For 30 Years, Lewis Center Has Responded to L.A. Issues With Ideas All six current and former directors gather to recall the challenges and successes they experienced while leading regional policy research at UCLA

By Lauren Hiller

During a gathering March 5 at its first home on the UCLA campus, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies commemorated 30 years of scholarship, public advocacy and leadership on campus and in the community.

All five former Lewis Center directors — a who’s who of distinguished scholars — joined the current director, Urban Planning Professor Evelyn Blumenberg, at DeCafe Perloff Hall to discuss the milestones and issues facing the region during each person’s tenure. As each director spoke, it was evident that the center’s longevity is rooted in interdisciplinary scholarship and fostering the next generation of scholars.

In 1989, Ralph and Goldy Lewis donated $5 million to endow a research program at UCLA that studied regional policy issues. The following year, the Lewis Center opened its doors in Perloff Hall, the location of what was then known as the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, with founding director Allen J. Scott, distinguished research professor of geography and public policy. Scott was succeeded by Roger Waldinger, distinguished professor of sociology; followed in chronological order by Paul Ong, research professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy, urban planning and civil and environmental engineering; and Brian D. Taylor, professor of urban planning and public policy.

“My parents both went to UCLA and they believed in the power of public education and need to support the public system,” said Randall Lewis, whose parents were homebuilders and interested in issues of growth, transportation, housing and air quality. “They felt as they were building houses, building communities, that they didn’t want to create problems. They wanted to find solutions.”

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who joined the UCLA community the same year that Lewis Center was established and received one of its first grants, kicked off the event.

“The Lewis Center best exemplifies the role that we’re asking our research centers to play: push research forward, support the educational mission of the school and its students, and serve as a public forum that disseminates important research-based information and data to a larger public,” said Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate provost for academic planning.

Launched Amid Regional Turmoil
The early 1990s were a tumultuous time in Los Angeles. The aerospace industry, which was a backbone of the region’s economy, was collapsing. The 1994 Northridge earthquake killed 61 people and caused $6.7 million in damage, crippling major infrastructure like freeways. And civil disturbances fueled by racial injustices, police brutality, and poverty and social marginalization rocked the city.

“Los Angeles looked like, from some points of view, a basket case and getting worse,” Scott recalled. “And so we were, at a very early stage, involved in attempting to build responses to these problems and others.”

Scott and the Lewis Center published a series of working papers focusing on new industry (such as electric vehicles) to replace aerospace and an examination of the nature and causes of the crises in South Los Angeles.

By the time Waldinger took over in 1996, the immigrant population in the Los Angeles region had quadrupled within two decades. Yet, research on the impact of immigration on the Los Angeles region lagged behind frequently studied cities like Chicago and New York. The Lewis Center played an integral role in bringing Los Angeles to the forefront of regional studies with efforts such as Waldinger’s book “Ethnic Los Angeles.” Today, it’s hard to imagine a discussion of immigration and foreign-born individuals without considering L.A.

Waldinger said the center’s early research has transformed California policy. Although immigration policy is a federal issue, immigrant policy can be local, he noted, pointing to state measures that have aided California’s immigrant population.

Ong, the center’s third director, continued the multidisciplinary tradition of the Lewis Center and collaborated with scholars in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and the natural sciences. As director, he published a seminal report on the undercounting of low-income people and communities of color in the 2000 Census.

Ong’s work also highlighted a core strength of the Lewis Center — its focus on addressing social justice issues for marginalized communities. He said the center also partnered with the County of Los Angeles and L.A. Metro to understand the transit needs of underserved communities.

DeShazo oversaw the Lewis Center during a time when its focus turned to environmental issues. In 2006, California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), promoting ambitious climate solutions that even some legislators doubted could be achieved.

“Those were the days we didn’t even know where greenhouse gases were coming from,” DeShazo remembered. The first step was to identify sources and then to identify solutions to reduce emissions, including electric vehicles, rooftop solar energy and energy-efficient technology.

“Everything that we have today is what people thought was impossible to accomplish. The groundwork for that was laid in the 2006-2012 period,” DeShazo said.

The Lewis Center has also contributed to environmental justice scholarship, especially the designations of disadvantaged communities as a result of identifying where emissions were coming from and where populations vulnerable to those emissions are living.

Taylor next put the focus on housing affordability and transportation in light of large investments in public transit like Measure R, a sales tax that is expected to raise $40 billion over 30 years.

He said the center’s regional lens has a built-in advantage when it comes to studying housing affordability, transportation and access, which play out across a diverse geography.

Taylor’s tenure also overlapped with his role as chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. It was a position that helped him to advocate for the addition of faculty members and scholars who could tackle these regional priorities.

