Commencement Events Bring Class of ’21 Together

UCLA Luskin honored its Class of 2021 with two days of celebrations, including an on-campus ceremony that brought classmates together after more than a year of remaining apart. The June 10 stage-crossing event felt like a class reunion for many students who completed their coursework remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although some health protocols remained in place, students from the School’s public policy, social welfare, urban planning and undergraduate programs were able to gather at UCLA’s Los Angeles Tennis Center to hear their names read aloud and take photographs with Dean Gary Segura, department chairs and fellow graduates. “Today, we have so much to celebrate,” Segura told the assembled graduates. “You have accomplished, against all odds, completing your UCLA degree during a global pandemic, and we could not be prouder of you.” Formal commencement ceremonies and speeches were posted online June 11 as the Luskin School bestowed master’s and doctoral degrees — and, for the first time, the new Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs.

View a livestream of the on-campus event on Vimeo and additional images on Flickr.

 

UCLA Luskin Commencement 2021


 

Spring Quarter Town Halls With Dean Segura

Dean Gary Segura will host three town halls for UCLA Luskin students. The dean will share updates and answer questions at these virtual gatherings.

FOR DOCTORAL STUDENTS: Wednesday, May 12, 4-5:30 p.m.

FOR UNDERGRADUATES: Thursday, May 13, 12:30 – 2 p.m.

FOR MASTER’S STUDENTS: Thursday, May 20, 12:30 – 2 p.m.

Link to submit questions and join the town halls will be sent via email.

Black Lives Matter Pioneer Named 2021 Commencement Speaker Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the global movement, is an author, educator and artist who has dedicated her life to racial justice

By Zoe Day

Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, will deliver the 2021 Commencement address for the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Cullors, an educator, artist and best-selling author who has been on the front lines of community organizing for 20 years, will appear at the June 11 Commencement celebration on an online platform due to COVID-19 health concerns.

In 2013, the UCLA alumna created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter, which grew into an international movement for racial justice and reform. Last year, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in 2020.

“Patrisse Cullors is at the heart — and the foundation — of a movement for human rights, social change and genuine equality under the law,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said. “Her work and the work of those who follow is way past due.

“The time has long since come for our society to come to a reckoning regarding the violence and abuse we visit on Black Americans,” Segura said. “She is the ideal person to deliver a message of mission to our 2021 graduates.”

As a teenager, Cullors became interested in activism and joined the Bus Riders Union, an advocacy group that fought for increased funding for bus systems in Los Angeles. She later started Dignity and Power Now, a coalition formed to shed light on brutality by sheriff’s deputies in county jails.

She has also led the JusticeLA and Reform L.A. Jails coalitions, helping them to win progressive ballot measures, fight against a $3.5 billion jail expansion plan in Los Angeles County, and implement the first Civilian Oversight Commission of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Her activism has been informed by her studies of revolutionaries, critical theory and social movements around the world. She earned a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy from UCLA in 2012 and received her master’s in fine arts from USC.

In 2013, Cullors co-founded the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi in response to an acquittal in the killing of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Today, the organization supports Black-led movements in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada and has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.

In 2018, Cullors and co-author Asha Bandele published “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir,” which became a New York Times best-seller.

In 2020, Cullors co-produced the 12-part YouTube series “Resist,” which chronicles the fight against Los Angeles County’s jail expansion plan. She also signed a multi-year production deal with Warner Bros. and has said she intends to use the contract to continue to uplift Black stories, talent and creators.

Cullors serves as the faculty director of Arizona’s Prescott College, where she designed the curriculum for a new master’s of fine arts program focusing on the intersection of art, social justice and community organizing.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon Opens UCLA Luskin Summit Legislative priorities relating to police reform and climate change are topics of focus in the keynote webinar to begin the third annual conference

By Les Dunseith

California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon spoke about California’s policy priorities during remarks Jan. 28 when the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs opened its third annual Luskin Summit.

As one of the state’s top political leaders, Rendon outlined his legislative priorities for 2021 — police reform, climate change and broadband internet access —  as the first presenter in a virtual series of discussions set to continue in February, March and April.

