Taking the Fight for LGBT Health Equity to the Streets Late-night canvassing to assess a meningitis outbreak exemplifies the dedication that has earned UCLA Luskin Social Welfare professor Ian Holloway national recognition for his groundbreaking research

By Les Dunseith

It’s the Tuesday night before Christmas as UCLA Luskin professor Ian W. Holloway tucks his 2-year-old daughter Sofía into bed and prepares to leave his home on a tree-lined street of bungalow-style houses in the Larchmont neighborhood of Los Angeles.

It’s time for Holloway, an assistant professor in the Department of Social Welfare, to get back to work.

Along with three UCLA student researchers, Holloway will spend the next several hours in West Hollywood doing legwork for his latest research project. Their task will be to find and interview gay and bisexual men outside popular nightspots and discover how much they know about an ongoing meningitis outbreak and the steps that health officials have taken to battle it.

This type of time-consuming, on-the-ground research is par for the course for Holloway, who serves as the director of the UCLA Luskin-based Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center and is currently juggling four major research efforts related to his expertise in health disparities among sexual and gender minority populations. Holloway’s dedication and his innovative methods recently led the Society of Social Work Research (SSWR) to select him for its Deborah K. Padgett Early Career Achievement Award, presented in January 2017 during the organization’s national conference in New Orleans.

“This is our primary professional society,” Holloway says about the honor, which recognizes social work research completed during the recipient’s first decade after earning a doctoral degree. “They give just one a year at the society’s big professional meeting.”

UCLA Luskin students Jorge Rojas and Christine Munoz listen as Ian Holloway outlines the agenda as another night of research gets underway. Photo by Les Dunseith

On this night, however, the meningitis study takes precedence. Outside the Urth Caffé, Holloway helps the student researchers establish a “line” — in this case basically a crevice in the sidewalk — at the corner of Melrose Avenue and Westmount Drive. One or more of the students then approaches any man who crosses that line, asking them to participate in the research effort by spending 20 minutes answering survey questions using an iPad.

In the first half-hour, however, only one man who meets the study’s criteria has been successfully interviewed. Holloway and his research team are trying to complete about 500 interviews for the project by February, and foot traffic is just too light to continue at the site. So they move on to the next venue that has been randomly preselected for this night’s canvassing effort — the Motherlode, a tavern with removable walls that proudly shows off its dive-bar atmosphere to passersby along Santa Monica Boulevard.

The thought of an academic research project centered around bar hopping in West Hollywood until 2 a.m. may seem incongruous, but it’s a proven research approach that works particularly well when the target audience is gay and bisexual men in Los Angeles County, including those who are HIV positive. During a meningitis outbreak that has led to two deaths in Southern California since it was first reported last spring, the researchers need to go where those who are most at risk can reliably be found.

UCLA Luskin student researchers Ryan Dougherty and Christine Munoz use digital devices to establish a survey zone. Photo by Les Dunseith

“We use a strategy called venue-based sampling,” Holloway explains. “It’s a systematic sampling strategy that is one of the best ways we know for how to approximate generalizability among gay and bisexual men.”

Holloway’s meningitis study is funded as part of a four-year, $4-million grant from the California HIV/AIDS Research Program to produce “what we call rapid response research,” he says. The idea is to complete research within months, not years, related to timely policy issues that impact people living with HIV or AIDS in California.

As noted on its website, CHPRC.org, the center works closely with community partners from AIDS Project Los Angeles Health and the Los Angeles LGBT Center to tailor research efforts to match urgent needs within the LGBTQ communities.

“We get community input, synthesize that and then set an agenda for policy research,” Holloway explains.

He took over the center’s leadership last April from Arleen Leibowitz, professor emeritus of public policy at UCLA Luskin, and feels fortunate to conduct research efforts that directly arise from community interaction.

“Models of funding like this aren’t widely available, so we are lucky to have a center here at UCLA, and we are lucky to have had it for seven years,” he says. “We want to continue to do this work and be able to conduct research that is driven by the community and that directly benefit the community.”

The meningitis study resulted from a meeting in October at which about 40-50 advocates, health workers and social service providers from across Southern California came to Los Angeles to talk about the needs of people in the local LGBTQ communities.

“These are people who are working with HIV-positive clients, who are doing prevention work,” Holloway says of the attendees. The meeting gave them an opportunity to think about and debate the issues most affecting their communities. The researchers primarily were there to listen and help structure projects that could be completed in a rapid response timeframe to produce data that would actually benefit those communities.

“It is … very much aligned with the mission of Luskin and the mission of the Department of Social Welfare,” Holloway notes.

Ian Holloway discusses where to relocate with his survey team when one of their preselected research sites proves unworkable. Photo by Les Dunseith

Back in West Hollywood, the Motherlode proves unworkable as a survey venue on this night. A private party is booked at the site, but it won’t start for a couple of hours and the survey team can’t afford to simply bide time waiting.

