Segura to Step Down as Dean, Remain on Faculty His six years leading the Luskin School has been marked by a deep commitment to equity, diversity and academic excellence

Gary Segura has decided to end his time as dean of the Luskin School for personal reasons. Here is a message sent to the UCLA Luskin staff and faculty by UCLA Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Darnell Hunt:

Dear Colleagues:

I write to share the news that Dean Gary Segura, who has led the Luskin School of Public Affairs since January of 2017, has informed me of his decision to step down as dean and return to the faculty. His last day will be Dec. 31, 2022. We will share plans for interim leadership of the school as soon as they are in place.

In his nearly six years as dean, Dean Segura has fostered within the Luskin School a deep commitment to academic excellence and to equity, diversity and inclusion. Under his leadership, the school has enrolled an accomplished and highly diverse group of students in its programs and appointed renowned scholars in areas such as poverty and inequality, immigration, criminal justice, education policy and more.

Dean Segura has helped to cement the Luskin School’s status as a leader in research, teaching and practice across the areas of social welfare, urban planning and public policy. Recognizing growing demand for the Luskin School’s programs, in 2018 he led the development of the undergraduate major in public affairs, which provides a multidisciplinary foundation in social science theories, data collection and analysis. Additionally, the school launched a certificate program in data analytics in fall 2021 and added a new dual master’s degree program offered jointly by our Urban Planning Department and the Urban School of Sciences Po in Paris.

Dean Segura also co-founded the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute in 2017 to address inequities and spread awareness of the most critical domestic policy challenges facing Latinos and other communities of color.

Chancellor Block and I are grateful to Dean Segura for advancing the public affairs disciplines at UCLA and for his work to deepen the Luskin School’s impact on communities near and far. Please join me in thanking Dean Segura for his leadership and wishing him well on his next chapter.

Abrams and Boston University Dean Call for Social Workers to Use Knowledge for Change Scholars must wrestle with the root causes of social inequality and strive toward bettering people's lives, they write

Professor Laura Abrams, chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, and Dean Jorge Delva of Boston University’s School of Social Work (BUSSW) are co-authors of a newly published journal article looking at the opportunities and obligations of social work research.

Published by the Journal of the Society for Social Work & Research, “Social Work Researchers: From Scientific Technicians to Changemakers” is a call to action for social work scholars to direct their efforts toward high-impact research that produces findings that can be applied in a timely manner to influence programs, policies or movements that improve the lives of the most marginalized and oppressed populations.

Abrams and Delva note that amid recent social tumult, global challenges and increased attention to racism and anti-Blackness, there has been an increase in demand for research that is both scientific and attentive to social, racial, economic and environmental justice.

They say, however, that an empirical push in social work research has resulted in “a focus on quantity over impact; undue emphasis on publishing in journals, often in non-social-work journals that have high impact factors but are separated from our practice community; engagement in ‘traditional’ modes of scholarship that do not necessarily challenge the status quo; and pursuit of NIH funding as an end in itself.”

The authors acknowledge the value of National Institutes of Health funding but write that the “narrow focus on NIH as an arbiter of a successful scholar … has also reinforced the top-down, parachuting type of research whereby researchers drop into a community, conduct their research and depart with little to no involvement by and impact on the community.”

Pushing toward evidence without a solid anchor to communities is a phenomenon that the authors attribute to pressures within academia to attain ever-greater funding, power and prestige — pressures fed by incomplete measures of success such as the U.S. News & World Report rankings.

Delva and Abrams point to a paradigm shift, saying the next generation of social work scholars is ready for change. New momentum exists for the belief that current research practices function as tools of white supremacy, patriarchy and oppression, which is an idea advanced as early as 1968, when the National Association of Black Social Workers urged the National Conference on Social Welfare to publicly repudiate the welfare system.

Delva and Abrams say that social work must reach beyond the goal of implementing health research into practice and also wrestle with the root causes of social inequalities. In the same way that science alone could not have improved women’s lives without women’s rights movements, social science can only make an impact with communal support and momentum, the co-authors write.

Abrams, whose research centers on improving the well-being of youth and adults with histories of incarceration, joins Delva, the Paul Farmer professor and director of the Center for Innovation in Social Work & Health at BUSSW, in imploring academic leaders to make a more concerted effort to elevate and reward work based on public impact, community participatory research and social movements.

Kal Penn on Working for Change in Hollywood and Politics The actor, author, public servant and UCLA alumnus shares his multilayered life story with a Luskin Lecture audience

By Mary Braswell

To understand the folly of viewing people through a one-dimensional lens, just look at Kal Penn’s resume.

