Paul Ong Inducted Into UCLA Faculty Mentoring Honor Society

Paul Ong, research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, was among 10 UCLA ladder faculty honored this year for excellence in mentoring and for contributions to the professional development of early-to-mid-career faculty at UCLA. Ong, who retired in 2017, was inducted into the UCLA Faculty Mentoring Honor Society’s 2023 cohort during an April 27 celebration at UCLA’s Faculty Club. Ong was nominated by Karen Umemoto, professor of urban planning and Asian American studies and director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, and Gilbert Gee, chair and professor of the Department of Community Health Sciences. “We cannot think of anyone more deserving than Professor Ong, who has dedicated over 35 years to mentoring students, young professionals and junior faculty,” wrote Gee and Umemoto. “There are few people blessed to have a lifetime mentor,” said Umemoto, a graduate student of Ong’s in the 1980s when he was a relatively new assistant professor in urban planning and Asian American studies. “Mentoring is a two-way street,” said Ong, explaining that younger faculty bring new perspectives that challenge old ideas, prodding senior faculty to rethink their own research. “The benefits of mentoring go beyond individuals because advising new scholars of color is essential to creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive community at UCLA and other universities,” added Ong, who remains active in research. The society, now in its second year, is supported through a University of California Office of the President (UCOP) grant to UCLA Faculty Development within UCLA’s Academic Personnel Office and co-sponsored by UCLA Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.


Ong on Census Miscount of Asian Americans

Paul Ong, head of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to National Public Radio about reports regarding an overcount of Asian Americans in the latest census. A recent analysis found that while national figures reflect an overcount, Asian Americans were actually undercounted in some rural parts of the country. Ong said miscounts should not be ignored because communities may risk losing representation in government, as well as federal funding for public services. “It goes along probably with the ‘model minority’ narrative that somehow there is some statistical result that says that there are no problems among Asian Americans and therefore we don’t need to pay attention to them,” he said. Ong said possible reasons for an overcount include college students being counted once on campus and once at home, and anti-Asian rhetoric that led to more people of Asian descent to check an Asian race box on census forms.


Ong on Post-COVID Population Shifts

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about population shifts in California counties. Factors affecting the shifts include college students moving back to campus, the easing of COVID-19 protocols and employees moving back to the office. Ong said the “waning of the worst days of the pandemic has slowed the exit from major cities,” as crowded spaces are no longer a major source of fear. While urban centers have “once again become appealing to a new generation of young workers,” it is urgent that cities address problems regarding housing, homelessness, infrastructure and safety, Ong cautioned.  “Without correcting these flaws, major cities will continue to depopulate.”


Ong on the Exodus Out of California

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times and NBC4’s NewsConference about California’s steep population decline. Between April 2020 and July 2022, the population dropped by more than 500,000 people. The number of residents leaving surpassed those moving in by nearly 700,000. Ong pointed to several economic, health and sociopolitical factors driving the exodus, with housing affordability at the top of the list. “California now has the highest housing burden — that is, the proportion of income that is going to pay for housing. Roughly between a fifth to a quarter of those who are financing a home or paying rent are spending more than half of their income on housing,” Ong told NewsConference. Los Angeles in particular saw a “fast, clear and sharp spike during the pandemic,” as remote work allowed people to move away from dense urban cores, he told the L.A. Times.


Shifting Self-Identity During COVID Years

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke with the Associated Press about new U.S. Census survey results that provide detailed data on how life in the United States changed during the COVID-19 era. During the first two years of the pandemic, the number of people working from home tripled, the share of unmarried couples living together rose, and Americans became more wired, the article noted. In addition, the percentage of people who identify as multiracial grew significantly — strong evidence of shifting self-identity, Ong said. “Other research has shown that racial or ethnic identity can change even over a short time period. For many, it is contextual and situational,” he explained. “This is particularly true for individuals with a multiracial background.”


