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Graduating Students Seek Solutions Near and Far The capstone research projects that are now part of all UCLA Luskin programs tackle local challenges or examine issues that extend far beyond campus and California

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.

View more photos from Public Policy’s APP presentations.

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.

View more photos from Urban Planning’s capstone presentations.

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.

View more photos from Social Welfare’s capstone presentations. 

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.

DeShazo on Low-Income Workers and Growing Green Economy

JR DeShazo, Public Policy chair and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, was featured in a KCRW broadcast discussing the explosion of the green economy. While there are 500,000 green jobs in California, they mostly benefit upper- and middle-class communities, while individuals from low-income communities are hindered by lack of education, language barriers, immigration status and travel distance from job opportunities. Companies like Grid Alternatives and O&M Solar Services are trying to change that by providing paid training for workers from low-income backgrounds. While California’s green energy policies generated 76,000 jobs in their first three years, DeShazo said that legislators are now reexamining the state’s approach to tackle the issue of equity. “The state has, in what I call the second wave of climate policies, gone back through and integrated a social justice or environmental equity component into almost every single policy,” DeShazo said. 


Roy on Global Poverty and Social Justice

In a Team Human podcast hosted by Douglas Rushkoff, Professor of Urban Planning and Social Welfare Ananya Roy discussed poverty and social justice from a global perspective. Roy explained how the “visible forms of poverty and inequality” in her childhood “shaped [her] interests in the study of cities and the manifestation of social inequality.” Roy discussed the relationships and discrepancies between poverty in the United States compared to developing countries in the global south, explaining that “poverty in many other parts of the world is not necessarily associated with political disenfranchisement in the ways in which it is in the United States.” Roy discussed spaces of mobilization and political power, noting that while “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house, the master’s tools can certainly occupy the master house.” Roy concluded, “As Americans, we have an ethical and political responsibility to address the policies that then produce poverty around the world and in the United States as well.”


Students Join Black Lives Activist to ‘Flip the Script’

On Thursday, Feb. 21, the UCLA Luskin Undergraduate Program presented “Flip The Script: Stories of Social Change,” featuring guest speaker Funmilola Fagbamila, founding member of the Black Lives Matter movement, and five student presenters who showcased their work. The event began with one simple question: “What does social change mean to you?” Each presentation sought to answer that question in a uniquely personal way. Student Mei Blundell performed a piece called “The Escape of Lin Cong” on the yangqin, or Chinese hammered dulcimer, featuring a haunting and complicated melody. Next, Carolyn Travis performed an original poem called “Mujeres” —spoken alternatingly in Spanish and English — about violence toward women and how so much of it often goes undocumented and unreported. Hua Chai presented an animated short discussing technology and conditioning in an abstract manner. Sahfa Aboudkhil performed an original song “For Emilie” on acoustic guitar about women speaking up in light of sexual violence. Alejandro Xipecoatl Juarez performed a dynamic spoken word poem, “Let Me Free,” about Chicano identity in our society. Kate McInerny, a freshman pre-major in public affairs, was emcee of the free event at the Kerckhoff Grand Salon. The evening ended with a talk and Q&A by Fagbamila, who was an inaugural Activist-in-Residence at UCLA Luskin’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy. She spoke about her experience in the social and political arenas and shared her views on modern activism as told through an allegorical story about three archetypal black activists. — Jackson Belway

View photos from Flip the Script on Flickr:

Undergraduates 'Flip the Script'


 

Leap on Conflict Between County Supervisors and Sheriff Villanueva

“The Sheriff’s Department has a credibility problem to begin with, and this adds fuel to the fire,” said UCLA Luskin Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “The fact that they’re taking this stance this early in [the sheriff’s] tenure means they are putting him on notice,” Leap said in response to a decision by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to publicly rebuke newly elected Sheriff Alex Villanueva after he unilaterally reinstated a deputy who was fired after domestic abuse allegations were raised against him. Villanueva, elected two months ago in an upset victory against incumbent Jim McDonnell, was criticized by the supervisors, who rarely speak out against sheriffs. Villanueva was also called into a meeting with the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission.

 


 

Activists-in-Residence Bring Pedagogy and Methodologies of Social Change to UCLA The 2019 activists are a co-creator of Occupy Wall Street, an archivist at the Southern California Library, and a UCLA Luskin alumna who is a storyteller, politico and campaign strategist

By Cristina Barrera and Les Dunseith

The 2019 UCLA Activists-in-Residence were introduced Jan. 16 to about 100 students, faculty, staff and community supporters who did not let a steady rain deter them from welcoming activists Micah White, Yusef Omowale and UCLA Luskin alumna Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed MPP ’07.