The UCLA alumnus has played stoners, doctors and Santa Claus on the big and small screens. As part of the Obama White House, he mobilized voters, helped shape policy and advocated for the arts. Now, he’s added a new entry to his list of achievements: bestselling author.

Penn published his darkly funny memoir “You Can’t Be Serious” in 2021, and he returned to campus on Nov. 3 to share tales from his circuitous life journey as part of the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series.

Penn, a familiar face to viewers of “House,” “Designated Survivor” and the “Harold & Kumar” stoner movie franchise, was moved to write the book during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people were re-examining their career choices and life priorities.

“Maybe I do have a story to tell,” he realized. “Maybe now is the time to share how you can have the blessing and privilege of working in two totally different careers.”

His story begins in New Jersey, where he grew up as the child of Indian immigrants — two scientists who fretted about their son’s desire to make a living as an actor. His career arc started on a middle school stage, when Penn brought down the house as the Tin Man in “The Wiz,” even breaking through to boys who had bullied the drama kids.

“I just thought, wow, what an incredible experience, that something as simple as a school play and a joke that was improvised made somebody change their minds,” he remembered.

“There’s a magic to this in terms of having a captive audience and being able to introduce them to characters and perceptions that are different from theirs. And that really motivated me to want to be an actor.”

After graduating from UCLA in 2000 with degrees in sociology and theater, film and television, Penn tried to make his way in an entertainment industry that, despite its broad reputation as a bastion of liberal values, clung to all forms of racism.

In some roles that he auditioned for, a brown face and Indian accent were the top criteria, not the talent, humor and heart needed to develop a believable character.

Penn recalled his attempts to persuade a sitcom director that the character he was playing would be much funnier if he didn’t descend into South Asian stereotypes — and that it would mean a lot to his young cousins, fans of the show.

“‘This is not a conversation we’re having,’” Penn said he was told. “‘Your little cousins should feel lucky that you’re allowed to be on TV to begin with. And so should you.’”

Despite such tales of entrenched bigotry, Penn assured the UCLA audience that change, though slow, can definitely be measured. Sometimes it’s for business reasons, he said, citing the diversity of programming in the era of streaming platforms, which are funded through subscriptions rather than ad revenues that have a chilling effect on risk-taking.

Penn jumped from Hollywood to national politics during the Obama administration, when he served as White House liaison to young Americans, Asian Americans and the arts community and worked on policy matters including health care, immigration and LGBTQ rights. He was a national co-chair for the Obama/Biden reelection campaign in 2012 and served on the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities.

With that insider perspective on politics and governance, Penn weighed in on the current state of civil discourse in America. Speaking days before the contentious midterm elections, he acknowledged, “It is a dark time.”

One member of the audience, a student pursuing a master of public policy, sought Penn’s advice to young people called to public service but experiencing frustration and fear that they won’t be able to make a difference.

Don’t lose sight of important gains that have already been made, Penn counseled.

“When I do university lectures, a lot of times the tone of certain questions is like, ‘I can’t believe you worked for a moderate like Barack Obama.’ To me, what a great benchmark of progress, because at the time he was a progressive president.”

The notion that a generation of Americans now takes for granted the passage of the Affordable Care Act, repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and protections extended to DACA students is a sure sign of progress, Penn said. Just this year, a landmark climate bill passed “because so many young people were pushing the White House to do something.”

During the on-stage conversation moderated by Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s policy-oriented magazine Blueprint, more nuances of Penn’s humanness came through. Many of his loved ones are private by nature, so not until his memoir was published did some readers learn that Penn is gay and engaged to his partner, Josh. His proudest accomplishment is earning a graduate certificate in international security from Stanford University, and he aspires to one day serve his country as a U.S. ambassador. And in answer to a question from the audience, Penn revealed that his favorite soup is matzo ball.

Penn’s appearance was part of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ signature Luskin Lecture Series, aimed at igniting dialogue on the most pressing policy challenges of our time.

Following the conversation, audience members snaked around the Centennial Ballroom at UCLA’s Luskin Conference Center, waiting to speak with Penn as he signed copies of his autobiography, complimentary to those who had registered to attend. They included students from the worlds of theater, film, global studies and public affairs, and Penn had a universal charge for each of them:

“Complacency is the greatest danger. … Just because things have progressed doesn’t mean they’re not going to slide back in any way, both in terms of diversity and career but also in terms of democracy.

“When you’re complacent, the other side will absolutely win.”

