UCLA Hosts Its Largest Activist-in-Residence Cohort Five advocates for social change will be on campus through May to ‘turn the university inside out’

By Les Dunseith

The UCLA Activist-in-Residence program welcomed five more changemakers — the largest cohort in the program’s seven-year history — to campus with a reception Jan. 24 at DeCafe in Perloff Hall.

The UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, which has selected at least one activist since 2017, is hosting community organizer Ron Collins II and revolutionary writer Lisa “Tiny” Gray-Garcia during this academic year. 

The UCLA Asian American Studies Center, also a longtime participant in the program, is hosting writer and social justice educator Shengxiao “Sole” Yu

In its second year with the Activist-in-Residence program, cityLAB-UCLA is hosting Robert A. Clarke, a designer and educator practicing at the intersection of culture, identity and architecture. 

A new addition to the program for 2024 is the UCLA Center for the Study of Women|Barbra Streisand Center, which is hosting Narges Zagub B.A. Anthropology ’20, a movement worker and facilitator.

Opening remarks for the reception were provided by UCLA Luskin Professor Ananya Roy, who created the residency program soon after arriving at UCLA as the director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy

She conceptualized the program as a sabbatical for participants, allowing them time and space to reflect, envision new projects, and connect with UCLA faculty, students and staff. 

“More than ever, I am reminded, in these difficult times, that the residency is our effort to turn the university inside out,” Roy told the crowd. “At the Institute, we organize knowledge within, against and beyond the university. The Activist-in-Residence program brings to the university the movement scholars and public intellectuals who are teachers and guides for this praxis.”

Roy and other representatives of the four UCLA sponsors then introduced the individual activists, each of whom spoke briefly about their previous experiences and their plans for the next few months. 

The first activist to speak this year was Gray-Garcia, who is a formerly unhoused and incarcerated poverty scholar who prefers to keep their face covered in public. Their rousing remarks were presented in the form of spoken word poetry.

The next activist to speak was Collins, a native of South Los Angeles who is has experience as a social justice strategist and movement builder. Collins’ work advances racial and social justice with a particular focus on Black, LGBTQ and environmental justice issues.

Yu is the creator of Nectar, an online space where she provides political education and healing justice workshops. She spoke of her efforts to combat misinformation and disinformation, particularly when it targets the Chinese-speaking community such as. harmful narratives attacking affirmative action and Black-on-Asian crime tropes during the COVID pandemic.

In his work with cityLAB-UCLA, Clarke said he aims to further efforts to canonize Black aesthetics, helping to authenticate it as a lens through which to practice architecture. Clarke is co-founder of a design practice that explores ways to unearth new aesthetics specific to African American culture, experience and identity.

Narges is a UCLA alumna who gained experience in student and community organizing as an active member of the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter. Their background as a Muslim, queer person from an immigrant family from Libya has helped shape their understanding of community. Narges has worked as a trainer and coach for the California Conference for Equality and Justice. 

Find out more about this year’s activists and their plans.

View photos from the reception on Flickr.

Activists-in-Residence 2024

Data to the People Data experts like Jianchao Lai SW PhD ’23 of the UCLA Agile Visual Analytics Lab strive to make information accessible and meaningful for all

By Les Dunseith

Connecting people to data.

That’s the mission of a team of data experts at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs known as the UCLA Agile Visual Analytics Lab, or AVAL. For almost a decade, the faculty, staff and student innovators at AVAL have been reimagining how vital information is put into the hands of people whose decisions impact the lives of others.

AVAL’s efforts have been funded by over $24 million in contracts and grants, and recently, the AVAL team was awarded $9.4 million from the Children’s Bureau, an office within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to establish, by cooperative agreement, a Quality Improvement Center on Workforce Analytics. The effort, led by AVAL and in partnership with three other universities and several private consultants, will work with at least six public or tribal child welfare agencies to advance their use of data in addressing child welfare workforce needs.

The AVAL team strives to help academic and community partners engage with data in meaningful ways, streamlining the data collection process and creating interactive visualizations of the results. Among the team of innovators is Jianchao Lai, who has been crunching numbers and helping to visualize data at AVAL since 2019, all while working toward the PhD in Social Welfare she earned in June 2023.

a group of women chat during an event at UCLA

“People have different backgrounds and ideas about how to do research and what’s the best for their community. We’re bridging these differences and letting the data tell the story.”
—Jianchao Lai, center

Lai, who was hired upon graduation as a full-time staff member by AVAL, did not envision this career for herself when she first left China to pursue an education abroad. That changed when she met Todd Franke, professor of social welfare and co-founder of AVAL.

“The first professor I met at the UCLA Welcome Day was Todd,” recalled Lai, who had written to Franke with questions about resources available to her on campus and asking how she might contribute to the educational community. “And since then, he has been helping me through the whole PhD process, through the ups and downs.”

Franke and co-founder Robert Blagg were motivated to create AVAL in 2014 based on their experiences writing lengthy research reports and then seeing that the findings didn’t get used by stakeholders.

“The context in which programs, policies and practices are implemented is constantly changing, and too often lengthy written reports get filed away after someone skims through the executive summary,” Franke said. “Narrative reports don’t allow diverse stakeholders to easily explore findings from unique perspectives. AVAL was created to ensure stakeholders have the vital information they need — and ultimately use — to make more timely and sound decisions.”