Akee and Ong on Long-Overdue Tuition Scholarships for Native Students

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee and Research Professor Paul Ong co-authored a commentary in Indian Country Today about the University of California’s decision to waive tuition for Native American students. “Not only will the plan begin to address some of the education barriers that marginalize American Indian and Alaska Native people, it is also an acknowledgement that UC has benefited enormously from the sale of lands that were stolen through various means from Indigenous peoples,” they wrote. Campuses in the UC system are located on parcels that rightfully belong to tribal nations and communities, they wrote, noting the role of the Morrill Act in the creation of land-grant colleges resourced by the sale of federal lands. The authors hope that the new program will “help to close the persistent educational attainment gap suffered by American Indians and Alaska Natives” and serve as a call to action to other public, land-grant institutions in the United States.

Ong Honored for Work Advancing Environmental Justice

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, has received the 2020-2021 Haagen-Smit Clean Air Award from the California Air Resources Board. Ong is one of six individuals from around the world to receive the honor, which recognizes career accomplishments related to air quality and climate change. Ong was cited for his work on matters of community service and environmental justice. “Professor Ong’s more than 100 publications addressing racial inequalities have had an outsized influence on concerns for environmental justice,” the board said in announcing the award. “He has worked for more than three decades as a scientist and educator on interdisciplinary social science and environmental teaching, policy-focused research and community engagement.” The Haagen-Smit Clean Air Awards will be presented today at 9 a.m. PDT at a California Air Resources Board meeting that will be webcast via Cal-Span. Later in the day, the board will host the Clean Air Leadership Talks featuring presentations on the work of the six award recipients, who are known for their accomplishments in the field of air quality and climate science, environmental policy and environmental justice. The talks will be livestreamed beginning at 2 p.m. and available for viewing later on the board’s YouTube channel. The award program was named after Arie J. Haagen-Smit, a native of Utrecht in the Netherlands, who was a leader in developing air quality standards based on his research efforts. Due to a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, this set of prizes is for the combined years of 2020 and 2021.


Ong on Lack of Socioeconomic Mobility in South L.A.

Director of the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Paul Ong was featured in a Los Angeles Times article about long-standing barriers to socioeconomic mobility in South Los Angeles. For decades, residents of South Los Angeles have faced lack of employment opportunities, housing and labor discrimination, and subpar education access. “If you look overall and compare it over a half-century, it’s rather depressing that we have not made the progress that people have hoped for,” Ong said, noting a particular lack of significant improvements in public education. Now, an influx of new commercial and residential development is threatening to displace current residents of the area. Ong’s research found that the racial disparities in income among South L.A. households are even more stark than in the rest of L.A. County. White households in South L.A. had a median income of $84,000, compared with $48,000 for Latino households and $36,000 for Black households.

Akee, Ong on Creating Educational Opportunities for Native American Students

Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee spoke to CNN about the University of California’s recent decision to waive tuition for Native American students in an effort to make the university system more affordable and accessible. As part of the UC Native American Opportunity Plan, tuition and fees will be waived for California residents who are members of federally recognized Native American, American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. Akee collaborated with UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Director Paul Ong and other scholars on a soon-to-be-published op-ed urging other land-grant universities to follow UC’s lead. “The UC system is leading the way in acknowledging its place and role in educating Indigenous people,” the authors wrote. “In the absence of similar programs in other locations, the UC system as a whole will gain a significant advantage in recruiting the best and brightest [American Indian or Alaska Native] students from around the country.”

Ong Reflects on Lack of Progress Since L.A. Riots

Director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge Paul Ong spoke to the Christian Science Monitor about race relations and criminal justice reform in the 30 years since the police beating of Rodney King and the resulting L.A. riots. For many people, economic and social conditions have stayed the same or gotten worse in the last three decades. In the report “South Los Angeles Since the Sixties,” Ong and his colleagues found that many of the area’s residents were disenchanted over justice delayed and persistent discrimination, racism and unequal access to economic opportunity. Ong noted that racial segregation continues in South Los Angeles today and many African Americans are migrating to the exurbs in search of better schools, jobs and more affordable housing. He also pointed out that the Latino population is growing but remains on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, while white and Asian people are moving in, along with gentrification.