‘I See Our Future and It Looks Amazing’ Commencement speaker Janet Murguía urges UCLA Luskin graduates to use their 'public affairs nerd' superpowers for good

By Mary Braswell

As members of UCLA Luskin’s Class of 2019 walked across the commencement stage to receive their hard-earned master’s and doctoral degrees, each took on a new mantle: Advocate. Warrior. Watchdog.

And don’t forget “Superhero.”

“I believe being a public affairs nerd is in fact a superpower, one that if used for good can transform the lives of millions of people,” keynote speaker Janet Murguía told the 260 graduates at the June 14 ceremony at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

Murguía, president and CEO of UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization, challenged the graduates to put their educations to work in the world — a feat requiring determination, patience and resilience.

“Your degree and everything it represents can be a force for good,” she said. “We desperately need people with your talents to help us defend and build that more perfect union.”

The newly minted policy, social welfare and planning scholars and professionals are entering the workforce at a pivotal time, UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said.

“The next 18 months are among the most important in the history of this nation. We face a critical time in deciding who we are as a people, what values matter to Americans and what our historic role is in human history,” Segura said.

“I want to thank you, perhaps prematurely, for all that we expect you to do with all that you have learned.”

Segura shared the stage with faculty members from every department, noting, “Luskin faculty engage the world as it is, to diagnose and hopefully help address our many challenges.” The hiring of 14 faculty members over two years and the fast expansion of the new undergraduate major in Public Affairs are just two measures of the School’s growth, he said.

Following the conferral of degrees, crowds surrounded the graduates at an outdoor reception, offering congratulations, taking photos and admiring regalia decorated with “UCLA 100 Years” to mark the university’s Centennial Celebration. Mortarboards showed off personal touches, often thanking families and friends who buoyed the graduates as they worked toward this milestone day.

Student speakers echoed that spirit of gratitude throughout the commencement ceremony.

Robert Gamboa of Public Policy memorialized his twin brother, Albert, who died seven years ago. “His passing was one of those crystal-clear moments when everything and nothing made sense,” Gamboa said. “But I knew then that I must double down my efforts to fight for social justice.”

Gamboa’s classmates represented different backgrounds and value systems, he said, “and yet we came together as one. We found something in common, something at our very core, something that led us here to Luskin to expand our knowledge. And that something has energized us, guiding us, creating a bridge to change — smart, systemic, lasting change that will save lives.”

Social Welfare speaker Gabriela Andreina Peraza Angulo told her classmates, “The world really needs us right now, maybe more than ever. Injustice, greed, inequity, racism, forces of discrimination, of violence, of exclusion. Forces of sexism. And did I mention racism? All of these forces are gaining in strength. …

“But they’re not counting on us. Here we are. And we’re ready to build those bridges instead of a wall, we’re ready to connect instead of divide.”

Caroline Calderon urged her Urban Planning classmates to challenge power structures in a rousing address that incorporated oral histories she conducted with about 15 of her peers.

“We have seen the possibilities of radical community action,” she said. “Our commitment involves sharing the knowledge we have and being humble about that knowledge, and recognizing the power and privilege that we have been given.

“This is our commitment, to be accountable to our own convictions and values, to be accountable to poor people, to black and brown communities, not in words but in action.”

Three students received special honors at commencement. The Public Policy Student Award went to Lindsay Graef, who earned her MPP and MSW concurrently. Michelé Dianne-Shaunte Jones won the Social Welfare Student Award, and Jacob Wasserman won the Urban Planning Student Award.

Murguía’s address included a poignant tribute to her parents, who instilled a sense of purpose and possibility in their seven children.

“Two humble, simple people from Tangancícuaro, Michoacán, in Mexico with little means worked very hard, sacrificed much and dedicated themselves to the education of their family, and to the service and care of their community. I am a witness to — and in many ways evidence of — their belief in the American Dream,” she said.

