‘Trailblazers’ Take the Lead as New Major Takes Flight The diverse members of UCLA Luskin’s undergraduate Class of 2021 immediately connect with the program’s mission to inspire and equip the next generation of leaders

By Mary Braswell

Tessa Azani remembers the look on her mom’s face when they came across the new major outlined on the very last page of UCLA’s transfer admission guide.

“Developing leaders engaged in social change,” began the text describing the bachelor of arts in public affairs.

“I start reading the description to my mom and I swear I saw her jaw fall on the floor. And she says, ‘They literally made this major for you. They knew you were coming,’ ” Azani recalled.

The transfer student from Moorpark College, who had been struggling to find a course of study that fit her goals, is now one of the “Trailblazers” — UCLA Luskin’s undergrad Class of 2021, the first group of students formally admitted to the new major.

Azani joins 69 other other students who launched into upper-division public affairs coursework in the fall. It’s a diverse group: Three-quarters are women, 67 percent identify as nonwhite, 13 are transfer students, and more than 20 percent come from outside California, traveling to UCLA from every region of the nation and from countries including Mexico, India, Great Britain and Austria.

In just its second year, the UCLA Luskin undergraduate program has grown to a total of more than 270 students, including 200 lower-division “pre-majors.” The Trailblazers are the program’s pioneers. They’ll be the first to experience one of the major’s signature elements: a three-quarter internship and seminar series in the senior year that will immerse students in their community. Their feedback will be crucial in shaping the program.

“I am in awe of our Trailblazers,” said Alexis Oberlander, director of student affairs for the program. “These students had other plans for their time at UCLA, they had other majors, but once they learned about our program they immediately connected to our mission and shifted gears without hesitating.”

That was true of the very first student to join the program. Long Hoang was a freshman in the spring of 2018 when he read about the major in the Daily Bruin. He sought out Oberlander, asked many questions, then eagerly registered as a pre-major.

As more joined the ranks, they forged a tight bond as they moved, almost en masse, from class to class, all trying to complete prerequisites in just one year.

“I really feel like we’ve connected as a class,” Hoang said. “It’s funny because moving from high school to a school with 30,000 people, I did not expect to have such a close-knit community.”

The public affairs major resides in a School known for its top-ranked graduate programs, and Hoang found an important mentor in a student pursuing a master’s in urban planning. As a teaching assistant, Michelle Einstein shared her passion for data science and digital mapping, and Hoang got hooked. He’s now pursuing a minor in Geographic Information Systems and Technology with an eye toward bridging his interests in data analysis, environmental health and community outreach. And he remains in touch with Einstein, who graduated last June.

Nate Singer’s journey to a public affairs education began when he moved from Sacramento to Los Angeles as he began high school. To get around town, he started taking the Metro public transit system, and the more he rode, the more he became fascinated with the way the region was stitched together.

“I realized how integral transportation is to the social structure of a city, the economic structure of a city,” he said. “The beauty of being interested in something like cities is they’re so dynamic and they’re so interconnected that you can kind of have your foot in many, many places at the same time.”

As a transfer student from Los Angeles City College, Singer knew two things: He wanted to study urban planning and he wanted to stay in Southern California. Google led him to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs site, and he realized the undergrad program was a great fit. He became an early ambassador for the program by sharing what he learned with his LACC counselors.

Singer once owned a motorcycle but now travels by bicycle and bus. “I figured I can’t say car-based infrastructure is destroying our cities while also utilizing it on a daily basis,” he said.

While all the Trailblazers must show great discipline to meet their major requirements, Rimsha Saeed has a unique challenge: She aims to complete her degree in three years.

“The counseling team has been amazing, so accommodating and always trying to make sure that I’m on track,” said Saeed, who is interested in human rights law and policy.

She had looked at UCLA’s majors in political science and international development studies but gravitated toward the hands-on learning in the public affairs curriculum.

“I want to do something that makes real change in the world, and that was exactly what the public affairs major was offering,” she said. “It literally gives us the tools to make actual lasting change.”

Saeed says she is grateful for the “extras” the staff offers, such as bringing in dynamic speakers and sharing off-campus opportunities. “They’re always trying to help us get connections out in the world, and that’s really helpful for someone who’s trying to figure out what they want to do,” she said.

She has only praise for Associate Professor Meredith Phillips, the department’s chair who also teaches a course on using data to understand society.

“Professor Meredith, she’s probably really busy, but she would literally sit with me and explain everything as many times as I needed it. That really left an impression on me,” said Saeed, who had no previous statistics experience but is now motivated to pursue upper-division coursework. “I found it really interesting how you can combine two fields that seem so different, like social science and coding, and make it into something that’s used out there in the real world.”

For Tessa Azani, “everything fell into place” after she discovered the public affairs major. She had been seeking an education that paired policymaking and social welfare but wanted to veer away from politics, with all its “arguing and debating and winning and losing.”

“My brother and I both talked about how we loved the idea of being able to create change using government and politics — but we hate actual politics,” she said.

Her dream, she said, is to launch a nonprofit that encourages sports teams — and their fervent fan bases — to sponsor local schools. “Since almost every kid in America, K through 12, has to go to school, why don’t we make school the best place in the entire world?”Azani said.

The Trailblazers, Oberlander said, “are passionate about their life goals, all of which involve making our world a more equitable and just place, and they are willing to take the chance and put in the hard work to achieve those goals.

