Shining a Powerful Light on Social Injustice Urban Color-Lines and the Dispossessions of Our Times: New UCLA Luskin Institute Launched to Focus on Global Inequality and Democracy

By Stan Paul and George Foulsham

In one of the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago, an African-American mother and her children face eviction amid a patchwork landscape of foreclosed and empty dwellings.

Across the globe and in another hemisphere, South African shack dwellers face the constant fear of eviction, violence and police brutality in the post-Apartheid era.

In Delhi, India, where more than 75 percent of inhabitants reside in “unplanned” and, therefore, “spatially illegal” dwellings, basic necessities such as water are denied.

And, south of the United States, the poor in countries such as Brazil experience a familiar scenario: eviction and being pushed out to the favelas, at the periphery of the urban center.

These are the “dispossessions of our times,” and the “enduring color-lines” of the 21st century, say founders and collaborators of the new Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin. The launch of the new center at UCLA brought together scholars from various disciplines as well as those on the front lines of grassroots efforts fighting eviction and social injustice worldwide.

“The theme of Urban Color-Lines is especially important for us today in Los Angeles, a city and region marked by its own historic struggles for equality and justice,” Lois Takahashi, Interim Dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and professor of Urban Planning, said in her opening remarks.

The two-day event, held at UCLA and Los Angeles venues, included not only scholars and activists but artists, performers and a movie screening to give expression to these global and ongoing problems, to highlight these issues and to bring to the fore emerging efforts to fight eviction, displacement and discrimination.

“The scope and purpose of the Institute have been shaped in conversation with movements such as the L.A. Community Action Network and the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign,” said Ananya Roy, founding director of the new center. “You will see how we strive to learn from these movements, their ideas and practices,” which create openings for social change, added Roy, who is also a professor of Social Welfare and Urban Planning at Luskin.

“We are launching the Institute on Inequality and Democracy this week with an ambitious mandate: to advance radical democracy in the world through research, critical thought and alliances with social movements and racial justice activism,” Roy said. “In doing so, we recognize that democracy is not an antidote to inequality; that, in fact, democracy is constituted through inequality.”

Day 1

Markets, Race, and the Aftermath of Slavery

Urban Color-Lines: Inaugurating the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin

SLIDE SHOW: 131 Photos, Urban Color-Lines: Inaugurating the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin

Providing context for day one was UCLA law professor Cheryl Harris, a recognized leader in civil rights education and critical race theory. The author of “Whiteness as Property,” an important and influential law review treatise, discussed how slavery was not a pre-capitalist system, but quintessential in the system of trade and finance and “central to the development of capitalism itself.”

“The market is not a neutral field,” said Harris, outlining the role that race continues to play in the making of exclusion as well as profit. For example, she noted that the high and disproportionate rate of minority incarceration in America provides cost savings in the form of labor as well as a market for products of prison labor. Harris added that the incarcerated themselves are also forced to be consumers of goods and services related to their incarceration.

The Right to the City: From South to North

Harris’ keynote presentation led into contributions by scholars and activists representing ongoing worldwide struggles against eviction, banishment and spatial injustice from Chicago and Brazil to South Africa and India.

Toussaint Losier, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and co-founder of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, shared his experiences from the front lines of anti-eviction action, including eviction blockades, inspired by work being done in South Africa. “Why aren’t you doing this in the U.S.?” was the take-away question from a trip to South Africa by Losier, who said that this connection became the model for action in Chicago.

Raquel Rolnik, professor, architect and urban planner from Brazil, and former Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing at the United Nations, spoke about a global pattern of evictions and land grabs fueled by financialization. She described this as a “permanent transitory” state for the urban poor.

“The language of liberalism and the markets is inadequate to describe the world we are living in,” said Richard Pithouse, a scholar at Rhodes University in South Africa. Pithouse said that a “proper name” does not yet exist in academia. “Maybe it is in the struggle but not in the university,” said Pithouse, asking where the locus of academic work should be. “It’s a messy space, but it is the space if you are serious about struggle.”

Gautam Bhan, who teaches urban politics, planning and development at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements in Bangalore, also looked inward at institutions such as universities to talk about the problem of inequality.

