A UCLA Luskin Welcome Departments of Public Policy, Social Welfare, Urban Planning welcome six new faculty members

By Stan Paul

Six new members of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs faculty were warmly welcomed at a reception held Oct. 18 and hosted by their new Luskin departments of Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning. Interim Dean Lois Takahashi and the three department chairs were also on hand to welcome the new teachers and researchers.

This year, the School’s three departments strengthened their faculty teaching and research rosters with the additions of Darin Christensen and Zachary C. Steinert-Threlkeld (Public Policy), Leyla Karimli and Laura Wray-Lake (Social Welfare), and Michael Manville and Kian Goh (Urban Planning).

In Public Policy, Darin Christensen will be teaching three classes at Luskin this year. “The students are great, really engaged,” said Christensen, who recently received his Stanford Ph.D. in political science. Christensen said he will be showing his Master of Public Policy (MPP) students how to bring evidence to bear on policy decisions, teaching them tools for wrangling and exploring data, as well as statistical methods that generate credible claims about “what policies work.” In another course offered this quarter, he is discussing how political institutions and public policies affect why some countries are rich and peaceful while others with persistent poverty and instability.

Also joining the Public Policy department this year is Zachary C. Steinert-Threlkeld, who will begin teaching this winter quarter on topics including social networks and protest. “I study protest,” said Steinert-Threlkeld, who completed his Ph.D. in political science this year at UC San Diego. “Wherever there is a protest in the world, I go to Twitter and see what people say. Are they expressing political grievances because they’re mad about the economy?”

Steinert-Threlkeld, who studies social media as it relates to subnational conflict, teaches analysis of “big data.” “If anyone wants to learn with Twitter data,” he said, “they can reach out to me. I would love to be working with motivated students or faculty.”

In Social Welfare, Laura Wray-Lake, who comes to UCLA from the University of Rochester, will be teaching two classes in winter: research methods with children and youth, and development and resilience for the Master of Social Work (MSW) students. “I was really excited about the interdisciplinary environment” at Luskin, she said, explaining that her area of research is civic engagement. “I’m really interested in how to get young people interested in politics and the communities, and solving social issues.”

Leyla Karimli brings an international focus to Social Welfare on topics including child welfare, education and child labor. With more than a decade of international research and practice, her work has taken her to a number of countries in Africa as well as Colombia, the Philippines, Tajikistan and Krgyzstan. She will be teaching on program evaluation and topics including a multidisciplinary analysis of poverty and social exclusion, one of her main research interests.

Returning to UCLA, assistant professor Michael Manville said he is currently teaching courses on transportation and the environment and another on shared mobility. Manville, who earned his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Urban Planning at Luskin, most recently was an assistant professor at Cornell University in the Department of City and Regional Planning. Manville said the rest of the year he will be teaching transportation, land use and public finance, primarily for the Urban Planning Department’s master’s students.

Urban Planner Kian Goh plans to teach a winter quarter seminar titled “Urban Futures,” with a focus on space, ecology and society. In the spring, she will teach a studio course on site planning and a qualitative methods course.

“This year I am continuing my research broadly on the politics of urban climate change adaptation and research on the L.A. region,” said Goh, who comes to Luskin from Northeastern University. “It’s inevitable, not just because I am here but because it so interesting. I think the L.A. region is an example of urban form.”

Goh has focused her research on cities from New York to Jakarta.

“It is really helpful to look at other cities,” she said. “I think of the challenges we face here and all of the opportunities. We’ve learned a lot from other regions.”

Three Decades of Devotion to Social Justice Gerry Laviña, the director of UCLA Luskin’s Field Education Program, is named Social Worker of the Year by the California chapter of NASW

By Stan Paul

This year marks three decades since Gerry Laviña started doing social work. It can be a challenging job, but the director of the Field Education Program in the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs says that his profession has more than returned the favor.

“Every day as a social worker I have the opportunity to be inspired … by students, colleagues, our community, other social workers and others that support social justice,” Laviña said.

For his remarkable body of work, Laviña has been named the 2016 Social Worker of the Year by the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The award is given by the group to professional social workers who have consistently demonstrated the core values of the NASW Code of Ethics: service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, the importance of human relationships, and integrity and competence.

