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‘A Book Can Save a Life:’ UCLA Luskin Alumna Starts Library at L.A. County Jail Ahmanise Sanati is named Social Welfare Alumna of the Year

By Madeline Adamo

Social worker Ahmanise Sanati was stuck. Five weeks into her therapy sessions with a man incarcerated at the Los Angeles County Twin Towers Correctional Facility, and he still wouldn’t say a word.

Then Sanati started talking with him about the popular philosophy book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and he finally opened.

“Asking them what kind of books they like sparks their interest, because it might be one of the only interactions they have with another person who has taken an interest in them,” said Sanati, an alumna of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ graduate program in social welfare and a mental health clinical supervisor with the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

“They love reading for just the same reasons any one of us love reading,” she said. “This is a time when a book can really save a life.”

‘When we stand up for something, we never know how much we are affecting other people who are watching.’ — Ahmanise Sanati, MSW ’10

Sanati has worked at the Twin Towers for 11 years, during which time she’s brought in books and articles for the people who are incarcerated there. But in 2020, as COVID-19 tore through prisons and jails in the United States, including Twin Towers, the already dehumanizing environment of jail got much worse, Sanati said. In response, she started a “passion project,” expanding her book exchange into a catalogued system with 16 mobile bookshelves that would be dispersed throughout the jail. Then came the donations.

“It’s just spiraled out of control, because people care,” said Sanati, who has accumulated about 5,000 books, which rotate on and off the shelves, thanks to collection drives and strangers reaching out with donations. Sanati said she was most surprised by support she got from the Rotary Club of Westchester, as well as a crowdsourcing campaign for the cause started by Skylight Books in Los Feliz. The Skylight campaign raised more than $11,000 and went toward purchasing new books.

“When we stand up for something, we never know how much we are affecting other people who are watching,” Sanati said.

Most of the book requests have been either mysteries and science fiction titles, but a few outlier requests have touched Sanati, including one person who devoured the “Harry Potter” books and another who was into “Game of Thrones.” She said that many of the incarcerated individuals who cannot read have asked for graphic novels, which she is working hard to source along with books in Spanish.

For this amazing work, Sanati has been chosen as the Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumna of the Year. The award recognizes social work professionals who have contributed leadership and service to the school, university or community, and who have distinguished themselves through commitment and dedication to a particular area of social work.

The award is named after Nunn, who received his master’s in social welfare from UCLA in 1970 and his doctorate in 1990, and has been given out since 2007. Nunn was also former director of field education and vice chair of UCLA Social Welfare. Sanati, who was selected as the social welfare student of the year while a graduate student, was recognized at a May 12 ceremony at UCLA.

An innate desire to challenge social injustice put Sanati on the path to becoming a social worker soon after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Boston. Sanati said she saw a graduate program in social welfare as an opportunity to nurture the “dignity and worth of human connection” in the name of change.

Having grown up in L.A., Sanati said UCLA was her natural choice for higher education, but also a “long shot” for someone who, up until that point, hadn’t known much about master’s programs. “I just didn’t know that I could do it,” said Sanati, who got accepted to UCLA and received her master’s in social welfare in 2010.

During the MSW program, Sanati completed her field placement at the Twin Towers and her second-year placement as a school social worker. But having loved her experience working with people who are incarcerated, Sanati returned and has been there ever since. That’s not to say things have always been easy. In 2020, Sanati reached out to elected officials with her concerns about the jail not providing personal protective equipment to its staff and inmates to fight against the spread of COVID-19.

“This is what I signed up for,” she said. “This is part of the good trouble I have to get involved with and the only way to make change.”

The Twin Towers Correctional Facility, located in downtown Los Angeles, is the nation’s largest mental health facility, according to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

Unlike prison, people in the jail are confined to their cells at all times, with people at risk for suicide often facing solitary confinement for their own safety, Sanati said. When a book is the only item an incarcerated person can have, she said the jail ought to provide it.