“Housing affordability was not my area of research,” Taylor said. “All I did was try to support and catalyze the intellectual leaders that are helping shape the important debates on this.”

A Legacy of Leadership
Acting as a consistent bridge to marginalized voices, the Lewis Center’s former directors see scholarship and professional development as their enduring legacy. Many onetime students have gone on to become academic leaders in their own right.

“I’m honored to follow in those footsteps,” said Blumenberg MA UP ’90, Ph.D. ’95. She became director in 2018 and has focused on how Angelenos live, move and work in L.A., with a particular interest in pathways out of poverty. The center recently launched the Randall Lewis Housing Initiative.

Has Los Angeles made progress over the last 30 years?

The answer is mixed, Ong said. A commitment to climate change initiatives and equity are highlights, but income inequality and social justice remain daunting issues.

“I’m proud of the fact that the Lewis Center continues to look at issues of inequality,” Ong said. “We’re dedicated to doing the research to find solutions, but it’s like swimming upstream.”

Still, Ong remains hopeful: “I know enough about [Blumenberg’s] history that there will continue to be a commitment from the Lewis Center to accomplish things that will bend us towards justice.”

LPPI Hits the Road to Assist Legislators in Battleground State UCLA team holds two days of roundtable discussions and provides technical assistance to lawmakers during workshop in Arizona

A group of lawmakers in Arizona are “breaking cycles of poverty,” Arizona Sen. Otoniel “Tony” Navarrete told fellow legislators attending a two-day workshop in mid-January at Arizona State University organized by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI).

Navarrete was one of eight lawmakers who participated in the sessions put together by LPPI in partnership with the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) and the Center for Latina/os and American Politics Research at Arizona State University. The workshops were a continuation of a leadership academy held at UCLA in August 2019.

The Arizona lawmakers are serving in what could be a battleground state during this presidential election year, and they are also marking 10 years since the passage of a controversial anti-immigrant bill in the state. The effects of the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, otherwise known as SB 1070, are still being felt in Arizona.

While keeping a focus on the state’s younger electorate, the lawmakers have started their 2020 legislative session with education at the forefront of their efforts.

Understanding children is the first step to creating evidence-based policies centered around their needs, according to workshop speaker Kelley Murphy, director of early childhood policy at Children’s Action Alliance. She reviewed statewide trends relating to Arizona’s youngest children and took a deep dive into data about access to quality care and education during early childhood.

Legislators also engaged in a meaningful conversation about Arizona’s emerging dual language learners and how to craft purposeful policy to advance student success.

They sought to better understand how young children learn. Viridiana Benitez, assistant professor of psychology at ASU, explained how language acquisition and cognitive development play a crucial role in the educational foundation and outcomes for young children.

Such an understanding is especially important to politicians in a state like Arizona, where the bilingual electorate is increasing and may be influential during 2020 elections.

Edward Vargas, a professor in the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State, continued the conversation by focusing on polling trends and how such data provide information on public opinion and voters’ priorities. Lawmakers looked at the latest trends on the issues of early education, and they were encouraged to think of creative ways to further develop their ability to solicit effective constituent feedback through polls.

Legislators were asked to apply the information on childhood education by thinking through effective data collection and usage in order to reinforce efforts in education, keeping in mind messaging and voters’ priorities.

“What impacted me the most was the legislators’ desire to truly understand the data and use it effectively in order to make sound policies,” said María Morales, a second-year master of public policy student at UCLA and a fellow at LPPI. “It shocked me to know that it [typically] takes about 17 years for a researcher’s findings to be made public and reach the policy-creation-and-implementation table. It reinforced the need of cross-sectoral partnerships to develop sensible policies tackling the community’s priorities and needs.”

Seeking Unity in a Time of Dissension Panelists discuss issues of class, race and exclusion during a Luskin Lecture event that focuses on the rise of divisiveness in America 

By Les Dunseith

As writer and journalist Jeff Chang sees it, today’s political divisiveness is leading America to revert to a time when society was more starkly divided along intellectual, cultural and racial lines. It’s a social erosion he refers to as resegregation.

“We had a consensus 50 years ago — as fragile as it was — that segregation was an issue that we needed to work on as a nation,” Chang said during a Jan. 15 Luskin Lecture at the James Bridges Theater on the UCLA campus. His remarks followed the screening of a series of short documentary-style videos based on “We Gon’ Be Alright,” Chang’s critically acclaimed collection of essays about the rise and fall of the idea of diversity.

Event attendees also had an opportunity to hear from the filmmakers — producer and director Bao Nguyen and showrunner Kimmie Kim. The evening’s moderator was Dean Gary Segura of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

The docuseries was produced for PBS’ Indie Lens Storycast, and a YouTube collection where the 8-10 minute segments can be viewed describes the docuseries as follows: “From Silicon Valley gentrification and resegregation to new Hollywood attempts to overcome typecasting by diversifying, from college admission debates to the flawed U.S. census’ way of categorizing race, the series asks the questions: How did we become so divided, and what can we do now to be alright?”