He will be honored at the annual NASW-CA Social Work Conference Awards ceremony later this month.

Laviña began his educational and career path in social work by entering the Master of Social Welfare (MSW) program at UCLA in 1986, but his foundation and motivation started with lessons learned early in life.

“I come from a family whose father was an immigrant from the Philippines and mother is an immigrant from Honduras,” said Laviña, a licensed clinical social worker. “My family had a strong belief in education, and they daily reminded us of the privilege and opportunities we had — relative to others in our community and the world — and that we have a great responsibility to give back.”

Laviña has spent his career giving back in a number of roles: social worker, instructor, mentor and leader. His primary interests are working with children and families, particularly in the areas of school social work, mental health and multicultural issues.

“When I found social work terms like social justice and dignity of every human being, my family’s belief system came to life,” Laviña said.

Asked what qualities every social worker should possess, Laviña said: “Openness to learning and lifelong learning, flexibility, a willingness to meet every individual/family/community where they are, a commitment to serving those with the least resources, and a belief in diversity that is actualized in our work.”

The NASW honor acknowledges a social worker who has broad professional social work experience and has provided significant leadership in the field of social work. In addition, the Social Worker of the Year must have NASW and voluntary association experience, diverse and multicultural expertise, and have made a lasting impact on social policy, advocacy for clients and exceptional professional practice.

In UCLA Luskin’s Department of Social Welfare, Laviña is the faculty co-chair of the Diversity/Equity/Inclusion (DEI) Committee; and faculty adviser for the Diversity Caucus and Latina/o Caucus. At Luskin, he also serves as the associate director of MSW education and as faculty adviser for the School’s D3 (Diversity, Differences and Disparities) Initiative, for which he provides support and guidance to the D3 team and advises the dean on matters related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

As the project coordinator for the California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC) Integrated Behavioral Health Program, a collaborative effort of California social work programs and the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, Laviña works with second-year MSW students placed in the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and contract agencies. Prior to becoming the director of field education, he served as field liaison with many local school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, developing and monitoring student internships in school social work and coordinating the Pupil Personnel Services Credentialing/SSW/CWA program. He also has served on the local and state-wide board of the California Association of School Social Workers.

In the classroom, he has taught an advanced practice course in school social work as well as courses related to diversity. He worked for several years as a field consultant for the Inter-University Consortium program, a collaboration with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and the L.A. County MSW program.

Prior to joining the field faculty in 1993, Laviña was a social worker in the Family and Child Guidance Clinic of the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center in Culver City, where he was program coordinator and clinician in two different programs working with emotionally disturbed children and their families. He has also served as a contract assessor for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health’s Children and Youth Services Bureau, and as a private practitioner.

NASW also recognized Laviña for his accomplishments outside academia, including his work with community organizations that promote diversity in education, such as Los Amigos Council of Para Los Niños and Trabajadores de la Raza. He has received numerous awards, including Field Faculty of the Year by the UCLA MSW student body and the UCLA Faculty-Staff Partnership Award.

“I am energized by the dialogue in Social Welfare, Luskin, UCLA and our community around diversity, equity and inclusion issues,” Laviña said. “My family has discussed these issues throughout my life, and I have professionally been working on this directly and indirectly for 30 years. While I know the struggle continues, I feel realistically optimistic about what is happening.”

The Intersection of Social Welfare and Criminology New book co-edited by UCLA Luskin professor Laura Abrams gives a voice to volunteers, including prisoners, who donate their time to improving lives, changing the system and giving back to their communities

By Stan Paul

James Anderson has earned three college degrees, all of them in the Oregon State Penitentiary where he has been since he was 17. Also there is Joshua Cain, currently working toward his bachelor’s degree. And Trevor Walraven, like Anderson and Cain, is a longtime volunteer in prisoner empowerment programs. Now in their 30s, these members of the “Lifers Unlimited Club” at Oregon State Penitentiary are well into their second decade of incarceration, serving life sentences for crimes they committed as young men.

All three are contributors to a new book co-edited by UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs social welfare professor Laura Abrams and her colleagues from the United States and the United Kingdom. The prisoners’ voices are included in “The Voluntary Sector in Prisons: Encouraging Personal and Institutional Change,” published this month as part of the Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology series.

