UCLA Luskin students to be profiled on new website.

Vanessa Warri

Vanessa Warri is a Nigerian-American community-based researcher, strategist, and advocate, committed to the liberation, empowerment, and safety of Black transgender women, queer and transgender people of color, and all communities existing at the various intersections of oppression. For over 12 years Vanessa has provided empowerment based direct services and peer education for transgender communities, LGBTQQIA+ young people, and system-involved individuals.

Vanessa worked as a research associate for the UCSF Center of Excellence for Transgender Health, where she facilitated several behavioral health interventions aimed to improve transgender women’s engagement with a primary healthcare provider, and led community-based research efforts in partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) and the Arming Minorities Against Addiction and Disease (AMAAD) Institute, exploring the experiences of Black LGBTQ+ people and their mental health needs.

As a 2018 Point Foundation undergraduate scholar, Vanessa attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), receiving a double major in Anthropology and Sociology and leading the development and implementation of the first QTBIPOC Student Experiences Survey through the UCLA LGBT Campus Resource Center in 2019. As a Social Welfare Ph.D. Student, Vanessa hopes to be able to support the next generation of Black queer and transgender people in their educational attainments by creating initiatives that center their lived experience and expertise in research about them. Her research will primarily focus on peer-developed and driven social empowerment interventions for Black transgender and gender diverse (TGD) populations that address social determinants of health outside of the healthcare engagement realm. Vanessa is interested in exploring how utilizing social research education and community participatory action research (PAR) can improve mental health outcomes, increase self-efficacy, and facilitate pathways to greater educational attainments for historically excluded populations.

Emily M. Waters

Emily M. Waters is an incoming Doctoral Student in the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and works as a Policy and Research Advisor at the Transgender Law Center. Emily has extensive experience conducting community-based research and policy advocacy on issues related to queer and trans rights, with a particular focus on domestic, sexual, and state violence. She focuses on developing and advocating for policy solutions that move power and resources into community and challenge systemic oppression rather than reinforce the carceral state. Her work can be found in The New York Times, HuffPost, and The Advocate. 

As a Doctoral Student, Emily is interested in exploring the social and political regulation of gender-segregated services and environments (e.g., domestic violence shelters, bathrooms, or sports teams). She would like to examine the social norms, attitudes, and beliefs that uphold the perceived need for gender-segregated spaces. For example, gender essentialism and benevolent sexism which uphold the perceived need for segregation for ‘women’s’ safety. She is particularly interested in the association between these beliefs and implicit and explicit prejudice toward transgender and gender nonbinary people. Finally, she would like to explore how people from seemingly different political affiliations (e.g., conservative and feminist) find alignment in their political goal of maintaining gender-segregated spaces. 

Previously, Emily served as an Adjunct Professor at the School of Social Work at Columbia University, where she taught courses on Program Evaluation and working with LGBTQ Communities. She holds a Masters of Social Work and a Masters of Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an undergraduate degree in International Relations and Human Rights from the University of Southern California.

Personal website: Emilywaters.com

Juan C. Jauregui

Juan C. Jauregui, MSW, MPH is a 3rd year doctoral student in the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. His research is focused on understanding and preventing suicide among LGBTQ+ young people in low and middle-income countries using community-engaged approaches. Specifically, his work explores the social, economic, and environmental factors that impact the mental health and well-being of LGBTQ+ communities.

Juan recently co-led the launch of a national survey in Peru and the Philippines focused on LGBTQ+ youth mental health. Before entering the doctoral program at UCLA, Juan worked with the Resilience + Resistance Collective at the University of Michigan School of Public Health where he was involved in LGBTQ+ mental health projects in the U.S., Kenya, and Zambia. He also worked with the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program at Michigan Medicine where he focused on examining health inequities for LGB people with bipolar disorder. Juan’s previous professional experiences also include working as a Research Associate for the UCLA Adolescent Trials Network and as a Crisis Worker for a national suicide hotline.

Juan earned his BS in Psychobiology from UCLA in 2017 and Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health from the University of Michigan in 2021. Juan is a recipient of the NIH-funded LEAD Global Training Fellowship at Washington University St. Louis, as well as a recipient of the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship.