Data vizualiztion

An example of a data visualization developed for a previous child welfare workforce project. Image courtesy of Agile Visual Analytics Lab Click here to see an interactive version.

The AVAL team strives to help academic and community partners engage with data in meaningful ways, streamlining the data collection process and creating interactive visualizations of the results.

Read more about the grant on UCLA Newsroom

As part of their work with the Children’s Bureau’s previous Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development, the AVAL team partnered with the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families to develop an interactive dashboard describing characteristics of their workforce and key indicators such as staff turnover and retention.

The new federal funding will further support efforts to build upon the innovations developed by AVAL and other partners through their work with the Children’s Bureau. It will provide funding across five years for work to be completed in cooperation with researchers at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln; the University of Washington; the University of Pittsburgh; and several nationally recognized private consultants. Franke will be the principal investigator, with Blagg as the co-PI.

portrait photo of Jianchao Lai“When your evidence is not digestible to practitioners, it’s not going to lead to any changes. Charts, graphs and diagrams help them to see the process and use the data in a very interactive and timely manner.”
—Jianchao Lai

 

 

Educators today often talk about evidence-based practice and data-driven decision-making. “But when your evidence is not digestible to practitioners, it’s not going to lead to any changes,” Lai said. “Charts, graphs and diagrams help them to see the process and use the data in a very interactive and timely manner.”

When data presentations are visually appealing, they can enhance immediate understanding. “I’m that way about data visualization myself,” Lai said. “Sometimes, I don’t want to read through all of the numbers — just show me the graphs first.”

Data crunching is an acquired skill for Lai, who earned a bachelor’s from Nanjing University in China and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in social work. The topics for her work at AVAL can be wide-ranging, but she noted that some projects have coincided with her academic interest in children and her prior experience working with child services organizations.

“I kind of understand from doing micro social work that involves families and children that, you know, three hours of therapy per week for that family is never enough,” said Lai, noting that is particularly true for marginalized populations such as new immigrants and families living in poverty.

“We need to change the system before we can make a real impact.”

Changing a system sometimes begins with challenging widely held perceptions.

During her doctoral program at UCLA, for example, Lai pursued a research interest in the underreporting and underservice of child maltreatment and gender-based violence in Asian American communities. Lai’s dissertation explored the experiences of Asian American families in California’s child welfare system from a quantitative perspective. And in a qualitative research component, she interviewed Asian American young adults who had experienced abuse in their childhoods that was never reported to Child Protective Services.

“The experience was so intense,” Lai said. “And it’s a problem that is kind of invisible. It’s like, ‘Why focus on Asians? They’re OK. They’re a model minority.’ ”

Lai said incidents of hate crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic may have helped change some people’s misconceptions. “It’s sad to say, but this was a good timing for people to realize something has been going on for a long time.”

At AVAL, Lai has worked with organizations and agency officials to ensure that time-sensitive data is collected and processed in a timely, consistent manner that allows it to be viewed through interactive online dashboards and updated with the latest information.

“Imagine a massive data table — it’s very difficult for people to see trends. So, we transform those dry tables into pictures that are easy to understand and unlock new insights,” Lai explained. “Let’s say they want to see the differences year by year, or by age group, we can design these pictures so users can engage with the data and find answers to their questions faster.”

Applied research of this type is most effective when it accounts for the fact that data users come from all walks of life.

“People have different backgrounds and ideas about how to do research and what’s the best for their community,” Lai said. “We’re bridging these differences and letting the data tell the story.”

Data visualization

A data visualization example relating to a previous child welfare workforce project. Image courtesy of Agile Visual Analytics Lab Click here to see an interactive version.

Informative and engaging data visualizations help stakeholders make decisions, said Jonathan Litt, deputy director of AVAL. As part of the Children’s Bureau’s Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development, the AVAL team analyzed data on workforce needs and created interactive dashboards for eight child welfare agencies in a national study of frontline child welfare workers.

“These dashboards enabled each agency to explore underlying factors for high turnover rates,” said Litt, noting that the agencies then were able to target strategies at addressing those factors directly. In early September, the AVAL team was awarded a new grant of $9.4 million to build upon the innovations developed by AVAL and other partners through their previous work with the Children’s Bureau.

A hiring challenge for AVAL, Litt said, is finding people whose skill sets encompass the three areas they seek — an understanding of human services fields, an applied research orientation and an aptitude for technical work.

Few potential staff members possess all three, he said. “Dr. Lai is an example of someone who came in with a human services background and research training, and she has embraced opportunities to expand technical skills with data processing and analytics tools beyond her formal education,” Litt said.

Although Lai often works on tasks independently, she treasures the human interaction that comes with collaborative research projects at AVAL.

“The fascinating aspect for me is transitioning from a purely academic background to engaging in more practical and applied research,” she said. “A traditional academic might argue there’s only one interpretation for a particular kind of information. But with our work, you realize that people think so differently.”

The more she talks with other researchers or engages with clients and other partners, Lai said, the more she understands herself.

“I want to make an impact on other people’s lives, to do something to help them fulfill their promise, just like they’ve been helping me, directly or indirectly,” she said. “Fundamentally, the work I’m part of makes me feel constantly empowered. I think, ‘Wow. As a community, we can do so much.’ Let’s carry on the work!”