View photos from the lecture on Flickr.

Kal Penn Luskin Lecture

Grant to Support Study of ‘Lifers’ Who Are Given a Second Chance Project led by Laura Abrams of UCLA Social Welfare will focus on people convicted of offenses committed when they were under 18

Social Welfare chair Laura Abrams  has received a grant of $860,000 to lead an extensive national study of young people sentenced to life in prison who are ultimately given a chance at freedom.

The three-year study, funded by the Houston-based philanthropy Arnold Ventures, aims to build a base of knowledge that supports safe and equitable sentencing and “second-look” policies for people sentenced to life for offenses committed before they were 18 years old. Many have spent years or decades behind bars.

“This research seeks to answer critical policy questions,” Abrams said. “Can we develop a set of evidence-informed policies that provide second chances for people serving long sentences for violent crimes? Can we reduce our overreliance on long sentences in the future without compromising public safety?”

Abrams and an interdisciplinary team of scholars from across the country will focus on a subset of the “lifer” population — the roughly 2,800 people who were convicted of homicide as minors after being tried in adult criminal courts.

Harsh sentences of youth convicted of violent offenses increased dramatically during the “tough on crime” 1980s and 1990s, but two U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the past 10 years held that mandatory life sentences for minors are unconstitutional. This paved the way for the release of hundreds of people.

Working with data collected by the nonprofits the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and the Sentencing Project, Abrams and her colleagues will track those who have been freed as well as those who remain incarcerated to determine whether releases are conducted equitably. They will also assess the level of preparation for reentry into the community and the risk of a return to criminal behavior.

The team includes experts from UCLA, University of Cincinnati, Johns Hopkins University, University of Michigan, Northwestern University and Temple University, representing disciplines such as social work, human development and behavior, public health and criminology.

While the research will focus on those incarcerated as minors, the findings can be used as a foundation for broader reforms of sentencing and second-chance policies.

“This study has strong potential to inform policies related to the over 50% of U.S. prisoners serving sentences of 10 years or more,” Abrams said.

Michael Storper Receives International Geography Prize The prestigious Vautrin Lud Award honors a scholar whose contributions are globally recognized

By Stan Paul

Michael Storper, distinguished professor of regional and international development in urban planning and director of Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin, was selected by an international jury to receive the prestigious 2022 Vautrin Lud International Award for Geography.

Storper traveled to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges in northeastern France to accept the award at an Oct. 2 ceremony, part of the annual three-day International Festival of Geography founded in 1990.

The Vautrin Lud Award is typically given to a person who has made outstanding contributions to the field of geography and has achieved a wide international reputation as an outstanding scholar.

“It is always an honor to be elected by one’s peers around the world,” said Storper, who joins a select group of UCLA Luskin faculty who have earned the accolade. The late Edward Soja received the honor in 2015 and emeritus professor Allen J. Scott won in 2003.

Woman and man holding prize check

Associate Professor Celine Vacchiani-Marcuzzo of the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, left, presents the Vautrin Lud Award to Michael Storper. Photo by Andrés Rodríguez-Pose

“Michael Storper’s contributions have been transformative and, in the spirit of urban planning, provide practical guidance on developing metropolitan regions around the globe,” said Chris Tilly, professor and chair of Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin.

Storper, who received his Ph.D. in geography from the University of California, Berkeley, and who has been affiliated with UCLA for four decades, is an international scholar who focuses his research and teaching on the closely linked areas of economic geography, globalization, technology, city regions and economic development.

He holds concurrent appointments in Europe, at the Institute of Political Studies (“Sciences Po”) in Paris, where he is professor of economic sociology and a member of its Center for the Sociology of Organizations; and at the London School of Economics, where he is professor of economic geography.

The Vautrin Lud Prize, created in 1991, rewards the work and research of a single distinguished geographer, identified after consultation with hundreds of researchers around the world. The prize, sometimes referred to as the “Nobel Prize in Geography,” is considered the highest international award in the field.

The annual award is named after the French scholar who was instrumental in naming America for the Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci, whose account of landing on the North American continent found its way to the group of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges scholars directed by Lud. In 1507, the group used Vespucci’s accounts to publish one of the earliest geographical treatises regarding the New World.

The honor adds to awards Storper has received for his decades of work and research.

The American Association of Geographers awarded Storper its Distinguished Scholarship Honors for 2017, and he received the 2016 Gold Founder’s Medal from the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).

