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A Showcase for Research by Urban Planning Students The annual Careers, Capstones & Conversations networking event highlights activities that welcome newly admitted students to UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and give them a preview of what the future holds. Public Policy and Social Welfare host their own Welcome Day events.

By Stan Paul

Britta McOmber wants to know “What’s the Dam Problem?” in terms of flood risk in California. Shine Ling wants to know “How Fair is Fair-Share” when it comes to housing law in California. Sabrina Kim asks, “Still No to Transit?” looking at areas in Los Angeles County that do not meet their full transit commuting potential.

Questions like these launched 36 research projects that brought together Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students with clients to produce research projects that address a specific planning issue. The second-year students, completing their required capstones, showcased their work at the annual Careers, Capstones & Conversations (CCC) networking event held April 5, 2018, at UCLA’s Covel Commons.

The event followed a day of welcoming activities for newly admitted UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students, who had the opportunity to view the projects and interact with current students, as well as faculty and staff.

Newly admitted student Bradley Bounds II said his interest in urban planning is local.

“I want to work on building up my community,” said the Compton resident. “I’m looking more toward open space projects; I’m looking for transportation projects and economic development,” said Bounds, who enthusiastically affirmed his intent to join the new Urban Planning class in fall 2018.

Project clients include governmental organizations, local agencies and cities, as well as private planning and design firms and nonprofit organizations concerned with regional, state and national urban issues.

Video highlights of the students practicing for CCC. [full size]

In addition to engaging titles, the projects — produced individually or in teams — include solid research and data that has been analyzed and put into context by the students. Topics included transportation, housing and social justice issues, including foster care in the region and environmental, resource conservation and energy challenges. At CCC, the students pitch and support their approaches via posters that frame the issues and their proposed solutions.

UCLA Luskin Urban Planning faculty, alumni and Luskin Senior Fellows were on hand to evaluate the projects displayed in Covel’s Grand Horizon Room.

McOmber, who has studied coastal cities and flood risk resulting from rising sea levels, as well as designated flood plains, said her project was inspired by last year’s Oroville Dam overflow incident in Northern California.

“There are quite a number of dams and large reservoirs in L.A. County,” said McOmber, explaining that, from the perspective of Oroville’s near disaster,  the state faces a broader problem of dam and water storage infrastructure that is aging, underfinanced and sometimes not well-maintained.

“I noticed that there really wasn’t any information on dam flood zones, so I thought that was an area that’s lacking in the academic field and also very relevant, not only for California, but I think more broadly for the country,” she said.

Her project also looked at who may be impacted based on factors such as income and education. For example, McOmber asked whether socially vulnerable households are more likely to live within dam flood zones in California. She found that almost 50 percent of households in these areas are Hispanic or Latino.

Presentation is an important aspect of the projects. Commenting on the eye-catching displays, Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and sociology, looked at how effectively information was conveyed, noting those that “made a very dramatic and legible point.”

In Public Policy and Social Welfare, newly accepted graduate students were welcomed at daylong events designed to introduce them to the School and provide information about topics such as program content and financial aid. They got a day-in-the-life experience at UCLA Luskin through lectures, breakout sessions, tours and informal social gatherings.

UCLA was the top choice for many of the students attending the April 3, 2018, Welcome Day for newly accepted students in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare who learned about topics such as public child welfare stipend programs and social welfare field education.

“I’ve already decided on UCLA,” said Nancy Salazar, who joined other admitted students for roundtable discussions with UCLA Luskin faculty. Salazar, who also has a master’s degree in public administration, said that in addition to a focus on social justice, she was attracted by the leadership aspect of the program.

For Guillermo Armenta Sanchez, UCLA was the only choice. “That’s the only one; that’s where I’m coming,” said the Long Beach resident who is interested in focusing on mental health.

At the Master of Public Policy (MPP) Welcome Day on April 9, 2018, J.R. DeShazo, department chair and professor of public policy, provided introductory comments and introduced faculty and staff to incoming students.

“At Luskin, you are making a commitment to mastering a very challenging set of policy tools,” said DeShazo, who also serves as director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, the state’s premier environmental policy research center.

DeShazo highlighted the outstanding faculty and research institutes across all three departments, then continued, “There are a tremendous number of extracurricular activities that we present to you. The challenge is a scheduling challenge: How do you take advantage of everything that we offer?”

The new cohort of policy students gathered at the School to participate in a number of informative activities that included an ice-breaking exercise and an inside look at student life and the strengths of the UCLA Luskin program as presented by a students-only panel.

An invitation to Professor Michael Stoll’s Methods of Policy Analysis course was included, as were a variety of student-led breakout sessions on policy areas such as education, criminal justice, the environment, international issues and transportation. The conversations continued into a lunch with members of the faculty.

DeShazo advised that the two-year graduate program goes quickly and that students are soon thinking about what’s next.