Tapping Into the Inner Strength of Black Girls Empowering children instead of focusing on their struggles will lead to healthier choices, says Luskin Lecturer Ijeoma Opara

By Mary Braswell

“People out there expect you to fail. Prove the haters wrong. You know I’m here for you always.”

These words from a father to his young daughter — consistently encouraging her to finish school, stay away from drugs and make a good name for herself — helped her rise above the damaging stereotypes she faced as a Black girl growing up in America.

The New Jersey teen’s story was one of many shared by Yale University scholar Ijeoma Opara, who came to UCLA on Oct. 19 to deliver her message that harnessing the inner strengths of children of color is not just possible but imperative.

Opara, the first UCLA Luskin Lecturer of the 2023-24 academic year, conducts research focused on the well-being of Black girls, who may face multiple layers of stress because of their race, gender, class and age.

The conversation between father and daughter emerged in a survey Opara led of 200 girls from around the country, most in their mid-teens. With surprising frankness, they spoke of how they view themselves in the world, and how they struggle to protect their health and mental health in the face of harmful stereotypes.

“They were very aware that they were not loved by society,” said Opara, who directs the Substance Abuse and Sexual Health Lab at Yale.

“They understood, too, that society always assumed they were doing something bad. … They’re internalizing all the things that adults are saying about them, all the images they’re seeing.”

Some of the girls wondered how they could possibly thrive in a world that assumed they were angry, aggressive, into drugs and alcohol, or sexually permissive.

‘It’s not about us saving these children, right? They don’t necessarily need to be saved. They need to be empowered.’  — Ijeoma Opara of Yale University

“We cannot keep looking at Black children as if they are criminals instead of harnessing their strengths,” Opara said.

“It’s not about us saving these children, right? They don’t necessarily need to be saved. They need to be empowered.”

Opara was moved to study the unique experience of Black girls in high-risk surroundings because, she says, “I was one of them.”

Growing up in a part of New Jersey where violence and drug use were common, she saw many friends choose unhealthy paths. Later, as a social worker in New York City helping youths caught up in the criminal justice system, she came face to face with Black girls who had simply given up hope.

But she wondered, “What about girls like me and the other girls that I run into who are thriving in these environments? Why aren’t we talking about them, learning from them?”

On her academic journey, as she earned a PhD as well as master’s degrees in social welfare and public health, Opara set out to connect with these girls. She wanted to hear what factors led to their strong self-esteem and how their experiences could help others.

The common denominators, her research has found, include a strong sense of ethnic pride, a community that has their back and the belief that they have some control over their destinies.

Among girls who demonstrate a high level of resilience and self-assurance, the public health ramifications are striking, she said, with many far better equipped to avoid substance abuse and sexually transmitted infections.

For those who’ve already fallen into dangerous behaviors, these strategies can still provide a lifeline. Opara shared the story of Sheila, who by age 15 had been involved with robberies, attempted murder and kidnapping. Sheila had spent time on Rikers Island.

“She had no hope in the future. She thought she would be dead by 19 years old,” said Opara, who was assigned to Sheila’s case when she was a social worker.

With Opara’s help, Sheila came to “feel heard, feel like a teenager, feel like a human” and eventually turned her life around. She is now attending graduate school and volunteering as a youth advocate for a substance use prevention program.

“Sheila is the reason that I do the work that I do,” Opara said.

In her current research, Opara’s top priority is elevating the voices of young people of color. She has opened up opportunities for Black girls by offering internships in her lab and hosting tours of Yale to show that higher education is within their reach.

Her signature Dreamer Girls Project is a “safe space for Black girls that infuses elements of ethnic identity, of empowerment, of pride, of sisterhood,” Opara said, and its youth advisory board, a small working group of budding researchers, helps shape and administer her studies.

During her visit to UCLA, Opara met one-on-one with UCLA Luskin doctoral students and appeared at a virtual meeting of the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV’s Black Caucus. The commission was a co-sponsor of the visit, along with the UCLA California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center and the Center for HIV Identification, Prevention and Treatment Services at UCLA.

Following Opara’s Luskin Lecture at UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute, Ayako Miyashita Ochoa of the UCLA Luskin Social Welfare faculty moderated a conversation that delved into the most effective ways to strengthen connections among social workers in the field, the research community and those in position to make real policy reforms.

Opara said the guiding principle is keeping the focus on the strengths of children instead of their deficits.

“It’s up to us as adult allies to support them, to show them that they that if they fail, if they make a mistake, we’ll be right there, judgment-free, to support them and lift them up.”

Luskin Lecture by Ijeoma Opara

‘Retirement Is Not Retreating; It’s Changing Gears’ Now a professor emeritus, Social Welfare's Mark Kaplan continues to teach and serve the UCLA community

By Stan Paul 

Mark S. Kaplan, professor emeritus of social welfare, officially retired earlier this year, but, for now, he is busier than ever.  

“Retirement is not retreating; it’s changing gears,” explained Kaplan, an avid cyclist. “It’s more leaving one set of activities and moving toward new adventures.”

