Taking the Fight for LGBT Health Equity to the Streets Late-night canvassing to assess a meningitis outbreak exemplifies the dedication that has earned UCLA Luskin Social Welfare professor Ian Holloway national recognition for his groundbreaking research

By Les Dunseith

It’s the Tuesday night before Christmas as UCLA Luskin professor Ian W. Holloway tucks his 2-year-old daughter Sofía into bed and prepares to leave his home on a tree-lined street of bungalow-style houses in the Larchmont neighborhood of Los Angeles.

It’s time for Holloway, an assistant professor in the Department of Social Welfare, to get back to work.

Along with three UCLA student researchers, Holloway will spend the next several hours in West Hollywood doing legwork for his latest research project. Their task will be to find and interview gay and bisexual men outside popular nightspots and discover how much they know about an ongoing meningitis outbreak and the steps that health officials have taken to battle it.

This type of time-consuming, on-the-ground research is par for the course for Holloway, who serves as the director of the UCLA Luskin-based Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center and is currently juggling four major research efforts related to his expertise in health disparities among sexual and gender minority populations. Holloway’s dedication and his innovative methods recently led the Society of Social Work Research (SSWR) to select him for its Deborah K. Padgett Early Career Achievement Award, presented in January 2017 during the organization’s national conference in New Orleans.

“This is our primary professional society,” Holloway says about the honor, which recognizes social work research completed during the recipient’s first decade after earning a doctoral degree. “They give just one a year at the society’s big professional meeting.”

UCLA Luskin students Jorge Rojas and Christine Munoz listen as Ian Holloway outlines the agenda as another night of research gets underway. Photo by Les Dunseith

On this night, however, the meningitis study takes precedence. Outside the Urth Caffé, Holloway helps the student researchers establish a “line” — in this case basically a crevice in the sidewalk — at the corner of Melrose Avenue and Westmount Drive. One or more of the students then approaches any man who crosses that line, asking them to participate in the research effort by spending 20 minutes answering survey questions using an iPad.

In the first half-hour, however, only one man who meets the study’s criteria has been successfully interviewed. Holloway and his research team are trying to complete about 500 interviews for the project by February, and foot traffic is just too light to continue at the site. So they move on to the next venue that has been randomly preselected for this night’s canvassing effort — the Motherlode, a tavern with removable walls that proudly shows off its dive-bar atmosphere to passersby along Santa Monica Boulevard.

The thought of an academic research project centered around bar hopping in West Hollywood until 2 a.m. may seem incongruous, but it’s a proven research approach that works particularly well when the target audience is gay and bisexual men in Los Angeles County, including those who are HIV positive. During a meningitis outbreak that has led to two deaths in Southern California since it was first reported last spring, the researchers need to go where those who are most at risk can reliably be found.

UCLA Luskin student researchers Ryan Dougherty and Christine Munoz use digital devices to establish a survey zone. Photo by Les Dunseith

“We use a strategy called venue-based sampling,” Holloway explains. “It’s a systematic sampling strategy that is one of the best ways we know for how to approximate generalizability among gay and bisexual men.”

Holloway’s meningitis study is funded as part of a four-year, $4-million grant from the California HIV/AIDS Research Program to produce “what we call rapid response research,” he says. The idea is to complete research within months, not years, related to timely policy issues that impact people living with HIV or AIDS in California.

As noted on its website, CHPRC.org, the center works closely with community partners from AIDS Project Los Angeles Health and the Los Angeles LGBT Center to tailor research efforts to match urgent needs within the LGBTQ communities.

“We get community input, synthesize that and then set an agenda for policy research,” Holloway explains.

He took over the center’s leadership last April from Arleen Leibowitz, professor emeritus of public policy at UCLA Luskin, and feels fortunate to conduct research efforts that directly arise from community interaction.

“Models of funding like this aren’t widely available, so we are lucky to have a center here at UCLA, and we are lucky to have had it for seven years,” he says. “We want to continue to do this work and be able to conduct research that is driven by the community and that directly benefit the community.”

The meningitis study resulted from a meeting in October at which about 40-50 advocates, health workers and social service providers from across Southern California came to Los Angeles to talk about the needs of people in the local LGBTQ communities.

“These are people who are working with HIV-positive clients, who are doing prevention work,” Holloway says of the attendees. The meeting gave them an opportunity to think about and debate the issues most affecting their communities. The researchers primarily were there to listen and help structure projects that could be completed in a rapid response timeframe to produce data that would actually benefit those communities.

“It is … very much aligned with the mission of Luskin and the mission of the Department of Social Welfare,” Holloway notes.

Ian Holloway discusses where to relocate with his survey team when one of their preselected research sites proves unworkable. Photo by Les Dunseith

Back in West Hollywood, the Motherlode proves unworkable as a survey venue on this night. A private party is booked at the site, but it won’t start for a couple of hours and the survey team can’t afford to simply bide time waiting.