“Institutions have become predictable. We’ve lost the ability to fight with anyone that thinks another way … some of our thinking has to be about practice,” said the Berkeley-trained scholar (and former student of Ananya Roy), who has focused on the politics of poverty in India including urban displacement and affordable housing. Bhan described India’s contemporary politics of “you shouldn’t be here” to explain the predicament of the overwhelming majority of people who are unrecognized as residents and do not have a “right to the city.”

Black, Brown and Banished: Ending Urban Displacement in 21st Century Democracies

Black Brown & Banished: Ending Urban Displacement in 21st Century Democracies

SLIDE SHOW: 65 Photos, Black Brown & Banished: Ending Urban Displacement in 21st Century Democracies

The first day of the institute’s inauguration concluded with an evening gathering at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles. It included a series of dramatic arts performances, and ended with a panel discussion on eviction/action featuring testimony of those who have both lived through and fought back against eviction.

The performances included a reading, Nonfiction Eviction Depiction: Excerpts from Oral History Transcripts, featuring Bernard Brown, Dorothy Dubrule and Robert Een; and a dance performance, “Champion,” featuring Valerie Braaten, Leanna Bremond, Timna Naim, Silvia Park, Raphael Smith and Bernard Brown, who also wrote and directed the performance.

The anti-eviction discussion included dramatic testimony from Ashraf Cassiem, of the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign in South Africa; Willie “JR” Fleming, with the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign; Patricia Hill, also with the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign; and Pete White, with the LA Community Action Network, who wore a t-shirt that said “This Is a Movement, Not a Moment.”

Fleming talked about his group’s campaign in Chicago, calling what was happening there an “urban and economic cleansing.” He proudly pointed out that the members of the anti-eviction campaign “broke the law to change the law.”

And Hill, a retired police officer and public school teacher, recounted how banks twice arbitrarily increased her mortgage payments on a house she had owned for years, almost forcing her and her children to move out, until the anti-eviction campaign stepped in and helped her save the home in 2011. “I’m still there,” she said to loud applause.

“This is about our responsibility to leave a world that’s better for our women and children,” Fleming said.

Day 2

Debtors’ Prisons and Debtors’ Unions: Direct Action in Finance Capitalism

Hannah Appel is a UCLA scholar who describes herself as an economic anthropologist and an activist who looks at the daily life of finance capitalism and debt through different lenses: as “racialized social control” and as a “potential platform for collective action.” Appel, who also works with ongoing Occupy Wall Street projects such as Debt Collective, said her viewpoints are grounded and informed by her work as an organizer, thinker, critic and dreamer in this “particular moment in finance capitalism.”

“I want to talk about how capitalism shape shifts, about how attention to the everyday life of finance and its inverse, debt, offers unexpected opportunities for financial disobedience, rupture and transformation,” said Appel. She pointed out that while the debt financing of everything has rewarded the creditor class from the time of colonial plunder and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, today it has left the overwhelming majority of U.S. households with consumer debt. This debt includes college, health care, housing, “and even our own human caging, or incarceration,” said Appel. She also discussed the more virulent forms of debt like pay day loans — so-called high-interest, sub-prime world of “ghetto loans” to modern debtors prisons as described in U.S. cities such as Ferguson.

“In sum, questions of debt, colonialism and sovereignty within and beyond the U.S. are everywhere still with us,” she said.

But, Appel said, using the “economic imagination” envisions possibilities for radical action within and against finance capitalism, including disrupting the way debt is thought about, as shameful or moral failure. “In this terrain of mass indebtedness … what might economic disobedience look like?” she asked, pointing to the collective leverage of debt, which can be powerful, and which she said is taking hold in America.

“You get inspiration in the weirdest places,” said Appel, citing J.P. Getty: “If you owe the bank $100, that’s your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.” Extending this to the more than $1.3 trillion in student debt, Appel said “Together, arguably, in different moments and different configurations, we can be the bank’s problem.”

Decolonizing the University

An international group of scholars and activists examined the role that the university plays now and can play in the future, not only as an outside, objective observer, but from within the institution.