Holloway, ever cheerful no matter the hurdle he faces, quickly gathers his team to discuss their options. Proceed to the next pre-selected venue? Or go just around the corner to the “emergency backup” site, the Abbey, a 25-year-old West Hollywood landmark that has been voted the best gay bar in the world.

Within minutes, the team is in place outside the Abbey, and all three student researchers are actively engaged in recruiting potential survey respondents.

To gather enough surveys to produce statistically valid results by their deadline, Holloway has put together a rotating team of about 10 UCLA student workers, assisted occasionally by a couple of alumni who help out during staffing shortfalls. The majority are current Luskin master of social welfare students, but two are in a Ph.D. program.

“There’s lots of exciting work going on,” Holloway says with a broad smile. “And we have a fantastic team at UCLA supporting it.”

The data being gathered now will be analyzed by March to inform a research brief that should help California produce better outreach and better programs centered around meningitis vaccination for this population. The student workers collecting the information were carefully screened during a selection process led by Holloway’s research manager, Elizabeth Wu.

“We are looking for people who are obviously outgoing and who understand the importance of collecting good quality data,” says Holloway, whose own affable manner permeates the research effort. The canvassers, who refer to Holloway mostly by his first name, also need to be comfortable staying out to the wee hours to chat with strangers they encounter outside bars and clubs.

The iPad-based surveys are completed by the researchers based on respondents’ answers. Photo by Les Dunseith

For researcher Christine Munoz, a first-year MSW student who got her undergraduate degree at UC Riverside, the learning process was frenetic at first, but also rewarding.

“It is very new to me because I wasn’t really involved in the LGBTQ community previously,” she says during a break during the canvassing effort. “I am learning so much from this community. So, it’s broadening my skills, my social work skills. Now I can work with clients who are from the LGBT community. I am learning so much as a future social worker.”

The survey teams have been on the job since November, gathering data that Holloway says will either confirm or refute the notions that helped form the basis of the survey hypothesis.

For example, there is a feeling that the distribution of meningitis vaccine to the targeted community “is pretty haphazard,” Holloway says. “There isn’t always a good refrigeration system for the vaccine at community clinics; health workers aren’t always tracking how many doses have been given.”

Without a systematic infrastructure in place to promote the wellbeing of these men, health officials often find themselves in a defensive posture when dealing with outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses among HIV-positive men or men at high risk for HIV. “It shouldn’t take an outbreak for us to realize this is a priority community,” Holloway says.

His passion to understand and promote better health options for LGBTQ communities is an outgrowth of Holloway’s life experience. He was raised in Northern California during the early years of the HIV crisis in America. His parents’ generation saw an entire community of gay men decimated, almost wiped out by AIDS.

“Growing up and knowing that I was gay, and hearing and seeing what happened close by in San Francisco, I think it was pretty impactful for my young life,” Holloway recalls. “When I decided that I wanted to go back to school for social work, I was pretty clear that this was the community that I wanted to work with, and this was the issue that I wanted to work around.”

Professor Ian W. Holloway has been selected by the Society for Social Work Research as its 2017 Early Career Achievement Award winner. Photo by George Foulsham

That dedication is evident in the meningitis study as well as three other research projects that Holloway is currently shepherding:

  • A two-year study supported by a $1.89-million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense is looking at the experiences of of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender active-duty service members since the 2010 repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the law barring homosexuals from openly serving in the military.
  • A study funded by the NIH through a small research grant mechanism uses predictive technologies to understand how gay and bisexual men use geo-social networking apps and other kinds of social media to find substance use partners and sexual partners. This collaborative effort with UCLA’s departments of engineering and computer science is using predictive algorithms and social media data to try to understand how social media behavior predicts health behavior.
  • And he is involved in the development of a social networking app for HIV-positive black men in L.A. County in the 18-29 age range through a grant from California HIV/AIDS Research Program. It will be a virtual community space where these men can connect with those with similar experiences, focusing not just on health and medication adherence but on housing, job assistance, social services and/or legal needs.

Despite his prolific research output, Holloway doesn’t neglect his classroom responsibilities. If fact, he finds that his research interests often dovetail nicely with teaching opportunities.

“I teach a class on diversity, oppression and social functioning. Each year when we talk about community responses to oppression, I show the ‘Silence = Death’ banner that Act Up used as a call to action in the early days of HIV when nobody was talking about it and the entire community was being wiped out,” he explains. “Each year I show that banner from the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and each year fewer and fewer students recognize it.”

UCLA students working as canvassers approach any men who cross into their survey area. Photo by Les Dunseith

Out on the streets of West Hollywood, student researchers such as Ryan Dougherty are learning first-hand how much knowledge exists among today’s gay and bisexual men about the serious health issues that still impact many of them.