“I can’t wait to see them in their experiential learning capstones and beyond as they become the future leaders of our world.”

View more pictures of the Trailblazers on Flickr.

UCLA Luskin's Undergrad Trailblazers

This Election Year, We Have 2020 Vision The race for U.S. president comes to town, and the UCLA Luskin community is there to make sure candidates take a stand on issues of importance

By Stan Paul

Students at UCLA Luskin always have many opportunities to seek out public policy discourse and engage in political activities. But during the 2020 presidential election campaign, some of the opportunities for political engagement have been coming directly to them.

In December, the top Democratic contenders for the U.S. presidency were in Los Angeles for a closely watched debate that set the stage for the caucus and primary season soon to follow. And just a few weeks beforehand, students like first-year Master of Public Policy student Tamera Hyatte participated as questioners of presidential candidates during a live telecast of a town hall-style forum that focused on LGBTQ issues.

“Get ready, you’re going on!” was Hyatte’s cue. Moments later, she was asking Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke face to face — and on split screen for viewers — what protections he, as president, would put in place to safeguard transgender women of color. In her question, Hyatt noted that transsexual women of color are killed at an alarming rate.

“I thought he answered it fairly well,” Hyatte said of the former Texas congressman’s response. “I think a lot of the candidates being asked specific questions were caught off-guard, because I don’t think these are issues they generally look into,” added the former middle-school teacher. She said her interests include educational issues affecting LGBTQ students in K-12 as well as education in communities of color.

Hyatte was among a sizable contingent of UCLA Luskin graduate and undergraduate students, faculty and staff who attended the Oct. 10 Democratic presidential forum in downtown Los Angeles that was hosted by CNN and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. And she was among a handful selected to ask a question of a Democratic candidate at the forum, which included candidates Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren.

Ayse Seker, a second-year UCLA undergraduate student and public affairs pre-major at UCLA Luskin, was selected to question Booker, a U.S. senator from New Jersey, on the sometimes-conflicting juxtaposition of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights. Seker, who is also from New Jersey, said her question was based on her own experience attending a religious-based high school.

“I wish he could have gotten more specific on the issues of Catholic schools and the rights their students have; sometimes our very identities are at conflict with an institution’s canonical ideas,” Seker said. “But I do appreciate the messaging of his response, as it is important for there to be representation of someone who is both outspokenly religious and a champion for LGBTQ rights.”

In fall quarter, Seker was enrolled in Public Affairs 80, a prerequisite for the public affairs major that explores how the policy environment shapes human development. Her professor, Ian Holloway of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, joined her at the event and provided useful commentary between candidates. She also appreciated his tips on public speaking prior to her on-camera moment.

Holloway said he was proud to see UCLA Luskin students asking tough questions of the candidates. “It was helpful for our students to think critically about how policies being debated, such as the trans military ban or pharmaceutical pricing, impact the lives of LGBTQ Americans.”

Kevin Medina MPP / MSW ’15 is now the capstone advisor and coordinator for UCLA Luskin’s undergraduate major. Like Hyatte and Seker, he had applied in early September to attend the event and ask a question, and he was notified that his question had been chosen just a couple of days before the forum. He asked California candidate Tom Steyer about his plan to combat “the erasure of LGBTQ Americans’ identities on the 2020 Census.”

“I hope asking this question on a national platform elevates the importance of this issue and puts it on the radar of those with the power to positively effect change,” Medina said after the event. He said the Census Bureau plans to collect data on same-sex partners. “However, this question does not gain information about transgender people or LGBTQ people who are single or not living with a same-gender partner.”

Hyatte, who studied journalism as an undergrad, was appreciative of the opportunity to become directly engaged in the electoral process. When she chose UCLA for graduate school, “I didn’t even know we would be able to participate in something like this.”

Reflecting on the experience afterward, Hyatte said, “I think a lot of the candidates may want to brush up more on informing themselves about the issues that are happening in the LGBTQ community.” At the same time, the forum — which was held the day before the 31st annual National Coming Out Day — was also instructive for her.

“Just for myself, sitting in the audience, there were questions brought up that I didn’t even think about asking, and it makes me think, ‘Wow, I want to look more into that and really see what’s going on,’” she said. “It makes me think about how I can also include LGBTQ issues into my research on education policy because I think that’s also relevant.”

Relevance was key for Seker as well. “Within public affairs classes, we’re constantly learning about the vast array of issues that plague our society and the institutions and their history that perpetuate them.” The town hall demonstrated how diverse and multifaceted the LGBTQ community is, she said, and it highlighted a number of LGBTQ-related issues and concerns “that find their roots in a myriad of intersecting oppressive systems.”

Being within the Luskin School means a nearly constant stream of interesting opportunities for political engagement, Seker said a few days after the forum. “The fact that this was only during Week 2 of fall quarter makes me eager and excited for all the future opportunities and events the Luskin School will offer me throughout the rest of this school year.”

And Seker is right — UCLA Luskin will host a full calendar of public events and politics-related opportunities for students and alumni through Election Day 2020.

School Safety Expert Is Among 4 New Faculty Additions

By Stan Paul

Three new faculty members in social welfare and one in urban planning joined UCLA Luskin as of the fall quarter.

They bring to 19 the total number of new faculty added during the tenure of Dean Gary Segura to UCLA Luskin’s three professional programs and its undergraduate major.

