Policy Academy Offers Tools to Take On Challenges in Latino Communities Three days of workshops at UCLA Luskin teach elected officials from Connecticut to California how to support their constituencies

By Stan Paul

When elected leaders from across the country gathered at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs for three days of workshops on housing, transit, criminal justice, education, public safety and immigration, a recurring theme ran through each conversation.

“Every issue, every single issue, is a Latino issue,” said Sonja Diaz, founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and a 2010 graduate of UCLA Luskin who got a master’s degree in public policy.

Diaz was speaking to about 60 state legislators, county and municipal officials, school board members and higher education trustees at the first-ever National Education Leadership and Public Policy Academy, held Aug. 3–5.

Organized by LPPI and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, the event was a “master’s course of our policy work … in the hopes that you will take this information and apply it in your communities,” Diaz told participants, who traveled from as far away as Florida, Connecticut and Hawaii.

Discussions led by expert panelists, she said, would be informed by two things: data and facts.

“By shaping policy and making sure this policy is tailored for kids, for immigrants, communities of color and, frankly, all Americans, we’re all better off,” Diaz said. “And we’re going to do it together.”

For Arturo Vargas, chief executive officer of NALEO Educational Fund, one major goal was how to get to the “great unengaged.” Many Latinos have little or no faith in the political system, he said, and “there isn’t any significant investment in Latino voter engagement in the United States.”

Citing the 2016 elections, Vargas continued, “Half of the Latino electorate was not part of the national conversation with the campaigns, and it happens consistently.” He urged officeholders to take up some of this responsibility in their districts.

UCLA Luskin graduate student Gabriela Solis helps lead a real-world policy practicum during the conference. Photo by Tessa McFarland

The weekend series of presentations and workshops was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and by State Farm. It included opportunities to network with peers and while participating in group sessions, attendees developed tools and information to craft policy reforms on issues such as public safety.

Marisa Perez, a member of the board of trustees at Cerritos College, said many Latino students get their start in higher education at a community college.

“Whatever I can take back to my college to better support our students, that’s what I’m looking forward to learning about,” Perez said as the conference got underway.

Citing an achievement gap in his home state, Jon Koznick, a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, said he wanted more hard data on issues related to Latino youth, especially boys.

“I’m excited to learn a little bit more about how we can have some stronger impact” in economic development and employment, he said.

Speakers and panelists at the academy included researchers from UCLA and other universities, as well as from policy institutes, foundations and associations.

Gary Segura, dean of UCLA Luskin, presented a case study on transit-oriented development in Oakland’s Fruitvale Village, that city’s largest Latino community. With co-panelist Chris Iglesias, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Unity Council, he discussed how the city used transit as a means for economic development and how that affected residents’ socioeconomic well-being.

Segura, a faculty co-director of Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, pointed to the initiative’s empirical study comparing Fruitvale residents to those living in similar communities over a 15-year period in the Bay Area and throughout California. The study found that, although the Latino population in Fruitvale changed by only 1 percent, homeownership increased by 8 percent, the bachelor’s degree completion rate climbed by 13 percent, and household income increased by 47 percent.

“So you can change a place without changing a people if you provide a set of economic structures and opportunities and services,” Segura said.

The dean encouraged participants to seek partnerships with local policy schools. “Oftentimes, communities of color think of universities as not invested in their issues, and, by the way, that frequently is true,” Segura said. “But there are places where that is not true and I would encourage you to look.”

Matt Barreto, UCLA professor of political science and Chicana and Chicano studies, presented demographic data to explain the growth in the country’s Latino population.

“Why is the Latino population growing so quickly? Because we have an extremely young population,” said Barreto, pointing out that the largest population distribution is under age 5; for whites, the largest group is adults in their 50s.

“The population is growing at a rate faster now than most demographers 10 years ago were anticipating or estimating. And it’s almost entirely driven by U.S. births,” said Barreto, also a faculty co-director of LPPI.

Amada Armenta, who joined the UCLA Luskin Urban Planning faculty in July, spoke about the intersections between criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems.

Even in so-called sanctuary cities, contact with the police can have consequences for immigrants because of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s practice of using criminal justice databases to find immigrants and staking out jails and courthouses to take people into custody.

“Interactions with police have important ramifications for the way people feel about local government, democracy and their place in society more generally,” Armenta said. “I want local leaders to understand that … true community policing requires changing police practices so that they align with priorities of neighborhood residents.”

In a keynote lunchtime address, Vargas of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, focused on the U.S. Census.

