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On Protecting the Rights and Dignity of Disabled Americans

Judith Heumann, a lifelong advocate for the rights of disabled people, joined Fernando Torres-Gil, professor of social welfare and public policy, for a wide-ranging virtual conversation focusing on the ongoing fight for universal accessibility. Hosted by the UCLA Luskin Undergraduate Program, the Feb. 8 dialogue came during Heumann’s weeklong appointment as a UCLA Regents’ Lecturer. Heumann and Torres-Gil spoke about their work shaping legislation and policies to protect the rights and affirm the dignity of disabled Americans. Both speakers have spent decades serving in key government and nonprofit positions focusing on health and aging, and both bring a personal perspective on living with disability as survivors of polio contracted as young children. Torres-Gil, director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging at UCLA Luskin, said making education, housing and health care more accessible will have a broad impact, as people young and old may face unexpected physical or cognitive decline and as the long-term health effects of COVID-19 become clear. Heumann also spoke about her work as a Ford Foundation fellow studying depictions of disabled people in the media. “The paper that we produced was a roadmap to inclusion,” she said. “It is making it normal that you could be blind, you could be deaf, you can have a physical disability, you can have an intellectual disability, you can have a memory issue — all these different things. They need to be built into the way we experience life.”

View a video or read the transcript of the conversation between Heumann and Torres-Gil, “Beyond Allyship: Disability Rights and Public Service.” 

View a video of Heumann’s UCLA Regents’ Lecture, “Disrupting Ableism in Higher Education and Beyond.” 


Callahan Named Co-Executive Director of Luskin Center for Innovation

Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10 has been appointed as co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. She served as the founding deputy director for 12 years, playing an integral part in building the research center from the ground up. The new role reflects Callahan’s experience, the growing trajectory of the center and its goals for the future. In this expanded position, Callahan plans to increase strategic engagement and partnership initiatives to maximize the center’s impact on public policies and other environmental innovations for the health of people and the planet. “It’s both an exciting and daunting time to step into this role,” Callahan said. “Bold action on the climate crisis is urgently needed. I’m humbled to have this opportunity to expand the center’s collaborations with frontline communities, policymakers and others to help advance solutions.” With 18 years of experience in social entrepreneurship, environmental policy and urban planning, Callahan will amplify the work of the Luskin Center for Innovation’s 20 faculty affiliates, 12 full-time staff, and more than 25 part-time researchers and consultants. The new executive director position will enhance the center’s leadership structure, with Greg Pierce sharing the executive leadership role with Callahan. In addition, V. Kelly Turner and Pierce, faculty in the department of urban planning, are leading the center’s research programs as co-directors. Together, they bring a shared commitment and strong capacity to advance evidence-based and equitable environmental policies. Rounding out the team will be a new faculty director in the coming year. 

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Faculty Reported Among Top 2% in Scholarly Citations

Eighteen faculty members affiliated with UCLA Luskin are included in a listing of the top 2% for scholarly citations worldwide in their respective fields as determined by an annual study co-produced by Stanford University researchers. The 2021 report is a publicly available database that identifies more than 100,000 top researchers and includes updates through citation year 2020. The lists and explanations of study methodology can be found on Elsevier BV, and an article about the study was published by PLOS Biology. Separate data sets are available for career-long and single-year impact. The researchers are classified into 22 scientific fields and 176 subfields, with field- and subfield-specific percentiles provided for all researchers who have published at least five papers. The following current and past scholars with a UCLA Luskin connection met the study’s criteria to be included among the most-cited scholars:

Laura Abrams

Ron Avi Astor

Evelyn Blumenberg

Randall Crane

Dana Cuff

Yeheskel Hasenfeld (deceased)

Aurora P. Jackson

Duncan Lindsey

Susanne Lohmann

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

Thomas Rice

Ananya Roy

Robert Schilling

Donald Shoup

Michael Storper

Brian Taylor

John Villasenor

Martin Wachs (deceased)


