Joe Nunn, at the Heart of Social Work Education UCLA Luskin professor emeritus reflects on what has changed during his six decades in the profession and its teaching — and what’s still in progress

By Stan Paul

Social work education is going through a transition based around social justice, said Joe Nunn, emeritus professor of social welfare, but change is nothing new for the profession or for UCLA.

Nunn has a long affiliation with the university, first coming to the Westwood campus as a 17-year-old freshman in winter of 1961, then continuing through pursuit of his MSW and doctorate degrees, and later to the faculty. He retired in 2006.

Recalling his time as an MSW student from 1968 to 1970, he said, “One of the major transitions — and it’s still always going to be an issue — I think was diversity.”

During a time of anti-war and anti-discrimination marches and protests, UCLA Social Welfare had just two instructors who were African American. He and other students demanded that a tenured Black professor be added.

Douglas Glasgow, an assistant professor, was the only tenure track instructor at the time. Subsequently, Glasgow was promoted to associate professor and also served as director of the Center for Afro-American Studies (now the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies). Glasgow went on to become dean of Howard University’s School of Social Work.

“We’ve since had more African American faculty members than we had early on,” said Nunn, pointing out that the field faculty has been, in general, more diverse than the faculty as a whole across programs locally and nationally. But “there’s still more to be done.”

Before becoming director of field education from 1991 to 2006, Nunn’s first job after earning his undergraduate degree was working with juvenile offenders in the probation department for Los Angeles County in the mid-1960s. His work schedule spanned early mornings, afternoons and late nights, sometimes into the wee hours.

“When you’re with kids, you’re there all day. I mean, you’re 100% time with the unit,” he recalled.

It was during this time that he became aware of the work being done by social workers with youth and their families, he said.  “I got to work with some of them. That’s what really connected me to social welfare and the profession.”

‘Social work, as a community, should be community-connected because it is a service, that link between town and gown, so to speak, between the university and the community.”

He continued as a probation officer in Los Angeles after earning his MSW, totaling 15 years in all. He began working with interns from UCLA who were associated with the county’s probation camp.

“That was the first time I think they had social welfare interns. I was studying for the LSAT when my field liaison, Trudy Saxton, encouraged me to consider a doctorate in social work,” he said. “So, that’s what got me out of probation and into the PhD program.”

As a doctoral student, Nunn focused on juvenile justice.

“I looked at the attitudes of social work professionals and lay people from the Black community toward youth in trouble … how they viewed these kids in terms of what they thought should be the outcomes of providing service to them.”

His next career move was becoming assistant dean for field education at USC.

“That was hard to go across town, being such a Bruin, but I thought it was an opportunity. So, I went there for four years. And I learned a lot because I’d never worked for a private entity before.”

After returning to UCLA to direct its field education program, Nunn taught courses on cross-cultural awareness and social work. He played an integral role in developing the first course on juvenile justice for UCLA Social Welfare.

“Had to really fight for that,” Nunn said, because juvenile justice wasn’t a significant focus at the time. That has changed in recent years, as exemplified by current Social Welfare chair Laura Abrams, a professor whose focus is on juvenile justice.

The field training aspect has been a constant for Nunn, who has served in leadership positions for the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which sets national standards for social work education. He recalled being at an annual meeting with thousands of social work educators representing hundreds of social work programs. Nunn and a few colleagues noticed something was missing in the conference’s attendees and recognition programs.

“The people missing were the field instructors, the people who actually work with our students in the community,” Nunn said. So, he worked with peers at Cal State Long Beach to start the Heart of Social Work Award, an award that is now given at the organization’s annual conference to outstanding field instructors across the country. The award prompted more universities to sponsor field instructors to come to the conference and receive the award.

Over his career, Nunn has been awarded regional and national honors such as the National Association of Social Work, California Chapter Social Worker of the Year. Since 2007, he’s been the namesake for UCLA Luskin’s Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumni of the Year.

One honoree was Aurea Montes-Rodriguez MSW ’99, now executive vice president of the Community Coalition in Los Angeles, who spoke about Nunn at the award celebration in 2017.  “I am surprised and very humbled to be nominated and selected, especially for an award named after Dr. Nunn,” she said. “When I was a student, I looked up to him and admired the work he had done around juvenile criminal justice — thinking about ways we could do a better job eliminating the cradle-to-prison pipeline so we can develop a healthier generation.”

For decades, Joe Nunn has been an observer, an instigator of change and a teacher in a profession that, at its heart, continues to advance one overriding mission — public service.

“Social work, as a community, should be community-connected because it is a service,” Nunn said, “that link between town and gown, so to speak, between the university and the community.”

Steep Decline in Day-to-Day School Violence UCLA study of more than 6 million students during an 18-year period finds welcome school safety news amid outburst of mass shootings

Mass shootings at schools in the United States continue to make headlines, terrifying students, parents, educators and communities. Yet groundbreaking new research shows that, during the two decades prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a steep and steady reduction in serious forms of violence, including bullying and weapon-related behaviors, across California’s middle and high school campuses.

