Assistant Professor Carlos Santos of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare will be honored with a 2019 Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression Scholarship (SOGIE) award for recent research at the 65th annual meeting of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) this October in Denver, Colorado. Santos will share the award with co-author Rachel A. VanDaalen, a doctoral student in counseling psychology at Arizona State University, for their paper, “The Associations of Sexual and Ethnic-Racial Identity Commitment, Conflicts in Allegiances, and Mental Health Among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Racial and Ethnic Minority Adults,” published by the American Psychological Association in the Journal of Counseling Psychology. “This study offers evidence in support of the assertion that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) racial and ethnic minority adults who perceive a conflict between their LGB and ethnic-racial identities may experience psychological distress,” assert the authors. They add, “It shows that having a strong sense of commitment to one’s LGB identity may buffer the positive association between this conflict and psychological distress among LGB racial and ethnic minority adults.” The SOGIE award recognizes “excellent scholarship that addresses issues of importance to the LGBTQ community and has important implications for social work practice and education,” said Pam Bowers, chair of the SOGIE Scholarship Award Committee, in announcing the award. This is the eighth year that the SOGIE has been awarded by CSWE, which is the accrediting agency for social work education in the United States.
A mural in South Philadelphia chronicles stories of immigration, the subject of one of 10 faculty research grants from the Institute on Inequality and Democracy. Photo by Amada Armenta
Four members of the UCLA Luskin faculty have received research grants from the Institute on Inequality and Democracy. The 2019-20 grants, among 10 awarded to faculty across the UCLA campus, support research, scholarship and teaching that challenge established academic wisdom, contribute to public debate and/or strengthen communities and movements, the institute said. UCLA Luskin recipients are:
- Amada Armenta, assistant professor of urban planning, who will study undocumented Mexican immigrants in Philadelphia and their layered, complex relationship with the legal system in their everyday lives.
- Kian Goh, assistant professor of urban planning, who will use the lessons of Hurricane Sandy to research the key role public housing and infrastructure play in the quest for climate justice.
- Paul Ong, research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, who will create multimedia public narratives that document the stresses of gentrification, displacement and other community changes.
- Amy Ritterbusch, assistant professor of social welfare, who will develop a restorative justice initiative to take research to the streets, producing knowledge about historically misrepresented communities beyond the confines of academic publication traditions.
In addition to awarding faculty grants of up to $10,000, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy supports research by graduate student working groups. The six groups announced for the 2019-2020 academic year include several urban planning and social welfare students from UCLA Luskin.
Madison Hayes presents research into sexually exploited youth, completed as part of Social Welfare's capstone requirement. Photo by Les Dunseith
By Stan Paul
Newly graduated Social Welfare master’s degree recipient Deshika Perera’s research project extended across the United States and as far north as Alaska.
Evan Kreuger helped create a nationwide database as a basis for his research into LGBT health and health outcomes to culminate his Master of Social Welfare (MSW) studies at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Perera and Kreuger are members of the first graduating class of Social Welfare students to complete a capstone research project as a graduation requirement for their MSW degrees. Like their UCLA Luskin counterparts in Urban Planning and Public Policy who must also complete capstones, working individually and in groups to complete research and analysis projects that hone their skills while studying important social issues on behalf of government agencies, nonprofit groups and other clients with a public service focus.
“It’s been fun; it’s been interesting,” said Perera, who worked with Associate Professor Ian Holloway. Her qualitative study examined the relationship between the Violence Against Women Act and nonprofits, focusing on programs that provide services to indigenous survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence on reservations and in remote areas of the U.S.
As a member of the pioneering class for the MSW capstone, Perera said that although the new requirement was rigorous, she enjoyed the flexibility of the program.
“I feel we got to express our own creativity and had more freedom because it was loosely structured,” Perera said, explaining that she and her fellow students got to provide input on their projects and the capstone process. The development of the requirement went both ways. “Because it was new, [faculty] were asking us a lot of questions,” Perera said.
“We strongly believe that this capstone experience combines a lot of the pieces of learning that they’ve been doing, so it really integrates their knowledge of theory, their knowledge of research methods and their knowledge of practice,” said Laura Wray-Lake, associate professor and MSW capstone coordinator. “I think it’s really fun to see research come alive and be infused with real world practice.”
Krueger, who also was completing a Ph.D. in public health at UCLA while concluding his MSW studies, previously worked as a research coordinator for a national survey on LGBT adults through the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. He said he had a substantial amount of data to work with and that he enjoyed the opportunity to combine his research interests.
“I’m really interested in how the social environment influences these public health questions I’m looking at,” said Kreuger who has studied HIV and HIV prevention. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, but it was a matter of pulling it all together.”
For years, MSW students have completed rigorous coursework and challenging educational field placements during their two-year program of study, and some previous MSW graduates had conducted research in connection with sponsoring agencies. This year’s class included the first MSW recipients to complete a new two-year research sequence, Wray-Lake said.
Applied Policy Projects
In UCLA Luskin Public Policy, 14 teams presented a year’s worth of exacting research during this year’s Applied Policy Project presentations, the capstone for those seeking a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree.
