Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee’s views on the lack of diversity in the economics profession were featured in the Economist after the annual American Economic Association conference in San Diego. Conference attendees expressed concern that the lack of racial and gender diversity within the profession has limited the field by excluding certain perspectives. At the conference, Akee joined a panel on “How Can Economics Save Its Race Problem?” to speak about the pressures to be taken seriously as a scholar, not merely a race scholar. He explained his decision to postpone the research he wanted to do on indigenous people and work instead on other subjects, in order to be taken seriously as an economist. Akee argues that race should occupy a more central space within the portfolio of economic research. Despite efforts to increase diversity within the profession, many economists worry that this movement will stall before achieving long-term change.
Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, shared her views on the renewal of civic engagement in troubled times as part of the “55 Voices for Democracy” series presented by the Thomas Mann House. “It is no stretch to argue that the problem of the 21st century is the enduring problem of the color line,” Roy said. She argued, however, that amid vast income inequality and racial division, freedom dreams thrive, powered not by elite institutions but by grassroots activism and poor-people’s movements. Roy cited several examples: in the face of institutionalized white supremacy, a robust national discussion about black reparations; amid skyrocketing student debt, growing political interest in free college for all; as thousands of men and women live on the streets, calls for an ambitious public housing program and national rent control. “Radical democracy is demanded and created anew at each historical conjuncture, including this one,” Roy said.
A Precinct Reporter article about a Long Beach event exploring the meaning of black leadership featured Alex Norman DSW ’74, a UCLA Luskin professor emeritus of social welfare. Norman and Long Beach City Council member Al Austin led a panel discussion with advocates and civic leaders on issues critical to the region’s African American population. Norman called on black leaders to join forces to address the poverty and lack of educational attainment that are driving trauma and negative health and social impacts. Black leaders must unite and collaborate the way that national organizations did in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s instead of pursuing disconnected goals, he said. Norman has compiled extensive research through Rethinking Greater Long Beach, a community-based think tank that focuses on education, public safety and urban demography.
By Mary Braswell
For more than three decades, the United States has imprisoned its people at a higher rate than any other nation, so Yale University law professor James Forman Jr. understands how individuals might feel powerless to change that reality.
“When we look at something as awful as the largest prison system in the world, it can be easy to think about it as somebody else’s problem to solve,” Forman said during a Nov. 7 UCLA Luskin Lecture at the California African American Museum. “But we all have to think about what we can do individually and then collectively in response.”
The Pulitzer-Prize-winning author, former public defender and co-founder of an alternative school for incarcerated youth shared insights into the complicated evolution of U.S. criminal justice over the last half-century. Key turning points came in the 1960s and 1980s, when heroin and crack epidemics devastated communities of color and led to an era of “warrior policing,” he said.
Forman urged the audience to take tangible steps to turn the tide. Vote. Don’t skip out on jury duty. Find the time and energy to work for a cause close to your heart.
His appearance as part of the Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series wove historical research with stories of his childhood as the son of civil rights pioneers, an interracial couple at a time when such marriages were illegal in much of the country.
“The notion that we would be critical or skeptical of government authority that was purporting to act in the name of public safety but was actually harming people is something that I just grew up on,” Forman said.
He has spent much of his career investigating how the United States “earned the dishonor of being the world’s largest jailer.” Part of the answer, he found, lies in grave missteps by African American leaders with the best of intentions — the subject of his acclaimed 2017 book, “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America.”
Forman found that African Americans who came to power during the drug wars of decades past did not have adequate resources to protect their communities and became over-reliant on police, prosecutors and aggressive tactics.
“We were passing the same laws, the same stop-and-frisk, the same mandatory minimums, the same school-to-prison pipeline. And we were getting the same results,” he said.
Then and now, actions of officials at the local level have enduring consequences, he said.
“It’s crucial that we look at the small steps, the hidden steps, the often invisible steps, some of them made by well-intentioned people,” he said. “Those individual decisions are the bricks that collectively have built the prison nation that America has become.”
Mass incarceration is fundamentally a local issue, Forman said, noting that 88 percent of prisoners in the country are in state, county and local prisons and jails.
“California and Texas together, just two states, have more people incarcerated than the entire federal government,” he said. “Los Angeles County all by itself is responsible for one-third of the people who are incarcerated in the state of California.