Segura asked a tongue-in-cheek but pointed first question of the panelists after the last of the four serious-minded documentaries: “‘We are gonna be all right?’ Are you sure? This is not an optimistic piece.”

Chang acknowledged that the oft-foreboding tone of the videos was a reflection of his book, saying that “if it were up to me, the series would have been really much more depressing.” He credited his collaborators with helping him find a positive perspective where possible.

“Bao was very much like, from the very beginning: ‘We’ve got to be able to find the hope in all of this,’” Chang recalled.

“Culture, art, film and music can help fill a void,” Nguyen said. “That’s how I kind of see my role. Filmmakers make stories that have some sort of inspiration — because we don’t see that on the news or in our public leaders today.”

Kim, a Korean-born filmmaker who has been working in the U.S. entertainment industry for about 20 years, noted that lack of diversity in Hollywood is a longstanding problem. When she first started in New York City, working with MTV, “there were only two Asians in pretty much the entire building.”

Diversity of ethnicity and gender remains an industry shortcoming, she said. “I want to remain optimistic,” she said of her experience as an Asian woman working in the U.S. entertainment industry. “But it is definitely a struggle.”

One positive sign for Kim is the nomination of the South Korean film “Parasite” as a Best Picture contender at this year’s Academy Awards. “It’s the first time,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t any other great Korean films — or Japanese or Chinese films — before.”

The intersection of entertainment and political activism has long been important to Nguyen, whose career history includes a stint as a field director and field organizer for Obama for America.

“I think everything’s kind of intertwined,” he said. “Culture doesn’t exist without politics, without learning about history and context, and so I bring that into the work that I do.”

The first segment in the docuseries deals with the issue of displacement by focusing on East Palo Alto, a California Bay Area community where longtime minority residents are being displaced because real estate speculators are buying houses in hopes of future profits. In some cases, the houses are being left vacant until enough well-to-do residents move onto a block to drive up home prices throughout the neighborhood.

“This is the last quote-unquote affordable neighborhood in Silicon Valley,” said Chang, noting that affordability means something very different to someone making more than $170,000 a year than it does to most of the people of modest means who had historically lived and worked in East Palo Alto. “Those people are being displaced, and that’s resegregation in a nutshell.”

Chang noted that the word gentrification is literally derived from the word gentry — the class of rich people just below the nobility in the United Kingdom. Likewise, in places like East Palo Alto, “the wealthy are moving in, and it ‘disappears’ the people who are forced to move out.”

Another segment in the docuseries focuses on inter-ethnic tensions, particularly from the point of view of Asian Americans.

Many Asian Americans are “self-conscious of both our oppression and our privilege,” Chang said.

Chang was studying toward a master’s degree in Asian American Studies at UCLA during the time of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising. At the time, there was a notion that Asian American Studies should focus solely on the experiences of Asian Americans, he recalled.

“And I think, for those of us who came of age during that particular period, our reality was much different,” Chang told the audience. “It became a reflection on the position that Asian Americans can take against racial injustice — Asian American empowerment or … empowerment for everyone.”

“To me, it’s like trying to figure out this whole labeling system,” Kim said. “It’s great to embrace who we are. But if the labeling works against who we are and separates people, then that’s where I think we need to have an in-depth conversation to find a better balance and live together.”

As a filmmaker, Nguyen said he looks for opportunities to attack racial problems at the systemic level by helping to bridge communities.

People of all races should be encouraged to tell their stories, he said. “The truest enactment of the American Dream is being able to tell your own story. I think that’s what I’m trying to do as a filmmaker. I think that’s what we’re all trying to do — to tell our own story, because we think once our voices are heard, then we can be seen.”

In addition to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, the event was co-sponsored by UCLA Asian American Studies and its Center for Ethno Communications. Other co-sponsors were the Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, UCLA Chicana and Chicano Studies, the UCLA Luskin Undergraduate Program and Visual Communications.

View photos from the event on Flickr:

'We Gon' Be Alright' LLS

Watch highlights from the live stream of the event:

Activists-in-Residence Take Aim at Housing Injustice Three community activists from Boyle Heights and Koreatown come to UCLA to share lessons on organizing

By Cristina Barrera

UCLA students, faculty, staff and supporters came together to welcome the university’s 2020 Activists-in-Residence at a Jan. 22 reception at the Luskin School.

This year’s activists are Elizabeth Blaney and Leonardo Vilchis of Union de Vecinos, a community-based organization that formed the first tenant union in East Los Angeles, and Jane Nguyen of Ktown for All, which advocates on behalf of Koreatown’s homeless population.