Sanati has remained active at the Luskin School, where she works with current UCLA students as the California Region H director of the National Association of Social Workers. She served as student liaison for the region during her master’s program, attending the association’s legislative lobby days (an annual two-day trip to Sacramento that provides college students across the region the opportunity to meet with legislators and speak about different bills important to social welfare).

Sanati is now serving her second term in the role and mentoring social welfare students, some of whom are expanding her vision of correctional facility libraries. One Cal State LA student, who is not affiliated with UCLA, reached out to Sanati on social media expressing her desire to start a library at a youth detention center.

“I want to continue to help speak to and represent our profession,” Sanati said, “and I want to do whatever I can to help foster and support social workers not only in school, but moving forward into our communities.”

For more information on the mobile library, please contact: libraryproject.lacountyjail@gmail.com

View a Flickr album of photos from the 2022 Social Welfare alumni reception.

Social Welfare Alumni Reception 2022

Alumni Awards Recognize Three With Ties to Luskin School Debra Duardo, Sheila Kuehl and Kristen Torres Pawling are honored for their service to UCLA and their communities

By Manon Snyder

The UCLA Alumni Association will pay tribute to policymakers, activists and other leaders for their lifelong dedication to bringing Bruin values into the world.

Of the seven 2022 UCLA Award honorees who will be recognized at a May 21 ceremony at the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center, three have ties to the Luskin School of Public Affairs:

Debra Duardo — UCLA Award for Public Service

Duardo is a triple Bruin who earned her bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and Chicana/o studies in 1994, her master’s in social work in 1996 and a doctorate in 2013 from what was then called the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. In 2013, she was named UCLA Luskin’s Joseph A. Nunn Social Welfare Alumnus of the Year.

After having to drop out of high school to work full time and postponing higher education until her late 20s, Duardo has dedicated her career to ensuring a safe environment for underrepresented students. Duardo worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District for 20 years and in 2016 was appointed Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools by the county board of supervisors, where she continues to pursue equity for 2 million students.

Sheila Kuehl — Edward A. Dickinson Alum of the Year

Kuehl earned her bachelor’s degree in English from UCLA in 1962. She is a former University of California Regents’ Professor in public policy at UCLA Luskin, where she received the Ruth Roemer Social Justice Leadership Award for her work in homelessness.

Kuehl has been a lifelong trailblazer for women’s rights and queer representation in politics. In 1994, Kuehl was the first openly gay or lesbian person elected to the California Legislature, and throughout her many tenures in public office, she has passed important bills advancing the rights of disenfranchised communities in Los Angeles County and California as a whole. She will retire from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this year. Kuehl has been previously honored by UCLA in 1993 with the UCLA Award for Community Service and in 2000 with the UCLA Award for Public Service.

Kuehl attended UCLA at the same time as she was filming “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” playing the character of Zelda Gilroy. Upon graduation from UCLA, she became an associate dean of students. In addition to her position as a Regents’ Professor at UCLA Luskin, Kuehl taught law at UCLA, USC and Loyola Law School.

Kristen Torres Pawling — Young Alumnus of the Year

Pawling completed her bachelor’s degree in geography and environmental studies from UCLA in 2009 and her master’s in urban and regional planning in 2012. She served as an executive fellow in the office of the chair on California climate change policy in Sacramento, where she also joined the Sacramento Alumni Network and helped grow its young alumni program. Pawling brought her expertise to the climate crisis as an air pollution specialist for the California Air Resources Board Transportation Planning Branch and helped the Natural Resources Defense Council’s urban solutions department implement its strategic plan in Los Angeles. She is currently the sustainability program director for Los Angeles County.

Other 2022 UCLA Award honorees are:

UCLA Alumni Band — Network of the Year

Monica Ebeltoft — Volunteer of the Year

Alberto Retana — UCLA Award for Community Service

A. Wallace Tashima — UCLA Award for Professional Achievement

Read more about all of the 2022 UCLA Award Recipients.