Joining social welfare: Professor Ron Avi Astor, an expert on bullying and school violence; Assistant Professor Cindy Sangalang, who examines how race, migration and culture intersect to shape health and well-being in immigrant and refugee communities; and Assistant Professor Lee Ann Wang, whose current work looks at the intersection of immigration law and criminalization through gender and sexual violence.

New to urban planning is Assistant Professor Veronica Herrera, who studies the politics of development in Global South cities, with a focus on Latin America. Her research emphasizes environmental policymaking, sustainability and water policy.

Astor holds a joint appointment as professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Sangalang and Wang have joint appointments as assistant professors in Asian American Studies.

Astor holds the Marjory Crump Chair in Social Welfare. His work examines the role of the physical, social-organizational and cultural contexts in schools related to different kinds of bullying and school violence. Examples include sexual harassment, cyber bullying, discrimination, hate acts, school fights, emotional abuse, weapon use and teacher/child violence. His most recent co-authored book on the subject, “Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving Contexts: Culture, Organization, and Time,” was published last January.

“Bullying is such a big term that it gives us a lot of room,” said Astor, whose first studies related to bullying and school violence tied to vulnerable groups such as homeless and foster children. “So being in these literatures you realize that some of the research has been more generic, so it does matter if it’s LGBTQ or if it’s military kids, or homeless or foster kids … because the dynamics are a little bit different.”

His research is cross-cultural and makes comparisons between the United States and other places, including such countries as Israel, China, Cameroon and Kosovo.

“Professor Astor is one of the foremost experts in the world on how to cultivate safe and nurturing schools for children around the globe,” said Professor Laura Abrams, chair of social welfare. “This research is critical to social work as schools play a major role in shaping key child outcomes.”

Astor is a Southern California native who came to UCLA after a long research and teaching appointment at the University of Michigan and, more recently, at USC.

An Outdoor Oasis for Angelenos in Their Golden Years A Westlake park designed for older adults brings UCLA Luskin research to life

By Mary Braswell

At Los Angeles’ new Golden Age Park, garden beds are raised far above ground so that visitors can tend to flowers and vegetables without stooping down.

Lawns, pathways and exercise areas are laid out on one seamless plane — a stumble-proof surface for those who move about with canes, walkers and wheelchairs.

Once a vacant lot, this tranquil green space was designed with older adults in mind — the culmination of research spearheaded by a team from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“It’s a little oasis in the city, less than a third of an acre,” said Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who launched the study of senior-friendly open spaces that would eventually evolve into a blueprint for Golden Age Park.

Expanding knowledge to bring real change to people’s lives is a core part of UCLA Luskin’s mission. But researchers rarely see their ideas brought to life so vividly, Loukaitou-Sideris’ team agreed.

At Golden Age Park, visitors can stroll along circular walkways, build strength and balance on low-impact exercise machines, practice their gardening skills, or simply rest in areas designed for socializing or solitude. Shade trees, roses and purple sage create a pocket of nature on a street lined with apartment buildings.

The park’s architects relied on a toolkit called “Placemaking for an Aging Population” that was created by Loukaitou-Sideris’ team of urban designers, planners and gerontologists. The guidelines were shaped by case studies from around the world as well as input from older adults just around the corner.

The team reached out to St. Barnabas Senior Center, which serves the largely low-income and minority residents of Los Angeles’ Westlake neighborhood, just west of downtown. In focus groups conducted in Spanish, Korean and English, St. Barnabas regulars said they did not feel comfortable going to nearby MacArthur Park but would welcome a safe and accessible outdoor space geared toward their age group.

Loukaitou-Sideris’ team also partnered with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, a nonprofit devoted to increasing access to parks and gardens, particularly in communities of color. The group had been eyeing a lot at 739 S. Coronado St. — just a three-minute walk from St. Barnabas — hoping to convert it into a park.

With support from numerous foundations, government agencies and neighborhood partners, the trust purchased the lot, which had sat vacant for nearly 30 years. And with guidance from Loukaitou-Sideris’ team, Golden Age Park came to life.

“This is a model for how to work with local universities and thought leaders to put research into practice,” said Chandelle Wiebe, director of development and communications for the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust.

Shortly after its November grand opening, Loukaitou-Sideris visited the park with other members of her research team: Lené Levy-Storms, associate professor of social welfare and geriatric medicine; Madeline Brozen MA UP ’11, deputy director of UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies; and Lia Marshall, a doctoral candidate in social welfare.

Loukaitou-Sideris recalled the inspiration for the study. “It all started in Taiwan,” where years earlier she had visited a park crowded with older adults enjoying the benefits of outdoor recreation. In the United States, by contrast, many parks are constructed with children in mind, and the over-65 population often feels unwelcome.

“I had been doing this work on parks,” she said. “But I am not a gerontologist.”

“And I had never built a park,” said Levy-Storms, whose research in gerontology focuses on intergenerational communication.

The two created the team that applied for a grant, conducted interviews, studied park accessibility in other cultures and eventually produced the toolkit for senior-friendly open spaces, which has been honored by the American Planning Association.

