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.