He is still teaching, conducting research, applying for grants, including from the National Institutes of Health, mentoring students, and continuing to mentor and collaborate with former students who have become successful scholars and colleagues over the years. He’ll also take on a campuswide faculty committee post or two, including chairing UCLA’s Academic Senate Grievance Advisory Committee for 2023-24. 

Kaplan, a faculty member at UCLA Luskin for the past decade, has devoted his career to public health issues, most notably suicide and gun violence in the United States and globally. 

“Throughout his career, Mark tirelessly devoted himself to unraveling the complex dynamics surrounding suicide, substance use, and gender and firearm violence,” said Social Welfare chair Laura Abrams at a retirement celebration/roast held for Kaplan over the summer. “His unwavering dedication to these critical areas of public health and social work has significantly contributed to our collective knowledge, prevention strategies and policy advancements in addressing these pressing concerns.”  

Man in white shirt and dark jacket standing at festive table

Kaplan thanks his colleagues from UCLA Luskin Social Welfare at a retirement dinner/roast. Photo by Ananya Roy

Kaplan, also a dedicated ukulele player, says his retirement also comes with a few strings attached. 

“I’m actually working with more undergraduate public affairs students than ever before, including honors thesis projects,” he said. 

In addition, he will be teaching his popular course on preventing firearm violence, now approved for distance (online) learning. Kaplan said the format has allowed him to bring in a wider array of guest speakers on timely topics who are unable to travel to campus.  

Of one of his frequent guests, he said, “We don’t see eye-to-eye on anything. But it is a very civil conversation, and most students very much appreciate the diversity of points of view and hearing different voices in this highly polarized area.” 

Since going online in winter 2021, the course has received positive feedback from students, who voted to keep the course fully online in winter 2022, even after UCLA had returned to in-person instruction. 

“There’s no other place in the country that I know of that has a permanent course on gun violence,” Kaplan said. Launched in the wake of a 2016 shooting on the UCLA campus, the course has been consistently filled, and student interest has only grown. “What is important is that it has evolved over time. It keeps getting better, so I am committed to that course,” he said. 

Kaplan has received a number of awards throughout his career, including the Distinguished Investigator Award from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He has contributed to state and federal suicide prevention initiatives and has testified before the Senate Special Committee on Aging at a hearing on veterans’ health. He has also served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Kaplan also has advocated for including of gun violence prevention as one of the Grand Challenges in Social Work, which he said was recently approved. 

At UCLA, Kaplan has been a faculty affiliate with the university’s California Center for Population Research. Academic posts before coming to UCLA have included Portland State University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Oregon.  

The four-time Fulbright awardee recently received an award from the Fulbright Specialist Program to help faculty at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid maximize the global impact of their research. He also has his eye on new research opportunities in Canada, where he has been affiliated with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

Kaplan, whose research has been widely published, is a frequent contributor to media seeking his expertise, including through op-ed pieces. He plans to expand on that effort to help the next generation of scholars improve their citation record of scholarship and their overall visibility and impact. 

“I’ve been intrigued by that. How do you engage the readers more? It doesn’t happen in an organic way.”  

And although Kaplan has made some time for cycling in the Pacific Northwest and a trip to Guatemala, where he grew up, he also plans to continue collaborating with Luskin School faculty, staff and students.

So, for now, Kaplan is staying local. 

“It’s not one transition. It is a series of transitions for me,” he said. “And there will be unexpected twists and turns along the way.” 

In Memoriam: Douglas G. Glasgow, Author of ‘The Black Underclass’ First Black UCLA Social Welfare tenured faculty member was director of UCLA’s Center for Afro-American Studies, and later dean of Howard University’s School of Social Work

By Stan Paul

A celebration of life for former UCLA Social Welfare Associate Professor Douglas G. Glasgow, a widely recognized scholar on welfare and underclass formation in urban cities, will be held Oct. 7 at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He died Aug. 9 at age 94.

Glasgow was the first Black tenured faculty member in the UCLA School of Social Welfare — now part of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. He was a member of the faculty from 1969 to 1971. In 1970, Glasgow served as director of the UCLA Center for Afro-American Studies, which later became the UCLA Ralph J. Bunch Center for African American Studies.

“Doug was a good friend and colleague when I was a lecturer and he an associate professor in the School of Social Welfare,” said emeritus professor Alex Norman. “He was the first African American to receive tenure at the School — I was the second.”

Glasgow was one of the founders of the National Association of Black Social Workers and was former vice president of operations of the National Urban League during his time in the nation’s capital.

“He was beloved as a teacher and respected as a scholar,” Norman said.

Norman also noted that Glasgow, who was published in numerous professional journals, coined the phrase “the Black underclass,” the title of his powerful and insightful book based on research he conducted in Watts in the 1960s following the Watts riots. Updated in 1975, his research drew attention to young Black males labeled as “problem” youths who constituted a perpetual underclass that, he said in his book, “represent the fastest-growing portion.”

“This book was born in flames, in an inferno that raged for four August days in 1965. The place was Watts, Los Angeles,” Glasgow begins. Amid this tumultuous historical turning point in Los Angeles, Glasgow writes that he sought to “examine the lives of inner-city young men through their perceptions of their life experiences.”

