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UnidosUS President Janet Murguía will deliver the keynote address at the June 14 UCLA Luskin Commencement. Photo courtesy of Violetta Markelou Photography

National Civil Rights Leader Named 2019 Commencement Speaker Longtime UnidosUS President Janet Murguía has worked to amplify the Latino voice on issues such as education, health care, immigration, civil rights and the economy

By Les Dunseith

Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, has been named the 2019 Commencement speaker for the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Murguía has led UnidosUS since 2005. She will deliver the keynote address during the UCLA Luskin ceremony at 9 a.m. on June 14 at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus.

“Janet Murguía is an inspiration as a woman, a Latina, and a thoughtful and passionate advocate for social justice,” Luskin School Dean Gary Segura said. “In this very difficult time for the Latino population, I am excited to hear her share her insights and determination — developed and refined over decades of advocacy — with our graduating class.”

‘Janet Murguía is an inspiration as a woman, a Latina, and a thoughtful and passionate advocate for social justice.’

— Dean Gary Segura

During her tenure at the organization, which changed its name from the National Council of La Raza in 2017, Murguía has sought to strengthen the work of UnidosUS and enhance its record of impact as a vital American institution. Murguía has also sought to amplify the Latino voice on issues such as education, health care, immigration, civil rights and the economy.

A native of Kansas City, Kansas, Murguía earned bachelor’s degrees in journalism and Spanish, and a juris doctorate, from the University of Kansas. She has also received honorary degrees from Cal State Dominguez Hills, Wake Forest University and Williams College.

Murguía began her career in Washington, D.C., as legislative counsel to former U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery from her home state. She worked with the congressman for seven years before joining the Clinton administration, where she served for six years as a deputy assistant to President Bill Clinton, including deputy director of legislative affairs.

Murguía went on to serve as deputy campaign manager and director of constituency outreach for the 2000 presidential campaign of Democrat Al Gore, during which she was the primary liaison between former Vice President Gore and national constituency groups.

In 2001, Murguía returned to the University of Kansas as executive vice chancellor for university relations, where she oversaw KU’s internal and external relations with the public. She is credited with coordinating the university’s strategic planning and marketing efforts at KU’s four campuses.

Over the course of her career, Murguía has been featured in various magazines and newspapers for her work and leadership. This includes being highlighted on Hispanic Business Magazine’s “100 Top Latinas” and “100 Most Influential Hispanics” lists, Washingtonian magazine’s “100 Most Powerful Women in Washington,” the NonProfit Times’ list of top 50 leaders of “Power and Influence,” People En Español’s “100 Most Influential Hispanics,” Newsweek’s third annual women and leadership issue, Poder magazine’s “The Poderosos 100,” Latino Leaders magazine’s “101 Top Leaders of the Hispanic Community” and Hispanic magazine’s “Powerful Latinos.”

Murguía was the first Latino to give the keynote speech at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast in Birmingham, Alabama. And she received Alpha Phi’s Frances E. Willard Award in 2018.

Murguía is currently a board member of Achieve, an independent and nonpartisan education reform nonprofit organization, and the Hispanic Association for Corporate Responsibility. She also serves as a member of diversity advisory councils for Bank of America, Charter Communications, Comcast/NBC Universal and Wells Fargo.

Learn more about the 2019 Commencement at UCLA Luskin.

 

Micah White, founder of the Activist Graduate School, launches the course on housing justice and activism at UCLA Luskin.

At the Intersection of Activism, Housing and Politics UCLA’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy hosts new course for graduate students across campus interested in battling housing injustice

By George Foulsham and Mary Braswell

A critical shortage of places to live — especially safe, affordable housing — has afflicted neighborhoods across California, the nation and the world. As politicians and civic leaders debate zoning laws and developer incentives, one principle is too often ignored: housing justice.

To fill this gap, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has entered into a first-time collaboration with the Activist Graduate School (AGS) to offer a new class called “Housing Justice Activism and Protest: Past, Present, and Future,” which weaves together history, theory and strategy in a curriculum designed to forge equitable solutions to the housing crisis.