The book is a collection of scholarly articles looking at various dimensions of the voluntary sector’s influence on prison life. It includes analyses and examples of people who volunteer their time to help within the prison walls and in the larger community. It also examines the importance of the voluntary sector in reshaping the role of prisons and the services they provide as it relates to prison overcrowding and mass incarceration policies.

“We believe that the global and multi-authored nature of this collection, including two chapters co-authored with currently incarcerated men, is one of its unique strengths,” Abrams said. “To our knowledge, this is one of the few scholarly collections to consider the perspectives of prisoners themselves as volunteers, organizers and community change leaders.”

Citing research by Luskin colleague Michael Stoll and UC Berkeley co-author Stephen Raphael, Abrams noted that “currently there is increasing public and bipartisan governmental recognition in the USA that the war-on-drug policies have largely failed to halt crime or create a climate of public safety.” In addition, Abrams said that over the past several decades correctional facilities in the U.S. have become increasingly punitive and less rehabilitative — a trend that volunteers have always contested.

“As such, we are witnessing a significant shift toward beliefs long held in other nations — particularly in Western European and Scandinavian countries — that incarcerated people need education, skills and other forms of rehabilitation in order to succeed upon their release, and that humane treatment of prisoners may contribute to a more peaceful society as a whole,” she said.

The book is the result of a 2014 conference of doctoral students and faculty convened by one of the co-editors and contributors, Rosie Meek, chair of the School of Law at University of London Royal Holloway. “This relates to my research because so many correctional treatment and reentry programs are staffed and run by nonprofit organizations and volunteers. This book pulls together a study of social welfare systems with criminology — my two areas of scholarship,” Abrams said.

Chapters of the new book address the importance of community volunteers and nonprofit organizations in providing rehabilitative programming in prisons and jails, as well as what citizenship and democracy mean even in the prison environment. Other chapters focus on how prisoners, as volunteers, mentors and leaders, can contribute to their communities and the value and effectiveness of peer support in prison.

“I think most people wouldn’t know that prisoners themselves volunteer to help each other, and to help the community at large,” Abrams said. “This is really groundbreaking knowledge to include this material and their authorship.”

Examining Diversity ‘Between the Lines’ In year-end conference, UCLA Luskin D3 students view issues through a social justice lens

By Stan Paul

Students at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs take the tools, methods and knowledge they acquire to solve problems, seek social justice and provide policy options for the world.

Luskin students are also examining their own university for insights into a number of issues, including what role UCLA’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion office should play in creating, implementing and evaluating UCLA diversity programs. Also, students raised the concern that it may be possible to progress through their academic programs without ever critically engaging with social justice topics.

Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning graduate students were given the opportunity to discuss, present findings and offer recommendations on these issues at “Researching Between the Lines,” the school’s year-end D3 (Diversity, Differences and Disparities Initiative) student research conference held at UCLA Luskin.

“The conference gives a formal opportunity for students to present their research to other people in other cohorts,” said Edber Macedo, a second-year Master of Urban Planning (MURP) student and project manager for the D3 initiative. “Our work in the public affairs realm is highly intersectional and this conference aims to highlight those crossroads.”

The D3 Initiative was established by former UCLA Luskin Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., as the only student-led equity effort on campus.

Three students in the master of public policy (MPP) program dedicated the culmination of their studies — their applied policy project — to examining UCLA’s office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).

Group member Nisha Parekh, who is completing a law degree in conjunction with her MPP, pointed out that “pockets of diversity … have been doing the work already.” But, she said, “There is no communication between these folks,” and the challenge is how to leverage relationships.

“It is important to differentiate between being diverse in composition from having equitable and inclusive policies, practices and procedures,” Parekh said. She and her MPP colleagues, Kevin Medina, who also is in the Master of Social Welfare (MSW) program, and Elizabeth Calixtro, sought to find out what it means to have an office focused on equity, diversity and inclusion.

What became clear to the student researchers after gathering data and conducting interviews and focus groups with faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students is that diversity programming is not well-defined at UCLA. Students, faculty, and staff who supply diversity programming on campus also reported a lack of resources and institutional knowledge, Parekh said. “People are starting from scratch over and over.”

