Diversity Is Excellence at UCLA Luskin The Diversity, Disparities and Difference (D3) Initiative connects students and groups across UCLA

By Stan Paul

Estefanía Zavala, Michelle Lin and Jordan Hallman are all up early on a Sunday morning. They meet at a favorite coffee shop in Hollywood. This is when the trio of busy UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs students can break from their fast-paced two-year professional programs to discuss a topic central to their lives, studies and future careers.

Diversity.

It’s important at UCLA Luskin, especially to the numerous student groups working to make their programs, the School and the campus more inclusive. At the time, Zavala, Lin and Hallman were student program managers for the UCLA Luskin initiative known as D3 – Diversity, Disparities and Difference. Launched in 2014 by former Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., D3 aims to “create a cohesive strategy to bridge differences, understand our diverse society and confront disparities in the field of public affairs.”

“I was really interested from the get-go, and the mission of D3 really aligns with Social Welfare’s mission, our core values of social justice and equity. And that’s always been a topic of interest to me and trying to improve the way things are and make sure that the campus is inclusive for all people,” Lin said.

The D3 Initiative is one of many UCLA Luskin student groups focused on issues of equity and social justice. Among the others are Urban Planning Women of Color Collective, Planners of Color for Social Equity, Policy Professionals for Diversity & Equity, Luskin Pride, Black Caucus, Asian Pacific Islander Student Caucus (API), Latinx Student Caucus and Diversity Caucus.

Working independently or in collaboration with D3, the groups host Schoolwide and campus events designed to promote collaboration, bridge gaps and encourage understanding. These include an Equity in Public Affairs research conference and group dialogues with incoming UCLA Luskin students.

“My favorite experience thus far has been the Equity in Public Affairs training that we do in the beginning of the year, where students share their unique identities and receive training on operating professionally in a diverse environment,” said Zavala, who recently earned her MPP degree after also serving as a leader of Policy Professionals for Diversity & Equity. “I got to meet so many people and really got to understand them.”

The D3 Initiative has three priorities:

  • Enhance student admissions and faculty searches by championing more diverse applicant pools;
  • Institutionalize programming that offers a critical understanding of social inequity while establishing connections with the greater community;
  • Strengthen student collaboration for a more inclusive school climate.

That mission is supported by the office of Dean Gary Segura as part of efforts to build an equitable environment on campus that has hired new faculty whose research and areas of interest include a social justice focus.

The D3 group has coordinated gatherings known as “Difficult Dinner Dialogues,” which invite classmates and others with diverse backgrounds and different life experiences to share and learn from one another.

“I think it’s a space, call it a brave space. It’s a brave space for everyone to come and not feel judged for what they think because it’s about being open to learning, so that will hopefully change the political climate,” said Lin, who has since earned her social welfare degree.

One Dinner Dialogue focused on sexual assault and “the role of men and women of color who don’t have the means to quit their job or speak out against their employer, the power dynamics of that,” Lin said.

“People really felt like this was the beginning of the conversation and they wanted even more,” she added.

In addition to their Sunday meetings, the student leaders stayed connected throughout the year with D3 faculty director Gerry Laviña MSW ’88, Social Welfare’s director of field education, along with the dean’s office staff. During the 2017-18 academic year, D3 added office hours to collect feedback, questions and concerns directly, and in confidence, from students at UCLA Luskin.

Hallman, who has since earned her urban planning degree, said her professional focus is “the intersection of transportation and land use and the responsibilities that come with approaching that point of intersection justly and equitably, which is a relatively new conversation within planning. I think participating in D3 has also led me to a role where I try to shed light on other points of intersection that aren’t talked about.”

For Zavala, connecting with peers from UCLA Luskin’s other two departments was important.

“The D3 position has empowered me to create a community across all three departments. I hope that in any future career that I have, I work actively to form bridges across silos and uplift the work of diversity. I also want to center my professional career on empowering traditionally marginalized communities. Starting at Luskin has been a wonderful experience,” Zavala said.

