Holloway Wins Grant to Merge Technology, LGBTQ Health

Ian Holloway, associate professor of social welfare, has received an Avenir Award of more than $2 million from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to advance his research into health interventions for LGBTQ communities. Holloway leads a UCLA team that is developing a social media tool designed to offer highly personalized health information to prevent substance abuse and HIV infection among gay men. Under a previous grant, the researchers built a library of nearly 12,000 data points made up of text phrases and emojis that correlate with offline health behaviors. Holloway’s Avenir Award will be used to create a machine-learning system that will monitor social media interactions with participants’ consent, then send customized health reminders and other alerts via an app. The team’s goal is to develop a wide-reaching and cost-effective tool to promote public health, said Holloway, director of the Hub for Health Intervention, Policy and Practice at UCLA Luskin. The Avenir Awards, named for the French word for “future,” provide grants to early-stage researchers who propose highly innovative studies, particularly in the field of HIV and addiction.


 

Holloway on Protections for LGBTQ Travelers

Ian Holloway, associate professor of social welfare, spoke with NBC News about Tinder’s new personal security feature aimed at protecting users in countries that are hostile to LGBTQ communities. In these countries, the dating app will keep gender identity and sexual orientation private and will prompt travelers to take other precautions. Noting that the LGBTQ community uses dating apps at a relatively high rate, Holloway welcomed the new protections but said apps that specifically cater to gay users face additional challenges.  “Tinder’s Traveler Alert is a great idea, but I wonder how it would translate to LGBTQ-specific platforms, where people know others’ sexuality by virtue of being on those apps,” he said.


 

Holloway on Dating Apps as a Tool for Crime

Ian Holloway, associate professor of social welfare, spoke to NBC News about a string of attacks against gay men who were targeted through the dating app Grindr. Anti-LGBTQ hate crimes rose 3 percent nationally in 2017, the story reported. In some cases, apps such as Grindr are used to identify victims who may be kidnapped, robbed, carjacked, assaulted or slain. Holloway noted that the risk is international in scope. “There are people impersonating romantic partners and friends in countries where being gay is illegal, then threatening to out the user,” he said. Experts advise app users to guard their personal information and create a safety plan. Holloway noted that LGBTQ dating platforms can have a positive impact. “Parts of the U.S. can be incredibly isolating for LGBTQ people, which is where the apps come in,” he said. “For people living in these areas or in countries where homosexuality is criminalized, apps can be a way to build community.”


 

Graduating Students Seek Out Solutions Near and Far The capstone research projects that are now part of all UCLA Luskin programs tackle local challenges or examine issues that extend far beyond campus and California

By Stan Paul

Newly graduated Social Welfare master’s degree recipient Deshika Perera’s research project extended across the United States and as far north as Alaska.

Evan Kreuger helped create a nationwide database as a basis for his research into LGBT health and health outcomes to culminate his Master of Social Welfare (MSW) studies at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Perera and Kreuger are members of the first graduating class of Social Welfare students to complete a capstone research project as a graduation requirement for their MSW degrees. Like their UCLA Luskin counterparts in Urban Planning and Public Policy who must also complete capstones, working individually and in groups to complete research and analysis projects that hone their skills while studying important social issues on behalf of government agencies, nonprofit groups and other clients with a public service focus.

“It’s been fun; it’s been interesting,” said Perera, who worked with Associate Professor Ian Holloway. Her qualitative study examined the relationship between the Violence Against Women Act and nonprofits, focusing on programs that provide services to indigenous survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence on reservations and in remote areas of the U.S.

As a member of the pioneering class for the MSW capstone, Perera said that although the new requirement was rigorous, she enjoyed the flexibility of the program.

“I feel we got to express our own creativity and had more freedom because it was loosely structured,” Perera said, explaining that she and her fellow students got to provide input on their projects and the capstone process. The development of the requirement went both ways. “Because it was new, [faculty] were asking us a lot of questions,” Perera said.

“We strongly believe that this capstone experience combines a lot of the pieces of learning that they’ve been doing, so it really integrates their knowledge of theory, their knowledge of research methods and their knowledge of practice,” said Laura Wray-Lake, associate professor and MSW capstone coordinator. “I think it’s really fun to see research come alive and be infused with real world practice.”