UCLA Luskin Team Tapped to Evaluate National Violence Intervention Initiative  Researchers will analyze implementation of a White House program to equip community leaders and nonprofits to combat gun violence

By Mary Braswell

Two researchers from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs have received $250,000 in funding to conduct an evaluation of a White House initiative designed to bolster the capacity of grassroots organizations to combat violence in their communities.

Jorja Leap ’78, MSW ’80, PhD anthropology ’88 and Karrah Lompa MSW ’13, who lead the Social Justice Research Partnership based at UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, will conduct an in-depth evaluation to document implementation of the Community Violence Intervention Collaborative (CVIC), launched by the Biden-Harris administration in July 2021.

The 18-month effort aims to equip community leaders and nonprofit organizations in 16 jurisdictions, including Los Angeles, with increased funding, training and technical assistance to reduce gun crime and increase public safety.

The collaborative brings together White House officials, mayors, law enforcement, experts in community violence intervention and philanthropic institutions to share ideas, spur innovation, and scale and strengthen the infrastructure that supports community-led efforts to increase public safety.

Hyphen, the anchor organization managing the public-philanthropic collaboration, selected Leap and Lompa to document CVIC’s activities, including the identification of partner organizations in each jurisdiction, the provision of training and technical support, and the development of a nationwide community violence intervention network. Their research will establish the strategies that have proven most successful over time and recommend approaches for sharing them nationwide.

Over the next year, Leap, an adjunct professor of social welfare, and Lompa will engage in community-based participatory research, including several visits to all 16 jurisdictions. Driven by on-the-ground, ethnographic research, this rigorous effort will produce a documentary narrative as well as recommendations that will guide the initiative’s ongoing efforts. UCLA Luskin graduate and undergraduate students will be actively involved in the evaluation effort.

“Our engagement in this initiative reflects how deeply CVIC understands the need for rigorous evaluation from Day One of their efforts,” Leap said. “Consistent with the values of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, we are committed to delivering participatory research that actively involves community members in the research process. They are partners, not just participants.”

A White House statement in February described the Community Violence Intervention Collaborative as one element in a broad strategy to address the nationwide spike in gun crime since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The collaborative was launched to “help communities assess their existing public safety ecosystem, identify gaps and build the capacity to expand programming that saves lives,” the statement said.

Racial justice, equity and community leadership are central to the initiative, according to the Hyphen team anchoring the program.

“The Community Violence Intervention Collaborative presents an unprecedented opportunity to establish a learning network that dramatically improves our country’s response to violence and reimagines and enhances public safety, ” according to Aqeela Sherrills, the initiative’s collaborative advisor.

The 16 jurisdictions in the Community Violence Intervention Collaborative were selected for their high rates of crime but also their strong support from civic and philanthropic leaders. In addition to Los Angeles, they include Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas; Baltimore, Maryland; Baton Rouge, Louisiana.; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; Memphis, Tennessee; Miami-Dade, Florida.; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Rapid City, South Dakota; King County, Washington; St. Louis, Missouri; and Washington, D.C.

Leap, a recognized expert in gangs, violence and systems change, develops and coordinates community-based efforts that involve research, evaluation and policy recommendations at the local, state and national level. Lompa has extensive knowledge of nonprofit organizations and capacity building developed over her career in the nonprofit sector, including having served as executive director of a nonprofit organization.

Leap and Lompa are also co-founders of the Watts Leadership Institute, a 10-year initiative to provide grassroots leaders and nonprofits with the training, technical assistance and resources needed to build their infrastructure and knowledge to help advance positive community change. In a meaningful coincidence, the Watts Leadership Institute represents a local version of what CVIC strives to achieve nationally.

School Rises to Top 12 — and Top 10 for Social Work — in U.S. News Graduate Ranking Enhanced reputation is an indicator of ongoing work to meet and exceed high expectations for Luskin School and its Social Welfare programs.

UCLA Luskin’s overall ranking is in the top dozen among public affairs graduate schools in the nation based on the latest U.S. News & World Report ratings released today, including a Top 10 ranking in the social work category.

The School tied with other prestigious programs — Princeton, NYU, Georgetown and Carnegie Mellon at No. 12 and at No. 9 in social work with Case Western Reserve University.

