Understanding the Epidemic of Mass Attacks

The Washington Post called on social welfare professor Ron Avi Astor for perspective on the nation’s epidemic of mass attacks at campuses, workplaces and other public locations. In an article about a Secret Service report that characterized the motivations of attackers, Astor noted that suicidal ideation is a key factor. “A good number of them are suicidal, a good number of them are trying to create terror, and … some of them might want to be remembered when they’re gone,” he said. Another Post story about a rise in the presence of panic buttons, locks and police on school campuses said more than 331,000 children at more than 350 schools have experienced gun violence during school hours since 1999. “It’s decades of shootings that are horrific, and it’s not just in schools. It’s supermarkets and movie theaters, music events, and just the randomness,” Astor said. But he cautioned against the “prisonization” of schools, noting that increased security must be accompanied by mental health initiatives.


 

Astor on Gun Safety Education for Kids, Parents, Teachers

Ron Avi Astor, professor of social welfare and expert on school violence, spoke to the Associated Press about the 6-year-old student who shot his first-grade teacher in Virginia. The school district where the shooting took place announced that metal detectors would be installed on campuses, stoking debate on the most effective strategies to prevent gun violence. “It’s really the gun owners who need to be held responsible,” Astor said. He added that gun safety education and licensing is a public health approach that is necessary for reducing gun violence in K-12 schools. “Let’s make that part of health class. Let’s make sure every kid, parent and educator goes through education and hazardous materials safety training in every school in the United States,” Astor said. “That’s a great place to start saving lives and reducing injury or death.”


 

Astor on Strategies for Deterring Gun Violence

Ron Avi Astor, professor of social welfare, spoke to the Seattle Times about the rise in gun violence across the country and the recent fatal school shooting in Seattle. “In almost every category of school safety, things have gotten better, except for the school shootings,” Astor said. Astor and a group of experts created an eight-point plan to reduce gun violence that recommended that schools steer away from hefty and unnecessary spending and instead focus on community building and climate and culture evaluation. “Twenty-five years ago it was in the millions, and now it’s in the billions and billions and billions of dollars,” Astor said, referring to local and federal spending on K-12 school safety and security. He said it is essential that schools implement strategies rooted in a clear vision for reducing gun violence, one that promotes school safety without hardening schools, increasing budgets and harming students.


 

Astor on News Media’s Impact on Teen Gun Violence

Ron Avi Astor, professor of social welfare and education, was interviewed by KCBS Radio about the effects of media reporting on school shootings, particularly how news coverage can perpetuate more acts of terrorism. Many shooters “tend to be suicidal and they have high suicidal ideation with a plan. And they plan to take other people out with them,” Astor said. The media’s fixation on the shooter as opposed to the victims has a tendency to increase the frequency of attacks, he explained. “The big thing that we don’t talk about very often is that the frequency of the media reporting and how the media reports … can increase the frequency” of teen gun violence, he said, noting the same holds true for acts of suicide or terrorism. Astor encouraged news organizations to follow rules around suicide and terrorism prevention by carefully reporting on such issues so as to not glorify the shooters.


 

Astor on Accountability of Children Who Commit Violence

The Associated Press spoke with Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor for a story about the possibility of parole for the shooter who killed three classmates at a high school in Paducah, Kentucky, in 1997. Michael Carneal, 14 at the time of the shooting, became eligible for parole after serving 25 years in prison. His case has illuminated the debate about the age at which children should be held strictly accountable for their actions, Astor said, noting that the lack of consensus has led to a patchwork of laws across the country. Astor recently provided context to school safety issues including strategies to deter bullying and acts of violence, as reported in the San Jose Spotlight and the podcast Schoolutions. He is also part of an American Psychological Association task force that measured the impact of the COVID-19 era on teachers and other school staff, many of whom reported frequent threats and harassment and a desire to leave their jobs.


 

UCLA, Hebrew University Receive Grant for Collaboration to Deter School Violence Top scholars, educators and practitioners will join forces to foster safe and welcoming schools

A $650,000 grant from The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation will support a new partnership between UCLA and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem focused on developing school violence prevention strategies that turn campuses into safe and welcoming places for children worldwide.

The UCLA-HU Collaboration for Safe Schools is a two-year pilot program connecting scholars and practitioners globally and across disciplines to share research and insights related to the complex underlying causes of school violence.

The program will operate in both California and Israel under the leadership of two internationally recognized experts in school safety: Ron Avi Astor of UCLA and Mona Khoury-Kassabri of Hebrew University.

Astor is the Marjorie Crump Endowed Professor of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, with a joint appointment in the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. Khoury-Kassabri, Hebrew University’s vice president of strategy and diversity, is the Frances and George Katz Family Chair at the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare.

The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation grant, awarded to UCLA and American Friends of the Hebrew University, covers half of the pilot program’s $1.3 million budget. Martin H. Blank, Jr., and Richard S. Ziman, co-trustees of the foundation, issued a statement inviting other funders to “join this important initiative to create a safer and more peaceable world.”