Gaye Theresa Johnson, an associate professor of African American Studies and Chicano Studies at UCLA, has been active with the Los Angeles Community Action Network’s efforts for housing and civil rights in L.A.’s skid row area. The author of a book on “spatial entitlement “ in Los Angeles described the university as a site of invention and of contestation.

“We have to rethink the nature of knowledge itself. We have to do a psychic overhaul, really, of the perception of the work that we do,” said Johnson.

Camalita Naicker is a Ph.D. candidate from Rhodes University in South Africa, where she is studying the practice of popular politics in that country. She is also a student activist in the Black Student Movement at Rhodes, writing about urban land occupations and popular movements in South Africa. Her presentation questioned what an African university today should look like, what it should teach and being a black student in colonial space.

“Who teaches and what they teach matter,” said Naicker, asking what an affordable education in South Africa might look like in a decolonized university.

“Dominant knowledge produces and reproduces coloniality of knowledge and power,” said Carlos Vainer, an economist and sociologist at the Institute of Urban and Regional Planning and Research and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Hoping to put some “fingers in the wounds,” he included both universities and scholars as part of this dynamic in which “coloniality is co-essential to modernity, to capitalism.”

Vainer said that while the necessity of decolonizing the university is clear, how this is possible is not, pointing to both “new relations with non-academic knowledge” in the north and south as well as reciprocity of scholarship. “You must read us,” he said, citing the lack of translated scholarly works in his own country to use in mainstream academia.

Marques Vestal, a doctoral student in history at UCLA, grew up in Los Angeles, which provided him with an up-close view of black housing politics, culture and residential segregation. And, as a student, his interest is in the implications of private student debt, “a material relationship contrary to social justice,” which produces a mass of indebted students, he said.

“Indebtedness restricts movement,” and “makes commitments to social justice precarious,” said Vestal, describing what it is like for students whose education is “a commodity that must be purchased.”

The Audacity of Despair

the Audacity of Despair with David Simon

SLIDE SHOW: 59 Photos, The Audacity of Despair with David Simon 

David Simon, the journalist, screenwriter and producer of the award-winning HBO series “The Wire,” provided the exclamation point for the two-day inauguration of the institute. His appearance, part of the Luskin Lecture Series, entertained and informed the crowd at UCLA’s James Bridges Theater.

“As Mr. Simon’s creative and journalistic contributions indicate, the university is not the sole producer of knowledge,” Roy said as she introduced Simon. “It is not the sole mover of debates. But it has a role. And it has a responsibility.

“It is the role and responsibility of the university, among other actors, to challenge policies, to contest the willful separation of two separate societies, and, perhaps, to acknowledge how we might also be complicit in producing and perpetuating those policies,” Roy added.

After a screening of an episode of “Show Me A Hero,” another Simon series on HBO, he spoke passionately about, among other things:

The war on drugs: “It was a war about dangerous narcotics, but in truth it was a war on the poor.”

Democracy: “Democracy itself is centrist and incremental. If you’re doing the right things, it gets a little better every day. If you’re doing the wrong things, it gets a little worse every day. Freedom is never won entirely.”

And what can be done: “The only solution for bad government or a weak democracy is better government and a stronger democracy — to have a democracy start to engage democratic ideals, representative ideals and to represent the entire society. It’s all hard work. There’s no singular moment. Let’s start by getting rid of the drug war. That’s job one.”

Finally, Simon gave a heartfelt blessing and endorsement to the new Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin.

“I’m very enamored of the idea of this institute being here,” Simon said. “I can’t think of anything that a university can do that would be more important than to address these issues and to argue these issues.”

New Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., Award Advances UCLA Luskin’s Mission of Social Justice The new Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., Social Justice Award was created to advance research that focuses on issues of racial justice and inequality

By Adeney Zo

Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., served as dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs for seven years, and his legacy here continues to inspire and provide support for Luskin students.

Through the efforts of members of the UCLA Luskin advisory board along with many other donors, the new Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., Social Justice Award was created to advance research that focuses on issues of racial justice and inequality. Reflecting the School’s mission to bring about social change through academic excellence, this award highlights student scholarship that addresses crucial societal issues.

