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$1.4 Million Grant to Bolster ‘Powerful Collective’ Advocating for BIPOC Transgender Sex Workers

UCLA’s Hub for Health Intervention, Policy and Practice (HHIPP) has been awarded a $1.4 million grant to strengthen and support its efforts to unite sex workers and their advocates with academic investigators, health care providers and social services agencies. Over a four-year period, the grant will benefit research and community-based programming for Sex Work LEARN (Lived Experience Affirming Research Network), a multisector alliance that does not presume sex work is a problem to be solved. The project will focus on transgender women with sex work experience who identify as Black, indigenous or other persons of color. Principal investigator Ayako Miyashita Ochoa, an adjunct professor and co-director of HHIPP, said collaborators will include Social Welfare doctoral students Kimberly Fuentes and Vanessa Warri, and the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. Miyashita Ochoa said she is “thrilled to be working with” co-principal investigators Sophia Zamudio-Haas of UC San Francisco and Bamby Salcedo, a leader in the transgender rights movement and president of TransLatin@ Coalition. Other community partners are the Unique Woman’s Coalition and Sex Workers Outreach Project Los Angeles (SWOP LA). “I couldn’t be more proud of our research group and am so appreciative that UCLA Luskin will now serve as a home for this powerful collective,” Miyashita Ochoa said. Funding is from the California HIV/AIDS Research Program, which is awarding similar grants this year to four other research projects in California that center the voices of people affected by HIV.


 

Kal Penn on Working for Change in Hollywood and Politics The actor, author, public servant and UCLA alumnus shares his multilayered life story with a Luskin Lecture audience

By Mary Braswell

To understand the folly of viewing people through a one-dimensional lens, just look at Kal Penn’s resume.

The UCLA alumnus has played stoners, doctors and Santa Claus on the big and small screens. As part of the Obama White House, he mobilized voters, helped shape policy and advocated for the arts. Now, he’s added a new entry to his list of achievements: bestselling author.

Penn published his darkly funny memoir “You Can’t Be Serious” in 2021, and he returned to campus on Nov. 3 to share tales from his circuitous life journey as part of the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series.

Penn, a familiar face to viewers of “House,” “Designated Survivor” and the “Harold & Kumar” stoner movie franchise, was moved to write the book during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people were re-examining their career choices and life priorities.

“Maybe I do have a story to tell,” he realized. “Maybe now is the time to share how you can have the blessing and privilege of working in two totally different careers.”

His story begins in New Jersey, where he grew up as the child of Indian immigrants — two scientists who fretted about their son’s desire to make a living as an actor. His career arc started on a middle school stage, when Penn brought down the house as the Tin Man in “The Wiz,” even breaking through to boys who had bullied the drama kids.

“I just thought, wow, what an incredible experience, that something as simple as a school play and a joke that was improvised made somebody change their minds,” he remembered.

“There’s a magic to this in terms of having a captive audience and being able to introduce them to characters and perceptions that are different from theirs. And that really motivated me to want to be an actor.”

After graduating from UCLA in 2000 with degrees in sociology and theater, film and television, Penn tried to make his way in an entertainment industry that, despite its broad reputation as a bastion of liberal values, clung to all forms of racism.

In some roles that he auditioned for, a brown face and Indian accent were the top criteria, not the talent, humor and heart needed to develop a believable character.

Penn recalled his attempts to persuade a sitcom director that the character he was playing would be much funnier if he didn’t descend into South Asian stereotypes — and that it would mean a lot to his young cousins, fans of the show.

“‘This is not a conversation we’re having,’” Penn said he was told. “‘Your little cousins should feel lucky that you’re allowed to be on TV to begin with. And so should you.’”

Despite such tales of entrenched bigotry, Penn assured the UCLA audience that change, though slow, can definitely be measured. Sometimes it’s for business reasons, he said, citing the diversity of programming in the era of streaming platforms, which are funded through subscriptions rather than ad revenues that have a chilling effect on risk-taking.

Penn jumped from Hollywood to national politics during the Obama administration, when he served as White House liaison to young Americans, Asian Americans and the arts community and worked on policy matters including health care, immigration and LGBTQ rights. He was a national co-chair for the Obama/Biden reelection campaign in 2012 and served on the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities.

With that insider perspective on politics and governance, Penn weighed in on the current state of civil discourse in America. Speaking days before the contentious midterm elections, he acknowledged, “It is a dark time.”

One member of the audience, a student pursuing a master of public policy, sought Penn’s advice to young people called to public service but experiencing frustration and fear that they won’t be able to make a difference.

Don’t lose sight of important gains that have already been made, Penn counseled.

“When I do university lectures, a lot of times the tone of certain questions is like, ‘I can’t believe you worked for a moderate like Barack Obama.’ To me, what a great benchmark of progress, because at the time he was a progressive president.”