Among the group’s recommendations is that the EDI office clarify its jurisdiction and “brand,” which would improve stakeholder trust in the office, the students said. Based on the survey data gathered, Parekh said “we found that the majority of students surveyed think having a culturally competent campus is important.”

Two other projects examined diversity in their own department. Urban Planning MURP students examined both the curriculum and hiring practices.

Julia Heidelman, a first-year MURP, said her group conducted a critical analysis of the core curriculum to gauge content consistency with the department mission and whether social justice was integral to students’ understanding of the discipline.

“Students want more room for critical and well-facilitated discussions,” Heidelman said. “It has historically been the duty of students to advocate for improvement of the curriculum and incorporation of themes of diversity, social justice and race.”

Another group of MURP students focused on mentorship and how it can be both a help to students but also an added burden — taking time away from research and scholarship — especially for faculty of color. Recommendations made by student researchers included expanding the definition of scholarship to encompass questions of social justice and racial equality.

Finally, Joanna L Barreras MSW ’12, a doctoral student in the Department of Social Welfare, looked beyond the campus to a statewide concern. Her project, “Predictors of Having a Place for Care Among the Largest Ethnic Minority in California,” addressed the issue of more than 30 million Latinos of Mexican origin who face barriers when utilizing health care services in the state.

Barreras said she wanted the takeaway from her presentation to be that “we cannot have health without mental health.”

“By screening for serious psychological distress we are able to provide needed resources, prevent future chronic health illnesses, and ultimately help reduce physical and mental health disparities,” Barreras said. She found problematic that most research on Latinos does not differentiate among Latino subgroups, which “ignores cultural variation across Latino subgroups but it also ignores the heterogeneity within these groups.”

“These presentations signify the continuation of what Dean Gilliam started — to address EDI issues within Luskin,” said Gerardo Laviña MSW ’88. “We are grateful for Interim Dean Takahashi’s continued support,” added Laviña, who is director of field education for the Department of Social Welfare and faculty advisor for the Luskin D3 initiative.

Charitable Giving in L.A. County Down $1 Billion New study conducted by UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs finds decline in giving since 2006 amid urgent and rising need in Los Angeles

A study commissioned by the California Community Foundation (CCF) and conducted by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs finds that local giving is on a decline, with Los Angeles County residents declaring $7.16 billion in 2006 charitable deductions compared to $6.03 billion in 2013.

“The Generosity Gap: Donating Less in Post-Recession Los Angeles County” shows that in many L.A. communities donations are ebbing as needs surge, particularly for families in poverty, youth, the elderly and the homeless. Released today at the Center for Nonprofit Management’s 501(c)onference, the report combines IRS data with a first-of-its-kind survey that asks Angelenos about their charitable giving to L.A. causes. It explores the current fiscal context for giving and offers a snapshot of the behaviors, patterns and motivations by Los Angeles County donors.

“Local nonprofit organizations form a powerful network dedicated to serving the county’s most vulnerable residents, but we know they are stretched for resources,” said Antonia Hernández, president & CEO of the California Community Foundation. “We as a collective region must tap into our talent and generosity of spirit to build stable organizations that can make a lasting difference in Los Angeles County.”

Some of the report’s major findings include:

  • Los Angeles County residents are donating less to charitable causes than they did in 2006. And those with greater capacity to give are giving a lower proportion of their household income overall.
  • Median nonprofit revenues continue to decline dramatically in Los Angeles County.
  • White, Latino, Asian American/Pacific Islander, African American and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender donors in Los Angeles give at similar rates across most causes. They vary, however, in the proportion of their giving that goes mostly or entirely to locally focused organizations.
  • Given the opportunity to make a large gift to Los Angeles, donors’ highest priority would be ending homelessness. But, of their contributions to basic needs causes and combined-purpose organizations in 2015, only one-third went to locally focused nonprofits.
  • Planned giving is strongly connected with support for locally focused charitable causes, through both bequests and current contributions, especially among donors under 40.

“UCLA and CCF are local institutions that seek to transform donations from a few into opportunities for many,” said Bill Parent, project director and lecturer in the Department of Public Policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “It is our hope that a better understanding of charitable giving in the region can benefit donors and nonprofits alike, as we work together to build better futures for all Angelenos.”