During their residency at UCLA, each of the three activists will pursue a project designed to advance their commitments to social justice. They will also engage with UCLA faculty and students to share their methodologies for social change.

The Activist-in-Residence Program was launched in 2016 by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center to advance core research themes concerned with “building power to expose and tackle various forms of dispossession in unequal cities,” said Institute Director Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. “We have insisted on turning the public university inside out.”

Micah White, Ph.D., is an author, public speaker and lifelong activist who co-created Occupy Wall Street, a global social movement that spread to 82 countries. His first book, “The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution,” was published in 2016.

“This kind of opportunity for the critical pedagogy of activism is as rare as it is needed,” White said prior to the reception. “Activism and the ways we protest must change if it is to regain its effectiveness. And the best way to do that, I believe, is to bring the rigorous thinking of academia to bear against the deep strategic and theoretical challenges facing practicing activists.”

White’s time at UCLA is focused on whether activism can be taught — and how to do it. He and Roy are exploring that issue by co-teaching a course on housing justice activism and protest as part of an effort known as Activist Graduate School.

During her opening remarks, Roy said, “Micah has brought to UCLA Luskin his latest project, Activist Graduate School, which I see as an urgently necessary effort to build pedagogy an infrastructure in these troubled times.”

As archivist at the Southern California Library, Yusef Omowale has been a participant in collective memory work to document the impacts of policing, incarceration, displacement and poverty. He has been involved in political education workshops, campaign support, and the offering of spaces for healing and material support to ease the day-to-day sufferings of individuals in need.

Founded over 50 years ago, the Southern California Library holds extensive collections related to the history of community resistance.

“I am thankful to receive this Activist-in-Residence position for the respite and resources it offers,” Omowale said. “Coming from a struggling nonprofit, having access to all the university affords is no small thing.”

Even so, Omowale said his acceptance of the fellowship carries with it a measure of trepidation.

“The university, consorting as it is with racial capitalism and its progeny, neoliberalism, is not a safe place for most of us,” he explained.

Working in South Central Los Angeles, Omowale is regularly confronted “with dominant imaginings of the violence that we must have to contend with in our work. And certainly, we encounter the violence of poverty, environmental toxins, policing and the interpersonal kind. From this reality, the university is meant to represent a safe haven — a north star.”

Yet, he said, the geography of the university is bounded and sustained in part by the “violence it enacts on communities like the one I work in.”

He continued: “Whether intended or not, this residency has a discursive role in legitimizing the university, erasing its violence, through appropriation of ‘activism.’ I cannot ignore this function, nor my participation in it.”

On the other hand, “there are so many people laboring in the university that I love, and I am thankful for the opportunity to join them in their collective projects for freedom. I will take the advice of Harney and Moten that ‘in the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can,’” Omowale said, referring to the book, “The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study,” by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten.

During his residency, Omowale will extend his work on building an archival practice that can document displacement and dispossession in Los Angeles.

The UCLA Asian American Studies Center (AASC) selected Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed as its 2019 UCLA Activist-in-Residence because of her “creative use of storytelling, art, social media and digital technology to advance Asian American social justice movements that is path-breaking and fits perfectly with our center’s digital initiatives ” said AASC Director Karen Umemoto, professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. She further noted that while pursuing her Master of Public Policy degree at UCLA Luskin, Ahmed was part of a student-led initiative to bring critical race theory into public policy.

Ahmed is co-host of a popular podcast titled “#GoodMuslimBadMuslim” and an avid essayist. She was honored as alumna of the year by UCLA Luskin Public Policy in 2017.

Ahmed said that “digital tools have become one of the most democratizing ways to access movement knowledge, history and analysis to inspire this community forward.”

She continued, “As a community, we have to tell our own counter-narratives and contemporary histories that keep getting sidelined — and what better way to do that than a digital storytelling project rooted at UCLA?”

Ahmed will explore the intersection of digital storytelling with the building of political movements by developing an audio advice column for new Asian American activists.

Her fellowship is made possible through the Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee Endowment in Social Justice and Immigration Studies, which honors the late UCLA scholar Yuji Ichioka and his wife, activist-scholar Emma Gee.