“This park is so reflective of our research because it brings together urban design, planning and gerontology,” Brozen said as she and her colleagues admired the age-appropriate features of Golden Age Park:

  • Pathways form a loop lined with distinctive landmarks to guide those who sometimes lose their way.
  • A sloped ramp, elliptical trainer and tai chi wheel offer opportunities for a low-impact workout.
  • High fences and a clear sight line to the street provide a sense of security.
  • Seating areas made of temperature-sensitive materials include benches with arms for those who need to steady themselves as they sit or stand.
  • A children’s play area welcomes park-goers who would like to bring younger relatives along.
  • The raised gardens invite visitors to plant and prune without having to bend.

Some of the St. Barnabas seniors said they hope the park becomes a community treasure, a place where all generations can come together to make friends, learn other languages and share the vegetables grown in the garden.

And the park is welcomed by its neighbors. At the grand opening, “a woman from the apartment complex next door was very vocal about loving this park,” said Marshall, who also lives in the neighborhood. “She said she was going to be looking out for it.”

View more photos of Golden Age Park on Flickr.

Golden Age Park

Leap Awarded UCLA’s Highest Honor for Teaching Social welfare adjunct professor is recognized for an engaging teaching style that motivates students to social engagement and social consciousness

Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, received UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award — the university’s highest honor for teaching — at an Oct. 15 ceremony at the Chancellor’s Residence.

Leap joined eight other faculty members and five teaching assistants who were recognized for their impact on students, innovative teaching methods and involvement in the community.

“Jorja was recognized for her engaging teaching which motivates students to social engagement and social consciousness,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said. “We are deeply proud of her efforts.”

Leap, who joined the UCLA faculty in 1992, was nominated by her social welfare colleagues, who invited former students and community partners to offer letters of support. “The response was tremendous,” said Laura Abrams, chair of social welfare.

In a video tribute aired at the ceremony, Leap said her teaching philosophy revolves around this principle: To those whom much is given much is required.

Leap said she reminds students that, whatever path led them to UCLA, they now have access to world-class resources, teaching and often financial support. They must pay that forward by making their work relevant in the communities surrounding them, she said.

“In my research methodology course, I will take my doctoral students out in the community … to observe the way people live. And then we talk about how does their research inform policy, how does it move the needle? How does their research inform practice, how does it change the way people treat each other, how does it change our laws, how does it change our healthcare, how does it change economics?” she said.

She counsels her students, “Don’t do the easy thing; do the hard thing. Don’t do what’s natural; do what feels scary.”

Leap is executive director of the UCLA Social Justice Research Partnership and co-founder of the Watts Leadership Institute.

Her research examines gangs, high-risk youth, prison culture and the reentry of the formerly incarcerated into mainstream society. She also serves as an expert witness on gangs and trauma for death penalty cases and other court proceedings.


 

UCLA Luskin Welcomes 4 New Faculty for Fall 2019 Expertise of new additions includes school violence and bullying, race, immigrant health and law, and the politics of development in Latin America

By Stan Paul

Four new faculty members – three in Social Welfare and one in Urban Planning – have joined the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, expanding teaching and deepening research expertise in some of the School’s top-rated programs.

They add to the recent faculty expansion of six new hires in 2016 and nine last year, spread across UCLA Luskin’s three professional programs and its new undergraduate major.

Joining Social Welfare: Ron Avi Astor, an expert on bullying and school violence whose appointment was previously reported; Cindy Sangalang, who examines how race, migration, and culture intersect to shape health and well-being in immigrant and refugee communities; and Lee Ann Wang, whose current work looks at the intersection of immigration law and criminalization through gender and sexual violence.

Astor holds a joint appointment as professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Sangalang and Wang have joint appointments as assistant professors in Asian American Studies.

New to Urban Planning is Assistant Professor Veronica Herrera, who studies the politics of development in global south cities, with a focus on Latin America. Her research emphasizes environmental policymaking, sustainability and water policy.

“Veronica is a big addition to our work on global cities and environmental issues in urban centers,” said Dean Gary Segura, highlighting Herrera’s work on Latin America in his announcement to the school.

Herrera, author of the award-winning 2017 book Water and Politics: Clientelism and Reform in Urban Mexico,” said she will offer an undergraduate course on the politics of water and a graduate course on urban politics, both concentrating on the global south.

The new assistant professor previously taught in the political science department at the University of Connecticut and earned her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, where she said she fell in love with California.

“It’s wonderful to be back. I am looking forward to working with folks at UCLA who are interested in sustainability, urban political change and development,” she said. Citing issues including water stress and trash crises, Herrera said she is looking forward to connecting topics she is studying in Latin American cities to “how they are unfolding in L.A.”

“We are spoiled in L.A. with amazing food, weather and beaches, but from an environmental standpoint there is a lot of work to be done,” Herrera said.

 Astor holds the Marjory Crump Chair in Social Welfare. His work examines the role of the physical, social-organizational and cultural contexts in schools related to different kinds of bullying and school violence. Examples include sexual harassment, cyber bullying, discrimination, hate acts, school fights, emotional abuse, weapon use, and teacher/child violence, which are addressed in his most recent co-authored book, “Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving Contexts: Culture, Organization, and Time,” published in January 2019.

Bullying is such a big term that it gives us a lot of room,” said Astor, who, along with his colleagues, launched the first studies related to bullying and school violence tied to vulnerable groups such as homeless and foster children. “So being in these literatures you realize that some of the research has been more generic, so it does matter if it’s LGBTQ or if it’s military kids, or homeless or foster kids … because the dynamics are a little bit different.”