Krueger, who also was completing a Ph.D. in public health at UCLA while concluding his MSW studies, previously worked as a research coordinator for a national survey on LGBT adults through the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. He said he had a substantial amount of data to work with and that he enjoyed the opportunity to combine his research interests.

“I’m really interested in how the social environment influences these public health questions I’m looking at,” said Kreuger who has studied HIV and HIV prevention. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, but it was a matter of pulling it all together.”

For years, MSW students have completed rigorous coursework and challenging educational field placements during their two-year program of study, and some previous MSW graduates had conducted research in connection with sponsoring agencies. This year’s class included the first MSW recipients to complete a new two-year research sequence, Wray-Lake said.

View more photos from Public Policy’s APP presentations.

Applied Policy Projects

In UCLA Luskin Public Policy, 14 teams presented a year’s worth of exacting research during this year’s Applied Policy Project presentations, the capstone for those seeking a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree.

Public Policy students master the tools to conduct policy analysis during their first year of study. In the second year, they use those tools to create sophisticated policy analyses to benefit government entities and other clients.

The APP research is presented to faculty, peers and curious first-year students over the course of two days. This May’s presentations reflected a broad spectrum of interests.

Like some peers in Social Welfare, a few MPP teams tackled faraway issues, including a study of environmental protection and sustainable tourism in the South Pacific. Closer to home, student researchers counted people experiencing homelessness, looked at ways to reform the juvenile justice system, sought solutions to food insecurity and outlined ideas to protect reproductive health, among other topics.

“Our students are providing solutions to some of the most important local and global problems out there,” said Professor JR DeShazo, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.

After each presentation, faculty members and others in the audience followed up with questions about data sources, methodologies and explanations for the policy recommendations.

View more photos from Urban Planning’s capstone presentations.

Careers, Capstones and Conversations

Recently graduated UCLA Luskin urban planners displayed their culminating projects in April at the annual Careers, Capstones and Conversations networking event, following up with final written reports for sponsoring clients.

Many planning students work individually, but a cohort of 16 Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students worked together to complete a comprehensive research project related to a $23 million grant recently received by the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima. The project was the culmination of almost six months of analysis in which the MURP students helped the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies prepare a plan seeking to avoid displacement of residents as a result of a pending major redevelopment effort.

“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.

View more photos from Social Welfare’s capstone presentations. 

MSWs Test Research Methods

In Social Welfare, the projects represented a variety of interests and subject matter, said Wray-Lake, pointing out that each student’s approach — quantitative and/or qualitative — helps distinguish individual areas of inquiry. Some students used existing data sets to analyze social problems, she said, whereas others gathered their own data through personal interviews and focus groups. Instructors provided mentoring and training during the research process.

“They each have their own challenges,” said Wray-Lake, noting that several capstones were completed in partnership with a community agency, which often lack the staff or funding for research.

“Agencies are very hungry for research,” she said. “They collect lot of data and they have a lot of research needs, so this is a place where our students can be really useful and have real community impact with the capstones.”

Professor of Social Welfare Todd Franke, who serves as a lead instructor for the capstone projects, said his students worked on issues that impact child welfare. Others studied the relationship between child neglect and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Another capstone focused on predictors of educational aspirations among black and Native American students. The well-being of caregivers and social workers served as another study topic.

Assistant Professor Amy Ritterbusch, who also served as a capstone instructor, said her students focused on topics that included education beyond incarceration, the needs of Central American migrant youth in schools, and the unmet needs of homeless individuals in MacArthur Park. One project was cleverly titled as “I’m Still Here and I Can Go On: Coping Practices of Immigrant Domestic Workers.”

“They all did exceptional work,” Ritterbusch said.

Holloway on Toxic Male Beauty Standards in Gay Culture

In a GQ article, associate professor of social welfare Ian Holloway commented on oppressive male beauty standards that are detrimental to body image, particularly within the gay community. The article highlighted the absurdity of societal expectations for six-pack abs, which have become a barometer for male attractiveness. As a result, even the fittest men struggle with body image. Holloway, who runs a private practice in West Hollywood working with gay individuals and couples, explained, “The vast majority of my clients, despite what their external appearance might be, whether they have a six-pack or not, wrestle with this ideal image of themselves. Body-image issues are at the top of the list of things they struggle with.” Holloway recommends, “It’s important for guys to get a clear idea of what’s attainable and realistic and work towards that, as opposed to trying to achieve the impossible ideal we’re bombarded with.”