Dean Gary Segura said Rendon was invited to open the Summit in part because his background and political views are of interest to UCLA students, faculty and alumni. “In his career as educator, child well-being advocate and policy innovator, Rendon represents the best values of the Luskin School and our mission.”

Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, Rendon, a Democrat, said Californians are already seeing benefits from the election of Joe Biden as president.

“One thing we can be sure about is the importance of having a plan. Throughout 2020, when COVID first appeared on our radar, we did not have a national plan,” Rendon said. “Biden came in, and he released a plan in his first week.”

He noted the tension that existed on many issues between the Trump administration and California officials, which led state leaders to work independently of the federal government on issues such as immigration and climate change.

“With Biden in the White House … I think we’re going to have a little bit more help and more opportunities to work with this administration instead of against it,” Rendon said.

As a legislative leader, Rendon has stressed inclusion and diversity, and he noted that more women hold committee chairs today in the state assembly than at any time in the past. He also pointed to his appointment of the first Muslim, Imam Mohammad Yasir Khan, to serve as assembly chaplain.

His leadership style emphasizes sharing of responsibility, Rendon told the online audience of more than 100 scholars, social services advocates, philanthropic and public leaders, and other interested parties. 

“I believe that the assembly works best when the individual members of the assembly, particularly the chairs, are able to utilize their skills, to utilize their life experiences,” he said. For example, Rendon said he has sought to embolden the chairs of legislative committees related to health and education whose expertise exceeds his own. “That’s been my philosophy, that I can be the best leader if I’m enabling others to do their jobs.”

In terms of legislative priorities, Rendon acknowledged that California lawmakers “fell short” on police reform in 2020, including failing to pass a bill that would have changed the disciplinary processes for police officers.

“We need to change those processes so that public safety is not just about officer protection,” he said. “Of course, we want to make sure that we’re not endangering the people we trust with patrolling our streets and neighborhoods, but we also have to make sure that they are careful.”

Rendon said California is already a national and international leader in dealing with climate change, but more work can be done.

“We need to ask if our climate change actions benefit disadvantaged communities,” he said, noting that his assembly district includes some of the most densely populated areas in the nation. “Southeast L.A. communities have around 17,000 people per square mile, but we have severe park shortages.”

Parts of his district were once farmland, but when they were developed for housing, the emphasis was placed on building high-density apartment dwellings without retaining open spaces. “Parks and vegetation are really important ways to reduce the heat island effect that drives warming in urban communities,” Rendon said.

His third legislative priority for 2021 also focuses on disadvantaged communities. In the past, discussions about a lack of broadband internet access centered around rural communities in the extreme north and south of the state.

“When COVID happened and when folks started having to go online for schooling, we discovered that there was a lack of broadband access all over the place,” Rendon said. “And those problems really started to manifest themselves, particularly in disadvantaged communities.”

He views the internet today as a critical public utility. “It’s not just a rich and poor issue; not just an urban and rural issue,” Rendon said. “It’s an issue that affects every single part of the state.”

In answer to a question posed by Segura about housing affordability, Rendon talked about visiting a neighborhood where he had once lived and noticing a flurry of housing construction. He reached out to a local official to praise the effort, only to be told to take a closer look at the upper floors of the newly occupied buildings.

“Those are all dark, right? Nobody lives there.”

In Rendon’s view, this example illustrates an ongoing problem in a state in which high-end housing continues to be built without enough pressure being brought on developers to balance their projects with affordable units.

When he first got to Sacramento, Rendon said, he noticed a disconnect in people’s minds between housing and homelessness. Over time, this misconception has slowly changed, in part because of “incredible data that show the number of people who would become homeless if they missed one month of pay, if they missed two months of pay.”

To further illustrate his point, Rendon noted that as assembly speaker he serves on the UC Board of Regents and the Cal State Board of Trustees. The statistics on housing scarcity among university students are staggering, he said, noting that many students can be found sleeping in their cars or couch surfing with friends from one night to the next.

“We know that housing and homelessness are linked,” said Rendon, whose 20 years of work in the nonprofit sphere often leads him to look for solutions in service delivery mechanisms. “I think if we’re going to solve the housing crisis, we need to address homelessness. And if we’re going to address homelessness, we really need to think about comprehensive services for homeless folks and for near-homeless folks.”