“However your generation defines the American Dream, I know that, like my parents, you will leave the world a better place than you found it,” Murguía said. “You know how I know? As I look out at you today, graduation day, I see our future and it looks amazing. I can’t wait to see where your superpowers will take us.”

View a slideshow of commencement highlights:

View a photo gallery on Flickr:

Commencement 2019

View a video of the entire commencement ceremony:

Informing Policy in Real Time: LPPI in Sacramento Latino Policy and Politics Initiative shares new research on voting, housing and health with stakeholders in the state capital

By Celina Avalos and Sonja Diaz

On May 20, the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) hosted its second annual California Latino Legislative Policy Briefing in Sacramento.

Fifty policy advocates, legislative staff members and community leaders attended the briefing at Sacramento’s La Cosecha venue to learn more about LPPI’s latest research findings and discuss policy interventions that improve the lives of California’s residents.

The briefing, co-hosted by the California Latino Legislative Caucus and UCLA Government and Community Relations, featured research presentations by three LPPI faculty expertsGary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; Melissa Chinchilla, a postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; and Arturo Vargas Bustamante, associate professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

The briefing covered voting, housing and health, three areas that present critical policy challenges for the California legislature.  Each issue has unique impacts on Latinos, who make up a plurality in the state. LPPI’s legislative briefing provided a unique opportunity for leaders to better understand policy solutions that address the disparities faced by Latinos.

Segura kicked off the policy briefing with his timely research on public opinion trends leading to the 2020 presidential election. LPPI research documented a 77% increase in Latino votes cast in the 2018 midterm election, compared to the 2014 midterm election. Segura explained that the leading public opinion sentiments that influenced Asian American, black and Latino voters were immigration, the #metoo movement, access to affordable health care and support for gun laws. Across the board, voters of color embraced Democratic positions on guns, health care and immigration at higher rates than their white peers. On the whole, the 2018 election illustrated the upward growth of the Latino vote in and beyond California, Segura said.

In her policy presentation on Latino homelessness in Los Angeles County, Chinchilla cited the lack of accurate data on Latinos facing housing insecurity, leading to an undercount of the demographic group. Homelessness is not a one-size-fits-all narrative, Chinchilla said, citing findings from her LPPI report, Stemming the Rise of Latino Homelessness.”

“Many factors contribute to the undercount of Latinos facing housing insecurity, like immigration status, economic vulnerability, and cultural and language barriers,” she said.

Vargas Bustamante concluded the policy briefing with his work on the shortage of Latino physicians in California.

“As California’s plurality, Latinos will represent 44.5% of California’s population by 2050. However, currently only 4.7% of physicians in California are Latino,” said Vargas Bustamante, sharing findings from his report, “Latino Physician Shortage in California: The Provider Perspective.”

Factors contributing to the shortage are lack of financial support and opportunity, academic disadvantages, underrepresentation and citizenship, he said.

LPPI’s briefing provided an opportunity for leading policy stakeholders to hear timely research centered on the needs of the state’s plurality. The briefings build upon LPPI’s legislative portfolio of engaging elected and appointed officials on critical policy issues with data and facts, breeding new research-practice partnerships and accelerating the capacity for evidence-based policy.

Dean’s Message Our professional programs uniformly train students to make families, communities and institutions better, safer, healthier, more responsive, more functional and more effective

Making a difference…

I left traditional social science to come work in a public affairs environment because I had grown frustrated at the slow pace with which esoteric findings in those disciplines find their way into public discussion and social reform — if, indeed, they ever do. This is not to say that this work never reaches a broader audience, but the frustrating truth is that too big a share of that work has no impact outside the journals and libraries in which it is deposited. Part of that is the unfortunate distance between academia and the “real world,” but part of that rests with the choice of “problem” and the approach to research preferred by those disciplines and scholars. That is, some of this failure to have broader influence is on the professors and institutions themselves.