Storper, co-author of the 2015 book, “The Rise and Decline of Urban Economies: Lessons from Los Angeles and San Francisco,” was previously named to the Thomson Reuters list of the World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds of 2014. In 2012, he was elected to the British Academy and received the Regional Studies Association’s award for overall achievement as well as the Sir Peter Hall Award in the House of Commons. He also holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands.

Jim Newton Receives 2022 Carey McWilliams Award Editor-in-chief of UCLA Blueprint magazine receives honor recognizing journalistic contributions to society’s understanding of politics  

By Les Dunseith

UCLA’s Jim Newton is the winner of the Carey McWilliams Award, which honors a journalist or organization each year for intellectual forthrightness and political independence.

Newton is the founding editor-in-chief of Blueprint magazine, which is based at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. He’s also a lecturer in the departments of public policy and communications studies.

The McWilliams Award has been given since 1982 by the American Political Science Association in memory of a California lawyer who became an influential political leader, author and editor. McWilliams edited The Nation magazine from 1955 to 1975 and wrote landmark books that focused on migrant farm workers in California and the World War II internment of Japanese Americans.

“I’m deeply honored by this prize and especially by the thought that it binds my name, in some small way, to that of McWilliams, who has long been a personal polestar of integrity and wisdom,” Newton said.

The award, which recognizes Newton’s work at UCLA and other accomplishments, was officially presented Sept. 14 in Montreal at the association’s annual meeting. He has written several books about historical figures of political importance with a California connection, including former CIA chief and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren and former Gov. Jerry Brown. At the Los Angeles Times, he was a reporter, editor, columnist, bureau chief, editorial page editor and editor-at-large.

Past recipients of the award include well-known broadcast journalists such as Judy Woodruff, Bill Moyers, Lesley Stahl and Nina Totenberg; other respected newspaper writers such as Seymour Hersh, Molly Ivins and Ronald Brownstein; authors and professors; plus chroniclers of political discourse from a diverse array of outlets that includes the New York Times, Washington Post, Cook Political Report, the Congressional Quarterly, National Public Radio and the Huffington Post.

UCLA Luskin colleague Zev Yaroslavsky first became aware of Newton’s tough-but-fair journalistic approach during his time as an elected official in Los Angeles.

“Jim’s coverage of the LAPD — and the reforms spawned by the Rodney King beating and the Rampart scandal — is still the gold standard” for news reporting in Los Angeles, Yaroslavsky wrote in a letter recommending Newton for the McWilliams award.

Henry Weinstein, a former L.A. Times colleague who is now on the faculty at UC Irvine Law, also wrote an award nomination letter. “He is a potent and graceful practitioner of what I call ‘the Journalism of Illumination’ — articles and books that take a reader deep into important subjects, regardless of whether they occurred yesterday or 75 years ago — just as McWilliams did in an earlier era.”

A third recommendation letter came from a former Times colleague who has continued to work with Newton as a frequent writer for UCLA Blueprint, Lisa Fung. She praised Newton’s ability to build connections among the worlds of politics, journalism and academia.

It’s become increasingly difficult to understand the motivations of government and policy officials, but through his work as a writer, editor, author and educator, Jim is leading the charge to bring about change and to show people why they should care,” Fung wrote.

Newton said his appreciation of McWilliams grew while writing his book about Warren, the former chief justice of the United States. In fact, as governor of California, Warren clashed with McWilliams and actually fired him from a government job in part because he was an outspoken critic of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

“McWilliams is the only principled person at the time who stood up and said, ‘This is a bad idea,’” Newton said.

He founded Blueprint magazine, which is based at the Luskin School and distributed online and in print twice yearly, as a way to connect intellectuals to policymakers in light of what he perceives as a growing need.

“The policy universe, in particular, had really been stripped of a lot of its research apparatus just over the time that I had been covering it,” Newton said. “It’s true at the city, county and state levels — legislative analysts just don’t have the firepower they once did.”

Filling that gap was the germinating notion of Blueprint, which often highlights academic researchers who are tackling policy questions.

“Let’s make policymakers aware of the research that might inform policy, and let’s also engage researchers in what’s going on in the policy universe,” Newton said.

He imagines an elected official facing a difficult policy issue and eager to find a fresh, independent perspective.

“Instead of just listening to labor or business, you realize that there’s some thoughtful, nonpartisan research that’s being done that can help guide you to a good answer,” said Newton, whose goal is making scholarly research accessible to a non-academic audience.

 “We don’t want it to be an academic journal,” he explained. “That’s why it’s brightly colored, and it’s designed the way it is, with illustrations and graphical presentations in print and online.”