“So where we sit right now, this is ground zero in the fight against mass incarceration because this is one of the most incarcerated counties in one of the most incarcerated states in the most incarcerated country in the world. So we have some work to do right here in Los Angeles.”
Forman called on the audience to turn out for March elections for Los Angeles County district attorney, pointing to a trend he has seen over the last five years: In city after city, a new generation of progressive prosecutors has been voted into office, he said.
And he urged those present to understand their own power to bring about change. “For most of us we need to start where we live, we need to start with what we love,” he said.
For Forman, that means eradicating the “education deserts” found inside the criminal justice system. In 1997, he helped launch the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, which is now housed inside Washington, D.C.,’s juvenile prison. More recently, he has offered a seminar in which 10 law students and 10 Connecticut inmates come together behind prison walls to study criminal justice, part of a program called the Inside-Out Prison Exchange.
His “outside students” from Yale and Quinnipiac universities are exposed to a corrections system they might never otherwise see. The benefits for “inside students” are borne out by research showing that recidivism goes down and employment goes up — and by their own testimonials.
One of Forman’s incarcerated students told him he valued the “feeling of mattering.”
The student, he recounted, said, “I liked the law and the policy that we learned in this class, I did. … But really what I liked most of all was that every week when I came to class and I entered the seminar circle, I knew that I was entering a space where I was treated like I was smart, where I was treated like I had something to say.”
Forman urged the Luskin Lecture audience to embrace their own ideas for creating “a justice system that deserves to have the word justice in the title.” By doing so, he said, “You will create a system that protects and heals and reforms and mends communities, without all this toxicity and brutality of our current system.”
Forman shared the stage with Michael Lens, assistant professor of public policy and urban planning, who led a conversation after the talk, and Professor Máximo Langer of UCLA Law, who offered closing comments. Langer is faculty director of the UCLA Criminal Justice Program, which co-sponsored the Luskin Lecture along with the university’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.
UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura welcomed the evening’s guests, noting that the Exposition Park venue was chosen to “get us out in the community, to address questions, issues, thoughts, ideas that are important considerations in matters of public concern … so that we might learn from one another.”
View photos from Forman’s lecture on Flickr.
By Stan Paul
Four new faculty members – three in Social Welfare and one in Urban Planning – have joined the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, expanding teaching and deepening research expertise in some of the School’s top-rated programs.
They add to the recent faculty expansion of six new hires in 2016 and nine last year, spread across UCLA Luskin’s three professional programs and its new undergraduate major.
Joining Social Welfare: Ron Avi Astor, an expert on bullying and school violence whose appointment was previously reported; Cindy Sangalang, who examines how race, migration, and culture intersect to shape health and well-being in immigrant and refugee communities; and Lee Ann Wang, whose current work looks at the intersection of immigration law and criminalization through gender and sexual violence.
Astor holds a joint appointment as professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Sangalang and Wang have joint appointments as assistant professors in Asian American Studies.
New to Urban Planning is Assistant Professor Veronica Herrera, who studies the politics of development in global south cities, with a focus on Latin America. Her research emphasizes environmental policymaking, sustainability and water policy.
“Veronica is a big addition to our work on global cities and environmental issues in urban centers,” said Dean Gary Segura, highlighting Herrera’s work on Latin America in his announcement to the school.
Herrera, author of the award-winning 2017 book “Water and Politics: Clientelism and Reform in Urban Mexico,” said she will offer an undergraduate course on the politics of water and a graduate course on urban politics, both concentrating on the global south.
The new assistant professor previously taught in the political science department at the University of Connecticut and earned her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, where she said she fell in love with California.
“It’s wonderful to be back. I am looking forward to working with folks at UCLA who are interested in sustainability, urban political change and development,” she said. Citing issues including water stress and trash crises, Herrera said she is looking forward to connecting topics she is studying in Latin American cities to “how they are unfolding in L.A.”
“We are spoiled in L.A. with amazing food, weather and beaches, but from an environmental standpoint there is a lot of work to be done,” Herrera said.
Astor holds the Marjory Crump Chair in Social Welfare. His work examines the role of the physical, social-organizational and cultural contexts in schools related to different kinds of bullying and school violence. Examples include sexual harassment, cyber bullying, discrimination, hate acts, school fights, emotional abuse, weapon use, and teacher/child violence, which are addressed in his most recent co-authored book, “Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving Contexts: Culture, Organization, and Time,” published in January 2019.