Board Chair Susan F. Rice explains, “Frank Gilliam’s commitment to social justice permeated his leadership approach. His collaborative style in cross-discipline initiatives left a significant legacy on the students, the faculty, the campus and our Board of Advisors. In particular, the Board relished Frank’s pride in the Luskin School students as research practitioners engaging public personnel in social justice issues. It seemed fitting to establish an award recognizing student initiative.”

This year’s award recipients will be studying a wide range of topics related to social justice, diversity and equity.

Susanna Curry, a doctoral candidate in Social Welfare, was selected for a project which will study housing insecurity among millennials. Curry’s ultimate goal as a researcher is to help end homelessness in the U.S., but her research will first examine the causes of housing insecurity among millennials in early stages of adult life.

“I want to encourage social welfare scholarship to include a greater understanding of housing insecurity, that is, the situations in which people find themselves immediately before becoming homeless such as living temporarily in another person’s home, moving frequently, and facing eviction or a high rent burden,” said Curry.

Curry aims to study how childhood adversity and access to social supports, particularly stemming from the foster care system, may influence housing instability among young adults.

“It is important that we better understand living situations and housing-related stressors beyond age 21, and associated risks and resources, so that service providers and policymakers can develop greater supports for these [foster] youth as appropriate into young adulthood,” said Curry.

Curry will also examine on a national scale how social and cultural patterns may factor into this issue.

While Curry’s work will examine a nationwide issue, three recipients of the award will focus their research on issues within UCLA. Elizabeth Calixtro, a master of Public Policy student; Kevin Medina, a master of Social Welfare and master of Public Policy student; and Nisha Parekh, a master of Public Policy and Law student, were selected for their proposal to evaluate diversity and equity programming at UCLA in conjunction with the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

“We plan to use the data we collect to create feasible recommendations for the UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) regarding ways to harmonize the various EDI-related efforts across campus,” said Medina. “EDI was created less than a year ago, and we aim to provide recommendations that will further this harmonization project.”

All three members of the team have backgrounds in social justice work, allowing for them to advance the mission of the award while also utilizing their combined experience to create change within UCLA.

“We felt that selecting a topic addressing equity issues would allow us to bring together multiple lenses and skill sets to create an impactful policy project,” said Medina. “This award provides us with the necessary and scarce resources to actualize our ambitious vision for our policy project.”

The team will be evaluating the EDI’s programs through focus groups, interviews and a campuswide survey. They will also be contacting universities similar to UCLA in order to understand how other schools implement diversity and equity programming. With the implementation of a new undergraduate diversity requirement for UCLA College freshmen, this study may play an important part in the development of these courses.

Other award recipients are Marylou Adriatico, a master of Social Welfare student, and Joanna L. Barreras, Charles H. Lea III and Christina Tam, all doctoral candidates in Social Welfare.

To learn more about the Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., Social Justice Award, or to make a contribution, visit this page.

A summary of the project descriptions for the Social Justice Award winners can be found here.

Social Welfare Students Make Impact with Internships Highlighting students interning at schools, hospitals and non-profits in honor of Social Work Month.

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By Alejandra Reyes-Velarde
UCLA Luskin Student Writer

Each March, the social work community celebrates National Social Work Month and some of the amazing work that UCLA Luskin social welfare students and alumni have done. This year, the theme for National Social Work Month is “Social Work Paves the Way for Change,” intended to highlight the people and projects that have been contributing their work to create social change. Below are just a few examples of Luskin social welfare students that have been doing just that with their internships.

Social Welfare student Leena Richman is an intern contributing to the Student Health & Human Services at Berendo Middle school. Student Health & Human Services is a team of professionals that collaborate with schools and families, education service centers and communities to provide physical and mental health services to students in the Los Angeles County.

During her time as an intern at Berendo Middle School, Richman took on a variety of roles from helping with mental health services to handing out fliers to make sure students know about the services they provide.

Richman was one of three interns highlighted in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Student Health and Human Services Newsletter in honor of Social Work Month.

“My experience as a school social work intern thus far has further ignited my passion for working within the school setting,” she said.