The D3 Initiative also supports students with awards, grants and funding for their work, including the Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. Social Justice Awards, which were created to recognize student scholarship in social justice and inequality. The award was made possible by contributions from the School’s board of advisers, UCLA faculty, staff and alumni.

“We are not yet where we need to be and there is still much to do, but D3 has been a guiding force for progress,” said Isaac Bryan MPP ’18. With the help of a Gilliam Award, Bryan’s Applied Policy research group studied the dynamic needs of the city’s formerly incarcerated reentry population for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“D3 empowers us all to continue placing diversity, equity and inclusiveness at the forefront of the work we do here in Luskin,” said Bryan, who is also a member of Policy Professionals for Diversity & Equity.

As a PhD student in urban planning, Aujean Lee also received funding through the D3 Initiative, including the Gilliam Award.

“These resources are important because urban planners, and planning research, still need to engage with and grapple with its historical legacies of racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc., that continue to shape our cities and communities,” Lee said.

A version of this story also appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of Luskin Forum magazine.

Chinese Delegation Learns About Social Work in K-12

Social Welfare Field Education faculty members Gerry Laviña MSW ’88 and Hector Palencia MSW ’08 hosted a group of social workers and school administrators from China on Oct. 23, 2017. The delegates were interested in the implementation of social work practices in primary and secondary schools in California and the United States. Laviña, UCLA Luskin’s director of field education, shared insights from his role as a field liaison for social welfare issues within area school systems, including the Los Angeles Unified School District. Palencia talked about his extensive practice experience as a school social worker. 

Gerry Laviña MSW ’88 and Hector Palencia MSW ’08 of the UCLA Luskin Social Welfare faculty hold mementos presented to them by the visiting delegates from China.

Partnership of Social Workers and Medical Students Enters 2nd Year

Thanks to a partnership between UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, medical students at UCLA are again learning from social workers about the issues they face in medical workplaces. The project, now entering its second year, was initially put together by former Social Welfare chair Todd FrankeGerry Laviña MSW ’88, director of field education; and Michelle Talley MSW ’98, a member of UCLA Luskin’s field education faculty and a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Read more about the effort.

‘Unsung Hero,’ Leader in South L.A. Named 2017 Social Welfare Alumna of the Year Aurea Montes-Rodriguez MSW ’99 was inspired to develop a healthier generation by award namesake Joseph Nunn

By Stan Paul

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez, this year’s Social Welfare Alumna of the Year, has a lifelong personal and professional connection to South Los Angeles.

The 1999 Master of Social Welfare graduate of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs came to California from Mexico at the age of 3, grew up in South Los Angeles, witnessed firsthand the 1992 riots, and has gone on to be a leader and change agent in the community.

In recognition of her work and commitment to the community, Montes-Rodriguez was presented the Joseph A. Nunn Alumna of the Year Award on May 20, 2017. The award is bestowed annually in honor of Joseph A. Nunn, UCLA alumnus, former vice chair and longtime director of field education for the UCLA Department of Social Welfare.

“I am surprised and very humbled to be nominated and selected, especially for an award named after Dr. Nunn,” said Montes-Rodriguez. “When I was a student I looked up to him and admired the work he had done around juvenile criminal justice — thinking about ways we could do a better job eliminating the cradle-to-prison pipeline so we can develop a healthier generation.”

Montes-Rodriguez, who now serves as executive vice president of organizational growth at Community Coalition, a social justice nonprofit based in South Los Angeles, was honored at a social welfare alumni gathering in Los Angeles.

Toby Hur MSW ’93, a longtime member of the social welfare field faculty, nominated Montes-Rodriguez and shares some history with her.

“My history with Community Coalition goes back to 1992,” Hur said. “In the aftermath of the rioting that rocked a city marred by racial division and economic disparity, a small group of community leaders emerged, such as Karen Bass, a current congresswoman, of Community Coalition, and B.H. Kim of Koreatown Youth and Community Center and a Luskin Senior Fellow, in order to bring forth a constructive agenda for healing and rebuilding of L.A.”

