Leap Awarded UCLA’s Highest Honor for Teaching Social welfare adjunct professor is recognized for an engaging teaching style that motivates students to social engagement and social consciousness

Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, received UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award — the university’s highest honor for teaching — at an Oct. 15 ceremony at the Chancellor’s Residence.

Leap joined eight other faculty members and five teaching assistants who were recognized for their impact on students, innovative teaching methods and involvement in the community.

“Jorja was recognized for her engaging teaching which motivates students to social engagement and social consciousness,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said. “We are deeply proud of her efforts.”

Leap, who joined the UCLA faculty in 1992, was nominated by her social welfare colleagues, who invited former students and community partners to offer letters of support. “The response was tremendous,” said Laura Abrams, chair of social welfare.

In a video tribute aired at the ceremony, Leap said her teaching philosophy revolves around this principle: To those whom much is given much is required.

Leap said she reminds students that, whatever path led them to UCLA, they now have access to world-class resources, teaching and often financial support. They must pay that forward by making their work relevant in the communities surrounding them, she said.

“In my research methodology course, I will take my doctoral students out in the community … to observe the way people live. And then we talk about how does their research inform policy, how does it move the needle? How does their research inform practice, how does it change the way people treat each other, how does it change our laws, how does it change our healthcare, how does it change economics?” she said.

She counsels her students, “Don’t do the easy thing; do the hard thing. Don’t do what’s natural; do what feels scary.”

Leap is executive director of the UCLA Social Justice Research Partnership and co-founder of the Watts Leadership Institute.

Her research examines gangs, high-risk youth, prison culture and the reentry of the formerly incarcerated into mainstream society. She also serves as an expert witness on gangs and trauma for death penalty cases and other court proceedings.


 

Leap on Indictments of MS-13 Street Gang

Social Welfare Adjunct Professor Jorja Leap spoke with BBC World Service’s Spanish-language news outlet about the Fulton clique of the MS-13 street gang. A federal indictment of 22 of the gang’s members detailed brutal acts across Los Angeles, according to BBC Mundo. Federal officials said 19 of those indicted are undocumented immigrants from Central America who arrived in the past three or four years. The Fulton clique actively recruits young people, who often behave impulsively and unpredictably, Leap said. Youths who have experienced poverty, poor education, trauma and mental illness are particularly susceptible to gang overtures, she said. The indictments came as MS-13’s influence in the region has waned. Leap said 1,200 homicides were recorded during MS-13’s boom, but last year the number had dropped to 300.


 

Leap on LAPD Probe of Nipsey Hussle

The New York Times spoke with Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap about the Los Angeles Police Department’s criminal probe of rapper Nipsey Hussle. After Hussle was slain in March, city leaders praised him as an artist, peacemaker and hero of South Los Angeles. They did not mention that the city had opened an investigation into Hussle’s business enterprises to determine whether they were hubs of gang activity. Now, investigators are under pressure to back away from the probe, even as they see Hussle’s killing as a sign of the gang violence they were looking into. “I think this goes to the complexity of the problem of gangs, gang membership and gang congregating,” Leap said. “Someone can be a hero, someone may also have a past. Neighborhoods can want zealously to have public safety and public gathering places. But for better or worse, that may or may not include gang members.”


 

Leap on Plan to Step Up Oversight of Probation Department

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to KPCC about the proposed creation of an independent commission to oversee the Los Angeles County Probation Department. The plan would give commissioners wide latitude to investigate policies and practices of the department, whose juvenile detention system has come under scrutiny after reports of sexual assaults and excessive use of pepper spray, as well as attacks on detention officers. The commission, which must be approved by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, would include a former juvenile detainee and the parent of a detainee. Leap commented, “They have an expertise — and I do mean an expertise, I am not using that word lightly — and a perspective in terms of the system that absolutely no one else has.” She pointed to past difficulties in getting information and clarification about the department’s practices. If approved as proposed, the new oversight body would be given the power to subpoena information.