Public Policy students master the tools to conduct policy analysis during their first year of study. In the second year, they use those tools to create sophisticated policy analyses to benefit government entities and other clients.
The APP research is presented to faculty, peers and curious first-year students over the course of two days. This May’s presentations reflected a broad spectrum of interests.
Like some peers in Social Welfare, a few MPP teams tackled faraway issues, including a study of environmental protection and sustainable tourism in the South Pacific. Closer to home, student researchers counted people experiencing homelessness, looked at ways to reform the juvenile justice system, sought solutions to food insecurity and outlined ideas to protect reproductive health, among other topics.
“Our students are providing solutions to some of the most important local and global problems out there,” said Professor JR DeShazo, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.
After each presentation, faculty members and others in the audience followed up with questions about data sources, methodologies and explanations for the policy recommendations.
Careers, Capstones and Conversations
Recently graduated UCLA Luskin urban planners displayed their culminating projects in April at the annual Careers, Capstones and Conversations networking event, following up with final written reports for sponsoring clients.
Many planning students work individually, but a cohort of 16 Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students worked together to complete a comprehensive research project related to a $23 million grant recently received by the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima. The project was the culmination of almost six months of analysis in which the MURP students helped the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies prepare a plan seeking to avoid displacement of residents as a result of a pending major redevelopment effort.
“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.
MSWs Test Research Methods
In Social Welfare, the projects represented a variety of interests and subject matter, said Wray-Lake, pointing out that each student’s approach — quantitative and/or qualitative — helps distinguish individual areas of inquiry. Some students used existing data sets to analyze social problems, she said, whereas others gathered their own data through personal interviews and focus groups. Instructors provided mentoring and training during the research process.
“They each have their own challenges,” said Wray-Lake, noting that several capstones were completed in partnership with a community agency, which often lack the staff or funding for research.
“Agencies are very hungry for research,” she said. “They collect lot of data and they have a lot of research needs, so this is a place where our students can be really useful and have real community impact with the capstones.”
Professor of Social Welfare Todd Franke, who serves as a lead instructor for the capstone projects, said his students worked on issues that impact child welfare. Others studied the relationship between child neglect and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Another capstone focused on predictors of educational aspirations among black and Native American students. The well-being of caregivers and social workers served as another study topic.
Assistant Professor Amy Ritterbusch, who also served as a capstone instructor, said her students focused on topics that included education beyond incarceration, the needs of Central American migrant youth in schools, and the unmet needs of homeless individuals in MacArthur Park. One project was cleverly titled as “I’m Still Here and I Can Go On: Coping Practices of Immigrant Domestic Workers.”
“They all did exceptional work,” Ritterbusch said.
Meredith Phillips, chair of undergraduate affairs at UCLA Luskin, has received an inaugural Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research. Phillips will use the $10,000 grant to develop a new undergraduate course that will bring students and local organizations into a research partnership for the benefit of the wider community. Titled “Making Data Useful for Educational Improvement,” Phillips’ course will equip students to analyze student and staff survey data from elementary, middle and high schools, and present those data to educators and administrators who are seeking to improve their schools. “Community-engaged research creates outstanding learning opportunities for undergraduate students, advances the research of our faculty and benefits our community,” Chancellor Gene Block said in announcing the six faculty recipients of the new award, which is co-sponsored by the UCLA Center for Community Learning. In the coming year, the award recipients will work together to establish guidelines for elevating the learning experience for undergraduates. Their courses, which will be offered in the 2020-21 or 2021-22 academic years, will cover a range of issues, including minority communities, health disparities, environmental justice and education. “This award recognizes faculty for their community-engaged research efforts and at the same time creates a new set of community-engaged course offerings for undergraduates,” said Phillips, associate professor of public policy and sociology. “This first set of courses is just the beginning of what I expect will eventually be an extensive suite of courses, across a wide range of disciplines, that will connect UCLA students’ research training with the needs of our local community.”
Amada Armenta, an assistant professor of urban planning, co-authored the research article “Beyond the Fear of Deportation: Understanding Unauthorized Immigrants’ Ambivalence Toward the Police,” which was recently published in American Behavioral Scientist. Armenta and co-author Rocío Rosales examined unauthorized Mexican immigrants’ perceptions of and experiences with police in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. While much of the existing research focuses on undocumented immigrants’ negative attitudes toward police as a result of fear of deportation, Armada and Rosales used in-depth interviews and ethnography to gain a better understanding of the immigrants’ perceptions of police. Their research article found that most undocumented immigrants are ambivalent about American police, “believing them to be both trustworthy and overly punitive.” Interviews indicated that “compared with police forces in Mexico, [many undocumented immigrants] believe that U.S. police are honest, hardworking and trustworthy.” Even those who do not hold the police in high regard may choose to trust them under certain circumstances. “Positive interactions with the police can shape immigrants’ legal attitudes such that they feel empowered to call the police for help,” the article noted. The study is a valuable addition to research on minorities’ relationships with police, which is mostly focused on the experiences of African American citizens. Armenta is the author of an award-winning book on immigration enforcement in Nashville, Tennessee, and is currently working on a second book examining the legal attitudes of undocumented immigrants in Philadelphia.