The overall improvement in campus climate is welcome news for families concerned about sending their children to a safe environment, and it suggests that eruptions of gun violence should be treated as a separate social and psychological phenomenon, said UCLA scholar Ron Avi Astor, co-author of the study published this week in the World Journal of Pediatrics.

“Each school shooting is a devastating act that terrorizes the nation, and there is a growing sense in the public that little has changed in two decades to make schools safe,” Astor said. “But mass shootings are just one part of this story. Overall, on a day-to-day basis for most students, American schools are safer than they’ve been for many decades.”

Astor is a professor of social welfare and education at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. Using data from the confidential California Healthy Kids Survey, he and co-authors Rami Benbenishty of Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ilan Roziner of the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University analyzed responses from more than 6 million middle and high school students from 2001 to 2019.

“During the 18-year period examined, California secondary schools had massive reductions in all forms of victimization,” including physical threats with or without weapons, verbal and psychological abuse, and property offenses, the authors wrote. Noteworthy findings include:

  • a 56% reduction in physical fights
  • a 70% reduction in reports of carrying a gun onto school grounds, and a 68% reduction in bringing other weapons, such as a knife, to school
  • a 59% reduction in being threatened by a weapon on school grounds
  • and larger declines in victimization reported by Black and Latino students compared to white students

“These findings were evident in more than 95% of California schools, in every county, and not in wealthy suburban schools only,” Astor said.

Over time, students’ sense of safety and belonging at schools rose steadily, the study found. Astor attributed the improvement in campus climate to new policies, stepped-up resources and community efforts prioritizing the development of emotional maturity in youth.

The authors noted that the study covered the period before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools across the country, which may have triggered some mental health issues and outbursts of violence.

“It is important to learn from the policies and interventions that have helped reduce school violence in the last two decades to face these new challenges,” the authors wrote.

After a Long Road to UCLA, He’s Now on the UC Board of Regents Drawing lessons from his own journey, Social Welfare PhD student Merhawi Tesfai aims to break down barriers to higher education

By Mary Braswell

Merhawi Tesfai joined the University of California Board of Regents at an interesting time, to say the least.

Tesfai, a UCLA doctoral student in social welfare, has participated in discussions about UCLA’s move to the Big Ten Conference and its purchase of a Rancho Palos Verdes campus to expand enrollment, and he was at meetings during the largest higher-education strike in U.S. history, involving graduate students across the UC system.

And that was just the fall of 2022.

“The strike and the Big Ten took up a lot of the time and conversations, but there were all these other very important issues that didn’t get as much attention,” said Tesfai, who joined the board last summer as student regent-designate.

For the 2023–24 academic year, he will serve as the board’s sole student regent, with full voting rights, giving voice to the statewide system’s 285,000 students.

At listening sessions with students, chancellors and administrators from every UC campus, Tesfai has heard concerns about sustainability, housing, scholarship support and more. His role is to faithfully convey those issues to his fellow regents, a board that comprises 18 appointees, the UC president and other officers, along with elected leaders including the speaker of the Assembly and governor of California.

Tesfai’s journey to the UC’s governing body has been anything but conventional. He brings to the position the unique perspectives of transfer students, first-generation students, older students and parenting students — and a record of using his own experiences to light the way for others.

Tesfai was born in Eritrea, but his family fled conflict there, moving to neighboring Sudan before eventually relocating to Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood when he was 5. His mother prized education, sending him to charter schools on the Westside and insisting that he apply to college. But more than a decade would pass before Tesfai would find his way to UCLA.

After high school, he enrolled at Cal State Long Beach but left after three semesters.

“I was just not ready at that time,” he said. “It took a few years before it became something that I wanted to do and not something that I felt pressured to do.”

So Tesfai entered the workforce while taking community college classes. He eventually found his calling in the field of counseling and therapy.

“I really felt that this was not just a job; that I could actually help people in some way,” he said.

Tesfai at a UC Regents meeting in July 2022. Photo courtesy of the University of California Board of Regents

He began taking courses toward a certificate in substance abuse counseling at Los Angeles City College, but professors there encouraged him to connect with UCLA’s Center for Community College Partnerships, which offers resources for prospective transfer students. Soon, Tesfai was in touch with a UCLA peer mentor — “someone who looked like me and who had come to school a little bit later as well.”

Then 32, Tesfai weighed whether returning to life as a full-time student was the right move; the summer before he would enroll was a whirlwind highlighted by the birth of his son. But he moved forward, earning a bachelor’s degree in African American studies in 2019, followed by master’s degrees in public policy and social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs three years later.

“When you come in and you’re trying to get your bachelor’s and you’re trying to do a minor and you’re trying to set yourself up for applying for a grad program right after — it’s a lot that you have to cram in there in short periods,” he said. “But luckily, a lot of resources and a lot of encouragement came along with it.”