“Bullying is such a big term that it gives us a lot of room,” said Astor, who, along with his colleagues, launched the first studies related to bullying and school violence tied to vulnerable groups such as homeless and foster children. “So being in these literatures you realize that some of the research has been more generic, so it does matter if it’s LGBTQ or if it’s military kids, or homeless or foster kids … because the dynamics are a little bit different.”
“And, because we do cross-cultural work, there’s a lot of interesting cultural comparisons within the United States but also between the United States and other places,” said Astor, whose work abroad has included Israel, China, Cameroon and Kosovo.
“Professor Astor is one of the foremost experts in the world on how to cultivate safe and nurturing schools for children around the globe,” said Professor Laura Abrams, chair of Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin. “This research is critical to social work as schools play a major role in shaping key child outcomes.”
For Cindy Sangalang, Southern California is home. Born and raised in Long Beach, she earned her MSW degree, in 2006, and Ph.D. in Social Welfare, in 2012, at UCLA Luskin. She returns to UCLA following faculty positions in the schools of social work at Arizona State University and California State University, Los Angeles.
Sangalang’s work “fills a critical need in our work on mental health and family function, particularly in East Asian and Southeast Asian communities in the United States,” Abrams noted.
“I look at factors tied to race, migration and culture — how those factors intersect and interplay to shape different health outcomes among immigrant populations. That work really derives from years working alongside Southeast Asian communities here in Southern California,” Sangalang said. And, she explained, “When I say Southeast Asian, primarily communities that migrated from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos that were forced to migrate to the United States as a result of U.S. war in Southeast Asia.”
When students ask about her own professional “origin story,” Sangalang said she starts with her family.
“My parents immigrated from the Philippines many, many years ago, and I think coming from an immigrant family with humble beginnings really set a seed in me to be able to connect with others who are tied to that immigrant experience,” said Sangalang, who is teaching courses offered by Social Welfare and Asian American Studies in the fall quarter.
Sangalang said her appointment at UCLA “marries my passions and my interests in a really wonderful way. This is something that I really would not have even thought would be a possibility, so it is really like this dream job where I get to come back to my alma mater where I earned my MSW and my Ph.D.”
In addition to her appointment with the Department of Asian American Studies in the UCLA College, she will be affiliated with the Asian American Studies Research Center.
Lee Ann Wang comes to UCLA most recently from the University of Washington, Bothell, where she held appointments in law and public policy; women, gender and sexuality studies; and ethnic studies. She also has held visiting posts at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and is an expert on legal narratives addressing the intersection of gender, immigration and violence in Asian American communities.
A key aspect of that work is the relationship between protection and punishment.
“Primarily what I look at is a series of pieces of federal legislation that were designed to ‘rescue and save’ immigrant women from gender and sexual violence, but in doing so they expanded terms of punishment that actually reinforce punishment in immigrant communities,” Wang said.
The immersive techniques of ethnographic studies are an important aspect of Wang’s research. For example, she has studied the law through the eyes of legal advocates. She also has engaged with legal service providers who not only played a role in distributing the terms of a law but were also involved in its writing. By conducting ethnographic studies in her work, Wang said her approach to the law involves looking at legal practice through legal advocates as well as service providers who were not only part of distributing the law’s terms but also a part of its own writing. “I’m arguing in part that we actually can’t understand the relationship between immigration law and criminalization without taking gender and sexuality seriously.”
Like her new colleagues, Wang has connections with Los Angeles and Southern California. She spent a number of years in L.A. working for nonprofit agencies before attending graduate school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she earned her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in American culture. Her nonprofit work, also in the San Francisco Bay area and Detroit, included anti-violence, reentry, youth advocacy, mass transit and voting rights. As a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow, she was a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Law and Society at UC Berkeley’s School of Law.
Wang is teaching a Social Welfare graduate course and an undergraduate course in Asian American Studies this year.
Chris Zepeda-Millán, associate professor of public policy, spoke with the Houston Chronicle about a campaign strategy shift by Beto O’Rourke. Since the Aug. 3 mass shooting in his hometown El Paso by a man who warned of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” the Democratic presidential hopeful has focused his message on racist violence, and held President Trump accountable for stoking it. This may be an attempt to jumpstart O’Rourke’s lagging campaign or set himself up as a vice presidential pick, some analysts said. “There’s nothing about him anymore that stands out,” Zepeda-Millán said. “He’s not a person of color, he’s not a woman, he’s not the most progressive candidate by far. He doesn’t have anything to set himself apart.” Zepeda- Millán concluded: “This is kind of a last effort to stay relevant.”
