In Reparations Debate, UCLA Students Help Amplify Black Californians’ Voices Public policy graduate students use tools of research to help shape history

By Mary Braswell

A small team of UCLA graduate students traveled the state, heard from more than 900 residents, surveyed over 4,400 more and analyzed 1,000-plus pages of transcripts over the past year, all to give ordinary Californians a voice in the conversation about how the government should atone for the devastating legacy of slavery.

The students’ work documented the range of harms that have been suffered by Black Americans over generations and captured viewpoints on what just compensation should look like. In the fall, the team reported its findings at a public meeting of the California Reparations Task Force, which is conducting closely watched deliberations on the best path forward.

The group also just delivered an 80-page report to the state Department of Justice, the culmination of an extraordinary opportunity to use the tools of research to help shape momentous policy decisions in real time.

Through it all, the young Black scholars were deeply affected by the stories they heard and the responsibility they carried.

“I understood the significance of what I was working on,” said Elliot Woods, a second-year master of public policy student at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “And all I could think about was that I don’t want to disappoint our ancestors.”

‘The way it is now, it seems like we’re being pushed out. … We’ve lost family homes. We’ve lost generational homes that have been in our families for years.’

— A Black California resident speaking at a community listening session organized by UCLA’s Black Policy Project

The nine-member Reparations Task Force, commissioned by the California Legislature and seated in 2021, quickly determined that community input was vital to its work. So it turned to the UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, where public policy and urban planning professor Michael Stoll directs the Black Policy Project.

The task was immense and the deadline tight. Within months, the panel required a comprehensive and data-backed accounting of public opinion from across the California spectrum: from rural and urban communities, from every economic rung and every walk of life.

Stoll proposed that his group also systematically document stories of racial discrimination and record residents’ viewpoints on how the state should respond. And he enlisted three master’s students he knew he could count on: Jendalyn Coulter, who analyzed conversations from 17 online and in-person community listening sessions across the state; Chinyere Nwonye, who studied recorded testimonies, photos, videos and other submissions before developing full oral histories of seven Californians, ages 38 to 88; and Woods, who supervised two surveys to gauge support for cash and non-cash reparations and to capture opinions on who should be eligible.

“When you see people who are curious, excited, capable and committed, and who have the passion, it was an easy call about how to assemble the team. And the research they conducted was spectacular,” Stoll said. The project was the type of work that doctoral students might normally do, he added, and it was completed in a fraction of the time such a large project would typically require.

‘I felt like, growing up, we were made to be ashamed of who we are as Black Americans. … I feel like a lot of Black Americans, they don’t have a sense of purpose because they don’t value their legacy. They don’t value what their families went through.’

A Hollywood professional interviewed for an oral history

After several weeks of intensive transcribing, coding and analyzing the trove of data they collected, Coulter, Nwonye and Woods worked with Stoll to develop conclusions that will guide the work of the Reparations Task Force. Among them:

  • Black Californians concurred that racial bias in education, policing, housing and the workplace has diminished the quality of their lives, at times leading to emotional trauma and physical ailments.
  • An overwhelming majority of survey respondents from all races expressed support for reparations: 77% favored non-cash financial support such as housing assistance, debt forgiveness, land grants and community investment; 73% supported non-monetary remedies such as reforming the education and criminal justice systems; and 64% favored direct cash payments.
  • Those who were surveyed disagreed somewhat on who should be eligible for reparations: all Black Californians (supported by 30% of respondents); those who can establish that they are the direct descendants of slaves (29%); or those who can demonstrate that they have experienced race-based discrimination (24%).

With the community listening sessions complete, the state task force has asked a team of economists for recommendations on implementing an equitable program of reparations; a final report is due this summer. California lawmakers will then consider how to proceed.

Meanwhile at UCLA, the Black Policy Project has launched a study group to further analyze the findings. Stoll said the results of that new work will not only contribute to the ongoing policy conversation but also give more of the public a chance to parse the findings in different ways.

