A $650,000 grant from The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation will support a new partnership between UCLA and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem focused on developing school violence prevention strategies that turn campuses into safe and welcoming places for children worldwide.
The UCLA-HU Collaboration for Safe Schools is a two-year pilot program connecting scholars and practitioners globally and across disciplines to share research and insights related to the complex underlying causes of school violence.
The program will operate in both California and Israel under the leadership of two internationally recognized experts in school safety: Ron Avi Astor of UCLA and Mona Khoury-Kassabri of Hebrew University.
Astor is the Marjorie Crump Endowed Professor of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, with a joint appointment in the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies. Khoury-Kassabri, Hebrew University’s vice president of strategy and diversity, is the Frances and George Katz Family Chair at the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare.
The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation grant, awarded to UCLA and American Friends of the Hebrew University, covers half of the pilot program’s $1.3 million budget. Martin H. Blank, Jr., and Richard S. Ziman, co-trustees of the foundation, issued a statement inviting other funders to “join this important initiative to create a safer and more peaceable world.”
Through exchange programs and conferences held on each campus, the Collaboration for Safe Schools aims to bring top U.S. and Israeli scholars together with K-12 educators, administrators and social workers; policymakers and experts in law and criminology; and university students focused on fields related to social education.
Participants will share knowledge on gun violence, bullying and cyberbullying, youth suicide and substance abuse, as well as forms of hate including antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, and bias against LGBTQ and immigrant communities. The alliance will lead to a deeper understanding of culturally appropriate ways to create thriving school environments.
It will also stress the importance of a school curriculum that prizes not just academic success but social and emotional maturity, and makes room for integration of the arts into a holistic education that builds safe, healthy communities.
“In our current unprecedented and unsettling times, such collaborations are more important than ever,” says Astor, who has worked with thousands of schools to reduce victimization of students in a career spanning three decades.
Khoury-Kassabri, an authority on community-level social justice policies and interventions that prevent juvenile delinquency, says, “This partnership will promote the worldwide reduction in hate between groups using education, exchanges and scientific data, both in the U.S. and Israel.”
The pilot program is envisioned as a prelude to what will become the UCLA-Hebrew University Center for Safe Schools, operated jointly by the two universities. The center will leverage the wide-ranging research, academic, training and field expertise of the two campuses and serve as a multidisciplinary hub supporting school safety efforts worldwide.
By Les Dunseith
UCLA Luskin researchers are helping shape local and state health policy decisions in the wake of the monkeypox virus outbreak.
Ian Holloway, director of the Hub for Health Intervention, Policy and Practice at UCLA Luskin, is one of the researchers leading the effort. The Social Welfare professor was asked to sit on the scientific advisory committee to the California Department of Public Health soon after the first case in the United States was reported in mid-May.
Holloway, who aims to use research-based evidence to shape local and state public health policy regarding monkeypox, is now in the early stages of microsimulation modeling in relation to the disease. He and his researchers can model various scenarios using this advanced statistical approach, which allows policymakers to view and understand different hypotheticals.
“What if we can vaccinate 50% of those who are at risk by a certain time — what impact will that have on transmission?” Holloway asked. “What if we can get all of those who test positive for monkeypox on treatment within a certain time frame to reduce the risk of transmissibility — what will that mean for the evolution of the virus?”
Holloway has stressed the need to prioritize an equity-focused response in communities of men who have sex with other men, particularly among racial and ethnic minority gay men. In an August 18 editorial published by the American Journal of Public Health, he outlined a four-point strategy for how to scale up monkeypox vaccinations without further stigmatizing gay men.
“My hope in working with Los Angeles County and the California Department of Public Health is that we can be really strategic and use research evidence to inform public health policy,” Holloway said. “One thing that’s promising for monkeypox vaccination is that we saw very high levels overall of vaccination for COVID-19 among LGBT communities in general, and gay men specifically. However, we still saw disparities by race and ethnicity.”
He supports an August 24 decision by the Los Angeles County Public Health Department to follow national guidance and extend eligibility to more people despite an ongoing shortage of the monkeypox vaccine. Doing so will bolster efforts to reach racial and ethnic minority communities, he said.