Holloway, ever cheerful no matter the hurdle he faces, quickly gathers his team to discuss their options. Proceed to the next pre-selected venue? Or go just around the corner to the “emergency backup” site, the Abbey, a 25-year-old West Hollywood landmark that has been voted the best gay bar in the world.

Within minutes, the team is in place outside the Abbey, and all three student researchers are actively engaged in recruiting potential survey respondents.

To gather enough surveys to produce statistically valid results by their deadline, Holloway has put together a rotating team of about 10 UCLA student workers, assisted occasionally by a couple of alumni who help out during staffing shortfalls. The majority are current Luskin master of social welfare students, but two are in a Ph.D. program.

“There’s lots of exciting work going on,” Holloway says with a broad smile. “And we have a fantastic team at UCLA supporting it.”

The data being gathered now will be analyzed by March to inform a research brief that should help California produce better outreach and better programs centered around meningitis vaccination for this population. The student workers collecting the information were carefully screened during a selection process led by Holloway’s research manager, Elizabeth Wu.

“We are looking for people who are obviously outgoing and who understand the importance of collecting good quality data,” says Holloway, whose own affable manner permeates the research effort. The canvassers, who refer to Holloway mostly by his first name, also need to be comfortable staying out to the wee hours to chat with strangers they encounter outside bars and clubs.

The iPad-based surveys are completed by the researchers based on respondents’ answers. Photo by Les Dunseith

For researcher Christine Munoz, a first-year MSW student who got her undergraduate degree at UC Riverside, the learning process was frenetic at first, but also rewarding.

“It is very new to me because I wasn’t really involved in the LGBTQ community previously,” she says during a break during the canvassing effort. “I am learning so much from this community. So, it’s broadening my skills, my social work skills. Now I can work with clients who are from the LGBT community. I am learning so much as a future social worker.”

The survey teams have been on the job since November, gathering data that Holloway says will either confirm or refute the notions that helped form the basis of the survey hypothesis.

For example, there is a feeling that the distribution of meningitis vaccine to the targeted community “is pretty haphazard,” Holloway says. “There isn’t always a good refrigeration system for the vaccine at community clinics; health workers aren’t always tracking how many doses have been given.”

Without a systematic infrastructure in place to promote the wellbeing of these men, health officials often find themselves in a defensive posture when dealing with outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses among HIV-positive men or men at high risk for HIV. “It shouldn’t take an outbreak for us to realize this is a priority community,” Holloway says.

His passion to understand and promote better health options for LGBTQ communities is an outgrowth of Holloway’s life experience. He was raised in Northern California during the early years of the HIV crisis in America. His parents’ generation saw an entire community of gay men decimated, almost wiped out by AIDS.

“Growing up and knowing that I was gay, and hearing and seeing what happened close by in San Francisco, I think it was pretty impactful for my young life,” Holloway recalls. “When I decided that I wanted to go back to school for social work, I was pretty clear that this was the community that I wanted to work with, and this was the issue that I wanted to work around.”

Professor Ian W. Holloway has been selected by the Society for Social Work Research as its 2017 Early Career Achievement Award winner. Photo by George Foulsham

That dedication is evident in the meningitis study as well as three other research projects that Holloway is currently shepherding:

  • A two-year study supported by a $1.89-million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense is looking at the experiences of of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender active-duty service members since the 2010 repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the law barring homosexuals from openly serving in the military.
  • A study funded by the NIH through a small research grant mechanism uses predictive technologies to understand how gay and bisexual men use geo-social networking apps and other kinds of social media to find substance use partners and sexual partners. This collaborative effort with UCLA’s departments of engineering and computer science is using predictive algorithms and social media data to try to understand how social media behavior predicts health behavior.
  • And he is involved in the development of a social networking app for HIV-positive black men in L.A. County in the 18-29 age range through a grant from California HIV/AIDS Research Program. It will be a virtual community space where these men can connect with those with similar experiences, focusing not just on health and medication adherence but on housing, job assistance, social services and/or legal needs.

Despite his prolific research output, Holloway doesn’t neglect his classroom responsibilities. If fact, he finds that his research interests often dovetail nicely with teaching opportunities.

“I teach a class on diversity, oppression and social functioning. Each year when we talk about community responses to oppression, I show the ‘Silence = Death’ banner that Act Up used as a call to action in the early days of HIV when nobody was talking about it and the entire community was being wiped out,” he explains. “Each year I show that banner from the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and each year fewer and fewer students recognize it.”

UCLA students working as canvassers approach any men who cross into their survey area. Photo by Les Dunseith

Out on the streets of West Hollywood, student researchers such as Ryan Dougherty are learning first-hand how much knowledge exists among today’s gay and bisexual men about the serious health issues that still impact many of them.