“And, because we do cross-cultural work, there’s a lot of interesting cultural comparisons within the United States but also between the United States and other places,” said Astor, whose work abroad has included Israel, China, Cameroon and Kosovo.

“Professor Astor is one of the foremost experts in the world on how to cultivate safe and nurturing schools for children around the globe,” said Professor Laura Abrams, chair of Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin. “This research is critical to social work as schools play a major role in shaping key child outcomes.”

For Cindy Sangalang, Southern California is home. Born and raised in Long Beach, she earned her MSW degree, in 2006, and Ph.D. in Social Welfare, in 2012, at UCLA Luskin. She returns to UCLA following faculty positions in the schools of social work at Arizona State University and California State University, Los Angeles.

Sangalang’s work “fills a critical need in our work on mental health and family function, particularly in East Asian and Southeast Asian communities in the United States,” Abrams noted.

“I look at factors tied to race, migration and culture — how those factors intersect and interplay to shape different health outcomes among immigrant populations. That work really derives from years working alongside Southeast Asian communities here in Southern California,” Sangalang said. And, she explained, “When I say Southeast Asian, primarily communities that migrated from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos that were forced to migrate to the United States as a result of U.S. war in Southeast Asia.”

When students ask about her own professional “origin story,” Sangalang said she starts with her family.

“My parents immigrated from the Philippines many, many years ago, and I think coming from an immigrant family with humble beginnings really set a seed in me to be able to connect with others who are tied to that immigrant experience,” said Sangalang, who is teaching courses offered by Social Welfare and Asian American Studies in the fall quarter.

Sangalang said her appointment at UCLA “marries my passions and my interests in a really wonderful way. This is something that I really would not have even thought would be a possibility, so it is really like this dream job where I get to come back to my alma mater where I earned my MSW and my Ph.D.”

In addition to her appointment with the Department of Asian American Studies in the UCLA College, she will be affiliated with the Asian American Studies Research Center.

Lee Ann Wang comes to UCLA most recently from the University of Washington, Bothell, where she held appointments in law and public policy; women, gender and sexuality studies; and ethnic studies. She also has held visiting posts at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and is an expert on legal narratives addressing the intersection of gender, immigration and violence in Asian American communities.

A key aspect of that work is the relationship between protection and punishment.

“Primarily what I look at is a series of pieces of federal legislation that were designed to ‘rescue and save’ immigrant women from gender and sexual violence, but in doing so they expanded terms of punishment that actually reinforce punishment in immigrant communities,” Wang said.

The immersive techniques of ethnographic studies are an important aspect of Wang’s research. For example, she has studied the law through the eyes of legal advocates. She also has engaged with legal service providers who not only played a role in distributing the terms of a law but were also involved in its writing. By conducting ethnographic studies in her work, Wang said her approach to the law involves looking at legal practice through legal advocates as well as service providers who were not only part of distributing the law’s terms but also a part of its own writing. “I’m arguing in part that we actually can’t understand the relationship between immigration law and criminalization without taking gender and sexuality seriously.”

Like her new colleagues, Wang has connections with Los Angeles and Southern California. She spent a number of years in L.A. working for nonprofit agencies before attending graduate school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she earned her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in American culture. Her nonprofit work, also in the San Francisco Bay area and Detroit, included anti-violence, reentry, youth advocacy, mass transit and voting rights. As a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow, she was a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Law and Society at UC Berkeley’s School of Law.

Wang is teaching a Social Welfare graduate course and an undergraduate course in Asian American Studies this year.

Armoring Up for the Fight Against Housing Injustice At a weeklong summer institute at UCLA, scholars and activists master the tools of research to advance safe shelter as a human right

By Mary Braswell

When Raquel Rolnik began her work for the United Nations Human Rights Council monitoring access to adequate housing, she found that the world body did not fully grasp the scope of the challenge.

“Adequate housing was seen as a problem of underdeveloped countries, those countries full of favelas, slums, barrios,” said Rolnik, who served as a U.N. special rapporteur from 2008 to 2014. “And of course it was not a problem at all in the developed world — at all.”

The global financial crisis of the last decade helped put that myth to rest, shining a spotlight on people in countries — rich and poor — who struggle to find secure housing, said Rolnik, who shared her experiences at a weeklong summer course hosted by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

With “challenge inequality” as its rallying cry, the institute strives to advance democracy through research, critical thought and alliances between academia and activism. With that mission in mind, the institute developed the curriculum on “Methodologies for Housing Justice.”

‘We are talking about banishment, we are talking about permanent transitoriness, we are talking about invisible people who are pushed from place to place.’ — Raquel Rolnik

More than 50 participants from universities and social movements attended the Aug. 5-9 course led by Rolnik and Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy and professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. A large Los Angeles contingent was joined by participants from Oakland, Orange County, Austin, Chicago, New York, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Manila and other locales.

Their goal was to share knowledge, master the tools of research and strengthen their commitment to uphold what the United Nations calls a basic human right: a place to live in peace, security and dignity.

Nancy Mejia, who works with Latino Health Access and other advocacy groups in Santa Ana, said the swelling demand for stable housing in Orange County compelled her to take part in the summer institute.

For years, Mejia’s work centered on access to healthy food, open spaces and recreation, but she found that constituents forced to move from place to place could not take advantage of these programs. So she shifted her focus to tenant rights, rent control and other housing justice issues.