The new strategy involves a process known as dose splitting, in which a vial that usually contains two doses is split into up to five doses and administered in a way that retains effectiveness despite the lower dosage. Traditionally the vaccine is administered in a subcutaneous manner into the fat behind the triceps muscle. The new strategy is for a shallow intradermal injection into a layer of skin under the arm. This method typically leads to higher immune responses and faster drug uptake.
“Hopefully, that will mean we can get more doses to people,” Holloway said. “But public health departments really have to start planning to reach large communities of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.”
In cities like Los Angeles, Holloway noted, people getting vaccinated tend to be more affluent and can afford to take time off work when they get a text reminder saying it’s their turn. “It’s much more challenging to reach those with lower incomes who are disproportionately part of racial and ethnic minority communities,” he said.
Holloway also leads the Gay Sexuality and Social Policy Initiative at UCLA, which focuses specifically on the unique experiences of gay men related to sex and sexuality. Although monkeypox is spread through any type of intimate contact, 98% of U.S. infections in the current outbreak have been among men, primarily those who have sex with other men.
Alex Garner, co-director of the initiative, is also director of community engagement at MPact Global, a worldwide organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of gay, bisexual and queer folks, and advancing human rights. Garner has advised the World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control on communication strategies and community engagement relating to the disease. He said the outbreak has further demonstrated the structural inequalities that exist in health care.
“At the same time, we can’t allow stigma to be worse than the disease,” Garner said. “To not provide adequate investment and care for people of color, migrants, sex workers and LGBTQ folks only reinforces the idea that our lives do not matter.”
The stigma problem
Holloway and Garner are among those lobbying to change the name of the disease to something less stigmatizing than monkeypox such as MPX, which is favored by state public health officials.
Advising gay men without stigmatizing them — a frequent problem during the HIV epidemic — requires sensitivity in how information is communicated. Holloway’s team at UCLA has been active in working with community partners like the Los Angeles LGBT Center on education and raising awareness.
Initially, GSSPI put out a set of infographics about protecting oneself from exposure to the virus and how to identify the symptoms, which are similar to a severe flu. Infected individuals usually develop a rash and then lesions during a painful illness that can last up to four weeks.
So far, no one in the United States has died in an outbreak that now totals more than 40,000 cases worldwide and over 3,000 in California. Los Angeles County has the highest rate of infection in the state.
The outbreak spread quickly but is unlikely to disappear nearly as fast. The vaccine needs to be administered twice, four weeks apart, with 85% immunity not achieved until two weeks after the second dose. “We have a long road in front of us in terms of being able to get our communities protected through vaccination,” Holloway said.
The task at hand is both urgent and daunting, while the health and social ramifications are far-reaching. That’s why Holloway has enlisted assistance from Brian Keum, who also teaches in the department of social welfare, and Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld of UCLA Luskin Public Policy for another monkeypox-related research endeavor.
The project involves data mining of a Twitter database developed by Steinert-Threlkeld that goes back to 2014. By tracking homophobic hate speech, UCLA Luskin researchers will be able to document the types of hate speech relating to the monkeypox outbreak and inform communication strategies to confront online homophobia.
“There’s been a surge in homophobic hate speech online,” Holloway said. “The goal of this second project is understanding the ways in which homophobic hate speech online is evolving in parallel to the spread of (monkeypox) and through social media networks.”
He noted that social media can be a powerful way to spread both negative and positive information — greater attention was drawn to the outbreak in June when actor Matt Ford started posting videos on Twitter and TikTok about his symptoms and treatment, for example.
“I’m also interested in the ways in which gay communities are caring for themselves using social media during this time,” Holloway said.
By Mary Braswell
The aspiring social workers from around the world gathered on a shaded lawn at UCLA to process what they had seen that morning.
Their visit to an agency on Skid Row, epicenter of Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis, came after several days immersed in conversation about how to engage communities on society’s margins, and the group’s reflections pointed to one overriding question:
How can individual social workers move away from managing misery and toward a transformation of their entire field, upending systems that perpetuate inequity in order to truly change lives?
