‘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 Marjorie 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.

Dean’s Message Path-breaking interdisciplinary scholarship and a tradition of public service are the hallmarks of UCLA Luskin at 25 years

25, 50, 75, 100 and 2 …

In 2019, we celebrated two milestones—the centennial of UCLA and the 25th anniversary of the Luskin School.

What does 100 years of UCLA mean? Is it merely a milestone signified by a round number? When the University of California, Los Angeles, was created out of the Southern Branch of the California Normal School, few could have imagined that, today, UCLA would be counted among the finest institutions of higher learning in the world, and the nation’s finest taxpayer-supported institution. In its early years, it was considered the southern “branch” of our older sibling in Berkeley, and more than a few actors in California would have preferred it to stay as such. Today, it is the largest and most comprehensive campus in the system and, in the minds of several ranking agencies and in the hearts of countless Bruins, the finest in the land.

In 1994, the campus formed what would become UCLA Luskin by merging the School of Social Welfare with the program in Urban Planning. Like UCLA, the School we are today has aspects that date to our roots but reflects new, emergent properties of what we have become, including the addition of Public Policy. At 25, Luskin is a mature intellectual community in which dialogue between students and faculty focused on different units of analysis — the individual, the family, the community, the state — helps us learn and grow from the insights of one another and our respective disciplines. More than merely three departments, today Luskin’s core faculty hold doctorates in 14 different disciplinary traditions, representing a nearly endless variety of methodologies, perspectives and research questions about how best to improve the human condition. The School’s mission, defined and refined over these last 25 years, has become clear: to train change agents and generate new knowledge and insight in pursuit of social justice and human well-being.

It would be inaccurate — and do a disservice to our predecessors — if we did not acknowledge that much of the good work of UCLA Luskin started long prior to the School’s formation 25 years ago. In spring 2020, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Urban Planning at UCLA. And in 2021-22, we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Social Welfare at UCLA. Those two units have trained thousands of Bruin alums whose efforts on behalf of a better Los Angeles and a healthier California are long established. You’ll hear more about those celebrations in the near-term, but it is important at moments like these that we pay tribute to those whose hard work came long before us.

And finally… “2”? Yep, we are in the second year of our newest program, the Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs. At the start of the 2018-19 academic year, no such major was declared by a UCLA undergraduate. Today, we have 270 majors and pre-majors enrolled in 42 courses this academic year, and whose instruction is supported by 89 graduate teaching assistants — Luskin professional and doctoral students — whose education is supported with those resources. And in June 2021, we will graduate our first class.

New programs, pedagogical innovation, path-breaking interdisciplinary scholarship in the interest of the social good and a tradition of public service — these are the hallmarks of UCLA Luskin at 25 years old, these are the values that separate a great public university like UCLA from its competitors, and these are the accomplishments we celebrate at milestones like these.

All the best,
Gary

A Passion for Diversity UCLA Luskin showcases its programs — and its people — who are pushing for all voices to be heard on issues of public concern

By Les Dunseith

The social justice ethos and commitment to diversity that form the backbone of UCLA Luskin’s graduate degree programs were front and center during the fourth annual Diversity Fair.

Dozens of graduate student recruits came to campus in November for a full day of discussions and workshops. Key speakers included Dean Gary Segura and the chairs of each graduate department: JR DeShazo of Public Policy, Laura Abrams of Social Welfare and Vinit Mukhija of Urban Planning, all of whom are professors in their respective fields.

A highlight of the day was a panel discussion during which six alumni talked about why they chose UCLA Luskin and offered insightful advice about how the graduate school experience can help people with a passion for change figure out ways to turn their ideals into action.

“How do governments create safe spaces for immigrants? How do we improve the basic services that government provides so that it actually fits the needs of the people who are using them? All of those things were in my mind as I started the program,” said Estafanía Zavala MPP ’18, who is now project lead, digital engagement, for the city of Long Beach. “I feel like the program really helped me gain a good understanding of what was actually going on in the world and how to process it.”

Taylor Holland MURP ’19, assistant project manager at PATH Ventures, a nonprofit agency that works with the homeless population in Los Angeles, said that she chose UCLA in part because of its vast alumni network in Southern California. She said she met “great alumni by coming to events like this. We have super-active alumni who you can really tell are pushing for change in different systems throughout urban planning.”

Several panelists said that UCLA Luskin helped them to further develop a social justice perspective, and they talked about their own efforts to foster inclusiveness.