Hur said that, as a graduate student during that time, he became very involved in those efforts. The experience has deeply impacted his professional career and teaching in the ensuing years.

“Community Coalition has stayed true to its roots and continues to develop community capacities and future leaders,” Hur said, adding that Luskin students continue to be trained at Community Coalition in grassroots organizing, advocacy and political action. “Aurea is one of the unsung heroes, the all-important and crucial glue, holding the organization and its causes together. I think she is well overdue for recognition as one of the best Bruin MSWs.”

Since joining Community Coalition, Montes-Rodriguez has made significant strides in helping the organization grow and she has led efforts to raise funds to purchase and renovate its current headquarters in South L.A. “To be nominated by someone who understands the importance of building multiracial coalitions is really special,” she said of Hur.

She credits her success and inspiration to lessons learned at UCLA Luskin. Among those were leadership seminars led by Nunn, who focused on social welfare beyond the individual treatment model to build organizations and change the systems that prevent people from reaching their potential, taking on leadership roles to change those situations. She cited courses on leadership by social welfare professor Zeke Hasenfeld, as well as courses on grant writing and fundraising — skills that she said “were critical in helping us build community coalitions, long-term fundraising strategy and growing the organization.”

“The late Mary Brent Wehrli really brought us out to communities and organizations who were doing great work, went out of her way to help us understand the theory with the practice in communities,” Montes-Rodriguez said. Wehrli, a former member of the field faculty, was “one person who really pushed us to see leadership opportunities and a contribution we could make to the social welfare field, providing us with concrete training.”

“Since I graduated, that’s exactly the work I have been doing … organizing everyday people about having a voice in addressing the most-pressing issues so they can be the drivers of change,” Montes-Rodriguez said.

Another of Montes-Rodriguez’s mentors is Gerry Laviña, director of field education at the Department of Social Welfare.

“Community Coalition has hosted MSW interns for decades, provided summer jobs for our MSW students through their youth programs, and has hired many of our graduates — some like Aurea who remain and create and build capacity,” Laviña said. “Whenever someone asks about an example of a successful grassroots organization or doubts the possibility of African-American and Latino communities effectively working together, I hold up Community Coalition as a shining example.”

Montes-Rodriguez is a big reason why Community Coalition has been successful, Laviña said. “Aurea has had a part in all of this, and has been steadfast and resolved in her commitment to giving back to the community where she was both personally and professionally raised,” he said. “I have always appreciated Aurea’s blend of strength and humility, her commitment to her family and community. Los Angeles needs leaders like Aurea, and we need to highlight her as someone to aspire to.”

Social Workers Come Together for ‘This Incredible Conference’ At student-organized event, professionals and scholars gather at UCLA Luskin to hear experts discuss issues of vital importance to the Latina/o community

By Les Dunseith

It’s 8:30 a.m. on a sunny Saturday, and the second floor hallway of the Public Affairs Building at UCLA is abuzz with activity as professional social workers join UCLA Luskin students and faculty for a daylong series of lectures and workshops designed to help them do the best work possible for Latina/o populations in Southern California.

“People come from all over for this conference,” said Gerry Laviña, director of field education for the Department of Social Welfare, as attendees began to file into a large classroom to begin the 15th annual Social Services in the Latina/o Community Conference on May 13, 2017. “They look forward to it.”

One group, from Ventura County, even arrived two hours early. By the time Dean Gary Segura delivered his keynote address shortly after 9 a.m., a total of about 100 people were on hand. Other participants would continue to arrive as workshops proceeded throughout the day. The student-organized conference has become so successful, in fact, that advance registration had to be capped at 220 this year.