Housing injustice takes many forms, and each week the course will delve into a different facet: Mobilizing renters threatened by unfair evictions. Cracking down on predatory financing. Viewing public housing in a global context. Understanding tensions among tenants, landowners and law enforcement.

Open to all UCLA graduate students, the winter-quarter course quickly filled to capacity. Class sessions are being recorded to eventually be made available for online study worldwide through AGS, a learning community designed to meet the needs of activists.

“Activist Graduate School is part of our ongoing efforts at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy to develop strong alliances between university-based research and movement-based advocacy and activism,” said Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography at UCLA and director of the Institute, which is hosting the course.

“We call this ‘teach, organize, resist,’ and the idea is to train graduate students at UCLA to make change in unequal cities as well as to share this training and pedagogy with activists and young professionals nationwide,” said Roy, who is co-teaching the course with Micah White, founder of AGS, co-creator of the Occupy Wall Street movement and one of UCLA’s 2019 Activists-in-Residence.

“We try to teach how to think like a critical activist — focusing on theory of change, strategy, history — without presuming to teach what will be effective or what will spark a social movement,” White said.

“One of the pedagogical principles of AGS is that activism cannot be taught in a prescriptive manner,” he added. “This is because any tactic that was useful in the past is likely to be ineffective in the future, and social movements nearly always come as a surprise; therefore, it is nearly impossible to predict which campaigns will take off.”

During the first class of the quarter, grassroots organizing and renter revolts took center stage. René Christian Moya, an activist with the L.A. Tenants Union and other advocacy groups, shared tactics learned in the trenches of the housing justice fight — including rent strikes and the public shaming of landlords, developers and politicians.

“The law is not on the side of tenants,” Moya said. “We have to be very, very clear and honest with tenants when we’re dealing with them that ultimately it is not the law that’s going to save them, and it’s damn well sure not going to be their elected officials. It’s going to be through their own power.”

The roots of housing injustice in the United States run deep, added speaker Marques Vestal, a Ph.D. candidate in UCLA’s History department.

“Think of all the ways that tenants are maligned or completely disregarded in everyday culture,” Vestal said. “One of our most dangerous problems … is that most of society thinks landlordism is a natural hierarchy of land.”

Students in the class represented graduate programs from across campus: Geography, History, Law, Public Health, Chinese Studies and all three Luskin School programs — Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Public Policy. By the end of the course, each student will have developed a campaign tackling some area of housing injustice.

Dian Tri Irawaty, who came to UCLA after spending years as a tenant activist in Jakarta, Indonesia, was immediately drawn to the curriculum.

“I want to empower myself with academic tools while doing activism at the same time,” said Irawaty, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in urban geography and member of a graduate student working group at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

She hopes the course will enrich her research into housing and evictions in the global South and ultimately plans to bring her new skills and scholarship back to Jakarta to foster change.

“History, theory and strategy are really important if we want to win the fight for housing,” Irawaty said.

The course was designed in collaboration with Institute graduate student researchers Terra Graziani and Hilary Malson of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning.

“This continues the tradition of student-organized courses here at UCLA where we come together and create a curriculum that we feel is urgently needed but otherwise missing,” Roy said.

Graziani, who is also co-director of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, Los Angeles, said the course will spur graduate students “to not only think like activists, but to think of ways that their scholarship can take up activists’ mandates for justice-oriented research.”

At the inaugural class, tenant organizer Moya issued a challenge to the gathered students. “You’re not here just to hear me lecture about this. You’re not here to hear any of us just tell you what we already know — that we’re suffering a horrible housing crisis that impacts all of our communities,” he said. “We need every single one of you here to jump into this movement.”

Support for the course is provided by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Urban Planning and Social Welfare from the Luskin School. Other UCLA supporters are the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Institute of American Cultures and the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

Cristina Barrera contributed to this report.

Follow the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin on Twitter @challengeineq to learn more about AGS featured speakers and for updates about the UCLA Activist-in-Residence Program.

View more photos from the Housing Justice Activism and Protest course on Flickr.