“One of the things we’re very committed to — alums are committed to, our office of career services is committed to — is providing you with the internship opportunities and the alumni connections that will help you get a great job coming out of our program,” DeShazo said. “You are invited to start to develop your CV, practice in your interviewing skills, your public speaking skills, honing and refining your networking skills.

DeShazo summed it up. “When it’s time to engage with prospective employers, you’re ready.”

 

Water Justice for Mobile Home Residents UCLA Luskin School study highlights substandard water service and quality in California’s mobile home parks

By Stan Paul

Gregory Pierce

Although California officially recognizes the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water for all citizens, the Human Right to Water law passed in 2012 has no teeth, according to Urban Planning researchers at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

In a new study, co-authors Gregory Pierce MA UP ’11 PhD ’15 and Silvia González MURP ’13 looked at drinking water access and quality in mobile home parks, a significant but often overlooked segment of the California population.

“Right now, I don’t think state and local policymakers are focusing nearly enough attention on this issue,” said Pierce, an adjunct assistant professor of urban planning and a senior researcher on water and transportation initiatives at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

The study, published this month in the journal Environmental Justice, is titled “Public Drinking Water System Coverage and its Discontents: The Prevalence and Severity of Water Access Problems in California’s Mobile Home Parks.” Co-author González, who has collaborated with Pierce on a number of drinking water-related studies, is a doctoral student in urban planning and assistant director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin.

Although some existing research broadly suggests that water service and quality in the state’s mobile home parks is substandard, Pierce and González said that a lack of literature and targeted studies on the subject spurred their research, which is based on a range of quantitative and qualitative sources, including more than 1,300 news reports related to mobile home water access.

Silvia Gonzalez

The study concluded that mobile home parks are:

  • likely to incur more health-related violations than other systems
  • four times more likely to experience a significant service shutoff (more than 24 hours)
  • 40 percent more likely to rely on groundwater, a known risk for reliability and quality

In their report, the authors said they were surprised to find that available data on water system reliability suggests that mobile home parks in California are as likely as the general population to be served by community water systems. The authors pointed out that mobile home parks are more likely to have small water systems, a characteristic well-documented to diminish access.

“This demonstrates that any deficiencies in water service in parks are indeed problems for which the public sector maintains oversight and authority to rectify,” the researchers said in the study.

Pierce and González also found that evidence on affordability was less conclusive, but it suggested that the cost of drinking water could pose an “outsized” burden on some mobile home park residents who, because of reliability and quality, may purchase bottled water, which is more expensive than alternative water sources.

Pierce, who presented the study findings at the 2017 Water and Health Conference held Oct. 16-20 at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, said that he hopes progress will be made in the coming years, “but the trend is not promising at this point.”

“The key message I tried to convey is that access issues faced by mobile home park water systems reflect inequities both in the governance of drinking water systems more generally and in landlord-tenant relations in mobile home parks,” Pierce said. “A lot of the issues faced by tenants are caused by landlord neglect.”

González pointed out that, specifically in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s most unaffordable housing markets, residents also experience the pressures of gentrification and displacement.

“As manufactured housing becomes an increasingly important affordable housing option, policymakers need to ensure these residents aren’t being put at a disproportionate health risk, and address accessibility and affordability issues when they are,” González said.

The article is available online.

Examining an Issue from Every Side Urban Planning students enrolled in Community Scholars and Comprehensive Project efforts work together to tackle problems of significant scope and complexity

By Les Dunseith

As the curtain lifts on another academic year at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, second-year Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students enrolled in one of two group efforts begin to tackle a major planning issue from multiple angles.

Listening, learning, analyzing, synthesizing and debating, the students enrolled in the Community Scholars and Comprehensive Project options will unite by graduation time to produce a shared vision of how best to address a challenge of significant scope and scale.

Exactly how comprehensive are these projects? Here’s the tally from last year:

  • 29 Urban Planning students (now alumni)
  • 20-plus weeks of class instruction
  • 545 total pages (256 pages in one report, 289 in the other)
  • 172 charts, tables, illustrations, infographics and complex data maps
  • dozens of photographs (including a few shot by a drone camera high overhead)
  • hundreds of emails, texts, phone calls and face-to-face sessions

Both of these group efforts are popular among students despite the workload, said Alexis Oberlander, graduate adviser in Urban Planning. In fact, an application and acceptance process is necessary to limit enrollment to a manageable number of about 15 for each.

“Comprehensive projects are more realistic to what it’s like in a professional setting,” Oberlander said of the difference between the group efforts and individual client projects pursued by other MURP students. In the professional world, “You don’t really do anything alone most of the time.”

The group efforts are similar in scope, complexity and instructional approach, but Community Scholars and the Comprehensive Project have key differences.

Community Scholars is a joint initiative of UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education that has been tackling issues related to jobs, wages and worker rights since 1991. UCLA’s Department of African American Studies was involved in 2016-17 too, joining an effort on behalf of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center to produce a report that reflects broad social concerns: “Black Liberation in Los Angeles: Building Power Through Women’s Wellness, Cooperative Work, and Transit Equity.”

