Professor Ron Avi Astor, who holds a joint appointment with UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to Israel, where he will study the country’s successful, systemic approach to addressing school safety issues. As a Fulbright Senior Scholar, Astor will conduct research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for his project, “Addressing School Safety at the National Scale, for Each School, and Sustained Over Time: A Two-Decade Historical and Empirical Case Study on the Israeli System of School Safety.” His four-month study tour will begin in March. Astor’s research examines the role of the physical, social-organizational and cultural contexts in schools related to different kinds of bullying and violence. Israel, he said, has adopted policies and practices that have reduced victimization levels and become an example for many other countries and states. The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program. The program’s U.S. Scholar awards are made on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as a record of leadership and service. Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the program is funded by the U.S. State Department and supported by governments and host institutions in more than 160 countries.
Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, an authority on school safety, spoke with media outlets including CBS News, NBC4 News and KNX1070 in the wake of the deadly shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita. Astor recently presented a report to Congress on reducing weapons in schools, based on data collected from California high schools. Among the findings was a startling statistic: Students at nearly 90% of high schools surveyed said they had seen weapons on campus. Astor said early intervention when warning signs appear is key, and schools must create a caring environment that encourages staff and students to come forward. “If we can actually get schools to see that this is their job, this is what they do, this is not just a prevention for shooting, this makes a better society, then we think we’ll see a massive reduction” in the most severe acts of violence on campus, Astor told NBC4.
Listen to Astor’s podcast on reducing weapons in schools.
Ron Avi Astor, professor of social welfare, spoke to CBC News and its radio component The Current about unreported school violence in Canadian schools. Only half of the provinces and territories in Canada clearly define school violence and require schools to report violent behavior, and only four report those numbers to government ministries. “That’s not a real system for the country,” Astor argued. In countries where the media and politicians shame schools for high violence rates, underreporting or no reporting occurs, he said. Astor found that in the last 20 to 30 years of research, child reports of violence in school are what keeps the schools’ reporting honest. “If you can’t trust the data and you have zeroes on there, you really can’t allocate resources — not just money, but social workers, psychologists and counselors,” he said.
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 Marjorie 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.
Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke with Education Dive about proposed changes to the data collected by the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. The office plans to eliminate some survey questions involving early-career teachers and early childhood education but will add questions about religion-related bullying. While school districts would not be required to identify a student’s religion, they would be expected to assess whether a bully was motivated by religious differences. The Office of Management and Budget found that roughly 10,000 of the 135,200 bullying incidents reported in 2015-2016 were related to religion. Astor said it would be “good to know if kids of certain religions are getting bullied more or not” but cautioned that one’s perceived religion may or may not be the real reason for the mistreatment. He added that incidents actually reported by schools are likely to represent only the “tip of the iceberg” of what’s taking place.
Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor spoke to Education Week about the role schools can play in preventing gun violence. Some states have enacted “red flag laws,” which allow authorities to restrict people’s access to weapons if they are deemed a threat to themselves or others. Many school safety researchers say such laws should be considered just one part of a broader effort that includes improving school climate, enacting tougher federal gun laws, providing support staffing for students, and putting federal dollars toward research into the causes of gun violence. Astor said schools should also encourage students to share reports of troubling behavior — to view violence prevention as a collective responsibility — and to tackle issues such as racism, hatred and violence at an early age. “The purpose of a school becomes to have a better society,” Astor said. “I think the schools have to re-own that whole piece.”
By Stan Paul
Ron Avi Astor, an internationally recognized expert on school safety and violence, will join the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs faculty during the 2019-20 academic year.
Astor will hold the title of Marjorie Crump Endowed Professor of Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin, said Dean Gary Segura. The Southern California native comes to UCLA after a long research and teaching appointment at the University of Michigan and, more recently, at USC.
Astor’s work examines various aspects of the role of physical, social-organizational and cultural contexts related to violence in schools in California and the United States, as well as around the globe — including schools in Kosovo, Cameroon, Israel, Chile and Asia. His expertise includes school safety, sexual harassment, bullying and victimization, as well as fighting in school, emotional abuse, school social work and military social work. He also focuses on ways to create welcoming environments, using the voices of students, faculty, administrators and parents to improve school and district climates.
“Dr. Astor’s work has been recognized as outstanding by the leading research organizations in both social work, psychology and education,” said chair Laura Abrams, professor of Social Welfare. “He will bring with him an incredible research portfolio, along with excellence in teaching and mentoring, which will be of great benefit to our Social Welfare program, to Luskin, and to UCLA as a whole.”
Abrams continued, “Professor Astor is one of the foremost experts in the world on how to cultivate safe and nurturing schools for children around the globe,” adding that Astor’s work addresses major societal questions such as how to ensure that schools function as a positive mechanism for children even in the context of unsafe neighborhood violence. “This research is critical as schools play a major role in shaping key child outcomes.”
Astor, who grew up attended schools in the San Fernando Valley, earned his doctorate in human development/school psychology from UC Berkeley and holds master’s degrees in social welfare and community organization.
Astor sees connections between research and practice regarding bullying. “I don’t separate practice out from the research and policy I do,” said Astor of his unique combination of degrees, especially his MSW. “It’s actually kind of a core philosophical, spiritual and empirical center of everything I do.”
His studies in social work meld well with his graduate study in community organization, Astor said. “The idea is that you needed both — I knew that early on I had the sense you needed this larger ecological system, you couldn’t just be focusing on individuals. … You had to be looking at the multiple links of the social ecology and how they all interacted.
“I’m one of those hybrids almost wherever I go,” added Astor, who has published in a wide array of professional journals and is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, American Educational Research Association and Society for Social Work Research. He is also a member of the prestigious American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, and the National Academy of Education.
“I know the fields like to separate practice, research and theory, but to me they’re continuous. That’s another reason why I’m publishing in these various areas because there’s more fluidity,” Astor said. “So, the MSW is critical to my whole way of ecological thinking.”
His latest book, “Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving Contexts: Culture, Organization, and Time,” which he co-authored with Rami Benbenishty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was published in January by Oxford University Press. Astor said that although this book is theoretical and empirical, “most of those ideas comes from being on the ground and having the MSW and having ecological theory and seeing how empowerment in communities that actually work form our interventions and theory.” Astor’s other recent books were based on best practices for school professionals that dovetail with the more scientific version published this year.
Astor has a state teaching credential and comes from a family of school educators. As a practitioner, he has spent time in schools and communities over a span of decades. He said that his experiences in schools and being “on the ground” has informed him about gaps in theory, policy and practice.
Astor said his approach does not just look at how to fix problems but focuses more broadly on how social work, education, public health, policy and psychology can come together to discover “what are the healthiest kinds of settings we could have our children grow up in, and what would be the most optimal, welcoming, caring places we would aspire to.”
Astor is also interested in learning more from schools that have had track records of outstanding work on how their positive practices can translate to other schools that seem to share similar risk factors.
“Those remarkable schools where the students, principals, teachers, parents and community are working in tandem are really fun to learn from because they change how we might provide supports or service to students. They also change our theory and our ways of thinking,” Astor said. Teachers, principals and parent/student groups may have better solutions than university professors and researchers — “often we find these stellar individuals and groups have generated creative approaches to solve problems in their communities, schools or school districts — and we can learn so much from them.”
Astor explained that he is not just looking to fix problems but looking to create communities and settings where these problems, if everything is set up right, don’t occur in the first place.
“It’s really only about prevention. It’s really more an image of what kind of society we want to live in, what kind of optimal democracy do we want to create,” he said. “It’s really about creating the kinds of environments that make human beings thrive.”