As an undergraduate, Tesfai was accepted to the prestigious McNair Research Scholars program, which provides guidance for students aspiring to earn advanced degrees. At the Bunche Center for African American Studies, he engaged in research on race and inequality. And through the Center for Community College Partnerships, Luskin Black Caucus and other campus groups, he reached out to students from underserved communities, letting them know that a UCLA education was within their reach.

Now, Tesfai is on track to become a quadruple Bruin: He expects to complete his doctorate in social welfare within four years.

Undergraduate and graduate students from any UC campus can apply to serve as student regent; candidates ultimately must be confirmed by the full Board of Regents after a rigorous selection process. Tesfai initially became interested in the post to help fund his doctoral studies — the position comes with a stipend and waiver of tuition and fees during the two-year commitment. But he has come to value how the responsibilities dovetail with the topic of his dissertation, which focuses on barriers to navigating higher education.

He hopes to use his position to advocate for increasing the ranks of underrepresented students throughout the UC.

“This is something that was informed by the long road it took for me to get here,” he said. “I have seen the different ways that high schools, community colleges and universities can really excel at preparing students to just get to a four-year university and potentially to grad school or into whatever career they want. Or how they can fail.”

And Tesfai hopes to honor the guidance he received from the other students, professors, counselors and administrators who helped him along his own academic journey. “I want to do that for others, wherever I can.”

How Weather Woes Led Jack Rothman to UCLA Emeritus professor, now 96, tells why he relocated his pioneering academic research on community organizing to sunny California in the 1980s

By Stan Paul

Jack Rothman was in a rut — literally.

It was winter in the early 1980s and he found himself walking down “automobile tire tracks, you know, trudging along” amid thick snow as he made his way from his job at the University of Michigan to his home about a mile away.

“Why am I doing this as a grown intelligent man living in the winter all the time? I’ve been in New York, Pittsburgh, now Michigan,” the UCLA Luskin emeritus professor recalled thinking. “First chance I get, I’m moving to warm weather, particularly California.”

“It was January. I was writing a paper — my constant preoccupation,” Rothman said. “I hear a voice, ‘This is Dean Leonard Schneiderman, you know, school of social work at UCLA. Would you be willing to come out for an interview visit?’”

Outside his window, it was snowing. “‘You’re darn right. I’ll be out as soon as I can make it,'” he said. It was 80 degrees in Los Angeles during his interview with Schneiderman, former dean of Social Welfare at UCLA. “I had improved my temperature by 70 degrees,” Rothman said. “And that was it.”

He spent the next decade teaching, researching and writing at the Westwood campus. He has been officially retired for three decades, but Rothman’s work, influence and longstanding reputation in the field remain current, according to colleagues and former students.

“He was the first to conceptualize and describe community practice in an academic way as fundamental to the profession,” said JoAnn Damron-Rodriguez, an adjunct professor emerita of social welfare and longtime former faculty member at the Luskin School. She cited his seminal theoretical piece, “Three Models of Community Organization Practice.”

“His textbook on models of community organization became a classic with seven editions and generations of students using these practice approaches to shape their careers,” Damron-Rodriguez said.

More books followed on related areas of practice: case management, intervention research, action-directed agency and community change, community intervention and more.

“All are on a path to structural change related to the same knotty problems social workers confront today,” Damron-Rodriguez said.

Rothman is a prolific writer — with more than 25 scholarly book titles. His “Planning and Organizing for Social Change: Action Principles from Social Science Research” is one of the earliest efforts to formulate systematic, empirically based practice.

About his interest in community organizing, “I was inherently attracted from my early years to values reflecting equality, social justice and anti-racism,” Rothman said. “These ideals were embedded in my family,” who were immigrants who fled the Ukraine in 1920 during the civil war surrounding the Russian Revolution after centuries-long antisemitism.

Following military service in World War II, Rothman entered academia, completing a bachelor’s degree from City College of New York and a master’s degree from the Ohio State University.

“I started my master’s studies in 1949, almost the same time that the UCLA [Social Welfare] school started. And would you believe there were only two schools in the whole United States that had a concentration or major in community organization,” Rothman said.

“I was really on the ground floor. I decided then I would enter the field with the aspiration of  expanding on the ‘Jane Addams’ social change dimension of the profession,” said Rothman, who completed his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1960 with an emphasis on social psychology.

At the time, there were not many graduate programs in social work in the U.S., Rothman said. Today, it’s over 200. “Instead of taking [classes in] community organizing in only two schools, you could probably take it now in the majority of schools … so that’s a really big change,” he said.

‘My hope is that Social Welfare at UCLA continues along the same path and remains one of the major programs in the country.’

In 1984 — the same year Rothman came to UCLA — Marshall Wong MSW ’86 entered UCLA’s social welfare program and was among the first class to take Rothman’s course on community organizing.