Selected Publications:

Jadwin-Cakmak, L., Jauregui, J. C., McDowell, H., Davis, K., LaBoy, R., Johnson, G. L., Hosek, S., Harper, G. W. (2023) “They’re not feeling the love they need to feel”: HIV stigma and other intersecting stigmas among Black gay and bisexual men and transgender women in house and ball communities. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health. doi: 10.1080/19359705.2023.2200375

Lewis, K. A., Jadwin-Cakmak, L., Walimbwa, J., Ogunbajo, A., Jauregui, J. C., Onyango, D. P.,  Moore, D. M.,  Johnson, G. L., Odero, W., Harper, G. W. (2023). “You’ll Be Chased Away”: Sources, Experiences, and Effects of Violence and Stigma among Gay and Bisexual Men in Kenya. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2023, 20, 2825. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20042825

Jauregui, J. C., Rucah, C., Crawford, J., Jadwin-Cakmak, L., Concehla, C., Onyango, D. P., Harper, G. W. Experiences of Violence and Mental Health Concerns among Sexual and Gender Minority Adults in Western Kenya. LGBT Health. 2021 Oct;8(7):494-501. doi: 10.1089/lgbt.2020.0495. Epub 2021 Aug 31. PMID: 34463158.

Julia Lesnick

Julia Lesnick is an emerging scholar of youth justice. Her research agenda aims to shift policy, practice, and public narratives investing in youth to pursue a more just society. She takes a multi-disciplinary approach grounded in social welfare, sociology and developmental psychology to examine the following areas: young people’s experiences with policy advocacy and implementation; the use of evidence to inform juvenile system change; emerging alternative models of youth justice practice; and public and political narratives about youth justice.

As a second-year doctoral student at UCLA, Julia’s research focuses on juvenile legal system change. Some of her recent and ongoing projects include a first-authored critical review of paradigms influencing national trends of juvenile system reform, leading a qualitative study of stakeholders’ visions for the future of youth justice, conducting a comprehensive synthesis of evidence on credible messenger mentoring with youth in the juvenile system, collecting data for evaluation of a youth re-entry program, and serving as a research consultant for the state of California in the implementation of juvenile justice reform legislation.

In addition to her research at UCLA, Julia is a practitioner and advocate for justice. Prior to UCLA, she worked as a program analyst at the NYC Division of Youth and Family Justice and in community-based social services, as a therapist and case manager for youth on probation, and as a teacher in prison-based college degree program. She received her Bachelor’s of Science in Human Development from Cornell University in 2018, and her Master’s of Social Work from UCLA in 2023.

Ultimately, Julia aspires to a career conducting research that advances equitable, youth-centered, and community-led change in youth justice policy and practice. She aims to contribute innovative, applied research that bridges organizing, science, policy, and practice to promote socially just youth policy.

Sawyer Hogenkamp

Sawyer completed an M.Ed. in Human Development and Psychology at Harvard University. He also holds a M.Ed. and B.Ed. from Queen’s University, and B.A. from University of Waterloo, majoring in Music, and Human Geography & Environmental Management. He is pursuing a PhD to further the study of relational youth violence and school climate to encompass under-supervised contexts within and outside of school grounds, such as in neighborhoods, virtual spaces, or on school buses. He serves as a consultant with an organization in Canada that trains school bus drivers on bullying prevention and mental health awareness. He’s also engaged in supporting social emotional learning in underserved populations domestically (urban and rural America), and abroad (urban and rural China). Research skills include both qualitative and quantitative analysis as well as mixed methods, having participated with interdisciplinary research groups collaborating with Canadian Federal and Provincial Government Agencies, Universities, and private organizations. Currently Sawyer is working with the APA Taskforce on Violence Against Educators, organizing and analyzing data and policy of qualitative data from school psychologists, social workers, counselors, administrators, teachers, and school staff.

Kimberly Fuentes

Kimberly Fuentes, MSW is a recent graduate of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs in Social Welfare. She is currently a first year PhD student in Social Welfare at Luskin where she studies the impacts of criminalization on sex working communities, the ways they resist criminalization, and the role that social work can play in uplifting this resistance. She hopes to utilize participatory action research and art-based methods to identify the alternative systems of community care that are used to mitigate and resist the forces of the police state and theorize the state from the vantage point of sex workers. She serves on the board of directors at the Sex Worker Outreach Project – Los Angeles (SWOP-LA) where she leads a nationwide support group for current and former sex workers and provides direct support to street-based workers through a harm reduction framework. Kimberly is a student affiliate of the California Center for Population Research (CCPR) and a recipient of the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship. She is currently a research assistant at the UCLA Hub for Health Intervention, Policy and Practice where she works on research studies exploring the effect of criminalization on violence and victimization of sex workers.