In his preface, Glasgow wrote that “this book is not intended as a definitive study of the Black underclass. Rather, by concentrating on a group of representative young men and their individual (and collective) confrontations with mainstream institutions, it attempts to convey the human experience of those who are denied upward mobility and are processed into underclass status.”

Glasgow also wrote that his hope was that “everyone concerned with the human, social and economic waste represented by America’s inner cities will benefit from reading this book.”

Joseph A. Nunn, who earned his undergraduate, MSW and Ph.D. degrees at UCLA, also recalled Glasgow fondly from his graduate student days in the 1960s.

“Dr. Glasgow was the only tenure-track faculty, an assistant professor, when I arrived,” a time of anti-war and anti-discrimination marches and protests, he said. During that time, Nunn and other students demanded that a tenured Black professor be added.

“He was promoted to associate professor following the activities of the Black Caucus,” said Nunn, who would later become a longtime director of field education at UCLA Luskin.

Glasgow left UCLA for Howard University’s School of Social Work, where he was dean from 1972 to 1975. While there, he led faculty and students in creating the first comprehensive, accredited, graduate-level curriculum modeled from a Black perspective.

He is included on the National Association of Social Workers Foundation Pioneer roster, which notes his many accomplishments and affiliations. Among these are visiting professor at the University of Ghana at Legon and Makerere University in Uganda. During his time in Africa, Glasgow served as a policy analyst and consultant on social development to the Ministers of Social Welfare in Ghana and with the Ministry of Rehabilitation in Ethiopia.

In the United States, he was a visiting professor at the University of Maryland and taught at Norfolk State University, where he helped start its social work department.

Glasgow also helped found community-based and national organizations that include the Black Men’s Development Center and the United Black Fund/United Way. In Washington, he served on a number of boards and commissions, including the District of Columbia’s Mental Health Reorganization Commission, the Advisory Board on Mental Health and the Teen Pregnancy Commission.

He was a resident scholar for the 21st Century Commission on African-American Males and was a scholar in residence at the E. Franklin Frazier Center for Social Research at Howard University, where he remained actively engaged in research and policy studies into his later years.

Glasgow was born in New York City, the youngest of 13 children of Matthew and Angelin Glasgow. He grew up in Brooklyn and received his undergraduate degree from Brooklyn College in 1959 and MSW from Columbia University in 1961, followed by his DSW from the University of Southern California in 1968. He later worked as a youth therapist at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles.

His activist work as a student led to friendships with civil rights advocates including Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, Andrew Young, Ronald Brown, Whitney Young and “so many other greats while publishing articles, consulting, working and always selflessly trying to make a positive difference,” said his daughter Karen Glasgow.

“He was a gifted lobbyist, orator, writer, cook, singer, storyteller, visionary, father, partner, friend, bridge builder and a very humble man,” she said. “He only wanted his legacy to be remembered as a catalyst to make others pick up where he left off. When asked what he was passionate about, his reply was ‘the eradication of injustice.’”

Glasgow is predeceased by his wife, Frieda Glasgow, and a daughter, Rickie Glasgow. He is survived by his daughter Karen Glasgow; his grandson Douglas R. Glasgow; his partner Cheryl McQueen; and great grandchildren, nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.

In his memory, the family suggests that donations be made to the National Association of Black Social Workers in his name.

More information is available via the family obituary and tribute wall online.

A Festive Welcome to UCLA Luskin The entire School community comes together to make connections and celebrate the launch of a new academic year

Students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends of UCLA Luskin connected at a series of events kicking off the 2023-2024 academic year.

An orientation for graduate students brought public policy, social welfare and urban planning students together to learn about resources provided by the university and the Luskin School.

The undergraduate program hosted a luncheon for majors, pre-majors and students interested in learning more about the bachelor of arts in public affairs.

And the Block Party tradition continued for the 12th year, with the entire UCLA Luskin community gathering to make connections, learn about opportunities and organizations, enjoy the flavors of Los Angeles, and greet the School’s benefactors, Meyer and Renee Luskin.

View photos from:

 

For access to the Block Party 360 Videos and Roamer Booth images, contact events@luskin.edu

UC Grant Will Fund EV Research by UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation Team led by a Fielding School professor gets nearly $2 million to pursue an equitable model for electrical vehicle charger placement

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation will be a key contributor to research recently funded through a partnership between the University of California and the state intended to spur real-world solutions relating to climate change in California.

A team from the Center for Innovation, or LCI, will focus on community engagement relating to a project led by Yifang Zhu, professor of environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, that will look at how efforts to reduce greenhouse gases can better enable residents of disadvantaged communities to adopt electric vehicles more readily. 

A $1.99 million grant under Zhu’s direction will fund the study of EV usage in communities that have historically lacked access to charging stations. The LCI researchers will work with local residents and community-based organizations to identify barriers, improve knowledge and awareness of EVs, and design plans for deploying and installing charging stations in underserved areas. 

To date, the siting of EV chargers has been a top-down process driven by business priorities rather than community needs and preferences. Gregory Pierce, adjunct associate professor of urban planning and co-executive director of LCI, said researchers will partner with three community-based organizations in the Los Angeles area to co-design the first-ever procedurally equitable process for placement of EV chargers. 

“We hope that this project leads to a new community co-designed model for placing electric vehicle charging stations throughout California that can accelerate our transition to a zero-emissions transportation future,” Pierce said. 