Dougherty joined the survey team as a result of taking Holloway’s research methods class, where he learned “about the process of research, everything from the theoretical foundations of collecting data to the ethics of research. And Ian extended an opportunity for students to get involved and see what that process looks like on the ground.”

As a student in the social welfare Ph.D. program at UCLA Luskin, Dougherty may follow in Holloway’s footsteps someday, pursuing research of his own that will benefit marginalized populations and ameliorate health disparities.

“To be able to do this kind of work, and to work alongside Ian, has helped me to gain more theoretical perspectives and learn about different types of research methods,” Dougherty says. “You can spend all day in the classroom learning about research, but to actually do it and overcome the logistical barriers that come with implementing a really good research project, is a really good learning experience to have.”

At the Abbey, those logistical barriers are in full force as Dougherty attempts to stop men who cross his survey line outside the venue’s patio-style entrance. Some ignore him. A few politely wave him off. One is willing to take the survey but doesn’t qualify because he is not a resident of L.A. County.

Soon, however, a young man in a white hooded sweatshirt approaches. Dougherty catches his attention. The newcomer meets the research criteria. And he is willing to take the survey.

Nearby, Ian Holloway nods his approval. And the research interview begins.

Ryan Dougherty, a Luskin Ph.D. student, conducts a survey interview. Photo by Les Dunseith

New Report Examines Covered California’s Impact on HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Southern California HIV Policy Research Center releases policy brief to help individuals examine health plan options for PrEP under Covered California

The Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center has released a new report that will help consumers better understand the cost of accessing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) through Covered California health plans. Open enrollment for Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace, begins this week.

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.

PrEP is an HIV prevention strategy in which HIV-negative individuals take a daily medication to reduce their risk of becoming infected. When taken every day PrEP is up to 99 percent effective. Truvada, the only medication currently approved for PrEP, is expensive and so it is important for individuals who are considering PrEP to carefully examine their options before enrolling in a new health plan, according to Holloway.

The report, PrEP Cost Analysis for Covered California Health Plans, found that, with a co-pay card from the drug manufacturer, PrEP could cost individuals less than $400/year on all Covered California health plans except Bronze plans. These costs do not include monthly premiums and assume that medical and pharmacy deductibles have not been met. Covered California recently announced average premium increases of 13.2 percent for 2017.

“It is very important for consumers to find a plan that best meets their health needs and budget,” Holloway said.

Before enrolling in a new health plan, individuals who are considering taking PrEP should consider a number of factors: monthly health plan premiums, co-pays for the medication and co-pays for regular doctor visits and laboratory tests. These costs vary significantly, however, depending on age, income, area of residence and other factors.

The report includes examples of the total costs (both out-of-pocket costs and monthly premiums) associated with accessing PrEP via Covered California for individuals of different ages and incomes from different regions of California.

Earlier this year, the California Legislature approved the development of a PrEP financial assistance program. The program, set to launch in spring 2017, will cover all PrEP-related out-of-pocket costs for qualified individuals with annual incomes below 500 percent of the federal poverty level.

A downloadable version of this report is available online.

The California HIV/AIDS Research Program supports two collaborative HIV/AIDS Policy Research Centers for research and policy analysis that address critical issues related to HIV/AIDS care and prevention in California. These centers include UCLA, APLA Health, Los Angeles LGBT Center, UC San Francisco, San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Project Inform.


2016 California Voter Issues — A Lot More Than Just Hillary and Trump UCLA Luskin Social Welfare faculty members analyze the potential impact of a slew of state and local ballot initiatives

By Stan Paul

On issues that include condoms, juvenile justice reform and housing for the homeless, California voters will be making important decisions in Tuesday’s national election.

Judging from this year’s unusually hefty state voter’s guide, a lot of those issues will have a great deal of impact closer to home — it’s not just about Hillary and Trump.

“This election is more than just about the presidential election, which has taken all of the oxygen out of the political room,” said Fernando Torres-Gil, professor of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Torres-Gil served as moderator at a faculty panel discussion held just a week before the general election.

Holding up a full-page news article listing the 17 propositions on the California ballot, Torres-Gil started the discussion highlighting a few key state and countywide initiatives and their impact on social work, justice and quality of life issues. “This does not end on Nov. 8; the issues continue,” he said, acknowledging California’s “extraordinary influence” on the rest of the country.

Voting can be good for you — and habit forming — according to new Luskin Social Welfare faculty member Laura Wray-Lake, encouraging the students in attendance to exert a bit of peer pressure.

“The election is obviously really interesting to me from a research perspective,” said the assistant professor, whose work focuses on youth civic engagement and draws on several disciplines to understand social development among young people.