The executive director of the Student Health and Human Services Division, Debra Duardo, is a UCLA MSW alumna from 1996. In 2013, she was named the Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumnus of the Year.

Passionate Luskin students have also been doing work in Los Angeles at the Koreatown Youth and Community Center (KYCC).

KYCC has given first year Social Welfare students the opportunity to gain interdisciplinary experiences in areas like gang reduction and youth development by being involved in different programs at the Center. Their responsibilities vary from conducting counseling intakes and providing case management to overseeing homework clubs and assisting with policy research.

Interns are also provided with training from staff members to learn about financial literacy, grant writing and clinical supervision, giving interns a well rounded experience of what it is like to be a social worker in Los Angeles.

Eva Ray, a student intern from the Department of Social Welfare said since each student is assigned an internship outside of their comfort zone, she wasn’t sure what to expect when she started at KYCC.

“As soon as I met the staff I would be working with, though, I felt fortunate to have been placed there because everyone is so collaborative, hard-working and energetic. There is a lot of opportunity to help shape the way the program will run in the future,” she said.

Ray is part of the Prevention and Education unit and is responsible for running a workshop for middle school students about alcohol and marijuana awareness as well as building their communication skills. Since many of the students are young Black and Latino males with behavioral issues and low socioeconomic status, Ray said that she is grateful to be granted the ability to change and adapt the curriculum provided based on each student’s unique needs. Ray has enjoyed helping students gain the skills to combat the challenges that they will face in a society built to oppress them.

“I like that I am…educating (the students) on how their thoughts and feelings inform their behavior, and helping them practice mindful communication and self-reflection so that they can express themselves more effectively,” Ray said. “I enjoy getting to know each student and learning about their lives, and I love the high energy and spirit that comes when working with middle school youth.”

Two first year MSW students, Elsie Silva and Karen Ochoa, celebrated Social Work Month on March 2 by taking part in a resource fair and undergarment drive for community members. Each year, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center organizes the event — the largest resource fair to date with 32 community organizations participating — in order to provide patients and employees with information on legal aid, mental health services, child and senior services, food, financial and employment assistance, and much more.

“It is truly remarkable to witness our community unite and celebrate the field of social work by giving back to our neediest patients,” said Silva. “The social work interns were an integral part of this event by contacting and enlisting the organizations that participated while also helping on the day of the resource fair.”

“These efforts to not only honor social work month, but outreach to some of the most underserved in our city cannot be underestimated,” said Field Education faculty member Gerry Lavina.

With the passion, energy and personal care of social welfare students, the Luskin community is well represented in Los Angeles and has made a profound impact in the lives of all ages for social worker month this March.

 

UCLA Medical Marijuana Research Team Releases Brief On Dispensaries The team examined the changes in the number and location of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city of Los Angeles.

By Angel Ibanez
UCLA Luskin Student Writer 

The UCLA Medical Marijuana Research team led by Social Welfare professor Bridget Freisthler recently released a brief that examines the changes in the number and location of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city of Los Angeles over a seven year time period.

The brief illuminates the prevalence of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. In 2007, Los Angeles had 187 open and operating dispensaries but by 2014 the number had reached 418. This finding could have implications on the monitoring of dispensaries. In 2013 voters passed Proposition D, a city ordinance that would, in part, limit the number of medical marijuana dispensaries allowed in the city to 135. Despite this ordinance, Freisthler’s research showed that the city currently has over three times that limit as of 2014. 

The research also showed a shift in distribution of dispensaries across the city, moving “from the San Fernando Valley and East L.A. to the South L.A. and San Pedro areas”.


The map shows the rate of change of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city from 2007 to 2014. While some neighborhoods saw a decrease in dispensaries, the rate of change in others, like South LA and San Pedro, increased over 250 percent. 

According to Freisthler, the shift in dispensary distribution can be attribute to gang activity where in areas like South LA “dispensaries were run out by the gangs. And now gangs are converting parts of their street market to dispensaries.”

The large increase in dispensaries in San Pedro could also be a result of cause and effect.  As dispensaries were being shut down in Long Beach “due to increased enforcement, dispensaries migrated to San Pedro,” Freisthler says. 