“We’re getting more organized, and this is the sort of place to come and hear what else is going on around the country,” Mejia said. “We are getting the tools, connections and networks to build our capacity as a movement.”

The summer institute underscored that, rather than a social good, housing has become a commodity used to enrich property owners.

The dozen instructors covered a broad spectrum of issues, including laws against squatting or sleeping in one’s car that in effect make poverty a criminal offense; the ethics of collecting and controlling data on private citizens; and the responsibility of researchers to take the next step — to act for the greater good.

“We are not talking about an individual process of eviction,” Rolnik said during a session on her work with the São Paulo Evictions Observatory. “We are talking about banishment, we are talking about permanent transitoriness, we are talking about invisible people who are pushed from place to place.”

The Evictions Observatory was created to turn small bits of information collected from across the Brazilian metropolis into data-rich maps exposing broad trends of inhumane behavior.

Rolnik displayed a map highlighting pockets of São Paulo where at least 100 evictions took place within one kilometer — frequently in locations known for drug consumption or inhabited by non-white residents. At times, tenants were cleared out so that businesses could expand. In one case, she said, a building was demolished while squatters were still inside.

Largely powered by university students, the Evictions Observatory intervenes on behalf of the homeless and lobbies for “key-to-key” policies — that is, no person may be evicted unless he or she has a safe place to land.

The observatory is led by Rolnik, a professor, architect, urban planner and author. In addition to her position as U.N. special rapporteur on adequate housing, Rolnik has held positions with the Brazilian government, non-governmental organizations and academia. She currently chairs the design and planning department at the University of São Paulo.

“Raquel’s work and career to me have always been an inspiration for how one might in fact be both inside and outside powerful institutions and produce scholarship and frameworks of social change that are abolitionist, that are anti-colonial and that are committed to a human right to housing,” said Roy, who also holds the Meyer and Renee Luskin Chair in Inequality and Democracy at UCLA.

The summer course was offered through the Housing Justice in #UnequalCities Network, which was launched by Roy’s institute, with support from the National Science Foundation, to unite movement-based and university-based scholars in the field.

That expression of solidarity attracted Joshua Poe, an independent geographer, city planner and community activist from Louisville, Kentucky. To sharpen his skills in urban design and data visualization, Poe returned to school to earn a master’s in urban planning but acknowledged that he has an “insurgent relationship” with academia.

“For a lot of people who’ve been doing movement-based research or movement geography or movement science, we’ve been somewhat isolated and somewhat invalidated at times and kind of gaslighted by academia,” Poe said. “But this institute lends not just legitimacy to what we’re doing but also expands our networks and emboldens our work in a lot of ways.”

Poe spoke after a day of lectures and training at the Los Angeles Community Action Network, or LA CAN, an advocacy group headquartered in downtown’s Skid Row. LA CAN, part of the Housing Justice in #UnequalCities Network, also hosted a book launch for the English version of Rolnik’s “Urban Warfare: Housing Under the Empire of Finance.”

At the close of the summer institute, the work was not done. In the coming weeks, participants will craft chapters on key housing justice methodologies, which will be disseminated as a digital resource guide available to all.

“This open-access volume will be a critical resource for defining housing justice as a field of inquiry,” Roy said.

View photos from the summer institute on Flickr.
Summer Institute on Housing Justice

A Research Spotlight on the World’s Vulnerable People UCLA Luskin launches international outreach to identify strategies to empower women and children

By Mary Braswell

In Tanzania, programs aimed at improving women’s health have been in place for decades, but rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among adolescents remain high.

In El Salvador, several comprehensive centers for women needing health care, job training, legal help and protection from domestic violence have opened. Why aren’t more women taking advantage of these services?

Around the world, when well-intentioned policies to improve the lives of people fall short of expectations, researchers mobilize to investigate and advise.

This is the mission of a new initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs called International Development and Policy Outreach.

IDPO’s focus on global health and education comes at a critical time, said Manisha Shah, professor of public policy and founding director of the initiative.

“There is so much need right now,” said Shah, whose extensive research as a development economist in Africa, Asia and Latin America has guided governments and agencies seeking effective, evidence-based policies.

Shah cites this sobering statistic: Of all new adolescent HIV cases in the world, three out of four are in sub-Saharan Africa. Of those cases, 80% are girls.

Tanzanian boys peek into a clubhouse for girls launched as part of a health education campaign. Photo by Jennifer Muz

She is currently evaluating a safe-sex campaign in Tanzania, where 60% of teen girls are sexually active by age 18. Fewer than 10% of girls ages 15 to 19 use any modern contraception, however. And adolescent girls there experience high rates of violence by their intimate partners.

Shah said policies grounded in research can bring about improvements in the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents during the next decade — which in turn would create better educational and employment opportunities.

“There is a great need to look at some of these subpopulations that aren’t historically targeted by the average intervention or policy being implemented in lower-income countries,” she said. “Part of what’s exciting at Luskin right now is the number of faculty who are doing this type of international work.”

International Development and Policy Outreach integrates their efforts, puts a spotlight on their findings, builds a network of international stakeholders, and acts as a springboard for advocacy, Shah said.

The initiative will also create opportunities for students of public policy, social welfare and urban planning who are drawn to international development issues, she said.

The health of an entire community hinges on the well-being of women and children, the researchers at IDPO have established. They have studied teachers in Pakistan, caregivers in rural Colombia, sex workers in Indonesia and young HIV patients in South Africa, among many other populations.