UCLA scholars are often featured, but the magazine’s focus extends beyond the university.

“So, we write about Norman Lear or David Axelrod or Joe Stiglitz or Jerry Brown — people who are broadly interesting and who are concerned with culture and politics and civic life,” Newton said.

Blueprint’s press run has been reduced in recent years amid financial constraints, and a plan to publish quarterly instead of twice-yearly was shelved in part because of pandemic-related challenges. But Newton is hopeful for a return to the magazine’s full reach — and even expansion. Meanwhile, production has endured, and reporting for the fall edition is currently underway.

“It’s themed around fear,” said Newton, who noted that fear can be constructive when it drives urgency of action around issues like homelessness or climate change. But, of course, fear also has the potential for harm as a tool for some politicians.

“Immigration would be a good example of the kind of illogical fear of other people that results in policy that’s profoundly misguided,” he said.

The theme is particularly timely with political rhetoric heating up as midterm Congressional elections and races for mayor of Los Angeles and the governor of California loom in November. Fear not, the next edition of Blueprint will be available in mid- to late-October to shed light on the political shadows. 

UCLA’s Jim Newton receives the Carey McWilliams Award from Lisa Martin, president-elect of the American Political Science Association. Photo from APSA

 

 

Megan Mullin Appointed an Endowed Chair and Faculty Director at UCLA Luskin Environmental politics scholar joins Luskin Center for Innovation leadership team as urgent climate change challenges face California and the country

By Stan Paul and Michelle Einstein

Megan Mullin an award-winning scholar of American political institutions and behavior, focusing on environmental politics has been appointed to endowed positions within the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. 

In January, she will join the faculty of UCLA Public Policy as the Meyer and Renee Luskin Endowed Professor of Innovation and Sustainability. Mullin, currently a professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, has also been appointed the new faculty director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. Meyer and Renee Luskin recently endowed both the professorship and faculty director roles.

“Megan Mullin is a unique scholar whose work, at the intersection of environmental protection and the policy process, is perfectly suited to take the Center for Innovation to the next level,” said Gary Segura, dean of the Luskin School.

Mullin’s appointment comes at a time when unprecedented heat, drought and wildfires underscore urgent climate change challenges facing California and the country. The path to solutions is steeped in politics from the level of local communities to the nation’s capital.

“I explore environmental policies that are just, effective and environmentally sustainable. Governance research can help ensure that policies are successfully implemented,” Mullin said.

Her areas of research include the governance and finance of urban water services, public opinion about climate change and the local politics of climate adaptation. 

“Megan understands the factors necessary for action – from the role of public opinion and elections, to how environmental policy is affected by the complex layers of American federalism,” said Public Policy chair Mark A. Peterson. “My colleagues and I are thrilled that Megan will be joining our department as she also takes on the faculty director role at the Luskin Center for Innovation.”

As faculty director, Mullin plans to build upon the center’s work solving environmental challenges through collaborative, actionable research.

“I’m delighted to help advance the Luskins’ vision of bringing UCLA’s expertise to confront our biggest public challenges. The center is bringing that vision to life by collaborating with decision-makers and community members to make on-the-ground impact in environmental policy,” Mullin said. “I look forward to joining that important work and furthering it.”  

Mullin brings a breadth of qualifications for the position. In addition to her role at the Nicholas School, she also holds appointments at Duke’s Department of Political Science and Sanford School of Public Policy. Mullin is a 2020 Andrew Carnegie Fellow and serves on the leadership team for C-CoAST, a National Science Foundation-funded interdisciplinary initiative to study human-natural interactions in coastal systems. Recipient of five awards from the American Political Science Association, she earned a Ph.D. in political science from UC Berkeley.

“Megan is one of the nation’s most esteemed social scientists addressing the local politics of inequitable access to clean water and climate adaptation,” said Gregory Pierce, co-director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. “She will increase our local and national impact through her scholarly and community-engaged understanding of how to affect change at a critical time.”

In a recent article in Nature, Mullin explained why Americans have been slow to respond to the climate crisis and argued that “it is time to bring political knowledge to bear on decisions about protecting people from its consequences.”

Mullin envisions expanding upon the center’s work with a governance lens. Her research aims to understand political feasibility. Specifically, Mullin wants to increase the Luskin Center’s influence on environmental policies in California and more recent work on the national stage. 

“There are so many lessons learned from California’s environmental innovations that can be applied elsewhere,” Mullin said. “That’s not just about helping California learn, but also understanding what’s transportable to different contexts.” 