Commemorating its 100th year, CCF has hosted a range of activities to inform and inspire L.A. residents to give back to their community, whether through volunteering their time, donating to their favorite causes or creating a legacy for future generations. CCF aims to draw attention to complexities, trigger dialogue and encourage solutions to Los Angeles County’s most pressing challenges with this study.

The Generosity Gap was drawn from a research project developed by Bill Parent, former director of the Center for Civil Society and lecturer in the UCLA Luskin Department of Public Policy, and Urban Planning professor Paul Ong. The primary authors of the report are Luskin Civil Society Fellow J. Shawn Landres and Shakari Byerly (MPP ’05). Luskin doctoral students Silvia Gonzales (MURP ’13) and Mindy Chen (MSW ’12), of the Luskin Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, provided research and data analysis support.

The full report is available here.

Marvin J. Southard Named 2016 Social Welfare Alumnus of the Year Joseph A. Nunn Award goes to DSW 83 grad, the former director of the L.A. County Department of Mental Health

By Adeney Zo

Marvin J. Southard DSW ’83 has received the UCLA Luskin Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumnus of the Year Award in recognition of his contributions and tireless dedication to the field of mental health. The former director of the L.A. County Department of Mental Health retired last year, leaving behind a 17-year legacy that has been recognized on the state and national level.

“I’ve been honored with quite a few awards, but this award is special because of my feelings toward Luskin and UCLA and because I actually know the person the award is named after,” Southard said. “So it’s really a triple honor for me. As a person moves through life, they never really know those parts that are going to be really influential. But, for me, my time at UCLA was one of those times. It was truly pivotal in making my life more meaningful than it otherwise would’ve been.”

After receiving his UCLA degree in 1983, Southard spent his first years working as a forensics specialist, before moving to Bakersfield to serve as director of mental services in Kern County. His focus, which continued throughout his career, was on developing community-based partnerships to address mental health and substance abuse. He also initiated children’s mental health programs, a severely underserved area in mental health services at the time.

“It was a remarkable place, and it included some programs at the time that would shadow the full service-based work that’s being done now,” Southard said.

In 1998, Southard was asked by a friend to put in his resumé for the position of director of the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

“I was reluctant to do it because I was happy and well-established. I didn’t worry or plan for the interviews — so I guess when you’re not worried you do well in interviews,” Southard said. “Taking the job was a sacrifice because initially I would work in L.A. and go home to Bakersfield on the weekends. I would also meet with my wife in Santa Clarita on Wednesday nights for dinner. So it was a lot of being apart, especially the first few months.”

Though Southard was initially uncertain about the move, this position allowed him to restructure and improve L.A. County’s mental health services. As director, he dramatically expanded children’s services, particularly for young children and transition-age youth, and built a community partnership system out of the department’s budget crisis. After incorporating community agencies and family members into the decision-making process for budget cuts, Southard explained that it was only natural to continue when the 2004 Mental Health Services Act provided funding with the caveat that departments had to incorporate a community process.

“We used the same process to add that we had been planning to use to subtract. We developed mutual trust,” Southard said. “As a result, we had one of the first plans approved in the state. Our expenditures have been a model for the state.”

Southard worked to improve the city’s emergency response system by creating partnerships with law enforcement that allowed clinicians to ride with officers in mental health-related cases. He also expanded the city’s psychiatric urgent care facilities, allowing for those with mental health emergencies to receive the right kind of medical attention.

The Alumnus of the Year award honors Southard’s remarkable contributions to the field of mental health. However, there is more to the story behind this year’s award recipient and the award’s namesake, Joseph A. Nunn BS ’65, MSW ’70 and Ph.D. ’90. Both Nunn and Southard attended Luskin at the same time and continued to collaborate as friends and fellow social workers through the years.

“I am well aware of the good work Marvin has done,” Nunn said. “His work speaks for itself, and his contributions are well-known in the state and even nationwide.”

Nunn was the recipient of the 1990 Alumnus of the Year Award from the UCLA School of Social Welfare. He was instrumental in the formation of the Social Welfare alumni organization that would revive this award and name it in his honor.

