The 2018 UCLA Luskin Diversity Fair drew more than 100 prospective students. Photo by Mary Braswell

A Schoolwide Investment in Students of Color UCLA Luskin showcases its strengths at 2018 Diversity Fair

By Mary Braswell

Eliza Franklin-Edmondson came to UCLA Luskin’s annual Diversity Fair to gather information about the School’s programs and priorities. She went home with so much more.

“I’m leaving here so full,” the prospective Urban Planning applicant said. “Being here and seeing the myriad of disciplines that give back to communities that are told that they have no value. … I’m leaving knowing that I have my purpose in life, my calling.”

For the third year, Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning invited prospective graduate students from all backgrounds to hear what sets the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs apart: a social justice ethos that is strengthened by a commitment to diversity. Key speakers included the chairs of each department, all of whom are professors in their respective fields.

“We are all united at Luskin by wanting to make our society and the world a better place for everyone,” Social Welfare chair Laura Abrams told the audience of about 125 prospective students.

The fair’s moderator, second-year planning student Dora Armenta, said she came to UCLA Luskin because it invests in students of color.

“We choose students that reflect our cities, that are diverse in backgrounds, experience, interests and skills,” Armenta said. “And because of these students, the program gets a little better each year.”

UCLA Luskin Urban Planning is highly ranked and has one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation, chair Vinit Mukhija said.

“We are the only program that is able to bring together excellence and diversity in urban planning,” he said. “Our program is made richer by that diversity, and it makes teaching in this department exciting for me and my colleagues.”

Public Policy students at UCLA Luskin develop deep analytical skills but also step into the real world, chair JR DeShazo said. They partner with clients to conduct research projects in fields such as health care, education, criminal justice and transportation, among many others, he said.

“In Public Policy, we really focus on understanding the programs and the policies that are supposed to meet the needs and provide the protections and services to our communities,” DeShazo said.

Social Welfare also pairs theory with practice, focusing on society’s most vulnerable populations, Abrams said, adding, “At UCLA, you get a set of interesting opportunities that really represent the breadth and the depth of the profession as a whole.”

Prospective student Laura Elaine Daza came from the Bay Area to attend the fair because “I want to be a decision-maker in my community.” As an immigrant, first-generation student and tenant rights advocate, she said, “I think it’s important to go to a program that reflects the communities that we come from and that provides you with the skills to give back to your community.”

The Dec. 1, 2018, Diversity Fair included financial aid counseling, a workshop for applicants preparing a statement of purpose, and a conversation with alumni who shared why they chose the Luskin School.

“I fell for the rankings,” said Rodrigo Garcia MURP ’15. “And I knew there was a big social justice component at Luskin whereas other schools that I was applying to didn’t have that component.”

“UCLA felt more like home,” said Sofia Espinoza MPP ’18, in contrast to other schools where “they dressed in suits and tried to schmooze you.” Espinoza said she appreciated the personal attention she received from Policy Professionals for Diversity and Equity (PPDE), which guided her through the application process.

PPDE was a co-sponsor of the fair, along with the Luskin D3 Initiative, Luskin Leadership Development, Social Welfare Diversity Caucus and Planners of Color for Social Equity.

The alumni panelists spoke of the skills they developed at UCLA Luskin and offered advice for how to maximize the graduate school experience. At the top of the list: Get off campus and out of the Westside.

“If you really want to do community work, then be in the community,” said Sheila Nem MURP ’15. “Get to know the landscape and really build those connections.”

“Be comfortable exploring opportunities that maybe you don’t even think are your interests,” said Diane Terry MSW ’04 Ph.D. ’12, urging the audience to jump into projects and research outside their disciplines. “That skill set, that perspective that you would get just from being out there, is going to be useful in some space at some time in your future career.”

UCLA Luskin offers the best of two worlds, said Hector Palencia MSW ’08, who is a field faculty member in Social Welfare. “The university is constantly alive,” a world-class research institution rich with opportunity, he said, but the Luskin School feels like a close-knit family.

“There are a lot of good programs out there. But how many of their faculty actually know their students well enough, by name, and how comfortable are the students to come back and look at this place like home?”

Isaac Bryan MPP ’18 cautioned the students that their time at the Luskin School would fly by.

“Land your solid GPA, learn your skill sets, but really build yourself a power base of relationships and connections to the city,” Bryan said. “Because here in Los Angeles I firmly believe that if you can solve a problem here and be a part of working on it, you can really take that anywhere. And that is something about UCLA Luskin that is really unique. So get busy.”

View additional photos on Flickr:

Diversity Fair 2018

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.

