A report by Kaiser Health News and Science Friday on the growing suicide crisis among people of color cited research by Brian Keum, assistant professor of social welfare. While overall suicide rates in the U.S. decreased in 2019 and 2020, rates in the Black, Hispanic and Asian American communities continued to climb in many states. Suicide rates also remain consistently high for Native Americans. Although the suicide rate is highest among middle-aged white men, young people of color are emerging as particularly at risk, the report noted. The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have exacerbated the crisis, and researchers are looking into the role played by job losses, social isolation, racial tensions, mental illness and social media use. The report cited Keum’s preliminary research findings, which indicate that experiencing racism and sexism together is linked to a threefold increase in suicidal thoughts for Asian American women.
A new study recently published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry was co-authored by Brian Keum, assistant professor of social welfare. It links online racism to unhealthy alcohol use as a stress-reduction coping strategy among racial minority adults. Keum was the principal investigator of the study, which examined alcohol use as a risky stress-reduction coping behavior associated with online racism, and whether there was any differentiation between men and women. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the impact of online racism on alcohol use severity among racial minority adults,” said Keum, whose research focuses on reducing health and mental health disparities among marginalized individuals and communities. The report highlighted ways that online racism may be encountered, including personal encounters of racial cyber-aggression from others on the internet, vicarious witnessing of racial cyber-aggression among others and online exposure to racist incidents or racist realities in society. “These results suggest that online racism is likely a contemporary digital risk factor that may drive detrimental health behaviors such as alcohol use,” he said. In particular, women of color reported greater social media-related stress associated with online racism, which explained greater unhealthy alcohol use. This was not found for men. “This may be reflective of the greater stressfulness of the compounded nature of oppression that racial minority women may experience in the online space compared to racial minority men,” Keum said. Most previous studies focused on cyberbullying of children and teenagers, not the digital burden faced by racial minority adults.
In a Washington Post article, Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Brian Keum discussed the mental health and body image of Asian American men who face stigma and stereotyping. While there has been a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Keum noted that “the constant invalidation of being overlooked and ignored” is a more subtle everyday violence that affects Asian Americans professionally, politically and socially. Keum explained that Asian American men are aware of “the stereotype of being emasculated, effeminate, less attractive, less manly, falling short of the white hegemonic masculinity ideal in the United States,” which negatively affects their psyche and body image. Without healthy outlets, Asian American men cope with shame on their own, sometimes through substance abuse, suicidal ideation, aggression or risky behavior, he said. An emerging network of Asian-focused mental health support programs aims to address stigma and promote mental health and well-being among Asian American men.
Brian Keum, assistant professor of social welfare, spoke to CEOMOM magazine for an article advising parents on how to discuss race and social justice with their children. Young people will inevitably be exposed to the violence, hate crimes and tragedies that dominate both the news and social media. “If parents aren’t able to meet eye-to-eye with their children about their online racial experiences, it may create a disconnect,” Keum said. He urged parents to remain vigilant about the platforms their children use. “Parents should have an ongoing dialogue with their children about their experiences on social media, and they should develop their own digital media literacy by engaging with a variety of platforms and apps, researching hate speech policies and moderation related to those platforms and apps, and surveying potential racism and racial experiences their children may be exposed to on them,” Keum said.
By Stan Paul
Faculty hires in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and Urban Planning for the new academic year bring a wealth of new research and teaching, reinforcing the School’s commitment to the health and well-being of individuals and communities.
Assistant Professor Brian Keum has joined Social Welfare. His general research emphasizes the reduction of health and mental health disparities among marginalized identities and communities. In particular, Keum studies the impact of online racism – and online racial violence – on psychosocial outcomes and health disparities. Drawing on his clinical experience, he looks at mental health issues, offline attitudinal and behavioral changes, and risky health behaviors that include substance abuse. A second area of his research is Asian American mental health, as well as multicultural and social justice issues that relate to how mental health counseling is provided.
“As a scientist-practitioner, I am excited to teach both practice and research courses,” said Keum, who will be offering graduate instruction in advanced social work practice and applied statistics in social work.
Judith Perrigo, an infant and early childhood mental health specialist, is also an assistant professor of social welfare. Amid the unusual circumstances of this academic year, Perrigo looks forward to exploring innovative teaching methods while providing meaningful learning experiences in both foundational and advanced social welfare practice courses. This includes sharing some of her recent research on how parents of low socioeconomic status with children in grades 3 to 6 are coping with the unexpected educational demands during the pandemic.