Ulises Ramirez MSW ’96 is a clinical social worker and therapist in the Adult Outpatient Psychiatric Clinic at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, and he said that mental health service protocols are too often developed only with English-speaking clients in mind.

“The community that we serve at Harbor UCLA is very diverse. We see a lot of Spanish-speaking clients, and my goal there has been to provide top treatment to monolingual, Spanish-speaking clients,” Ramirez said. “It’s an underserved population, and they have nowhere else to go.”

Christina Hernández MSW ’17, community accompaniment coordinator for Freedom for Immigrants in Santa Monica, said her clients come from immigration detention centers.

“They are asylum-seekers; they’re refugees; they’re immigrants. These are people coming from all over the world,” she said. “Our goal is that the documents that we have for English speakers, we also make available for other languages as well.”

The speakers noted that racial minorities and women have traditionally been underrepresented in some of their fields.

“I think our perspectives as folks of color are so important in transportation planning,” said Carolyn “Caro” Vera MURP ’17, who was born and raised in South Los Angeles and now works as a planning consultant. She makes an extra effort to encourage minorities to pursue planning careers.

“If you ever need anything, hit me up,” Vera told the prospective students of color in attendance at the Diversity Fair. “It’s hard to get into the field. It’s daunting. But we need you in that field.”

Wajenda Chambeshi MPP ’16, a program manager for the city of Los Angeles, noted that a lack of diversity in some professions starts with decisions by young people from minority communities about which courses of study to pursue.

“Some of these professions that we overlook make really, really important decisions about where funds are going to be allocated, how they are going to be allocated and, ultimately, who receives what. That’s why we need diversity,” Chambeshi said, “so when we graduate, we will be able to filter into those positions that are able to divert resources — or even just rethink how we think about planning and public policy.”

As “the housing person on this panel,” Holland talked about the ethnic component of the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles.

“We have 60,000 people on the streets in L.A. on any given night, and it’s largely a black crisis. We have 9 percent of the city that is black; 40 percent of our homeless population is black,” she said.

Holland said her focus is on chronically homeless people, many of whom are people of color.

“They are … people who have been forgotten about in every aspect of their lives and cannot be pulled up by their bootstraps. Looking at social justice and housing — it’s particularly in a crisis in L.A. right now,” she said, directing her attention to the prospective students of color in the audience. “And we need all of you guys to help out as you can.”

The alumni panelists spoke passionately about the advantages of being actively involved as students, and they urged attendees to build expansive personal and professional networks.

Vera said she battled depression during her time as a UCLA student and suffered a panic attack during an exam that threatened her opportunity to graduate. But friends helped her through.

“Always advocate for yourself. Create peer networks and check in on each other,” she said.

Noting that the pressures of academic life can be especially difficult for first-generation college students from disadvantaged populations such as herself, she continued: “You are more prone to having depression and anxiety when you come into a program that just doesn’t look like what you are accustomed to.”

Building a network as a student was important to Ramirez as well. He cited his involvement in the Latinx Caucus as a particularly beneficial connection, “and 23 years later, we still get together.”

Hernandez echoed those experiences.

“I am a first-generation daughter of immigrants, and navigating these spaces was very difficult for me,” she said. “So networks were a lifesaver.”

Hernandez ticked off the names of UCLA faculty and staff members who helped her as a student and remain close. “It was amazing to have people who look like me, Latinos, as advisors and as supervisors, who I could go to and say, ‘Hey, I’m stuck with this issue.’”

She continued: “That is the beauty of joining this school. Even after you graduate, you still have folks who are going to be there to support you regardless of the situation.”

View more images from the event on Flickr:

Diversity Fair 2019

How America Became ‘the World’s Largest Jailer’ James Forman Jr. traces the rise of 'warrior policing' in a UCLA Luskin Lecture centering on his Pulitzer-winning book

By Mary Braswell

For more than three decades, the United States has imprisoned its people at a higher rate than any other nation, so Yale University law professor James Forman Jr. understands how individuals might feel powerless to change that reality.

“When we look at something as awful as the largest prison system in the world, it can be easy to think about it as somebody else’s problem to solve,” Forman said during a Nov. 7 UCLA Luskin Lecture at the California African American Museum. “But we all have to think about what we can do individually and then collectively in response.”