“The census is really only about two things: It’s about power and money: who gets it, who keeps it, and who’s denied it,” he said. “When the numbers are wrong, the allocation of political power is uneven.”

Legal battles over a proposed citizenship question are being waged in court, he said, but the public also must be heard. The U.S. Census Bureau is seeking public input on the 2020 headcount.

“We need your help, people,” Vargas said. “We need to fight this.”

View more photos from the conference in an album on Flickr.

LPPI NALEO conference

Decriminalizing Latinos Is Focus of Criminal Justice Gathering Latino Policy & Politics Initiative brings together scholars, policymakers and nationally known advocates for the Latino community for a day of presentations, discussions and workshops

A recent gathering at UCLA Luskin included a full-day of programming related to efforts to advance visibility on the experience of Latinos in the criminal justice system across the United States.

Dozens of experts and scholars on Latino issues at the local, state and national levels gathered on campus May 31, 2018, for a day of presentations and workshops organized by the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) and LatinoJustice PRLDEF. Attendees included a number of nationally known advocates for Latinos, including LatinoJustice President Juan Cartagena.

“It is so reaffirming seeing Latinx people talking about these issues,” Cartagena told a packed classroom of workshop participants, including several UCLA Luskin students. “Everyone in this room should be listed as experts.”

The sessions began with an introduction from Dean Gary Segura, who was also one of the participants in a high-level strategy workshop focusing on Latino civil rights and the U.S. criminal justice system.

He told attendees that he helped found LPPI in part to address a shortfall in research about issues of importance to Latinos, including inequalities in the criminal justice system.

“People across the ideological divide agree that this is an issue for the Latino community,” said Segura, who said he hoped the day would provide an opportunity for attendees to “think constructively about the things that have to happen” in order to bring about change.

Matt Barreto answers a question during the opening panel, which was streamed live over social media. Photo by Les Dunseith

A discussion hosted by LPPI’s founding director, Sonja Diaz, followed with Cartagena and Matt A. Barreto, a professor of political science and Chicana/o Studies at UCLA and the other co-founder of LPPI. They zeroed in on the fact that national discussions have historically downplayed the impact on Latinos of criminal justice policies related to policing, mass incarceration or unequal rates of prosecution.

“Why are Latinos invisible in this discussion?” Barreto asked. “It’s because we are invisible in the data.”

For example, the U.S. Census has historically grouped Latinos with whites in its tabulations based on ethnicity. And this shortcoming has been replicated in much of the research at the state and local levels.

“So many people don’t count Latinos,” Barreto said. “This makes advocacy impossible.”

Today, some states still do not count Latinos as a separate group, he said. Even when Latinos are specified in the data, “some counties have better data than others.”

Discussions like this one continued for several hours, and participants had an opportunity to hear from wide range of people — scholars, policymakers and community advocates. That evening, the participants viewed a sneak peek of the in-progress documentary, “Bad Hombres,” by award-winning filmmaker Carlos Sandoval, and then heard from the director, Cartagena, UCLA lecturer Virginia Espino, and from some of the people featured in the film.

Noting an “insurmountable amount of knowledge of Latino criminal justice knowledge on the stage,” second-year UCLA Luskin student Gabriela Solis Torres participated in the gathering and shared her impressions via social media, saying, “I am so honored to be in the same of the room as such inspiring leaders.”

View additional photos in an album on Flickr

 

 

 

Amplifying the Voice of Latinos Latino Policy & Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin fills a critical research gap and provides a think tank around political, social and economic issues

By Les Dunseith

The new think tank at UCLA known as the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative (LPPI) has moved quickly to bring together scholars and policymakers to share information that can help political leaders make informed decisions about issues of interest to Latinos.

One of the goals of LPPI, which received its startup funding from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and the Division of Social Sciences, is to provide better access to information to help leaders nationwide craft new policies.

“It is impossible to understand America today without understanding the Latino community and the power that it wields. And this institute is going to do that,” Scott Waugh, UCLA executive vice chancellor and provost, told the crowd at the official launch of LPPI in December 2017.

Representatives of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and throughout UCLA were among a crowd of about 175 people that also included elected officials, community activists and other stakeholders who gathered in downtown Los Angeles. The co-founders of LPPI — Professor of Political Science and Chicana/o Studies Matt Barreto, UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura and LPPI Executive Director Sonja Diaz MPP ’10 — “have a vision that reaches not just inside the School of Public Affairs but reaches out across the campus in areas like health, education, science, the arts — wherever Latinos have made a difference and continue to effect change in a profound way,” Waugh said at the launch event.