“When young people start voting, this goes a long way to establishing lifelong habits,” Wray-Lake said. “So, if you get into the habit of voting, you will become a more habitual voter across your adult life, which is important for democracy and is important for you in terms of having your voice be heard.”

Citing Pew Research Center data, Wray-Lake said that there are now as many eligible millennial voters as baby boomers for the first time ever. This translates into millennials being one of the most powerful voting blocs in the country. But, she pointed out, the potential of this powerful voting bloc is offset by the lowest voting rates across all generations. She said this had real implications in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, when youth voting influenced several swing states.

“If young people had voted at a slightly lesser rate, then Romney would have won the [2012] election,” Wray-Lake said. “Young people really carried Obama to victory.”

She cited a recent poll showing that 70 percent of young people have not been contacted by presidential candidates. Candidates, she said, are putting campaign dollars where they think the reliable voters are, and they’re dismissing young people and their issues, including education, poverty and the environment.

On a positive note, Wray-Lake said that the voter registration rate in California has surged to the highest levels in modern history at almost 74 percent.

“That’s more registered voters in California than 46 other states combined,” she said. “You’ll do your demographic proud if you go to the polls,” pointing out that 10,000 new voters were recently registered on the UCLA campus.

Among the state’s initiatives with health implications is Proposition 60, which would add a condom requirement to the California Labor Code for the adult film industry. According to information provided in the voter guide, the primary argument for the proposal is that “Nobody should have to risk their health in order to keep their job!” Opposition to the proposal argues that it would be costly to voters, is opposed by lawmakers and is largely supported by a single special interest group.

Ian Holloway, assistant professor of Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin, said that Proposition 60 had its origins in L.A. County’s Measure B last year — which passed — and is now being rolled out at the state level. Proponents say that Proposition 60 will stem the rise of HIV in California, said Holloway, whose applied behavioral health research looks at factors that contribute to health disparities among sexual and gender and minority populations.

“When it comes to the adult film industry, the majority of adult films that are distributed throughout the United States are made in California and the majority of films made in California are made in Los Angeles County,” said Holloway, who also directs the Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center. He explained that there could be a significant economic impact because the adult film industry brings a lot of revenue to the state. He noted that one of the fears is that the making and distribution of adult films will move outside of the state if the proposition passes.

While the goal is to protect the health and well-being of adult film actors, Holloway said that many in the community feel that the proposition is misguided.

“When we think about the HIV epidemic in the state of California, we’re talking about 5,000 new infections a year that disproportionately impact gay and bisexual men and racial-ethnic minority communities,” Holloway said. “So, adult film actors, while an important constituency, are a very small proportion of HIV cases in California.”

Holloway argued that if there is a real interest in focusing on reducing HIV among people living in California, the focus should be making prevention technologies more accessible to low-income communities, racial-ethnic minority communities, gay and bisexual men, transgender women, and other sexual and gender minority communities.

“If we’re thinking about this as an HIV-prevention measure, then we have many more tools at our disposal besides condoms,” Holloway said.

Laura Abrams, professor of Social Welfare, has applied her research to improving the well-being of youth and young adults with histories of incarceration. She provided analysis of Proposition 57, which considers criminal sentences and parole as well as juvenile criminal proceedings and sentencing. The proposition, if passed, would make a change to the state constitution that would “increase the number of inmates eligible for parole consideration,” as well as “make changes to the state law to require that youths have a hearing in juvenile court before they can be transferred to adult court.”

“Prop. 57 means a great deal to juvenile justice reform in California,” Abrams said. “It would help to prevent many youth from being directly tried in the adult criminal court system, and instead allow them to go before a judge to determine if they are indeed fit to be tried as an adult.”

Abrams said that, without the previous process known as “direct file,” many youth will be more likely to be offered rehabilitation within the juvenile system instead of languishing in the adult prison system.

Proposition 57 would amend the state constitution to provide the possibility of parole hearings for nonviolent offenders who have served their minimum sentence and incentives toward release for adults within the state prison system who participate in education and rehabilitation programs.

“This likely means that county services will need to be more attuned to those who are released, often with long sentences behind bars and coming home on parole,” Abrams said, and that will have implications for those in the social work field.

“Social workers will need to be attuned to the trauma that people can experience with many years of imprisonment, mental health needs, and to develop appropriate housing, transition, and other types of programming,” Abrams said.

Finally, two Social Welfare faculty went head-to-head on Proposition HHH, a City of Los Angeles initiative that aims to provide permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless.

W. Toby Hur and Michelle Tally, members of Luskin’s Social Welfare field faculty, discussed the pros and cons of approving a $1.2 billion general obligation bond. It would be supported by a property tax levied on homeowners to create 10,000 affordable housing units over 10 years for the homeless, including veterans, senior citizens, foster youth and those living on the streets due to mental illness and disability.