A 1988 graduate of UCLA Luskin’s MSW program, Laviña noted during his opening remarks that such popularity wasn’t always the case. When it began a decade-and-a-half ago, the conference “was struggling, struggling, struggling,” he said. “But now it’s this incredible conference — all for free — because of the hard work that the students have done.”

Christina Hernandez, a second-year Master of Social Welfare student and one of the three co-chairs of the Latina/o Caucus, said the conference is the culmination of a yearlong process that starts with the writing of grant applications soon after the academic year begins. This year, a total of about $7,000 in grant funding was obtained.

The six-member board of the Latino Caucus includes two first-year MSW students whose participation is designed to help them be better prepared to lead the caucus and its annual conference next year. It’s a tradition that Hernandez said benefited her personally, as it did her co-chairs and fellow MSW students, Sandra Cervantes and Corina López.

“In my first year, I saw the time commitment that was required for the conference,” Hernandez explained. “So going into this year, I knew that I had to give it my all in order to make it a successful conference.”

As the date drew nearer, the students worked with Laviña and their other faculty advisers, Sergio Serna and Hector Palencia MSW ’08, to issue a call for proposals from potential speakers on various topics. The number of applicants exceeded the time and space available, which led to a culling process.

“We select proposals that seem most appropriate,” said Hernandez, who also noted that the organizers seek a balanced program of workshops, in part because many professionals earn continuing education credit for licensing purposes by attending. For instance, “two really good candidates” proposed workshops on law-related topics, but only one of them made this year’s agenda.

That session, “Trauma-Informed Immigration Law for Social Workers,” was one of nine workshops that took place during the day, which included a lunch break that featured a performance by Aztec dancers. A sample of other workshop topics included “Critical Race Theory in Social Work Practice: Going Beyond Competency” and “Queer Latinx: Policy & Critical Discourse.”

Although workshop topics were highly varied, one theme that got a lot of attention was the symbolic and practical impact of Trump administration policies on the vital work being done by the social workers who interact on a daily basis with members of the Latino community.

The rhetoric from Washington has left many social welfare students and professionals — not to mention their clients in disadvantaged and immigrant communities — feeling fearful and angry.

In his keynote talk, Segura detailed examples of anti-immigrant rhetoric throughout history, noting that Latinos have often felt like unwelcome outsiders because of America’s prevailing Euro-centric culture and view of history.

“It is a reflection of our lives as being principally valued for our labor rather than our personhood,” Segura said, “persistently marginalized for our phenotype rather than any actual transgressions, and conceived of in the eyes of those who hold power as a community that is less than equal.

“At the Luskin School of Public Affairs, we like to say we create change agents,” Segura said during his talk. “I sure hope so. Because we so badly need change. Fight like our lives depend on it. They just might.”

Serna and Laviña offered similar thoughts during their own remarks.

“This act of being of service is an act of resistance to injustice and oppression,” Serna told the crowd. “We are sending a message of hope and solidarity to the communities we serve, while raising a fist to those that desire to restrict us and remove funding to deter us from our purpose.”

Laviña, his voice sometimes breaking with emotion, talked about the importance of taking the high road, especially amid political and policy uncertainty.

“In this time of anger and standing up, I think we need to rely not just on ‘othering’ people. Because we have all been the ‘other,’” he said. “So I hope that today you leave with tools and knowledge and, most importantly, an increased sense of community. Because we cannot do this work alone.”

‘Minority Report’ Hits Major Racial Themes Scott St. Patrick’s Luskin-sponsored performance provides a no-holds-barred look at race in America through the centuries

By Zev Hurwitz

It can be difficult to truly empathize with another community’s narrative. Tragedies and injustices toward a racial group only resonate up to a point for those not directly impacted. But true empathy cannot be felt without experiencing the narrative up close.

Scott St. Patrick and his company brought the black American experience up close to a diverse crowd of nearly 200 students and community members when they took to the stage in the Broad Art Center.

