — also received high marks for subcategories that include urban policy (No. 7), social policy (No. 6) and public policy analysis (No. 14).

“Our rank among top Public Affairs schools in the nation is a reflection of our commitment to excellence in research, teaching, and service to the community,” said UCLA Luskin Interim Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris.

These latest rankings are calculated from qualitative ratings on academic quality submitted by top officials at colleges and universities. U.S. News surveyed deans, directors and department chairs representing 271 master’s programs in public affairs and administration, and more than 300 social work programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the Council on Social Work Education. The National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work supplied U.S. News with the lists of accredited social work schools and programs, plus the respondents’ names.

See the full list of the 2024 U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools. Read more about the public affairs ranking methodology.

Restoring Confidence in New York’s Subway System

UCLA Luskin Interim Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris spoke to the New York Times about strategies to increase safety on New York’s subway system. A string of recent attacks, some involving firearms, have eroded many subway riders’ sense of security. To keep guns out of the subway system, officials should consider stepping up security screenings in ways that affect service as little as possible, said Loukaitou-Sideris, who co-authored a chapter of the 2015 book “Securing Transportation Systems.” In addition to conducting frequent and rigorous bag checks, transit officials could install metal detectors and X-ray machines — a more expensive option but one that the Shanghai Metro has implemented efficiently, Loukaitou-Sideris said. Transportation officials around the world have also been studying the addition of firearm-detecting sensors to fare-collection devices and ticketing machines. “You have to eliminate the opportunity to bring the gun on the train,” Loukaitou-Sideris said.


 

A New Era for Sidewalks, the Ultimate Public Space

A New York Times story on a project to repair and restore 108 blocks of sidewalk surrounding Central Park called on UCLA Luskin Interim Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris to provide history and context. “Sidewalks are the ultimate public space. They exemplify openness and democracy,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. “They really have to be open and accessible to everyone, regardless of age, gender, disability, race, ethnicity.” The urban planning scholar and author of “Sidewalks: Conflict and Negotiation Over Public Space” said sidewalks first became widespread in the United States in the 19th century but have many more uses today. Electric scooters, delivery robots, people using Google Maps on foot, people waiting for Ubers and restaurants expanding outdoors have all found a place on the sidewalk. “There are all these new uses that have been brought about by digital technology and the pandemic,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. “Sidewalks are becoming more important than what they have been, and it might be a new era for sidewalks.”


 

School Travels to State Capital for Research Briefing and Alumni Gathering Back-to-back events in Sacramento provide networking opportunities and showcase scholarly works

In mid-February, a contingent of more than 30 people from UCLA Luskin made the trip to northern California in an effort to connect with alumni, government officials and policy experts involved in state government.

The two-day gathering in Sacramento was envisioned as the first of what will become an annual feature of the Luskin’s School’s outreach efforts, pairing an alumni get-together in the state capital with a research-focused briefing for elected officials and their staffs.

The UCLA Luskin Briefing at UC Center Sacramento took place during the time when new bills were being finalized for the next legislative session, and the hope is that the research of UCLA Luskin and its various research centers can put current and future legislative leaders in a better position to make data-informed decisions.

“It was very well attended by elected and appointed officials,” noted Interim Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who made the effort a priority for this academic year and actively participated in the planning process. “The elected officials I talked to afterward were very appreciative for the event and told me that they hope to see more such events from our School.”

Two briefing sessions were held. A session on water management highlighted research by Adjunct Associate Professor Gregory Pierce MURP ’11 PhD UP ’15, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. A session on affordable housing was led by Associate Professor Michael Lens, associate faculty director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

The briefing and the Alumni Regional Reception, which took place the evening before, brought together faculty, staff or alumni from all four departments — Public Policy, Social Welfare, Urban Planning and the Undergraduate Program — as well as members of the Luskin School’s Board of Advisors.

A group of about 20 current Master of Public Policy students also made the trip, getting an opportunity to connect directly with alumni whose footsteps they may hope to follow, including Assemblyman Isaac Bryan MPP ’18, a member of the affordable housing panel.