Hur, whose interests include ethnic communities, poverty and homelessness, argued that a tax levied on L.A. homeowners would be less than $10 per $100,000 of the value of a home or $50 for a home valued at half a million dollars, although it would increase over subsequent years.

“Initially when I read Proposition HHH it sounded really good and something that I would support,” said Talley, whose interests are in child and family welfare, as well as domestic violence and substance abuse. “Then it talked about increasing property taxes.”

Hur sees minimal burden for homeowners, but Talley said the tax could greatly affect low- and fixed-income residents and even contribute to homelessness for “those who are barely making it,” she said.

“Fifty dollars may not be a lot to you, but there are a lot of people on fixed incomes,” Talley said. “So it’s $50 they would have to take from somewhere else — food on the table, daycare programs. You might potentially have other kinds of consequences.”


Study to focus on experiences of LGBT service members in military UCLA, USC study will be one of the first U.S. Department of Defense-funded research projects of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations

Researchers from the UCLA and USC will collaborate on one of the first studies of the experiences of LGBT service members in the military.

The study will lay a foundation for future research of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender active-duty service members by exploring how they are integrated into the military; determine if health disparities exist between them and their heterosexual counterparts; and develop recommendations for better assimilation of LGBT service members to promote military readiness.

The two-year, $1.89 million grant marks one of the first times the U.S. Department of Defense has funded a study of this population since the 2010 repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the law barring homosexuals from openly serving in the military.

“In some ways, we will start with an exploratory study to uncover what it’s like to be an LGBT service member in the military,” said Jeremy Goldbach, assistant professor at the USC School of Social Work, who is one of three principal investigators on this study. The other investigators are Carl Castro, assistant professor at the USC School of Social Work, and Ian Holloway, assistant professor of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“No one’s ever asked this question of active-duty service members before because we hadn’t been allowed to. We know very little about this population,” Goldbach said.

About 65,000 service members identify as LGBT. In the general population, LGBT individuals experience stress related to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Given the military’s “hypermasculine” culture, active-duty LGBT individuals could experience distinct stress that impacts their health and military readiness.

As news reports have shown, even after the controversial policy’s repeal, acceptance in the military as an LGBT service member has not been universal. The policy changes have not been implemented flawlessly, and experiences of LGBT veterans highlight that many remained uncomfortable serving openly.

The study also comes at a critical time as the department works to update its current policy relating to transgender service members, also allowing them to serve openly in the military.

“We’ll actually be able to talk to transgender service members and see how they feel about this policy shift and if they see an impact on their service,” said Holloway.

The study will consist of two parts:  in-depth interviews with 80 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines; and a survey of 480 service members—split evenly between LGBT service members and their heterosexual counterparts.

Advisory boards will also be established with subject-matter experts and LGBT veterans and active-duty service members. The military board will help ensure any developed recommendations are feasible within the military context.

Castro, a retired Army colonel and director of the USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families, said the scope of the study is purposely ambitious. The inclusion of all the services will make it difficult for any military branch to dismiss the study’s recommendations as not pertaining to it.

Another reason the researchers decided against limiting the scope of the study was because the Defense Department only funded two LGBT projects this year.

“Just think about the magnitude of studies that are needed before any changes can be made,” Castro said. “Turning the dial just a little bit will not get us anywhere.”

“One of our goals is to lay a solid foundation for other researchers to build upon when they focus on single services,” he added.

The study benefits from the unique perspectives and expertise of each of the investigators.

Castro is a subject-matter expert in the military, including how service members integrate into the military and transition to civilian life. USC colleague Goldbach has studied LGBT mental health issues. Holloway’s research expertise includes analysis of LGBT social networks, which can contribute to health outcomes.

“All good research is collaborative and multidisciplinary,” Castro said. “This is recognition that it takes a lot of people from different areas and disciplines to pull this off.”

“This was a perfect recipe,” Goldbach added. “Without the three of us, this project would not have been possible.”

Goldbach’s research has focused on how stigma creates stress for people and how that results in poor health outcomes. “If someone is experiencing stress, then he or she is coping in some way,” he said. “One of the ways to cope is to seek resources through social networks.”

A focus on LGBT service members’ social networks is an important aspect of this project. Social networks refer to the relationships and bonds that surround individuals, such as family, friends, romantic relationships and colleagues, among others. Holloway said these networks can have great impact on the health and well-being of individuals.

“The basic idea is that LGBT people face the same stressors as heterosexuals, but they also face additional ones that are unique to them based on discrimination and exclusion,” Holloway said. “Supportive social networks can buffer those stressors.”

In the military, these networks are the bonds between service members and their leaders that form cohesion, a hugely important aspect in sustaining unit readiness, performance and effectiveness in combat, Castro said.

Whether and how active-duty LGBT service members have disclosed their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and how their supervisors and fellow service members have reacted can impact their networks and, in turn, their well-being.