Dougherty joined the survey team as a result of taking Holloway’s research methods class, where he learned “about the process of research, everything from the theoretical foundations of collecting data to the ethics of research. And Ian extended an opportunity for students to get involved and see what that process looks like on the ground.”

As a student in the social welfare Ph.D. program at UCLA Luskin, Dougherty may follow in Holloway’s footsteps someday, pursuing research of his own that will benefit marginalized populations and ameliorate health disparities.

“To be able to do this kind of work, and to work alongside Ian, has helped me to gain more theoretical perspectives and learn about different types of research methods,” Dougherty says. “You can spend all day in the classroom learning about research, but to actually do it and overcome the logistical barriers that come with implementing a really good research project, is a really good learning experience to have.”

At the Abbey, those logistical barriers are in full force as Dougherty attempts to stop men who cross his survey line outside the venue’s patio-style entrance. Some ignore him. A few politely wave him off. One is willing to take the survey but doesn’t qualify because he is not a resident of L.A. County.

Soon, however, a young man in a white hooded sweatshirt approaches. Dougherty catches his attention. The newcomer meets the research criteria. And he is willing to take the survey.

Nearby, Ian Holloway nods his approval. And the research interview begins.

Ryan Dougherty, a Luskin Ph.D. student, conducts a survey interview. Photo by Les Dunseith

A Crash Course in Politics For MPP alumni, 2016 was a time to run, to rally and, sometimes, to rant

By Stan Paul

At least one ran for office. Another handled a presidential candidate’s digital correspondence. A third harnessed emerging media to further her political activism. It was an election year, after all — a time when Department of Public Policy graduates are even more likely than usual to get engaged in the democratic process.

Recent UCLA Luskin alumnus Nelson Esparza MPP ’15 sought public office by running for and winning a seat on his county school board back home in Fresno.

Esparza, who teaches economics at a community college, sees the role as a perfect fit. “The Board of Education is especially personal because I am the students of my district,” said Esparza, who grew up in California’s Central Valley. “I faced the same barriers and obstacles that students in my district are battling every day.”

His political journey began at age 16, he recalls, when a teacher sparked his interest in economics and put him on a path that eventually led to Luskin and on to politics.

“I had a broad desire to understand how the world worked, where the money flowed, why things happened the way they did,” Esparza said. “And economics sounded like it might teach me just that.”

After obtaining what he calls “a sweet fellowship in Sacramento” as an undergrad, Esparza experienced a “crash course” in California politics and public policy.

“And that was it – I was sold,” he said. “My passion was impacting public policy in my home state and home community.”

That led him to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “My collective experience at Luskin was invaluable,” he said. “It was a place where I could capitalize on my experience and interest in impacting public policy at the state and local level.”

Now he’s ready to show the value of that Luskin degree. “I want to have the ability to point and say, ‘We produce change agents in a wide range of capacities, including elected.’”

Vernessa Shih MPP ’14 spent the 2016 campaign working at Hillary for America in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she served as digital correspondence manager for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Another recent MPP graduate, Vernessa Shih MPP ’14, got a chance to relive one of her favorite student memories — a presidential debate — from an insider’s perspective. Shih spent the 2016 campaign working at Hillary for America in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she served as digital correspondence manager. On any given day, she would respond to people with policy questions, pull content to circulate to the campaign’s digital team or pitch a great story to the speechwriting team for possible inclusion in Hillary Clinton’s remarks.

“It’s still a bit surreal when I think about being on this campaign now,” Shih said as Election Day drew near. “It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever done, and it’s also the most tired I’ve ever been.”

Shih credits her time at the Luskin School with opportunities to seek and grow in leadership.

“Through working with the Public Policy Department and the Dean’s Office, I felt a great deal of agency to convene opportunities for my class,”

Shih said. “Those were some of my first experiences in project management. I learned a lot from the successes and failures of trying to convene people and resources.”

Shih also said she has been challenged to grow in her understanding of other people’s experiences and the big and small details that affect others’ lives.

“This has been a really challenging year for this country. The one thing that seems to cut through all the static is remembering that everything I am doing is in the hopes of continuing forward progress,” Shih said. She hopes the next generation will “have a more diverse, more open and, hopefully, more equitable future than even I had.”

Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed MPP ’07, who co-hosts a podcast titled “GoodMuslimBadMuslim,” describes herself as activist, storyteller and politico.

Looking forward is also important to Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed MPP ’07, who describes herself in three words: activist, storyteller, politico.

But, these labels only scratch the surface of her many creative and empowering efforts. She co-hosts a podcast called “GoodMuslimBadMuslim,” an ongoing discussion on “walking this fine line between what it means to be good and bad” as a Muslim American woman. And she works with the organization 18MillionRising to empower Asian Americans — nearly 6 percent of the U.S. population – to vote.

“We are currently going full force on turning out the vote,” said the Los Angeles-based Ahmed.