Contrast that with the work of UCLA Luskin. On April 24, the Luskin School hosted its first-ever regionwide summit, themed “Livable LA.” Around 350 policy professionals, civic leaders, business leaders, scholars and elected officials gathered to discuss solutions to many of Los Angeles’ longstanding challenges. Each panel featured Luskin research, and each panel was addressed to making change — using the findings of our work to effect practical change in Los Angeles and beyond, making the lives, families
and communities in our region better.

It is this spirit that animates our work and UCLA Luskin, and it is this mission that we bring to our classrooms and our communities. Our professional programs uniformly train master’s degree students to make families, communities and institutions better, safer, healthier, more responsive, more functional and more effective. Our doctoral students research real problems of real people. Our undergraduates will all spend time working directly in the community. And our faculty members engage the real world and all its challenges as the foundation of our research. It is why we are here.

In these pages, you will read of a trip by UCLA Luskin social workers — faculty and students alike — to the immigrant detention camp in Dilley, Texas. That effort — to bring comfort, support and social services to families who have endured unspeakable hardship — represents the very best of who we are and what we do at UCLA Luskin. I am unbelievably proud of their efforts and humbled by their sacrifice to help these desperate people.

Make a difference,

Gary

Guiding Tomorrow’s Difference Makers Potential internship providers can help ensure that UCLA Luskin's new undergraduate major remains strong as it grows

By Les Dunseith

Inside stately Royce Hall on a recent morning, more than 100 UCLA undergraduates listened intently as their professor spoke about one of the key documents of American democracy — the Federalist Papers.

“The greatest threat to liberty in the eyes of James Madison is faction — that is, the natural tendency of humanity to see their own interests as important and to work together with others who share those interests to try to get their way,” the professor said. “Now the problem with factions is that, while we might see things that they do wrong, if you’re going to have anything that looks like liberty, people have the right to advocate for themselves. Right? You can’t say you can’t go out there and try to make your lot better. That’s hardly liberty.”

It’s a lesson that draws from the past to provide context for the factionalized politics of today. It’s also essential knowledge for a class of aspiring public servants. The person laying this foundation? It’s a man whose influence was essential to creating the educational opportunity his students now pursue — Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

The course — Public Affairs 50: Foundations and Debates in Public Thought — taught by Segura in spring quarter was just one of many signposts that the new undergraduate major in Public Affairs is taking shape. Other core courses are being taught, and scores of pre-majors are filling the seats. A class of incoming freshman has been recruited. Transfer students are arriving too. Construction has begun on a dedicated undergraduate office space in the Public Affairs Building. Additional staff are being hired.

But there is still much to be done.

Jocelyn Guihama, director of administration and experiential learning, is hard at work building out the experiential learning component of the major. Time is short. By winter 2020, she expects about 65 Public Affairs juniors to be planning senior-year internships.

To create those opportunities, Guihama is pursuing leads and hammering out details for mentorships in government, in public service agencies and in the many advocacy organizations that help shape policies.

Those partnerships are occurring thanks to supportive people throughout Los Angeles, including some connections close to home like UCLA Luskin alumnus Kevin Medina, program coordinator for the LGBT Campus Resource Center at UCLA. He got his job upon graduation in 2016 with master’s degrees in social welfare and public policy.

Guihama and Administrative Specialist Justin De Toro stopped by his office recently to discuss key assistance Medina is providing to the new major. Guihama noted that Medina had been instrumental in connecting her with a “very large organization in Los Angeles” as a possible internship sponsor.

“I definitely engage with our community in person, as well as through our digital resources,” Medina explained. “We usually have a resource or career fair for LGBTQ and social justice organizations that exist in Los Angeles. We also engage with folks constantly for their paid internship opportunities — for career development for our students.”

Discussions are also underway about placing future Public Affairs students as interns at UCLA’s LGBT Campus Resource Center.

“We know that there are so many centers on campus doing work that is relevant to our students’ interests,” Guihama noted. “So, we hope to connect students to experiential learning opportunities both on and off campus, where students can develop an understanding of what it takes to create social change.”

In his job, Medina provides personal counseling to people “who are at various stages of coming out or [exploring] various relationships to their personal intersectional LGBTQ identity.” His point of view is not far removed from the concerns of many undergraduates.