Find out more about the briefing and view the bios of the 12 people who participated as speakers or panelists.

View photos from the alumni reception

Sacramento Alumni Regional Reception 2024

View photos from the research briefing

Sacramento Briefing 2024

 

Resisting the ‘New McCarthyism’ on College Campuses and Beyond In a UCLA lecture, historian Barbara Ransby warns of a 'war over ideas, over facts, over how we see and understand the world'

By Mary Braswell

As a leading scholar of the social and political struggles that have shaped the American experience, Barbara Ransby could easily identify the troubling signs around her.

A climate of fear, intimidation and guilt by association is on the rise today, hallmarks of what she called a new McCarthyism — not just in the halls of power but on college campuses that have historically prided themselves on freedom of expression.

“There is a war right on our campuses, a war over ideas, over facts, over how we see and understand the world, over what we can publish and what we can teach, over how we can protest and whether we can protest,” Ransby told a UCLA audience on Feb. 8.

“Our campuses are central battlegrounds and, overall, on the spectrum of liberalism to authoritarianism, we unfortunately see a steady and frightening move toward authoritarianism.”

But Ransby also pointed to important work being done on campuses around the country, “sites of resistance that inspire me and make me optimistic and hopeful in this moment.”

Ransby, an award-winning historian, author and activist, has a long record of building bridges between scholars and grassroots organizers in their common fight for equal rights and opportunities.

She is a founding member of Scholars for Social Justice, was named to the inaugural class of Freedom Scholars by the Marguerite Casey Foundation, and directs the Social Justice Initiative at the University of Illinois, Chicago, where she is a distinguished professor of African American studies, gender and women’s studies, and history.

Ransby spoke to a capacity crowd in the Grand Salon at UCLA’s Kerckhoff Hall as part of the Luskin Lecture Series and the 2nd Annual Distinguished Lecture in Ideas and Organizing presented by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D).

The event was preceded by a reception and exhibit of photos from Aetna Street in Van Nuys, an encampment where people sheltered in tents and vehicles until the site was cleared by Los Angeles city officials last August. Aetna Street residents, local activists and UCLA scholars are part of a research collective formed to study the struggle for justice for the unhoused, and the photos on display offered glimpses of the community’s experiments in living and public grieving.

During the lecture and panel discussion, several UCLA scholars whose work centers on social justice shared the stage with Ransby: UCLA Luskin professors Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, interim dean of the Luskin School, and Ananya Roy, director of II&D; Robin D.G. Kelley, distinguished professor of history; Sherene H. Razack, distinguished professor of gender studies; and David C. Turner III, assistant professor of Black life and racial justice at UCLA Luskin Social Welfare.

The dialogue touched on causes for alarm on many fronts: This November’s high-stakes U.S. presidential election. Repressive police tactics. The Israel-Gaza war, with its terrible humanitarian toll and fallout for free speech on college campuses.

Ransby issued a call to action, again turning to the lessons of history. During the anti-war and Black freedom movements of the 1960s, she said, campuses were “epicenters of struggle and resistance. Out of this struggle, real victories were won, even though fraught and fragile.”

Today’s scholar-activists, faculty and students alike, all have a stake in the struggle and must resist efforts to silence dissent, she said. For inspiration, she pointed to several thriving university programs that are on the front lines of the fight for racial and gender equity, police reform, climate justice and housing for all.

“These programs, courses and content areas matter, not just because students have a greater breadth of knowledge, which is true and good,” Ransby said. “But these ideas and theories are also tools for liberation and freedom making. …

“As problematic and complicated and contradictory as they are, as much harm as they do, colleges and universities are places where we build trenches, where we carve out oases, where we create spaces to think, collaborate, inspire, and ask critical and courageous questions about freedom and justice.”

 

Watch the lecture and panel discussion on Vimeo.


View photos of Barbara Ransby’s visit and the Aetna Street photo exhibit on Flickr.