During their residencies, the three will pursue projects aimed at advancing housing justice while collaborating with UCLA faculty and students to create new models of public scholarship and engagement.

Now in its fourth year, the UCLA Activists-in-Residence Program sustains artists, advocates and public intellectuals as they pursue the demanding work of effecting social change.

“We seek to journey with social movements that are on the frontlines of struggle,” said Ananya Roy, director of UCLA Luskin’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy, which co-founded the university’s Activists-in-Residence Program with the UCLA Asian American Studies Center.

“It is clear to us at the institute that the world as we know it cannot be left intact. And the Activists-in-Residence Program is a key part of that effort,” she said.

Roy called Blaney’s work with Union de Vecinos “a radical and necessary challenge to housing policy and programs as they are currently constituted.”

In the decades since Blaney helped launch the grassroots organization in 1996, it has grown into a citywide network of neighborhood activists fighting for tenant rights and healthy communities.

During her residency with the institute, Blaney will study the structure of Venezuela’s communal councils, which promote community decision-making, to identify lessons for local organizers.

“The residency will allow us to integrate what we learn from this process into strengthening our base-building movement in Los Angeles,” she said.

Blaney and Vilchis are both co-founders of Union de Vecinos as well as the citywide Los Angeles Tenants Union. Roy called their simultaneous appointments at the institute “a beautiful coincidence.”

“We are very fortunate to have them with us for two separate residencies that are necessarily related through a shared history of community struggle in Boyle Heights,” said Roy, a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography.

Vilchis will examine how recent victories in the Los Angeles and California housing movements are connected to the global fight for housing justice. His research will include exploring the community impacts of land reform and social housing.

“It is a great opportunity to reflect on my work and to build bridges between the community and the university, to better build a just society,” Vilchis said.

Hosted by the Asian American Studies Center, Nguyen will begin creating a grassroots coalition throughout Los Angeles that provides direct aid to unhoused residents. She will build upon her experiences as co-founder of Ktown for All as well as a leader in the advocacy groups Services Not Sweeps and Invisible People.

“We were impressed by Jane’s passion, dedication and organizing efforts to find solutions and tackle one of the most challenging and significant issues facing Los Angeles today — homelessness and affordable housing,” said Karen Umemoto, director of the Asian American Studies Center and a professor of urban planning.

“Receiving this residency means having the opportunity to fully dedicate myself to the work of building a grassroots movement throughout Los Angeles that fights for dignity and housing for all,” Nguyen said.

Her residency with the Asian American Studies Center is made possible through the Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee Endowment in Social Justice and Immigration Studies, which honors the late UCLA scholar Yuji Ichioka and his wife, activist-scholar Emma Gee.

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy residency program is supported by a gift from the James Irvine Foundation.

View more photos from the reception on Flickr:

2020 Activists-in-Residence

Abrams Wins Prize for Book on Incarcerated Youth Award is one of several Social Welfare accomplishments highlighted at annual conference

Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams’ book on the complex lives of youth who transition out of Los Angeles’ juvenile justice system and into adulthood has received the 2020 Society for Social Work and Research Book Award.

Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood Among Formerly Incarcerated Youth” was recognized for its outstanding contributions to the advancement of knowledge and resolution of social problems.

Abrams and her co-author, triple Bruin Diane Terry BA ’02 MSW ’04 PhD ’12, received the prestigious award Jan. 18 during the annual conference of the Society for Social Work and Research in Washington, D.C.

This year’s conference highlighted several achievements by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare:

  • MSW students and faculty conducted a roundtable on their experiences providing legal assistance to migrants detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. After a week interviewing women and children held at a detention center in Dilley, Texas, the team created a set of tools for other advocates who are trying to help migrants who have faced trauma.
  • Abrams was formally inducted into the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, a national honor society recognizing excellence in the field. Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, a member of the academy since 2017, delivered the induction address.
  • Maggie Thomas, who will join the Social Welfare faculty as an assistant professor in the fall, received the 2020 Doctoral Fellows Award for her dissertation, “Material Hardship, Public Assistance and Child Wellbeing: A Panel Data Study.”
  • Research by eight faculty, 12 Ph.D. students and four MSW students or recent graduates was presented during the five-day conference’s symposia, workshops, roundtables, and paper and poster presentations.

 

UCLA Luskin Faculty Win Prestigious Transportation Award for 3rd Time Co-winner Martin Wachs receives the honor from the Transportation Research Board for a second time — four decades apart

By Lena Rogow

Professor Evelyn Blumenberg of Urban Planning and colleagues who include Professor Emeritus Martin Wachs have won the 2019 Pyke Johnson Award from the Transportation Research Board (TRB) for a recent paper about the mobility needs of aging adults, marking the third time someone from UCLA Luskin has won the prize since its inception.

