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

Recalling Social Welfare’s ‘Finest Moment’ After Los Angeles erupted in racially charged violence 30 years ago, UCLA faculty and students gave people in a city under siege the chance to talk

illustration of diamond with text

By Les Dunseith and Stan Paul

In 1992, four police officers were acquitted in the beating of a Black man, Rodney King, whose brutal arrest had been caught on camera. Pent-up fury from years of racial and economic inequality in Los Angeles spilled onto the streets in waves of burning, looting and violence that lasted three days and left 45 people dead.

woman rests her head on her hand while sitting outside on a bench

Distinguished Professor Emerita Rosina Becerra was dean of the School of Social Work at UCLA in 1992. Photo by Les Dunseith

Rosina Becerra was dean of UCLA Social Welfare at the time. Joe Nunn and Alfreda Iglehart were on the faculty. Laura Alongi was in her early 20s and a second-year master’s student studying to be a social worker.

What they and others did next was “perhaps our finest moment,” said Nunn, who like Becerra and Iglehart is now a professor emeritus at the Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“There were people who were afraid to leave their houses,” Becerra remembered. “A lot of people were unable to figure out where to get services. They didn’t know who to call.”

Within days of the uprising, officials at Los Angeles’ public television station, KCET, reached out seeking advice through Mitch Maki, a field faculty member at the time whose wife was a station employee. Becerra recalls sitting at a conference table with Maki and station employees eager to assist but unsure how to respond to people’s emotional turmoil. What did people need?

“Mostly, they need a chance to talk,” Becerra told them.

Three days later, UCLA Social Welfare and KCET-TV launched a crisis line during which faculty, students and other volunteers recruited by UCLA answered calls from distressed citizens via the telephones normally used during the station’s pledge drives. They called it, “A Chance to Talk: Emotional Support in Times of Crisis.”

woman sits in chair in her office

Field faculty member Laura Alongi was a student in 1992. UCLA Luskin file photo

Alongi was one of the student volunteers, helping to fill weekday shifts that ran for four hours each morning and four more in the evenings, plus 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. While the crisis line was in operation, KCET viewers were encouraged by news anchor Val Zavala to call a number shown on their screens if they needed to talk to one of the people working the phones behind her.

Because of the urgency of the situation, volunteers like Alongi only had time for a brief orientation. She had never worked a crisis hotline. Moving about the city to get to the TV studio still felt dangerous. And racial tensions remained high, especially between Black residents and the Korean shop owners whose properties had been a frequent target of rioters.

Alongi remembers being filled with anxiety.

“Is this something I should be doing?” she worried. “Do I even have the right to do this, given that I’m, you know, a young white woman and not impacted in the same way?”

Her anxiety was replaced by a sense of fulfillment once she began taking calls.

“It was fantastic,” said Alongi, now a member of UCLA Social Welfare’s field faculty herself. “The people I spoke to were all just afraid and hurt and sad. They wanted to be able to talk about that with another human being.”

Alongi recalled speaking with an older woman who lived in South Los Angeles near where the unrest began.

“She was crying. And she said, ‘How did it get to this? How did we end up being these people that fight each other in this way?’”

Some calls involved directing people to services. One caller said her market had burned down and she didn’t know where to go now for food. But mostly, Alongi said, she was there just to listen.

woman smiles as she faces the camera

Professor Emerita Alfreda Iglehart helped organize the crisis hotline after the civil unrest.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Iglehart, who helped organize the effort and later contributed to an academic paper about it. “And you did have some angry callers.”

Volunteers were instructed to remain calm, Becerra said. “No matter what anyone ever said to you, you’re not to get mad.”

Later analysis showed the initial reason for most calls were feelings of anger and frustration (22%), followed by fear or anxiety (19%) and a desire to discuss the current situation (11%).

About 4% of the calls were racist and hateful in nature. Although relatively small in number, these calls were powerful and ended up occupying a disproportionate amount of debriefing time afterward, researchers noted.

The academic report details an incident in which a Black female volunteer received a call from an angry white male who made racist and disparaging remarks regarding African Americans.

“Both caller and listener were aware of each other’s ethnicity, and the call proceeded to last about half an hour,” according to the report, which was written by Iglehart, Nunn and Maki, with contributions from Cayleen Nakamura at KCET. “The listener validated the caller’s underlying personal feelings and carefully challenged him to reframe his thinking. The caller ended the call by stating that he realized that he had said some hurtful things, acknowledged that the listener had stuck with him, and thanked her.”

The report also mentions other callers:

  • a man who was despondent over the destruction of his business said he contemplated suicide;
  • a 10-year-old boy found it unfair that he could not go out and play because of the unrest;
  • an elderly woman spoke of her fear of waiting at bus stops;
  • a 7-year-old girl called to say that she was having problems sleeping because of thoughts that “the riots will happen again.”