 

Bill to Deem Children Under 12 Too Young for Court Is Backed by Abrams’ Research

Research by Professor Laura Abrams of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare is mentioned in a story that originated with the Chronicle of Social Change and has been picked up by other media outlets, including the Appeal and the Press-Telegram. Senate Bill (SB) 439 would prevent the juvenile justice system from hearing most cases of children younger than age 12. “I think people have an assumption that juvenile court is potentially a helpful intervention for young children,” Abrams says in the story, which notes her analysis of state juvenile justice data. “But in most cases, the charges aren’t sustained or they’re dismissed, so the family doesn’t get any help at all.”


 

Policy Practice in Field Education Grant Received

Laura Abrams, professor and chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, and Sergio Serna of the field education faculty received a one-year policy practice in field education grant from the Council on Social Work Education totaling $18,500. This grant will enable Social Welfare students and faculty to make closer ties with local child welfare agencies to advocate for youth aging out of foster care, to learn more about the policymaking process and to forge lasting community relationships.

 

Does a Minimum Age for Juvenile Court Jurisdiction Protect Children?

A new study co-authored by Laura Abrams, chair and professor of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, examines the need for a minimum age for juvenile court jurisdiction. More than half of U.S. states lack a minimum age standard for prosecuting children, according to the study published in the journal Crime & Delinquency. Several states are considering setting a minimum age, but there is sparse research on whether doing so would protect children from “developmentally inappropriate proceedings beyond existing and competency statutes.” To fill this research gap, the UCLA team — including co-lead author Elizabeth Barnert, assistant professor of pediatrics in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and graduate students from the Luskin School — used California as a case study. After reviewing existing state laws, juvenile crime data and opinions of diverse juvenile justice stakeholders, they found a low number of children below age 12 are actually subjected to prosecution in juvenile court. However, they also found that existing legal protections are inconsistently implemented across the state. They concluded that a minimum age law would address existing policy gaps. Currently, California legislators are considering a bill to establish a minimum age of 12 for juvenile court jurisdiction, the oldest minimum age threshold in the U.S. “One of the most interesting facets of this study was discovering the absence of data or discussion about juvenile minimum age laws and capacity and competency laws and proceedings. This study beings to unravel this ‘black box’ of law and policy,” said the researchers. — Stan Paul

Early Childhood Incarceration Linked to High Rates of Physical, Mental Health Issues Half of those admitted to juvenile justice facilities before their teen years reported suicidal thoughts as adults

By Ryan Hatoum

Elizabeth Barnert, left, and Laura Abrams. Photo by George Foulsham

When children are placed in juvenile detention centers, jails or prisons before their teenage years, they are much more likely to experience serious physical and mental health issues as adults, according to a new study by UCLA researchers.

The UCLA researchers reported that more than 21 percent of people who had been incarcerated as children reported poor general health in adulthood, compared with 13 percent for those incarcerated later in life and 8 percent for those never incarcerated. The study appears in the International Journal of Prisoner Health.

“Those at risk for imprisonment during childhood need special attention from the health care sector,” said Elizabeth Barnert, principal investigator of the study and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “The rates of poor health outcomes among people who’ve been incarcerated tell us there’s a huge need for us to take better care of them — both as kids and as adults.”

There has been a growing international movement to find alternatives to juvenile incarceration — or the detainment of minors in juvenile halls, probation camps and other juvenile justice facilities — for the youngest offenders. Many countries are raising the minimum age at which adolescents can be incarcerated and are deferring children to other programs for rehabilitation.

Researchers from the Geffen School, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital analyzed data from 14,689 adult participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Their analysis considered three groups: adults who had been incarcerated during the ages of 7 to 13; adults who had been incarcerated during the ages of 14 to 32; and adults who had never been incarcerated.

“From the data we have available, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why those who enter the juvenile justice system at a young age face greater health challenges,” said Laura Abrams, also a principal investigator of the study and a professor and chair of Social Welfare at the Luskin School. “It’s likely a combination of trauma, which can lead to troubled behavior and long-term health problems, and the lasting effects of the conditions of early imprisonment.”

A key study finding were the differences among the groups’ mental health symptoms. Thirty-eight percent of the people who had been incarcerated before age 14 experienced symptoms of depression in adulthood, contrasted with 24 percent of those who were incarcerated at age 14 to 32 and 15 percent of the never-incarcerated group.

In other findings, more than one in four of those incarcerated before age 14 reported suicidal thoughts as adults, contrasted with about one in 10 of the group incarcerated at later ages and one in 15 of the group who had never been incarcerated.

Among the respondents who had been incarcerated at the youngest ages — seven to 12 — the rate was even higher; half experienced suicidal thoughts and ideation in adulthood.