In the Weeds of Legalized Pot Recreational cannabis raises pressing questions for California officials, citizens and UCLA faculty experts seeking to devise common-sense policies

By Mary Braswell

When Californians voted in 2016 to bring the cannabis industry out of the shadows, the aim was to create an environment where marijuana was safe, controlled and taxed. This has not been a simple undertaking.

Legalization of recreational pot has raised pressing questions from public health officials, local law enforcement, state regulators, city planners and citizens hungry for common-sense policies — not to mention the growers, retailers and users who drive California’s multibillion-dollar weed industry.

What will the city-by-city patchwork of laws look like? How can marijuana cultivators safely introduce pesticides into a neighborhood? When will communities see the benefits of tax revenues? How will lifting the stigma on pot use affect adolescents?

The need for facts, evidence and clear thinking has never been greater. Fortunately, UCLA Luskin researchers and policy experts are on the case, among them Public Policy lecturer Brad Rowe MPP ’13.

‘A REALLY TRICKY BUSINESS’

Proposition 64, the ballot measure that legalized recreational pot, gave each of California’s 482 cities and 58 counties the authority to license cultivation, manufacturing and sales. So far, most have declined to do so.

The more than 160 cities and unincorporated areas that decided to move forward face a labyrinth of policy questions, said Rowe, who launched his own research firm, Rowe Policy + Media, in 2017. He also serves on the faculty of UCLA’s Cannabis Research Initiative, teaches a Public Policy class on drugs and crime, and advises municipalities that are venturing into the marijuana fray.

“Cannabis is a really tricky business, and it’s one that is probably going to have more volatility than most of the other licensing areas,” Rowe said.

In many cases, he said, communities have overestimated the financial gains and underestimated the complications.

“Expectations have been set so high for tax revenues. Common claims from city representatives are, ‘We’re going to build libraries and parks and football programs for the kids,’ ” Rowe said. “The truth is that you’ve got to get your system up and running, and realistically expect that that store that you just licensed may only generate tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands in tax revenue for you this year. … It’s hard to pay for your new inspector and the new police officer you just hired, and your financial department has to figure out how to handle the cash.”

Cannabis commerce requires cities to create systems for licensing, taxation, financial compliance and the delicate matter of handling deposits from a largely cash business, Rowe said. They must keep up with evolving regulations from the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control and shifting signals from the federal government, which strictly prohibits pot.

They will have to consider whether growing outdoors will create a nuisance and how to safeguard first responders against new threats. Firefighters arriving at a site that uses pesticides or volatile solvents for terpene extraction “shouldn’t be inhaling that stuff,” Rowe said.

Some of the policy debates veer toward the high end. Sonoma, he said, is considering whether to permit tastings of cannabis products, just as it does for viognier and pinot noir. “So then we’re getting into on-site consumption, event permits, more cannabis cops,” Rowe said.

On the whole, he said, “it can be a big hairy hassle for the cities, and that’s one of the reasons a lot of them have said we’re going to kick the can down the road and see how these other cities do.”

SEEKING JUSTICE, EQUITY AND FACTS

Rowe’s work with the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative focuses on criminal and juvenile justice as drug offenses are reclassified.

“Are we even moving away from the war on drugs? That is the intent but in practice it’s a trickier thing, so we’re looking at equity considerations,” he said.

The health and well-being of young people must be a top policy priority, he argues.

“The one thing I am super concerned about is cannabis use disorder among adolescents,” Rowe said, citing brain research as well as recent studies measuring the toll that compulsive pot consumption takes on test scores and analytical skills.

“We just don’t know enough about the plant,” he said. “We don’t know enough about its addictive properties; we don’t really know what will happen as it becomes de-stigmatized and easily available.”

Legalization has led to new funding for research aimed at answering these questions. Proposition 64 earmarks $10 million a year for public universities to evaluate the impact of the law and make recommendations to the state.