“The idea is that students actually get to take the class with activists from the communities who are trying to accomplish the same things but need the guidance of an academic program,” Oberlander said. “And the students need the guidance of activists. So they learn from each other.”

Conversely, the annual Comprehensive Project is managed solely within Urban Planning. The 2016-17 team prepared a report for the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, which was titled, “Lower LA River Revitalization: An Inclusive Approach to Planning, Implementation, and Community Engagement.”

From concept to completion, a typical Comprehensive Project can stretch over a year or more. Oberlander pointed out that students entering the Luskin School in the fall will decide just six months later whether to register for the next Comprehensive Project, which won’t wrap up until more than a year later.

Thus, now is the time for potential client partners to step forward. “You can come to Luskin and you can get really great research for a third of the cost to hire somebody,” she noted.

The end of an academic year is often a hectic time for Comprehensive Project students. For example, the final presentation to the Community Economics, Health, and Equity Committee of the Lower LA River Working Group was on June 8, 2017. A final (more comprehensive) on-campus presentation took place June 13, 2017, just two days before Commencement.

Public presentations are also typical of Community Scholars. On June 17, 2017, the students gathered at Holman United Methodist Church in South Los Angeles for a rousing public review and reflection on what they had accomplished together.

“It is phenomenal to have the privilege to spend 20 weeks in a room with other organizers and thought leaders who are every day experimenting and making change on the front lines for black workers and black working class families,” said the UCLA Labor Center’s Lola Smallwood Cuevas, the 2016-17 project director.

“We didn’t solve the black jobs crisis in this 20 weeks,” she continued. “But what we did do was create the opportunity for us to get closer, to build the relationships, to build an analysis that will help us shape and continue to hone those definitions and our work together moving forward.”

Their report, which like other student research from UCLA Luskin Urban Planning students can be viewed online, focused on three aspects directly related to African American workers in Los Angeles:

  • a curriculum on trauma-informed self-care for women served by the Black Workers Center;
  • a feasibility study for a cooperatively owned jobs services center;
  • a mobility study of the Slauson Corridor that paid particular attention to the intersection of Slauson and Western avenues, which a collision analysis found to be among L.A.’s most dangerous traffic locations.

Marque Vestal, a PhD student in history who served as a teaching assistant for Community Scholars, noted that the effort was about more than simply doing great research. While studying under Smallwood Cuevas, UCLA Luskin’s Gilda Haas and Gaye Theresa Johnson of UCLA African American Studies, the students examined issues of race, equality and empowerment through the black radical tradition.

“We suspected that something special would be crafted in that room because every week the laughter amid the planning got louder,” Vestal recalled during the presentation. “So we are here today to share that harvest of laughter and planning.”

“And there’s always the people who rise to the top with any group project who end up being the leaders,” Oberlander said. “They are usually the ones who are still working till August after they have graduated, making sure the client has exactly what they need.”

The instructor of the L.A. River project was Diana Varat JD/MA UP ’08, a planner and attorney who was part of the Luskin School’s adjunct faculty for the year. A rotating instructor approach is used for Community Scholars too. In 2015-16, UCLA Luskin’s Goetz Wolff led an analysis of the distribution of goods in Southern California that went on to win a national applied research award.

For the L.A. River project, students looked at gentrification, access and community impacts as part of their detailed analysis of the potential pitfalls of redeveloping the Lower Los Angeles River that runs through 14 cities from Vernon to Long Beach.

“As the potential of the Lower L.A. River becomes more clear, communities along the river are at a critical juncture,” said Alex Linz MURP ’17 during concluding remarks. “By committing to sustained community engagement and empowerment, river-adjacent cities have an excellent opportunity to showcase the Lower L.A. River both as a local and regional reflection of community pride.”

For 2017-18, the Comprehensive Project team will work with Distinguished Professor Emeritus Martin Wachs on the issue of transit-oriented development. Community Scholars will tackle homelessness and housing.

 

‘Unsung Hero,’ Leader in South L.A. Named 2017 Social Welfare Alumna of the Year Aurea Montes-Rodriguez MSW ’99 was inspired to develop a healthier generation by award namesake Joseph Nunn

By Stan Paul

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez, this year’s Social Welfare Alumna of the Year, has a lifelong personal and professional connection to South Los Angeles.

The 1999 Master of Social Welfare graduate of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs came to California from Mexico at the age of 3, grew up in South Los Angeles, witnessed firsthand the 1992 riots, and has gone on to be a leader and change agent in the community.

In recognition of her work and commitment to the community, Montes-Rodriguez was presented the Joseph A. Nunn Alumna of the Year Award on May 20, 2017. The award is bestowed annually in honor of Joseph A. Nunn, UCLA alumnus, former vice chair and longtime director of field education for the UCLA Department of Social Welfare.

