4 UCLA Alumni Inducted Into California Social Work Hall of Distinction

Four members of the UCLA community were among five individuals inducted this fall into the California Social Work Hall of Distinction, which recognizes pioneers and innovators in the field of social welfare. Adjunct Professor Jorja Leap MSW ’80;  Joseph A. Nunn MSW ’70 PhD ’90, director emeritus of the UCLA Field Education Program; Siyon Rhee MSW ’81 PhD ’88; and Jacquelyn McCroskey DSW ’80 were honored at an Oct. 21 ceremony hosted by the California Social Welfare Archives (CSWA), which launched the Hall of Distinction in 2002. Leap, a triple Bruin who earned a BA in sociology and a PhD in psychological anthropology, was recognized for her advocacy work with gangs and community justice reform. The CSWA cited her “nontraditional teaching approach” that brings students out of the classroom and into the city environment. Nunn was recognized for pioneering a standardized practicum education in the field of social work and for his dedication to promoting diversity and inclusion at the university, state and national levels. In addition to serving in multiple leadership roles in social welfare education, Nunn is the namesake of UCLA’s Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumni of the Year Award. Professor Rhee is director of the School of Social Work at Cal State Los Angeles, where her research focuses on health, mental health, intimate partner violence and culturally sensitive social work practices with children of Asian immigrant families. Her advocacy has brought hundreds of diverse social workers into the child welfare workforce, and she has received numerous honors for excellence in teaching and outstanding achievements. McCroskey, professor emerita of child welfare at USC and co-director of the Children’s Data Network in Los Angeles, was recognized for her efforts to enhance child and family well-being through improving county and state government systems. This year’s fifth inductee is labor organizer Arturo Rodriguez.


If L.A. Crime Is Down, Why Is Fear Rising?

Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about perceptions that L.A. crime is on the rise despite statistics showing that the city is getting safer. Data alone don’t shape perceptions of safety, Leap said, noting that a person’s environment and biases are crucial factors. “When they show the films of Nordstrom being broken into … there is a sort of ‘Oh my god, that’s not supposed to happen here,’ “ Leap said. “Whereas if there’s a smash-and-grab at the Food4Less in Pacoima, then there’s the sense of, ‘Well, it’s a high-crime area.’ ” The sensationalization of high-profile, if statistically rare, crimes such as flash-mob robberies can help stoke fear, as can ominous campaign messaging about public safety during an election season, she said.


Leap on Community Violence Intervention

UCLA Luskin Social Welfare’s Jorja Leap commented in a Truthout article on various efforts to reduce and prevent gun violence in communities throughout the United States. The article details approaches taken in communities including violence interruption, a nonpolice model of combating gun violence, which has become a leading cause of death of young people in the U.S., according to the article. All programs are not the same, with some focusing on community members who serve on the street-level as “interventionists, intermediaries, interrupters and even innovators.” Some work in conjunction with academic researchers, law enforcement agencies and probation departments, with other programs somewhere in between. Leap, who evaluated a program based in New Jersey in 2020, said community violence intervention is “at a very meaningful inflection point,” explaining that the practice has not yet reached full maturity but is becoming more accepted, studied and understood as a component of public safety and community well-being.


Leap Comments on Violent Arrest

UCLA Luskin Social Welfare’s Jorja Leap is quoted in a Los Angeles Times story about a recent violent arrest by police in Los Angeles’ Nickerson Gardens. The incident, shared on social media, has threatened the “delicate fabric” of an LAPD initiative known as the Community Safety Partnership (CSP), which has been credited with crime reduction and improved relations in the Watts housing development, according to the article. Leap, an expert on gangs, said the incident highlights decades of distrust of law enforcement, which still runs deep in L.A. communities, despite program gains. “I think most significantly this points to the gap that still exists between the standard LAPD patrol officer and the CSP officer,” said Leap, lead author of a 2019 study of CSP. “There is an underlying fear in Watts in general … that this isn’t going to last, that the old LAPD will sort of rear its head, and things will go back to the brutalities of the past.”


Crenshaw High Athlete’s Death Is Another Trauma for Black Youths in L.A., Leap Says

The killing of Quincy Reese Jr., 16, illustrates the trauma too often left in the wake of bloodshed, UCLA Luskin Social Welfare’s Jorja Leap told the Los Angeles Times. “Black children are exposed to an epidemic of violence,” she said. Death by firearms occurs among Black children and adolescents in L.A. County at a rate that is three times higher than their proportion of the population, according to the Department of Public Health’s Office of Violence Prevention. Such violence is also devastating for survivors such as those who attended the party where the Crenshaw High athlete was killed, Leap said, and mourning the loss of a friend or loved one stays with children for the rest of their lives.


Toasting Social Welfare’s Diamond Anniversary Alumni, faculty, students and friends gather to celebrate 75 years of advancing justice

The UCLA Luskin Social Welfare family came together May 6 for an evening of festivity and reflection to celebrate a memorable milestone: 75 years since the study of social work began at UCLA in 1947.

Alumni, faculty, staff and friends from across the decades joined current students at the gala event at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center, the culmination of a yearlong lineup of special events in honor of the anniversary:

  • A fall gathering of Social Welfare PhD students and doctoral alumni highlighted the research and scholarship aimed at advancing justice in both society and academia.
  • A reception in winter quarter honored the many community groups and agencies that have guided Social Welfare students in field placements over the decades.
  • And a special UCLA Luskin Lecture by Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell put a spotlight on the alleviation of poverty, a key focus of the social welfare discipline.

The importance of field education was underscored at the spring gala with the presentation of the 2023 Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumnus of the Year award to Gerardo Laviña MSW ’86. Laviña, the longtime director of field education, is retiring at the end of the academic year. His award was presented by field faculty Larthia Dunham and Laura Alongi MSW ’92.

