Examining Diversity ‘Between the Lines’ In year-end conference, UCLA Luskin D3 students view issues through a social justice lens

By Stan Paul

Students at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs take the tools, methods and knowledge they acquire to solve problems, seek social justice and provide policy options for the world.

Luskin students are also examining their own university for insights into a number of issues, including what role UCLA’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion office should play in creating, implementing and evaluating UCLA diversity programs. Also, students raised the concern that it may be possible to progress through their academic programs without ever critically engaging with social justice topics.

Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning graduate students were given the opportunity to discuss, present findings and offer recommendations on these issues at “Researching Between the Lines,” the school’s year-end D3 (Diversity, Differences and Disparities Initiative) student research conference held at UCLA Luskin.

“The conference gives a formal opportunity for students to present their research to other people in other cohorts,” said Edber Macedo, a second-year Master of Urban Planning (MURP) student and project manager for the D3 initiative. “Our work in the public affairs realm is highly intersectional and this conference aims to highlight those crossroads.”

The D3 Initiative was established by former UCLA Luskin Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., as the only student-led equity effort on campus.

Three students in the master of public policy (MPP) program dedicated the culmination of their studies — their applied policy project — to examining UCLA’s office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).

Group member Nisha Parekh, who is completing a law degree in conjunction with her MPP, pointed out that “pockets of diversity … have been doing the work already.” But, she said, “There is no communication between these folks,” and the challenge is how to leverage relationships.

“It is important to differentiate between being diverse in composition from having equitable and inclusive policies, practices and procedures,” Parekh said. She and her MPP colleagues, Kevin Medina, who also is in the Master of Social Welfare (MSW) program, and Elizabeth Calixtro, sought to find out what it means to have an office focused on equity, diversity and inclusion.

What became clear to the student researchers after gathering data and conducting interviews and focus groups with faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students is that diversity programming is not well-defined at UCLA. Students, faculty, and staff who supply diversity programming on campus also reported a lack of resources and institutional knowledge, Parekh said. “People are starting from scratch over and over.”

Among the group’s recommendations is that the EDI office clarify its jurisdiction and “brand,” which would improve stakeholder trust in the office, the students said. Based on the survey data gathered, Parekh said “we found that the majority of students surveyed think having a culturally competent campus is important.”

Two other projects examined diversity in their own department. Urban Planning MURP students examined both the curriculum and hiring practices.

Julia Heidelman, a first-year MURP, said her group conducted a critical analysis of the core curriculum to gauge content consistency with the department mission and whether social justice was integral to students’ understanding of the discipline.

“Students want more room for critical and well-facilitated discussions,” Heidelman said. “It has historically been the duty of students to advocate for improvement of the curriculum and incorporation of themes of diversity, social justice and race.”

Another group of MURP students focused on mentorship and how it can be both a help to students but also an added burden — taking time away from research and scholarship — especially for faculty of color. Recommendations made by student researchers included expanding the definition of scholarship to encompass questions of social justice and racial equality.

Finally, Joanna L Barreras MSW ’12, a doctoral student in the Department of Social Welfare, looked beyond the campus to a statewide concern. Her project, “Predictors of Having a Place for Care Among the Largest Ethnic Minority in California,” addressed the issue of more than 30 million Latinos of Mexican origin who face barriers when utilizing health care services in the state.

Barreras said she wanted the takeaway from her presentation to be that “we cannot have health without mental health.”

“By screening for serious psychological distress we are able to provide needed resources, prevent future chronic health illnesses, and ultimately help reduce physical and mental health disparities,” Barreras said. She found problematic that most research on Latinos does not differentiate among Latino subgroups, which “ignores cultural variation across Latino subgroups but it also ignores the heterogeneity within these groups.”

“These presentations signify the continuation of what Dean Gilliam started — to address EDI issues within Luskin,” said Gerardo Laviña MSW ’88. “We are grateful for Interim Dean Takahashi’s continued support,” added Laviña, who is director of field education for the Department of Social Welfare and faculty advisor for the Luskin D3 initiative.

Fernando Torres-Gil Confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a Member of the National Council on Disability

Associate Dean Fernando Torres-Gil has been named to an Obama administration post as a member and vice chair of the National Council on Disability.  This marks the third term of national service in a
presidential administration for Professor Torres-Gil, who previously served under President Bill Clinton and President Jimmy Carter.
Prior to his roles at UCLA, he served as a professor of gerontology and public administration at the
University of Southern California, where he is still an adjunct professor of gerontology. Before serving in academia, Prof. Torres-Gil was the first assistant secretary for aging in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and as the staff director of the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Aging.  Prof. Torres-Gil also served as President of the American Society on Aging from 1989 to 1992.

Prof. Torres-Gil holds appointments as professor of social welfare and public policy in the UCLA School of Public Affairs and is the director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging.  Professor Torres-Gil is an expert in the fields of health and long-term care, the politics of aging, social policy, ethnicity and disability.