“I am surprised and very humbled to be nominated and selected, especially for an award named after Dr. Nunn,” said Montes-Rodriguez. “When I was a student I looked up to him and admired the work he had done around juvenile criminal justice — thinking about ways we could do a better job eliminating the cradle-to-prison pipeline so we can develop a healthier generation.”

Montes-Rodriguez, who now serves as executive vice president of organizational growth at Community Coalition, a social justice nonprofit based in South Los Angeles, was honored at a social welfare alumni gathering in Los Angeles.

Toby Hur MSW ’93, a longtime member of the social welfare field faculty, nominated Montes-Rodriguez and shares some history with her.

“My history with Community Coalition goes back to 1992,” Hur said. “In the aftermath of the rioting that rocked a city marred by racial division and economic disparity, a small group of community leaders emerged, such as Karen Bass, a current congresswoman, of Community Coalition, and B.H. Kim of Koreatown Youth and Community Center and a Luskin Senior Fellow, in order to bring forth a constructive agenda for healing and rebuilding of L.A.”

Hur said that, as a graduate student during that time, he became very involved in those efforts. The experience has deeply impacted his professional career and teaching in the ensuing years.

“Community Coalition has stayed true to its roots and continues to develop community capacities and future leaders,” Hur said, adding that Luskin students continue to be trained at Community Coalition in grassroots organizing, advocacy and political action. “Aurea is one of the unsung heroes, the all-important and crucial glue, holding the organization and its causes together. I think she is well overdue for recognition as one of the best Bruin MSWs.”

Since joining Community Coalition, Montes-Rodriguez has made significant strides in helping the organization grow and she has led efforts to raise funds to purchase and renovate its current headquarters in South L.A. “To be nominated by someone who understands the importance of building multiracial coalitions is really special,” she said of Hur.

She credits her success and inspiration to lessons learned at UCLA Luskin. Among those were leadership seminars led by Nunn, who focused on social welfare beyond the individual treatment model to build organizations and change the systems that prevent people from reaching their potential, taking on leadership roles to change those situations. She cited courses on leadership by social welfare professor Zeke Hasenfeld, as well as courses on grant writing and fundraising — skills that she said “were critical in helping us build community coalitions, long-term fundraising strategy and growing the organization.”

“The late Mary Brent Wehrli really brought us out to communities and organizations who were doing great work, went out of her way to help us understand the theory with the practice in communities,” Montes-Rodriguez said. Wehrli, a former member of the field faculty, was “one person who really pushed us to see leadership opportunities and a contribution we could make to the social welfare field, providing us with concrete training.”

“Since I graduated, that’s exactly the work I have been doing … organizing everyday people about having a voice in addressing the most-pressing issues so they can be the drivers of change,” Montes-Rodriguez said.

Another of Montes-Rodriguez’s mentors is Gerry Laviña, director of field education at the Department of Social Welfare.

“Community Coalition has hosted MSW interns for decades, provided summer jobs for our MSW students through their youth programs, and has hired many of our graduates — some like Aurea who remain and create and build capacity,” Laviña said. “Whenever someone asks about an example of a successful grassroots organization or doubts the possibility of African-American and Latino communities effectively working together, I hold up Community Coalition as a shining example.”

Montes-Rodriguez is a big reason why Community Coalition has been successful, Laviña said. “Aurea has had a part in all of this, and has been steadfast and resolved in her commitment to giving back to the community where she was both personally and professionally raised,” he said. “I have always appreciated Aurea’s blend of strength and humility, her commitment to her family and community. Los Angeles needs leaders like Aurea, and we need to highlight her as someone to aspire to.”

The Lost Shtetl In a new book, Professor Emeritus Jack Rothman chronicles his journey to find the forgotten village in Ukraine where his family had lived for generations

By Zev Hurwitz

With the advent of the internet and Google Maps, searching for virtually any town in the world is just a few clicks away. But for Luskin School of Public Affairs Professor Emeritus Jack Rothman, planning a visit to his father’s birthplace, Butsnevits, was a little more challenging. The biggest issue: No map seems to acknowledge the existence of such a place.

In a new self-published book, “Searching for Butsnevits: A Shtetl Tale,” Rothman sets off to find the titular shtetl, a word for a small Jewish village, of which his father would speak fondly about.

After writing some 25 other books with more traditionally academic prose, Rothman’s latest publication takes on a much more personal feel. Described in the introduction as “part autobiography, part social history, and part detective story,” Rothman pieces together clues to the shtetl life of his family in early 20th century Ukraine.

He describes the book as an encounter with the past, with the history of his family and the region, and what has happened since to the people and the place. No Jews are left in the village anymore. They were decimated by the Nazi destruction machine during WW II. Women work the fields now, and men do maintenance and repairs. Most youth leave for work in the cities. And the old Jewish cemetery has no defining walls left and almost all the stones are gone.