“I am proud of the work that the Luskin School has done and continues to do. This ranking among national public affairs schools is just one indicator of the Luskin School’s continued growth and ongoing work to maintain and exceed our high expectations,” Dean Gary Segura said. “And the leap into the Top 10 for Social Welfare is a gigantic achievement! These reputational enhancements reflection the hard work and the continuing commitment of, and to, our UCLA and UCLA Luskin community, faculty, students, staff and all those that support and contribute to our mission,” he said.

“I am thrilled that our peers have rated us one of the top 10 social work programs in the nation,” said Laura Abrams, chair and professor of social welfare. “In the last five years, we have streamlined our Master of Social Welfare curriculum into three areas of concentration and incorporated several new elements, such as Intergroup Dialogue and the second-year capstone research projects.”

Abrams also noted the recruitment of new faculty members who are doing cutting-edge teaching, scholarship and community-based work.

“Dean Segura has been incredibly supportive of our expansion and increasing our visibility on the national stage. I couldn’t be more pleased to see our MSW program being honored in this way,” Abrams said.

Among public universities, the UCLA Luskin Social Welfare program is now one of the top six nationwide and the top two in California.

The School — with graduate departments in Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning, and a Public Affairs undergraduate program — also received high marks for subcategories that include urban policy (No. 7), social policy (No. 7), public policy analysis (No. 13) and health policy and management (No. 12).

The 2023 rankings of public affairs programs are published in 2022 based on peer assessment survey results from fall 2021 and early 2022. U.S. News surveyed deans, directors and department chairs representing 270 master’s programs in public affairs and administration, and 298 social work programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the Council on Social Work Education. The National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work supplied U.S. News with the lists of accredited social work schools and programs, plus the respondents’ names.

See the full list of the 2023 U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools, published today.

Reber Highlights Educational Disparities in New Publication

Associate Professor of Public Policy Sarah Reber collaborated with Nora Gordon of Georgetown University on “Addressing Inequities in the US K-12 Education System,” a chapter of the Aspen Economic Strategy Group publication “Rebuilding the Post-Pandemic Economy.” Reber and Gordon explore disparities in educational outcomes by race, ethnicity, economic disadvantage and disability. “American public schools do not successfully prepare all students for careers or college,” they wrote. “Despite decades of federal and state policy reforms and major philanthropic investments, there are still glaring deficiencies and inequities across the US K-12 education system.” Reducing inequities in American education “will require a renewed focus on the ‘fundamentals’ of the K-12 system, including an emphasis on how staff are trained, recruited, retained and supported in their work; the effective design of curriculum; and the maintenance of safe and healthy school buildings,” they wrote. In the chapter, Reber and Gordon highlight three principles to guide future efforts to improve K-12 schools: First, they recommend focusing on the key elements of how to effectively deliver educational content to all students, including class size, access to necessary technologies and supplies, and a strong core curriculum. Next, they suggest increasing the emphasis on vulnerable students, including students with disabilities, English learners and American Indian students. Finally, they note that school leaders should encourage the thoughtful adoption of strategies that have been shown to work. “We should learn from past efforts to improve the impact of educational policy and philanthropy going forward, with careful attention to strengthening the research base,” they concluded.


Jackson Selected as American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare Fellow

Professor Emerita of Social Welfare Aurora Jackson was elected as a 2022 fellow by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare. The academy is a prestigious society of distinguished scholars and practitioners dedicated to achieving excellence in the field of social work and social welfare through high-impact work that advances social good. The fellowship program recognizes and celebrates outstanding social work and social welfare research, scholarship and practice. Jackson’s scholarship examines the interrelationships among economic hardship, parental psychological well-being, parenting in the home environment, and child developmental outcomes in families headed by low-income, single-parent mothers with young children. When she is formally inducted with 15 other fellows in January 2022, Jackson will become the second woman from UCLA to join the academy, following the induction of Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams in 2020. Academy fellows are nominated confidentially, then confirmed by a supermajority of current academy members. “Being a member of the academy is the highest honor the profession can bestow on a scholar,” said Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, who was inducted into the academy in 2017. Jackson will contribute to the growing list of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare scholars who have been inducted as academy fellows. In addition to Abrams and Astor, they include Distinguished Professor Emeritus Stuart A. Kirk (2010), Professor Emeritus James Lubben (2011), Professor Emeritus Robert Schilling (2011) and the late Professor Yeheskel “Zeke” Hasenfeld (2013). — Zoe Day