The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and led by Dr. Bridget Freisthler, Principal Investigator, with Dr. Paul J. Gruenewald, Co-Investigator; Crystal Thomas, Graduate Student; Alexis Cooke, Graduate Student Researcher; and Alex Creek, Student Researcher.  

The UCLA Medical Marijuana Research team was initiated as a way to examine how the emergence of dispensaries change the ecological landscape of the neighborhoods in which they are located, including changes in crime and dependence. The research team hopes to provide communities with guidance on regulatory processes that may improve neighborhood problems related to dispensaries.

 

Bridget Freisthler’s Research Shows Correlation Between Alcohol Density And Crime Research examines liquor stores in South LA

Bridget Freisthler

By Angel Ibanez
UCLA Luskin Student Writer

Social Welfare professor Bridget Freisthler was recently mentioned in an article for her expertise on alcohol and abuse. Part of Freisthler’s research is based on substance use and related problems, and child abuse and neglect.

In the article titled, “South LA liquor stores may put residents’ health at risk” published by Intersections South LA, reporter Morgan Greenwald discussed the correlation between liquor stores and the detrimental effects it causes on communities.

South L.A. has one of the highest density of liquor stores with 150 liquor stores and one of the highest car accidents rates involving alcohol in the country. A study in the county showed that an increase in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes correlated with the number of liquor stores in the area.

The article references Professor Freisthler’s research on the effect that access to alcohol has with violence, “places that have higher densities of outlets have increases in violence, child abuse and neglect [and] traffic crashes,” said Freisthler. 

Many organizations in the community are getting involved to decrease the liquor store density in hope of closing stores that contribute to the cycle of crime and addiction.

 

 

Contributing to Community and Higher Education Antonia Tu (MSW '73) is giving back to support young Social Welfare students and the community.

By Adeney Zo

After working in social welfare for 10 years and in business the years following, Antonia Tu (MSW ’73) found a new way to give back to the community.

She and her husband, Norman Tu, recently created the Antonia Tu Fellowship in Social Welfare. “I appreciate the opportunities given to me [at Luskin], so I’m trying to do the same thing for students now,” says Tu. “I know that people going into social work are not there to make money, so I want to help them with books and costs.”

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Antonia Tu

Kate O’Neal, assistant dean for External Relations, was also involved in the process of creating the fellowship. “When we met, Antonia asked about how she could do something more substantial to give back and support young Social Welfare students,” says O’Neal. “Now every year, a promising student in Social Welfare will receive support in Antonia Tu’s name for their education at UCLA.”

Tu first came to the US as an international student from Hong Kong, going through community college and eventually the UCLA Social Welfare program. Following graduation, she worked in the field of developmental disability for 10 years before starting DCL Corp, a distribution fulfillment business, with her husband in 1982.  She held various executive positions in Human Resources and Operations.  Today DCL is a successful business with locations in Northern and Southern California and Louisville, Kentucky.

“From social work, I learned how to find the right employee and place them in the right position, so the skill set was transferrable,” explains Tu. “I would assess strengths and weaknesses of families and clients, which was later very applicable in business.”

Now retired, the Tu couple give back to their local community through a number of scholarships and donations. They contribute to a scholarship program for Asian high school students with financial need in the Bay Area, as well as a self-help group for the elderly. Tu also sponsors her former community college on an annual basis in addition to the new Social Welfare fellowship program at the Luskin School.

“We’re very active in the community, so I’m still involved in social work, in a way,” says Tu. “This is the beginning of a phase that I hope my children can follow by giving back to the community.”

Todd Franke, Chair of the Social Welfare Department says: “It is extremely gratifying to me to see alumni like Antonia giving back to UCLA Social Welfare, helping our next generation of students to achieve their MSW degree and embark upon rewarding careers in social work.”

 

Mark Kaplan Says There is Lack of Analysis of the Military as a Social Setting The social welfare professor discussed mental health and suicide prevention for veterans on NPR.

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By Alejandra Velarde-Reyes
UCLA Luskin student writer

According to an NPR radio broadcast on Thursday morning, 22 veterans commit suicide every day, or about one every hour. The broadcast invited experts in mental health and veteran services, including social welfare professor Mark Kaplan to address the problem of suicide risk among returning veterans.