Ahmed said she’s helped mobilize thousands of Asian American and Pacific Islanders — representing at least 17 different languages — to go to the polls in the past 15 years.

“I always knew I wanted to leave the world a better place than when I came into it,” said Ahmed, who was honored in September with a Rising Star award by the Organization of Chinese Americans of Greater Los Angeles (OCA-GLA). The mixed-media artist, essayist and poet explained that vision is what motivated her to work in Washington, D.C. as an environmental organizer starting in 2001. In 2016 Ahmed was honored as a White House Champion of Change for Asian American and Pacific Islander Art and Storytelling.

Ahmed said she decided to pursue public policy specifically to work on racial justice, which at the time was an underexplored field. Inside and outside of formal classes, she spent time trying to merge what she was learning elsewhere to what she was learning in public policy classes.

“To this day, I take those learnings on racial justice and incorporate it into what I do now.”

UCLA Luskin Diversity Recruitment Fair Has a Message: You Belong Here First schoolwide fair provides encouragement and information to prospective students — and explains why diversity matters

By Stan Paul

Elizabeth Salcedo, a recent graduate of the Master of Social Welfare (MSW) program at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, has a simple, emphatic message for those contemplating a career in social work, urban planning or public policy — “Just Apply!”

“I did, and I got in,” beamed the 2013 alumna at the Luskin School’s first all-school Diversity Recruitment Fair held Dec. 3 UCLA’s Ackerman Grand Ballroom. Like many students contemplating life after their undergraduate studies, Salcedo said she was reluctant and had self-doubt. Now working as an analyst in community development for the City of Long Beach, Salcedo can confidently articulate a good reason to apply and why diversity is important: “We need your voice.”

Salcedo participated in a panel of UCLA Luskin alumni — representing the School’s three departments, Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning — who shared their firsthand experiences of life during and after Luskin. The daylong event also included a panel of the School’s three department chairs and informational breakout sessions for their respective departments. Resources and advice concerning admissions and financial aid were also offered to prospective students, as well as a “suite of tools” they might need for their careers.

Urban Planning breakout sessions included topics such as “Our ’Hoods, Our Stories” to “Planning Post Trump.” A panel of current Master of Public Policy (MPP) students talked about building a “career toolkit” and what future students would need to do to prepare themselves – or, as first-year MPP student Isaac Bryan described it, “to be in that room” – where policy-making, discussion and analysis are taking place — from the local to the federal level.

“You are creating a baseline to create change,” said Joanna Williams MSW ’14, a social worker in Orange County who also participated in the alumni panel. She added that while challenging, graduate study at UCLA Luskin also offered an opportunity to explore options to collaborate and to form important and lasting bonds with classmates.

Panelist Jen Tolentino, a 2010 graduate of the MPP program said that for her, “the Public Policy degree has framed how I think about my work and framed how I think about problems,” which includes looking at issues through the lens of social justice.

Urban planning alumnus Richard France MA UP ’10, advised potential applicants that while finding a specific purpose for graduate study, “know that is it wide open,” referring to the field and careers that will follow graduation. He also reinforced the connection with peers at UCLA Luskin. “You will see your classmates out there. Your cohort is going to be one of your greatest resources and they are going to bring a diversity of experiences,” said France, who now works for a prominent strategic consulting firm headed by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning alumnae.

Former Los Angeles City Councilman (2001-2013) and Urban Planning alumnus Ed Reyes served as the keynote speaker for the fair, organized in cooperation by each of the School’s departments and staff, as well as diversity groups from each of the School’s three disciplines.

“In you, I see hope. In you, I see optimism,” Luskin Senior Fellow Reyes said to the potential applicants while balancing encouragement with a bit of practical advice. “I’m not going to candy-coat it, it’s going to be tough. It’s not going to be a straight line. But, it’s going to be worth it.”

Attendees energized and motivated by the event included applicant Kathleen Ann Sagun, who works in administration for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. She said that she was appreciative of all of the valuable information provided during the day, but, more than that, “It was empowering” to hear the stories of the alumni and to learn about “the advantages they had from doing there graduate studies here, at UCLA.”

“By the end of the day, we hope you will be motivated to join Luskin,” said Gerry Laviña, director of field education and associate director of the D3 (Diversity, Differences and Disparities) Initiative at UCLA Luskin, who was part of the network of Luskin organizers who made the day possible.

“You belong here because we believe in diversity as a necessary component of what makes each department, each profession, Luskin and UCLA excellent,” said Laviña, a 1988 graduate of the School’s MSW program. “You see that excellence in our students and in the student organizations that we have. You see that in the excellence in the research of our faculty and our research centers. You see that excellence in the communities and causes we believe in.”

In wrapping up the event, he said one thing became clear: “We must continue to value and validate diversity in order to maintain our excellence. The communities we serve deserve this.”