“Incarceration has human costs at all ages, but with children, it’s particularly problematic,” Abrams said. “Children need spaces to grow and thrive — not to be confined in jail-like settings.”

While this new analysis does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between early incarceration and poor health later in life, mounting research gives experts a sense of the factors involved.

One such factor is who gets incarcerated in the first place — for which research has shown there is bias. A study in the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior found that of children with psychiatric disorders, those of a racial or ethnic minority are more likely than those who are white to be incarcerated rather than diverted to the community for treatment. As such children are placed into juvenile justice facilities, their health issues may be left untreated or worsen.

The UCLA study found disproportionate racial, ethnic and socioeconomic patterns in those incarcerated as young children. People incarcerated at the youngest ages were significantly more likely to be male, black or Hispanic than those incarcerated at older ages and those never incarcerated. They were also much more likely to have been raised in the lowest income group and in a single-parent household.

“We’re only now starting to understand the full effects of juvenile incarceration on the person, and from a health perspective, the needs of this population are largely going unmet,” Barnert said. “We need a system that effectively addresses their health challenges as early as possible — ideally preventing adolescents from ever reaching juvenile hall.”

Panel on Youth Justice in Los Angeles

This event is intended to spark critical conversations among students, researchers, activists, and policy makers about the many changes in youth justice. Some themes will include: financial reinvestment as a result of decarceration, the role of the voluntary sector in community-based alternatives, and how LA and California can pave the way for transformative youth justice.

At the event, we will feature some recent research from UCLA related to transforming youth justice from the school-to-prison pipeline all the way to desistance in emerging adulthood, including Professor Laura Abrams and Diane Terry (MSW ’04, PhD ’12)’s recent book on LA youth: Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood Among Formerly Incarcerated Youth.

Diversion: Professor Jorja Leap MSW ’80 (Moderator)
Hon. Peter Espinoza, Director, Los Angeles County Office of Diversion and Reentry
Gloria Gonzales, Organizer, Youth Justice Coalition
Sean Kennedy, JD, Director, Center for Juvenile Law and Policy
Kim McGill, Organizer, Youth Justice Coalition

Desistance: Professor Laura Abrams (Moderator)
Harry Grammer, Founder and President, New Earth
Chuck Supple, Director, Division of Juvenile Justice, CDCR
Diane Terry MSW ’04, PhD ’12, Senior Research Associate, Loyola Marymount University

*** RSVP here ***

Reception to be hosted by the Department of Social Welfare

Book signing to follow the event

At Town Hall, Students Hear About Developments at UCLA Luskin

Leaders of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs gathered with students during an informal Town Hall on Feb. 6, 2018, to answer questions posed by students in the School’s master’s and PhD programs. Joining Dean Gary Segura and his support staff were Public Policy chair J.R. DeShazo, Social Welfare chair Laura Abrams and Urban Planning chair Vinit Mukhija. A wide range of topics were covered, including questions that led Segura to offer personal reflections about his first year at UCLA. Among the other topics discussed by the four leaders were recent and pending changes to the School’s academic offerings, a current hiring effort that will add a large number of new faculty members by fall 2018, and what is being done by UCLA Luskin to further promote diversity and inclusiveness.

View a Flickr album of images from the Town Hall:

2018 Town Hall

The Goal: Making Diversity Redundant UCLA Luskin alumni, faculty, students and staff gather for a daylong diversity recruitment fair showcasing programs and commitment to social justice

“You need diversity because it is excellence and its absence is a sign of intellectual weakness and organizational incapacity. So what we do here today and what we do at Luskin makes the country, Los Angeles and the world a better place.”

— UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura

By Stan Paul

Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, was happy to host the second all-school diversity recruitment fair at UCLA. But, in truth, he would like to see it become redundant.

“I am hoping and believing that we are getting very close to the verge of making it redundant in what Luskin does,” said Segura, who has devoted his academic life to studying issues related to the issues highlighted by the fair.

“By your arrival next fall, Luskin will indisputably be the most diverse school of public affairs in the United States,” Segura said to an audience of students who have applied, or are thinking of applying, to one or more of the School’s three professional graduate programs in public policy, social welfare and urban planning.

In addition to UCLA Luskin’s outstanding faculty, Segura cited the School’s wide array of groups, caucuses and organizations — including the D3 Initiative (Diversity, Disparities and Difference) — and new programs, new hires and ongoing searches for new faculty focused on racial inequality, multicultural planning and immigration policy, among other areas of expertise.

The many UCLA Luskin student groups, along with their classmates, alumni, faculty and staff, came together again this year to organize the Dec. 2, 2017, event.