He is the author of six books and more than 80 articles and book chapters, including The New Aging: Politics and Change in America (1992), and Lessons From Three Nations, Volumes I and II (2007).  In recognition of his many academic accomplishments, he was elected a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America in 1985 and the National Academy of Public Administration in 1995.  He also served as President of the American Society on Aging from 1989 to 1992 and is a member of the National Academy of Social Insurance.  He is currently a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Polio Survivors, the National Academy of Social Insurance and of the board of directors of Elderhostel, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the AARP Foundation, the Los Angeles Airport Commission, and The California Endowment.

Examining the Legacy of Slavery and Racism In an effort to explore social justice issues and their relevance to students' future careers, the School of Public Affairs hosted a film viewing and discussion about the legacy of slavery and racism in the U.S.

By Robin Heffler
As part of a School of Public Affairs effort to explore social justice issues and their relevance to students’ future careers, some 170 students, faculty, and community members recently viewed a film and engaged in a lively discussion about the legacy of slavery and racism in the U.S.

Hosted by Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, participants gathered on Jan. 19 in the screening room of the Acosta Training Complex to see an abridged version of the documentary film, Traces of the Trade.

In the film, which aired on PBS in 2008, producer and director Katrina Browne tells of her shocking discovery that the De Wolfs of Rhode Island, her prominent, Caucasian ancestors, were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. Together with nine other De Wolf descendants, Browne retraces the slave-trade triangle — from Bristol, Rhode Island to slave forts in Ghana to a family plantation in Cuba and back to Bristol. Along the way, they struggle with the politics of race, how to “repair” the centuries-long damage of slavery, and their own Yankee culture and privilege.

After the screening, Browne reflected on one cousin’s insistence that he would have gone to Harvard even if he wasn’t from a privileged family. “When the wind is at your back you don’t notice it,” she said. “You don’t realize the forces supporting you as you move forward, but you do when you’re faced with obstacles to success.”

African-American co-producer Juanita Brown noted that “We must recognize that race is complex, and that black and white is only one element. We invite you to see this conversation as the jumping off point for conversations about other people and races.”

Program participants engaged in one-on-one discussions about the film, as well as a question-and-answer session.

“No one wants to associate with the oppressor because of the guilt and shame involved, but we need to acknowledge history and how it plays out in the present,” said Amy Smith, a first-year social welfare graduate student, who had just spent the day discussing white privilege in her class on “Cross-Cultural Awareness.” “And, since racism is a problem that affects everyone, everyone should be part of the solution.”

Associate Professor Laura Abrams, who along with Joy Crumpton and Gerardo Laviña leads the “Cross-Cultural Awareness” class in the Department of Social Welfare, saw the issues raised by the film as important for social workers. “In a helping profession, it’s easy to see clients as having made bad choices rather than seeing their lives as structured by disadvantages and inequalities related to race, class, and gender,” she said.

Gilliam, who served as an early advisor to the film, said the event was the second of a planned series of programs focused on social justice issues. Last year, the UCLA School of Public Affairs had an exchange with the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, with each school hosting conferences on how to talk about race in the context of graduate education in public affairs.

“We want to do a better job of giving students the analytical tools to examine issues of social justice, which they will need to deal with the people they will be helping when they graduate,” he said.

Gilliam said plans include developing a curriculum, research opportunities, and a summer institute related to social justice. Together with Student Affairs, he also would like to hold social-justice dialogues with undergraduates, who then would dialogue with Los Angeles-area high school students.

Heffler is a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer and former UCLA editor

Challenges for Youth Reentering Society After Incarceration Social Welfare Associate Professor Laura Abrams joined the Howard Gluss Radio Show to discuss juvenile justice and reentry.

laura-abrams_9009188732_o_eLaura Abrams, associate professor of social welfare at UCLA, appeared as a guest on the Howard Gluss radio show (August 14, 2009) to discuss the barriers to successful reentry to society for juveniles in the incarceration system. Abrams is the director of the juvenile justice and reentry project, a program of the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA School of Public Affairs that fosters the reintegration of juvenile offenders into the community upon their release. The following are excerpts from the interview.

What are the major challenges that we face as a society for stopping young people entering the prison system?

“One of the things that it’s hard for people to wrap their minds around when we talk about juvenile offenders is that they are young people…and the majority haven’t committed violent crimes. They’re young people who deserve the opportunity to have a different pathway in their lives.”

“As a community, we think more about the punitive aspect of corrections and juvenile justice and not so much what happens when they return to society and when they transition to adulthood…When youth are get out of settings of incarceration, they’re often in a place where they don’t have school credits, or haven’t graduated from high school, they don’t have job skills, some don’t have families to return to. So they enter that already difficult transitional period of emerging adulthood without many skills or resources necessary to be successful.”

“Research has identified practices in the juvenile justice system that give youth a chance at better outcomes:

  • Diversion, or keeping low-risk offenders out of incarceration (through home arrest or probation);
  • Smaller settings, rather than large institutional settings;
  • Longer treatment duration than (6 months rather than 2 months);
  • Staff trained in therapeutic practices like cognitive behavioral work and family work; and
  • Addressing underlying problems such as substance abuse, mental health issues and learning disabilities.”