That aspiration guided this year’s International Summer University in Social Work, hosted by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare over two weeks in July.
More than 20 scholars and graduate students from universities in Australia, Canada, China, India, Israel and Switzerland joined a large UCLA contingent during the collective multinational inquiry.
“We are seeking common practices that promote justice, and we learn from one another,” said Amy Ritterbusch, the assistant professor of social welfare who developed the curriculum with Professor Emerita Rosina Becerra.
‘We are seeking common practices that promote justice, and we learn from one another.’ — Amy Ritterbusch, assistant professor of social welfare
The summer university has convened around the world for more than a decade, governed by a consortium of universities to bring a global lens to core social work theories and practices.
This is the first year that UCLA has hosted, and finding a place on a full agenda were topics such as racism, the wealth gap, gender bias, housing and health inequities, children’s rights and elder abuse.
Faculty members from each participating university shared their scholarship on community engagement, as did the keynote speaker, University of Washington Professor Karina Walters, a triple Bruin who earned her doctorate in social welfare in 1995. Walters drew from her Choctaw heritage and research, using the elements of water, land, air, wind and fire to frame the dialogue.
Off-campus elements of the program revealed the extremes of L.A. society: the structural poverty and exclusion seen on Skid Row and at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and the spaces of privilege glimpsed during cultural outings to the Hollywood Bowl and Pantages Theater.
Also built into each day’s schedule was space for group dialogue to share the unique cultural perspectives and social work practices each participant brought to the summer university.
Vanessa Warri, a UCLA doctoral student studying social welfare and a leader in the summer university, said the program challenged students to broaden their thinking about their chosen profession.
“There’s a history of social workers showing up as ‘saviors’ — at best providing resources to an underserved community and at worst managing the suffering of a population, but not necessarily helping to alleviate it,” she said. “So how can we engage and advocate in the spaces we are in and build more sustainable communities?”
Before and after the trip to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Cardinal Manning Center on Skid Row, the group grappled with the enormity of the homelessness crisis, the limits of social work, and the concern that taking a tour of life on the streets would be more voyeuristic than educational. The shelter staff invited them to take note of the sights, smells and sounds, then ponder how policies are addressing or not addressing what they observed.
Bobby Benny, a student from the Rajagiri College of Social Science in India, was struck by the dozens of shelters and service providers within a few blocks but wondered how they could possibly meet the needs of the 6,500 unhoused people in downtown Los Angeles, much less the tens of thousands countywide.
“How is that building with 100 beds a solution? How is any of it a solution?” Benny asked as the students gathered back at UCLA. “I’ve seen this in India, but something is different here.”
On the institute’s final day, Benny shared a poem juxtaposing the Los Angeles he had dreamed of and the one he woke up in, where “those skyscrapers were acting as a source of shade for the people who were forgotten in the City of Angels.”
Group presentations allowed all the students to synthesize their experiences and reflect on how they could apply what they learned in their home cultures. And they expressed a desire to stay connected even over long distances.
Said Ritterbusch, “We hope to leave here with a collective commitment to become social workers who drive social change.”
By Les Dunseith
The peer-reviewed academic journal publishes research on sexuality and the implications of that research on public policy across the globe. It has traditionally been focused primarily on an academic audience, but Holloway intends to work with the editorial board to expand the journal’s reach and impact in response to a wave of anti-LGBT legislation in the United States and issues such as the ongoing criminalization of same-sex sexual behavior in many countries.
“I think that this historical moment really calls upon us, as academics, to make sure the work we’re producing reaches policymakers and other decision-makers, including practitioners and the folks who are designing programs in government and public health settings,” said Holloway, who is director of the UCLA Hub for Health Intervention, Policy and Practice and its Gay Sexuality and Social Policy Initiative.
He envisions promoting research from the journal via social media, soliciting more special issues on timely and relevant topics, and putting short summaries of key findings atop articles — written in layperson’s language to make academic work that is relevant to ongoing policy debates more widely accessible.
“Those of us who’ve been writing peer-reviewed articles for academic journals for years have a particular style of writing, a particular format of writing, that may not be conducive to lay audiences,” Holloway noted. “But lay audiences include policymakers who may not have the time, the energy or the expertise to wade through an academic article on a particular topic.”