The UCLA Luskin-affiliated team will be co-led by Rachel Connolly, project director for air quality and environmental equity research at LCI. The effort will include surveys and a three-part workshop process relating to the siting of EV chargers and future investments in coordination with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and other partners. Connolly, who earned doctorate and master’s degrees in environmental health sciences from UCLA, has been working at LCI since 2017. 

In all, $83.1 million in California Climate Action grants were awarded to a total of 38 projects involving researchers from across the UC system, as well as California State University campuses, private universities and community, industry, tribal and public agencies. The two-year grants are part of $185 million allocated by the state for UC climate initiatives that advance progress toward California’s climate goals.

Read about other UCLA research funded by California Climate Action grants

Alumnus Looks Back on UCLA Social Welfare in the Turbulent 1960s Mickey Weinberg MSW '69 on his education and career as a grassroots organizer and advocate for the disadvantaged

Mickey Weinberg earned his Master of Social Welfare at UCLA in 1969, a year when the country was divided by war in Vietnam, Richard Nixon arrived in the Oval Office and humans first set foot on the moon. Trained in grassroots organizing, Weinberg was well-positioned to be of service to disadvantaged communities at a turbulent time.

An Ohio native, Weinberg earned his bachelor’s in political science from University of Cincinnati in 1963, then headed to New York’s Columbia University to study law. Realizing this was not his calling, he left Columbia and took a job at Manhattan State Hospital, where he worked for close to two years before returning to University of Cincinnati for graduate courses in poli sci. In the autumn of 1966, he came to UCLA to continue his graduate education, eventually switching to Social Welfare and its program on community organizing.

His classmates were an impressive group, Weinberg recalls. They included Maury Samuel, a minister nicknamed Father Sam who had delivered food to distressed neighborhoods during the Watts riots, and June Sale, who introduced Weinberg to historic East Los Angeles and later became prominent in the field of child care services.

Weinberg’s career path led to Los Angeles’ federal veterans affairs hospital, where he spent nearly three decades. He helped many Vietnam veterans secure housing and other services, all the while challenging the medical model of mental health. He has continued this advocacy since his retirement in 2000.

This year, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of social welfare education at UCLA, Professor David Cohen, associate dean of UCLA Luskin, spoke at length with Weinberg to hear about his days as a student in the ’60s and his long career as an organizer and medical social worker. The interview was edited for space and clarity.

On the experiences that drew Weinberg to a career in social work:

As an undergraduate student, I worked in the summers in Cincinnati playgrounds, first as a maintenance man but later as a play leader, as they called it. I recall a lot of Appalachian kids there, they could relate to me, and at the end of the day, when the swimming pools were drained, perhaps for polio reasons, we would sit on the edge of the pool and talk quietly. Cops were often called to the playgrounds because the teenage boys were rowdy, but they were never called to my playground. Later, my work at Manhattan State Hospital changed my life — not only because of the harmful things I saw, but the good things, too.

On his recollections of a boy named Frank, born in Manhattan State Hospital and confined to the hospital grounds after his mother died:

Frank was very upset because he didn’t want to stay there all the time. He wanted to get into Manhattan, but couldn’t because someone had written in his chart that he was homicidal. The reason: He had one possession, a transistor radio, and they took it away from him as punishment and he blew up. I went to the psychiatrist in charge of male patients, and I said “This is a good kid, it can’t be good for him to spend his whole life in this place. What do you think about letting him do what he wants to do?” So we did it. The kid’s going back and forth between the hospital and Manhattan. Very quickly he got a job as a bicycle messenger. He joined a church. They loved him in the church, he got adopted by a family, he could leave the hospital. So what I learned from that as a twenty-something-year-old, is that sometimes the best thing you can do for hospital patients is get off their back.

On his education in grassroots organizing at UCLA Social Welfare:

There were just six of us in that concentration, and I recall that we were very separate from the rest of the students. Our grassroots group met almost exclusively with Warren Haggstrom. He was an incredible teacher. The way he talked about power, the simple and clear language that he used, was inspiring. Part of his pitch was not only about the use of power, but how to talk to people. But we didn’t just talk. He took us out to Delano, where he introduced us to farm workers and their organizer Cesar Chavez. I recall that we were frisked and patted down before meeting Chavez, indicating the nature of the situation.

On a student walkout organized by Weinberg and his classmates:

We wanted some changes, so we organized a walkout of all the students. Haggstrom told us later that he thought we would never do it, couldn’t pull it off. But it was he who gave us the tools and confidence to make it happen. What we wanted was more minority students admitted. There was only one Black student in our grassroots major. We also wanted curriculum change. My friend and classmate Jack Carney and I were on the phone every night to pull it off. I remember that we wanted to make sure that older students in the program, there were a few, would be on the picket line. We wanted our faculty to notice, we wanted people who walked on campus to notice. One measure of its success was a meeting the faculty had with Black students in the School to discuss increasing minority enrollment, a meeting that was open to everybody.