“She will bring an integrated set of research skills, teaching experience and policy impact that’s a fantastic fit,” said Peterson, a professor of public policy, political science and law at UCLA. 

Mullin plans to start teaching courses in the upcoming spring quarter and said she believes that students are an important bridge for research and practice. 

“And yes, I really love teaching and mentoring students,” Mullin said. “That’s an excitement about Luskin – the extent to which the center is integrating students into so many different parts of its activities.” 

She also welcomes the Luskin School’s focus on the intersection of policy, planning and social welfare. “That intersection is a powerful combination to understand environmental policy at the local level,” Mullin said. “For instance, confronting climate change also requires thinking about housing and social services. And considering how communities have enormously different risks and capacities. This is a unique opportunity to bring all of those pieces together.” 

Mullin is the recipient of a Duke University award for excellence in graduate student mentoring. She teaches and advises students in the areas of environmental politics, local politics and water governance in the United States.

“So many of my former students are now out working in environmental professions, and that’s how I understand what challenges they’re confronting. That informs my research agenda. It’s an ongoing conversation,” said Mullin, whose research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Carnegie Corporation, the JEHT Foundation, and the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation. 

Mullin’s appointment completes the Luskin Center for Innovation’s leadership transition following the departure of JR DeShazo, the founding faculty director, who was appointed dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in 2021.

As the faculty director of the center, Mullin will join the existing executive team with Pierce,  V. Kelly Turner and Colleen Callahan. Pierce and Callahan will continue serving in executive leadership roles, and Turner will take on a new leadership role furthering her research on climate action.

UCLA, Hebrew University Receive Grant for International Collaboration to Deter School Violence Top scholars, educators and practitioners will join forces to foster safe and welcoming schools

A $650,000 grant from The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation will support a new partnership between UCLA and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem focused on developing school violence prevention strategies that turn campuses into safe and welcoming places for children worldwide.

The UCLA-HU Collaboration for Safe Schools is a two-year pilot program connecting scholars and practitioners globally and across disciplines to share research and insights related to the complex underlying causes of school violence.

The program will operate in both California and Israel under the leadership of two internationally recognized experts in school safety: Ron Avi Astor of UCLA and Mona Khoury-Kassabri of Hebrew University.

Astor is the Marjorie Crump Endowed Professor of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, with a joint appointment in the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. Khoury-Kassabri, Hebrew University’s vice president of strategy and diversity, is the Frances and George Katz Family Chair at the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare.

The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation grant, awarded to UCLA and American Friends of the Hebrew University, covers half of the pilot program’s $1.3 million budget. Martin H. Blank, Jr., and Richard S. Ziman, co-trustees of the foundation, issued a statement inviting other funders to “join this important initiative to create a safer and more peaceable world.”

Through exchange programs and conferences held on each campus, the Collaboration for Safe Schools aims to bring top U.S. and Israeli scholars together with K-12 educators, administrators and social workers; policymakers and experts in law and criminology; and university students focused on fields related to social education.

Participants will share knowledge on gun violence, bullying and cyberbullying, youth suicide and substance abuse, as well as forms of hate including antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, and bias against LGBTQ and immigrant communities. The alliance will lead to a deeper understanding of culturally appropriate ways to create thriving school environments.

It will also stress the importance of a school curriculum that prizes not just academic success but social and emotional maturity, and makes room for integration of the arts into a holistic education that builds safe, healthy communities.

“In our current unprecedented and unsettling times, such collaborations are more important than ever,” says Astor, who has worked with thousands of schools to reduce victimization of students in a career spanning three decades.

Khoury-Kassabri, an authority on community-level social justice policies and interventions that prevent juvenile delinquency, says, “This partnership will promote the worldwide reduction in hate between groups using education, exchanges and scientific data, both in the U.S. and Israel.”

The pilot program is envisioned as a prelude to what will become the UCLA-Hebrew University Center for Safe Schools, operated jointly by the two universities. The center will leverage the wide-ranging research, academic, training and field expertise of the two campuses and serve as a multidisciplinary hub supporting school safety efforts worldwide.

UCLA Luskin Research Helps Guide Public Health Response to Ongoing Monkeypox Outbreak Ian Holloway is among researchers working with health officials to develop evidence-based strategies

By Les Dunseith

UCLA Luskin researchers are helping shape local and state health policy decisions in the wake of the monkeypox virus outbreak.