The notion that a generation of Americans now takes for granted the passage of the Affordable Care Act, repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and protections extended to DACA students is a sure sign of progress, Penn said. Just this year, a landmark climate bill passed “because so many young people were pushing the White House to do something.”

During the on-stage conversation moderated by Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s policy-oriented magazine Blueprint, more nuances of Penn’s humanness came through. Many of his loved ones are private by nature, so not until his memoir was published did some readers learn that Penn is gay and engaged to his partner, Josh. His proudest accomplishment is earning a graduate certificate in international security from Stanford University, and he aspires to one day serve his country as a U.S. ambassador. And in answer to a question from the audience, Penn revealed that his favorite soup is matzo ball.

Penn’s appearance was part of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ signature Luskin Lecture Series, aimed at igniting dialogue on the most pressing policy challenges of our time.

Following the conversation, audience members snaked around the Centennial Ballroom at UCLA’s Luskin Conference Center, waiting to speak with Penn as he signed copies of his autobiography, complimentary to those who had registered to attend. They included students from the worlds of theater, film, global studies and public affairs, and Penn had a universal charge for each of them:

“Complacency is the greatest danger. … Just because things have progressed doesn’t mean they’re not going to slide back in any way, both in terms of diversity and career but also in terms of democracy.

“When you’re complacent, the other side will absolutely win.”

View photos from the lecture on Flickr.

Kal Penn Luskin Lecture

Message From the Dean: Recent Events in the L.A. City Council All of us — not just prominent people and elected officials but especially them — must do more to make the world a safer, saner place.

Oct. 11, 2022

Friends, Colleagues, Students:

I am once again called upon to communicate to you in a moment where I find myself almost speechless. The wildly offensive racist, anti-Black, anti-indigenous, antisemitic and homophobic conversation among three members of the City Council and a local labor leader deserves all the condemnation it’s receiving and then some. That one party of the conversation was, until two years ago, a member of this academic community is personally painful and deeply disappointing.

We are called upon in moments like this to remember that the cause of human equality and a commitment to decency, equity, and inclusiveness is an ongoing project, one requiring self-examination and vigilance. Let us use this moment to once again repudiate anti-Blackness, repudiate derision directed toward indigenous communities, repudiate antisemitism, repudiate homophobia and demand that all of us — not just prominent people and elected officials but especially them — do better and do more to make the world a safer, saner place in which we all might flourish.

The School is not permitted to take public political positions. However, I wanted you to hear from me that today, in my personal capacity, I signed onto a letter from community and civic leaders across academic, philanthropic and political organizations. The letter calls for the resignation of all three officials, an important first step toward rectifying this injustice and allowing healing to begin.

Our times remain vexed. Emotions remain high. Let’s work to make our better selves the authors of the future.

In solidarity,

Gary M. Segura

Professor and Dean

Tilly on Labor Needs Met by Relocated Migrants

The New York Times and NewsNation spoke to Urban Planning chair Chris Tilly for an article about immigrants who found steady work and a fresh start after being moved from Texas, Florida and Arizona to Democratic strongholds. While the high-profile relocation of thousands of migrants has created a burgeoning humanitarian crisis, straining the resources of cities trying to provide social services, it has also cast light on the economics of supply and demand. Many of the migrants are Venezuelans who have applied for asylum, allowing them to receive employment permits while their cases are pending. Others remain in the shadows, trying to find work without legal documentation. Many have found jobs in construction, hospitality, retail, trucking and other sectors facing worker shortages in an economy still recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “In most big cities, including the ones where governors are shipping migrants, employers are scrambling to find workers,” Tilly said. “They are meeting a need.”


 

Jim Newton Receives 2022 Carey McWilliams Award Editor-in-chief of UCLA Blueprint magazine receives honor recognizing journalistic contributions to society’s understanding of politics  

By Les Dunseith

UCLA’s Jim Newton is the winner of the Carey McWilliams Award, which honors a journalist or organization each year for intellectual forthrightness and political independence.

Newton is the founding editor-in-chief of Blueprint magazine, which is based at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. He’s also a lecturer in the departments of public policy and communications studies.

The McWilliams Award has been given since 1982 by the American Political Science Association in memory of a California lawyer who became an influential political leader, author and editor. McWilliams edited The Nation magazine from 1955 to 1975 and wrote landmark books that focused on migrant farm workers in California and the World War II internment of Japanese Americans.

“I’m deeply honored by this prize and especially by the thought that it binds my name, in some small way, to that of McWilliams, who has long been a personal polestar of integrity and wisdom,” Newton said.

The award, which recognizes Newton’s work at UCLA and other accomplishments, was officially presented Sept. 14 in Montreal at the association’s annual meeting. He has written several books about historical figures of political importance with a California connection, including former CIA chief and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren and former Gov. Jerry Brown. At the Los Angeles Times, he was a reporter, editor, columnist, bureau chief, editorial page editor and editor-at-large.