Global Perspectives Honored as Best New Journal

Global Perspectives, a transdisciplinary online journal edited by Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Helmut Anheier, was named best new journal for 2021 by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals. The council, made up of academic journal editors across all disciplines, praised the breadth and depth of the journal and its innovative structure. “The journal’s commitment to a new practice of the disciplines in the social sciences, one that refuses to replicate some of the old power structures of a century ago, is borne out in the innovative structure of an emerging scholars forum, where postdocs and assistant professors both contribute and participate in peer review of others,” the group said. “With an impressively diverse editorial board, and a healthy number of section editors, each with their own advisory board, this journal’s structure seems to offer a balance of breadth and depth worthy of the name.” Published by the University of California Press, Global Perspectives seeks to advance social science research and debates in a globalizing world. Anheier, who is also a senior professor of sociology and past president of the Hertie School in Berlin, said the award is “further encouragement to the novel approach of the journal to focus on high-quality academic contributions that do not fit into conventional disciplinary and national boundaries. Being recognized as such and so prominently by our peers in scholarly publishing is indeed a great honor.” The award was announced Jan. 8 at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, the U.S. professional association for scholars of language and literature.


Keum Wins Award for Multicultural Psychology Research

Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Brian Keum has received the 2022 National Multicultural Conference and Summit Rising Star Award for his significant contributions to the field of multicultural psychology. Awarded biennially, the prestigious Rising Star Award honors the achievements of early-career psychologists in multicultural research, teaching, advocacy, policy and clinical care. As a social-justice-oriented scientist-practitioner, Keum draws from his clinical experience to conduct research that improves mental health practice and informs advocacy for diverse communities. He serves as director of the Health, Identities, Inequality and Technology Lab at UCLA Luskin, which studies health and mental health disparities among marginalized individuals and communities using intersectional, contemporary and digitally relevant approaches. His research aims to address discrimination and oppression as social determinants of these disparities. Keum has also explored the intersection of online racism and sexism on the mental health and behavioral outcomes of youth and adults of color, as well as how body image and gendered racism affect the mental health of Asian American males. Additionally, he provides therapy to a diverse community and college-based clientele. Keum will be recognized at this week’s National Multicultural Conference and Summit. The organization was founded in 1999 to address a pressing concern in the United States — the growing mental health needs of historically marginalized groups and disenfranchised individuals. — Zoe Day

Urban Planning Alumna Leads National Endowment for the Arts

Urban Planning alumna Maria Rosario Jackson PhD ’96 has been confirmed as chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, becoming the first African American and Mexican American woman to lead the federal agency. “The arts are critical to our well-being, to robust economies and to healthy communities where all people can thrive,” said Jackson, a professor at Arizona State University who has served on the National Council on the Arts since 2013. For more than 25 years, Jackson’s work has focused on understanding and elevating arts, culture and design as critical elements of strong communities. She has served as an advisor on philanthropic programs and investments at national, regional and local foundations, including the Los Angeles County Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She serves on the board of directors of the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, among other organizations, and her work appears in a wide range of professional and academic publications. She also taught a UCLA course on arts, culture and community revitalization. Jackson grew up in South Los Angeles and credits her parents with instilling a love of the arts in her family. “Our art, culture and creativity are some of our country’s most valuable resources,” she said. “They are evidence of our humanity, our ability to learn from our examined experience, and our ability to imagine and innovate.” President Joe Biden nominated Jackson to the NEA post in October, during National Arts and Humanities Month; her appointment was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Dec. 18.

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Reber Highlights Educational Disparities in New Publication

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber collaborated with Nora Gordon of Georgetown University on “Addressing Inequities in the US K-12 Education System,” a chapter of the Aspen Economic Strategy Group publication “Rebuilding the Post-Pandemic Economy.” Reber and Gordon explore disparities in educational outcomes by race, ethnicity, economic disadvantage and disability. “American public schools do not successfully prepare all students for careers or college,” they wrote. “Despite decades of federal and state policy reforms and major philanthropic investments, there are still glaring deficiencies and inequities across the US K-12 education system.” Reducing inequities in American education “will require a renewed focus on the ‘fundamentals’ of the K-12 system, including an emphasis on how staff are trained, recruited, retained and supported in their work; the effective design of curriculum; and the maintenance of safe and healthy school buildings,” they wrote. In the chapter, Reber and Gordon highlight three principles to guide future efforts to improve K-12 schools: First, they recommend focusing on the key elements of how to effectively deliver educational content to all students, including class size, access to necessary technologies and supplies, and a strong core curriculum. Next, they suggest increasing the emphasis on vulnerable students, including students with disabilities, English learners and American Indian students. Finally, they note that school leaders should encourage the thoughtful adoption of strategies that have been shown to work. “We should learn from past efforts to improve the impact of educational policy and philanthropy going forward, with careful attention to strengthening the research base,” they concluded.