For example, Medina stressed that “desirability of location is an important advantage of UCLA in terms of quality of life — particularly for folks with multiple marginalized identities. Where am I going to feel safe? Where am I going to find a community?”

For him, that sense of community extends to UCLA Luskin, and Medina is excited to play a role in helping the new major grow. Guihama hopes others — both recent graduates like Medina and the many older UCLA alumni who work in the Los Angeles area — will follow his example.

The experiential learning opportunities are envisioned as an essential step in the undergraduates’ educations, which will culminate with capstone projects.

“The internships have to allow students to test what they’ve learned in the classroom,” Guihama explained. “The senior capstone experience is not only about being out in the community. It’s taking those experiences back to the classroom, reflecting on them, and then building a capstone project with and for the organization that has hosted the student.”

Potential partners may contact Guihama by email or call (310) 569-4491.

Meyer and Renee Luskin Receive UCLA Medal The honor recognizes the couple’s efforts to ‘create opportunity for all through education and research’

By Mary Braswell

Meyer and Renee Luskin — alumni, benefactors and lifelong friends of UCLA — received the university’s highest honor at a reception that was followed by an engaging symposium inspired by their deep commitment to education and social justice.

Chancellor Gene Block bestowed the UCLA Medal on the Luskins on May 29, at the conference center bearing their name.

“What drives Meyer and Renee is precisely what drives UCLA: a desire to solve society’s biggest challenges and to create opportunity for all through education and research,” Block said.

Countless UCLA students have benefited from scholarships funded by the Luskins, and the couple’s legacy can be seen across the campus. The School of Public Affairs was rechristened with the Luskin name in 2011, providing the resources to further its research efforts and expand educational opportunities for students in the fields of public affairs, public policy, social welfare and urban planning.

The UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center, which opened in 2016 in the heart of campus, is a structure of “ageless grace” that will bring people together to explore new ideas for generations to come, Block said.

The medal citation read aloud by the chancellor specifically recognizes the Luskins for their “entrepreneurial spirit and a vision for recycling and repurposing available resources,” as well as being “catalysts for convening people around important issues that require collaboration.”

After receiving the UCLA Medal, Renee Luskin, who earned a B.A. in sociology in 1953, said it has been a “true joy” to be part of the university’s remarkable journey. “We have met so many extraordinary people and made treasured friendships here,” she said.

Meyer Luskin, who grew up in New York City’s Lower East Side and Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights in an immigrant family with little education or financial means, remembered his first day at UCLA.

“I recall a shy, innocent, simple, somewhat odd, not-quite-17-year-old freshman walking up Janss Steps in 1942. Yes, that was 77 years ago,” said Luskin, who completed his bachelor’s degree in economics in 1949 after a break for military service during World War II.

“How do I feel? UCLA, one of the world’s great universities, is awarding me its highest honor. It has been an incredibly long and fortunate journey to this podium.”

The medal ceremony drew family, friends and colleagues of the Luskins along with UCLA faculty, staff and supporters. It was followed by a symposium moderated by Gary Segura, dean of the Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Renee and Meyer Luskin, he said, “are two people who are thoughtful and critical of social conditions that they see as inequitable, who embrace the role of education as the linchpin of democracy, who are remarkably intellectually curious about everything under the sun, and whose affection for and celebration of the many students whose lives they have touched is amazing to witness.”

In that spirit, Segura guided the conversation by panelists selected for their varied perspectives on UCLA’s mission and because they could speak to issues important to the Luskins:

  • JR DeShazo, public policy chair and director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, specializes in environmental policy and politics.
  • Andrea Ghez, head of UCLA’s Galactic Center Group, is a globally recognized expert in observational astrophysics.
  • Leonard Kleinrock, distinguished professor of computer science who has been on the UCLA faculty since 1963, developed the mathematical theory of packet networks, the technology underpinning the Internet.
  • David Myers, director of the Luskin Center for History and Policy, has written extensively on modern Jewish intellectual and cultural history.
  • Andrew Vega, who earned his B.A. in English language and literature from UCLA in 2007, is principal of the Alliance Renee and Meyer Luskin Academy, and is known for helping to turn around low-performing schools.