“I think all of us feel a tremendous sense of responsibility,” Holloway said. “Our study will be able to elicit from LGBT military personnel themselves what they see as their challenges and provide insights to improve their individual outcomes and improve the overall organizational structure.”

About the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs: Founded in 1994 and dedicated in 2011, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs is a leading institution for research and scholarship in the areas of public policy, social welfare and urban planning. Based in the global metropolis of Los Angeles, UCLA Luskin develops creative solutions and innovative leaders that confront challenges in immigration, drug policy, prison reform, transportation, the environment, and other areas vital to the continued health and well-being of our global society. For more than 65 years, the UCLA Department of Social Welfare has maintained a commitment to advancing education and scholarship in service of society’s most vulnerable communities.

About the USC School of Social Work: The University of Southern California’s School of Social Work ranks among the nation’s top social work graduate programs. A recognized leader in academic innovation, experiential learning, online education and translational research, the school prepares students for leadership roles in public and private organizations that serve individuals, families and communities in need. The school is the first research university to offer a large-scale military social work program that prepares students to care for service members, veterans and their families, helping them cope with the stresses of military life. The school’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families focuses its research efforts on understanding all facets of military transitions.


Holloway Earns Hellman Fellowship for LGBT Research Research grant awarded for studies in LGBT welfare


Ian Holloway

By Adeney Zo
UCLA Luskin Student Writer

Social Welfare assistant professor Ian Holloway has been selected as a 2015-16 Hellman Fellow for his research, which will examine contextual factors associated with alcohol and other substance use among gay and bisexual men attending nightlife settings.

Holloway’s research utilizes secondary data from Prevention Research Center member Brenda Miller’s study on correlates of violence in nightlife venues in San Francisco. Holloway’s project will pull data specifically for gay/bisexual and heterosexual men and compare differences in rates of alcohol and other substance use by sexual orientation. A secondary aim is to understand the individual, social, and contextual factors associated with substance use for gay and bisexual men attending nightlife settings.

“Studies examining alcohol and other substance use among gay and bisexual men often rely on self-reported data,” explains Holloway. “Our study uses verified biological markers of these behaviors, which will result in more accurate estimates of event-specific use. In addition, this work will provide insights on what factors can be targeted to reduce substance use and related risk behaviors in the settings in which those behaviors occur.”

Started in 2011, the UCLA Hellman Fellowship is a program established by the Hellman Family Foundation to support  promising junior faculty members in their research efforts and career advancement.

Holloway’s previous work has centered on social networks, technology and HIV risk among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM). “Substance use and HIV risk are interconnected in this population,” says Holloway. “This project will further characterize patterns of risk behavior among MSM, with the goal of informing future intervention efforts.” Holloway hopes that the findings from this study will launch programs and inform policies to reduce health disparities among MSM.

Ian Holloway’s ‘Healthy Selfie’ Project Uses Tech to Improve Healthcare The Social Welfare professor is leading research to improve healthcare among young, gay men of color.


By Alejandra Reyes-Velarde
UCLA Luskin student writer 

Social Welfare professor Ian Holloway, with the help of some UCLA Luskin students, is leading a research project called the Healthy Selfie project, which aims to find ways mobile phones can be used to improve healthcare, particularly for young gay men.

In an LA Times article, Holloway said that although HIV infection rates have plateaued nationwide, they have increased among young, gay men of color. Since mobile phones are so accessible in the U.S., mobile apps present the potential to target these groups, which can be hard to reach.

The Healthy Selfie project would explore how mobile phone apps can offer gay and bisexual men a centralized spot to get authoritative health guidance on HIV, Holloway said.

The article quotes Holloway as saying: “The new venues are phone applications, websites, chat rooms and message boards,” he said. “These are the places guys meet each other, for a variety of purposes. Why not bring prevention to those digital spaces?”

The project however faces several challenges including protecting the privacy of health information, building apps that would be appealing to patients and providing doctors with accurate and consistent data.


MSW Students Create Website for Social Workers Nick Thomas and Justin Kumar hope their website will inspire and inform.


The social work community has a new online resource thanks to second year UCLA Luskin Social Welfare students Nick Thomas and Justin Kumar.

Dubbed a “centralized database for all things social work,” Thomas’ and Kumar’s new website, Social Work Stories, includes stories about outstanding Social Welfare students and professionals, offers a number of online news sources specifically for social workers, has a helpful page detailing various jobs students can have with a social welfare degree, and offers career and school resources.

“We decided to create this website because we were truly inspired by the stories of the MSW students in our cohort,” Thomas and Kumar said. “Each one had a unique and intriguing story for deciding to pursue an MSW, and irrespective of their background, each individual we talked to shared a common goal – to help others.”