LPPI founders Matt Barreto, Gary Segura and Sonja Diaz, front row, joined with their 2017-18 student assistants for a formal portrait in March. Also on hand was Director of Development Ricardo Quintero, far left. Photo by Les Dunseith

LPPI works with UCLA faculty to produce research and analyze policy issues from a Latino perspective — aided by an enthusiastic and dedicated team of students from UCLA Luskin and other schools. For example, students associated with LPPI were involved in the production of two recently released reports:

  • An empirical analysis of Fruitvale Village in Oakland, California, that assessed aggregate census tract socioeconomic outcomes to evaluate changes for those living there compared to those living in similar communities in the Bay Area.
  • A state-by-state analysis of Latino homeownership, plus data research on national disasters and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for the 2017 Hispanic Homeownership Report issued by the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP).

Gabriela Solis, a UCLA Luskin MPP and MSW student whose focus at LPPI is on housing and displacement, provided some of the information in the NAHREP report, working from raw Census data.

“My background is in homelessness in L.A. County and extreme poverty,” said Solis, a policy fellow at LPPI. “With this research and learning about homeownership rates, and who gets to buy homes and who gets loans, it’s something that I had really never thought about too much. It’s been really interesting.”

Several students also traveled to Sacramento in February, during which LPPI visited legislators and their staffs, and presented applied policy research before the California Latino Legislative Caucus.

LPPI’s inaugural Sacramento legislative briefing included research on three policy areas: the Latino Gross Domestic Product; Criminal Justice and Bail Reform; and the impact of Social Science Research on DACA litigation.

Sofia Espinoza MPP ’18 was also a Monica Salinas fellow during her time as a student. She focused on criminal justice in her schoolwork, so joining the effort in Sacramento dovetailed nicely with her interests.

“Being on our Sacramento trip and meeting with all Latino legislators and aides, that’s really important,” Espinoza said. “The higher up you go in academia, to see people who look like you doing amazing work, I think that is really a value add for LPPI.”

LPPI Director Diaz said her student team includes a mix of graduate students like Solis and Espinoza and undergrads with an interest in public affairs and
Latino issues.

Celina Avalos, wan undergraduate student in political science, served as special projects associate for LPPI during the 2017-18 academic year.

“A lot of it does have to do with political science, what I hope to do in the future,” she said. “My main focus was never on policy. But being here in LPPI and working with [Diaz], I have gotten more passionate about it — how impactful public policy actually is.”

Diaz said the LPPI students work as a team. “For the undergrads, what is great is that they have a seat at the table,” she said. “There is integration. There is cohesive learning. We are learning from each other. The students are on the calls with the external stakeholders. They are going on these trips. They are supporting our events.”

The undergrads also see first-hand what it is like to be a graduate student involved in impactful research efforts.

“Working with the graduate students, I get to hear from them and see the work that they are doing,” Avalos said. “I have found it really inspiring seeing these Latino women — honestly, I look up to them. I see them doing their research work and think, ‘Wow, look at them.’ It has definitely changed my perspective on what I hope to do in the future.”

The inspirational potential of LPPI was an important motivation for Segura in getting the new research center underway and finding a home for it at UCLA.

Segura, who secured approval to hire additional UCLA Luskin faculty members with expertise in Latino policy, said the day-to-day work being done by LPPI helps bolster UCLA’s capacity to provide role models for its Latino students.

“I genuinely care about every research opportunity that I have with LPPI,” Espinoza said. “And it really hits close to home. It gives you an added desire to do well and a drive to succeed.”

Segura said of the LPPI students: “I have been at events with them. I have seen them present on our behalf. I have seen the product of their work. And they are doing great.”

The students fully embraced LPPI’s goal to advance knowledge about Latinos through work that actually involves Latinos themselves.

“It’s why we do what we do,” Espinoza said. “It’s motivating.”

For more information about how to support LPPI, contact Ricardo Quintero at (310) 206-7949 or by email at rquintero@luskin.ucla.edu.

A version of this story also appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of Luskin Forum magazine.

Diversity Is Excellence at UCLA Luskin The Diversity, Disparities and Difference (D3) Initiative connects students and groups across UCLA

By Stan Paul

Estefanía Zavala, Michelle Lin and Jordan Hallman are all up early on a Sunday morning. They meet at a favorite coffee shop in Hollywood. This is when the trio of busy UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs students can break from their fast-paced two-year professional programs to discuss a topic central to their lives, studies and future careers.

Diversity.