 

Leap on Restrictive Parole Policies for Gang Members

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured in a New York Times article about the restrictive parole system that makes it difficult for individuals with a history of gang involvement to ever clear their names. Kerry Lathan, who was shot in the back while picking up a T-shirt from Nipsey Hussle’s store the day the rap artist was killed, was later arrested for violating parole by associating with a known gang member. Hailed as a community icon who had turned his life around and worked with police to reduce gang violence, Hussle was still listed on CalGang, the California database of gang members. Leap said, “If someone like Nipsey Hussle is viewed as always a gang member, what is happening to the average guy who has a low-level job, who’s trying to make it, and that’s his past?” Leap concluded, “No one ever makes it off that list. No one.”


Leap on Reality of Gang Violence in South L.A.

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap, who has conducted extensive research on gangs, contributed to a KPCC discussion about the reality and evolution of gang violence in South Los Angeles. Concerns about heightened gang violence were prompted by the shooting of rapper Nipsey Hussle, which remains under investigation. Looking at the data from current efforts to reduce gang violence through prevention, intervention and reentry, Leap confirmed that “what we’re doing is working” but there is still a long way to go. “The relationship between the communities of L.A. and law enforcement has changed radically in a very positive direction,” Leap said. Looking forward, she stressed the importance of prioritizing funding and trauma-informed reentry, arguing that “we must not become complacent.”


Leap on Legal Dispute Between Villanueva and L.A. County

Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the legal dispute between Los Angeles County and Sheriff Alex Villanueva over the new sheriff’s reinstatement of Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan. Mandoyan was fired by former Sheriff Jim McDonnell in 2016 over allegations of domestic abuse, but was recently rehired by Villanueva, who argued that the termination was unfair. The county identified the reinstatement as unlawful and has instructed Mandoyan to return his badge and gun, but Mandoyan has refused to comply. The legal conflict “threatens what is normally a more collaborative relationship between officials,” Leap said. “This is not where the energy should be expended,” she added, noting that Villanueva should “admit his mistake and move forward.” Leap also spoke to KNX1070 radio, commenting that the case is seen as a battle of wills but should focus on whether an individual is fit for employment. 


Leap on Conflict Between County Supervisors and Sheriff Villanueva

“The Sheriff’s Department has a credibility problem to begin with, and this adds fuel to the fire,” said UCLA Luskin Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “The fact that they’re taking this stance this early in [the sheriff’s] tenure means they are putting him on notice,” Leap said in response to a decision by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to publicly rebuke newly elected Sheriff Alex Villanueva after he unilaterally reinstated a deputy who was fired after domestic abuse allegations were raised against him. Villanueva, elected two months ago in an upset victory against incumbent Jim McDonnell, was criticized by the supervisors, who rarely speak out against sheriffs. Villanueva was also called into a meeting with the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission.

 


 

Leap Weighs In on Trump’s Portrayal of MS-13

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to HuffPost about President Trump’s characterization of the street gang MS-13. Trump has portrayed the gang as an imminent threat in the United States, but “the truth of the matter is it is less of a problem now than it ever was,” Leap said. While law enforcement and youth gang prevention have helped combat MS-13 in the U.S., the gang founded by Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles in the 1980s has become a far bigger menace in Central America. “It is indescribable what goes on there,” said Leap, who is also executive director of the UCLA Health and Social Justice Partnership.  “I don’t think we can grasp where the real terror is and how fear and intimidation rule the day for individuals, for their families, because of the grip of this gang” in Central America, she said.


 

Leap Analyzes Factors in Tight Race Between Underdog Retired Lieutenant and Incumbent Sheriff

Public Policy lecturer Jorja Leap was featured in a Los Angeles Daily News article discussing factors contributing to the unexpectedly tight race for Los Angeles County sheriff. While incumbent sheriffs are traditionally successful at winning re-election, the 2018 midterm elections marked a notable shift, with retired lieutenant Alex Villanueva currently in the lead. Although opponent and incumbent sheriff Jim McDonnell is higher ranked, has more experience and had a better-funded campaign, Villanueva attracted significant support from unions and Latino voters. Leap noted the “collateral damage” of “voters who were primarily interested in other races and voted for Villanueva because of demographics or party support.” Leap and other experts debate whether Villanueva’s success thus far is a result of voters’ placing less value on incumbency, McDonnell’s overestimation of the power of name recognition, or the confusion prompted by Villanueva’s ballot designation as sheriff’s lieutenant, effectively muting the candidates’ different levels of experience.