The MSW duo also said they created the website because they want to change the perception of social workers.

“It seemed that, either due to media portrayals or other factors, social workers were largely considered individuals who worked for the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and would try to separate families from their children,” they said. “We found through our program that the vast majority of social workers did not want to work for Child Protective Services (CPS) or DCFS, and those that did care much more about family reunification than separation.”

Kumar and Thomas hope social work professionals, people interested in the field of social work, and individuals looking for social work services will come to use the site. The hope is that the website will give social workers a place to show their passion for the field and the lasting impact they aim to have. This, they said, can help attract new people to the field, change negative perceptions about social work and social workers, and be a centralized database for users to easily find information about schools, resources, and services – something Kumar and Thomas said currently takes a lot of searching as content is spread across various webpages and other types of media.

Social Work Stories currently features the stories of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare professors Laura Alongi and Ian Holloway, MSW alumnus Stephen Cheung, and numerous MSW students. Thomas and Kumar hope to widen their scope to include the stories of faculty and students from other schools as well.

“We are definitely proud of the incredible UCLA MSWs and PhDs we have on the website, but our goal is to expand to other schools and areas to become a nationwide media outlet for social workers,” they said. “The field is so broad and full of amazing stories that it would be impossible to limit ourselves to one program or region, so we will feature any social worker or social work student who would like to be featured.”

The website is updated daily with new stories, news, and resources. The pair plan to continue the website after they graduate.

To learn more about Social Work Stories, go to Social Work Stories


Doctoral Students Pioneer New Research in Social Welfare

By Adeney Zo
UCLA Luskin student writer 

UCLA Luskin is home to a renowned Social Welfare doctoral program, one that focuses on independent research and interdisciplinary studies in order to produce top scholars and researchers. “Our doctoral program offers students the opportunity to pursue an independent line of study,” says professor Laura Abrams, chair of the doctoral program. “Although we are a small program, we focus on each individual student so that they are able to pursue these diverse interests and become leaders and scholars.” Among many notable achievements by both students and faculty, the following Social Welfare students were recently recognized for their research and work.

Two students had the opportunity to present academic papers at the Society for Social Work and Research conference in San Antonio. Gina Rosen presented a paper on “Determinants of Employment: Impact of Medicaid and CHIP among Unmarried Female Heads of Household with Young Children.” For her research, Rosen analyzed how social welfare programs impact the employment choices of low-income single mothers with young children (particularly under the age of six). Rosen explains that her childhood in Milwaukee, a city with high rates of inequality and segregation, inspired her to study policy issues in college and graduate school. “I wanted to look at these equality and fairness issues and how to correct them through public policy,” says Rosen. Her work was also recently accepted for publication in the journal Social Work in Public Health.

For the same conference, Christina Tam presented two papers on juvenile delinquency. For her first paper, “Gender Differences in Desistance from Crime: How Do Formerly Incarcerated Emerging Adults Use Social Supports?” Tam worked closely with Professor Abrams on the subject of transition to adulthood among formerly incarcerated young people, ages 18-25. This study analyzes youth transitioning out of juvenile justice and foster care systems. “I am interested in better understanding their experiences, as well as the practices and policies that may help these young people to cross this significant bridge,” explains Abrams.

Tam’s second project, and the subject of her dissertation, is a quantitative study on the overrepresentation of Southeast Asians in the American justice system. Her paper focuses on the acculturation of immigrant Cambodian families that have survived trauma and violence and how these changes affect rates of incarceration for their youth. Tam explains, “[I chose this group because] as a small population with a high amount of incarcerated youth, they are an understudied group in America.” Tam’s interest in the justice system stems from her undergraduate days as a Psychology and Criminology student at UC Irvine, and she describes her current research as “a good melding of all my interests, especially with studying second-generation Asian Americans.”

Matthew Mizel is also working closely with Professor Abrams on issues relating to incarcerated youth. Mizel first developed an interest in helping these youth through a volunteer teaching program in juvenile hall. “In 2003, I began teaching creative writing as a volunteer to incarcerated youth, and through the years my passion for that grew,” Mizel relates. “I eventually wanted to spend more of my time making an impact, and I decided the best way to do that was getting my Master’s and Ph.D.” For his research, Mizel conducted a systematic review on the use of mentoring programs as intervention for formerly incarcerated youth. He worked with Abrams to submit his research to the Journal of Evidence-Based Work, which was accepted last summer. “I learned a great deal from working with Professor Abrams. She helped me grow as a researcher and social welfare scholar,” says Mizel. “I ultimately want to become a professor in the future, and UCLA Luskin is helping me get the training and knowledge I need.”