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy fellowship program is supported by a gift from the James Irvine Foundation.

View more photos from the reception on Flickr:

2019 Activists-in-Residence Reception

Marcus Anthony Hunter

A New Vision of Black America Launches Transdisciplinary Venture In first event of Schoolwide seminar series, 'Chocolate Cities' author calls for a fresh lens on culture and history

By Mary Braswell

To fully comprehend the experience of black Americans, start by throwing out conventional maps, tired vocabularies and old ways of thinking.

That is the core message of Marcus Anthony Hunter, chair of African American Studies at UCLA and co-author of a new book about the struggle and triumph of black culture over many generations.

Hunter drew on insights and anecdotes from the book, “Chocolate Cities: The Black Map of American Life,” to engage an audience of more than 50 students, faculty and guests at a Nov. 19, 2018, lecture at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“I believe that in order to move forward into a more productive world and more productive scientific conversation about space, place and people, we need new words,” he said. “And new words bring realities, bring frameworks, and so my agenda today is to give you some new words and bring it from the culture.”

Hunter’s takeaway — to seek out fresh vantage points for a clearer picture of truth — was a fitting launch for the Transdisciplinary Speaker Series at UCLA Luskin. A collaborative effort by Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning, the new series brings in lecturers from across the spectrum of social sciences to share messages that cross, even erase, disciplinary lines.

“We are talking about how to step out of our silos,” said Social Welfare Professor Mark Kaplan, who spearheaded the seminar series. “This is really an effort to get people to think beyond their immediate range of disciplinary interest.”

Faculty members including Mark Peterson of Public Policy, Laura Wray-Lake of Social Welfare and Amada Armenta and Kian Goh of Urban Planning worked together to nominate speakers “who perhaps we would not think of in our own fields,” Kaplan said.

The series aspires to do more than simply attract people curious about what’s happening outside their own disciplines. It aims to shatter old paradigms, overcome institutional resistance, encourage collaborative work and find solutions to the tough social problems that UCLA Luskin tackles daily, Kaplan said.

He envisions UCLA Luskin as a laboratory for the transdisciplinary approach, an idea that has been incubating at the School for years. The initiative got new life in spring 2018 when Dean Gary Segura met with Kaplan and endorsed the lecture series and its broader ambitions.

Hunter’s talk showed the potential of the cross-pollination approach, weaving urban geography together with demographic data, oral histories, news archives and a large dose of cultural touchpoints from poetry, fiction, film and music.

Parliament Funkadelic’s 1975 “Chocolate City” album inspired Hunter and co-author Zandria F. Robinson to adopt the term as a fitting description of black communities, replacing “slum,” “ghetto,” “Buttermilk Bottom,” “Cabrini Green,” “South Central” — and the stereotypes they invoke.

“Wherever two or more black people are gathered, there is a chocolate city,” Hunter told the Transdisciplinary Speaker Series audience. But he stressed that the black experience does not require a physical bond.

“There’s this idea of connectivity across black space that to me is deeply, deeply profound,” said Hunter, an associate professor of sociology. “Without meeting with each other, there’s a similar sentiment about all sorts of things related to trauma, struggle and accomplishment.”

To underscore his argument that conventional borders are misleading and outmoded, Hunter played audio of Malcolm X’s 1964 address at King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit.

“If you black, you were born in jail, in the North as well as the South,” the racial justice advocate said. “Stop talking about the South. As long as you south of the Canadian border, you South.”

Hunter’s reimagining of U.S. territory is made up of many different “Souths.”

“When we think about the South, we’re talking about surveillance, Jim Crow, racial segregation, residential segregation. We know from the research that these practices exist all across the United States, but we usually attribute bad behavior to the South,” Hunter said.

“Everywhere is the South if you are black. The South follows black people as they leave.”

Some of these geographies exist below the surface, as in the case of black transgender women, Hunter argued. He aired video clips of “the two Ms. Johnsons”: Gay rights activist Marsha P. Johnson was killed in suspicious circumstances in New York City in 1992. Duanna Johnson was shot to death on a Memphis street in 2008, months after her videotaped beating by two police officers drew wide condemnation. The killers of these two black transgender women have never been found.

“Your status as trans puts you at this really interesting and dangerous intersection and you often come up missing,” said Hunter, who devoted a chapter in his book to the two Ms. Johnsons and the little-known worlds they traversed.