Sponsored by the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, “Minority Report” is a nine-vignette journey through the black experience in America. Each act was a solo piece by one of seven actors articulating a narrative that touched on a different area of the history of black Americans.

“In Social Welfare at Luskin, we are committed to struggling with racism as a social justice issue,” Gerry Laviña, director of field education for the Luskin School, said as he opened the evening. “We also acknowledge and will acknowledge tonight that the struggle has gone on for generations and continues today.”

St. Patrick, the show’s creator, led off with an extended poem that addressed some of the program’s hardest-hitting themes. St. Patrick began with an emotionally charged lament of the “epidemic of violence” against African Americans by police, which followed a montage of cellphone footage of recent acts, including the death of Eric Garner by police in which Garner could be heard gasping, “I can’t breathe.”

St. Patrick’s opening monologue, which slammed a system in which African Americans are predisposed to institutionalized racism toward blacks and drew parallels with the shooting of the Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla, Harambe, set the tone for the following acts.

Several of the most impactful vignettes described historical instances of oppression toward African Americans — both violent and socially oppressive. Detra Hicks lamented the cyclical nature of racism toward blacks in America in a piece that linked the violent 1955 murder of black teenager Emmett Till in Mississippi to the more contemporary killings of Tamir Rice and Jordan Davis.

“Where the hell is peripety?” she exclaimed, referring to the literary device wherein a protagonist’s misfortunes are reversed.

In between each vignette, a clip of relevant video or audio set the tone for the following act. While much of the content focused on graphic illustrations of violent injustices and systematic inequality suffered by blacks, a piece by comedian Donald George probed some of these areas with a touch of humor. He likened the 2016 presidential election to a choice between different sexually transmitted infections in the first fully humorous segment of an otherwise serious series.

Kelly Jenrette discussed civil disobedience in her piece “Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party” and highlighted the story of institutional repression of voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. Jenrette currently stars on television in the Fox series “Pitch,” which follows a fictional African American woman breaking the gender barrier in professional baseball.

In “Black Tulsa,” Marcuis Harris delivered an informative piece on how, even in instances of success for the black community, racism rears its ugly face in a violent and destructive manner. Harris’ piece focused on the destruction of a thriving Tulsa, Okla., black community, which was leveled by supremacists in a “race riot” in 1921.

Even the terminology used to describe these instances is part of the issue, Harris said. “‘Race riot’ implies equal footing,” he said, describing the overnight destruction of Greenwood. “This was terrorism.”

Jaclyn Tokos, the only non-black performer of the evening, described the various points of contention — with both blacks and whites — she has faced as a white woman engaged to a black man.

“You can’t teach someone who to love,” she asserted, following a video of boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s 1971 interview in which he explains why he would never choose to marry outside of his race.

Several performers wore attire related to their performances, though Tokos’ donning of a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt (her fiancé’s, she said) not only made a strong impact, it also reminded audiences of the times. “Minority Report” was performed at a critical time for race relations in America and to be reminded of this in an aptly named piece, “Interracial Love,” was pivotal to the message.

Tokos was followed by Kiya Roberts, who continued to preach love — between blacks. “I don’t need you, but I want you,” Roberts says to no man in particular in her vignette, “It’s Complicated…” The pursuit of love as a means of resolution to the pain between races was stressed more than once during the performances.

As the evening came to a conclusion, “Minority Report” became a “call to action,” to fight injustice and inequality with the power of love. Audience members were left with an “it’s on us” mentality and affirmation that love truly is the only way forward.

St. Patrick performed in two other acts, including the closing. In “Katrina,” St. Patrick led a multimedia-guided personal drop-in to the conditions inside the Superdome in post-Hurricane Katrina. For several days following the devastating storm in 2005, thousands of New Orleans residents were told to seek shelter at the stadium, having been promised provisions. However, the nearly all-black population housed in the Superdome went largely neglected, with few-to-no rations or supplies brought in, and horrific restroom conditions — all on top of deep emotional trauma.

