Astor on Schools’ Obligation to Create a Caring Environment

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, an authority on school safety, spoke with media outlets including CBS News, NBC4 News and KNX1070 in the wake of the deadly shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita. Astor recently presented a report to Congress on reducing weapons in schools, based on data collected from California high schools. Among the findings was a startling statistic: Students at nearly 90% of high schools surveyed said they had seen weapons on campus. Astor said early intervention when warning signs appear is key, and schools must create a caring environment that encourages staff and students to come forward. “If we can actually get schools to see that this is their job, this is what they do, this is not just a prevention for shooting, this makes a better society, then we think we’ll see a massive reduction” in the most severe acts of violence on campus, Astor told NBC4.

Listen to Astor’s podcast on reducing weapons in schools.


 

Abrams Elected to American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare Social Welfare Chair will be the first woman from UCLA to be inducted into the national honor society

By Zoe Day

Professor Laura S. Abrams, chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, has been named a fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW), a prestigious national society honoring excellence in the research and practice of social work.

Abrams will be the first woman from UCLA to be inducted into the academy, which currently recognizes 140 fellows.

“Entering my 20th year as a professor, I am honored to be included as a member of the AASWSW,” said Abrams, whose research broadly focuses on improving the well-being of youth and young adults with histories of incarceration.

“I hope to work with AASWSW to advance social work’s unique lens in addressing social inequities and injustices,” she said.

Established in 2010, the academy’s mission is to recognize and encourage premier scholars, practitioners and outstanding leaders in the social welfare field whose work contributes to a sustainable and equitable future.

The academy is the sponsoring organization for the Social Work Grand Challenges, an initiative to use science to champion social progress, and aims to influence policy by serving as a source of information for the social work profession.

Abrams joins UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, an internationally recognized expert on school safety, who was inducted into the academy in 2017.

“Being a member of the academy is the highest honor the profession can bestow on a scholar,” Astor said. “This is a great honor that is very well-earned.”

Election of fellows into the academy is by confidential nomination and confirmation by a supermajority of academy members. Abrams will be inducted at the Society for Social Work and Research conference in Washington, D.C., in January. Astor will give the induction speech at the conference.

Other fellows from UCLA Luskin Social Welfare include Distinguished Professor Emeritus Stuart A. Kirk (2010), Professor Emeritus James Lubben (2011), Professor Emeritus Robert Schilling (2011) and Professor Emeritus Yeheskel “Zeke” Hasenfeld (2013).

In addition to numerous peer-reviewed articles, Abrams is the co-author of two ethnographic books, including: “Compassionate Confinement: A Year in the Life of Unit C” and “Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood Among Formerly Incarcerated Youth.”

Abrams has contributed to the larger social work profession by serving on the editorial boards of Social Service Review, Qualitative Social Work and the International Journal of Social Welfare. She is former vice-chair of the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work and former board-member-at-large for the Society for Social Work and Research.

image of young, Canadian student in front of his school

Astor on Unreported Violence in Canadian Schools

Ron Avi Astor, professor of social welfare, spoke to CBC News and its radio component The Current about unreported school violence in Canadian schools. Only half of the provinces and territories in Canada clearly define school violence and require schools to report violent behavior, and only four report those numbers to government ministries. “That’s not a real system for the country,” Astor argued. In countries where the media and politicians shame schools for high violence rates, underreporting or no reporting occurs, he said. Astor found that in the last 20 to 30 years of research, child reports of violence in school are what keeps the schools’ reporting honest. “If you can’t trust the data and you have zeroes on there, you really can’t allocate resources — not just money, but social workers, psychologists and counselors,” he said.


 

UCLA Luskin Welcomes 4 New Faculty for Fall 2019 Expertise of new additions includes school violence and bullying, race, immigrant health and law, and the politics of development in Latin America

By Stan Paul

Four new faculty members – three in Social Welfare and one in Urban Planning – have joined the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, expanding teaching and deepening research expertise in some of the School’s top-rated programs.