‘I really do believe if you fix the descendants of slavery in America … it actually allows the U.S. to say and show we were actually willing to clean up our own messes. We were willing to be the country we said that we were when we said liberty and justice for all.’

— An Oakland, California, resident interviewed for an oral history

After the group had delivered its report, Woods reflected on the opportunity to play a part in shaping history.

“We are in this unique and very, very privileged position to work on this as students at UCLA,” he said. “It feels like a lot of weight to carry because we know we have a lot of the nation paying attention to what we’re doing.”

For Nwonye, the experience prompted self-examination about researchers’ role when the subject is personal.

“You always want to maintain that level of professionalism that comes from a sense of objectivity. And there were days when I had to step away from it,” Nwonye said.

“But at the same time, I don’t know that we would have found the things that we found if we were not a Black research team. I don’t know that people would have been as open about telling their stories.”

Coulter, who earned dual master’s degrees in public policy and social welfare in 2022, recalled the anguish she found in the pages of transcripts from months of community listening sessions.

“I can’t even begin to fathom the collective trauma and the stress and just the pain that has been inflicted on the community for so long,” she said. “And it was heartbreaking, as a Black person, to hear the distrust and the hesitancy around the purpose of this. Is this massive effort truly going to resonate with the government? Or will it again fall on deaf ears?”

When Stoll and the students appeared at Los Angeles’ California Science Center in September to preview their findings, audio of some of the interviews they conducted was played for the Reparations Task Force and members of the public. The audience included people who had participated in the project, and they thanked the students for telling their stories.

“Even if nothing else happens,” Nwonye said, “we’ve already done something that is really important: allowing people to have their voices be heard.”

Read “Harm and Repair,” the research team’s report to the California Reparations Task Force.

Stoll on Housing Vouchers, Race and Discrimination

Michael Stoll, professor of public policy and urban planning, spoke to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on his research posing the question, “Do Black voucher recipients’ moves to the suburbs increase crime rates?” The answer to this question, according to his study, is no. Using federal data for the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, Stoll analyzed the impact that Housing Choice Voucher recipients had on majority-white suburbs. The research determined that non-white voucher holders moving into white suburbs did not cause crime rates to increase. However, the mere perception that lower-income residents will have a negative impact on an affluent neighborhood can have real consequences. “It can influence neighbors’ resistance to landlords’ willingness to rent,” Stoll said. He called for more enforcement of housing fairness laws to ensure that voucher holders are not forced into lower-income and racially segregated neighborhoods due to discrimination from landlords.


 

UCLA Research Guides California Reparations Task Force

Professor Michael Stoll and a team of UCLA Luskin graduate students appeared before the California Reparations Task Force to present research that will guide deliberations on how to compensate Black residents for generations of discrimination arising from the country’s legacy of slavery. At the Sept. 23 public meeting at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, the researchers shared their analysis of personal testimonies, interviews and survey responses collected from January through August of this year — all aimed at gathering perspectives about the Black experience from individuals across the state. The team found widespread support for financial reparations to Black Californians who can establish lineage to enslaved ancestors, as well as for programs that provide non-cash support, such as small business assistance, tax exemptions and land grants. Working under the task force’s expedited timeline, the team transcribed, codified and analyzed an enormous amount of data in less than four weeks, a fraction of the time a project of this magnitude would typically require. The task force, made of up state legislators and other distinguished leaders, will utilize the findings as they develop recommendations regarding how to atone for past harms suffered by Black Californians. Stoll, a professor of public policy and urban planning, is director of the Black Policy Project housed at the UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. The graduate student researchers working on the project include Jendalyn Coulter, who is pursuing a joint MSW/MPP degree; Chinyere Nwonye, a second-year MPP student; and Elliot Woods, MPP student and chair of the Luskin Black Caucus.