The conversation touched on inequity in education and threats posed by environmental degradation and technology used for inappropriate or even nefarious purposes. It also recognized the spirit of innovation kindled at UCLA, seen in the drive and ingenuity of its students.

“I think this is an important lesson for our students — and all of us, really — to never let our fear of failure stop us from taking risks,” Block said.

The couple have also provided financial support at UCLA for the Legal Ethics program at UCLA Law, the Luskin Lecture for Thought Leadership and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin.

View additional photos from the event in an album on Flickr.

 

Luskins Receive UCLA Medal

Undergrads Share Feedback at Forum

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura responded to questions and concerns raised by Public Affairs pre-majors at this year’s Annual Undergraduate Forum held Wednesday, May 22. Chair Meredith Phillips and the Public Affairs staff were also on hand to answer questions. Prior to the event, the team conducted a survey to gather feedback from pre-major students about their experience. The undergraduates expressed appreciation for the interdisciplinary nature of the major, the close-knit environment and staff enthusiasm, and raised some concerns about curricular coordination, enrollment issues and reciprocal agreements on course requirements between UCLA Luskin and the College of Letters and Sciences. Segura addressed the issues raised in the undergraduate survey and fielded questions from students in attendance about upper-division courses and the experiential capstone projects that Public Affairs majors will complete in their senior year. The undergraduate major in Public Affairs was launched in fall 2018. As its first year comes to a close, the staff thanked students for their patience as they finalize the nuts and bolts of the program. The entire university has responded to the creation of the Public Affairs major, they noted, adding that UCLA Luskin staff are engaged in an ongoing dialogue with other programs, including the Honors College and Academic Advancement Program, as they smooth out the details of the major. Students collectively expressed appreciation for the undergraduate program’s responsiveness to their feedback. — Zoe Day

View a Flickr album of images from the Annual Undergraduate Forum.


 

 

Charting the Rise of Latino Empowerment UCLA Luskin Lecture brings together political forces who forged a path for the next generation of leaders

By Mary Braswell

Leading Los Angeles political figures who paved the way for Latino empowerment over the last half-century took the stage at UCLA to share their strategies and personal stories — and underscore that the work is not finished.

To longtime Angelenos, their names were familiar: Alatorre, Cedillo, Molina, Polanco and Villaraigosa. Collectively, their influence has been felt far beyond Southern California.

The speakers are among 10 L.A.-based pioneers profiled in the book “Power Shift: How Latinos in California Transformed Politics in America.” Authors George Pla and David Ayón joined the May 14 conversation in the Ackerman Grand Ballroom as part of the Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series.

“There are 60 million Latinos in the United States, 15 million in California. And the panelists are right, they continue to be stereotyped, continue to be invisible,” Pla said. “But ‘Power Shift’ is not about one group over another. It’s an American story about a group of individuals who have made contributions to our entire society in California and the United States.”

Blazing trails carries an immense responsibility, the panelists agreed.

“We had to kick open the door in order to really get in there and set the example,” said Gloria Molina, the first Latina to be elected to the California legislature and to Los Angeles City Council and the first woman on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

“Being the first, everybody was watching. It’s really very important to be at your best all of the time,” she said.

Friends since high school, Gil Cedillo and Antonio Villaraigosa became passionate political activists during their years at UCLA in the early 1970s. Cedillo went on to serve in the state legislature and now sits on the L.A. City Council. Villaraigosa spent decades in public service, including as speaker of the California Assembly and mayor of Los Angeles.

Also in the 1970s, Richard Alatorre was elected to the Assembly before becoming, in 1985, only the second Latino to serve on the L.A. City Council in the 20th Century.

Richard Polanco completed Alatorre’s Assembly term, launching a 15-year tenure in the legislature that was hailed for increasing Latino representation.