“I wanted to tell the story of my trip and what I experienced, and have the reader accompany me on the journey,” Rothman said. “I wanted the reader to learn what I learned when I learned it.”

His interest piqued growing up with a family that referred to Butsnevits as “der haim” (“the home”). As a researcher at UCLA, Rothman plowed through the records at the UCLA Jewish Library and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, neither providing any hint to the location of Butsnevits.

The book tells how Rothman, in 1995, tacks on a side trip to Ukraine while in Europe for a speaking engagement in Poland. After changing planes in the bustling airport of Frankfurt, Rothman finds himself further and further removed from modern luxury as he teams up with a local tour guide and driver and sets off to Letichev, which a family member had told him was in the general vicinity of Butsnevits. The rural journey continues only through clues such as a beautiful nearby lake and an old mill, and interviews with locals. Rothman writes about staying in Kiev in a hotel with “cardboard simulations of towels” and navigating towns without running water.

In addition to recounting the journey through rural Ukraine, Rothman also sets the journey and the shtetl in question in the context of the Russian Revolution. As made famous by the film “Fiddler on the Roof,” Jewish settlements in Eastern Europe were threatened by attacks called pogroms from anti-Jewish nationals.

Rothman says he typically tries to avoid focus on the tragic nature of large parts of Jewish history.

“I didn’t start off with a strong intention to deal with anti-Semitism,” Rothman said. “The thing I didn’t like about my Jewish education was dwelling on all of the tragedies that took place. I sort of longed for a Jewish history that was a little brighter.”

In writing “Searching for Butsnevits,” Rothman found it impossible not to contextualize the shtetl’s history and decline without taking into account the history of Eastern Europe. There were the Khmelnytsky massacres of 1648, the Czar Alexander III repressive May Laws of 1882, and the Nazi invasion starting in 1939. The chaotic civil war in the region following the Russian Revolution was also an important element of the oppression of Jews.

“The anti-Semitism hit me in the face,” he said of learning the backstory for Butsnevits. “I had to give it a good deal of play.”

Rothman said that he didn’t face any sort of anti-Semitic interactions during his trip and noted that every interaction with locals — save for a xenophobic innkeeper — was very pleasant. The people in the village were honored to have a visitor from America, whose family had lived among them, and gave him the utmost courtesy, he said.

In the second part of the book, Rothman includes a harrowing firsthand depiction of a violent pogrom attack on the shtetl as witnessed by his older cousin, Sally, who lived in Butsnevits as a child. Rothman had relied heavily on Sally’s description of the shtetl prior to his trip in 1995 and included her firsthand account, recorded in 1973, of an attack on the village and her family’s home.

“I thought of Sally’s narrative as simply being documentation of what many, many people experienced. This is an on-the-ground story of the antipathy and violence experienced by Jews and how it caused this family to pick up and leave this place that they had been in for generations.”

Sally, who was 8 when she and her family fled Butsnevits for the United States, was Rothman’s sole source of information about Butsnevits when he was planning his Ukraine trip. Rothman says that his search for the shtetl and learning about shtetl life has given him new admiration for the family that pioneered life in the United States.

“When they came to the United States, they were what people called ‘greenhorns,’” he said. “They spoke only Yiddish and had no education. It was painful for them to learn how to navigate institutions like hospitals and schools.

“They came from a tiny and isolated rural village and crossed a wide ocean into the frenzy and complexity of tumultuous New York City. I don’t know how they did it — surviving and raising families that even the Rotary Club would admire,” Rothman said. “After visiting the postage-stamp-sized Butnevits, in my mind, they skyrocketed from ‘greenhorn’ immigrants to heroes.”

Rothman is a former social welfare professor at UCLA Luskin, where he focused his research on community organizing for social change. (“I was a community organizer before President Obama,” he said with a laugh.) He previously taught at the University of Michigan and has held emeritus status at UCLA since retiring shortly after his visit to Ukraine.

“Searching for Butsnevits: A Shtetl Tale” is available for purchase from Amazon.

‘Day of Remembrance’ Blends History and Activism Panel at UCLA Luskin marks 75 years since Japanese American internment camps by advocating resistance to modern-day efforts that target immigrant populations

By Les Dunseith

Marking the passage of 75 years since a presidential executive order that led to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs hosted a panel discussion on Feb. 23, 2017, that took place at a time when many U.S. citizens believe history is in danger of repeating itself.

The session was opened by moderator Lisa Hasegawa, a UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow and one of two alumnae who are activists-in-residence on campus for the winter quarter. She told of her Japanese American family’s experience of being unjustly forced into internment camps in 1942. Hasegawa likened that long-ago situation to an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in January that sought to bar entry into the United States by immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

“All of us in different generations are trying to figure out how we learn the lessons from the past and figure out how we activate those lessons in our daily lives,” Hasegawa said of the correlation between these two historic and controversial presidential actions.