Jackson Selected as American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare Fellow

Professor Emerita of Social Welfare Aurora Jackson was elected as a 2022 fellow by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare. The academy is a prestigious society of distinguished scholars and practitioners dedicated to achieving excellence in the field of social work and social welfare through high-impact work that advances social good. The fellowship program recognizes and celebrates outstanding social work and social welfare research, scholarship and practice. Jackson’s scholarship examines the interrelationships among economic hardship, parental psychological well-being, parenting in the home environment, and child developmental outcomes in families headed by low-income, single-parent mothers with young children. When she is formally inducted with 15 other fellows in January 2022, Jackson will become the second woman from UCLA to join the academy, following the induction of Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams in 2020. Academy fellows are nominated confidentially, then confirmed by a supermajority of current academy members. “Being a member of the academy is the highest honor the profession can bestow on a scholar,” said Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, who was inducted into the academy in 2017. Jackson will contribute to the growing list of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare scholars who have been inducted as academy fellows. In addition to Abrams and Astor, they include Distinguished Professor Emeritus Stuart A. Kirk (2010), Professor Emeritus James Lubben (2011), Professor Emeritus Robert Schilling (2011) and the late Professor Yeheskel “Zeke” Hasenfeld (2013). — Zoe Day

Santos Takes Leadership Role at Hub for Latinx Scholars

Associate Professor of Social Welfare Carlos Santos has been named associate director of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. The center, part of UCLA’s Institute of American Cultures, supports intersectional research, programming and advocacy related to Chicano, Latino and Indigenous communities. “For decades, UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center has been a central hub for Latinx scholars and those studying issues affecting Latinx communities,” Santos said. “As part of UCLA’s commitment to become a Hispanic Serving Institution by 2025, we will help administer the hiring of several faculty, post-doc fellows and seed research grants. I am honored to support these and other exciting CSRC efforts intended to uplift Latinx communities.” Santos’ research explores ethnic-racial, gender and sexual minority identity among Latinx youth and young adults using an intersectional approach. He studies the contexts within which identities are formed, develop and change over time as well as the impact of discrimination and oppressive forces associated with these identities. Santos has received several early-career awards for achievement in research. He earned a doctorate in developmental psychology from New York University, a master’s degree in education from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree from New York University. The Chicano Studies Research Center was established in 1969 to have a systemic impact on UCLA’s campus, within higher education and across society through original research on the Chicano and Latino communities in the United States. The center is now home to one of the most robust archives of Latino and Chicano materials in the country.


New Paper Analyzes Impact of School Closures on Families

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor and doctoral student Kate Watson collaborated on a new paper highlighting the needs of children and families during school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper, published in Social Work, analyzed responses to a nationwide survey of 1,275 school social workers who reported on their clients, including schools, children and families, during the COVID-19 school closures in spring 2020. While other reports have focused on academic challenges facing students during the pandemic as well as the effects of online learning on academic success, the authors identified a knowledge gap in understanding the needs and difficulties of K-12 students and their families from a social work perspective. In their responses to the survey, school social workers indicated that the children and families they served had significant unmet basic needs, including for food, health care and housing. “Poverty and mental health compounded pandemic difficulties, which were associated with the sociodemographic makeup of schools,” wrote Watson, the paper’s lead author, with co-authors Astor and colleagues from Hebrew University, Cal State Fullerton and Loyola University Chicago. Based on the survey results, the authors identified several policy and practice implications for the future. They highlighted the need for “additional services for students and families, a plan to address structural inequities in our schools and communities, coordinated outreach to reengage missing students, and recognition of the strong work being done by school staff coupled with a need for additional supports and resources to combat persistent inequality.” — Zoe Day