Out of 70-plus MSW students in his class, 11 ended up working in the community area, said Wong, who is now a senior intergroup relations specialist for the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.

“[Rothman] is an extremely modest, amiable person. At the time, I don’t think any of us had any idea of his towering reputation in the field. It took a little while for us to realize,” Wong said.

Rothman’s teaching was foundational for Wong, his classmates and colleagues.

“He really encouraged his students to draw upon their own life experiences as kind of the base for what community organizing techniques and strategies would be effective, and so there was a real, a dynamic relationship between the theoretical and practical,” Wong said.

In 2015, Rothman was honored by the Council on Social Work Education with the Significant Lifetime Achievement in Social Work Education Award and he is the namesake of an annual award for Structural Change Practice by the Special Commission to Advance Macro Practice in Social Work.

Rothman took part in Social Welfare’s 50th anniversary celebration, and he plans to be back on campus for the 75th gala celebration to help mark the program and its achievements.

The Past, Present and Future of Transportation Access Author and scholar Robert Cervero says long-ago research by his late mentor, Martin Wachs, still has relevance for today’s planners and policymakers

By Les Dunseith

When UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus Robert Cervero was asked to deliver the 15th annual Martin Wachs Distinguished Lecture, he was initially hesitant. 

“But it dawned on me that a really important foundational piece of work that was published one-half century ago, 50 years ago, was Marty Wach’s paper on accessibility,” said Cervero during a Feb. 28 presentation in honor of his former urban planning mentor and colleague. “And why don’t I wrap my talk … around the theme of that paper and try to show how it really shaped my own research in this field and, I would suggest, generations of other people as well.”

Titled “Physical Accessibility as a Social Indicator,” the article by Wachs and T. Gordon Kumagai continues to influence planning policy, said Cervero, who earned his doctorate in urban planning at UCLA in 1980 and joined UC Berkeley’s city and regional planning faculty, where he remained until 2016.

“The article really highlights a number of different contexts of which accessibility should really be an overarching principle that guides what we do in this field of urban planning and transportation,” Cervero said.

During introductory remarks, UCLA Luskin Professor Brian Taylor mentioned that the lecture was the first in the series to be presented without Wachs himself in attendance. The longtime urban planning scholar taught at both UCLA and UC Berkeley before his death in 2021. Members of the Wachs family, including his wife, Helen, were in attendance. 

Presented in conjunction with the Luskin Lecture Series, Cervero’s talk was titled, “Accessibility, Social Equity, and Contemporary Policy Debates,” and he spoke about how the concepts put forth 50 years before still have relevance today, especially in regard to how access to transportation contributes to the well-being of people living in cities. 

“Marty made the point with his co-author that this sensibility happens at multiple scales. It’s regional access to jobs or medical facilities, but it’s also at the micro-scale of ‘Do you have access to, say, a bus?’” said Cervero, who said he built on this notion in his own research about socioeconomic matching in terms of the realities of transportation access. A person might live in a transit-rich area, for example, “but if you’re in a wheelchair, and the buses don’t have wheelchair ramps, then you don’t have great transit access.”

In the 1970s, few scholars prior to Wachs had written about these types of human components to transportation access. “To me, it was truly revolutionary,” Cervero said. 

For example, Cervero found that people living in central city neighborhoods often bear disproportionately higher costs for transportation services. Because they make frequent off-peak trips for necessities like groceries, they end up paying a lot more than affluent suburbanites taking fewer trips over longer distances.  

The disparity also was apparent when he and other researchers looked at why people who seemed to have public transit options readily available to them choose to rely primarily on their vehicles instead. 

“A lot of these individuals were people like working moms who had very complex travel patterns,” Cervero said. “They have a child to drop off at the child care center and then go to their job. They were taking vocational courses at night and had to get there at a time when public transit service was bad. They had split-shift weekend jobs when transit services are notoriously lousy. So, they need a car.”

In looking at the concepts articulated by Wachs so many years before, Cervero also found lessons that can be applied to some of today’s planning and policy debates. One example is the idea of a “15-minute city,” a place designed by planners to ensure that most people have ready access not just to work but to the other necessities of daily life within 15 minutes of their homes.

The idea is laudable, but it has its critics. 

“If you really insist on this, you potentially stifle economic competition. Companies don’t want to thinly distribute activities everywhere,” said Cervero, as some in the audience of UCLA faculty, staff, students and alumni nodded their heads in agreement. “So, this idea of a 15-minute city really runs in the face of what economists have long argued are important economic drivers towards the economic growth and performance of a city.”

In his career, Cervero has consulted on transportation and urban planning projects worldwide, including recently in Singapore. “They’ve come up with this idea of the 20-minute town and the 45-minute city. You can reach a lot of things within 20 minutes. But when it comes to employment, when it comes to going to see a sporting event or buying a car or going to a regional hospital with specialized medical care, that’s a 45-minute city. So, I think we’re getting a lot better articulation and sensible policy.”