Additional information about the Luskin Summit, including previews of other sessions and a registration link, can be found online. Sponsors include the Los Angeles Rams, Gensler, the Weingart Foundation and the California Wellness Foundation. The media partner is ABC7 in Los Angeles.

In late April, the final event of Luskin Summit 2021 will be unveiling of the 6th annual Quality of Life Index, a project at UCLA Luskin that is supported by The California Endowment and Meyer and Renee Luskin under the direction of Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative. The survey asks county residents to rate their quality of life in a range of categories and to answer questions about important issues. Last year’s survey happened to coincide with the early stages of the pandemic.  

Watch a recording of the keynote session:

Dean’s Message

Well. That happened.

The year 2020 is etched in our memories forever. And we will be living with the consequences for a long time to come. For years, UCLA has built a brand around optimism, and there is no question that we needed some these last few months.

As things improve in 2021 — as I hope and expect they will — we will have a lot of people to thank. Some are visionaries, some are people of action, some do what they have always done but with more urgency and at greater risk, and some do what has never been done before.

Experiences, no matter how bitter, can be instructive. And this one is no exception. I have learned a great deal these last few months …

  1. Science is not the answer to every question. But the rejection of science, opposition to reason and evidence, is deadly.
  2. Pandemics are social scientific problems. Yes, they are public health and medical problems, and (laboratory) scientific problems, but genuine solutions require understanding why people think what they think and why people do what they do.
  3. The American people are, on average, undereducated in science and in civics. Every high school graduate should have a working knowledge of American government and a basic understanding of the scientific method. Without both, the ability to distinguish fact from fiction is severely undermined.
  4. Accurate information is essential to democracy and to prosperity. Misinformation intentionally flooded into the conversation is devastating and deadly. The crises of 2020 were fueled by media actors making statements they knew were false as they said them. Yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater is not free speech.
  5. Citizens of a democracy should hold strong commitment to core principles: belief in fundamental equality of all citizens; equality of justice under the law; freedom to speak one’s mind without threat of violence; commitment to the common good; the sanctity and universality of the right to vote, and an embrace of fully fair elections that includes a willingness to recognize the winner as legitimate. Unfortunately, these principles are far from universal.
  6. American political institutions are flawed and can be profoundly weak, but they have survived in part because of adherence to norms. Failing such adherence, our institutions may not be up to the task. We have seen entire clauses of the Constitution be made unenforceable and the “co-equal” nature of the elected branches swept away through judicial fiat. The power of the presidency has grown wildly beyond the intended constraints of the anti-monarchical framers.

So, yes, all that happened. But this happened too:

  1. There is still room for American exceptionalism. An astounding 154 million Americans cast votes in an election whose administration required unprecedented adaptation and courage. The 2020 election proceeded without violence or serious organizational breakdown.
  2. UCLA is an institution of startling capacity. Amid the pandemic, this institution has made critical contributions in health care and public health, crisis management and the relief of human misery, all while the entire campus was re-platformed to ensure continued delivery of a world-class education.
  3. These last 10 months included breathtaking acts of courage and kindness in all corners of society. The dedication to common good and genuine community that permeates our society remains, I believe, the best characteristic of our national character.
  4. The people of UCLA Luskin continue to pursue that common good. We have provided comfort to those in need of support, helped manage public agency responses, litigated to protect the right to vote, studied exhaustively the economic and human crises in the post-pandemic environment, and pushed for equitable treatment during this time of tremendous social stress. Luskin advocates passionately — based on good science — for positive change.

In recent months, our worst and best impulses have been evident simultaneously. At UCLA Luskin, we remain committed to minimizing the former, nurturing the latter, and making progress on the challenges that remain.

To a better year ahead.