Others who helped organize the event included Jennifer Choy, associate director of admissions and recruitment for the Luskin Department of Urban Planning; the Public Policy student group Policy Professionals for Diversity and Equity (PPDE); Social Welfare’s Diversity Caucus; and Urban Planning’s Planners of Color for Social Equity. Choy and her colleagues, Public Policy’s Sean Campbell and Social Welfare’s Tiffany Bonner, also held Q&A sessions for interested applicants.

“We hope events like this encourage prospective students from underrepresented groups to feel a sense of belonging at UCLA Luskin and inspire them to join our commitment to social justice in serving disadvantaged communities,” Choy said.

Panel Highlights Growing Presence of Women in Military Speakers at Luskin’s annual Veterans Day seminar explore the role, challenges and accomplishments of women in the armed services

By Zev Hurwitz

Two U.S. military veterans and a photojournalist who has made it her mission to bring female veterans’ stories front and center spoke Nov. 10 at the third annual Veterans Day seminar at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“Women Who Serve,” hosted by the California National Guard, UCLA Luskin Department of Social Welfare, UCLA Nathanson Family Resilience Center and U.S. Vets, began with an overview of women in the armed services presented by emcee Kathleen West, who holds a Dr.P.H. degree from UCLA and is a lecturer on military social work at the Luskin School.

West said that women make up more than 15 percent of active duty military members in the U.S., including 18 and 19 percent of the Navy and Air Force, respectively — a dramatic increase since the Vietnam War, when just 3 percent of the military was female. She noted, however, that only about 10 percent of veterans currently living in the U.S. are women.

“That is a real challenge, because when they leave the service, we don’t have the [Veterans’] services in place for them that we need to,” West said. “That is one thing we want to talk about right now: What is our present looking like and what do we need to be thinking about for the future?”

West noted that the Department of Defense aims to achieve gender parity in the military by 2030 and said that there has been progress in allowances for parental leave for active duty members, although more work is needed to fully realize women’s military rights.

Therese Hughes MA UP ’99, one of the event’s panelists, spoke about her motivation for spending much of the past six years as a photojournalist, documenting the stories and images of female veterans and active duty military personnel.

“History is critical for civil engagement and for public policy, and when properly taught, it teaches the pursuit of truth and understanding,” she said. “Women’s stories in history are critical. Women’s stories in the military are essential.”

Hughes, who launched her traveling exhibit/photojournalism book “Military Women: WWII to Present Project” in 2010, says she has interviewed more than 800 women and ultimately plans to reach 1,200.

During the Luskin panel, Hughes also highlighted unique groups of female veterans that she has interviewed for the project. They include immigrant women who elected to serve as a way to give back to the country that welcomed them, as well as the pioneers of modern female military service: veterans of World War II.

“I’ve interviewed 68 of them,” she said of the World War II veterans. “I have five that are alive today. It breaks my heart every time I hear of one who has died, because these women were the footprints, the foundation of the women who serve today.”

Col. Susan I. Pangelinan, an active duty National Guardsman and former Air Force reserve member, spoke about women’s military service through the ages, framing the developments through her family members’ experiences in the military over the past several decades. Pangelinan talked about obstacles that women have faced in the journey toward equality, noting a 2013 landmark policy change that allowed women to serve in combat roles. Additionally, women are now finding role models in divisions of the service historically dominated by men, such as maintenance.

“We have female leaders in abundance that we hadn’t seen before,” she said. “Women are seeing other women just like them rising to very high places and high levels of responsibility.”

Megan Rodriguez, a U.S. Air Force veteran and current district representative for state Sen. Carol Liu, spoke about the darker side of military service. Rodriguez told of her personal challenges in the service. During the year-and-a-half that she served in the Air Force, Rodriguez was the victim of a sexual assault, which had lasting effects on her physical and mental health.

Rodriguez, who had only publicly spoken twice before about her experience as a victim of Military Sexual Trauma (MST), stressed the importance to her of sharing her experiences to broad audiences.

“The reason I’m able to speak about it is because I know there are other women veterans and nonveterans who have gone through the same thing,” she said. “Providing this place for discussion is essential, and I want to provide a safe space to other women and men that go through this.”

Laura Alongi, a field faculty member in the Luskin Department of Social Welfare, introduced the evening and said the yearly event was aimed, in part, to further the department’s work with veterans.

“Part of the reason we do this, is because as a department … we started to realize a few years ago that meeting veterans’ needs is something we really wanted to do,” she explained. “We felt that, because of our focus, we could really provide services and trainers who provide those services in a holistic way to veterans and active duty military.”

 

Just One Visit: Volunteers Make a Difference for Prisoners UCLA Luskin professor’s book launch highlights little-known but vital role that volunteers play in the juvenile and adult prison system

By Stan Paul

Just one visit. For those whose lives are entangled in the pipeline of the juvenile and adult justice systems, the life-changing meeting might come from a family member. It could be a psychologist. Or a chaplain. Or it could never come at all.