“There hadn’t been an award in many years,” Nunn said. “I and some other alumni were instrumental in starting the alumni organization and fundraising for it. When the alumni award picked up again, it didn’t have a name. I humbly accepted for them to name the award after me following my retirement in 2006.”

Nunn is three times a Bruin, having studied at UCLA for his undergraduate and graduate  degrees before returning to serve as the director of field education in Social Welfare and as vice chair of the department. Throughout his career, Nunn has focused on encouraging students to understand the issue of juvenile justice and correction through firsthand field education.

“What was most important to me was the connection between university and community,” Nunn said. “Not only should research inform practice, but practice should also inform academic research. Field education allowed me to have one foot in the community and one foot in the university.”

Nunn also received the Award for Outstanding Service and Dedication from the Black Social Workers of Greater Los Angeles in 1995 and the NASW, Social Worker of the Year, for both Region H and the California Chapter in 2000. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Chapter of the National Association of Social workers and the Stovall Education Uplift Foundation Award in 2006.

Nunn currently provides training for child welfare workers on how to work effectively with gang-identified youth. He is chair of the Community Advisory Board for the CSU Fullerton MSW program and also serves on the Advisory Board for CSU Dominguez Hills. In addition, he serves on the Board of Directors of Aspiranet, the second largest non-profit foster family agency in California.

The Joseph A. Nunn Alumnus of the Year award was presented at the annual UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Alumni Gathering on May 14, 2016. More than 100 alumni, faculty and friends attended. Many of those who attended the event are MSWs from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH).

Study Explains Link Between Heavy Alcohol Use and Suicides During Economic Downturns Social Welfare professor Mark Kaplan and colleagues found that increase in high-risk drinking during the Great Recession may explain rise in alcohol-related suicides by men — but not women — during period of overall decline in alcohol use

By Stan Paul

While economic downturns have been linked previously to increased suicide risk in the United States, new research from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs sheds light on the role alcohol use may play in the complex relationship between economic conditions and suicide.

UCLA Social Welfare professor Mark Kaplan is lead author and principal investigator of a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and released online today. The report, “Heavy Alcohol Use Among Suicide Decedents Relative to a Nonsuicide Comparison Group: Gender Specific Effects of Economic Contraction,” will be published in the July issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

In conducting the study, specifically on the contribution of alcohol to suicide during the 2008-09 recession period, Kaplan and colleagues used data from the U.S. National Violent Death Reporting System from 16 participating states and supplemented with data from the Behavior Risk Factors Surveillance System for the same states, which was used as the nonsuicide comparison group. Blood-alcohol levels in suicide decedents were compared to heavy alcohol use in the nonsuicide comparison group in the years 2005-07 (before), 2008-09 (during), and 2010-11 (after the recession).

Kaplan and colleagues noted that, in general, economic recessions have been associated with declines in overall alcohol consumption but at the same time with increases in heavy alcohol use, particularly among those directly affected by the contraction. In their current work, Kaplan and colleagues showed that the percentages of suicide decedents who were intoxicated at the time of death increased during the recent economic recession. What is unknown is whether this change in alcohol use prior to suicide mirrored patterns of heavy drinking in the general population.

In this new study, Kaplan’s findings show that, for men, alcohol involvement increased among decedents beyond what was observed in the general population, emphasizing the “heightened importance” of acute alcohol use as a risk factor for suicide among men during times of severe economic hardship. “Surprisingly, there is evidence that individuals intoxicated at the time of death did not necessarily have a history of alcohol abuse prior to suicide,” said Kaplan.

But similar results were not found for women who died by suicide. Kaplan suggests women may show resilience to the interaction of alcohol and financial crises, reporting that heavy alcohol use by women mirrored consumption in the general population.

He further explains how creative control policies have been shown to reduce the risk. Among those policies, Kaplan cites research on pricing strategies, including raising taxes and pricing beverages according to alcohol content. Also, easy access to alcohol — longer hours for alcohol sale or high density of alcohol outlets — may create more opportunity for impulse buying and thus contribute to suicide during economic downturns, Kaplan concluded.

And, citing recent research, Kaplan explains, “Not only are alcohol control policies important, but equally so is investing in the public health and social welfare infrastructure to minimize the adverse effects of future economic downturns, such as high unemployment and associated material deprivation.”