Wachs has been studying transportation and aging for decades and won the same award more than 40 years ago, in 1976.

The award-winning paper, “Physical Accessibility and Employment Among Older Adults in California,” explores the relationship between car ownership, transit accessibility and older adults’ employment status. The paper found that adults age 60 and older are able to stay in the workforce longer when they have access to a car or to public transit — if they live in a dense urban area.

Blumenberg MA UP ’90, Ph.D. ’95 said that she and Wachs decided to collaborate on the winning paper after realizing they had not previously worked together on a research paper.

“This topic seemed to perfectly align our respective areas of research,” said Blumenberg whose work examines the effects of urban structure — the spatial location of residents, employment and services — on economic outcomes of low-income workers.

“I also knew that it was essential for us to shed light on this topic together,” she said. “I think we’ve been able to showcase an important transportation need to serve an aging population. I’m thrilled that TRB shares our opinion about the importance of this work and I’m honored to be included with a long list of former distinguished scholars who have also received this award.”

 

In addition to Blumenberg and Wachs, the paper’s other authors are Andrew Schouten Ph.D. ’19, who is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, and Miriam Pinksi, a doctoral student in urban planning.

Pinski said the paper’s focus on low-income adults and their particular access to jobs was notable. Many older adults continue to rely on employment as their main source of income, in part because pensions are becoming rarer in the United States.

“Without transportation, many of these adults would have no way to sustain their lives. I hope our paper has provided more insight into yet another reason why maintaining a functioning transportation infrastructure is critical for many populations,” Pinski said.

“For TRB to recognize our work with this prestigious award is an honor,” Schouten said. “I hope this will bring more attention to important issues that lie at the intersection of transportation, employment and aging.”

ABOUT THE AWARD

TRB established the Pyke Johnson Award in 1971 to give annual recognition to an outstanding paper published in the field of transportation systems planning and administration. It honors the 23rd chairman of the Highway Research Board, who was influential in TRB from its inception.

UCLA has won three times since the first award was given in 1971. Brian Taylor Ph.D. ’92, professor of urban planning and public policy, won in 2000. Wachs is one of three two-time winners and the only person to repeat as winner more than five years apart. The gap in his case was 43 years. In each instance, the research involved faculty and doctoral students.

When Wachs first heard the news, he burst out laughing, recalling how much his life has changed since he first won. His 1976 paper also dealt with mobility and older adults.

“At that time, I was simply writing about the topic from an academic perspective,” Wachs said.  “And now my work is coming true in my own personal life.”

“What’s different about this paper is I’m honored to now collaborate with young people,” he said. “This paper benefited from the combination of their sharp methodological skills with my longstanding focus on this topic. It has been an enormous pleasure collaborating with them, and I’m proud to share this honor with them.”

The presentation took place Jan. 13 at TRB’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Urban Planning Turns 50 Longtime observers say activist spirit of its 1960s creation still permeates the program

By Les Dunseith

Fifty years ago, moon landings made headlines, flower children flocked to Woodstock, and college campuses across the nation experienced sometimes-violent protest over issues such as the Vietnam War. As the turbulent ’60s gave way to the 1970s, it was a time of change. Unrest. New ideas.

And amid that backdrop of societal upheaval, the study of urban planning got its start at UCLA.

Donald Shoup, the longtime UCLA professor, was there to see it. Shoup had arrived at UCLA in 1968 as a postdoctoral scholar at the same time as Harvey S. Perloff, the founding dean of the new School of Architecture and Urban Planning, “who was a great figure in urban planning, of course.”

From the beginning, the UCLA planning program under Perloff reflected an activist ethos and a strong interest in equity. “I think that we look very carefully at income distribution and the effects of how any policy would affect lower-income people. We look at how to reverse that pattern,” Shoup said.

Jeffry Carpenter was also studying at UCLA in 1969, and he was among the first group of students to attain a degree in urban planning. “We were supposed to graduate in the summer of ’71. And some of us did,” Carpenter said with a laugh. “And some of us didn’t.”

Carpenter, who would go on to leadership roles as a planner for what was then known as the Southern California Rapid Transit District, the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency and elsewhere, said graduate programs in planning were rare at the time — almost unprecedented.

“The challenge was that in the field, there was a profession. People were selling planning services, and there were planner positions and there were planning consultants, but there weren’t planning degrees,” Carpenter recalled.

When people like him got those first degrees, “the thought was that it would be something really useful. But the challenge was nobody knew exactly what that was,” Carpenter said. “We were — both the faculty and the students — still feeling our way.”

Nowadays, Shoup is a distinguished research professor whose landmark work on parking reform has had broad impact. He left Westwood in the early 1970s to work at the University of Michigan but returned to UCLA to stay in 1974. A year later, Allan Heskin joined him on the urban planning faculty and continued until he retired as a professor in 2001.