The desire for activism amid a political climate that many people find fearful was a dominant theme of the panel discussion, which included five activists and filmmakers. Several showed clips from documentary films and other video projects that they have helped create in response to the Trump administration and its efforts that seem to target minority populations, particularly Muslim Americans.

“When Trump got elected, it was definitely very devastating to the Muslim community. I think we were all in shock,” said panelist Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed MPP ’07, who co-hosts a popular podcast titled “#GoodMuslimBadMuslim.”

But Ahmed has since been heartened by the showings of support that have taken place at protest marches and rallies around the country, including a sit-in at LAX that united various ethnic communities in opposition to the immigration ban.

“It is super-powerful as a Muslim to go into these spaces and to see non-Muslim people of color coming together in solidarity,” Ahmed said.

The mass protests in January at Los Angeles International Airport were also the subject of a “rough cut” clip for a documentary film shown by panelist Tani Ikeda, a filmmaker and member of imMEDIAte Justice. Her video focuses on two women (one Muslim, one Japanese American) from a grassroots solidarity group known as Vigilant Love that helped organized the resistance effort at LAX.

Ikeda said her father, who had been incarcerated as a draft resister when he was young, inspired her involvement in political activism and her pursuit of filmmaking as a career. Ikeda said she struggled with frustrations about societal and educational hurdles related to her minority status when she was young, but her father advised her to find strength, not despair, in those moments.

“Everything that makes you different is what gives you this unique perspective on the world, and that’s so needed,” Ikeda said her father told her. “So start making art.”

Also joining the panel, which was sponsored by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, was Sasha W. from the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance. She seeks to “redefine security” by helping more people understand why many U.S. residents, especially those at the margins of society, don’t always feel safe.

For example, she was recently involved in a project in which average U.S. citizens were approached on the streets under the pretext of an opinion survey, but then were asked the sorts of questions that someone being racially profiled would hear.

Two other filmmakers also joined the panel discussion. The team of Mustafa Rony Zona and Koji Steven Sakai are working together on a documentary about the experiences of a young Muslim girl and her mother who recently relocated from Syria to Los Angeles. And they are in the development stage of a feature film about what might happen if new terrorist attacks sparked a modern-day effort to round up Muslim Americans in a manner similar to what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II.

They hope to make a film that would lead people to recognize the parallels of the internment of Japanese Americans 75 years ago and anti-immigration efforts today.

“Today it’s Muslim Americans, Arab Americans. But tomorrow we don’t know who it is,” Sakai said. “It’s not about Muslim Americans; it’s not about any other group. It’s not even about Japanese Americans. It’s just making sure it doesn’t happen to anybody, ever again.”

A Day of Teaching, Ideas and Action Organized by UCLA Luskin’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy, J18 at UCLA featured activists, artists and authors addressing social justice issues related to the U.S. presidential transition

By Stan Paul

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs designated Jan. 18 — two days before the inauguration of a new U.S. president — as a day of teaching, dialogue and performance at UCLA.

In the wake of the November presidential election, the event — dubbed J18 by organizers — included activists, artists and authors addressing issues of social justice related to and raised by the impending transfer of power. The public event, “From the Frontlines of Justice,” took place from 5 to 7 p.m. in UCLA’s Ackerman Grand Ballroom.

Speakers/performers included Jeff Chang, author of “We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation” and executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University; Patrisse Cullors, UCLA alumna and co-founder of #Black Lives Matter; Ilse Escobar, UCLA alumna, migrant and activist/organizer in Los Angeles; Erika L. Sánchez, author of the forthcoming book of poems “Lessons on Expulsion,”; Peter Sellars, professor of World Arts and Cultures and director of opera, theater and film; Bryonn Bain, artist/activist and creator of “Lyrics From Lockdown”; and Maya Jupiter, hip-hop artist, songwriter and co-founder of Artivist Entertainment.

Ananya Roy

“J18 is meant to inspire and guide our hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students and many faculty,” said Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy and professor in the Luskin departments of Urban Planning and Social Welfare.

“We are asking educators at universities and colleges across the United States and beyond to consider organizing a program or activity on that day, be it a public event or a classroom discussion, which speaks to the many issues and themes related to this national and global moment,” Roy said.

The J18 call to action includes the stated goal of demonstrating the power of knowledge and research. Themes for the day range from economic inequality and fair housing to immigration and worker rights.

“The expertise produced and disseminated at universities and colleges on topics ranging from climate change to immigration to health care to worker rights to geopolitics serves as a vitally important counterpoint to the policy agendas of the incoming administration,” Roy said.

Roy said that J18 is made possible through active partnerships with departments and collectives at UCLA that have helped launch the initiative at UCLA and outside of the campus. They include: RAVE (Resistance Against Violence through Education), UCLA; UCLA Department of African-American Studies; UCLA Department of Chicana/o Studies; UCLA Institute of American Cultures; Justice Work Group, UCLA; UCLA Labor Center; UCLA LGBTQ Studies; and The Undercommons.