The full study may be found online at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acer.13100/abstract

The findings are part of a three-year study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the National Institutes of Health. Kaplan is the principal investigator of the project, which is a collaboration between UCLA, Oregon Health and Science University, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (Oakland, CA), Centre for Addiction and Mental Health  (Toronto, ON), and the Pacific Health Institute (Emeryville, CA).

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Mark S. Kaplan, Dr.P.H., is professor of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. He holds an adjunct appointment in psychiatry at the Oregon Health & Science University. His research focuses on using population-wide data to understand suicide risk factors among veterans, seniors and other vulnerable populations. He is the recipient of a Distinguished Investigator Award from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and has contributed to state and federal suicide prevention initiatives.

Examining the Link Between Gun Laws and Suicides Luskin professor and his student find that states with most-restrictive gun laws have a reduced rate of firearm suicides among older males

By Adeney Zo and Stan Paul

In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study showing that, from 1999 to 2014, the rate of suicides in America rose nearly 25 percent, with a marked increase after 2006. And, in this election year, gun control remains one of the most heated topics in the nation.

Researchers at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs have been taking a close look at the role firearms play in suicides — specifically among older adults — and the effect that gun law environment and gun control policies can have on reducing firearm suicides among this age group.

UCLA Social Welfare professor Mark Kaplan and Social Welfare doctoral student Carol Leung’s work on this issue has been presented at conferences across the U.S.  Results from their research and presentations were recently published in the study “Deploying an Ecological Model to Stem the Rising Tide of Suicide in Older Age” in the Journal of Aging & Social Policy.

While gun control laws generally can reduce the risk of suicide, few studies exist showing what laws are the most effective in curbing firearm suicides in older males.

“Suicide research is a small niche, but it’s such an important topic,” Leung said. “Two-thirds of all gun deaths are suicides, and 80 percent of older males who complete suicide will use a firearm.”

Among the key results of their study on older men and suicide, Kaplan and Leung found:

  • Older men have a higher suicide rate and a higher proportion of suicides involving firearms compared to their younger counterparts.
  • States with the most restrictive gun laws (California) have proportionately fewer suicides involving the use of firearms.
  • Two out of the six gun policies (“gun owner accountability” and “regulation of sales and transfers”) explained more than half (53 percent) of the variation in the fraction of suicides involving firearms among older men.
  • “Gun owner accountability” (i.e., licensing of gun owners and purchases, registration of firearms, and reporting of stolen firearms) accounted for the largest share of the explained variance (50 percent).

“I found a very linear relationship,” said Leung. “States without these policies have the highest rate of firearm-related suicide. The states with the lowest rate of firearm-related suicide have the strictest gun laws.”

As an example, California received an A- on “The 2013 State Scorecard: Why Gun Laws Matter,” produced by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, whereas nearly two-thirds of the states received a D or F on the scale.

In addition, Kaplan explained that, in the context of health and older adult suicides, 70 percent of older adults will visit their primary care physician prior to completing suicide.

“We hope to influence health-care providers to be more attentive to anything that seems to be associated with pending suicide attempts,” said Kaplan. “This includes probing for gun availability. The mere presence of a gun matters; their chances of dying by firearm-related accident or suicide increase.”

The researchers know that change doesn’t happen overnight. “Suicide prevention starts with advocacy work that involves collaboration between policy makers, professors and clinicians,” said Leung.

Kaplan and Leung, who also presented at the 49th annual American Association of Suicidology Conference, strongly urge that clinicians and policy makers need to become stronger advocates for a more restrictive gun law environment. Overall, their research demonstrates the important role a “gun law environment” and specific gun control policies can play in reducing firearm suicides among older adults. Their most recent work will contribute to a study to be conducted this summer.

“We strive to harmonize policies and clinical practice with preventing firearm suicides among older adults, particularly older men,” said Leung.

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Mark S. Kaplan, Dr. P.H., is professor of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. He holds an adjunct appointment in psychiatry at the Oregon Health & Science University. His research focuses on using population-wide data to understand suicide risk factors among veterans, seniors and other vulnerable populations. He is the recipient of a Distinguished Investigator Award from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and has contributed to state and federal suicide prevention initiatives.

Carol Leung, LMSW, is a doctoral student in the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

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.