For many, though, the visitor is a volunteer — someone who can make the difference between continuing a downward spiral through the criminal justice system and turning a life around.

“The cycle continues until someone breaks it,” said Ernst Fenelon Jr., who was part of a Nov. 3 panel speaking about volunteers who help those incarcerated in America’s juvenile detention centers and adult prisons. The event also launched a new book co-edited by UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Social Welfare professor Laura Abrams. It was sponsored by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Department of Social Welfare, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, and the UCLA Justice Work Group.

New book co-edited by UCLA's Laura Abrams.

New book co-edited by UCLA’s Laura Abrams.

The book, “The Voluntary Sector in Prisons: Encouraging Personal and Institutional Change,” was published “to highlight many examples of great practice, of volunteer programs that make a real difference behind bars … and impacting not only those who take part in the programs, but the volunteers,” Abrams said. She was accompanied by one of her three co-editors, Emma Hughes, an associate professor and chair in the Department of Criminology at California State University, Fresno.

“This event, and the book itself, is intended to honor volunteers in jails and prisons, juvenile and adult institutions, who devote their personal and professional time, travel long distances and overcome numerous bureaucratic hurdles to reach out to those locked on the inside, whose humanity and dignity is often limited by the very condition of incarceration itself,” Abrams said in her introductory remarks.

Abrams said that the work of her colleagues and co-editors highlights many examples of great practice, impacting not only those who take part in the programs, but the volunteers as well. “Unfortunately, this evidence of good practice is not well-known, so other volunteers have to keep reinventing the wheel, rather than benefitting from the experiences of others,” she said.

The co-editors pointed out that volunteers themselves are very diverse. They may be formerly incarcerated, currently incarcerated, teachers, musicians, artists, students or people of faith. A unique feature of the book is that it includes the voices of a number of people currently serving time, in addition to the 19 contributing authors from the United States, Canada and Britain.

“You may be that one person,” said Fenelon, whose 25 years of experience with the California prison system includes more than 14 as an inmate. He is now the program coordinator for the Prison Education Project (PEP), a “prison-to-college” program that seeks to enhance the educational experience of inmates and parolees while providing practical tools for reintegration.

“You’re here because it is a calling,” Fenelon told the audience of academics, social welfare students and volunteers, some of whom also had been wards of the foster care, juvenile justice and adult prison systems in California. “The best people to speak are the volunteers,” continued Fenelon said. Like himself, they “speak from a voice of unique experience,” and “sat where they sat” and they strive to “reconnect [those incarcerated] to their humanity.”

He was joined by Rosalinda Vint, president of Women of Substance and Men of Honor Inc. Vint, who grew up in the foster care system, has been “that one person,” Hughes said in introducing her.

“All of us have a friend or relative touched by the system,” said Vint, whose nonprofit organization provides mentoring, leadership training and other services for the Department of Juvenile Justice Ventura Youth facility. The former corporate executive, who left a successful 25-year career to reach out to foster youth, said it is a privilege to serve those who, like her, have suffered abandonment and loss. Recounting her own and her siblings’ experiences within the foster care and criminal justice systems, Vint paused, as her voice cracked with emotion. She continued, “This has changed my life, what I do. I wish someone would have come for me, looked me in the eye and said it is going to be OK.”

The relationship between two of the event’s speakers, Felix Miranda and Matthew Mizel, is an example of the significant difference that volunteering can make in the lives of both volunteers and those they help.

Miranda was raised in Nicaragua and he “saw things that no kid should see.” He was angry when he came to the United States, eventually ended up in trouble and lost 13 years of his life to the prison system in California. Mizel, a native of New Jersey, had a successful career in the entertainment industry before becoming a volunteer with Inside Out Writers in 2003, teaching creative writing in juvenile and adult facilities.

They met while Miranda was imprisoned, and the experience was transformative for Mizel, who was volunteering with the nonprofit organization founded in 1996. Mizel is now a doctoral student in the Luskin School’s Department of Social Welfare, where his research focuses on ways to reduce racial inequality in the justice system.

“I had to grow out of that phase,” said Miranda, who was recently released from prison and is now a member of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC). “You can make a change.”

Miranda said that at first he couldn’t understand why Mizel kept showing up to his prison visits, and more than once asked him why he would do this.

“He came every week — that’s what impacted my life,” said Miranda, who also is now a member of the Inside Out Writers alumni project. He credits Mizel “for the love and friendship he showed me,” and the writing program for the positive changes he experienced.

“Don’t just show up,” Miranda said about volunteers’ need for perseverance and engagement. “It’s the follow-up that matters.”

According to Hughes, the book is also intended to show correctional officials and policymakers how valuable this work is. “All too often volunteers are confronted with insurmountable hurdles in terms of red tape and bureaucracy when trying to access facilities.”

Hughes added, however, that she is encouraged by recent changes.