“Tonight is really important to me personally,” said Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, which hosted the event. Segura’s work in Latino politics began in the 1990s, when California was roiled by two ballot initiatives. Proposition 187, which denied public services to undocumented immigrants, was later found unconstitutional. Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action in public hiring and university admissions, is still in place.

“I owe my career, and in many ways my current position, to the mobilization of Latino electorates and leaders that resulted in those wars of the mid-1990s that reshaped California and will reshape, eventually, the United States,” Segura said.

Sonja Diaz, the evening’s moderator, noted that the gathered leaders were anything but single-issue politicians. On health care, LGBTQ issues, voting rights and community development, they effected changes felt far beyond the Latino community, said Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, which is based at UCLA Luskin.

Villaraigosa concurred. “Across the board, all of us, we were not just Latino leaders, we were leaders for the whole state. We were progressives in our time, focusing on issues across the spectrum,” he said.

While coalition-building is important, Cedillo said, “We should be very clear that our community at this very moment is under attack, under siege” by a Trump Administration that has demonized the Latino community. “We should not pause or be shy about organizing ourselves as a community to defend our interests.”

Inspiring the next generation of Latino leaders is key to that effort and part of the reason “Power Shift” was written. The book also profiles political and labor leaders Miguel Contreras, Maria Elena Durazo, Ed Roybal, Art Torres and Esteban Torres.

The Luskin Lecture audience included two UCLA undergraduates who arrived early enough to receive a free copy of “Power Shift.”

Tatiana Velasquez, a chemistry and materials science major, and Patricia Valdezco, a political science major, said they grew up in California but were not aware of the trailblazing history of the evening’s speakers.

“It always goes back to the state curriculum, and what’s being taught is not this,” Velasquez said.

Molina recounted a conversation with her young niece, who read “Power Shift” and asked her classmates to name leaders in the Latino community.

“These sixth-graders had a hard time coming up with a name, but they finally concluded that it was Cesar Chavez and Pitbull,” Molina said. “The children got very angry. … They said, ‘Why aren’t we learning this? Why don’t we know this?’ ”

She added, “We need young people to understand that this isn’t a history that was, oh, way back then and now is now. We need to continue that kind of leadership today. … We are not finished. Our agenda has just begun.”

View photos from the UCLA Luskin Lecture on Flickr.

Power Shift

Segura Weighs In on California’s Role in the 2020 Race


 

Segura on LGBTQ Forum and the 2020 Campaign

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura spoke on SiriusXM radio’s Michaelangelo Signorile Show about the 2020 elections and the upcoming Democratic presidential forum centered around LGBTQ issues, which will be hosted by the Luskin School and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in October. Politicians have a history of shying away from LGBTQ issues so it is beneficial to “have their feet held to the fire” early in the campaign, Segura said. He also discussed immigration, healthcare, the impact of earlier primary dates in California and Texas, and the Trump presidency’s effect on the mindset of the American populace. “The Democratic coalition will be most successful when it finds a way to knit together the minority populations and the coastal educated populations with the blue-collar, working-class people who are getting a crappy deal in American society,” Segura said. “If you could pull both of those together you’d have a huge majority.”


 

Segura Responds to Trump’s Decision to Cut Foreign Aid

Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and an expert in polling and public opinion, was quoted in a Pacific Standard article dissecting President Trump’s announcement to cancel foreign aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Trump has made multiple threats in the past to cut off the three Central American countries due to his dissatisfaction with their respective governments’ failures to stop people from leaving. After his recent announcement that funds would be withheld from the three nations, experts objected, explaining that the funds help combat crime and violence, ultimately serving U.S. interests. Segura maintained that ulterior motives were behind the policy decision, which would fuel the asylum crisis. He tweeted, “Pay attention folks. This is an INTENTIONAL act to drive MORE asylum seekers to the U.S. border to help [Trump] maintain his crisis. It’s ugly, devastating in impact, and bad policy.”