Rowe has visited cities up and down the state as a consultant with MuniServices, which helps local governments manage their affairs. He has hosted forums for potential pot licensees, family and faith-based groups, and other stakeholders and says, “There have been some really heartfelt, interesting conversations. Some are opposed and some just want this to be done with caution.”

Many simply want reliable information, he said.

“There’s a lot of room for reasonable conversation; there’s a lot of room for public policy people to come into this area,” Rowe said. “It’s only going to get bigger. It’s going to be a very big industry.”

Social Welfare Ph.D. Faculty Ranked Among Top Three in Scholarly Productivity

Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams, right.

UCLA Luskin’s Social Welfare doctoral program is one of the top three most productive in the nation, according to a newly published study measuring the impact of faculty research. “The search for meaningful metrics of program excellence has been a longstanding effort by social work schools and colleges,” the researchers said. To understand variations in faculty productivity, they built upon previous work analyzing scholarly citations by considering the impact of a program’s funding sources, regional location, year of establishment and faculty demographics. “Researchers are not expected to build knowledge in a vacuum,” the study said. “Rather, it is a professional expectation that researchers also demonstrate the ability to disseminate knowledge widely despite the narrowness of their specialty area.” The analysis found that the three most productive social work doctoral faculties were based at public universities in the West: the University of Washington, UC Berkeley and UCLA Luskin. “One surprising finding was that there were significant differences among programs with the same size but located in different parts of the country,” the researchers said. “Why Western and Midwestern programs outperform their Northeastern and Southeastern counterparts is unclear.”  The research, published in the journal Scientometrics, was based on empirical data from the entire population of doctoral tenure-track social work faculty at 76 research-oriented universities.

 

How Safer Drug Consumption Programs Can Help HIV Prevention Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center releases policy brief showing the impact of safer drug consumption sites

Ian Holloway

A policy brief published by the Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center confirms that safer drug consumption sites can reduce the risk and incidence of HIV and Hepatitis C infection.

The Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center is a partnership between the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, APLA Health and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Ian Holloway, assistant professor of Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin, is the center’s principal investigator.

Proposed legislation in California Assembly Bill 186 seeks to implement safer drug consumption sites in locations throughout California. These sites provide supervision by trained personnel, offer safe and sterilized equipment, and link people to medical care and substance use treatment.

Given that the risk factors presented by the opioid epidemic and increased intravenous drug use overlap substantially with risk factors associated with higher rates of HIV transmission, the policy brief clarifies the state of research pertaining to both epidemics. It identifies Californians that are impacted by and at greater risk of both intravenous drug use and HIV infection, and reviews research evidence for how safer drug consumption sites may be a key HIV prevention tool.

“Evidence shows that the HIV and opioid epidemics dangerously intersect,” said lead author Robert Gamboa, a Master of Public Policy (MPP) student at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “Because of this relationship, the evolving frontier of HIV prevention must consider implementing safer drug consumption sites as an effective strategy. This intervention has the potential to prevent the further spread of HIV and other blood borne diseases while also saving lives from opioid overdose.”

Key findings of the report:

  • In 2015, California saw more than 4,700 new cases of HIV, was third in the nation for HIV transmissions via injection drug use and first in the national among men who have sex with men who inject drugs.
  • Other key groups impacted by both epidemics include women, people of color, those who are homeless and youth. Research has found that people who inject drugs from these subgroups are 4-29 times more likely to have an HIV-positive diagnosis.
  • Safer drug consumption sites offer supervision by trained personnel, safe and sterilized equipment, and link people to medical care and substance use treatment thereby reducing risk of HIV and Hepatitis C infection.
  • Safer drug consumption sites can help to facilitate continuity of care for both addiction and HIV among people living with HIV who use drugs.
  • In California, researchers have estimated that a single safe injection site in San Francisco could prevent 3.3 new HIV transmissions per year and would save the State of California roughly $3.5 million per year in expenses related to health care, emergency services and crime.

San Francisco recently joined Seattle and Philadelphia in implementing safer drug consumption sites in their jurisdiction. Prior research has provided evidence for leveraging safer drug consumption sites as an effective HIV prevention strategy.

Should state legislation clear the way for California to implement the strategy statewide, research supports the inclusion of broad HIV prevention and treatment services at local sites. To access the full report, visit www.chprc.org.