“Our findings suggest that the closure of schools and stay-at-home orders initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated pre-existing parental involvement challenges,“ Perrigo explained, noting that families of lower socioeconomic status were more negatively impacted because they “had fewer affordances to buffer the new stressors.”
Perrigo draws from her personal background as a Salvadoran immigrant and 15 years of applied clinical work with children and families to inform her scholarship. Specifically, her research focuses on the well-being of young children — birth to 5 years old — with emphasis on holistic and transdisciplinary prevention and early intervention initiatives with underserved, vulnerable and marginalized populations.
José Loya joins Urban Planning as an assistant professor after recently completing his Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. At UCLA Luskin he will teach quantitative analysis in urban planning and a seminar on Latino urban issues in the spring.
“My research focuses on ethno-racial disparities in the mortgage market, before, during and after the Great Recession. More generally, I am interested in the barriers minorities face in the homeownership market,” said Loya, who is also a faculty associate at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.
“I am excited to join UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and working and engaging our students in the community,” added Loya, who worked for several years in positions related to community development and affordable housing in South Florida. He then earned a master’s in statistics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. “I’ve already moved to Los Angeles, so I’ll be here locally even if courses are online,” Loya said.
Kirsten Schwarz, who holds a joint appointment as an associate professor of urban planning and environmental health sciences, started at UCLA by co-teaching policy analysis for environmental health science in the spring 2020 quarter.
“Virtually teaching my first class during a global pandemic and social uprising was not how I expected to kick off my career at UCLA,” Schwarz said. “But I was so impressed, and encouraged by, the flexibility, compassion and integrity that the students brought to the experience. It was certainly memorable.”
Schwarz is an urban ecologist working at the interface of environment, equity and health. Her research focuses on environmental hazards and amenities in cities and how their distribution impacts minoritized communities. She recently led an interdisciplinary team through a community-engaged green infrastructure design that integrated participatory design and place-based solutions to achieve desired ecosystem services.
“I’m interested in connecting those areas right between urban planning and environmental health sciences,” said Schwarz, whose work on lead-contaminated soils has helped document how bio-geophysical and social variables relate to the spatial patterning of lead in soils.
Most recently she received a transdisciplinary research acceleration grant from UCLA’s Office of Research and Creative Activities in conjunction with Jennifer Jay, a professor in UCLA’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Their proposal, “Multimedia Assessment of Children’s Lead Exposure in Los Angeles,” will involve work with graduate students in Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Schwarz also has expertise in science communication and in engaging communities in the co-production of science. She has been recognized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which named her a 2018-2019 Fellow in the Leshner Leadership Institute in the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology. Prior to
joining UCLA, she was an associate professor of environmental science at Northern Kentucky University, where she directed the Ecological Stewardship Institute.
Several other faculty searches have been completed, with four additional faculty members set to join Social Welfare and Urban Planning in the coming year. Those new additions include Adam Millard-Ball, who will arrive in January as an associate professor of urban planning, coming from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Millard-Ball holds a doctorate from Stanford University’s School of Earth Sciences and was selected in the urban data science search. He studies environmental economics and transportation, “adding to our strengths in those fields,” said Dean Gary Segura in a memo announcing his appointment.
Mark Vestal, also starting in January, was selected as an assistant professor by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning in a search on critical Black urbanism, Segura announced. A historian by training, Vestal’s work looks at the history of discriminatory planning and housing policy in Los Angeles and beyond.
Fall 2021 newcomers will include Margaret “Maggie” Thomas in Social Welfare and Veronica Terriquez in Urban Planning.
Thomas is a scholar of family and child well-being and is completing her Ph.D. in social work at Boston University this year. She previously earned an MSW degree from the University of Illinois. Her work focuses on young children in families facing serious economic hardship, as well as children and youth from minority communities and with LGBTQ identities.
Terriquez has been jointly appointed to Urban Planning and UCLA’s Department of Chicano Studies where she will take on the leadership of the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA. Terriquez, who earned a Ph.D. in sociology at UCLA, returns to the Westwood campus from UC Santa Cruz. Her work is principally focused on youth and young adult social development, leadership and intergroup relations, and how they are affected by various public policies.