“Our goal here was to recover those maps and to also honor the lives of these people who tried to navigate the chocolate city in all of its dangers and wonders.”

View a Flickr album from the Transdisciplinary Speaker Series event.

New Grants Ensure Watts Leadership Institute’s Mission Will Continue to Grow An infusion of more than $650,000 will be invested in marginalized neighborhoods

By Mary Braswell

The community garden launched by the Watts Leadership Institute (WLI) a year ago is growing, thriving, bearing fruit.

The same could be said for the institute itself.

Since the start of 2018, the UCLA Luskin-based WLI has received several grants totaling more than $650,000 that will allow it to expand its core mission of empowering the community leaders of Watts.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said co-founder Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare. “We’re finding great support for this model, the idea that we want to lift up and help the small nonprofits and real community leaders in these marginalized communities.”

Along with Karrah Lompa MSW ’13, Leap founded the institute in 2016 with a two-year $200,000 startup grant from The California Wellness Foundation.

Since January, WLI has received new and increased investments:

  • An additional two-year grant of $250,000 from The California Wellness Foundation is an expression of confidence that its initial investment was effectively used in the community.
  • The Weingart Foundation is providing $200,000 for the next two years to support its efforts in Southern California communities most deeply affected by poverty and economic inequity.
  • Ballmer Group provided $150,000 over two years.  Ballmer Group supports efforts to improve economic mobility and has invested significantly in direct services and capacity building in the Watts-Willowbrook area.
  • GRoW@Annenberg has invested more than $50,000 this year as part of a multiyear commitment for the WLI GRoW Community Garden. It has also provided generous additional funding and technical assistance to enhance WLI community engagement and outreach. In addition, GRoW’s founder, Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, has awarded almost $100,000 directly to Watts community leaders working with WLI.

These continued philanthropic investments will “take our mission to another level,” Leap said. Lompa added that “having the support of these leading philanthropic institutions reinforces both the need for WLI and the impact these leaders are making in Watts.”

“We are grateful for these new funders and grants because they help diversify WLI’s overall funding, helping us lead by example when encouraging WLI leaders to diversify their own funding streams,” Lompa said.

The funds are quickly being put to use on the ground in Watts. WLI works with community leaders who are already making a difference and provides them with the tools, resources and training to be more effective — including tutorials on using tablets to keep their books as well as tips on navigating the Southern California policy and philanthropic landscape.

“These are the people that the community listens to and follows,” Leap said of the first cohort of 12 Watts leaders supported by the institute. “They live there, they work there. But they’ve never had the capacity to really do the work of which they are capable.”

The key for WLI, she said, is to listen to people who are acutely aware of what their neighborhood needs. WLI builds on this knowledge by responding with tangible help to sustain the leaders and their efforts.

Leap told the story of WLI cohort member Amada Valle, a community organizer and advocate for residents of the Jordan Downs public housing development. “Amada is teaching women to sew and to create women-led businesses,” Leap said. “And what do you need if you’re teaching women to sew? Sewing machines.” Thanks to funds allocated by The California Wellness Foundation for direct service reinvestment, Valle received a grant from WLI to purchase six sewing machines.

“You would have laughed if you had walked into the Luskin development office and seen all these boxes of sewing machines, all piled up,” Leap said.

Doing good works is contagious, WLI has found. Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino donated office space to the institute. The Johnny Carson Foundation funded an MSW internship in Watts. The UCLA Luskin IT team offers technical support, bringing community leaders to campus for tutorials.

“That’s really our dream — to have everybody working together and leading within their community,” said Leap, who has been active in Watts for 40 years, since she attended UCLA for her BA, MSW and Ph.D.

“With WLI, UCLA Luskin has a 24/7 presence in Watts. This is not lip service, and we don’t want to be a temporary program. We’re part of the community, and we want to be,” she said. “We’re honored to be.”

Bill to Deem Children Under 12 Too Young for Court Is Backed by Abrams’ Research

Research by Professor Laura Abrams of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare is mentioned in a story that originated with the Chronicle of Social Change and has been picked up by other media outlets, including the Appeal and the Press-Telegram. Senate Bill (SB) 439 would prevent the juvenile justice system from hearing most cases of children younger than age 12. “I think people have an assumption that juvenile court is potentially a helpful intervention for young children,” Abrams says in the story, which notes her analysis of state juvenile justice data. “But in most cases, the charges aren’t sustained or they’re dismissed, so the family doesn’t get any help at all.”


 

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