Urban planning with a social conscience is important to Heskin.

“I have a history of being an activist,” said Heskin, who oversaw student admissions for some time. “And I always looked for activist students — people who had done things in the world.”

During his two-and-a-half decades at UCLA, faculty and student planners were active in changing the approach of Los Angeles and other local cities to issues related to land use and housing affordability. UCLA scholars were highly influential in Santa Monica political reform, for example, and Heskin remembers that an early graduate, Gary Squier, “almost single-handedly created the housing department” for the city of Los Angeles. Squier, who died in 2012, became the city’s first housing director in 1990.

“Getting the city of L.A. to take responsibility for housing people in Los Angeles was just a major change,” Heskin recalled. “The city’s policy before the UCLA faculty and students did their thing was to say that housing is a federal responsibility, and the city doesn’t do it, and is not concerned!”

Marsha Brown B.A. ’70, who was a manager in the urban planning program at UCLA from 1980 to 2014, said, “There has always been a history of activism.”

The planning faculty and students “are very passionate about what they believe in — whether it’s housing or traffic or diversity or women’s issues. There’s always been a political bent to it,” Brown said. “The goal was always trying to make cities better for the people who live in them.”

Vinit Mukhija, professor and current chair of Urban Planning at UCLA, has been on the faculty since 2001.

He thinks a willingness to defy expectations has been central to the program’s enduring success.

“We never accepted narrow limits of planning or narrow definitions,” he said. “It’s not just land use and transportation and housing. It is much broader than that.”

Somewhat infamously, the program was abruptly split away from architecture in the 1990s and placed into what became the current Luskin School of Public Affairs. But many aspects of today’s UCLA planning program were allowed to blossom naturally over time.

Shoup sees the willingness of faculty to conduct research with students as colleagues as a key to success.

“I think that’s one of the greatest strengths of our program — the collegial relationships between the faculty and the students, and the cooperative learning.”

As faculty have come and gone, the planning program has changed. For instance, transportation planning became more prominent over time. That importance stands to reason in a city known for gridlock, Brown said. “In Los Angeles, transportation is important, you know.”

Another big change has been the gender balance. Shoup gave a recent example — each year he meets with incoming students and tells them why they might want to focus on transportation planning. In his most-recent meeting, “there were 17 women and one man. The complaint at one time was that there were very few women in transportation. So society has changed.”

And the program itself continues to evolve. In time for the 50th anniversary celebration in May 2020, Mukhija said an expanded partnership with Sciences Po in Paris will have been approved. It will offer dual degrees from both universities in a two-year course of study.

Carpenter, who was there in the beginning, thinks future success in urban planning and society as a whole will hinge on continuing to foster the intellectual curiosity of young people.

“The faculty of the school have a very keen appreciation of the powers of perception and understanding, and more particularly also realizing they need to prepare the students to be effective and assume a role and to grow in that role,” he said. “That’s a very encouraging development.”

‘Trailblazers’ Take the Lead as New Major Takes Flight The diverse members of UCLA Luskin’s undergraduate Class of 2021 immediately connect with the program’s mission to inspire and equip the next generation of leaders

By Mary Braswell

Tessa Azani remembers the look on her mom’s face when they came across the new major outlined on the very last page of UCLA’s transfer admission guide.

“Developing leaders engaged in social change,” began the text describing the bachelor of arts in public affairs.

“I start reading the description to my mom and I swear I saw her jaw fall on the floor. And she says, ‘They literally made this major for you. They knew you were coming,’ ” Azani recalled.

The transfer student from Moorpark College, who had been struggling to find a course of study that fit her goals, is now one of the “Trailblazers” — UCLA Luskin’s undergrad Class of 2021, the first group of students formally admitted to the new major.

Azani joins 69 other other students who launched into upper-division public affairs coursework in the fall. It’s a diverse group: Three-quarters are women, 67 percent identify as nonwhite, 13 are transfer students, and more than 20 percent come from outside California, traveling to UCLA from every region of the nation and from countries including Mexico, India, Great Britain and Austria.

In just its second year, the UCLA Luskin undergraduate program has grown to a total of more than 270 students, including 200 lower-division “pre-majors.” The Trailblazers are the program’s pioneers. They’ll be the first to experience one of the major’s signature elements: a three-quarter internship and seminar series in the senior year that will immerse students in their community. Their feedback will be crucial in shaping the program.

“I am in awe of our Trailblazers,” said Alexis Oberlander, director of student affairs for the program. “These students had other plans for their time at UCLA, they had other majors, but once they learned about our program they immediately connected to our mission and shifted gears without hesitating.”