In 2007, Kaplan was part of one of the first groundbreaking research studies to reveal that veterans were at higher risk of suicide than the general public, a study that followed thousands of veterans over a 12 year period. Gaining national attention by the media and by congress, the study prompted increased action toward suicide prevention for veterans, Kaplan said in the broadcast.

Since then, new studies have been conducted revealing more detailed information and Kaplan has become more involved in the issue of veteran suicide risk. He expressed concern over gun access, higher risk women in the military, and what factors really contribute to suicide and mental health problems for veterans.

“We’ve assumed many suicides were associated with trauma from deployment but a recent study found that…the risk of suicide among veterans who were deployed and those who were not, were not significantly different,” Kaplan said.

The broadcast explored the reasoning for such evidence, suggesting that it is military service itself rather than exposure to war that causes higher suicide risk.

Though the military attempts to increase resilience in soldiers individually, Kaplan said there is a lack of analysis of the military as a social setting.

“What about the psycho-social environment of the military? What role that may be contributing is pretty much unknown,” Kaplan said. “The military has been resistant to looking at itself as an institution and instead focused on individuals and defines the problem in purely psychiatric and therapeutic ways.”

Kaplan suggested that other factors such as family crisis and financial problems that have little to do with military service precipitate events that lead to suicide.

The segment also addressed the problem of veterans’ access to guns, a central element in suicide risk among veterans.

“There are many veterans who still sleep with a gun under there pillow. This is not uncommon. Many find it difficult, whether they are at risk or not, to part with their guns. We need to do a much better job at probing for gun access and doing something about it,” Kaplan said.

 

After Academic Career, Professor Writes for Kids Emerita Social Welfare profesor Diane de Anda has established a post-instructional career as an author of bilingual children's books.

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When she was younger, Diane de Anda recalls listening to stories from her grandparents about the Mexican revolution and other historical events they had lived through. After working as a professor and researcher in the department of Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin, she decided it was time to go step away from her academic roots and focus on creative writing, submitting short stories and poetry for publication in various literary journals.

In addition, de Anda has become an award-winning author of several works for children, including The Patchwork Garden and A Day Without Sugar. She also writes satirical pieces about current political and social issues that are published in the Humor Times and Satire and Comment.

Before becoming a professor at UCLA, de Anda’s experience as a junior high school teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District inspired her to work with youth, drawing her into the field of social welfare with a focus on issues related to young populations and families, particularly in the Latino community.

“Most people don’t like teaching junior high students, but I adored them,” de Anda said. “They were at a very critical point in their lives. I think if you catch potential problems (at that age), they have a chance for more productive adult lives. Working with youth seemed like a hopeful kind of thing to do.”

Though she enjoys writing creatively, she doesn’t think this has to compromise her academic work. She continues to contribute to the social welfare literature and also spends time discussing research with former doctoral students and faculty members.

“I love research and its intellectual challenge. I invite present and former doctoral students and faculty members to my house where we have dessert and share ideas about research,” de Anda said. “Research is an intellectual endeavor that should not be limited to the classroom; rather, intellectual exchange should be part of your life as a whole.”

During her time as a professor, she taught subjects including cognitive behavior, adolescent behavior, cross cultural awareness and research at the master’s and doctoral levels. De Anda formulated the concept “bicultural socialization,” and her best-noted research focused on adolescent pregnancy and motherhood.

Her passion for social work and working with adolescents has extended beyond her work in academia. De Anda has consulted and volunteered for organizations that provide services to disadvantaged youth, such as the Human Services Association and El Nido Family Centers, among others. Her focus in this work has been on stress and coping, violence prevention, and adolescent pregnancy and STD prevention in Latino youth.

Rosie Ramos, the director of the Pasitos Early Head Start program at the Human Services Association, and a 10-year colleague of De Anda’s, spoke highly of de Anda’s dedication to the subject.

“She is a very hard working and genuine person, very dedicated and most caring about what happens to teens and pregnant mothers, “ Ramos said. “I have a great deal of respect for her and the work that she does.”

