Associate Professor of Social Welfare Laura Wray-Lake spoke to PsyPost about the findings of her recent study “Youth are watching: Adolescents’ sociopolitical development in the Trump era.” Wray-Lake and her colleagues gathered survey data from 1,433 students over five years to better understand how the Trump era may have affected youth’s political development differently depending on their political orientation, as well as how historical moments shape adolescents’ development in lasting ways. “The Trump era was a volatile and highly politically polarizing time for the country,” Wray-Lake said. She found that adolescents who disapproved of Trump exhibited increases in race consciousness, deliberation skills and awareness of inequality. Adolescents who approved of Trump, in contrast, exhibited declines in awareness of inequality and race consciousness but increases in voting intentions. “These findings may be reflective of growing political divides, especially around acknowledging racism and other inequalities,” Wray-Lake said.
A new paper co-authored by Laura Wray-Lake, associate professor of social welfare, measures the impact of former President Donald Trump’s early months in office on the sociopolitical development of American adolescents. Published today in the journal Child Development, the paper found that adolescents translate what they observe in the political world around them through the lens of their existing beliefs. The study shows that growing divisions in society are also evident among the nation’s youth. The authors, including Wray-Lake, researcher Danielle Dunn and doctoral student Jason Plummer, examined whether approval, disapproval or having no opinion of Trump in 2017 predicted shifts in sociopolitical development in 2018. Using a sample of 1,433 students in 9th through 12th grades who were racially, ethnically, geographically and politically diverse, the researchers measured experiences of marginalization, critical analysis of race and inequality, deliberation skills, and intended and actual political actions. “Youth who disapproved of Trump, especially Latinx youth, felt targeted and marginalized, likely as a product of Trump’s hostile rhetoric and policies toward multiple groups including Latinx immigrants,” the authors wrote. “Meanwhile, young supporters of Trump showed less awareness of inequality and placed less value on racial equality and diversity, suggesting that they may be adopting values and beliefs of like-minded political leaders.” The study also found that both supporters and detractors of Trump increased their capacity to engage politically compared to youth with no opinion. The authors noted that the study is relevant beyond the Trump years, as it offers a reminder that many adolescents are actively paying attention to politics.
UCLA Luskin scholar Laura Wray-Lake served as co-editor of the March issue of the Journal of Research on Adolescence that features 17 papers and four commentaries that address the sweeping impact of racism and other systems of oppression on Black youth. Titled “Black Lives Matter!: Systems of Oppression Affecting Black Youth,” the special issue calls for new ways to combat racism and intersecting oppressions and improve the lives of Black adolescents. In their introduction, Wray-Lake and co-authors Dawn P. Witherspoon of Pennsylvania State University and Linda C. Halgunseth of the University of Connecticut write that the commentaries “provide a historical view and future perspective to contextualize how far we have come and how much farther we need to go in our quest to combat racism and other systems of oppression and improve the lives of Black adolescents.” The issue kicks off a series in which the journal will be focusing on dismantling systems of racism and oppression during adolescence. Wray-Lake, an associate professor of social welfare at UCLA, will also be co-editor for the second and third parts of the series, and she will be lead editor for the fourth, which will appear in the September issue of the journal.
A new issue of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology sheds light on the power of young people to effect political change even as their contributions are devalued or disregarded.
Published in the wake of the tumultuous 2020 election year, the special issue includes seven research papers and two commentaries that expand our understanding of political engagement among American youth, said Associate Professor of Social Welfare Laura Wray-Lake, who co-edited the issue with Benjamin Oosterhoff of Montana State University.
“Rapid changes in technology, growing political division and persistent experiences of racial injustice create a civic landscape that will have lasting effects on how young people approach politics for years to come,” Wray-Lake and Oosterhoff wrote.
The volume aims to amplify the voices of youth within a system that often ignores them and provide guidance to policymakers seeking to promote civic responsibility.
“Investment in young people’s political development should be an ongoing endeavor to improve the democratic health and functioning of our nation,” the editors wrote.
The special issue includes a commentary by Associate Professor of Social Welfare Carlos Santos, who argued for expanding the use of qualitative research methods to capture lived experiences of youth and “uncover the unique interplay between multiple sources of oppression and privilege.”
Research led by Veronica Terriquez, who will join the Urban Planning faculty this fall, is also featured in the volume. Terriquez’s study of Latino youth in California’s Central Valley shows how peer-to-peer organizing can be effective in mobilizing political movements even in regions hostile to immigrants and other communities of color.