During a Q&A session after his formal presentation, Cervero spoke with UCLA Professor Adam Millard-Ball and took questions from the audience. When asked to talk more about his global experience, he explained that much of the scholarly work to date has focused on urban life in the United States and Europe. 

Some of today’s researchers focus on climate change impacts and how to find “a little more efficiency out of electric mobility or ridesharing or whatever. But in the grand scheme of things, over the next 20 or 30 years, 80% to 90% of urbanization is not going to happen in the Global North. It’s going to be in south Asia and Africa, and whatever happens there is going to swamp any and everything we do here, particularly in the rates of carbon emissions and so forth.”

In the developed world, the focus is often on how to get people from the central cores to jobs in suburbia. That’s less true in places like Mexico, South America, Indonesia and other parts of Asia. 

“It’s a totally different landscape. Most of the poor are not in cities but in far-flung suburbs or towns. When you’re talking about lack of access, it’s a two- to three-hour, one-way daily commute,” Cervero said. “The amount of time and resources you have to invest is enormous just getting to and from where you need to be in order to have the earnings to cover basic needs.”

He was also asked about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting rise in remote work.

“Historically, we think of physical proximity,” said Cervero, noting that when workers have highly specialized skill sets they depend on interactions in teams of people with other specialized skills to thrive. 

“The whole idea of access being tied to location is being somewhat thrown around by all these rapidly evolving, powerful kinds of technological advances,” he said. “Technology is transforming. The notion of physical proximity as we all know it has long driven the idea of cooperation. But maybe it happens less.”

Established by students, the Wachs Lecture Series features prominent and innovative scholars and policymakers in the field of transportation. The UCLA Luskin Lecture series brings together scholars with local and national leaders to discuss solutions to society’s most pressing problems. This event was organized by UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and Institute of Transportation Studies, for which Taylor has served as the director and Millard-Ball the interim director. Cervero was the director of UC Berkeley’s counterpart to ITS for many years.

View additional photos on Flickr

UCLA Lecture by Robert Cervero

Watch a recording of the lecture on YouTube

The Trials — and Triumphs — of Rosina Becerra For almost 50 years as a professor and academic leader, she has taken on whatever challenges UCLA has asked of her

By Les Dunseith

Dedicated. Self-sacrificing. Hard-working. Underappreciated.

These are words often used to describe America’s social workers — individuals who sacrifice of themselves to provide the safety net for people in need in places like schools, hospitals, mental health facilities and family services agencies.

People like Rosina Becerra.

For 48 of UCLA Social Welfare’s 75 years, she’s been conducting research, teaching and taking on a daunting series of sometimes-thankless administrative challenges in a relentless pursuit of making things better.

Becerra has overseen the field faculty. She’s been a department chair (for more than one department) and a dean. She was a vice provost and a vice chancellor. She has run academic centers and served as a chief financial officer. She’s been a personal mentor to hundreds.

Even after joining the ranks of emeriti professors in 2016, Becerra hasn’t stopped helping out at UCLA. She is a member of the Board of Governors with the Faculty Club. She is president of the executive board for the UCLA Emeriti Association. She served on the campuswide COVID-19 Task Force. She is a special assistant to the vice chancellor for academic personnel.  She’s also helping to plan Social Welfare’s 75th anniversary celebration.

If there’s a need, Becerra steps up.

Take 1998, for example. When then-Chancellor Albert Carnesale identified diversity as one of the areas demanding immediate attention in his “Strategy for a Great University,” an associate vice chancellor for faculty diversity was sought. Becerra, who came to UCLA in 1975 and was the first Latina at UCLA to be tenured in 1981, was selected.

For five years in that role and another three as vice provost of faculty diversity and development, she was responsible for promoting ethnic and gender equality in a place where many white male professors tended to stay on the job for decades.

“It’s not like running a company —  you can’t just fire people and hire new ones,” said Becerra, stressing that the key to success as an academic leader requires gaining the respect of faculty. “They have to feel like someone’s in charge, you know, and listening, and making sure that things are going to get done.”

Fostering diversity is not quite as difficult in a field like social work that tends to attract workers of color, and UCLA’s Social Welfare program has long been more diverse than UCLA as a whole. An emphasis on diversity was accelerated in recent years at the Luskin School, which today has a full-time and ladder faculty that is 50/50 women and men, and 50% faculty of color. The student body is the most diverse in the University of California system.

Still, change often comes slowly in academia, including within social work education.

“In the past, we were, in many ways, a very cloistered profession,” she said. “We had very strict rules about what the curriculum looked like.”

Society has changed, however, and the profession has been evolving. Social work education is changing, too.

Becerra said, “We still have an accrediting body that’s very strict, but it has loosened up in the sense of broadening what is needed in the profession: How do we begin to look at other types of services and what kinds of skills are needed?”