Past recipients of the award include well-known broadcast journalists such as Judy Woodruff, Bill Moyers, Lesley Stahl and Nina Totenberg; other respected newspaper writers such as Seymour Hersh, Molly Ivins and Ronald Brownstein; authors and professors; plus chroniclers of political discourse from a diverse array of outlets that includes the New York Times, Washington Post, Cook Political Report, the Congressional Quarterly, National Public Radio and the Huffington Post.

UCLA Luskin colleague Zev Yaroslavsky first became aware of Newton’s tough-but-fair journalistic approach during his time as an elected official in Los Angeles.

“Jim’s coverage of the LAPD — and the reforms spawned by the Rodney King beating and the Rampart scandal — is still the gold standard” for news reporting in Los Angeles, Yaroslavsky wrote in a letter recommending Newton for the McWilliams award.

Henry Weinstein, a former L.A. Times colleague who is now on the faculty at UC Irvine Law, also wrote an award nomination letter. “He is a potent and graceful practitioner of what I call ‘the Journalism of Illumination’ — articles and books that take a reader deep into important subjects, regardless of whether they occurred yesterday or 75 years ago — just as McWilliams did in an earlier era.”

A third recommendation letter came from a former Times colleague who has continued to work with Newton as a frequent writer for UCLA Blueprint, Lisa Fung. She praised Newton’s ability to build connections among the worlds of politics, journalism and academia.

It’s become increasingly difficult to understand the motivations of government and policy officials, but through his work as a writer, editor, author and educator, Jim is leading the charge to bring about change and to show people why they should care,” Fung wrote.

Newton said his appreciation of McWilliams grew while writing his book about Warren, the former chief justice of the United States. In fact, as governor of California, Warren clashed with McWilliams and actually fired him from a government job in part because he was an outspoken critic of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

“McWilliams is the only principled person at the time who stood up and said, ‘This is a bad idea,’” Newton said.

He founded Blueprint magazine, which is based at the Luskin School and distributed online and in print twice yearly, as a way to connect intellectuals to policymakers in light of what he perceives as a growing need.

“The policy universe, in particular, had really been stripped of a lot of its research apparatus just over the time that I had been covering it,” Newton said. “It’s true at the city, county and state levels — legislative analysts just don’t have the firepower they once did.”

Filling that gap was the germinating notion of Blueprint, which often highlights academic researchers who are tackling policy questions.

“Let’s make policymakers aware of the research that might inform policy, and let’s also engage researchers in what’s going on in the policy universe,” Newton said.

He imagines an elected official facing a difficult policy issue and eager to find a fresh, independent perspective.

“Instead of just listening to labor or business, you realize that there’s some thoughtful, nonpartisan research that’s being done that can help guide you to a good answer,” said Newton, whose goal is making scholarly research accessible to a non-academic audience.

 “We don’t want it to be an academic journal,” he explained. “That’s why it’s brightly colored, and it’s designed the way it is, with illustrations and graphical presentations in print and online.”

UCLA scholars are often featured, but the magazine’s focus extends beyond the university.

“So, we write about Norman Lear or David Axelrod or Joe Stiglitz or Jerry Brown — people who are broadly interesting and who are concerned with culture and politics and civic life,” Newton said.

Blueprint’s press run has been reduced in recent years amid financial constraints, and a plan to publish quarterly instead of twice-yearly was shelved in part because of pandemic-related challenges. But Newton is hopeful for a return to the magazine’s full reach — and even expansion. Meanwhile, production has endured, and reporting for the fall edition is currently underway.

“It’s themed around fear,” said Newton, who noted that fear can be constructive when it drives urgency of action around issues like homelessness or climate change. But, of course, fear also has the potential for harm as a tool for some politicians.

“Immigration would be a good example of the kind of illogical fear of other people that results in policy that’s profoundly misguided,” he said.

The theme is particularly timely with political rhetoric heating up as midterm Congressional elections and races for mayor of Los Angeles and the governor of California loom in November. Fear not, the next edition of Blueprint will be available in mid- to late-October to shed light on the political shadows. 

UCLA’s Jim Newton receives the Carey McWilliams Award from Lisa Martin, president-elect of the American Political Science Association. Photo from APSA

 

 

Weekend Event Harnesses the Power of Service Public Policy hosts aspiring public servants from across America for workshops focusing on policy issues and solutions

Twenty-nine undergraduates from across the nation came to UCLA in mid-August for three days of study and discussion as UCLA Luskin Public Policy returned to in-person programming for its third Public Service Weekend.

“Harness the Power of Action-Oriented Public Service” provided aspiring public servants an in-depth look at a diverse array of career opportunities, policy developments, and social issues such as environmental justice, inequality, homelessness and immigration reform.