Extreme heat and a lack of air conditioning in classrooms contribute to the nation’s racial education achievement gap, according to research by R. Jisung Park, assistant professor of public policy. His study, forthcoming in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, is the first peer-reviewed paper to put dollar figures on the costs and social benefits of air conditioning in schools. Using data from more than 10 million middle- and high-school students across the United States, Park and his colleagues found that students who experience more hot days during the school year perform worse on standardized exams. Up to 40 percent of U.S. schools may not be fully air conditioned. Although black and Hispanic students overwhelmingly reside in hotter locations than white students, they are 9 percent less likely to have school air conditioning, the researchers found. In hot places such as Houston and Atlanta, each additional year of sufficient school air conditioning could boost collective future earnings by up to $2 million in any given high school of 1,000 students, the study found. Park, associate director of economic research for the Luskin Center for Innovation, advocates for air conditioning powered by clean energy that does not contribute to climate change. “We must recognize that adapting to climate change is a matter of racial and economic justice, especially in schools,” Park wrote in a USA Today op-ed. Keeping students cool could be a cost-effective way to boost climate resilience, promote learning and economic mobility, and narrow the gap between our nation’s haves and have-nots.”
Jim Newton, public policy lecturer at UCLA Luskin, shared his interpretation of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s actions on desegregation while serving as president in a recent CJ Online article. According to Newton, President Eisenhower’s public statement that “the Supreme Court has spoken and I am sworn to uphold the constitutional processes in this country, and I will obey,” after the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision banned racial segregation in schools in 1954, illustrates Eisenhower’s “lukewarm” stance on desegregation. “He did what was required of him but evidenced no enthusiasm for it,” Newton said, arguing that he believed Eisenhower didn’t fully anticipate what he was getting in the area of civil rights when he appointed Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the United States. Newton, who has written biographies of both Eisenhower and Warren, commented that Eisenhower’s enforcement of Brown v. Board of Education at Little Rock was more about power than about desegregation.
The student-led Latinx Caucus at UCLA Luskin collaborated with the Council on Social Work Education to host the 17th Annual Latinx Community Conference: Breaking Down Borders, Más Allá de la Frontera. The April 27 event brought together social services professionals and scholars to discuss issues facing the Latinx community, focusing specifically on immigration. “Immigration permeates every level of service, and without considering it holistically while also considering it within our specialties, we risk taking on a limited understanding of this complex social concern,” said MPP candidate Kassandra Hernandez, one of several student organizers. The event started with a blessing circle, followed by an address by Dean Gary Segura. Beth Caldwell MSW ’02, a professor at Southwestern Law School, gave the keynote address. Caldwell’s most recent research explores the consequences of deportation to Mexico with an emphasis on deportees who grew up in the United States. The daylong conference covered a wide spectrum of topics relating to the experiences of the Latinx community. Experts led workshops on mental health, educational barriers, domestic violence, LGBTQ issues, and the deportation of immigrant youth and families. Conference attendees enjoyed entertainment by the Mariachi de Uclatlán group during lunch and Changüí Majadero during the evening networking reception. Historically, Social Welfare students have taken the lead on organizing the community conference; this year, the scope was broadened to encourage full participation by Public Policy and Urban Planning students, as well.
Conference photo gallery available on Flickr:
UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura spoke on SiriusXM radio’s Michaelangelo Signorile Show about the 2020 elections and the upcoming Democratic presidential forum centered around LGBTQ issues, which will be hosted by the Luskin School and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in October. Politicians have a history of shying away from LGBTQ issues so it is beneficial to “have their feet held to the fire” early in the campaign, Segura said. He also discussed immigration, healthcare, the impact of earlier primary dates in California and Texas, and the Trump presidency’s effect on the mindset of the American populace. “The Democratic coalition will be most successful when it finds a way to knit together the minority populations and the coastal educated populations with the blue-collar, working-class people who are getting a crappy deal in American society,” Segura said. “If you could pull both of those together you’d have a huge majority.”