Panel Highlights Growing Presence of Women in Military Speakers at Luskin’s annual Veterans Day seminar explore the role, challenges and accomplishments of women in the armed services

By Zev Hurwitz

Two U.S. military veterans and a photojournalist who has made it her mission to bring female veterans’ stories front and center spoke Nov. 10 at the third annual Veterans Day seminar at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

“Women Who Serve,” hosted by the California National Guard, UCLA Luskin Department of Social Welfare, UCLA Nathanson Family Resilience Center and U.S. Vets, began with an overview of women in the armed services presented by emcee Kathleen West, who holds a Dr.P.H. degree from UCLA and is a lecturer on military social work at the Luskin School.

West said that women make up more than 15 percent of active duty military members in the U.S., including 18 and 19 percent of the Navy and Air Force, respectively — a dramatic increase since the Vietnam War, when just 3 percent of the military was female. She noted, however, that only about 10 percent of veterans currently living in the U.S. are women.

“That is a real challenge, because when they leave the service, we don’t have the [Veterans’] services in place for them that we need to,” West said. “That is one thing we want to talk about right now: What is our present looking like and what do we need to be thinking about for the future?”

West noted that the Department of Defense aims to achieve gender parity in the military by 2030 and said that there has been progress in allowances for parental leave for active duty members, although more work is needed to fully realize women’s military rights.

Therese Hughes MA UP ’99, one of the event’s panelists, spoke about her motivation for spending much of the past six years as a photojournalist, documenting the stories and images of female veterans and active duty military personnel.

“History is critical for civil engagement and for public policy, and when properly taught, it teaches the pursuit of truth and understanding,” she said. “Women’s stories in history are critical. Women’s stories in the military are essential.”

Hughes, who launched her traveling exhibit/photojournalism book “Military Women: WWII to Present Project” in 2010, says she has interviewed more than 800 women and ultimately plans to reach 1,200.

During the Luskin panel, Hughes also highlighted unique groups of female veterans that she has interviewed for the project. They include immigrant women who elected to serve as a way to give back to the country that welcomed them, as well as the pioneers of modern female military service: veterans of World War II.

“I’ve interviewed 68 of them,” she said of the World War II veterans. “I have five that are alive today. It breaks my heart every time I hear of one who has died, because these women were the footprints, the foundation of the women who serve today.”

Col. Susan I. Pangelinan, an active duty National Guardsman and former Air Force reserve member, spoke about women’s military service through the ages, framing the developments through her family members’ experiences in the military over the past several decades. Pangelinan talked about obstacles that women have faced in the journey toward equality, noting a 2013 landmark policy change that allowed women to serve in combat roles. Additionally, women are now finding role models in divisions of the service historically dominated by men, such as maintenance.

“We have female leaders in abundance that we hadn’t seen before,” she said. “Women are seeing other women just like them rising to very high places and high levels of responsibility.”

Megan Rodriguez, a U.S. Air Force veteran and current district representative for state Sen. Carol Liu, spoke about the darker side of military service. Rodriguez told of her personal challenges in the service. During the year-and-a-half that she served in the Air Force, Rodriguez was the victim of a sexual assault, which had lasting effects on her physical and mental health.

Rodriguez, who had only publicly spoken twice before about her experience as a victim of Military Sexual Trauma (MST), stressed the importance to her of sharing her experiences to broad audiences.

“The reason I’m able to speak about it is because I know there are other women veterans and nonveterans who have gone through the same thing,” she said. “Providing this place for discussion is essential, and I want to provide a safe space to other women and men that go through this.”

Laura Alongi, a field faculty member in the Luskin Department of Social Welfare, introduced the evening and said the yearly event was aimed, in part, to further the department’s work with veterans.

“Part of the reason we do this, is because as a department … we started to realize a few years ago that meeting veterans’ needs is something we really wanted to do,” she explained. “We felt that, because of our focus, we could really provide services and trainers who provide those services in a holistic way to veterans and active duty military.”

 

Just One Visit: Volunteers Make a Difference for Prisoners UCLA Luskin professor’s book launch highlights little-known but vital role that volunteers play in the juvenile and adult prison system

By Stan Paul

Just one visit. For those whose lives are entangled in the pipeline of the juvenile and adult justice systems, the life-changing meeting might come from a family member. It could be a psychologist. Or a chaplain. Or it could never come at all.

For many, though, the visitor is a volunteer — someone who can make the difference between continuing a downward spiral through the criminal justice system and turning a life around.

“The cycle continues until someone breaks it,” said Ernst Fenelon Jr., who was part of a Nov. 3 panel speaking about volunteers who help those incarcerated in America’s juvenile detention centers and adult prisons. The event also launched a new book co-edited by UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Social Welfare professor Laura Abrams. It was sponsored by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Department of Social Welfare, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, and the UCLA Justice Work Group.