“At some point, the study of class and racial and sexuality differences as an understanding of public policy, social well-being and urban issues is not a niche, it is the discipline,” Segura said. “It’s 70 percent of the population.”

Joining the dean in welcoming fair attendees were faculty leaders in Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning, along with a panel of Luskin alumni representing all three graduate programs.

Making her pitch to candidates for the Master of Social Welfare professor and department chair Laura Abrams focused on recent tax legislation passed by the U.S. Senate.

“What does the tax bill have to do with social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs?” she asked. “Everything,” came a soft voice rising from the audience, stealing a bit of Abrams’ thunder.

“That was on my notes,” quipped Abrams, who explained that the bill would directly attack Social Security, Medicare and “all the public benefits that are the foundation of our social welfare system.”

She then asked who would deal with the costs of economic hardships on the front lines.

“Social workers!” she answered emphatically, adding, “We are going to have to be the ones who pick up the pieces of those who are displaced, who are homeless, who are pushed into the criminal justice system, who don’t have enough to eat and who don’t have housing.

“So,” Abrams added, “we need all of you, not just those entering social welfare, but the planners and the policy makers because you are the future that is going to have to fix what is happening today.”

Manisha Shah, associate professor and vice chair of Public Policy, highlighted the expertise of Luskin faculty in areas such as health policy, education, immigration, inequality, science and technology.

“We have a lot of flexibility in the department based on what your interests are and what you want to do, what type of policy arena you want to work in,” said Shah, who cited the department’s mixture of qualitative and quantitative approaches to evidence-based policymaking and analysis.

Vinit Mukhija, professor chair of Urban Planning, said that diversity and excellence are not trade-offs in outlining the holistic approach his department — which will soon celebrate 50 years at UCLA — takes in making admissions decisions. Urban Planning emphasizes not only grades but also a student’s personal statement, recommendations and the importance of relevant work experience.

Mukhija, who studies informal housing and slums in the global north and south, explained his own interest as a planner in finding ways to improve living conditions in slums, and his goal to “learn about them to change our ideas about cities and about our design ideas, our rules and to have more just cities.”

Also providing information and encouragement were recent graduates of the Luskin School’s programs who participated in a series of discussions with aspiring students.

Panelists were asked what motivated them to apply to Luskin in their chosen disciplines.

“Communities of color are not always exposed to urban planning although we’re often experiencing the negative effects of what actually happens,” said Carolyn Vera MURP ’17, who was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. Vera, who now works at a transportation consulting firm, said that when she moved back to Los Angeles following her undergraduate years, she didn’t recognize the city she grew up in, citing the effects of gentrification. Vera said urban planning is such a diverse field and, “I knew I wanted to stay in L.A. and work with my community.”

It was homelessness that brought Cornell Williams MSW ’12 to UCLA Luskin Social Welfare.

“I was homeless for a year. I had a college degree and I was sleeping in the park,” said Williams, now a psychiatric social worker for Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and clinical director of the Jeffrey Foundation in Los Angeles. “Like a lot of our clients and people we have the passion to serve, I was stuck in that position and I had no knowledge of resources and access.”

Williams said the experience forced him to ask tough questions about himself and his future. “I came to one of these events and had an interest in all three programs,” but he said that Gerry Laviña, director of field education and associate director of D3, “was a big part of helping me conjure or stir the gifts inside of me to choose social welfare.”

Williams said UCLA Luskin’s Social Welfare gave him the flexibility to work in “every environment you can think of, and I’ve worked in a good number of them myself.”

The day’s events also included breakout sessions led by a number of the School’s sponsoring and organizing student groups: D3, Luskin Leadership Development, Social Welfare Diversity Caucus, Policy Professionals for Diversity & Equity, and Planners of Color for Social Equity.

Attending the event was recent UCLA graduate Vanessa Rodriguez, who said she hopes to enroll in the MSW program next fall. Rodriguez, who grew up in Boyle Heights and has worked with children with autism, said she has always had a passion for helping people. She said her reason for pursuing an MSW degree would be to work with women and victims of domestic abuse.

Among the staff and student volunteers who made the day a success was second-year MSW candidate Marisol Granillo Arce, who said she had attended a number of Luskin diversity related fairs before applying. Granillo Arce, who now also works as a graduate researcher for the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, said it is exciting to meet future agents of change and tell them: “You’ve got what it takes to be a social worker, urban planner, and public policymaker.”

Granillo Arce added: “I think that individuals thinking of applying get the unique opportunity to know the staff, professors and students in the different departments. It is truly inspirational. You end up leaving the fair more confident and inspired.”