At a time when people’s sexuality and the reproductive rights of pregnant people are at issue, Holloway sees his new role as an opportunity to make a difference.
“A lot of times, policy decisions are not evidence-based,” he said. “They’re based in moral judgment or religious views.
“But we have robust scientific evidence that is based on sexual liberty and the impact of social policy on sexuality. And I would like to make that academic discourse more relevant and available to those who are making decisions for the future of our country and for communities across the globe.”
As editor-in-chief, Holloway will have the final say on every manuscript that is published in the journal, about 150 articles a year. He was selected for a five-year term as editor-in-chief through a peer-nomination process that included a recommendation from the outgoing editor, Christian Grov of the City University of New York, and interviews with representatives of Springer Nature, the journal’s publisher.
“The previous editor did an incredible job of building up the journal, and he increased the number of submissions,” Holloway said. “I’m grateful to Dr. Grov for all of his hard work and look forward to continuing to grow the journal in terms of its impact in the real world beyond the ivory tower.”
The institute is among four recipients of grants totaling $6 million from the foundation, which are intended as a bridge between social justice scholarship and social movements.
“We believe that bold investments in ideas about how to shift power in society must be matched with bold investments in organizing efforts that help bring them to life,” foundation President and CEO Carmen Rojas said in announcing the grants.
The new funds will help the institute, launched in 2016 and based at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, continue to advance social justice in cooperation with colleagues and community partners, said Ananya Roy, the institute’s founding director and a UCLA professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography.
“We have been building an interinstitutional space connecting university-based and movement-based scholars in the shared work of research and scholarship to analyze and challenge dispossession and displacement in U.S. cities and communities,” Roy said.
As part of that work, Roy and her colleagues and partners are seeking to ensure that increased government spending on public programs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic benefits those most in need rather than further entrenching race and class inequality, exploitation and oppression.
Rojas, who, like Roy, earned a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from UC Berkeley, stressed that organizing efforts supported by the grants “should be multiracial and durable in nature to ensure that their impact reflects the character of the communities they aim to serve and leaves those communities changed, more informed, more free and better able to shape our democracy and economy.”
In applying for the grant, the institute pledged to support efforts to “advance the collective power of those who have been excluded, evicted, criminalized, banished and disappeared by liberal democracy, from the unhoused to climate refugees.”
The institute’s grant-related plans include:
- Expanding its signature activist-in-residence program.
- Hosting a distinguished speakers series focused social and racial justice movements, with particular attention on scholars based in the global South. To this end, the series will use both in-person and virtual formats.
- Organizing “freedom schools” that bring together movement-based and university scholars for theoretical and methodological training related to social justice.
- Initiating a program to unite leading university and movement-based scholars around a shared vision and narrative of housing justice that reaffirms housing as a reparative public good.
- Creating doctoral student and faculty seed grants to support research at the intersection of ideas and organizing.
Also receiving $1.5 million grants from the foundation were the Portal Project of the Social Justice Initiative at the University of Illinois Chicago; Haymarket Books, a nonprofit publisher based in Chicago; and the Highlander Research and Education Center, a grassroots organizing and movement-building organization active in Appalachia and the American South.
A majority of American men who die by suicide don’t have any known history of mental health problems, according to new research by UCLA professor Mark Kaplan and colleagues.
“What’s striking about our study is the conspicuous absence of standard psychiatric markers of suicidality among a large number of males of all ages who die by suicide,” said Kaplan, a professor of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
For the study, published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Kaplan and his co-authors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked recent suicide deaths among U.S. males age 10 and older. They found that 60% of victims had no documented mental health conditions.
Further, males without a history of mental health issues died more frequently by firearms than those with known mental health issues, and many were found to have alcohol in their systems, the researchers noted.
The report highlights the major public health challenge of addressing suicide among males, who are far more likely to die by suicide and less likely to have known mental health conditions than females. In 2019, for instance, males accounted for 80% of all suicide deaths in the U.S., the authors said, and suicide is the eighth-leading cause of death among males 10 and older.