“I am heartened that this year, CDRC (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) has a mandate to establish a volunteer advisory committee at every adult prison, with the intention of better supporting volunteer-led programs,” Hughes said.

The evening’s presentations also included a moving spoken word performance by Harry Grammar, who brought students from his New Earth Arts and Leadership Center, a comprehensive re-entry center serving 2,500 young people each year who are incarcerated in Los Angeles County detention centers and placement homes.

‘Minority Report’ Hits Major Racial Themes Scott St. Patrick’s Luskin-sponsored performance provides a no-holds-barred look at race in America through the centuries

By Zev Hurwitz

It can be difficult to truly empathize with another community’s narrative. Tragedies and injustices toward a racial group only resonate up to a point for those not directly impacted. But true empathy cannot be felt without experiencing the narrative up close.

Scott St. Patrick and his company brought the black American experience up close to a diverse crowd of nearly 200 students and community members when they took to the stage in the Broad Art Center.

Sponsored by the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, “Minority Report” is a nine-vignette journey through the black experience in America. Each act was a solo piece by one of seven actors articulating a narrative that touched on a different area of the history of black Americans.

“In Social Welfare at Luskin, we are committed to struggling with racism as a social justice issue,” Gerry Laviña, director of field education for the Luskin School, said as he opened the evening. “We also acknowledge and will acknowledge tonight that the struggle has gone on for generations and continues today.”

St. Patrick, the show’s creator, led off with an extended poem that addressed some of the program’s hardest-hitting themes. St. Patrick began with an emotionally charged lament of the “epidemic of violence” against African Americans by police, which followed a montage of cellphone footage of recent acts, including the death of Eric Garner by police in which Garner could be heard gasping, “I can’t breathe.”

St. Patrick’s opening monologue, which slammed a system in which African Americans are predisposed to institutionalized racism toward blacks and drew parallels with the shooting of the Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla, Harambe, set the tone for the following acts.

Several of the most impactful vignettes described historical instances of oppression toward African Americans — both violent and socially oppressive. Detra Hicks lamented the cyclical nature of racism toward blacks in America in a piece that linked the violent 1955 murder of black teenager Emmett Till in Mississippi to the more contemporary killings of Tamir Rice and Jordan Davis.

“Where the hell is peripety?” she exclaimed, referring to the literary device wherein a protagonist’s misfortunes are reversed.

In between each vignette, a clip of relevant video or audio set the tone for the following act. While much of the content focused on graphic illustrations of violent injustices and systematic inequality suffered by blacks, a piece by comedian Donald George probed some of these areas with a touch of humor. He likened the 2016 presidential election to a choice between different sexually transmitted infections in the first fully humorous segment of an otherwise serious series.

Kelly Jenrette discussed civil disobedience in her piece “Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party” and highlighted the story of institutional repression of voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. Jenrette currently stars on television in the Fox series “Pitch,” which follows a fictional African American woman breaking the gender barrier in professional baseball.

In “Black Tulsa,” Marcuis Harris delivered an informative piece on how, even in instances of success for the black community, racism rears its ugly face in a violent and destructive manner. Harris’ piece focused on the destruction of a thriving Tulsa, Okla., black community, which was leveled by supremacists in a “race riot” in 1921.

Even the terminology used to describe these instances is part of the issue, Harris said. “‘Race riot’ implies equal footing,” he said, describing the overnight destruction of Greenwood. “This was terrorism.”

Jaclyn Tokos, the only non-black performer of the evening, described the various points of contention — with both blacks and whites — she has faced as a white woman engaged to a black man.

“You can’t teach someone who to love,” she asserted, following a video of boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s 1971 interview in which he explains why he would never choose to marry outside of his race.

Several performers wore attire related to their performances, though Tokos’ donning of a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt (her fiancé’s, she said) not only made a strong impact, it also reminded audiences of the times. “Minority Report” was performed at a critical time for race relations in America and to be reminded of this in an aptly named piece, “Interracial Love,” was pivotal to the message.

Tokos was followed by Kiya Roberts, who continued to preach love — between blacks. “I don’t need you, but I want you,” Roberts says to no man in particular in her vignette, “It’s Complicated…” The pursuit of love as a means of resolution to the pain between races was stressed more than once during the performances.

As the evening came to a conclusion, “Minority Report” became a “call to action,” to fight injustice and inequality with the power of love. Audience members were left with an “it’s on us” mentality and affirmation that love truly is the only way forward.

St. Patrick performed in two other acts, including the closing. In “Katrina,” St. Patrick led a multimedia-guided personal drop-in to the conditions inside the Superdome in post-Hurricane Katrina. For several days following the devastating storm in 2005, thousands of New Orleans residents were told to seek shelter at the stadium, having been promised provisions. However, the nearly all-black population housed in the Superdome went largely neglected, with few-to-no rations or supplies brought in, and horrific restroom conditions — all on top of deep emotional trauma.