The program, which was produced in cooperation with the not-for-profit Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) organization, included a tour of a Los Angeles clean technology site and workshops conducted by UCLA faculty, alumni and staff.

“Additionally, we aimed to inspire students by sharing the life stories and successes of UCLA graduate students, alumni, policymakers and faculty doing the work on the front lines of advocating for policy reform and social change,” said Kenya Covington, a senior lecturer at UCLA Luskin who coordinated the program.

Speakers included Dean Gary Segura, as well as alumni William “Rusty” Bailey, the former mayor of Riverside, and Dan Coffee, a project manager for the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Second-year MPP student Elliot Woods, chair of the School’s Black Student Caucus, shared educational and personal insights. He said experiences with the foster care system early in life have sharpened his determination to improve society through a career in public service.

A site tour of the La Kretz Innovation Campus exposed participants to creative clean technology ideas seeking to decrease the emissions that cause climate change. Participants learned about pilot projects involving lithium battery recycling, for example, and they witnessed how welding workspaces, 3D printing technology and chemistry labs can all play a role in developing green technology solutions.

The student participants were challenged by Covington to identify pressing societal problems, and faculty and staff facilitated learning exercises that helped them to define values that have been violated and the scale of problems to be addressed. The students wrapped up the Public Service Weekend with mock professional presentations that focused on potential solutions.

“The presentations were impressive,” Covington said. “Future social change depends largely on the development of leaders capable of taking on the most pressing social problems that we face in the world. With partners like PPIA, the Luskin School is doing just that.”

View photos on Flickr:

Public Service Weekend 2022

Assessing the Health of American Democracy

A Washington Post article on different assessments of the stability of American democracy cited the 2022 Berggruen Governance Index, which tracks quality of life, governance and democracy in countries around the world. The article noted that the U.S. political status quo has triggered pessimism and despair, yet several countries still regard the United States as a bulwark of liberal democratic values. The recently released Berggruen Governance Index, a collaborative project of UCLA Luskin and the Los Angeles-based Berggruen Institute, identified significant declines in U.S. “state capacity” and “democratic accountability” over the past 20 years. “The steepness of the U.S.’s drop is unusual: Its path parallels Brazil, Hungary and Poland much more closely than that of Western Europe or the other wealthy Anglophone countries,” according to Markus Lang and Edward Knudsen, researchers who work with the governance index’s principal investigator, Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Helmut Anheier.


 

Heed the Data Behind Criminal Justice Measures, Leap Says

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle about decisions awaiting the city’s next top prosecutor after the recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin. During his time in office, Boudin changed policies relating to cash bail, charging minors as adults and California’s “three strikes” law, among other reforms. Leap, an expert on gangs, criminal justice and prison reform, pointed to research on the effectiveness of different approaches to deterring crime. For example, there is little research to back up the claim that cash bail provides an incentive for people to return to court so they don’t forfeit what they paid. In addition, the use of gang enhancements, which can add time to defendants’ sentences if they are proven to have been motivated by gang ties, are ineffective and do nothing to address the causes of crime, she said. “We have no accountability for how this is done — no research studies, no nothing,” Leap said.

Yaroslavsky on Deep Dissatisfaction Among L.A. Voters

A CNN analysis about the potential for a right-tilting backlash among California voters who are discontented with public disorder cited Zev Yaroslavsky, a longtime public servant who now directs the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin. Yaroslavsky said the level of voter frustration is reminiscent of the late 1970s, an era of high inflation and soaring property tax bills that produced California’s Proposition 13 and helped propel Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. He cited this year’s UCLA Quality of Life Index, a poll of 1,400 residents that showed deep dissatisfaction with life in L.A. County. The region’s struggle to meet the basic housing needs of its people is “a billboard that says failure,” Yaroslavsky said. “I think homelessness is both a real issue but it’s also a metaphor for everything else that’s gone wrong in society and government’s ability to address something that is so visible and so ubiquitous in the county.”


 

Wray-Lake Finds Differences in Youth Development During Trump Era

Associate Professor of Social Welfare Laura Wray-Lake spoke to PsyPost about the findings of her recent study “Youth are watching: Adolescents’ sociopolitical development in the Trump era.” Wray-Lake and her colleagues gathered survey data from 1,433 students over five years to better understand how the Trump era may have affected youth’s political development differently depending on their political orientation, as well as how historical moments shape adolescents’ development in lasting ways. “The Trump era was a volatile and highly politically polarizing time for the country,” Wray-Lake said. She found that adolescents who disapproved of Trump exhibited increases in race consciousness, deliberation skills and awareness of inequality. Adolescents who approved of Trump, in contrast, exhibited declines in awareness of inequality and race consciousness but increases in voting intentions. “These findings may be reflective of growing political divides, especially around acknowledging racism and other inequalities,” Wray-Lake said.


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