Barbara Ransby Luskin Lecture

Inequality and California Freeways: A Visual Journey Story map opens a window into the disproportionate impact on people of color of freeway routing near the Rose Bowl

By Mary Braswell

The research project was ambitious in scope, chronicling the history of racism in freeway development in California and assessing the damaging impacts that endure today.

More than 300 pages long, with 16 authors from UCLA and UC Davis, the final product is rich with data and insights about how to atone for past harms and ensure that future policies have equity at their center.

Once it was published in March 2023, the team at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies faced the next challenge: How best to convey the report’s findings to an audience both inside and outside academia?

To meet this goal, ITS researchers, communications specialists and graduate students tapped into storytelling tools powered by data science, opening a window into the expansive report by zeroing in on a single, illustrative case study: the decision to route the 210 freeway through a thriving Black neighborhood in Pasadena.

Using ArcGIS StoryMaps technology, the team wove together census data, charts, maps and historic photos to create an absorbing visual narrative of the planning decisions of the 1950s and ’60s that led to the displacement of nearly 3,000 predominantly Black residents.

The full report explores the siting of freeway projects in Pasadena, Pacoima, Sacramento and San José, said Claudia Bustamante, ITS communications manager, but “of all the cities that the researchers looked at, it was really Pasadena that had such a stark contrast showing what the freeway did because of its chosen route and what communities were impacted the most.”

Bustamante set out to brainstorm with ITS graduate student researcher and communications fellow Michael Rosen, whose interest in mastering the tools of data science led him to UCLA Luskin.

“A story map allows for the integration of visuals in a really cool way, and we wanted to use that specific tool to tell the Pasadena part of the story,” said Rosen, who earned his master’s in urban and regional planning in 2023. “No regular person is going to read hundreds of pages on the history of freeways, so the idea was to produce a more accessible version, looking at one slice of the report.”

Rosen distilled the 50-page Pasadena chapter into an outline for the project and worked with Bustamante to develop visual aids to tell the story. UCLA Luskin staff and students, including a team from the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, did the heavy lifting on data analysis. Principal investigator Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning and now interim dean of the Luskin School, and an ITS research project manager, Jacob L. Wasserman, reviewed the work to ensure that the study’s overarching message was conveyed.

The story map recalls a time when people of color were drawn to Pasadena’s northwestern neighborhoods for the area’s lively commercial district, Victorian- and Craftsman-influenced architecture, and an air of possibility. After World War II, however, the neighborhood’s fortunes began to change. Disinvestment, redlining and demolition projects euphemistically cast as “urban renewal” all set the stage for deliberations over which route the Foothill Freeway/Interstate 210 would take.

One option, known as the “Blue Route,” would have gone through a largely uninhabited but wealthier area near the Rose Bowl. Instead, state and city officials selected the “Green Route,” which displaced eight times as many homes, mostly occupied by people of color.

The decision prioritized protection of the natural surroundings near the venerated stadium’s parking lot. As a result, a community was cut in two by the 210 Freeway, with thousands of homes and businesses demolished. Those who remained were exposed to the known health hazards of freeways such as noise and auto emissions. Home values were significantly depressed relative to other parts of Pasadena.

“It is hard to interpret this series of events as anything other than a coordinated effort by local officials over decades to displace Black residents,” the researchers concluded.

Rosen said he was grateful for the opportunity to use the skills learned through his urban planning coursework to share an important piece of research. With a background in journalism, he came to the program with an interest in finding compelling ways to convey fact-based information. He gravitated toward courses such as Urban Data Science, taught by Professor Adam Millard-Ball, and GIS and Spatial Data Science, taught by Yoh Kawano, who earned his doctorate in urban planning at the Luskin School in 2020.

That skillset helped ITS achieve its overriding goal.

“In most of our work, we ask ourselves, ‘How do we tell this story in the best way?’” Bustamante said. “Researchers are going to read the research, but that’s not our only audience.”

View the “Freeways, Redlining and Racism” storymap.