The Pulitzer-Prize-winning author, former public defender and co-founder of an alternative school for incarcerated youth shared insights into the complicated evolution of U.S. criminal justice over the last half-century. Key turning points came in the 1960s and 1980s, when heroin and crack epidemics devastated communities of color and led to an era of “warrior policing,” he said.

Forman urged the audience to take tangible steps to turn the tide. Vote. Don’t skip out on jury duty. Find the time and energy to work for a cause close to your heart.

His appearance as part of the Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series wove historical research with stories of his childhood as the son of civil rights pioneers, an interracial couple at a time when such marriages were illegal in much of the country.

“The notion that we would be critical or skeptical of government authority that was purporting to act in the name of public safety but was actually harming people is something that I just grew up on,” Forman said.

He has spent much of his career investigating how the United States “earned the dishonor of being the world’s largest jailer.” Part of the answer, he found, lies in grave missteps by African American leaders with the best of intentions — the subject of his acclaimed 2017 book, “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America.”

Forman found that African Americans who came to power during the drug wars of decades past did not have adequate resources to protect their communities and became over-reliant on police, prosecutors and aggressive tactics.

“We were passing the same laws, the same stop-and-frisk, the same mandatory minimums, the same school-to-prison pipeline. And we were getting the same results,” he said.

Then and now, actions of officials at the local level have enduring consequences, he said.

“It’s crucial that we look at the small steps, the hidden steps, the often invisible steps, some of them made by well-intentioned people,” he said. “Those individual decisions are the bricks that collectively have built the prison nation that America has become.”

Mass incarceration is fundamentally a local issue, Forman said, noting that 88 percent of prisoners in the country are in state, county and local prisons and jails.

“California and Texas together, just two states, have more people incarcerated than the entire federal government,” he said. “Los Angeles County all by itself is responsible for one-third of the people who are incarcerated in the state of California.

“So where we sit right now, this is ground zero in the fight against mass incarceration because this is one of the most incarcerated counties in one of the most incarcerated states in the most incarcerated country in the world. So we have some work to do right here in Los Angeles.”

Forman called on the audience to turn out for March elections for Los Angeles County district attorney, pointing to a trend he has seen over the last five years: In city after city, a new generation of progressive prosecutors has been voted into office, he said.

And he urged those present to understand their own power to bring about change. “For most of us we need to start where we live, we need to start with what we love,” he said.

For Forman, that means eradicating the “education deserts” found inside the criminal justice system. In 1997, he helped launch the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, which is now housed inside Washington, D.C.,’s juvenile prison. More recently, he has offered a seminar in which 10 law students and 10 Connecticut inmates come together behind prison walls to study criminal justice, part of a program called the Inside-Out Prison Exchange.

His “outside students” from Yale and Quinnipiac universities are exposed to a corrections system they might never otherwise see. The benefits for “inside students” are borne out by research showing that recidivism goes down and employment goes up — and by their own testimonials.

One of Forman’s incarcerated students told him he valued the “feeling of mattering.”

The student, he recounted, said, “I liked the law and the policy that we learned in this class, I did. … But really what I liked most of all was that every week when I came to class and I entered the seminar circle, I knew that I was entering a space where I was treated like I was smart, where I was treated like I had something to say.”  

Forman urged the Luskin Lecture audience to embrace their own ideas for creating “a justice system that deserves to have the word justice in the title.” By doing so, he said, “You will create a system that protects and heals and reforms and mends communities, without all this toxicity and brutality of our current system.”

Forman shared the stage with Michael Lens, assistant professor of public policy and urban planning, who led a conversation after the talk, and Professor Máximo Langer of UCLA Law, who offered closing comments. Langer is faculty director of the UCLA Criminal Justice Program, which co-sponsored the Luskin Lecture along with the university’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura welcomed the evening’s guests, noting that the Exposition Park venue was chosen to “get us out in the community, to address questions, issues, thoughts, ideas that are important considerations in matters of public concern … so that we might learn from one another.”

View photos from Forman’s lecture on Flickr.

UCLA Luskin Lecture Series: James Forman Jr.

Making the Most of the Student-Mentor Connection Annual Senior Fellows Leadership breakfast puts spotlight on a successful partnership

By Mary Braswell

A student and mentor brought together by UCLA Luskin’s Senior Fellows Leadership Program shared stories of their rewarding yearlong partnership at an Oct. 24 breakfast launching the initiative’s 23rd year.