Kaplan and his colleagues examined data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Violent Death Reporting System for the most recent three-year period available, 2016 to 2018, during which more than 70,000 American males died by suicide. More than 42,000 of them had no known mental health conditions, they found.
The researchers then compared characteristics of those with and without known mental health conditions across their life span in four age groups: adolescents (10–17 years old), young adults (18–34), middle aged adults (35–64) and older adults (65 and older). Identifying the various factors that contribute to suicides among these groups is crucial to developing targeted suicide prevention efforts, especially outside of mental health systems, the team emphasized.
Among their findings, they discovered that across all groups, those without known mental health conditions were less likely to have had a history of contemplating or attempting suicide, or both, than those with such issues. In particular, young and middle-aged adults without known mental health conditions disclosed suicidal intent significantly less often, they said.
In addition, males with no mental health history who died by suicide in three of the four age groups — adolescents, young adults and middle-aged men — more commonly experienced relationship problems, arguments or another type of personal crisis as precipitating circumstances than for those with prior histories.
The researchers emphasized the importance of focusing on these kinds of acute situational stressors as part of suicide prevention efforts and working to discourage the use of alcohol, drugs and guns during times of crisis — particularly for teens and young adults, who may be more prone to act impulsively.
Kaplan and his colleagues said the findings highlight the potential benefits of strategies to create protective environments, provide support during stressful transitions, and enhance coping and problem-solving skills across the life span.
“Suicide prevention initiatives for males might benefit from comprehensive approaches focusing on age-specific stressors reported in this study, in addition to standard psychiatric markers,” the researchers wrote.
“These findings,” Kaplan said, “could begin to change views on the non–mental health factors driving up the rate of suicide among men.”
UCLA Luskin celebrated its Class of 2022 with two commencement ceremonies on June 10, one for public policy, social welfare and urban planning scholars earning advanced degrees and a second honoring students awarded the bachelor’s in public affairs.
U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spoke to undergraduates on the patio of UCLA’s Kerckhoff Hall, and actor and social justice activist George Takei addressed students earning master’s and Ph.D. degrees in UCLA’s Royce Hall.
Each of the speakers issued a call to action to graduates who are entering a troubled world. They shared a message of empowerment, encouraging students to look within themselves, identify their unique gifts and use them to make a difference.
“Recognize who you are, what your strengths are, because our nation needs you, you, you, you,” Pelosi said, pointing to individual graduates.
Takei, too, called on his audience to tap into the primal urges that move them to action.
“Let us seek out our own human essence,” he said. ‘You are all infinite in diversity, working together in infinite combinations. And yet you are one, all aligned to contribute to making this a better society.”
The speakers were introduced by UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura, who had his own charge to the Class of 2022.
“We are in a critical moment in the history of this nation and of this society,” Segura said. “We’re deciding who we are as a people, what values matter to us as Americans, what is our role in human history. …
“So beyond merely congratulating you, I want to thank you, perhaps prematurely, for all that we expect you to do with what you have learned.”
Segura acknowledged that the graduates’ time at UCLA was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, a theme echoed in speeches from students selected to represent their programs: Anahi Cruz of Public Policy, Vanessa Rochelle Warri of Social Welfare, Paola Tirado Escareño of Urban Planning and Samantha Danielle Schwartz of the undergraduate Public Affairs program.
Following each ceremony, graduates and guests gathered at outdoor receptions to take photos and offer congratulations before entering the ranks of UCLA Luskin alumni.
The two Class of 2022 commencement speakers are known for blazing trails in their fields.
Pelosi, a member of Congress for more than three decades, made history in 2007 as the first woman elected to serve as speaker of the House. She has championed legislation that has helped to lower health care costs, increase workers’ pay and promote the nation’s economic growth. In 2013, Pelosi was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Seneca Falls, New York, the birthplace of the American women’s rights movement.
Takei is best known for his role as Lt. Hikaru Sulu in “Star Trek,” the groundbreaking sci-fi series that featured a multiethnic cast and a plot centered on peace among all peoples. He is also a bestselling author with an immense social media following, which he has used as platform to advocate for the LGBTQ and Asian American communities and educate his audience about U.S. internment camps for Japanese Americans, where he and his family were held during World War II.