Other contributors weigh in on structural barriers to youth political participation, including voting age restrictions and socioeconomic inequalities; the ability of Black youth to use critical reflection and political action to cope with individual, cultural and structural racism; the different ways that young people are affected by political polarization; and the importance of digital spaces in civic education.
The students, faculty and staff of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare have launched an ambitious effort to mobilize and support voters during this election season. In addition to reaching out to prospective voters via phone calls, letters and texts, some are serving as poll workers or poll watchers and others are taking part in an Election Day street action spearheaded by MSW students. On Tuesday, which Social Welfare has declared a Day of Civic Action, volunteers will spread out to polling places in Compton, Norwalk and the San Gabriel Valley to offer snacks and emotional support to community members. “Our goal was to capitalize on the energy and enthusiasm of students, staff and faculty in our department around making sure people’s voices are heard and everyone can exercise their right to vote,” said Associate Professor Laura Wray-Lake, who helped launch Social Welfare’s Voter Mobilization Working Group with field faculty member Toby Hur and Chair Laura Abrams. Students and staff quickly stepped up to join the working group, which partnered with the department’s Reimagining Social Welfare Collective to compile a comprehensive resource list for helping to get out the vote, virtually or in person. The effort built upon the nationwide Voting Is Social Work campaign, launched to integrate nonpartisan voter engagement into social work education and practice. “Many of us are passionate about free and fair elections where everyone can participate,” Wray-Lake said. “We see voter mobilization as aligned with social work values, and hope that these kinds of actions will become a regular election season tradition in Social Welfare.”
By Les Dunseith
In places where exposure to violence is prevalent, those seeking to advance causes on behalf of urban youth of color should start by listening to the young people themselves, according to a new publication from two UCLA faculty members.
What do such youth say about violence in their neighborhoods?
“You see it everywhere. You could ride down the street, you would see somebody arguing. You go down another street, see somebody fighting,” said Justin, a 17-year-old black and Asian youth.
“I don’t like it. It’s too many killings. … I can’t choose, I can’t do nothing about it. I’m still young,” said Salome, a 16-year-old Latina.
So, what can be done — and by whom?
“We all have to communicate and cooperate. … I just feel like if everybody just came together and put their minds together about what the community should be and how it should be, I think the community would probably be much better place for kids to grow up,” said Jamal, a 17-year-old black youth.
“Why we got a mouth?” asked Kendra, a 15-year-old black youth. “Our opinions do matter. It can even change the world.”
These four interviewees were among 87 youth living in high-poverty neighborhoods in Rochester, New York, who spoke with Associate Professor Laura Wray-Lake for a qualitative study of youth engagement. She was joined in analyzing the information by co-author Laura S. Abrams, professor and chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare. Their monograph — essentially an eight-chapter book on one topic — was made available online May 12 by Monographs for the Society of Research on Child Development, a respected quarterly journal.
“The purpose of the study was to understand how civic engagement is defined and experienced by these youth of color in their own words and from their own perspectives. We also wanted to know what assets and adversities young people experienced that shaped their civic engagement,” Wray-Lake said of the publication, “Pathways to Civic Engagement Among Urban Youth of Color.”
The monograph, which is accompanied online by teaching and outreach materials, is based on data collected by Wray-Lake in 2015-16 when she was on the faculty at University of Rochester. The interviewees ranged in age from 12 to 19, and were mostly black (61%) or multiracial black (27%). A majority (60%) were male. About one-quarter had parents who had completed high school, and 36% had a parent who attended at least some college.
The study participants did more than just express strong opinions. Many took action to benefit others. The most common type of civic engagement was helping out in the community — mentoring younger children at the recreation center, for example, or participating in an annual community cleanup. Some youth helped their neighbors by mowing lawns or shoveling snow.
“Some youth were civically engaged by intervening to protect others from harm, and this was a form of civic engagement not often recognized in the literature,” Wray-Lake said. “A number of youth described helping to stop or break up fights to protect a friend, or talking a friend out of joining a gang.”
Although political engagement was much less common among the youth she interviewed, Wray-Lake said a few talked about sharing posts on social media to speak out against injustice or joining marches or protests against gun violence.
The monograph is based upon work funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Wray-Lake sees value in publishing it during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the ways that youth can connect with others, navigate community spaces and participate in civic life.