They add to the recent faculty expansion of six new hires in 2016 and nine last year, spread across UCLA Luskin’s three professional programs and its new undergraduate major.

Joining Social Welfare: Ron Avi Astor, an expert on bullying and school violence whose appointment was previously reported; Cindy Sangalang, who examines how race, migration, and culture intersect to shape health and well-being in immigrant and refugee communities; and Lee Ann Wang, whose current work looks at the intersection of immigration law and criminalization through gender and sexual violence.

Astor holds a joint appointment as professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Sangalang and Wang have joint appointments as assistant professors in Asian American Studies.

New to Urban Planning is Assistant Professor Veronica Herrera, who studies the politics of development in global south cities, with a focus on Latin America. Her research emphasizes environmental policymaking, sustainability and water policy.

“Veronica is a big addition to our work on global cities and environmental issues in urban centers,” said Dean Gary Segura, highlighting Herrera’s work on Latin America in his announcement to the school.

Herrera, author of the award-winning 2017 book Water and Politics: Clientelism and Reform in Urban Mexico,” said she will offer an undergraduate course on the politics of water and a graduate course on urban politics, both concentrating on the global south.

The new assistant professor previously taught in the political science department at the University of Connecticut and earned her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, where she said she fell in love with California.

“It’s wonderful to be back. I am looking forward to working with folks at UCLA who are interested in sustainability, urban political change and development,” she said. Citing issues including water stress and trash crises, Herrera said she is looking forward to connecting topics she is studying in Latin American cities to “how they are unfolding in L.A.”

“We are spoiled in L.A. with amazing food, weather and beaches, but from an environmental standpoint there is a lot of work to be done,” Herrera said.

 Astor holds the Marjory Crump Chair in Social Welfare. His work examines the role of the physical, social-organizational and cultural contexts in schools related to different kinds of bullying and school violence. Examples include sexual harassment, cyber bullying, discrimination, hate acts, school fights, emotional abuse, weapon use, and teacher/child violence, which are addressed in his most recent co-authored book, “Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving Contexts: Culture, Organization, and Time,” published in January 2019.

Bullying is such a big term that it gives us a lot of room,” said Astor, who, along with his colleagues, launched the first studies related to bullying and school violence tied to vulnerable groups such as homeless and foster children. “So being in these literatures you realize that some of the research has been more generic, so it does matter if it’s LGBTQ or if it’s military kids, or homeless or foster kids … because the dynamics are a little bit different.”

“And, because we do cross-cultural work, there’s a lot of interesting cultural comparisons within the United States but also between the United States and other places,” said Astor, whose work abroad has included Israel, China, Cameroon and Kosovo.

“Professor Astor is one of the foremost experts in the world on how to cultivate safe and nurturing schools for children around the globe,” said Professor Laura Abrams, chair of Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin. “This research is critical to social work as schools play a major role in shaping key child outcomes.”

For Cindy Sangalang, Southern California is home. Born and raised in Long Beach, she earned her MSW degree, in 2006, and Ph.D. in Social Welfare, in 2012, at UCLA Luskin. She returns to UCLA following faculty positions in the schools of social work at Arizona State University and California State University, Los Angeles.

Sangalang’s work “fills a critical need in our work on mental health and family function, particularly in East Asian and Southeast Asian communities in the United States,” Abrams noted.

“I look at factors tied to race, migration and culture — how those factors intersect and interplay to shape different health outcomes among immigrant populations. That work really derives from years working alongside Southeast Asian communities here in Southern California,” Sangalang said. And, she explained, “When I say Southeast Asian, primarily communities that migrated from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos that were forced to migrate to the United States as a result of U.S. war in Southeast Asia.”

When students ask about her own professional “origin story,” Sangalang said she starts with her family.

“My parents immigrated from the Philippines many, many years ago, and I think coming from an immigrant family with humble beginnings really set a seed in me to be able to connect with others who are tied to that immigrant experience,” said Sangalang, who is teaching courses offered by Social Welfare and Asian American Studies in the fall quarter.