 

Stoll Named Director of UCLA’s Black Policy Project A key priority is making research into the state of Black California accessible to policymakers and the public

By Jessica Wolf

Michael Stoll, professor of public policy and urban planning, is the new director of the Black Policy Project, which is housed at the UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

Stoll’s goals for the project include commissioning a report to examine the demographic changes of Black California; generating research on wealth inequity in the state; and supporting California’s new task force on reparations, the first of its kind in the country.

Each of those efforts, he said, will involve UCLA students, and each will produce materials meant to be useful to policymakers and the public at large.

“We want to be a good public ally and create accessible research for the layperson — information that engages in affairs that are of interest to and about Black California,” he said.

Stoll also plans to build on a study he launched nearly 20 years ago: a broad analysis of the state of Black California. He intends to incorporate a new “equality index” that will help illustrate Black residents’ socioeconomic progress, considering several different measures, over the past two decades.

And he foresees events and panel discussions that would bring members of the campus and Los Angeles communities together with elected officials and other California decision-makers.

The Black Policy Project is one of several Bunche Center initiatives that will benefit from $5 million in funding from the 2021-22 California state budget.

It’s the largest amount of support the center has received in a single year from the state, said Kelly Lytle Hernandez, the center’s director and a UCLA professor of history, African American studies and urban planning.

In addition to the Black Policy Project, the funds will support initiatives including Million Dollar Hoods, an ongoing study of incarceration in Los Angeles, and the Bunche Fellows Program, which provides stipends for students to work with leading faculty whose research has a vested interest in improving Black lives.

Read full story


 

Domestic Migration Patterns Accelerated by COVID-19, Stoll Says

Professor of Public Policy and Urban Planning Michael Stoll was cited in a U.S. News & World Report article about Americans’ migration patterns. A study by moving company United Van Lines found that the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in many people’s decisions to relocate, including concerns for personal and family health and well-being, a desire to be closer to family and changes in work arrangements. Idaho had the highest percentage of inbound migration, while New Jersey had the highest share of outbound moves, followed by New York, Illinois, Connecticut and California, the study found. “United Van Lines’ data makes it clear that migration to western and southern states, a prevalent pattern for the past several years, persisted in 2020,” Stoll said. “However, we’re seeing that the COVID-19 pandemic has without a doubt accelerated broader moving trends, including retirement driving top inbound regions as the Baby Boomer generation continues to reach that next phase of life.”


Stoll Comments on How Housing Crisis Affects Black Californians

Public Policy Professor Michael Stoll commented in a CalMatters article on how California’s housing crisis is worse for Black communities following decades of systemic racism. The article shows that significant barriers continue to exist for Black communities and individuals in building and retaining wealth compared to whites and other ethnic groups within the state. Data shows that California cities are typically less segregated than in the Northeast or Midwest. In part, this is due to gentrification and displacement pressures on Black communities in urban cores, notably Los Angeles and the Bay Area. “African Americans and to a lesser extent Latinos are moving to suburban areas at the fastest clip we’ve observed since the civil rights era,” Stoll said. But patterns of segregation continue, he said, noting, “It’s hard to become a socially cohesive place if people are living in different neighborhoods and not being able to communicate and work together around common interests.”


 

Stoll Joins Partnership to Foster Diversity in Research

Michael Stoll, professor of public policy and urban planning, is among a group of experts participating in a new American Institutes for Research (AIR) program aimed at building a pipeline of diverse candidates who can contribute to the field of behavioral and social science research and application. The Pipeline Partnership Program provides opportunities for select graduate-level students from Howard University, the University of Texas at San Antonio and Georgia State University. Stoll will contribute his expertise as an advisor and content expert to the program, which provides students with education and training; mentoring and career advancement; and networking and internships. “I’m excited to be a part of this effort because it aims to help diversify researchers in the social and behavioral sciences regarding racial and ethnic representation, but also in regards to cultural competencies in the field,” Stoll said. He plans to give seminars at the partnership universities on his current research as well as subjects that encourage and motivate a new generation of researchers to take leadership positions in their fields. “The goal will be to use these opportunities to develop mentorship relationships with promising graduate students at these partnership universities so as to further their skill enhancement, social networks, and career and professional development and success,” he said. As an AIR external institutional fellow for the past four years, Stoll serves as a thought partner on critical projects or enterprises, provides mentorship to select staff, and serves as a reviewer on high profile reports or projects. — Zoe Day