The gathering at the UCLA Faculty Center gave this year’s class of 45 Senior Fellows a chance to meet the graduate students they were matched with and hear insights from Tom Epstein, president of the California Community Colleges board of governors, and Irma Castañeda, a second-year master of public policy student.

“The best thing about being a fellow here is you get to work with so many smart, conscientious and diverse students,” said Epstein, a UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow since 2015.

Castañeda said she applied for the program last year to broaden her understanding of career options in the public policy field.  She accomplished that and much more, she said.

“I’m a first-generation college student and a first-generation professional, and I was navigating this space as a new student,” she said. By the end of the year, Epstein had helped her to build a professional network in Los Angeles and Sacramento and land a summer internship tailored to her interests in higher education.

At their monthly check-ins, Epstein and Castañeda talked about classes, career goals, internships and job prospects. Epstein also provided email introductions to key figures in his field and invited Castañeda to a meeting and dinner of California Community Colleges governors.

The life of a graduate student can be filled with coursework, campus activities and outside jobs, Castañeda said, but “it’s really important to prioritize this experience.” The Senior Fellows Program offers a rare gift — sustained one-on-one access to a leader in the public, private or nonprofit sector — and students should make the most of it, she said.

She also encouraged her classmates to take full advantage of the resources offered by UCLA Luskin’s Career Services team, led by Executive Director VC Powe.

View more photos from the Senior Fellows breakfast on Flickr.

The first step, Castañeda said, is to ask questions — lots of them.

She learned this during her search for a summer internship that would help her learn more about the community college system. Finding none, she consulted career counselor Donna Lee Oda, who helped her edit her resume, craft a cover letter and pitch herself as a summer intern candidate.

Epstein connected her with the deputy chancellor of California Community Colleges, who created a research internship just for Castañeda. She spent the summer conducting analysis for the governmental relations division and presenting her findings at a legislative briefing at the state Capitol.

“It was something that I wouldn’t have imagined, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity if I hadn’t asked,” she said.

Epstein said he is grateful for the chance to serve as a Senior Fellow, recalling that an internship while he was at UCLA Law launched a rewarding career. He thanked his own mentor, Zev Yaroslavsky — then a young city councilman and now director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin — who was present at the breakfast.

Epstein’s career journey took him through politics, healthcare, insurance, media and the environment, in addition to higher education. He has worked in the White House, state government and the private and nonprofit sectors.

Students mentored by Epstein through the Senior Fellows program are now working at the California Endowment, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the California Department of Finance, Green Dot Schools and L.A. Care. One is a doctor with Kaiser Permanente and another is a teaching assistant at UCLA, he said.

Epstein addressed the public policy, social welfare and urban planning students gathered at the breakfast. “I’m grateful for your commitment to public service,” he said, “because our country needs you.”

This year, 37 returning Senior Fellows were joined by eight new mentors:

Warren T. Allen MPP ’03, founding member and attorney with WTAII PLLC

Nahtahna Cabanes MSW ’13, vice president of strategic partnerships with L.A. Works

Ken Chawkins BA ’85, business policy manager with the Southern California Gas Company

Elizabeth Forer CEO, Venice Family Clinic

Louise McCarthy MPP ’04, president and CEO at Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez MSW ’99, BA ’97, executive vice president of Community Coalition

Sarah Smith, senior director of education for the International Rescue Committee

Nancy Sutley, chief development officer with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

Leap Awarded UCLA’s Highest Honor for Teaching Social welfare adjunct professor is recognized for an engaging teaching style that motivates students to social engagement and social consciousness

Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, received UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award — the university’s highest honor for teaching — at an Oct. 15 ceremony at the Chancellor’s Residence.

Leap joined eight other faculty members and five teaching assistants who were recognized for their impact on students, innovative teaching methods and involvement in the community.

“Jorja was recognized for her engaging teaching which motivates students to social engagement and social consciousness,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said. “We are deeply proud of her efforts.”

Leap, who joined the UCLA faculty in 1992, was nominated by her social welfare colleagues, who invited former students and community partners to offer letters of support. “The response was tremendous,” said Laura Abrams, chair of social welfare.

In a video tribute aired at the ceremony, Leap said her teaching philosophy revolves around this principle: To those whom much is given much is required.

Leap said she reminds students that, whatever path led them to UCLA, they now have access to world-class resources, teaching and often financial support. They must pay that forward by making their work relevant in the communities surrounding them, she said.