Both speakers described the tumultuous era awaiting the Class of 2022, one of political division, racial hatred, gun violence, housing injustice, a climate emergency and a battle to defend democracy at home and abroad.
“When people ask me, ‘What gives you hope for the future?’ I always say the same thing: young people,” Pelosi said.
Since the nation’s founding, “It has been young people who have refused to remain silent, led the civil rights movement, taking to the streets, casting ballots, making change happen. …
“So right now, you and your peers, you’ve seized the torch in so many ways, marching for our lives, your lives, sounding the alarm on climate, demanding justice, justice, justice for all.”
Pelosi had a special message for the women in the audience: “I want you to know your power. … And I want you to be ready.
“You don’t know what’s around the next corner, and that applies to all of you but especially to the women. Because nothing is more wholesome to the politics and the government and any other subject you can name than the increased participation of women.”
To those considering entering public office, she advised. “You have to be able to take a punch, and you have to be able to throw a punch. For the children, always for the children.”
Takei called on the graduates to use 21st Century tools to “create a new version of our future.
“You today live in an incredibly complicated universe, empowered by technology that can extend to the outer reaches of space as well as penetrate down to the very core of this planet,” he said. “Perhaps, just perhaps, might we have developed an overabundance of tools and know-how?”
He recalled the unexpected silver lining of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic: the blue sky, crystal-clear air and restoration of nature as cars, trucks, trains and planes were stilled.
“Our planet was new again. And this was not virtual, it was breathtakingly real,” Takei said.
“Can we reprioritize our goals to reclaim our planet? We look to you, the high-tech generation, the urban planners, the policymakers, those who work to better the welfare of our society, to seize this moment.”
A double Bruin who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UCLA in the 1960s, Takei reminded his audience of the long line of dignitaries from science, politics and the arts who had taken the Royce Hall stage: Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Ralph Bunche, Marian Anderson, George Gershwin and many more.
“All these notables made history,” Takei said. “They transformed their times. They confronted the world they found and made it better with their brilliance, their vision, their talent and their humanity. …
“You, the graduating class of 2022 of the Luskin School of Public Affairs, are the heirs to their legacy. Take their accomplishments as your inspiration.”
View a video of the UCLA Luskin undergraduate commencement ceremony featuring House speaker Nancy Pelosi.
View pictures from the UCLA Luskin undergraduate commencement celebration.
View pictures from the UCLA Luskin graduate commencement celebration.
By Stan Paul
It started as a conversation about democracy and why some countries enjoy a higher quality of life than others, and it culminated in the release of a groundbreaking analysis of more than 130 governments around the world.
The 2022 Berggruen Governance Index, unveiled June 1 during a gathering at UCLA’s Kerckhoff Grand Salon, found a dramatic drop in the quality of government and quality of democracy in the United States over the past 20 years.
At the same time, several African nations showed measurable improvements in their provision of public goods like education, health care and environmental protection.
The collaborative project of UCLA Luskin and the Los Angeles-based Berggruen Institute is now available online on the index’s website as a report, plus links that allow researchers to search and sort the data for themselves.
“We had this fundamental concern that governance itself was poorly understood,” said Dawn Nakagawa, executive vice president of the Berggruen Institute, recalling the origins of the index during a “chaotic and concerning time” for democracy in the U.S. and other parts of the world.
The index was compiled by researchers from UCLA Luskin and the Hertie School in Berlin. It draws on data from sources that included the United Nations, statistical offices and research institutes from 2000 through 2019.
“And these have been a really consequential 20 years for democracy,” said Nakagawa, who spoke during the launch event, as did UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura.
Leading the day’s discussion was principal investigator Helmut Anheier, UCLA adjunct professor of social welfare and former president of the Hertie School in Germany, along with Markus Lang, a researcher at the Hertie School and the University of Heidelberg in Germany.
Anheier noted that although research and literature on governance have existed for some time, it has focused on various singular aspects of governance or democracy. He and his co-authors took a different, multipronged approach to understanding governance.