In Shah’s Tanzania research, advocating for girls means also reaching out to boys. The boys come to play soccer and stay to hear about health risks and violence against girls — part of an international program that combines sport with sex education.

Shah’s research team is measuring the relative impact of empowering girls, turning boys into allies and simply providing access to contraceptives. The goal is to identify and invest in the most effective policies — to find some way to curb adolescent pregnancy, the spread of disease and intimate partner violence. The Tanzania project is being conducted in collaboration with the international development organization BRAC.

Shah is also helping design strategies to promote El Salvador’s Ciudad Mujer women’s resource centers.

“These are safe spaces where women can come if they need a lawyer, health services, employment services. But take-up rates for the domestic violence services have been relatively low, and they don’t understand why,” Shah said. “I’m working with the Inter-American Development Bank and the government of El Salvador to do the research and to figure out what is going on.”

This is the kind of practical impact that powers IDPO, which is launching this summer with support from UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura.

“We have so many great professors across all departments working internationally,” Shah said. “IDPO speaks to some of our newer strengths, bringing it all together to foster research, support faculty, and advocate for better policies through our findings and our relationships abroad.”

Graduating Students Seek Out Solutions Near and Far The capstone research projects that are now part of all UCLA Luskin programs tackle local challenges or examine issues that extend far beyond campus and California

By Stan Paul

Newly graduated Social Welfare master’s degree recipient Deshika Perera’s research project extended across the United States and as far north as Alaska.

Evan Kreuger helped create a nationwide database as a basis for his research into LGBT health and health outcomes to culminate his Master of Social Welfare (MSW) studies at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Perera and Kreuger are members of the first graduating class of Social Welfare students to complete a capstone research project as a graduation requirement for their MSW degrees. Like their UCLA Luskin counterparts in Urban Planning and Public Policy who must also complete capstones, working individually and in groups to complete research and analysis projects that hone their skills while studying important social issues on behalf of government agencies, nonprofit groups and other clients with a public service focus.

“It’s been fun; it’s been interesting,” said Perera, who worked with Associate Professor Ian Holloway. Her qualitative study examined the relationship between the Violence Against Women Act and nonprofits, focusing on programs that provide services to indigenous survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence on reservations and in remote areas of the U.S.

As a member of the pioneering class for the MSW capstone, Perera said that although the new requirement was rigorous, she enjoyed the flexibility of the program.

“I feel we got to express our own creativity and had more freedom because it was loosely structured,” Perera said, explaining that she and her fellow students got to provide input on their projects and the capstone process. The development of the requirement went both ways. “Because it was new, [faculty] were asking us a lot of questions,” Perera said.

“We strongly believe that this capstone experience combines a lot of the pieces of learning that they’ve been doing, so it really integrates their knowledge of theory, their knowledge of research methods and their knowledge of practice,” said Laura Wray-Lake, associate professor and MSW capstone coordinator. “I think it’s really fun to see research come alive and be infused with real world practice.”

Krueger, who also was completing a Ph.D. in public health at UCLA while concluding his MSW studies, previously worked as a research coordinator for a national survey on LGBT adults through the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. He said he had a substantial amount of data to work with and that he enjoyed the opportunity to combine his research interests.

“I’m really interested in how the social environment influences these public health questions I’m looking at,” said Kreuger who has studied HIV and HIV prevention. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, but it was a matter of pulling it all together.”

For years, MSW students have completed rigorous coursework and challenging educational field placements during their two-year program of study, and some previous MSW graduates had conducted research in connection with sponsoring agencies. This year’s class included the first MSW recipients to complete a new two-year research sequence, Wray-Lake said.

View more photos from Public Policy’s APP presentations.

Applied Policy Projects

In UCLA Luskin Public Policy, 14 teams presented a year’s worth of exacting research during this year’s Applied Policy Project presentations, the capstone for those seeking a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree.

Public Policy students master the tools to conduct policy analysis during their first year of study. In the second year, they use those tools to create sophisticated policy analyses to benefit government entities and other clients.

The APP research is presented to faculty, peers and curious first-year students over the course of two days. This May’s presentations reflected a broad spectrum of interests.

Like some peers in Social Welfare, a few MPP teams tackled faraway issues, including a study of environmental protection and sustainable tourism in the South Pacific. Closer to home, student researchers counted people experiencing homelessness, looked at ways to reform the juvenile justice system, sought solutions to food insecurity and outlined ideas to protect reproductive health, among other topics.

“Our students are providing solutions to some of the most important local and global problems out there,” said Professor JR DeShazo, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.

After each presentation, faculty members and others in the audience followed up with questions about data sources, methodologies and explanations for the policy recommendations.

View more photos from Urban Planning’s capstone presentations.

Careers, Capstones and Conversations

Recently graduated UCLA Luskin urban planners displayed their culminating projects in April at the annual Careers, Capstones and Conversations networking event, following up with final written reports for sponsoring clients.

Many planning students work individually, but a cohort of 16 Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students worked together to complete a comprehensive research project related to a $23 million grant recently received by the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima. The project was the culmination of almost six months of analysis in which the MURP students helped the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies prepare a plan seeking to avoid displacement of residents as a result of a pending major redevelopment effort.

“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.

View more photos from Social Welfare’s capstone presentations. 