In the most moving moment of the performance, St. Patrick brought the audience inside the Superdome and shared vivid descriptions of the sights and smells. “Many of you couldn’t even last one minute,” he said. Those who dared to attempt to flee to a neighboring community came across a battalion of armed guards, who blocked access to the relatively well-supplied Jefferson Parish.

As the audience absorbed the horror experienced in the days following Katrina, they were reminded of the underlying message of the evening: What ethnicity is experiencing this travesty? Would the conditions have been the same had the ethnic makeup of those inside the dome been different?

After witnessing nine vignettes of reflection, the audience is more likely to acknowledge the ugly truth that is the “Minority Report.” No. No it would not.

Read more about the genesis of “Minority Report” and why Social Welfare Chair Todd Franke chose to sponsor it at UCLA.

 

Three Decades of Devotion to Social Justice Gerry Laviña, the director of UCLA Luskin’s Field Education Program, is named Social Worker of the Year by the California chapter of NASW

By Stan Paul

This year marks three decades since Gerry Laviña started doing social work. It can be a challenging job, but the director of the Field Education Program in the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs says that his profession has more than returned the favor.

“Every day as a social worker I have the opportunity to be inspired … by students, colleagues, our community, other social workers and others that support social justice,” Laviña said.

For his remarkable body of work, Laviña has been named the 2016 Social Worker of the Year by the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The award is given by the group to professional social workers who have consistently demonstrated the core values of the NASW Code of Ethics: service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, the importance of human relationships, and integrity and competence.

He will be honored at the annual NASW-CA Social Work Conference Awards ceremony later this month.

Laviña began his educational and career path in social work by entering the Master of Social Welfare (MSW) program at UCLA in 1986, but his foundation and motivation started with lessons learned early in life.

“I come from a family whose father was an immigrant from the Philippines and mother is an immigrant from Honduras,” said Laviña, a licensed clinical social worker. “My family had a strong belief in education, and they daily reminded us of the privilege and opportunities we had — relative to others in our community and the world — and that we have a great responsibility to give back.”

Laviña has spent his career giving back in a number of roles: social worker, instructor, mentor and leader. His primary interests are working with children and families, particularly in the areas of school social work, mental health and multicultural issues.

“When I found social work terms like social justice and dignity of every human being, my family’s belief system came to life,” Laviña said.

Asked what qualities every social worker should possess, Laviña said: “Openness to learning and lifelong learning, flexibility, a willingness to meet every individual/family/community where they are, a commitment to serving those with the least resources, and a belief in diversity that is actualized in our work.”

The NASW honor acknowledges a social worker who has broad professional social work experience and has provided significant leadership in the field of social work. In addition, the Social Worker of the Year must have NASW and voluntary association experience, diverse and multicultural expertise, and have made a lasting impact on social policy, advocacy for clients and exceptional professional practice.

In UCLA Luskin’s Department of Social Welfare, Laviña is the faculty co-chair of the Diversity/Equity/Inclusion (DEI) Committee; and faculty adviser for the Diversity Caucus and Latina/o Caucus. At Luskin, he also serves as the associate director of MSW education and as faculty adviser for the School’s D3 (Diversity, Differences and Disparities) Initiative, for which he provides support and guidance to the D3 team and advises the dean on matters related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

As the project coordinator for the California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC) Integrated Behavioral Health Program, a collaborative effort of California social work programs and the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, Laviña works with second-year MSW students placed in the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and contract agencies. Prior to becoming the director of field education, he served as field liaison with many local school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, developing and monitoring student internships in school social work and coordinating the Pupil Personnel Services Credentialing/SSW/CWA program. He also has served on the local and state-wide board of the California Association of School Social Workers.

In the classroom, he has taught an advanced practice course in school social work as well as courses related to diversity. He worked for several years as a field consultant for the Inter-University Consortium program, a collaboration with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and the L.A. County MSW program.