Through exchange programs and conferences held on each campus, the Collaboration for Safe Schools aims to bring top U.S. and Israeli scholars together with K-12 educators, administrators and social workers; policymakers and experts in law and criminology; and university students focused on fields related to social education.

Participants will share knowledge on gun violence, bullying and cyberbullying, youth suicide and substance abuse, as well as forms of hate including antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, and bias against LGBTQ and immigrant communities. The alliance will lead to a deeper understanding of culturally appropriate ways to create thriving school environments.

It will also stress the importance of a school curriculum that prizes not just academic success but social and emotional maturity, and makes room for integration of the arts into a holistic education that builds safe, healthy communities.

“In our current unprecedented and unsettling times, such collaborations are more important than ever,” says Astor, who has worked with thousands of schools to reduce victimization of students in a career spanning three decades.

Khoury-Kassabri, an authority on community-level social justice policies and interventions that prevent juvenile delinquency, says, “This partnership will promote the worldwide reduction in hate between groups using education, exchanges and scientific data, both in the U.S. and Israel.”

The pilot program is envisioned as a prelude to what will become the UCLA-Hebrew University Center for Safe Schools, operated jointly by the two universities. The center will leverage the wide-ranging research, academic, training and field expertise of the two campuses and serve as a multidisciplinary hub supporting school safety efforts worldwide.

Research Finds Homeless Students Understudied and Overlooked

Despite increasing recognition as a national problem, homeless students remain an understudied and overlooked population that endures multiple challenges, as do the schools and districts that serve them, according to a new report co-authored by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor. The comparative case study, published online in the Journal of Community Psychology, explored the identification, service provision and school experience of homeless students in high- and low-socioeconomic districts. Astor and his colleagues compared two California school districts and their four elementary and middle schools. They found that despite differences in the socioeconomic context, both districts were under-identifying homeless students. “Both districts were underserving and lacking awareness of homeless students that were not identified,” they wrote. However, they found that the low-socioeconomic district had far greater poverty awareness than the high-socioeconomic district and, subsequently, an existing organizational structure to support identified homeless students. “Poverty awareness and districts’ organizational structure are important contextual factors to consider in designing local and tailored interventions and services for homeless students,” they noted. Schools play a major role for homeless students and may be the last social institution with which they interact before disengaging from all social institutions. “Meeting the substantial challenges involved in building schools and districts that support homeless students will require district policies and practices that explicitly address issues of poverty, homelessness and injustice,” they conclude. “Poverty awareness and districts’ organizational structure are important contextual factors to consider in designing local and tailored interventions and services for homeless students.”

Astor Comments on CNN About Young Child With Bullet-Proof Backpack

UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor commented in a CNN video (starting at 2 min. 38 sec.) about an Oklahoma mom who bought her young son a bullet-proof backpack and taught him how to use it. The viral video showing her son how to use it garnered numerous reactions from parents and experts. “I don’t blame the parents; parents are right to be afraid. But, what we do about [violence], or where we go from here needs to be looked at very carefully,” Astor said. He advises that research shows prevention is favored over increased security measures at schools and suggests that parents consult websites for organizations such as the National Association of School Psychologists. “Having especially very young children walking around thinking that they may be shot at any given moment could create a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression, a lot of fear that’s unneeded and maybe not justified because there’s other ways to become safe,” Astor said.


 

Astor on Parents’ Shaken Trust in Police Response at School Shootings

The New York Times spoke to Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor about an altercation between parents and law enforcement at an Arizona school. A man believed to be armed had approached the campus, prompting a lockdown; he was taken into custody and no students or teachers were hurt. However, concerned relatives who arrived at the school clashed with police officers, demanding access to the campus. Three people were arrested, two of whom were shocked with stun guns. Astor said widespread media coverage of the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where the police response was heavily criticized, has led to deteriorating confidence in law enforcement’s effectiveness in this type of crisis. “You can see these parents don’t trust the police because of everything they’ve seen or heard,” but that narrative is not necessarily accurate, Astor said. Police can help change that narrative by being transparent and trustworthy, he said.


 

Interpreting U.S. Gun Culture for an International Audience

International news outlets seeking insights into U.S. gun culture and the fallout for the nation’s educational system have called on Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, an authority on school violence and student well-being. A special report by Beijing News included an extended video interview with Astor, who explained the prominent role of firearms in U.S. history, as well as recent trends and legislation. In a story in Britain’s Guardian about bulletproof steel shelters designed for classrooms, Astor noted that making schools more fortress-like can backfire, turning schools into places of fear that feed the school-to-prison pipeline. He instead called for developing programs that build connections between children and their schools, “so that every teacher knows a little bit about every child’s emotional life and a little bit about their parents.” These programs reduce the incidence of students bringing weapons to school, Astor’s research has found.