Sangalang said her appointment at UCLA “marries my passions and my interests in a really wonderful way. This is something that I really would not have even thought would be a possibility, so it is really like this dream job where I get to come back to my alma mater where I earned my MSW and my Ph.D.”

In addition to her appointment with the Department of Asian American Studies in the UCLA College, she will be affiliated with the Asian American Studies Research Center.

Lee Ann Wang comes to UCLA most recently from the University of Washington, Bothell, where she held appointments in law and public policy; women, gender and sexuality studies; and ethnic studies. She also has held visiting posts at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and is an expert on legal narratives addressing the intersection of gender, immigration and violence in Asian American communities.

A key aspect of that work is the relationship between protection and punishment.

“Primarily what I look at is a series of pieces of federal legislation that were designed to ‘rescue and save’ immigrant women from gender and sexual violence, but in doing so they expanded terms of punishment that actually reinforce punishment in immigrant communities,” Wang said.

The immersive techniques of ethnographic studies are an important aspect of Wang’s research. For example, she has studied the law through the eyes of legal advocates. She also has engaged with legal service providers who not only played a role in distributing the terms of a law but were also involved in its writing. By conducting ethnographic studies in her work, Wang said her approach to the law involves looking at legal practice through legal advocates as well as service providers who were not only part of distributing the law’s terms but also a part of its own writing. “I’m arguing in part that we actually can’t understand the relationship between immigration law and criminalization without taking gender and sexuality seriously.”

Like her new colleagues, Wang has connections with Los Angeles and Southern California. She spent a number of years in L.A. working for nonprofit agencies before attending graduate school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she earned her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in American culture. Her nonprofit work, also in the San Francisco Bay area and Detroit, included anti-violence, reentry, youth advocacy, mass transit and voting rights. As a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow, she was a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Law and Society at UC Berkeley’s School of Law.

Wang is teaching a Social Welfare graduate course and an undergraduate course in Asian American Studies this year.

Astor on Bullying Motivated by Religion

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke with Education Dive about proposed changes to the data collected by the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. The office plans to eliminate some survey questions involving early-career teachers and early childhood education but will add questions about religion-related bullying. While school districts would not be required to identify a student’s religion, they would be expected to assess whether a bully was motivated by religious differences. The Office of Management and Budget found that roughly 10,000 of the 135,200 bullying incidents reported in 2015-2016 were related to religion. Astor said it would be “good to know if kids of certain religions are getting bullied more or not” but cautioned that one’s perceived religion may or may not be the real reason for the mistreatment. He added that incidents actually reported by schools are likely to represent only the “tip of the iceberg” of what’s taking place.

Astor on Risk of Suicide Among California’s Youth

A Southern California News Group article about a survey asking California students whether they have thought about killing themselves cited Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, an expert on school safety. Of the students surveyed, nearly one in five had considered suicide within the last 12 months, the news group’s analysis found. The rate at individual school sites ranged from 4% to nearly 70%, according to Astor, who has conducted an extensive study of the data. “What happens in the classroom and on the playground matters,” he said. “How students are treated between themselves and by teachers, it matters.” Each school district in the state decides whether to administer the survey to ninth- and 11th-graders and students in non-traditional high schools. Districts that obtain the information and act on it report a reduction in suicide ideation rates, the newspaper reported. Astor also commented in a second Southern California News Group article about three California bills aimed at preventing teen suicide, and discussed the issue in a televised interview with CBS Los Angeles.

 

Astor on Schools’ Role in Preventing Gun Violence

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke to Education Week about the role schools can play in preventing gun violence. Some states have enacted “red flag laws,” which allow authorities to restrict people’s access to weapons if they are deemed a threat to themselves or others. Many school safety researchers say such laws should be considered just one part of a broader effort that includes improving school climate, enacting tougher federal gun laws, providing support staffing for students, and putting federal dollars toward research into the causes of gun violence. Astor said schools should also encourage students to share reports of troubling behavior — to view violence prevention as a collective responsibility — and to tackle issues such as racism, hatred and violence at an early age. “The purpose of a school becomes to have a better society,” Astor said. “I think the schools have to re-own that whole piece.”