Prior to joining the field faculty in 1993, Laviña was a social worker in the Family and Child Guidance Clinic of the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center in Culver City, where he was program coordinator and clinician in two different programs working with emotionally disturbed children and their families. He has also served as a contract assessor for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health’s Children and Youth Services Bureau, and as a private practitioner.

NASW also recognized Laviña for his accomplishments outside academia, including his work with community organizations that promote diversity in education, such as Los Amigos Council of Para Los Niños and Trabajadores de la Raza. He has received numerous awards, including Field Faculty of the Year by the UCLA MSW student body and the UCLA Faculty-Staff Partnership Award.

“I am energized by the dialogue in Social Welfare, Luskin, UCLA and our community around diversity, equity and inclusion issues,” Laviña said. “My family has discussed these issues throughout my life, and I have professionally been working on this directly and indirectly for 30 years. While I know the struggle continues, I feel realistically optimistic about what is happening.”

Examining Diversity ‘Between the Lines’ In year-end conference, UCLA Luskin D3 students view issues through a social justice lens

By Stan Paul

Students at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs take the tools, methods and knowledge they acquire to solve problems, seek social justice and provide policy options for the world.

Luskin students are also examining their own university for insights into a number of issues, including what role UCLA’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion office should play in creating, implementing and evaluating UCLA diversity programs. Also, students raised the concern that it may be possible to progress through their academic programs without ever critically engaging with social justice topics.

Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning graduate students were given the opportunity to discuss, present findings and offer recommendations on these issues at “Researching Between the Lines,” the school’s year-end D3 (Diversity, Differences and Disparities Initiative) student research conference held at UCLA Luskin.

“The conference gives a formal opportunity for students to present their research to other people in other cohorts,” said Edber Macedo, a second-year Master of Urban Planning (MURP) student and project manager for the D3 initiative. “Our work in the public affairs realm is highly intersectional and this conference aims to highlight those crossroads.”

The D3 Initiative was established by former UCLA Luskin Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., as the only student-led equity effort on campus.

Three students in the master of public policy (MPP) program dedicated the culmination of their studies — their applied policy project — to examining UCLA’s office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).

Group member Nisha Parekh, who is completing a law degree in conjunction with her MPP, pointed out that “pockets of diversity … have been doing the work already.” But, she said, “There is no communication between these folks,” and the challenge is how to leverage relationships.

“It is important to differentiate between being diverse in composition from having equitable and inclusive policies, practices and procedures,” Parekh said. She and her MPP colleagues, Kevin Medina, who also is in the Master of Social Welfare (MSW) program, and Elizabeth Calixtro, sought to find out what it means to have an office focused on equity, diversity and inclusion.

What became clear to the student researchers after gathering data and conducting interviews and focus groups with faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students is that diversity programming is not well-defined at UCLA. Students, faculty, and staff who supply diversity programming on campus also reported a lack of resources and institutional knowledge, Parekh said. “People are starting from scratch over and over.”

Among the group’s recommendations is that the EDI office clarify its jurisdiction and “brand,” which would improve stakeholder trust in the office, the students said. Based on the survey data gathered, Parekh said “we found that the majority of students surveyed think having a culturally competent campus is important.”

Two other projects examined diversity in their own department. Urban Planning MURP students examined both the curriculum and hiring practices.

Julia Heidelman, a first-year MURP, said her group conducted a critical analysis of the core curriculum to gauge content consistency with the department mission and whether social justice was integral to students’ understanding of the discipline.

“Students want more room for critical and well-facilitated discussions,” Heidelman said. “It has historically been the duty of students to advocate for improvement of the curriculum and incorporation of themes of diversity, social justice and race.”

Another group of MURP students focused on mentorship and how it can be both a help to students but also an added burden — taking time away from research and scholarship — especially for faculty of color. Recommendations made by student researchers included expanding the definition of scholarship to encompass questions of social justice and racial equality.