In the most moving moment of the performance, St. Patrick brought the audience inside the Superdome and shared vivid descriptions of the sights and smells. “Many of you couldn’t even last one minute,” he said. Those who dared to attempt to flee to a neighboring community came across a battalion of armed guards, who blocked access to the relatively well-supplied Jefferson Parish.

As the audience absorbed the horror experienced in the days following Katrina, they were reminded of the underlying message of the evening: What ethnicity is experiencing this travesty? Would the conditions have been the same had the ethnic makeup of those inside the dome been different?

After witnessing nine vignettes of reflection, the audience is more likely to acknowledge the ugly truth that is the “Minority Report.” No. No it would not.

Read more about the genesis of “Minority Report” and why Social Welfare Chair Todd Franke chose to sponsor it at UCLA.

 

Putting Historical Context on the Black Experience ‘Minority Report’ performance at UCLA on Nov. 1 will provide a ‘mirror to society’ of black life in America

By Stan Paul

“What’s going on in America?”

This question — following back-to-back shootings of two black men this summer in the United States — both urged and inspired actor Scott St. Patrick to create “Minority Report,” a series of vignettes on the black experience in America. It was performed Nov. 1 at UCLA’s Broad Art Center.

The question came unexpectedly from a friend, said the 35-year-old actor, whose goal is “to attack this issue from different points of view.”

In July, “I received a call from a friend in Germany, who is white. She was crying,” he recalled. “I almost felt that I was so numb to this whole thing that these two shootings went over my head.”

St. Patrick said his friend then asked him what he was going to do about it. “I said I don’t know what to do, what can I do? She was like, ‘Do something!’

“And here was this totally objective perspective from across the seas about America and saying ‘Scott, you need to do something.’ So, that is when I started to work on this piece,” said St. Patrick, who has been immersed in theater for 12 years.

The 1½-hour series of theatrical performances, accompanied by audio and video — historical and contemporary — was sponsored by the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and will be held at 5 p.m. at the UCLA Broad Art Center (2160E). To RSVP, go to: http://luskin.ucla.edu/event/minority-report/

Consuelo Bingham Mira MSW ’03 Ph.D. ’07, who is organizing the event with St. Patrick, said the purpose of bringing the performance to campus was initially for a social welfare seminar series for the Luskin School’s first-year Master of Social Welfare (MSW) students enrolled in the course “Diversity, Oppression, and Social Functioning,” and for Luskin D3 (Diversity, Differences and Disparities) Initiative students.

“When I spoke with Todd Franke, chair of the Department of Social Welfare, regarding the possibility of bringing this project to the department, I realized its importance for all MSW students and indeed for all Luskin students, faculty and staff,” said Bingham Mira, who serves as the California Social Work Education Center Public Child Welfare (CalSWEC PCW) academic coordinator at Luskin.

Bingham Mira said the CalSWEC PCW faculty and staff were struggling to try to understand the shootings and violence — of summer 2016 in particular. She said it is necessary to discuss and explore racism, oppression and self-awareness with the students, who receive education and training in providing services to vulnerable children and families, those exposed to issues of poverty, violence and trauma, many of whom are in child protective services.

“Oftentimes, the face of the worker is different from the child and the family,” Bingham Mira said. “So the question for any MSW student becomes, ‘How do I engage diversity and difference in social work practice, whether it is clinical or not?’”

“Minority Report,” which had its first performance this past Sept. 11, seeks to provide some perspective on that question. “The performance is provocative and educational,” Bingham Mira said. “You will learn about certain historical events in the black experience in the United States that are not taught in history classes.”

“I can’t tell you how many times I cried making this piece,” St. Patrick said. “Just the research going into finding out the history and what has happened over the years, it breaks my heart.”

He added, “I think the dialogue will be more like ‘What did I just see?’”

St. Patrick said this particular show is about understanding the experiences of black Americans and “why it is that we have so much frustration. And it puts a historical context on a narrative about that black experience.”

He added, “Sometimes when you see protest the only thing you can think is, ‘They’re acting like hooligans, They’re angry.’ Well, why are they angry, though? Why is it that there’s so much frustration?”

As an actor, St. Patrick said he believes “your job is to be a mirror to society of what’s going on. You basically show society what it is that they can’t see.”

St. Patrick, who also performed, said the actors “are some of the best you will find in the city.” Among the performers is Kelly Jenrette, currently on the Fox series “Pitch.”

“They are all very passionate about the subject, and they’ve made the time because of this project. They believe it’s special,” St. Patrick said. “I really want to tip my hat to UCLA for taking the initiative to want to do a project like this. We, as black actors, just representing the narrative, representing this issue, we appreciate that UCLA is taking the time and interest to have this discussion.”

St. Patrick said he hopes the performances “will evoke empathy, sympathy and move us just a little bit closer together to understanding each other.”

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