Today’s students do more research and take a more rigorous analytical approach, she said, and that means “more statistical analysis than we used to have.”

“Whether you’re in health or you’re working with children or you’re working with the elderly or you’re looking at race and ethnicity —  these are all areas of social welfare.”

What has not changed is UCLA’s emphasis not just on social work but on social welfare, which encompasses more of the human condition.

“Whether you’re in health or you’re working with children or you’re working with the elderly or you’re looking at race and ethnicity —  these are all areas of social welfare. We have a broader perspective, and that allows UCLA Social Welfare to attract faculty members with broader, interdisciplinary perspectives.”

Identifying and promoting new approaches served Becerra well in finding solutions to problems during her time as associate dean and then dean from 1986 to 1994 in what was then known as the UCLA School of Social Welfare.

She led the field training program through a time of conflict, she recalled, developing a point system that reassured ladder faculty that the field instructors were carrying a fair load of classroom instruction and other duties.

During her tenure as dean, Los Angeles was beset by racial tensions that erupted in violence. (Read more about Social Welfare’s role in helping the city cope during these difficult times.)

This was also a time of intense economic pressure in higher education.

“UCLA was, I think, $33 million in debt,” she recalled. To survive, it became clear that smaller schools like UCLA Social Welfare would be merged with other degree programs into new entities — a forced combination that few faculty members welcomed.

“I could see the writing on the wall. There was no way we were going to avoid this,” she said.

For social welfare education to continue at UCLA meant merging with urban planning and adding public policy to become the UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research. But how does that work?

“The argument we laid out was that UCLA is the only department that taught social policy regularly. We taught social policy in child welfare, in mental health and in gerontology. And social policy knowledge was needed in our social service agencies,” she said.

Another thing the three degrees have in common, she thought, was their goal of improving the human condition through policy change.

“The people in public policy are the ones that develop policy. In urban planning, they begin to put some meat on the bones of the policy and figure out how it should be implemented,” Becerra said. “And in social welfare, we implement the policy, and we make it work within the communities and in the institutions.”

She helped the School take its difficult first steps on the path toward what UCLA Luskin is today, but Rosina Becerra knows from firsthand experience that being a university leader is never easy. It takes dedication, sacrifice, hard work, toughness — and perseverance.

How Laws and Policies Can Close — or Widen — Gender Gaps New book by UCLA researchers shows that progress toward gender equality has stalled, particularly for caregivers in the U.S.

By Les Dunseith

A comprehensive review of economic gender equality in 193 countries by the UCLA WORLD Policy Analysis Center identifies global trends and exposes policy gaps that include shortcomings when it comes to caregiving.

When the authors of a new open-access book first began tracking maternity leave policies around the world in 2000, they were alarmed to find that 18 countries had no national paid leave in place for working mothers. Today, seven remaining countries still lack such protection — five small island nations, Papua New Guinea, and the United States of America.

The book, “Equality within Our Lifetimes,” pulls together information from more than a decade of research that has also been collected into a robust, freely downloadable database. Co-author Jody Heymann, a professor at UCLA and founding director of WORLD, said that through the 1980s gender equality was rapidly advancing.

“There were more women entering the workforce. There were increased economic opportunities for women, increased educational opportunities,” she said. “That progress has completely stalled.”

The country’s gender wage gap has barely budged for 15 years. What’s more, it’s even broader among parents. In 2021, the average mother working full-time in the U.S. still earned just 73 cents for each dollar earned by a father working full-time.

Because U.S. women remain predominantly responsible for all types of caregiving, it’s not just new mothers who are impacted by the continued lack of federal paid family leave and other legal protections for caregivers in the workplace. The authors cite studies that show women are three times as likely as men in the U.S. to lose their jobs or to leave the workforce because they’re caring for an ill adult.

The economy has felt the impacts. From 2000 to 2019, the U.S. dropped from 7th to 23rd in a ranking of 36 high-income countries on women’s participation in the labor market, Heymann noted. Amid COVID-19, women’s labor force participation fell to its lowest rate since 1987 and has yet to fully recover — with Black and Latina women experiencing the greatest losses.

Heymann and her research team analyzed national laws and policies in all 193 countries of the United Nations. Among their findings:

  • Although nearly all countries (93%) now prohibit at least some form of gender discrimination in the workplace, only half prohibit discrimination based on family responsibilities.
  • In 1 in 5 countries, employers can legally discriminate against women of color because laws fail to prohibit employment discrimination based on both gender and race.
  • Over five years since #MeToo went global, 1 in 4 countries still fail to explicitly prohibit sexual harassment at work. In about one-third of countries, the law is silent on employer retaliation, meaning women can be fired if they report harassment.
  • Two- thirds of countries fail to provide paid leave to care for a child during routine illnesses or to take them to the doctor.
  • A majority of countries (58%) provide no paid leave to care for an ill spouse, and 61% offer no paid leave to care for an aging parent.

color coded map

Fathers of infants have far less paid leave available to them than do mothers.