New book co-edited by UCLA's Laura Abrams.

New book co-edited by UCLA’s Laura Abrams.

The book, “The Voluntary Sector in Prisons: Encouraging Personal and Institutional Change,” was published “to highlight many examples of great practice, of volunteer programs that make a real difference behind bars … and impacting not only those who take part in the programs, but the volunteers,” Abrams said. She was accompanied by one of her three co-editors, Emma Hughes, an associate professor and chair in the Department of Criminology at California State University, Fresno.

“This event, and the book itself, is intended to honor volunteers in jails and prisons, juvenile and adult institutions, who devote their personal and professional time, travel long distances and overcome numerous bureaucratic hurdles to reach out to those locked on the inside, whose humanity and dignity is often limited by the very condition of incarceration itself,” Abrams said in her introductory remarks.

Abrams said that the work of her colleagues and co-editors highlights many examples of great practice, impacting not only those who take part in the programs, but the volunteers as well. “Unfortunately, this evidence of good practice is not well-known, so other volunteers have to keep reinventing the wheel, rather than benefitting from the experiences of others,” she said.

The co-editors pointed out that volunteers themselves are very diverse. They may be formerly incarcerated, currently incarcerated, teachers, musicians, artists, students or people of faith. A unique feature of the book is that it includes the voices of a number of people currently serving time, in addition to the 19 contributing authors from the United States, Canada and Britain.

“You may be that one person,” said Fenelon, whose 25 years of experience with the California prison system includes more than 14 as an inmate. He is now the program coordinator for the Prison Education Project (PEP), a “prison-to-college” program that seeks to enhance the educational experience of inmates and parolees while providing practical tools for reintegration.

“You’re here because it is a calling,” Fenelon told the audience of academics, social welfare students and volunteers, some of whom also had been wards of the foster care, juvenile justice and adult prison systems in California. “The best people to speak are the volunteers,” continued Fenelon said. Like himself, they “speak from a voice of unique experience,” and “sat where they sat” and they strive to “reconnect [those incarcerated] to their humanity.”

He was joined by Rosalinda Vint, president of Women of Substance and Men of Honor Inc. Vint, who grew up in the foster care system, has been “that one person,” Hughes said in introducing her.

“All of us have a friend or relative touched by the system,” said Vint, whose nonprofit organization provides mentoring, leadership training and other services for the Department of Juvenile Justice Ventura Youth facility. The former corporate executive, who left a successful 25-year career to reach out to foster youth, said it is a privilege to serve those who, like her, have suffered abandonment and loss. Recounting her own and her siblings’ experiences within the foster care and criminal justice systems, Vint paused, as her voice cracked with emotion. She continued, “This has changed my life, what I do. I wish someone would have come for me, looked me in the eye and said it is going to be OK.”

The relationship between two of the event’s speakers, Felix Miranda and Matthew Mizel, is an example of the significant difference that volunteering can make in the lives of both volunteers and those they help.

Miranda was raised in Nicaragua and he “saw things that no kid should see.” He was angry when he came to the United States, eventually ended up in trouble and lost 13 years of his life to the prison system in California. Mizel, a native of New Jersey, had a successful career in the entertainment industry before becoming a volunteer with Inside Out Writers in 2003, teaching creative writing in juvenile and adult facilities.

They met while Miranda was imprisoned, and the experience was transformative for Mizel, who was volunteering with the nonprofit organization founded in 1996. Mizel is now a doctoral student in the Luskin School’s Department of Social Welfare, where his research focuses on ways to reduce racial inequality in the justice system.

“I had to grow out of that phase,” said Miranda, who was recently released from prison and is now a member of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC). “You can make a change.”

Miranda said that at first he couldn’t understand why Mizel kept showing up to his prison visits, and more than once asked him why he would do this.

“He came every week — that’s what impacted my life,” said Miranda, who also is now a member of the Inside Out Writers alumni project. He credits Mizel “for the love and friendship he showed me,” and the writing program for the positive changes he experienced.

“Don’t just show up,” Miranda said about volunteers’ need for perseverance and engagement. “It’s the follow-up that matters.”

According to Hughes, the book is also intended to show correctional officials and policymakers how valuable this work is. “All too often volunteers are confronted with insurmountable hurdles in terms of red tape and bureaucracy when trying to access facilities.”

Hughes added, however, that she is encouraged by recent changes.

“I am heartened that this year, CDRC (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) has a mandate to establish a volunteer advisory committee at every adult prison, with the intention of better supporting volunteer-led programs,” Hughes said.

The evening’s presentations also included a moving spoken word performance by Harry Grammar, who brought students from his New Earth Arts and Leadership Center, a comprehensive re-entry center serving 2,500 young people each year who are incarcerated in Los Angeles County detention centers and placement homes.