Housing Justice Activism and Protest

Villasenor Explores Potential Consequences of UCLA Memorandum About Publisher

Public Policy Professor John Villasenor published an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education exploring the potential repercussions of university involvement in boycotts. Amid negotiations for a new contract between UCLA and academic publisher Elsevier, UCLA executives published a memorandum “Important Notice Regarding Elsevier Journals” in December 2018, urging UCLA faculty to consider “declining to review articles for Elsevier journals,” “looking at other journal-publishing options” and “contacting the publisher … and letting them know that you share the negotiators’ concerns.” By advocating an Elsevier boycott, Villasenor said, UCLA administration may be forced to “come up with a framework to decide which types of boycotts the institution can endorse.” Villasenor concludes that the “UCLA administration’s call for faculty members to boycott Elsevier has blurred the lines between grass-roots, faculty-led activism — a time-honored mechanism that can be very effective for social change — and institution-led activism, which raises complex legal, policy and ethical issues.”


Message From the Dean The mission to find and tell the truth sometimes gets you fired, as journalist Jorge Ramos learned

In Henrik Ibsen’s timeless play, “An Enemy of the People,” a medical doctor and a journalist plot to publish a troubling truth about their town’s major attraction, a resort spa. The waters of the spa are contaminated with bacteria. It is not fit for human use. At the last moment, fearing the consequences, the editor cowers and declines to publish the story, imperiling the guests but protecting the town’s economy and — not coincidentally — his hide.

The doctor proceeds to tell the truth in a public forum. It does not go well. The town turns against him and his family. Perhaps the editor made the personally wise decision, but he didn’t make the right one.

On Oct. 9, 2018, the Luskin School presented a UCLA Medal — our highest honor — to Jorge Ramos, a journalist, longtime Univision anchor and proud Bruin. Mr. Ramos recounted his journey from Mexico to Westwood and UCLA. Ramos left Mexico where he was a successful reporter because, unlike Ibsen’s editor, he refused to be censored in his efforts to tell the truth. Ramos was fired for refusing to change a story to reflect a better light on the ruling one-party government in Mexico. He sold his car and came to the U.S. with little more than what he could carry. Not long after, he enrolled in a journalism program at UCLA Extension. “UCLA saved my life,” he told the crowd of students, alums and friends of the University.

We now know that Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was murdered by his own government. Though there are efforts to offer alternative narratives, there is little question that he was killed and largely as a consequence of his critiques. Khashoggi is, alas, not alone. He joins Daniel Pearl, journalists of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, and many more… The international Committee to Protect Journalists has documented 590 intentional deaths of journalists in just the last decade, some in the cross-fire of international or civil military conflicts, but the overwhelming majority through murder/assassination. The mission to find and tell the truth sometimes gets you fired, as Jorge Ramos learned. And sometimes it gets you killed.

The values of democracy are powerful but do not defend themselves. They require us, citizens committed to the sovereignty of the people rather than autocratic rule, to defend them, to draw lines, to hold accountable those who cross them. We can and should disagree about policy, about which paths are best. But the truth, facts and evidence must inform us. To suppress the truth is unscientific and undemocratic. It is beneath us. And the values of democracy require a courageous, fair and uncensored press. Calling the press the “enemy of the people” is corrosive to an accountable democracy because it risks trading the courageous Jorge Ramos for Ibsen’s small-town editor, too afraid to publish the truth.

Jorge Ramos closed his remarks to the UCLA audience with this powerful affirmation of our duty as citizens. “When you see racism, disobey. When you see inequality, you have to disobey. When you see injustice, you have to disobey. This is not a time to be silent … The greatest social movements in this country and in the world have happened when people disobey authority.”

Be like Jorge.

All the best,

Gary

‘Unsung Hero,’ Leader in South L.A. Named 2017 Social Welfare Alumna of the Year Aurea Montes-Rodriguez MSW ’99 was inspired to develop a healthier generation by award namesake Joseph Nunn

By Stan Paul

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez, this year’s Social Welfare Alumna of the Year, has a lifelong personal and professional connection to South Los Angeles.