“In my research methodology course, I will take my doctoral students out in the community … to observe the way people live. And then we talk about how does their research inform policy, how does it move the needle? How does their research inform practice, how does it change the way people treat each other, how does it change our laws, how does it change our healthcare, how does it change economics?” she said.

She counsels her students, “Don’t do the easy thing; do the hard thing. Don’t do what’s natural; do what feels scary.”

Leap is executive director of the UCLA Social Justice Research Partnership and co-founder of the Watts Leadership Institute.

Her research examines gangs, high-risk youth, prison culture and the reentry of the formerly incarcerated into mainstream society. She also serves as an expert witness on gangs and trauma for death penalty cases and other court proceedings.


 

A Wealth of Knowledge About Debt In a new role as associate faculty director at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, Hannah Appel will focus on the future of finance in an era of mass household indebtedness

By Les Dunseith

There are at least 13,500,000,000,000 reasons why people should care about the expertise of Hannah Appel and what she will be bringing to her new role as associate faculty director at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

That eye-popping number represents $13.5 trillion — the Federal Reserve’s current estimate of consumer debt (which Appel prefers to call “household debt”) in the United States.

Ananya Roy, director of the institute, says Appel’s scholarship and her participation in organized efforts to combat predatory financial practices make her an ideal fit for a leadership role at the institute, which promotes a unique pairing of research and critical thought with social movements and activism in its efforts to combat societal inequalities.

“Hannah Appel is one of those rare academics whose scholarship has had a direct impact on the urgent social justice issues of the day,” said Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography at UCLA. “We expect that she will greatly expand the impact of the institute on one of the key structural processes of inequality in the United States: crushing debt and predatory financialization.”

Financialization, which relates to a “growing scale and profitability of the finance sector at the expense of the rest of the economy,” according to Forbes, will be a primary focus for Appel as she oversees one of the four research streams heralded by the institute — “Debt and Predatory Financialization.”


‘You are not alone, you are not a loan, and you are not defined by the kinds of financial relationships you have.’
—Hannah Appel, assistant professor of anthropology and global studies

One of her first goals? Rethink the name.

“I feel like debt is something that people feel trapped in — in a kind of permanent way. ‘I’m in it and I can never get out of it,’” Appel said.

By changing the terminology — the working title is the “Future of Finance” — she hopes to redirect conversations toward solutions; specifically, to look at the power that debt can wield if leveraged collectively. “You are not alone, you are not a loan, and you are not defined by the kinds of financial relationships you have,” Appel said.

Although Roy and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy she founded in 2015-16 are based at UCLA Luskin, the mission has always been cross-departmental. Appel is an assistant professor of anthropology and global studies in the UCLA College and co-founder of the Debt Collective, an activist group that organizes debtors’ unions.

As she was finishing her doctorate in anthropology from Stanford during the Great Recession, Appel landed a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University in New York City that happened to coincide with the start of the Occupy Wall Street movement there.

She soon found herself amid a collection of like-minded activists and intellectuals who were troubled by the fact that so many people wound up losing their homes as a result of greed and risky financial decisions made by wealthy investment interests.

“Why is it that this kind of drama on Wall Street is dispossessing people of their homes or knocking people out of their jobs?” Appel recalls thinking at the time. “People used to phrase it about 10 years ago as the relationship between Wall Street and Main Street. And I was very compelled by that question.”

The search for an answer relates directly to Appel’s involvement in social movements — and the promise of her role at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

Viewed in isolation, she says, household debt may seem like a personal problem. But in aggregate — remember that $13.5 trillion? — such debt is potentially a new form of collective financial power.

Appel studies and teaches on the daily life of capitalism, from transnational corporations and the private sector in Africa to the relationship between financialization and household debt in the United States, where household indebtedness has become increasingly systemic during the last 30 years.

The astronomical rise in student debt is certainly part of that. “But there are people indebted for their own incarceration and having to pay legal fines and fees,” Appel said. “And then, of course, there is scale. It scales to municipal debt — where our cities are indebted and can no longer afford to fix streets or fund public schools.”

At the heart of Appel’s scholarship are people in crisis.

She cites an all-too-common example of a person saddled with student debt and household debt who then gets cancer and discovers that health insurance doesn’t fully pay for chemotherapy.

“If they can manage to pay for the chemo and still make the mortgage payments, of course they’re not going to pay their student loan, right?” Appel said. “So, there are ways that these forms of debt are always intersecting and can never be understood separately.”