On his Social Welfare field placements:

My first-year placement was in East L.A. at welfare rights offices. I spoke to a lot of moms, moms of schoolchildren, moms who were worried about drug dealers in their neighborhoods. My second-year field placement was at the Veterans Administration, and it grew out of a summer job when I worked in what they called the domiciliary, where vets lived who had no other place. It was during that summer job that I met George Katz, a psychologist who had supervised psychology students there. He learned of my background working in the state hospital and that I was skeptical of psychiatry, and he took me under his wing. After my placement ended and I graduated, they hired me to organize the people living in board and care homes. Because at that time, we had decided to redefine helping these people, into helping people learn how to help themselves. Essentially, to organize them.

On his work on a grant-funded project to organize residents of board and care homes, many of whom had been labeled mentally ill:

We put a classified ad in the L.A. Times, looking for former psychiatric patients interested in organizing to meet with us. We got a meeting room somewhere in Hollywood, and I recall a woman in that group, very quiet, who hardly ever spoke at meetings. But people thought she was intelligent, and it was suggested she take minutes of meetings. Later, she and her husband had to leave the state, and she approached me and said, “I want you to know that I was planning to commit suicide, and if it hadn’t been for how respectfully and kindly I was treated in these meetings, I would not be alive today.” People can be helped in many ways. Another learning experience for me.

On learning the power of teaching people to advocate for themselves:

At the board and care homes, we organized people to do what they wanted to do — if there was vermin in the board and care homes, if the food was bad. For the first weeks, all I did was sit around, just observing. And you know, they’d come up to me, and say, “What are you doin’ here?” I’d say: “I’m here to help.” This went on for six weeks. They’d come back, insisting, “What d’you want to do?” And me: “Well, what do you want to do?” And they said whatever their problems were, and then I said, “Oh, you want to do it. OK. If you want to do it, help me get the rest of the people who live here together, and we’ll have meetings.” And we had meetings, and what we did was to find ways to have meetings with the ownership, to solve problems. When it was over, some state people researched it and found that the people who were in the organizations were much more confident than those who weren’t, and they were better able to function and solve their own problems. Because that’s what we talked about: how to solve the problems. No talk at all about mental illness or anything. It was just: you have a problem and let’s all figure out a way to resolve it.

‘Have the Courage to Create the World We All Deserve to Live In’ Commencement speaker Michael Tubbs challenges UCLA Luskin's Class of 2023 to use their education for the greater good

By Mary Braswell

Savor the moment, then get to work.

That was the Commencement Day message from anti-poverty advocate Michael Tubbs, who called on UCLA Luskin’s Class of 2023 to use their education and training to restructure society from the ground up, with justice as a guide.

“We’re here not because of what you’ve done but who you will become and how you will use the precious gift of this UCLA education,” Tubbs said. “We need you all to have the courage to imagine and create the world we all deserve to live in.”

Tubbs spoke to public policy, social welfare and urban planning scholars earning advanced degrees at a morning ceremony on June 16 at UCLA’s Royce Hall. In the afternoon, he addressed students awarded the bachelor of public affairs at a festive gathering on the patio of Kerckhoff Hall.

Tubbs made history in 2016 when he was elected the first Black mayor of Stockton, California, at age 26. He recalled his own educational journey as a first-generation graduate of Stanford University, and offered this reminder to UCLA Luskin’s newly minted BAs, MPPs, MSWs, MURPs and PhDs:

“The alphabets behind your names don’t mean you’re better than people … and dare I say they don’t even mean you’re smarter than the people who raised you,” he said. “But what it does mean is that you’re better equipped to serve. It does mean you’re better able to self-actualize. It does mean you’re better positioned to use your privilege and your access to do some good.”

This year, more than 420 students earned bachelors, master’s and doctoral degrees from UCLA Luskin. Interim Dean Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris offered congratulations while also underscoring the stakes at play as the national election cycle is now picking up steam.

“You are taking your places in the workforce during a critical time not just for America but for the entire world. Who are we as a people? What are our values? Will we make the right decisions to better all of society? …

“As I look at you, I take comfort. I know you have been well prepared,” Loukaitou-Sideris said. “I trust that you will remain dedicated to a future in which geography, income, gender or race have little bearing on an individual’s ability to access opportunity and have a fulfilling life. I can’t wait to see all that you will accomplish.”

At each commencement ceremony, students delivered greetings in different languages, 16 in all, a reflection of the School’s cultural diversity. Four students were selected by their peers to offer words of inspiration: Chinyere Nwonye of Public Policy, Jhorna Islam of Social Welfare, Antonia Izuoga of Urban Planning and Mina Anochie of the Undergraduate Program.

In his remarks, Tubbs urged the graduates to make the most of both the triumphs and the inevitable disappointments in life. As Stockton’s mayor, he led a program of reforms to reduce poverty, provide scholarships to students, bring down the homicide rate and improve the city’s fiscal health — yet his bid for reelection in 2020 failed.

The defeat ultimately led to an important realization: “Your job, your title, your accolades — that’s a means to an end … but your purpose remains the same.”

Tubbs went on to join the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom as special advisor for economic mobility and opportunity, and is widely viewed as a rising star in progressive politics. He is a leading advocate for a guaranteed basic income to provide stability to American households, and last year he founded End Poverty in California, a nonprofit devoted to breaking the cycle of income inequality.