De Anda said what she enjoyed most during her time as a professor at UCLA was interacting with her students. After retirement, she has kept in touch with many former doctoral students, advising and encouraging them to publish their own research.

“I find speaking with students the most rewarding both personally and intellectually. They were always challenging and interactive in my classes,” she said.

Susan Snyder was a student in de Anda’s courses on cultural competence and cognitive behavior theory. She was part of Snyder’s dissertation committee and helped her edit her manuscripts.

“Dr. de Anda provided the most feedback I have ever received on papers,” Snyder said. “Even though my dissertation was over 100 pages, she provided comprehensive feedback on each page.

“She has a way of teaching that energizes students and makes learning engaging, bringing energy and passion in a way that few can master,” Snyder added.

Though Snyder said de Anda’s courses were the most difficult she had, she said her impact in academic life and the larger community inspired Snyder to pursue a career in academia.

“Dr. de Anda is compassionate, generous and tireless. She is incredibly brilliant and able to analyze complex problems with ease. She also is a phenomenal writer,” Snyder said. “More than anything Dr. de Anda believes in ensuring that each person is treated with dignity and respect. She is a stalwart advocate of social justice.”

In the future, de Anda said she hopes to continue working with doctoral students at UCLA, helping them with their writing as well as publishing her own collection of short stories for adults and the additional children’s books she has written, including a collection of 80 animal limericks and a book of nonsense poems for young boys.

Jorja Leap’s Gang Expertise Tapped by Media The Social Welfare professor has been quoted extensively about gang related trends and behavior.

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By Alejandra Reyes-Velarde
UCLA Luskin student writer 

Social Welfare professor, Jorja Leap has recently gained national media attention for her expertise in gangs and criminal justice. Her research is based on observation of gangs and communities affected by gang activity with the purpose of informing policymakers.

Leap’s work and findings have been cited in articles about different criminal trends in Los Angeles and on a national level, such as the decline in homicides in LA, homicides of Latino men, and their relationship to gang activity.

recent article in the Los Angeles Daily News reported that homicides in Los Angeles have declined from 1,231 in 2002 to below 700 in 2010. According to the article several sociologists and police workers attribute the decline to gang intervention programs and more effective policing and legislature, but Leap said the problem has not necessarily been solved.

Instead, a police crackdown in Los Angeles has moved gang activity from LA to economically depressed areas such as the Inland Empire and Las Vegas, where they are less impeded, she said in the article.

Another article by the LA Daily News titled “ Homicides of young Latino men twice as likely to go unsolved in LA county, analysis shows,” focused on the reasons why homicides of Black and Latino populations are not only higher but less likely to be solved.

Leap attributed that discrepancy to Black and Latino men living in areas that are more high in crime and gang activity, where illegal weapons are more accessible. She also said that witnesses’ fear of retaliation if they speak may contribute the the cases remaining unsolved.

Professor Leap was also quoted in a Detroit News article about a former motorcycle gang member currently on trial for a series of crimes and murders across the country. She offered insight into the lifestyle of motorcycle gang members and the criminal justice process.

 

“You Can Run But You Can’t Hide”

01907409 By Adeney Zo
UCLA Luskin student writer 

Professor Laura Abrams, chair of the social welfare doctoral program, and PhD alumna Diane Terry recently published an article in the Children and Youth Services Review titled, “You can run but you can’t hide”: How formerly incarcerated young men navigate neighborhood risks.”

This qualitative study offers a window into the lives of formerly incarcerated youth, focusing on the struggles they encounter while transitioning out of the incarceration system and into adulthood.

In light of the viral nationwide reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent events, this article addresses very relevant issues of racial disparity in the criminal justice system and police violence by turning to a more personal, narrative focus.

Seventeen formerly incarcerated young men were interviewed about their methods for navigating everyday risks, a complex survival strategy which balances obligation to gang brothers, avoiding of re-incarceration, and steering away from dangerous areas and situations. Through analyzing how formerly incarcerated youth develop strategies for safety and survival into adulthood, this study may provide a stepping stone to solving the issues of poverty, racial tensions, and police brutality which are currently the center of debate and discussion in America.