“We say governance is finding the balance among three components,” Anheier said.
The researchers scored selected national governments on an array of individual measures, grouping findings into three overarching categories:
- Quality of democracy, which is based on the effectiveness of checks and balances between branches of government, and officials’ accountability to voters and society.
- Quality of government, which considers governments’ abilities to generate revenue, function administratively and execute policies.
- Quality of life, which considers governments’ ability to provide social, economic and environmental public goods.
“Rather than saying there is one number that represents governance performance, we see a lot of insight that had been gained by looking at the tension and relationship among these components, and that is expressed by something we call the governance triangle,” Anheier said.
“It really does break open the black box of governance, looks inside, and allows us to see these three very important components interact,” Nakagawa said.
A major finding was the dramatic drop in the quality of government and quality of democracy in the United States, which was the only Western power with a declining score in those categories. The U.S. quality of life score improved, but only slightly.
- Although the U.S. score for quality of government remains far above the global average, its decline on that measure since 2000 was one of the world’s largest, on par with declines in Haiti, Hong Kong and Hungary.
- The 10 countries with the greatest improvements in quality of life measures all are in Africa. However, as a whole, Africa still ranks well below other regions in terms of quality of life factors.
- Quality of democracy scores retreated in several Asian nations, including in Bangladesh, China, India, the Philippines and Thailand. Many nations in the Americas also saw declines in those measures.
The day’s program also included a discussion of democracy, public policy and global challenges featuring UCLA experts. Moderated by Anheier, the panel featured Steve Zipperstein, an attorney and lecturer in global studies at UCLA; Veronica Herrera, an associate professor of urban planning who studies political development in the Global South; Cesi Cruz, an assistant professor whose research intersects political science and economics; and Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld, an assistant professor of public policy focusing on subnational conflict, statistics and advanced data analysis.
Closing comments were provided by Michael Storper, distinguished professor of regional and international development in urban planning at UCLA Luskin, and Andrew Apter, a professor of history and anthropology at UCLA.
“One of the most important indicators of successful research is … surprising results,” said Apter, who complimented his longtime colleague Anheier on fulfilling that ideal.
Storper, who also serves as director of Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin, took a comparative view of the results. Democracy in the United States is very different from the federal governments in nations such as France and Germany that fared better in the analysis.
“European governmental setups are really different than what we have here in the United States,” he said. Several European countries have more modern constitutions, he noted, than the older, more rigid U.S. constitution.
“The index is going to allow us … to do more and more of this, I would say, comparative, evolutionary thinking,” Storper said. “Thanks for doing this work and actually bringing it to UCLA.”
UCLA produces and disseminates the index thanks to a $3 million gift from the Berggruen Institute. Researchers plan to publish the next Berggruen Governance Index in 2024. In the meantime, they will present the work at key institutions in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, culminating in an international conference hosted on campus by UCLA Luskin on Oct. 10-11.
View photos from the launch event on Flickr:
Watch a recording of the launch event on Vimeo:
By Manon Snyder
Laura Abrams, chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, was among six professors to receive the inaugural Public Impact Research Awards from the UCLA Office of Research & Creative Activities.
Established in collaboration with the UCLA Centennial Celebration but put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the awards recognize work that has clear and immediate benefits to local and international communities.
Honorees with a UCLA Luskin connection included Abrams; Dana Cuff, professor of architecture, urban design and urban planning; and Kelly Lytle Hernández, professor of history, African American studies and urban planning. Public Impact Research Award recipients receive $10,000 prizes.
“We heard a story of a 5-year old child who was prosecuted for a curfew violation, and we set our sights on preventing this from happening again,” Abrams told an audience that included UCLA Luskin benefactor Renee Luskin. “As a social worker and a pediatrician, we were shocked to note that in California, like nearly half of all U.S. states, the law did not shield young children from being brought into the justice system.”
They were told that it would be difficult to change a law that had been on the books since the early days of the child welfare codes. Other researchers dismissed the topic as not particularly important.
“Yet we persisted,” Abrams said.