“We validated people feelings if they were fearful. If they felt alone, we validated that,” Iglehart said. “We wanted people to feel that what you are going through and what you’re experiencing is not unique to you. Other people around you are feeling this way.”

Given the cultural diversity of Los Angeles and the randomness of calls, listeners fluent in Spanish, Korean
and several other languages were  always present.

man in center listens as younger people talk in a classroom setting

Professor Emeritus Joe Nunn participated in the crisis hotline and says it exemplified the ideals of social work education at UCLA.

“When people would call in, if they spoke Spanish or they spoke Tagalog or whatever language, you’d hold up a sign that said you needed someone with that language skill to come over,” Nunn said.

The crisis line started with UCLA faculty and students, but it soon expanded.

“There is a great deal of credibility that goes with the UCLA name,” Iglehart said. “With that kind of credibility and legitimacy, people say, ‘Oh, this must be a good idea. I want to be involved.’”

Soon, organizers had mobilized their contacts and recruited local professionals in the helping professions and additional student volunteers from other L.A.-area universities. In all, more than 300 volunteers took calls from about 2,000 individuals. By the 10th day of the project, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health had established its own telephone hotline, and the UCLA-KCET project was terminated.

For those involved, the effort remains a treasured memory that exemplifies UCLA Social Welfare’s long history and tradition of providing service to Southern California.

“We’re in a university where we talk about teaching, our research and service,” said Iglehart, noting that in academia that tends to mean service to the profession, such as reviewing articles for an academic journal. “This was direct hands-on service to the community of Southern California, and I think that’s really important.”

“People from my student cohort went out onto the streets and were doing cleanup after the fires and the looting,” Alongi said. “Just literally sweeping up broken glass.”

They had listened and they had acted, doing whatever they could to help a fractured city begin to piece itself  back together.

In Memoriam: Karen Lee, Former Field Faculty Member A co-founder of a national consortium focusing on geriatric social work, she educated and mentored hundreds of students during 12 years at UCLA

Former UCLA faculty member Karen Lee died of cancer Jan. 25 at her home in Eugene, Oregon. 

Lee’s tenure at UCLA Luskin Social Welfare began in 2002 as a member of the field education faculty, and she later served as associate director of the Master of Social Welfare program. She retired in 2014.

Known for fostering student interest in geriatric social work, Lee represented UCLA as a founding member of the Geriatric Social Work Education Consortium, or GSWEC. Twenty years later, the consortium continues to flourish, and the partnership of universities and centers of excellence has expanded. 

Lee is fondly remembered for her passion and guidance by many, including her former colleagues in Social Welfare.     

“I truly considered her a role model in the way she interacted with students and taught in the classroom,” Laura Alongi Brinderson said. “Her sweet smile and infectious laughter will not be forgotten.”

Michelle Talley recalled being assigned to work with Lee when she first arrived at UCLA, shadowing her and learning how to teach and manage a classroom. “It really helped me to understand the role,” Talley said.    

“Karen Lee will be missed by our Social Welfare community at UCLA and beyond,” said former colleague Gerry Laviña, director of field faculty at UCLA Luskin.

Laviña recalled that the “Advanced Practice in Aging” course taught by Lee was highly evaluated, and she was known to be a readily accessible field liaison who touched the lives of many students.

As news of Lee’s death spread on social media, several alumni and friends posted remembrances on the Social Welfare alumni page on Facebook saying they viewed her as a pivotal mentor during their time as MSW students and as someone who continued to make an impact in their personal and professional lives well after graduation.   

“She was more than a teacher — she was friend, mentor, cheerleader, and all around mensch,” wrote Charlie Padow MSW ’07. “I am not alone. She touched countless lives as an educator and a friend.”

Jean Dorsky wrote: “As a gerontology specialist, Karen was pivotal in my career choice. I will always remember her as being honest, fair, and funny and insightful.”

“This is such a surprise. … Karen was a mentor in more ways than one,” wrote Brittany Leigh, who continued to say that Lee cared not only “about what we did at school, but really cared about me as an individual.”

She is survived by her husband, Joseph “Joe” Lee, and sister, Eileen. The family has requested that donations in her name be made to Food for Lane County, a nonprofit food bank near their home. 

MSW Team Hits the Streets to Support Suicide Awareness

A team of faculty, students and friends of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare took to the streets over the weekend to raise funds for the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center. The team joined the Alive & Running 5K, which took runners and walkers on a course near LAX on a cool Sunday morning. Social Welfare field faculty member Laura Alongi Brinderson, who specializes in mental health issues among children, adolescents and their families, organized the team. The race marked Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, established as a time to share resources and start conversations about the taboo topic. In addition to providing services to people across the nation who have thought about, attempted or lost someone to suicide, the Didi Hirsch Center trains more than 20,000 people each year — including LAPD SWAT teams, the FBI, firefighters and other emergency responders — how to recognize and respond to warning signs.