More encouraging for the authors is a worldwide trend toward paid leave for new fathers. Between 1995 and 2022, 71 countries enacted paid leave for dads, increasing the share of countries globally with leave from 24% to 63%. The U.S is not among them.

In the United States, some private employers and 11 states, including California, now offer paid parental leave, although inconsistently. Co-author Aleta Sprague, an attorney and senior legal analyst at WORLD, said the negative impact of not providing paid family leave at the national level is far-reaching.

“It’s no longer in question that our lack of support for new parents and other caregivers is driving women to leave the labor force,” Sprague said. “And that in turn is a barrier to economic growth.”

UC Press is releasing the book — authored by Heymann, Sprague, and co-author Amy Raub, principal research analyst at WORLD — at roughly the halfway point of the Sustainable Development Goals, a 2015 United Nations commitment to ensure equal rights across the globe by 2030. It is being distributed online, accompanied by briefing papers and downloadable assets in multiple languages, as part of a commitment to making top university research readily available to everybody, Heymann said.

The book presents new research on the extent and pace of policy change in 193 countries as well as new longitudinal studies of policy impact, bolstered by case studies that show how change can occur. The lesson from around the world is that solutions exist from every political perspective.

“The way you get to 187 countries providing paid maternity leave, the way you get to every other major economy providing paid sick leave except for the United States, is that there are conservative solutions, there are progressive solutions, there are middle-of-the-road solutions,” Heymann said.

There’s little disagreement among the general public about the need for paid family leave. The Family Medical Leave Act, a 1993 law that guarantees unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons only for some employees, has proven to be inadequate. Heymann said polls have shown that across party lines and across states, paid family leave is popular.

People want parents to be able to take time to care for a newborn child. They want adults to be able to take time to care for a dying parent,” Heymann said. “And they don’t want American parents to drop into poverty because of it.”

So, is it possible to achieve gender equality in our lifetimes?

“It is completely within our reach,” Heymann said. “There are solutions that can be achieved in real time, that are feasible.”

Sprague’s answer is similar. “I think we know how to get there. One thing that this book illustrates is how feasible it is and how much of a difference a few key policy changes can make.”

Moreover, Heymann emphasized, the standard arguments against some of those key policies in the U.S. overlook critical evidence about their potential for impact. “Too often, policymakers highlight the costs of paid leave without acknowledging its overwhelming payoffs,” she said. “The evidence is clear that when women in particular have access to paid leave for family caregiving needs, they are far more likely to stay in the workforce — and even slightly narrowing the gender gap in labor force participation would boost our GDP by hundreds of billions. It’s a powerful investment.”

Heymann pointed to studies from McKinsey, the World Bank, and others demonstrating how advancing gender equality pays huge dividends.

“At core, gender equality is a basic human right,” she continued. “But it also yields tremendous economic value—and the U.S.’s continued inaction comes at a high cost to us all.”

 

To conduct the studies referenced in this book, a multilingual, multidisciplinary research team systematically analyzed the laws and policies of all 193 U.N. member states. They also rigorously analyzed the impacts of legal changes around the world. The book is being distributed through UC Press, and downloadable resources are being made available on the website of the UCLA WORLD Policy Analysis Center.

The WORLD Policy Analysis Center (WORLD) at UCLA is the largest independent global policy data center, capturing over 2,500 social, economic, health, and environmental quantitative legal indicators for all 193 U.N. countries. With an international, multilingual, and multidisciplinary team, WORLD collects and analyzes information on every country’s rights, laws, and policies in areas including education, health, adult labor and working conditions, child labor, poverty, constitutional rights, discrimination, childhood, gender, marriage, families, aging, and disability. Heymann, the center’s founding director, is a distinguished professor of public policy, medicine, and health policy and management at UCLA with appointments in the Fielding School of Public Health, Luskin School of Public Affairs and David Geffen School of Medicine. She is also dean emeritus of the Fielding School.

 

Housing Inequality Is So Entrenched It Could Spark a Movement Scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor says establishing a human right to shelter may seem utopian but is long overdue

By Mary Braswell

At the outset of her appearance before a UCLA audience, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor made one thing clear: The United States is not in the midst of a housing crisis.

“ ‘Crises’ are interruptions in the status quo, and housing precarity is a permanent feature of U.S. society,” said Taylor, a leading scholar of social movements and racial justice.

It was a semantic distinction that pointed to a formidable challenge: What can be done to dismantle a housing system that Taylor said has been hijacked by corporate interests, turning the family home into a hedge-fund commodity traded on the international stage?

“What we’re seeing is the deep marginalization of the socially useful purpose of housing as a dwelling … turned into an asset to be bought and sold, an asset that is mostly valued as a thing, not as a place to live,” Taylor said.

But she assured the audience that the arc of history that led to this harsh 21st-century reality also holds lessons on how to establish a human right to decent shelter.