Regarding student debt, she is encouraged that “transformative policy proposals are on the table” in the current presidential campaign. “Certainly, it’s the first time in my lifetime that there are two articulated proposals to discharge all $1.6 trillion in student debt,” Appel said, noting that other policy proposals would eliminate tuition and fees at public colleges like the University of California system.

Even if such sweeping policy changes never come to pass, however, Appel is certain that solutions to predatory financial practices can be achieved. It’s an optimism that is based on her own experience.

Appel’s involvement in Occupy Wall Street and her ongoing research related to the anthropology of capitalism led her to help found the Debt Collective. It’s an approach that borrows from workers’ unions by bringing together people with shared leverage over the financial system.

“If one of the very simple lessons of a union is that there’s power in numbers, then what would collective action under finance capitalism look like? Thinking analogously to workers’ unions, then the answer is debtors’ unions,” Appel said.

Soon after it started, the Debt Collective found success by uniting former Corinthian College students who were saddled with debt. At the time, Corinthian was the second-largest national chain of for-profit colleges in the country.

One group of people in Ontario, California, had a “tremendous amount of debt from the Corinthian Colleges. Some had degrees that were worthless or had dropped out because they realized how much debt they were accruing and how bad their education was,” Appel said.

The Debt Collective began working with Corinthian College debtors and this initial effort eventually led to “an enormous union of for-profit college debtors — roughly 150,000 people … and that union has discharged over $1 billion of for-profit students’ debt.”

Appel says this example shows that debtors’ unions can work.

She pauses to contemplate years of study, struggle and frustration that finally seem to be paying off in benefits for people in need. Appel takes a deep breath, smiles, then continues.

“You know, I also have a tremendous amount of student debt myself. I was thinking of making T-shirts that said, ‘I am your professor. I also have student debt, and I think yours is unjust. Let’s talk.”

Battleground Legislators Meet at UCLA to Develop 2020 Strategies Two days of leadership training energize lawmakers from Arizona, a state that reflects the nation’s changing demographics

By Maria Morales

“You’re the next frontier.”

Those were the words of UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Dean Gary Segura as he welcomed Latino legislators from Arizona to a two-day leadership academy at UCLA this summer.

The elected leaders came to deepen their understanding of educational, economic and social issues in Arizona and craft policies to address the needs of the state’s Latinos.

This is a crucial time to look at the opportunities and challenges faced by Arizona’s elected officials, said Erica Bernal, chief operating officer of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund and advisory board member of UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative.

The conference, which was held Aug. 16-17, was hosted by the two organizations, along with Arizona State University’s Center on Latina/os and American Politics Research.

One of the country’s fastest-growing states, Arizona will be “the marquee battleground state in 2020,” said LPPI faculty director Matt Barreto, a professor of political science and Chicana and Chicano studies at UCLA. The number of eligible Latino voters will be at a record high and the bilingual electorate will be a driving force in the campaign, he said.

For candidates, Barreto said, this creates a challenge: How will they connect and engage with this emerging demographic?

During workshops, conference participants explored demographic changes in the Latino community, the importance of state budget realities, lessons learned from former elected officials, and the essential role of accurate data in crafting policy.

Research- and evidence-based policymaking was a recurring theme throughout the two days. Edward Vargas, professor at the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University, shared current polling trends, strategies on how to analyze this data to determine its legitimacy, and best practices on using the numbers to build support among stakeholders.

Vargas also encouraged legislators to think of possible polling questions to engage and communicate with their constituents, keeping in mind the need for culturally relevant questions and true representation of the community.

The conference provided the 13 members of Arizona’s Latino caucus with the opportunity to exchange ideas, build a support network and learn how to incorporate research into their policymaking.

During the gathering’s second day, legislators applied the lessons they learned at a practicum led by Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, and Fernando Torres-Gil, director of the UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging and professor of social welfare and public policy. The skill-building exercise allowed the legislators to incorporate polling data and effective messaging to develop sound legislative policy ideas.

“It was great to see it all unfold,” said Amado Castillo, a third-year undergraduate policy fellow with Latino Politics and Policy Initiative. “The practicum was quite inspirational as it not only gave the legislators the opportunity to use real examples to formulate policy proposals but also allowed us to look and see what type of legislators they are and what they prioritize.”

The Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and its partners will continue the training academy in December in Tempe, Arizona, and will host two roundtables in Phoenix, the state’s capital, in January and February 2020.

View more photos from the leadership academy on Flickr and Facebook.