That was true of the very first student to join the program. Long Hoang was a freshman in the spring of 2018 when he read about the major in the Daily Bruin. He sought out Oberlander, asked many questions, then eagerly registered as a pre-major.

As more joined the ranks, they forged a tight bond as they moved, almost en masse, from class to class, all trying to complete prerequisites in just one year.

“I really feel like we’ve connected as a class,” Hoang said. “It’s funny because moving from high school to a school with 30,000 people, I did not expect to have such a close-knit community.”

The public affairs major resides in a School known for its top-ranked graduate programs, and Hoang found an important mentor in a student pursuing a master’s in urban planning. As a teaching assistant, Michelle Einstein shared her passion for data science and digital mapping, and Hoang got hooked. He’s now pursuing a minor in Geographic Information Systems and Technology with an eye toward bridging his interests in data analysis, environmental health and community outreach. And he remains in touch with Einstein, who graduated last June.

Nate Singer’s journey to a public affairs education began when he moved from Sacramento to Los Angeles as he began high school. To get around town, he started taking the Metro public transit system, and the more he rode, the more he became fascinated with the way the region was stitched together.

“I realized how integral transportation is to the social structure of a city, the economic structure of a city,” he said. “The beauty of being interested in something like cities is they’re so dynamic and they’re so interconnected that you can kind of have your foot in many, many places at the same time.”

As a transfer student from Los Angeles City College, Singer knew two things: He wanted to study urban planning and he wanted to stay in Southern California. Google led him to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs site, and he realized the undergrad program was a great fit. He became an early ambassador for the program by sharing what he learned with his LACC counselors.

Singer once owned a motorcycle but now travels by bicycle and bus. “I figured I can’t say car-based infrastructure is destroying our cities while also utilizing it on a daily basis,” he said.

While all the Trailblazers must show great discipline to meet their major requirements, Rimsha Saeed has a unique challenge: She aims to complete her degree in three years.

“The counseling team has been amazing, so accommodating and always trying to make sure that I’m on track,” said Saeed, who is interested in human rights law and policy.

She had looked at UCLA’s majors in political science and international development studies but gravitated toward the hands-on learning in the public affairs curriculum.

“I want to do something that makes real change in the world, and that was exactly what the public affairs major was offering,” she said. “It literally gives us the tools to make actual lasting change.”

Saeed says she is grateful for the “extras” the staff offers, such as bringing in dynamic speakers and sharing off-campus opportunities. “They’re always trying to help us get connections out in the world, and that’s really helpful for someone who’s trying to figure out what they want to do,” she said.

She has only praise for Associate Professor Meredith Phillips, the department’s chair who also teaches a course on using data to understand society.

“Professor Meredith, she’s probably really busy, but she would literally sit with me and explain everything as many times as I needed it. That really left an impression on me,” said Saeed, who had no previous statistics experience but is now motivated to pursue upper-division coursework. “I found it really interesting how you can combine two fields that seem so different, like social science and coding, and make it into something that’s used out there in the real world.”

For Tessa Azani, “everything fell into place” after she discovered the public affairs major. She had been seeking an education that paired policymaking and social welfare but wanted to veer away from politics, with all its “arguing and debating and winning and losing.”

“My brother and I both talked about how we loved the idea of being able to create change using government and politics — but we hate actual politics,” she said.

Her dream, she said, is to launch a nonprofit that encourages sports teams — and their fervent fan bases — to sponsor local schools. “Since almost every kid in America, K through 12, has to go to school, why don’t we make school the best place in the entire world?”Azani said.

The Trailblazers, Oberlander said, “are passionate about their life goals, all of which involve making our world a more equitable and just place, and they are willing to take the chance and put in the hard work to achieve those goals.

“I can’t wait to see them in their experiential learning capstones and beyond as they become the future leaders of our world.”

View more pictures of the Trailblazers on Flickr.

UCLA Luskin's Undergrad Trailblazers

This Election Year, We Have 2020 Vision The race for U.S. president comes to town, and the UCLA Luskin community is there to make sure candidates take a stand on issues of importance

By Stan Paul

Students at UCLA Luskin always have many opportunities to seek out public policy discourse and engage in political activities. But during the 2020 presidential election campaign, some of the opportunities for political engagement have been coming directly to them.

In December, the top Democratic contenders for the U.S. presidency were in Los Angeles for a closely watched debate that set the stage for the caucus and primary season soon to follow. And just a few weeks beforehand, students like first-year Master of Public Policy student Tamera Hyatte participated as questioners of presidential candidates during a live telecast of a town hall-style forum that focused on LGBTQ issues.

“Get ready, you’re going on!” was Hyatte’s cue. Moments later, she was asking Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke face to face — and on split screen for viewers — what protections he, as president, would put in place to safeguard transgender women of color. In her question, Hyatt noted that transsexual women of color are killed at an alarming rate.