Kimberly earned her Master of Social Welfare in Social and Economic Justice with a certificate in Global Health and Social Services. During her time in the MSW program, Kimberly received the Graduate Opportunity Fellowship (GOFP) and served as a Luskin Leadership Fellow at the Office of Child Protection (OCP). Her completed research capstone, “Revolutionizing Community Under the Red Umbrella: Intersectional Inquiry with Sex Workers on Protective Factors in Los Angeles, CA”, received awards from the Center for the Study of Women’s Black Feminism Initiative, UCLA Lewis Center for Policy Research, Franklin D. Gilliam Jr. Social Justice Award, and a departmental award for outstanding research.

She is a proud first-generation student whose family immigrated from Oaxaca, Mexico. Prior to UCLA, she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Geography with a minor in Math and Science education from UC Santa Barbara.


Andres F. Ramirez

Andrés F. Ramirez is a writer, curator and cultural producer, working in the realm of architecture  urban planning and design. He is the co-founder of PLANE–SITE, an agency devoted to the production and dissemination of original content for architecture and the built environment. Andrés also works as an independent consultant in architecture and urban planning projects, with an emphasis on social processes and public space. 

Andrés is Director of the non-profit research platform Aerial Futures, an organization devoted to cultural exchange surrounding the architecture of flight. He was the curator of Garden City Mega City, Urban Ecosystems of WOHA, at the Museum of the City of Mexico (2017); curator of the first contribution of the Seychelles to the XV Venice Architecture Biennale (2016) Between Two Waters, Searching for Expression in the Seychelles, and co- curator for Medellín, Topography of Knowledge at the Aedes Architecture Forum (2015).

Sarah Soakai

Malo e lelei (Hello, in Tongan). Aloha (Hello, in Hawaiian). I originally hail from the Ko’olauloa Mountains and North Shores of Oahu, Hawai’i with ancestral ties to the South Pacific Islands of Tonga. I look at Community Development and Social Policy as it relates to communities on and in the margins. Current research efforts examine third sector community-based faith-based organizations and institutions and their role in social service delivery during and post COVID times. In particular, churches are central anchor institutions among Pacific Islander communities in diaspora. Research and planning with these indigenous communities means looking at their association and relationship with their faith-based organization and institution. Previous research efforts had looked at the effects of city ordinance policies concerning people experiencing homelessness that prohibit lying (sleeping) and sitting on public sidewalks, parks, beaches, and other public spaces. Third sector nonprofit community-based organizations are at the forefront of homelessness issues. And the work continues with improving trauma-informed care and alignment with state services to minimize bureaucracy and duplication.

In addition to research, I currently TA for the Urban Planning department and the Public Affairs Undergraduate program. Before my tenure as a doctoral student, I oversaw the Speech and Debate program, taught tenth grade English, eleventh and twelfth grade AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) college prep, and also did some college and career counseling at a Title 1 public high school for several years.

Given the current moment, I look forward to meeting you via email and/or Zoom, and hope to meet up soon in person.

Livier Gutiérrez

Prior to entering the doctoral program at the University of California, Los Angeles, Livier worked on applied research and direct-service work to make community violence prevention services more responsive to girls. She served as the director of programs at Alliance for Girls, the nation’s largest alliance of girl-serving organizations, as the director of violence prevention at Enlace Chicago, a community-based organization serving La Villita (a.k.a., Chicago’s Little Village community); and a researcher at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a national applied research non-profit and policy organization.  

Livier earned her master’s degree in social work with a concentration in violence prevention from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration and bachelor’s degree in sociology and social welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. Livier’s undergraduate research explored the ideology, structure, and recruitment strategies of The Minutemen, a militant xenophobic organization (a.k.a., a gang). As a master’s student, Livier’s thesis was an applied research project that explored girls’ involvement and association with youth-led street organizations (a.k.a., gangs) and resulted in a violence-prevention program for girls. Through community work, Livier has seen how school, family, and other systems take key aspects of a girls’ identity—like race, immigration status, sexual orientation, and gender identity—to impose social and economic constraints on them. Despite the constraints placed on them, Livier has also seen how girls use their power to make systems safer for themselves and others. Livier is interested in leveraging mixed methods, with a focus on action research, and theory to highlight the experiences and stories of girls, especially their ability to change their ecology and improve safety for themselves and others. In doing so, Livier hopes to advance social work’s violence prevention theory, methods, and practice.