Anheier on Germany’s New Ruling Coalition

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Helmut Anheier authored an article in Project Syndicate about Germany’s new ruling coalition. After eight weeks of negotiations, a national-level three-party alliance has been established for the first time since the 1950s, with Social Democrat Olaf Scholz succeeding Angela Merkel as chancellor. Leaders of the center-left Social Democrats, the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats collaborated to produce the coalition agreement “Dare to Make More Progress,” which outlines lofty goals for Germany, including modernization of the social security system and strengthening support for social welfare programs. Scholz’s government will also aim to increase renewable energy, invest in public transportation, expand public housing and overhaul Germany’s immigration framework. “Germany’s new ruling coalition has advanced a much-needed vision for the country, but whether it can realize it will depend largely on the coalition committee’s political skill,” Anheier wrote. “If the coalition fails, Germany will risk reverting to its old habit of doing too little too late.”


Torres-Gil on Long-Term Care for an Aging America

Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy Fernando Torres-Gil co-authored a commentary in The Hill about the growing demand for caretakers as the U.S. population ages. According to one study, the United States has an unmet need for 2.3 million home care workers. Congress is currently debating legislation to improve affordable care by expanding Medicaid coverage for home care services for seniors and people with disabilities, among other measures. Torres-Gil and co-author Jacqueline Angel from the University of Texas, Austin, noted that middle-class and working families are most likely to shoulder the burden of caring for family members, and these populations are most likely to suffer from burnout and caregiver stress. Eventually, the authors hope to see the implementation of a universal long-term care policy, such as those in place in the European Union, South Korea and Japan. “We can do better here in the United States,” they wrote.


Leap on Supporting Survivors of Domestic Violence

Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured in a PBS NewsHour report on the importance of programs that support female survivors of domestic violence. The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence estimates that 70% to 80% of incarcerated women are survivors of domestic violence. Yet very few programs exist to ease trauma for these women in prison or after they are released. A New Way of Life is a program that offers subsidized housing, legal help and therapy to formerly incarcerated women who are survivors of domestic violence. “Reentry programs like this are the exception, and more are needed,” Leap said. “The best programs give women a sense of community, that they’re not alone, that there are others who have been victims of sexual abuse, victims of domestic violence, that other women know and understand what they have gone through, and they support one another.”


New Paper Analyzes Impact of School Closures on Families

Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor and doctoral student Kate Watson collaborated on a new paper highlighting the needs of children and families during school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper, published in Social Work, analyzed responses to a nationwide survey of 1,275 school social workers who reported on their clients, including schools, children and families, during the COVID-19 school closures in spring 2020. While other reports have focused on academic challenges facing students during the pandemic as well as the effects of online learning on academic success, the authors identified a knowledge gap in understanding the needs and difficulties of K-12 students and their families from a social work perspective. In their responses to the survey, school social workers indicated that the children and families they served had significant unmet basic needs, including for food, health care and housing. “Poverty and mental health compounded pandemic difficulties, which were associated with the sociodemographic makeup of schools,” wrote Watson, the paper’s lead author, with co-authors Astor and colleagues from Hebrew University, Cal State Fullerton and Loyola University Chicago. Based on the survey results, the authors identified several policy and practice implications for the future. They highlighted the need for “additional services for students and families, a plan to address structural inequities in our schools and communities, coordinated outreach to reengage missing students, and recognition of the strong work being done by school staff coupled with a need for additional supports and resources to combat persistent inequality.” — Zoe Day