Adjunct Professor Jorja Leap MSW ’80 emceed the gala, which included a welcome from UCLA Luskin’s interim dean, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, as well as perspectives shared by Laura Abrams, chair of Social Welfare; Rosina Becerra, professor emerita and former dean; current MSW student Elisse Howard; and alumni Stephen Cheung MSW ’07 and Diane Terry MSW ’04 PhD ’12. Adjunct Assistant Professor Khush Cooper MSW ’00 PhD ’10 raised a champagne toast to end the formal program and invite guests to the dance floor.

Read about 75 years of social welfare education at UCLA, including an account of the program’s “finest moment” during the Los Angeles riots.

Read profiles of key figures in UCLA Social Welfare’s history:

  • Rosina Becerra, former dean and professor emerita
  • Jack Rothman, professor emeritus
  • Joe Nunn, professor emeritus
  • Gerry Laviña, director of field education
  • Coming soon: Fernando Torres-Gil, retiring professor of social welfare and public policy

Watch a video celebrating the importance of field education at UCLA

View photos from the gala on Flickr

SW 75th Anniversary Gala

Leap on Need for Fair, Accurate Depictions of Mental Illness

A Los Angeles Times story on the arrest of a man accused of two stabbings, including a fatal attack on a high school student, cited Jorja Leap, adjunct social welfare professor and expert on criminal justice. The suspect’s motives were unclear. City Councilman Kevin de León, whose district includes the site of the attacks, suggested that he suffered from mental illness and referred to the streets of Los Angeles as “the largest psychiatric ward in the United States.” Leap countered that it was “inaccurate and irresponsible” to paint Los Angeles with such a broad brush depicting mental illness. Law enforcement agencies do not track crimes committed by mentally ill people, she said, adding, “So many [people with mental health issues] cannot even care for themselves, let alone think about taking the life of another human being.”


An On-the-Ground Partnership to Curb Violence

A Politico article assessed the Community Violence Intervention Collaborative, a White House initiative that is undergoing an in-depth evaluation by a team from UCLA. With the goal of curbing gun violence, the 18-month initiative has provided funding, training and technical assistance to local officials and community groups around the country. Politico called it “a success story few have heard about,” one that could take years before its impact is fully realized. Adjunct professor Jorja Leap and Karrah Lompa, who lead the Social Justice Research Partnership based at UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, have been documenting the program’s activities in 16 jurisdictions and will report on the strategies that have proven most successful. The evaluation team included Social Welfare PhD student Livier Gutiérrez, who helped create a data snapshot of research collected to date. This month, Leap and Lompa met in Washington, D.C., with Biden administration officials, funders and community safety leaders to reflect on the initiative’s lessons.

Leap on Challenges for New Style of Cop Show

Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about “East New York,” a new CBS show that aims to represent police officers and the communities that they serve through a restorative lens. This new style of cop show is heavily influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement and the killing of Black and brown people at the hands of police. The show’s creators are “trying to do the right thing and there are kernels of good ideas, but they keep taking shortcuts,” said Leap, who is executive director of the UCLA Social Justice Research Partnership. To better reflect the reality on the streets, “they’ve got to put some meat on the bones” by showing nuances of opinion among characters, noting that not all police officers oppose reform and not all community members are anti-police. “It’s not that everyone doesn’t want cops — they don’t want bad cops,” she said.


(Almost) Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Our Research Centers An introduction to the stories in this edition

Our goal was to create a definitive roundup of UCLA Luskin research centers. Over several months, more than two dozen professors, staff, students and alumni were interviewed, producing 160 pages of transcripts totaling 69,774 words. Did we capture every connection, permutation or interaction? No way. For one, we simply ran out of space. What follows are excerpts from the interviews. Also note that our research centers web page now has a mention of every — we think — research entity with a UCLA Luskin connection. Here are a few facts and notes about the project:

  • Funds that flow into the Luskin School are increasingly tied to a research center, and those numbers have risen as the School has grown in recent years. Research centers received 80% of all contract and grant funding at UCLA Luskin in the last fiscal year, totaling $18.5 million. With four months of 2021-22 to go, the research center tally stood at 82.9% of all awards and $17.9 million.
  • Most full-time faculty, and many part-timers, are associated with at least one research center. The financial benefit is a factor, but interviewees mostly spoke about collaboration and impact.
  • Research units play an integral role in advancing UCLA Luskin’s mission, particularly its community service goals. (Some of the many research-oriented advocacy success stories are told in this edition.)
  • There are a lot of them. In 2009, the Luskin Center for Innovation became the fourth research center at UCLA Luskin. Today, we show 12 research centers on the homepage and list more than a dozen more on the web page mentioned earlier. A couple of non-Luskin-School-based examples are in this issue, but faculty also hold leadership positions or fill scholarly roles in many other research centers housed within another UCLA school, hosted by an off-campus partner or existing as part of a national research consortium or an ad hoc project involving scholars from other universities.
  • Some research centers are — potential funder alert — still in the startup phase; others are firmly established but ready to grow. And two research centers have been bastions of the UCLA Luskin educational experience for decades. These highly respected and influential centers are profiled in chapter 1. 
  • The word center is often used in this project as an umbrella term even though individual entities are actually an institute, initiative, hub or lab. No disrespect is intended. Is there any official difference? We asked UCLA’s vice chancellor for research, Roger Wakamoto: “We do not discriminate a center from an institute or any other term. The names are
    used interchangeably.”
  • The main story in this issue unfolds in oral history form. Some minor rephrasing was needed for clarity’s sake, and trims were made. But the people associated with UCLA Luskin research centers tell their stories primarily in their own words