They conducted a mixed-methods study that showed setting a minimum age at which a child can be prosecuted in the juvenile justice system is not only better for children, but also politically viable. Their research also showed that, starting at younger ages, racial inequities were already problematic, particularly for Black children.
Their once “impossible policy goal” became a reality when then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 439 into law in 2018, ensuring that no child under age 12 in the state of California can be legally prosecuted, even in the juvenile justice system, except in very rare circumstances.
View photos from the event:
Abrams is a professor of social welfare at UCLA Luskin, and Barnert is an associate professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
“I consider this project and the social policy impact to be the most important achievement in my career,” Abrams said. “I hope to inspire future scholars to conduct research that they are passionate about and that makes a difference.”
Advocates have since partnered with Abrams and Barnert to lead other states to pass or consider similar legislation. Thanks to their research, professional groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, now endorse a minimum age of 12 for juvenile court jurisdiction; their research was also used to draft a congressional bill that would set the minimum age for prosecuting youth in the federal criminal legal system at 12.
“I believe in a healthy and just society where all children have the support they need to thrive,” Barnert said.
OTHER AWARDEES CONNECTED TO UCLA LUSKIN
Cuff, based at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, is founding director of cityLAB, an award-winning research center that studies how urbanism and architecture can contribute to a more just built environment. Based on cityLAB studies, Cuff and her team created the BIHOME — a full-scale demonstration of a compact dwelling unit designed to be located in backyards to meet rising housing demands — and BruinHub, a “home away from home” at the John Wooden Center for commuter and housing-insecure students. Cuff co-authored a 2016 bill to advance the implementation of backyard homes in suburbs, and is working on design and legislation for affordable housing to be co-located with public schools.
“At one of the finest public universities in the world, cityLAB-UCLA and our students at architecture and urban design have the privileged platform to demonstrate how to build a socially just, sustainable future,” Cuff said. “I am committed to design research that brings those new possibilities to the public.”
Lytle Hernández is the Thomas E. Lifka Endowed Chair in History and faculty director of Million Dollar Hoods, a big-data initiative that uses police and jail records to examine incarceration disparities in Los Angeles neighborhoods. Launched in 2016, the initiative’s research is being used for advocacy and legislative change, such as a report on the Los Angeles School Police Department that helped stop the arrest of children ages 14 and under in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Another report was critical for the passage of California legislation that ended money bail for nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors. Beyond using data to support new policies, Million Dollar Hoods uncovers and preserves stories from Los Angeles residents who have dealt with the policing system.
OTHER UCLA HONOREES
Two UCLA faculty members without a UCLA Luskin association were also honored with Public Impact Research Awards:
- Alex Hall is a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the UCLA College, whose research is focused on producing high-resolution projections for climate modeling, particularly in California. Hall extends his expertise beyond campus, working with Los Angeles water management agencies to help ensure the sustainability of water resources for the region. Hall is also working to understand the future of wildfires in the state. He co-founded the Climate and Wildfire Institute to champion collaboration between scientists, stakeholders and policymakers in the use of quantitative data on wildfires to shape management efforts in the western United States.
“We are in the midst of a sustainability crisis, and everyone must do their part to address it,” Hall said. “Nothing makes me happier than marshaling scientific resources to address some of the deepest sustainability challenges in California.”
- Thomas Smith is a distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and founder of the UCLA Congo Basin Institute. As UCLA’s first foreign affiliate branch, the Congo Basin Institute works with organizations and the local government and communities to find solutions to environmental and developmental problems facing Central Africa. Continuing his commitment to conservation efforts in Africa, Smith is the founding president of the Conservation Action Research Network, which has provided more than $500,000 in grants to young African scholars. Smith is also the founding director of UCLA’s Center for Tropical Research, which has conducted research in 45 countries to understand biodiversity in the tropics. He also co-founded the Bird Genoscape Project, which uses genomics to map declining bird populations’ migration patterns and how they can inform where to prioritize conservation efforts.
“With accelerating climate change and loss of biodiversity we are rapidly approaching tipping points for many of the world’s ecosystems,” Smith said. “Our team is making a difference by focusing on science-based solutions to mitigate threats to help save the planet.