Finally, Joanna L Barreras MSW ’12, a doctoral student in the Department of Social Welfare, looked beyond the campus to a statewide concern. Her project, “Predictors of Having a Place for Care Among the Largest Ethnic Minority in California,” addressed the issue of more than 30 million Latinos of Mexican origin who face barriers when utilizing health care services in the state.

Barreras said she wanted the takeaway from her presentation to be that “we cannot have health without mental health.”

“By screening for serious psychological distress we are able to provide needed resources, prevent future chronic health illnesses, and ultimately help reduce physical and mental health disparities,” Barreras said. She found problematic that most research on Latinos does not differentiate among Latino subgroups, which “ignores cultural variation across Latino subgroups but it also ignores the heterogeneity within these groups.”

“These presentations signify the continuation of what Dean Gilliam started — to address EDI issues within Luskin,” said Gerardo Laviña MSW ’88. “We are grateful for Interim Dean Takahashi’s continued support,” added Laviña, who is director of field education for the Department of Social Welfare and faculty advisor for the Luskin D3 initiative.

Examining the Legacy of Slavery and Racism In an effort to explore social justice issues and their relevance to students' future careers, the School of Public Affairs hosted a film viewing and discussion about the legacy of slavery and racism in the U.S.

By Robin Heffler
As part of a School of Public Affairs effort to explore social justice issues and their relevance to students’ future careers, some 170 students, faculty, and community members recently viewed a film and engaged in a lively discussion about the legacy of slavery and racism in the U.S.

Hosted by Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, participants gathered on Jan. 19 in the screening room of the Acosta Training Complex to see an abridged version of the documentary film, Traces of the Trade.

In the film, which aired on PBS in 2008, producer and director Katrina Browne tells of her shocking discovery that the De Wolfs of Rhode Island, her prominent, Caucasian ancestors, were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. Together with nine other De Wolf descendants, Browne retraces the slave-trade triangle — from Bristol, Rhode Island to slave forts in Ghana to a family plantation in Cuba and back to Bristol. Along the way, they struggle with the politics of race, how to “repair” the centuries-long damage of slavery, and their own Yankee culture and privilege.

After the screening, Browne reflected on one cousin’s insistence that he would have gone to Harvard even if he wasn’t from a privileged family. “When the wind is at your back you don’t notice it,” she said. “You don’t realize the forces supporting you as you move forward, but you do when you’re faced with obstacles to success.”

African-American co-producer Juanita Brown noted that “We must recognize that race is complex, and that black and white is only one element. We invite you to see this conversation as the jumping off point for conversations about other people and races.”

Program participants engaged in one-on-one discussions about the film, as well as a question-and-answer session.

“No one wants to associate with the oppressor because of the guilt and shame involved, but we need to acknowledge history and how it plays out in the present,” said Amy Smith, a first-year social welfare graduate student, who had just spent the day discussing white privilege in her class on “Cross-Cultural Awareness.” “And, since racism is a problem that affects everyone, everyone should be part of the solution.”

Associate Professor Laura Abrams, who along with Joy Crumpton and Gerardo Laviña leads the “Cross-Cultural Awareness” class in the Department of Social Welfare, saw the issues raised by the film as important for social workers. “In a helping profession, it’s easy to see clients as having made bad choices rather than seeing their lives as structured by disadvantages and inequalities related to race, class, and gender,” she said.

Gilliam, who served as an early advisor to the film, said the event was the second of a planned series of programs focused on social justice issues. Last year, the UCLA School of Public Affairs had an exchange with the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, with each school hosting conferences on how to talk about race in the context of graduate education in public affairs.

“We want to do a better job of giving students the analytical tools to examine issues of social justice, which they will need to deal with the people they will be helping when they graduate,” he said.

Gilliam said plans include developing a curriculum, research opportunities, and a summer institute related to social justice. Together with Student Affairs, he also would like to hold social-justice dialogues with undergraduates, who then would dialogue with Los Angeles-area high school students.

Heffler is a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer and former UCLA editor