Panel Highlights Growing Presence of Women in Military Speakers at Luskin’s annual Veterans Day seminar explore the role, challenges and accomplishments of women in the armed services

By Zev Hurwitz

Two U.S. military veterans and a photojournalist who has made it her mission to bring female veterans’ stories front and center spoke Nov. 10 at the third annual Veterans Day seminar at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“Women Who Serve,” hosted by the California National Guard, UCLA Luskin Department of Social Welfare, UCLA Nathanson Family Resilience Center and U.S. Vets, began with an overview of women in the armed services presented by emcee Kathleen West, who holds a Dr.P.H. degree from UCLA and is a lecturer on military social work at the Luskin School.

West said that women make up more than 15 percent of active duty military members in the U.S., including 18 and 19 percent of the Navy and Air Force, respectively — a dramatic increase since the Vietnam War, when just 3 percent of the military was female. She noted, however, that only about 10 percent of veterans currently living in the U.S. are women.

“That is a real challenge, because when they leave the service, we don’t have the [Veterans’] services in place for them that we need to,” West said. “That is one thing we want to talk about right now: What is our present looking like and what do we need to be thinking about for the future?”

West noted that the Department of Defense aims to achieve gender parity in the military by 2030 and said that there has been progress in allowances for parental leave for active duty members, although more work is needed to fully realize women’s military rights.

Therese Hughes MA UP ’99, one of the event’s panelists, spoke about her motivation for spending much of the past six years as a photojournalist, documenting the stories and images of female veterans and active duty military personnel.

“History is critical for civil engagement and for public policy, and when properly taught, it teaches the pursuit of truth and understanding,” she said. “Women’s stories in history are critical. Women’s stories in the military are essential.”

Hughes, who launched her traveling exhibit/photojournalism book “Military Women: WWII to Present Project” in 2010, says she has interviewed more than 800 women and ultimately plans to reach 1,200.

During the Luskin panel, Hughes also highlighted unique groups of female veterans that she has interviewed for the project. They include immigrant women who elected to serve as a way to give back to the country that welcomed them, as well as the pioneers of modern female military service: veterans of World War II.

“I’ve interviewed 68 of them,” she said of the World War II veterans. “I have five that are alive today. It breaks my heart every time I hear of one who has died, because these women were the footprints, the foundation of the women who serve today.”

Col. Susan I. Pangelinan, an active duty National Guardsman and former Air Force reserve member, spoke about women’s military service through the ages, framing the developments through her family members’ experiences in the military over the past several decades. Pangelinan talked about obstacles that women have faced in the journey toward equality, noting a 2013 landmark policy change that allowed women to serve in combat roles. Additionally, women are now finding role models in divisions of the service historically dominated by men, such as maintenance.

“We have female leaders in abundance that we hadn’t seen before,” she said. “Women are seeing other women just like them rising to very high places and high levels of responsibility.”

Megan Rodriguez, a U.S. Air Force veteran and current district representative for state Sen. Carol Liu, spoke about the darker side of military service. Rodriguez told of her personal challenges in the service. During the year-and-a-half that she served in the Air Force, Rodriguez was the victim of a sexual assault, which had lasting effects on her physical and mental health.

Rodriguez, who had only publicly spoken twice before about her experience as a victim of Military Sexual Trauma (MST), stressed the importance to her of sharing her experiences to broad audiences.

“The reason I’m able to speak about it is because I know there are other women veterans and nonveterans who have gone through the same thing,” she said. “Providing this place for discussion is essential, and I want to provide a safe space to other women and men that go through this.”

Laura Alongi, a field faculty member in the Luskin Department of Social Welfare, introduced the evening and said the yearly event was aimed, in part, to further the department’s work with veterans.

“Part of the reason we do this, is because as a department … we started to realize a few years ago that meeting veterans’ needs is something we really wanted to do,” she explained. “We felt that, because of our focus, we could really provide services and trainers who provide those services in a holistic way to veterans and active duty military.”


Laura Alongi Brinderson

Laura Alongi is a licensed clinical social worker whose interests lie in mental health issues with children, adolescents, and their families. She is also interested in parenting education and training, and the early childhood bonding process.

As a field consultant with the California Social Work Education Center program, a statewide program that trains social workers to become professional public child welfare workers, she works with first- and second-year students, and is involved in recruiting promising child welfare candidates.

Alongi has worked as a social worker in community mental health clinics including South Bay Child Guidance, the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center, and Aviva Children and Family Services. She worked primarily with emotionally disturbed children and their families, both in individual/family and group modalities. She was also a supervisor for several years, and was involved in program development and administration when she served as a program director for the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center.

Currently, she has a small private practice, and provides supervision and consultation to new and unlicensed social workers.

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