“In this time when people are confined to their homes, we hope this work contributes to conversations about reimaging community spaces for youth that are safe, supportive and prioritize their voices,” Wray-Lake said.
She and Abrams believe the findings can lead to more-informed policies related to investing in safe spaces and community-led anti-violence initiatives for urban youth of color.
Civic empowerment was one of two key factors that influenced the level of engagement among study participants.
Feeling heard and supported by adults.
The Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) announced the appointment of Associate Professor of Social Welfare Laura Wray-Lake to its executive council. Established in 1984, SRA is a community of researchers aiming to further understanding of adolescence and enhance the well-being of youth in a globalized world. As an executive council member, Wray-Lake will advance the mission of SRA by promoting and disseminating high-quality research on adolescence, championing diversity of scholars and scholarship, and prioritizing the next generation of scholars in the field. Wray-Lake’s research documents patterns of developmental change in civic engagement across adolescence and young adulthood. Her current projects include a study of civic development among socioeconomically, racially and ethnically diverse adolescents, and a qualitative study documenting civic experiences of youth of color in high-poverty urban neighborhoods. Wray-Lake has been an SRA member since 2005 and has served in leadership roles continually since 2009. As the emerging scholar representative, she spearheaded several initiatives, including student conference travel awards, mentor-student conference reviewing and an emerging scholars lounge. She has also served on the nominations, consensus and publications committees. SRA hosts biennial meetings and publishes the Journal of Research on Adolescence to encourage and foster global exchange and research collaboration across disciplines.
Laura Wray-Lake, associate professor of social welfare, authored a blog post for the London School of Economics that highlighted her research on political behavior among U.S. youth. Affiliation with a major party has long been linked to heightened political engagement, she wrote, but in recent years young adults have been less likely to join a party. To analyze changes in youth political engagement, Wray-Lake and her research partners surveyed nearly 13,000 people — beginning at age 18 and continuing until they reached at least 30 — about behaviors such as voting, donating to a campaign, writing to public officials, and boycotting products or stores. They found that major political and social events from a person’s adolescence may be linked to his or her level of political activity throughout young adulthood. Given their potential for engagement, “it is remarkable that political parties appear to place such a low priority on recruiting or mobilizing young people,” Wray-Lake wrote.
By Stan Paul
Newly graduated Social Welfare master’s degree recipient Deshika Perera’s research project extended across the United States and as far north as Alaska.
Evan Kreuger helped create a nationwide database as a basis for his research into LGBT health and health outcomes to culminate his Master of Social Welfare (MSW) studies at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Perera and Kreuger are members of the first graduating class of Social Welfare students to complete a capstone research project as a graduation requirement for their MSW degrees. Like their UCLA Luskin counterparts in Urban Planning and Public Policy who must also complete capstones, working individually and in groups to complete research and analysis projects that hone their skills while studying important social issues on behalf of government agencies, nonprofit groups and other clients with a public service focus.
“It’s been fun; it’s been interesting,” said Perera, who worked with Associate Professor Ian Holloway. Her qualitative study examined the relationship between the Violence Against Women Act and nonprofits, focusing on programs that provide services to indigenous survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence on reservations and in remote areas of the U.S.
As a member of the pioneering class for the MSW capstone, Perera said that although the new requirement was rigorous, she enjoyed the flexibility of the program.
“I feel we got to express our own creativity and had more freedom because it was loosely structured,” Perera said, explaining that she and her fellow students got to provide input on their projects and the capstone process. The development of the requirement went both ways. “Because it was new, [faculty] were asking us a lot of questions,” Perera said.
“We strongly believe that this capstone experience combines a lot of the pieces of learning that they’ve been doing, so it really integrates their knowledge of theory, their knowledge of research methods and their knowledge of practice,” said Laura Wray-Lake, associate professor and MSW capstone coordinator. “I think it’s really fun to see research come alive and be infused with real world practice.”
Krueger, who also was completing a Ph.D. in public health at UCLA while concluding his MSW studies, previously worked as a research coordinator for a national survey on LGBT adults through the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. He said he had a substantial amount of data to work with and that he enjoyed the opportunity to combine his research interests.
“I’m really interested in how the social environment influences these public health questions I’m looking at,” said Kreuger who has studied HIV and HIV prevention. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, but it was a matter of pulling it all together.”