While Tam and Mizel work with Abrams on youth incarceration, a few students also collaborate with Ian Holloway, Assistant Professor in Social Welfare, to research the social determinants of HIV/AIDS. “HIV is a major public health issue,” comments Holloway. “We’ve made tremendous progress in terms of preventing the virus in certain populations like mothers and infants. Now it’s important to address health disparities in sexual minority communities and racial ethnic groups disproportionately affected by HIV.” Holloway’s current research focuses on analyzing the social networks of HIV positive men in Los Angeles in relation to their well being and health, as well as developing a mobile smartphone application to encourage HIV testing and treatment among young African American gay and bisexual men (a heavily impacted demographic).

Shannon Dunlap is one of four students currently working with Professor Holloway on his social network research. “We’re using an informative survey to assess social networks of different people affected by HIV,” explains Dunlap. “We want to know how many people are in their social network, who they talk to, and how their social network supports them.” Outside of her studies, Dunlap also works with AMP!, a UCLA Art & Global Health Center program that aims to educate students about HIV through song, dance, and personal stories. “I’m looking at how [AMP!] impacts students and their social networks, along with how well the message has been received,” says Dunlap.

For fellow student Lesley Harris, HIV research led her on a journey to Vietnam to conduct a three-year field study. A country with traditionally underreported rates of HIV and a large population of young adults who are injection drug users, Vietnam is a key location to study the medical and social effects of HIV/AIDS. Harris’ studies focus on the relationship between children who have lost their parents due to AIDS and their grandparents, who consequently become the caretakers. By examining the effects of HIV on family dynamics, Harris also hopes to understand the greater social context surrounding the HIV epidemic in Vietnam. “Health is something that is socially constructed,” explains Harris. “The grandparents in Vietnam understood AIDS as a social evil, not a health issue.”

While conducting her field study, Harris also began to notice the importance of her relationship with her interpreter, a Vietnamese local. “Without an interpreter, it’s hard to bridge the cultural disconnect,” says Harris. “My interpreter actually had his own interpretation of the data, by looking at it through a Vietnamese lens.” As researcher-interpreter relation is not a frequently studied topic, Harris began work on a separate paper analyzing her close relationship with her interpreter and how it affected her understanding of the research. The resulting product, “Working in Partnership with Interpreters: Studies on Individuals Affected by HIV/AIDS in Vietnam,” was recently published in the Qualitative Health Research journal. Lesley is currently preparing for her final defense of her dissertation (chaired by emeritus professor Ted Benjamin) and is beginning a job as an assistant professor at the University of Louisville’s Kent School of Social Work in the fall.

While each Social Welfare student’s interests and research varies widely, their combined achievements serve to bring new insight and perspective to the field. “The Social Welfare program has a unique mix of scholars interested in society’s most pressing issues,” says Holloway. “Many of these issues intersect, and what’s been most exciting for me is that there is a lot of encouragement of interdisciplinary collaboration both within the school and within the larger university.” As the doctoral program continues to foster the development of innovative and interdisciplinary scholars, there may be more achievements in store for the students of Social Welfare.

Holloway Earns Two Grants for HIV Prevention Studies

Social Welfare professor Ian Holloway has been awarded two grants to study sexual risk behavior among populations of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in Los Angeles County and the Dominican Republic.

In a $25,000 award from the National Institute of Mental Health and administered through UCLA’s Center for HIV Identification, Prevention and Treatment Services, Holloway will lead a team of researchers looking at how mobile apps and social media can be used to deliver HIV prevention and treatment messaging tailored for Black MSM.

Although apps such as Grindr, Jack’d and Scruff have become common ways for young men to meet each other and connect to gay communities, little is known about how these apps may facilitate HIV risk behavior among young Black MSM, or how the networks formed through these apps could help connect Black MSM with HIV prevention services and resources. Holloway’s grant seeks to inform the development of technology-based interventions to reduce the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in this population.

“Current HIV-prevention strategies focus on increasing outreach, testing, treatment and retention in HIV care in order to reduce community viral load. It is imperative that we understand the ways in which young men are using technology in order to tailor interventions for delivery online and through mobile technologies,” Holloway says. “Our research will help inform network-based interventions that can keep HIV-positive men healthy and hopefully reduce new infections among HIV-negative men.”

The second grant from the UCLA Center for AIDS Research/AIDS Institute, totaling $50,000 over two years, focuses on the social and sexual networks of male sex workers in the Dominican Republic. Holloway and his co-researchers hope to learn more about how tourism economies in the Dominican Republic contribute to substance use and HIV risk through changes in the structure and composition of the social and sexual networks of Dominican male sex workers. For this project, Holloway will collaborate with Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, who co-directs the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at NYU’s Silver School of Social Work and has studied the role of alcohol and drug abuse in HIV risk behavior among Dominican youth. In-country collaborators include Rafael García-Alvarez and Antonio de Moya of the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo.

Holloway has previously studied the impact of social networks on HIV risk behavior, especially among young sexual minority men.