Gary

Dean’s Town Halls Offer Forum for Questions and Concerns

Dean Gary Segura hosted a trio of virtual town hall-style discussions this month, inviting students to discuss issues of concern. In the past, Segura held one session per year, but he has stepped up the frequency and split into separate sessions for the undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs because of the challenges of pursuing higher education amid COVID-19. Segura was joined by department chairs and staff, who fielded a broad range of inquiries about remote learning, university finances, racial reconciliation and support for international students. Segura said the School has set aside additional funds to support students in need and noted that a number of faculty hires are in the works. Plans for graduation are taking place on two tracks, in-person and remote, depending on health restrictions, he said. Students shared their experiences with virtual instruction, weighing in on what works and what does not. They also learned about a national campaign in support of paid internships and discussed departmental efforts to update training and curriculum on issues of equity. Although quarterly town halls are planned, the dean stressed that students can offer input at any time. The coronavirus pandemic has required flexibility and forbearance. “It’s a very difficult time, there’s no question about that. People’s patience is starting to wear a little thin — but don’t let impatience put your health at risk,” Segura cautioned. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but you’ve got to hang on.”


 

UCLA Alumna Neera Tanden Delivers Post-Election Analysis at Virtual Luskin Lecture CEO of Center for American Progress draws on her deep experience in national politics to discuss what to expect from the Biden administration

By Stan Paul

Pollsters and pundits predicted a blue wave for Joe Biden and Democrats, and President Donald Trump called for an overwhelming red surge at the polls to secure a second term.

Both sides got it right and wrong.

“It’s just that Joe Biden was able to put together a coalition that, at the end of the day, will likely have 5 million more people behind it and, importantly, had strength enough to carry him through victory in what’s likely to be five states that Trump won in 2016,” said Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress.

Tanden is a 1992 UCLA alumna who served in the Obama and Clinton administrations, lending credibility to her discussion of the state of the electoral process and prospects of a polarized nation under the administration of Biden and his vice president-elect, Kamala Harris. She was the featured speaker for a post-election analysis Nov. 10 moderated by UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura. The online session was the second Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture of the 2020-21 academic year.

Tanden was asked to analyze the campaign, comment on voter turnout and assess an ongoing tumultuous transition amid vote recounts demanded by an incumbent president refusing to acknowledge the outcome of the 2020 vote. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has reached its highest levels across the country.

“I can’t think of a better person to talk to about this than Neera Tanden,” said Segura, who described the first week after the election as “an anxiety-filled time.” Citing her work with previous presidential campaigns and noting her law degree from Yale, Segura added that Tanden “has perhaps the best grasp of what we’re likely to see in a Biden administration in the coming years.”

Noting that the White House win was the “most pivotal outcome, for sure,” Segura asked Tanden to address the fact that Democrats did more poorly in House and Senate races than they had hoped.

“I think we do have to grapple with the fact that it seems that Biden’s brand is stronger than the brand of the Democratic Party,” Tanden said. “There’s a lot of work for the party to evaluate how Biden has a brand that the party needs to move to, rather than the other way around.”

Tanden prefaced her analysis by starting from a global perspective, noting a worldwide rise of right-wing authoritarian populism over the past decade and the “politics of division” some politicians are stoking. She called out countries that include India, Turkey and Hungary, as well as current “politics roiling in Britain.”

“What we’ve seen around the world is that once an authoritarian populist takes power, through democratic means, it’s very, very difficult to dislodge that person,” Tanden said.

She suggested that Trump shares a trait with many authoritarian leaders — an ability to dominate a news cycle and negatively brand their opponents, calling it one of “Trump’s greatest superpowers.” The GOP’s effort to associate Democrats with socialism, she noted, was important in some races but generally turned out to be a less successful strategy against Biden.

Still, she acknowledged that Trump was able to mobilize his base of support across the country and bring out conservative voters at unprecedented levels, far exceeding his 2016 tally despite falling short of Biden’s total.

Segura asked Tanden about Trump’s legal strategy in challenging the election and the possible detrimental effect on democracy given that many Republican voters believe the election was stolen.

“I think we are witnessing a profound damage to democracy in the sense that Republican leaders are willing to basically do anything to appease Trump’s fantasy that he can win,” Tanden said. “You see that in the two Georgia run-off candidates who attacked the Republican secretary of state. Basically, it’s been reported that Trump demanded that they do so or he would attack them.”