It’s important at UCLA Luskin, especially to the numerous student groups working to make their programs, the School and the campus more inclusive. At the time, Zavala, Lin and Hallman were student program managers for the UCLA Luskin initiative known as D3 – Diversity, Disparities and Difference. Launched in 2014 by former Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., D3 aims to “create a cohesive strategy to bridge differences, understand our diverse society and confront disparities in the field of public affairs.”

“I was really interested from the get-go, and the mission of D3 really aligns with Social Welfare’s mission, our core values of social justice and equity. And that’s always been a topic of interest to me and trying to improve the way things are and make sure that the campus is inclusive for all people,” Lin said.

The D3 Initiative is one of many UCLA Luskin student groups focused on issues of equity and social justice. Among the others are Urban Planning Women of Color Collective, Planners of Color for Social Equity, Policy Professionals for Diversity & Equity, Luskin Pride, Black Caucus, Asian Pacific Islander Student Caucus (API), Latinx Student Caucus and Diversity Caucus.

Working independently or in collaboration with D3, the groups host Schoolwide and campus events designed to promote collaboration, bridge gaps and encourage understanding. These include an Equity in Public Affairs research conference and group dialogues with incoming UCLA Luskin students.

“My favorite experience thus far has been the Equity in Public Affairs training that we do in the beginning of the year, where students share their unique identities and receive training on operating professionally in a diverse environment,” said Zavala, who recently earned her MPP degree after also serving as a leader of Policy Professionals for Diversity & Equity. “I got to meet so many people and really got to understand them.”

The D3 Initiative has three priorities:

  • Enhance student admissions and faculty searches by championing more diverse applicant pools;
  • Institutionalize programming that offers a critical understanding of social inequity while establishing connections with the greater community;
  • Strengthen student collaboration for a more inclusive school climate.

That mission is supported by the office of Dean Gary Segura as part of efforts to build an equitable environment on campus that has hired new faculty whose research and areas of interest include a social justice focus.

The D3 group has coordinated gatherings known as “Difficult Dinner Dialogues,” which invite classmates and others with diverse backgrounds and different life experiences to share and learn from one another.

“I think it’s a space, call it a brave space. It’s a brave space for everyone to come and not feel judged for what they think because it’s about being open to learning, so that will hopefully change the political climate,” said Lin, who has since earned her social welfare degree.

One Dinner Dialogue focused on sexual assault and “the role of men and women of color who don’t have the means to quit their job or speak out against their employer, the power dynamics of that,” Lin said.

“People really felt like this was the beginning of the conversation and they wanted even more,” she added.

In addition to their Sunday meetings, the student leaders stayed connected throughout the year with D3 faculty director Gerry Laviña MSW ’88, Social Welfare’s director of field education, along with the dean’s office staff. During the 2017-18 academic year, D3 added office hours to collect feedback, questions and concerns directly, and in confidence, from students at UCLA Luskin.

Hallman, who has since earned her urban planning degree, said her professional focus is “the intersection of transportation and land use and the responsibilities that come with approaching that point of intersection justly and equitably, which is a relatively new conversation within planning. I think participating in D3 has also led me to a role where I try to shed light on other points of intersection that aren’t talked about.”

For Zavala, connecting with peers from UCLA Luskin’s other two departments was important.

“The D3 position has empowered me to create a community across all three departments. I hope that in any future career that I have, I work actively to form bridges across silos and uplift the work of diversity. I also want to center my professional career on empowering traditionally marginalized communities. Starting at Luskin has been a wonderful experience,” Zavala said.

The D3 Initiative also supports students with awards, grants and funding for their work, including the Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. Social Justice Awards, which were created to recognize student scholarship in social justice and inequality. The award was made possible by contributions from the School’s board of advisers, UCLA faculty, staff and alumni.

“We are not yet where we need to be and there is still much to do, but D3 has been a guiding force for progress,” said Isaac Bryan MPP ’18. With the help of a Gilliam Award, Bryan’s Applied Policy research group studied the dynamic needs of the city’s formerly incarcerated reentry population for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“D3 empowers us all to continue placing diversity, equity and inclusiveness at the forefront of the work we do here in Luskin,” said Bryan, who is also a member of Policy Professionals for Diversity & Equity.

As a PhD student in urban planning, Aujean Lee also received funding through the D3 Initiative, including the Gilliam Award.

“These resources are important because urban planners, and planning research, still need to engage with and grapple with its historical legacies of racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc., that continue to shape our cities and communities,” Lee said.

A version of this story also appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of Luskin Forum magazine.