“I thought he answered it fairly well,” Hyatte said of the former Texas congressman’s response. “I think a lot of the candidates being asked specific questions were caught off-guard, because I don’t think these are issues they generally look into,” added the former middle-school teacher. She said her interests include educational issues affecting LGBTQ students in K-12 as well as education in communities of color.

Hyatte was among a sizable contingent of UCLA Luskin graduate and undergraduate students, faculty and staff who attended the Oct. 10 Democratic presidential forum in downtown Los Angeles that was hosted by CNN and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. And she was among a handful selected to ask a question of a Democratic candidate at the forum, which included candidates Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren.

Ayse Seker, a second-year UCLA undergraduate student and public affairs pre-major at UCLA Luskin, was selected to question Booker, a U.S. senator from New Jersey, on the sometimes-conflicting juxtaposition of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights. Seker, who is also from New Jersey, said her question was based on her own experience attending a religious-based high school.

“I wish he could have gotten more specific on the issues of Catholic schools and the rights their students have; sometimes our very identities are at conflict with an institution’s canonical ideas,” Seker said. “But I do appreciate the messaging of his response, as it is important for there to be representation of someone who is both outspokenly religious and a champion for LGBTQ rights.”

In fall quarter, Seker was enrolled in Public Affairs 80, a prerequisite for the public affairs major that explores how the policy environment shapes human development. Her professor, Ian Holloway of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, joined her at the event and provided useful commentary between candidates. She also appreciated his tips on public speaking prior to her on-camera moment.

Holloway said he was proud to see UCLA Luskin students asking tough questions of the candidates. “It was helpful for our students to think critically about how policies being debated, such as the trans military ban or pharmaceutical pricing, impact the lives of LGBTQ Americans.”

Kevin Medina MPP / MSW ’15 is now the capstone advisor and coordinator for UCLA Luskin’s undergraduate major. Like Hyatte and Seker, he had applied in early September to attend the event and ask a question, and he was notified that his question had been chosen just a couple of days before the forum. He asked California candidate Tom Steyer about his plan to combat “the erasure of LGBTQ Americans’ identities on the 2020 Census.”

“I hope asking this question on a national platform elevates the importance of this issue and puts it on the radar of those with the power to positively effect change,” Medina said after the event. He said the Census Bureau plans to collect data on same-sex partners. “However, this question does not gain information about transgender people or LGBTQ people who are single or not living with a same-gender partner.”

Hyatte, who studied journalism as an undergrad, was appreciative of the opportunity to become directly engaged in the electoral process. When she chose UCLA for graduate school, “I didn’t even know we would be able to participate in something like this.”

Reflecting on the experience afterward, Hyatte said, “I think a lot of the candidates may want to brush up more on informing themselves about the issues that are happening in the LGBTQ community.” At the same time, the forum — which was held the day before the 31st annual National Coming Out Day — was also instructive for her.

“Just for myself, sitting in the audience, there were questions brought up that I didn’t even think about asking, and it makes me think, ‘Wow, I want to look more into that and really see what’s going on,’” she said. “It makes me think about how I can also include LGBTQ issues into my research on education policy because I think that’s also relevant.”

Relevance was key for Seker as well. “Within public affairs classes, we’re constantly learning about the vast array of issues that plague our society and the institutions and their history that perpetuate them.” The town hall demonstrated how diverse and multifaceted the LGBTQ community is, she said, and it highlighted a number of LGBTQ-related issues and concerns “that find their roots in a myriad of intersecting oppressive systems.”

Being within the Luskin School means a nearly constant stream of interesting opportunities for political engagement, Seker said a few days after the forum. “The fact that this was only during Week 2 of fall quarter makes me eager and excited for all the future opportunities and events the Luskin School will offer me throughout the rest of this school year.”

And Seker is right — UCLA Luskin will host a full calendar of public events and politics-related opportunities for students and alumni through Election Day 2020.

School Safety Expert Is Among 4 New Faculty Additions

By Stan Paul

Three new faculty members in social welfare and one in urban planning joined UCLA Luskin as of the fall quarter.

They bring to 19 the total number of new faculty added during the tenure of Dean Gary Segura to UCLA Luskin’s three professional programs and its undergraduate major.

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

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.

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.

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. His most recent co-authored book on the subject, “Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving Contexts: Culture, Organization, and Time,” was published last January.

“Bullying is such a big term that it gives us a lot of room,” said Astor, whose 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.”

His research is cross-cultural and makes comparisons between the United States and other places, including such countries as 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. “This research is critical to social work as schools play a major role in shaping key child outcomes.”

Astor is a Southern California native who came to UCLA after a long research and teaching appointment at the University of Michigan and, more recently, at USC.