Professor Laura Abrams, chair of Social Welfare, recently co-authored an article in Academic Pediatrics investigating the relationship between child incarceration and subsequent adult health outcomes. The United States is the world leader in youth incarceration, and research by Abrams and co-principal investigator Elizabeth Barnert, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, aimed to bridge the data gap on repercussions from child incarceration. The study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to compare adult health outcomes in individuals grouped by age of first incarceration. The study compared individuals first incarcerated before age 14 with those first incarcerated at 15-17 years old, 18-20 years old and 21-24 years old. Among the adult health outcomes analyzed were physical health, such as mobility limitations, and mental health, including depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts. After controlling for sociodemographic and ecological factors, the study found that “child incarceration independently predicted adult mobility limitations, adult depression and adult suicidal thoughts,” confirming the link between younger age at first incarceration and worse adult health. The research also identified sociodemographic disparities in child incarceration, finding that “individuals first incarcerated as children were disproportionately of color, more likely to be from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and more likely to have been raised in a single-parent household.” The findings will likely have repercussions in the health arena. The report concluded, “Child incarceration displays even wider sociodemographic disparities than incarceration generally and is associated with even worse adult physical and mental health outcomes.”
Social Welfare Professor David Cohen’s comments on the side effects of coming off antidepressants were featured in a recent article in TheBody. A 60% increase in long-term antidepressant use between 2010 and 2018 has prompted research on “discontinuation syndrome,” or the intense side effects that make it difficult for patients to taper off. According to Cohen, “Coming off anything that alters how your brain functions, even coffee or tea, will provoke some kind of reaction. The brain is no longer getting that feedback from the drug, and it reacts to the removal.” After patients of one study rated their withdrawal experience, Cohen explained that “those who rated [their withdrawal] as most severe were coming off the fastest.” Experts recommend careful planning for coming off antidepressants, including a tapering plan, flexibility and a strong support system. “Go slow, and stay in your comfort zone. Feel it out as you go,” Cohen recommended.
Cecilia Gentili of Decrim NY, which advocates for decriminalization of the sex trade. Photo by Pacific Press
Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah stressed the importance of data-backed claims in a GQ article describing the controversial New York movement to decriminalize sex work in order to make workers safer. “Many people see sex work as morally repugnant, so public policy around it is very rarely based on the actual evidence,” explained Shah, whose 2014 research findings supported decriminalization of the sex work industry. According to Shah, “A lot of people make very big assertions about this topic, but most of the time there just isn’t any data to back them up, or the methodological constraints mean they’re not able to make causal claims.” Shah’s research linked decriminalization to reductions in both rape offenses and female gonorrhea cases. Shah concluded, “Except for the growth of the market, everything else that we worry about from a policy perspective — like public health and violence against women — gets better when sex work is decriminalized.”
UCLA Luskin’s Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy and associate faculty director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, and Michael A. Stoll, professor of public policy and urban planning, released a report on March 22, 2019, that reviewed 16 years of misdemeanor data from the Los Angeles Police Department and the City Attorney’s Office. “Trends in Misdemeanor Arrests in Los Angeles: 2001-2017” highlights that misdemeanor arrests rose sharply — from 88,511 arrests in 2001 to 112,570 in 2008, which is the highest number recorded — but then dropped to 60,063 in 2017, a 47 percent decrease. This reflects a statewide trend. The rates fell dramatically for juveniles, but some other demographic groups, including black females, saw increases. The researchers said this work is critical because, unlike felonies, misdemeanors are understudied, and they account for a much higher volume of arrests, particularly among people of color. “Interaction with police is the single-most –common way people interact with the government, and yet we neglect this level of interaction at our peril,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said during a release event at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. How people interact with the criminal justice system could impact their views and participation in many societal functions. UCLA was one of seven sites selected by the nationwide Research Network on Misdemeanor Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York to use the collective data to study trends in the enforcement of lower-level offenses, which could inform policy discussions and result in reforms. Yiwen Kuai, a doctoral student in urban planning, also co-authored the report.
A Planning Report article featured Urban Planning Professor Michael Storper‘s latest research challenging blanket upzoning and the “housing as opportunity” school of thought. Upzoning has been proposed as a solution to the affordable housing crisis, aiming to increase supply and affordability through trickle-down economics. According to Storper, UCLA Luskin’s distinguished professor of regional and international development in urban planning, “Blanket upzoning is a blunt instrument, whereas people’s housing needs are diverse.” Storper highlights the unintended consequences of upzoning, which “favors those who can pay the price of housing in high-demand areas,” while the trickle-down effect to middle-class and lower-income people “will be small and could even be negative in highly desirable areas.” Storper concludes, “Affordability has to be tackled directly; it’s not going to be created through aggregate supply and trickle-down.” Storper’s comments were cited on Planetizen, the Berkeley Daily Planet, CityWatchLA, Fox&Hounds and other outlets.