The 1999 Master of Social Welfare graduate of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs came to California from Mexico at the age of 3, grew up in South Los Angeles, witnessed firsthand the 1992 riots, and has gone on to be a leader and change agent in the community.

In recognition of her work and commitment to the community, Montes-Rodriguez was presented the Joseph A. Nunn Alumna of the Year Award on May 20, 2017. The award is bestowed annually in honor of Joseph A. Nunn, UCLA alumnus, former vice chair and longtime director of field education for the UCLA Department of Social Welfare.

“I am surprised and very humbled to be nominated and selected, especially for an award named after Dr. Nunn,” said Montes-Rodriguez. “When I was a student I looked up to him and admired the work he had done around juvenile criminal justice — thinking about ways we could do a better job eliminating the cradle-to-prison pipeline so we can develop a healthier generation.”

Montes-Rodriguez, who now serves as executive vice president of organizational growth at Community Coalition, a social justice nonprofit based in South Los Angeles, was honored at a social welfare alumni gathering in Los Angeles.

Toby Hur MSW ’93, a longtime member of the social welfare field faculty, nominated Montes-Rodriguez and shares some history with her.

“My history with Community Coalition goes back to 1992,” Hur said. “In the aftermath of the rioting that rocked a city marred by racial division and economic disparity, a small group of community leaders emerged, such as Karen Bass, a current congresswoman, of Community Coalition, and B.H. Kim of Koreatown Youth and Community Center and a Luskin Senior Fellow, in order to bring forth a constructive agenda for healing and rebuilding of L.A.”

Hur said that, as a graduate student during that time, he became very involved in those efforts. The experience has deeply impacted his professional career and teaching in the ensuing years.

“Community Coalition has stayed true to its roots and continues to develop community capacities and future leaders,” Hur said, adding that Luskin students continue to be trained at Community Coalition in grassroots organizing, advocacy and political action. “Aurea is one of the unsung heroes, the all-important and crucial glue, holding the organization and its causes together. I think she is well overdue for recognition as one of the best Bruin MSWs.”

Since joining Community Coalition, Montes-Rodriguez has made significant strides in helping the organization grow and she has led efforts to raise funds to purchase and renovate its current headquarters in South L.A. “To be nominated by someone who understands the importance of building multiracial coalitions is really special,” she said of Hur.

She credits her success and inspiration to lessons learned at UCLA Luskin. Among those were leadership seminars led by Nunn, who focused on social welfare beyond the individual treatment model to build organizations and change the systems that prevent people from reaching their potential, taking on leadership roles to change those situations. She cited courses on leadership by social welfare professor Zeke Hasenfeld, as well as courses on grant writing and fundraising — skills that she said “were critical in helping us build community coalitions, long-term fundraising strategy and growing the organization.”

“The late Mary Brent Wehrli really brought us out to communities and organizations who were doing great work, went out of her way to help us understand the theory with the practice in communities,” Montes-Rodriguez said. Wehrli, a former member of the field faculty, was “one person who really pushed us to see leadership opportunities and a contribution we could make to the social welfare field, providing us with concrete training.”

“Since I graduated, that’s exactly the work I have been doing … organizing everyday people about having a voice in addressing the most-pressing issues so they can be the drivers of change,” Montes-Rodriguez said.

Another of Montes-Rodriguez’s mentors is Gerry Laviña, director of field education at the Department of Social Welfare.

“Community Coalition has hosted MSW interns for decades, provided summer jobs for our MSW students through their youth programs, and has hired many of our graduates — some like Aurea who remain and create and build capacity,” Laviña said. “Whenever someone asks about an example of a successful grassroots organization or doubts the possibility of African-American and Latino communities effectively working together, I hold up Community Coalition as a shining example.”

Montes-Rodriguez is a big reason why Community Coalition has been successful, Laviña said. “Aurea has had a part in all of this, and has been steadfast and resolved in her commitment to giving back to the community where she was both personally and professionally raised,” he said. “I have always appreciated Aurea’s blend of strength and humility, her commitment to her family and community. Los Angeles needs leaders like Aurea, and we need to highlight her as someone to aspire to.”