Taylor shared insights from her 2019 book “Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership,” a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History. The professor of African American Studies at Northwestern University has also received accolades that include a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship and a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation.

Her newest enterprise, as co-founder of Hammer & Hope, a magazine exploring Black politics and culture, launched just hours before her standing-room-only appearance on Feb. 15 as part of the UCLA Luskin Lecture Series, in partnership with the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

Taylor warned against oversimplifying the solution to housing insecurity. Raising wages just to make sure people can afford exorbitant mortgages and rents, for example, only perpetuates a corrupt system.

While the racial wealth gap is real, she said, “it is often used as a smokescreen to blot out the larger dimensions of extraordinary housing inequality and insecurity.”

Today’s housing system takes a toll not just on the Black community, which has endured generations of racist policies in the real estate industry, and not just on the nation’s poorest, those living outdoors or struggling to pay rent for substandard shelter.

“We’re talking about half of the United States living with rent burden, paying 30% of their income toward rent, and more than a quarter paying half of their income toward rent,” Taylor said. “This housing economy is like roller skates with no stops on a steep hill on the top of a mountain. … There are no brakes on any of this, and every year, it’s getting worse and worse and worse.

“And so I think it becomes the basis upon which to build a different kind of a movement.”

Taylor recalled pivot points in U.S. history when tenants rose up to demand change and governments enacted tough regulations to curb “the worst impulses of capitalism.”

She spoke about the promise of current efforts, including the Green New Deal for Public Housing and alternative solutions such as co-ops and community land trusts.

“Such proposals might have once seemed utterly utopian,” she said. “They now feel long overdue.”

Following her lecture, Taylor shared the stage with scholars Cheryl I. Harris of UCLA Law, Marques Vestal of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and Ananya Roy, founding director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy. The dialogue continued the following day when Taylor met with grassroots organizers at the Los Angeles Community Action Network in downtown’s Skid Row.

“We see an economic system that is incompatible with housing security and housing justice,” Taylor said at the lecture. “And so that raises another question about what kind of world we want to live in and the struggle that is necessary to produce it.”

View photos from the lecture on Flickr.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor LLS

Watch a recording of the lecture on Vimeo.

 

$3 Million Grant Will Help Expand Social Welfare Workforce Award will enable UCLA Luskin to grow its master of social welfare program to help meet statewide needs for behavioral health care

A $3 million state grant will fund the expansion of social welfare education at UCLA, part of a broader effort to better serve Californians with behavioral health needs.

illustration of diamond with textThe grant from the California Department of Health Care Access and Information will allow the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs to add 25 additional students to its master of social welfare program each year, beginning in the fall of 2024.

Total enrollment in the program will eventually reach 250, and the funds will be used to provide stipends to students and hire faculty, lecturers and staff to accommodate the growing numbers, according to Laura Abrams, chair of Social Welfare.

“This grant will surely strengthen our program and, more importantly, our ability to better serve our communities,” Abrams said.

UCLA is one of 23 California campuses to receive an award through the $59.4 million program, which was launched to grow the ranks of social workers who play a crucial role in the emotional well-being of the state’s residents.

The program aims to increase access to services for mental health, substance abuse and other behavioral health concerns. Training social welfare students to serve children and youth is a priority, according to a statement from the Health Care Access and Information Department.

“Thanks to this new grant program, we are able to help grow this vitally important sector in the health workforce and get children, youth and adults the care they need, when they need it,” said department director Elizabeth Landsberg.

Latest Cohort of 4 Activists-in-Residence Is Largest Ever UCLA's cityLAB, Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy and Asian American Studies Center will serve as on-campus hosts

UCLA welcomed an artist and three community organizers to campus on Jan. 31 during the 2023 UCLA Activists-in-Residence reception held at DeCafe in Perloff Hall.

This year, four activists were selected, making this the largest cohort in the program’s six-year history. Steve Diaz and Josiah Edwards will be working with the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, which has selected at least one activist since 2017.

Diaz is deputy director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) based in downtown Los Angeles, and Edwards is a youth climate justice organizer who grew up in the South Bay area of L.A. County.

The UCLA Asian American Studies Center returns to the residency program after a pandemic-related hiatus to host Melissa Acedera. The daughter of Filipino immigrants to Los Angeles, Acedera is a founder of two community-powered food systems helping feed unhoused and food-insecure communities across L.A. and Orange counties.

New to the Activists-in-Residence program this year is cityLAB-UCLA, which selected Marlené Nancy Lopez, a public artist whose work focuses on serving communities through muralism, storytelling and multimedia. She was born and raised in the MacArthur Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Conceptualized as a sabbatical, the residency allows for time and space to reflect, envision new projects, and connect with UCLA faculty, students and staff. At the reception, each of the activists spoke briefly about their previous experiences and their plans for the next few months.

Find out more about the activists and their plans.

View photos from the reception on Flickr.

2023 Activists in Residence