“Today is such a wonderful day because it’s a mountaintop day. It’s one of those days where everything comes together,” Tubbs told the graduates. “But I submit to you, over the course of the next several decades of your life, every day won’t feel like this day. …

“As you figure out what it is you want to do, maybe your purpose, maybe part of what you’re supposed to do, will be found in the pain you’ve experienced, in the things that make you angry, in the things that feel unfair, in the things your parents had to experience.”

Tubbs advised the students to take the long view as they work toward change. As a younger man, he had the privilege of meeting Bob Singleton, a UCLA alumnus and one of the original Freedom Riders, civil rights activists who boarded buses to Southern states to challenge segregation. Singleton was arrested for his actions on June 4, 1961. The same day, Barack Obama was born.

“He said he had no idea that the choice he made as a 21-year-old UCLA graduate to do something to change the world would pave the way so that 50 years later a child born with no opportunity would have the chance to be president,” Tubbs said.

“Class of 2023, the question before you all today as you get your degrees is what are you prepared to do today, tomorrow and next week so that 50 years from now, we’re not having the same conversation? So that 50 years from now we don’t have hundreds of thousands of people in our state sleeping in tents right next to luxury apartments and mansions? … So that 50 years from now, we live in a country that’s deserving of your talent, of your time and of your treasure?”

View photos and video from the UCLA Luskin undergraduate commencement ceremony:

Commencement 2023: Undergraduate

View photos and video from the UCLA Luskin master’s and doctoral commencement ceremony:

Commencement 2023: Graduate

 

Fernando Torres-Gil, a Lifetime of Service and Resiliency  As an educator and public official, the UCLA Luskin professor has spent four decades 'finding a silver lining' amid life’s misfortunes  

By Stan Paul

Fernando Torres-Gil has worn many hats — including a stylish white fedora he favors — in a long career as an educator and as a public official dating back to the Carter administration. 

As UCLA Luskin Social Welfare celebrates the 75th anniversary of its founding, Torres-Gil will retire after more than three decades helping to advance the School’s educational mission as a professor of social welfare and public policy. He has served as chair of Social Welfare, associate dean and acting dean, as well as founding director of UCLA’s Center for Policy Research on Aging. 

Comparing his early years to the tale of “Forrest Gump,” Torres-Gil said the travails of his “personal circumstances created unexpected opportunities for higher education.”  

His mother, Maria, made education “the first, second and third priority,” Torres-Gil said. “Growing up in Salinas, California, as the second of nine siblings to Mexican farmworkers and an extended immigrant family from Mexico created the likelihood that none of us would go beyond farmwork,” he said. “Factory jobs, at best.” 

And yet, Torres-Gil, his siblings — and later their children — would gain admission to Brandeis University, UCLA and five other University of California campuses, Pomona College, Cal Poly Pomona, San Jose State, USC and Occidental. 

family photos show siblings as children and adults

Family photos show Torres-Gil with siblings as a child and adult.

His mother became an expert at navigating community services. She fought fiercely to avoid foster care and to keep her family intact despite poverty and the “drama and challenges of her circumstances,” which included Fernando contracting polio at six months and becoming unable to walk.  

“To our everlasting gratitude, … after many years of surgical interventions and rehabilitation, I acquired a modicum of mobility,” Torres-Gil said. “This led to key milestones that informed my academic journey.”  

In the 1950s and 1960s, higher education was rarely an option for the children of working-class families from Mexico. Most young Latinos from public housing projects like him ended up in the military, fighting in the Vietnam War. But Torres-Gil’s disability put him on a different course — community college, then San Jose State, where he excelled academically and was active in the Chicano movement.  

Torres-Gil had few role models at the time for the next step — graduate school. “We knew of no Chicanos/Latinos from our region that had ventured afar for graduate education,” he recalled.  

He wound up studying social policy and management at Brandeis University near Boston because he could continue working with the United Farm Workers there to promote a lettuce and grape boycott in New England. He went on to earn master’s and doctorate degrees from Brandeis.  

Torres-Gil chose the emerging fields of gerontology and  geriatrics as his emphasis after attending the 1971 White House  Conference on Aging. He remembers skeptical Chicano friends  in Boston questioning his choice to work with old people, calling  it “depressing” and asking how he would find a job. Fifty years  later, he said, they “are all elders and deeply interested in all things about aging.”   

His circle of contacts expanded to include the Jewish, Irish, Italian and Portuguese communities in New England, and those connections later led to high-level policy and governmental positions. He earned his first presidential appointment in 1978 when President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the Federal Council on Aging. Over the next few decades, he held staff positions or advisory roles during the administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  

As a scholar at both USC and UCLA, his mantra has been to prove himself as an “independent scholar with original ideas” respected by peers. 

Torres-Gil’s research has focused on the politics of aging, health care and long-term care reform, and disability policy. He has continued to provide expertise on aging to elected officials about the intricacies of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act. 

“This has given me a most satisfactory career as a scholar, public servant and policy entrepreneur,” said Torres-Gil, who was recently elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare.   

During retirement, he plans to continue being an advocate for older adults, the disabled and the homeless, although mostly at the local level.  

He also wants to continue teaching part time, offering the type of advice to students that has exemplified his own life — to view difficult situations as learning opportunities.  

“Never let misfortune keep you from achieving greater resiliency and … finding a silver lining,” Torres-Gil said. “For any bad breaks I may have had, I’ve had a lot of silver linings.”