The outgoing president has a “stronger hold on the base of the Republican Party and Republican voters than any other Republican in my lifetime, so he has an ability to basically scare any single one of these Republicans,” she said.

Even so, Tanden said she did not think the electoral process is in jeopardy “unless something goes really haywire,” given that Trump’s legal challenges are being rejected by judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican administrations. U.S. courts do not have a history of overturning votes after the fact, she said.

The coming years won’t be easy for either party, Tanden said, and both sides face unique challenges.

Republicans will find it hard to do anything independently “because they will just be in fear of Trump running again or campaigning against them. … The one thing he’s demonstrated over the last four years is he is perfectly happy to attack Republicans if they don’t do his bidding, and with deep, deep consequences.”

Democrats seem likely to face an obstructive Republican Senate majority and thus will have to seek compromise to govern.

“It’s an open question; there’s four Republican senators, maybe five, at this point who congratulated Biden, so maybe they form a basis of trying to negotiate some compromises,” Tanden said.

She has observed structural challenges within the Democratic Party that she believes create a healthy debate about tactics.

“With gerrymandering, Democrats have to run in conservative-leaning districts,” Tanden told the online audience of about 200 people. She noted that such practical considerations “allow more ideological fluidity in the party, as we sometimes have seen.”

Segura also asked whether what was “good for the goose is good for the gander? Do we run amok as a party — are Democrats thinking that to themselves?”

“I think this is a balance … a range of arenas where the Democrats need to be assertive. They need to undo Donald Trump’s really lawless immigration policies. We need to reenter the Paris [climate accords],” Tanden countered.

Going forward, the most pressing and important thing for the new president is to handle the coronavirus crisis effectively. She noted that Biden “can do a lot on the virus with executive action.”

If Republicans show a willingness to bend, Tanden said she believes much can be accomplished. “But if Republicans choose to ignore everything, then we are going to be in a position where, hopefully, we address the virus,” she said, “and argue at the midterms.”

Tanden recalled her thinking after the 2018 midterm elections. “I told my staff that 2020 was going to be a huge turnout election in both directions, and that the job was going to require mobilizing more voters … and the truth is that happened and it’s a historic victory.”

But Biden’s job is just beginning.

“When you have power, you can build on power,” Tanden said. “Joe Biden is going to have to spend more time thinking about how he builds a majority in the country. But I think he navigated this extremely well, and he and his team have good instincts about how to move forward.”

Editor’s note: Biden later said that Tanden would be his choice as director of the Office of Management and Budget, pending Senate approval.

Segura Digs Deeper Into Black and Brown Voter Turnout

Dean Gary Segura spoke to PBS NewsHour about the policy priorities of Black and brown voters who helped secure President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Segura co-founded the polling and research firm Latino Decisions, which helped produce the American Election Eve Poll 2020. In that survey, Black voters named discrimination and racial justice as the second most important issue candidates should address, after the coronavirus pandemic. While Latinos voted in higher numbers for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Segura noted that seven out of 10 voted for Biden this year, which is still above the historical average. “The Latino margin will exceed the victory margin in Nevada and Arizona and New Mexico and Colorado. We think Latinos gave over a 120,000-vote margin to Vice President Biden in Philadelphia, which means without Latino votes, you would not have had the vice president carry Pennsylvania,” Segura said. “This is also true for African Americans, of course. So like all victories, there are many owners.”


 

Segura and Diaz Weigh In on Influence of Latino Vote

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura spoke to El Diario about the impact of Latino voters on the outcome of the presidential election. Segura noted that Latino participation was “very strong” in Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Colorado states that were crucial in Democrat Joe Biden’s victory. According to Latino Decisions, a political opinion research firm co-founded by Segura, Biden had particularly strong support among Mexican and Puerto Rican voters. The pandemic, which disproportionately affects Latinos, and the economy were important factors in mobilizing the Latino vote. “Work has become the most important thing for the community, and not the political parties,” Segura said. El Diario also cited Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, which is researching Latino engagement in the election. “In counties with high Latino density, many of them key in this count, Latino voters opted for Vice President Biden,” Diaz said.