MSWs Test Research Methods

In Social Welfare, the projects represented a variety of interests and subject matter, said Wray-Lake, pointing out that each student’s approach — quantitative and/or qualitative — helps distinguish individual areas of inquiry. Some students used existing data sets to analyze social problems, she said, whereas others gathered their own data through personal interviews and focus groups. Instructors provided mentoring and training during the research process.

“They each have their own challenges,” said Wray-Lake, noting that several capstones were completed in partnership with a community agency, which often lack the staff or funding for research.

“Agencies are very hungry for research,” she said. “They collect lot of data and they have a lot of research needs, so this is a place where our students can be really useful and have real community impact with the capstones.”

Professor of Social Welfare Todd Franke, who serves as a lead instructor for the capstone projects, said his students worked on issues that impact child welfare. Others studied the relationship between child neglect and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Another capstone focused on predictors of educational aspirations among black and Native American students. The well-being of caregivers and social workers served as another study topic.

Assistant Professor Amy Ritterbusch, who also served as a capstone instructor, said her students focused on topics that included education beyond incarceration, the needs of Central American migrant youth in schools, and the unmet needs of homeless individuals in MacArthur Park. One project was cleverly titled as “I’m Still Here and I Can Go On: Coping Practices of Immigrant Domestic Workers.”

“They all did exceptional work,” Ritterbusch said.

Her Personal Journey Forged a Path for Others Founder of outreach to women in the sex business is named alumna of year by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare

By Mary Braswell

Harmony (Dust) Grillo clearly recalls those moments when she knew she could change the trajectory of her life.

At a group home where she lived briefly in high school, a counselor told her he was going to college because “‘I’m going to be the first black president of the United States.’” He was not Barack Obama. But his words made her rethink her opinion that school was a waste of time.

“I remember really being moved by his belief in himself and his audacity,” Grillo said. “And I made a decision that day that education could be a life raft for me, to get me out of the situation that I was in.”

That situation was forged by a childhood of trauma. Since the age of 5, she had suffered sexual and emotional abuse. At 13, she was left to care for her 8-year-old brother for three months, with nothing more than $20 and a book of food stamps. In her teen years, she became entangled in toxic relationships with men in her neighborhood.

By age 19, she had $35,000 in debt. Her boyfriend persuaded her to earn money as a stripper, just for a couple of months. Three years later, she was still in the business.

Grillo had not given up on her education. With a 4.0 GPA from Santa Monica College, she had been accepted at UCLA. By day, she was a studious psychology major. By night, she was “Monique” at a strip club near LAX.

Then came the next pivot that changed Grillo’s life. A friend encouraged her to come to church, where she heard over and over that she was made for a purpose.

“I was in the club one night, and it just dawned on me that this couldn’t be what I was put on this planet to do,” she said.

Grillo walked away from the strip clubs, the controlling boyfriend and the belief that she had no power over her life. Her calling, she decided, was to use her pain to help others heal. And then came another turning point.

She was on track to earn a Ph.D. in psychology but switched to the MSW program at UCLA Luskin.

“People who can afford psychologists don’t tend to be the kind of clients that I felt drawn to. That’s why I switched over to social work,” she said.

Just as she began her graduate studies in 2003, Grillo launched Treasures, an outreach to women caught up in the sex business. The timing was perfect, she said. She used research assignments, literature reviews and behavior analysis to expand her understanding of women in the commercial sex industry, as well as her own past.

“I began to recognize that, oh, this thing that I keep seeing, these women who again and again feel like they just can’t take that next step forward, oh, it’s learned helplessness,” she said.

At the Luskin School, Grillo earned a spot in the competitive CalSWEC program, which funds graduate education in exchange for service in the Los Angeles County child protective services.

“Harmony had this kind of light about her, this energy,” said Laura Alongi Brinderson, who has been with CalSWEC since 2001 and now serves as its coordinator. “She really had compassion and empathy for people who walked a difficult road.”

Alongi has followed Grillo’s career as it branched out from direct outreach to program development, fundraising and “how to keep an agency running.”

“Part of our mission at Luskin is to encourage leadership, and she really has established herself as a leader in her field. She has created a national hub for this type of work,” Alongi said. “It’s been incredible what she’s been able to do.”

Since Grillo received her MSW in 2005, Treasures has blossomed. From their base in the San Fernando Valley, known as the capital of the porn industry, the staff of four has trained a multitude of volunteers from 120 cities on six continents.

“It can be overwhelming,” said Grillo, who is also kept busy with a husband, 10-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, as well as the recently published second edition of her memoir, “Scars and Stilettos.”

Her faith-based nonprofit interacts with women in strip clubs and the porn industry, on online forums where sex is sold, and in juvenile detention centers. Its signature outreach is a small gift bag with donated cosmetics and resources. No pressure, Grillo said, just information.

For women who choose to leave the sex industry, Treasures offers many services, including a survivor-led support group, financial assistance, even a wardrobe closet. This spring, the closet was filled with elegant dresses that women could wear to the nonprofit’s annual fundraising gala.

In May, UCLA Luskin honored Grillo’s accomplishments by naming her the Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumna of the Year.

“When I’m looking at the trajectory of my life, and I’m looking at those defining moments along the way, I see people who had an opportunity to influence my life” — an important reminder for those in the field of social work, Grillo said. “Maybe they never knew what kind of impact they were having. But they had an impact.”