 

Public Policy Hosts Weekend of Learning and Service

About 30 undergraduate students from California and beyond convened at UCLA for a weekend of learning and public service, part of the not-for-profit Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program. UCLA Luskin Public Policy hosted the program, “Advancing Social Justice Through Public Service: Lessons From California,” with senior lecturer Kenya Covington coordinating a full weekend of lectures, conversations and off-campus experiences. Students ventured out to MacArthur Park west of downtown Los Angeles, the Crenshaw District and the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to hear how policymakers are grappling with homelessness and gentrification. They heard from several MPP alumni from both the policy field and academia, and learned about public service career paths from Dean Gary Segura and other UCLA Luskin staff. Several members of the public policy and urban planning faculty shared research, insights and data-gathering techniques during the Oct. 4-6 event, including Amada Armenta, Kevin de León, Michael Lens, Michael Stoll and Chris Zepeda-Millán. Public Policy Chair JR DeShazo encouraged the students to engage intellectually, socially and emotionally as they explored policy challenges and prepared to make an impact in their own careers. The students formed working groups to synthesize what they had seen and heard, and presented their findings at the close of the program. Joining the large contingent of students from four-year and community colleges in California were participants from Arizona, Illinois, Michigan and Washington. The public service weekend was one of several outreaches around the country that are coordinated through PPIA to promote diversity in public service.

View photos from the PPIA public service weekend on Flickr.

PPIA Public Service Weekend


 

Lens, Stoll Release Study of Misdemeanors in Los Angeles

UCLA Luskin’s Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy and associate faculty director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, and Michael A. Stoll, professor of public policy and urban planning, released a report on March 22, 2019, that reviewed 16 years of misdemeanor data from the Los Angeles Police Department and the City Attorney’s Office. “Trends in Misdemeanor Arrests in Los Angeles: 2001-2017” highlights that misdemeanor arrests rose sharply — from 88,511 arrests in 2001 to 112,570 in 2008, which is the highest number recorded — but then dropped to 60,063 in 2017, a 47 percent decrease. This reflects a statewide trend. The rates fell dramatically for juveniles, but some other demographic groups, including black females, saw increases. The researchers said this work is critical because, unlike felonies, misdemeanors are understudied, and they account for a much higher volume of arrests, particularly among people of color. “Interaction with police is the single-most –common way people interact with the government, and yet we neglect this level of interaction at our peril,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said during a release event at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. How people interact with the criminal justice system could impact their views and participation in many societal functions. UCLA was one of seven sites selected by the nationwide Research Network on Misdemeanor Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York to use the collective data to study trends in the enforcement of lower-level offenses, which could inform policy discussions and result in reforms. Yiwen Kuai, a doctoral student in urban planning, also co-authored the report.


 

Stoll Explains Factors Driving Migration Patterns

Luskin Public Policy Professor Michael Stoll shed light on factors driving U.S. migration patterns reported in the latest National Movers Study published by United Van Lines. In 2018, Vermont, Idaho and Oregon were the top inbound states, and New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut were the top outbound states, according to the study, which has been picked up by news sources across the country, including Newsweek, HousingWire and InvestorPlace“Job growth, lower costs of living, state budgetary challenges and more temperate climates” help explain longer-term migration patterns to southern and western states, Stoll explained. He also commented on emerging migration trends. “Unlike a few decades ago, retirees are leaving California, instead choosing other states in the Pacific West and Mountain West,” he said. “We’re also seeing young professionals migrating to vibrant, metropolitan economies like Washington, D.C., and Seattle.” Moving and relocation company United Van Lines has tracked state-to-state migration for the past 42 years.