Ian Holloway, director of the Hub for Health Intervention, Policy and Practice at UCLA Luskin, is one of the researchers leading the effort. The Social Welfare professor was asked to sit on the scientific advisory committee to the California Department of Public Health soon after the first case in the United States was reported in mid-May.

Holloway, who aims to use research-based evidence to shape local and state public health policy regarding monkeypox, is now in the early stages of microsimulation modeling in relation to the disease. He and his researchers can model various scenarios using this advanced statistical approach, which allows policymakers to view and understand different hypotheticals.

“What if we can vaccinate 50% of those who are at risk by a certain time — what impact will that have on transmission?” Holloway asked. “What if we can get all of those who test positive for monkeypox on treatment within a certain time frame to reduce the risk of transmissibility — what will that mean for the evolution of the virus?”

Holloway has stressed the need to prioritize an equity-focused response in communities of men who have sex with other men, particularly among racial and ethnic minority gay men. In an August 18 editorial published by the American Journal of Public Health, he outlined a four-point strategy for how to scale up monkeypox vaccinations without further stigmatizing gay men.

man smiles as he stands beneath sign that designates office location for research hub

Ian Holloway of the Hub for Health Intervention, Policy and Practice. Photo by Mary Braswell

“My hope in working with Los Angeles County and the California Department of Public Health is that we can be really strategic and use research evidence to inform public health policy,” Holloway said. “One thing that’s promising for monkeypox vaccination is that we saw very high levels overall of vaccination for COVID-19 among LGBT communities in general, and gay men specifically. However, we still saw disparities by race and ethnicity.”

Extending eligibility

He supports an August 24 decision by the Los Angeles County Public Health Department to follow national guidance and extend eligibility to more people despite an ongoing shortage of the monkeypox vaccine. Doing so will bolster efforts to reach racial and ethnic minority communities, he said.

The new strategy involves a process known as dose splitting, in which a vial that usually contains two doses is split into up to five doses and administered in a way that retains effectiveness despite the lower dosage. Traditionally the vaccine is administered in a subcutaneous manner into the fat behind the triceps muscle. The new strategy is for a shallow intradermal injection into a layer of skin under the arm. This method typically leads to higher immune responses and faster drug uptake.

“Hopefully, that will mean we can get more doses to people,” Holloway said. “But public health departments really have to start planning to reach large communities of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.”

In cities like Los Angeles, Holloway noted, people getting vaccinated tend to be more affluent and can afford to take time off work when they get a text reminder saying it’s their turn. “It’s much more challenging to reach those with lower incomes who are disproportionately part of racial and ethnic minority communities,” he said.

Holloway also leads the Gay Sexuality and Social Policy Initiative at UCLA, which focuses specifically on the unique experiences of gay men related to sex and sexuality. Although monkeypox is spread through any type of intimate contact, 98% of U.S. infections in the current outbreak have been among men, primarily those who have sex with other men.

Alex Garner, co-director of the initiative, is also director of community engagement at MPact Global, a worldwide organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of gay, bisexual and queer folks, and advancing human rights. Garner has advised the World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control on communication strategies and community engagement relating to the disease. He said the outbreak has further demonstrated the structural inequalities that exist in health care.

“At the same time, we can’t allow stigma to be worse than the disease,” Garner said. “To not provide adequate investment and care for people of color, migrants, sex workers and LGBTQ folks only reinforces the idea that our lives do not matter.”

The stigma problem

Holloway and Garner are among those lobbying to change the name of the disease to something less stigmatizing than monkeypox such as MPX, which is favored by state public health officials.

Advising gay men without stigmatizing them — a frequent problem during the HIV epidemic — requires sensitivity in how information is communicated. Holloway’s team at UCLA has been active in working with community partners like the Los Angeles LGBT Center on education and raising awareness.

Initially, GSSPI put out a set of infographics about protecting oneself from exposure to the virus and how to identify the symptoms, which are similar to a severe flu. Infected individuals usually develop a rash and then lesions during a painful illness that can last up to four weeks.

So far, no one in the United States has died in an outbreak that now totals more than 40,000 cases worldwide and over 3,000 in California. Los Angeles County has the highest rate of infection in the state.

The outbreak spread quickly but is unlikely to disappear nearly as fast. The vaccine needs to be administered twice, four weeks apart, with 85% immunity not achieved until two weeks after the second dose. “We have a long road in front of us in terms of being able to get our communities protected through vaccination,” Holloway said.

The task at hand is both urgent and daunting, while the health and social ramifications are far-reaching. That’s why Holloway has enlisted assistance from Brian Keum, who also teaches in the department of social welfare, and Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld of UCLA Luskin Public Policy for another monkeypox-related research endeavor.