For years, MSW students have completed rigorous coursework and challenging educational field placements during their two-year program of study, and some previous MSW graduates had conducted research in connection with sponsoring agencies. This year’s class included the first MSW recipients to complete a new two-year research sequence, Wray-Lake said.
Applied Policy Projects
In UCLA Luskin Public Policy, 14 teams presented a year’s worth of exacting research during this year’s Applied Policy Project presentations, the capstone for those seeking a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree.
Public Policy students master the tools to conduct policy analysis during their first year of study. In the second year, they use those tools to create sophisticated policy analyses to benefit government entities and other clients.
The APP research is presented to faculty, peers and curious first-year students over the course of two days. This May’s presentations reflected a broad spectrum of interests.
Like some peers in Social Welfare, a few MPP teams tackled faraway issues, including a study of environmental protection and sustainable tourism in the South Pacific. Closer to home, student researchers counted people experiencing homelessness, looked at ways to reform the juvenile justice system, sought solutions to food insecurity and outlined ideas to protect reproductive health, among other topics.
“Our students are providing solutions to some of the most important local and global problems out there,” said Professor JR DeShazo, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.
After each presentation, faculty members and others in the audience followed up with questions about data sources, methodologies and explanations for the policy recommendations.
Careers, Capstones and Conversations
Recently graduated UCLA Luskin urban planners displayed their culminating projects in April at the annual Careers, Capstones and Conversations networking event, following up with final written reports for sponsoring clients.
Many planning students work individually, but a cohort of 16 Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students worked together to complete a comprehensive research project related to a $23 million grant recently received by the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima. The project was the culmination of almost six months of analysis in which the MURP students helped the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies prepare a plan seeking to avoid displacement of residents as a result of a pending major redevelopment effort.
“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.
MSWs Test Research Methods
In Social Welfare, the projects represented a variety of interests and subject matter, said Wray-Lake, pointing out that each student’s approach — quantitative and/or qualitative — helps distinguish individual areas of inquiry. Some students used existing data sets to analyze social problems, she said, whereas others gathered their own data through personal interviews and focus groups. Instructors provided mentoring and training during the research process.
“They each have their own challenges,” said Wray-Lake, noting that several capstones were completed in partnership with a community agency, which often lack the staff or funding for research.
“Agencies are very hungry for research,” she said. “They collect lot of data and they have a lot of research needs, so this is a place where our students can be really useful and have real community impact with the capstones.”
Professor of Social Welfare Todd Franke, who serves as a lead instructor for the capstone projects, said his students worked on issues that impact child welfare. Others studied the relationship between child neglect and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Another capstone focused on predictors of educational aspirations among black and Native American students. The well-being of caregivers and social workers served as another study topic.
Assistant Professor Amy Ritterbusch, who also served as a capstone instructor, said her students focused on topics that included education beyond incarceration, the needs of Central American migrant youth in schools, and the unmet needs of homeless individuals in MacArthur Park. One project was cleverly titled as “I’m Still Here and I Can Go On: Coping Practices of Immigrant Domestic Workers.”
“They all did exceptional work,” Ritterbusch said.
A contingent of 20 faculty and doctoral students from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs are representing the School at the 2019 Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) Conference Jan. 16-20 in San Francisco. Research is presented during symposia, workshops, roundtable discussions, and paper and poster presentations at the annual conference, which in 2019 is dedicated to ending gender-based, family and community violence. “We’re excited to see so many of our faculty and Ph.D. students presenting,” said Laura Abrams, professor and chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare. The presentations cover a broad spectrum of topics within social work and research, including mental illness, gerontology, child welfare, adolescence and parenting, racial and ethnic minorities, and civic engagement. Featured UCLA Luskin Social Welfare faculty are Abrams, David Cohen, Ian Holloway, Aurora Jackson, Leyla Karimli, Ayako Miyashita Ochoa, Amy Ritterbusch, Latoya Small, Carlos Santos and Laura Wray-Lake. Presenting doctoral students from UCLA Luskin are Skye Allmang, Donte Boyd, Ryan Dougherty, Shannon Dunlap, Jianchao Lai, Gi Lee, Carol A. Leung, Jason Anthony Plummer, Alex Recault and Rachel Wells. Holloway, associate professor of social welfare, remarked, “We are very proud of our doctoral students presenting at SSWR this year. They are advancing social welfare scholarship and representing UCLA well at our premier social work research conference.”