The project involves data mining of a Twitter database developed by Steinert-Threlkeld that goes back to 2014. By tracking homophobic hate speech, UCLA Luskin researchers will be able to document the types of hate speech relating to the monkeypox outbreak and inform communication strategies to confront online homophobia.

“There’s been a surge in homophobic hate speech online,” Holloway said. “The goal of this second project is understanding the ways in which homophobic hate speech online is evolving in parallel to the spread of (monkeypox) and through social media networks.”

He noted that social media can be a powerful way to spread both negative and positive information — greater attention was drawn to the outbreak in June when actor Matt Ford started posting videos on Twitter and TikTok about his symptoms and treatment, for example.

“I’m also interested in the ways in which gay communities are caring for themselves using social media during this time,” Holloway said.

‘Social Workers Who Drive Social Change’ Students from around the world gather at UCLA to reimagine their chosen field through a justice-first lens

By Mary Braswell

The aspiring social workers from around the world gathered on a shaded lawn at UCLA to process what they had seen that morning.

Their visit to an agency on Skid Row, epicenter of Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis, came after several days immersed in conversation about how to engage communities on society’s margins, and the group’s reflections pointed to one overriding question:

How can individual social workers move away from managing misery and toward a transformation of their entire field, upending systems that perpetuate inequity in order to truly change lives?

That aspiration guided this year’s International Summer University in Social Work, hosted by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare over two weeks in July.

More than 20 scholars and graduate students from universities in Australia, Canada, China, India, Israel and Switzerland joined a large UCLA contingent during the collective multinational inquiry.

“We are seeking common practices that promote justice, and we learn from one another,” said Amy Ritterbusch, the assistant professor of social welfare who developed the curriculum with Professor Emerita Rosina Becerra.

‘We are seeking common practices that promote justice, and we learn from one another.’ — Amy Ritterbusch, assistant professor of social welfare

The summer university has convened around the world for more than a decade, governed by a consortium of universities to bring a global lens to core social work theories and practices.

This is the first year that UCLA has hosted, and finding a place on a full agenda were topics such as racism, the wealth gap, gender bias, housing and health inequities, children’s rights and elder abuse.

Faculty members from each participating university shared their scholarship on community engagement, as did the keynote speaker, University of Washington Professor Karina Walters, a triple Bruin who earned her doctorate in social welfare in 1995. Walters drew from her Choctaw heritage and research, using the elements of water, land, air, wind and fire to frame the dialogue.

Off-campus elements of the program revealed the extremes of L.A. society: the structural poverty and exclusion seen on Skid Row and at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and the spaces of privilege glimpsed during cultural outings to the Hollywood Bowl and Pantages Theater.

Also built into each day’s schedule was space for group dialogue to share the unique cultural perspectives and social work practices each participant brought to the summer university.

Vanessa Warri, a UCLA doctoral student studying social welfare and a leader in the summer university, said the program challenged students to broaden their thinking about their chosen profession.

“There’s a history of social workers showing up as ‘saviors’ — at best providing resources to an underserved community and at worst managing the suffering of a population, but not necessarily helping to alleviate it,” she said. “So how can we engage and advocate in the spaces we are in and build more sustainable communities?”

Before and after the trip to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Cardinal Manning Center on Skid Row, the group grappled with the enormity of the homelessness crisis, the limits of social work, and the concern that taking a tour of life on the streets would be more voyeuristic than educational. The shelter staff invited them to take note of the sights, smells and sounds, then ponder how policies are addressing or not addressing what they observed.

Bobby Benny, a student from the Rajagiri College of Social Science in India, was struck by the dozens of shelters and service providers within a few blocks but wondered how they could possibly meet the needs of the 6,500 unhoused people in downtown Los Angeles, much less the tens of thousands countywide.

“How is that building with 100 beds a solution? How is any of it a solution?” Benny asked as the students gathered back at UCLA. “I’ve seen this in India, but something is different here.”

On the institute’s final day, Benny shared a poem juxtaposing the Los Angeles he had dreamed of and the one he woke up in, where “those skyscrapers were acting as a source of shade for the people who were forgotten in the City of Angels.”

Group presentations allowed all the students to synthesize their experiences and reflect on how they could apply what they learned in their home cultures. And they expressed a desire to stay connected even over long distances.

Said Ritterbusch, “We hope to leave here with a collective commitment to become social workers who drive social change.”

View lectures and photos from this year’s International Summer University in Social Work.

International Summer University in Social Work