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Miyashita Ochoa on Outdated Blood Donation Restrictions

Social Welfare faculty member Ayako Miyashita Ochoa spoke to ABC News about prospects that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will update its blood donation policy, which restricts participation by some members of the LGBTQ community. The policy has evolved over the years. In 1985, the FDA banned all donations from men who have sex with men in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Today, donations are accepted from gay and bisexual men who abstain from sex for 90 days. If a policy change is implemented, gay and bisexual men in monogamous relationships will be able to donate without abstaining from sex. Implementing the change would help battle stigma and address future blood shortages. Research by Miyashita Ochoa found that eliminating the ban could increase the donation supply by 2% to 4%, bringing in more than 615,000 pints of blood every year. “That isn’t a small amount,” she said. “That 2 to 4% count is roughly calculated to a million lives saved.”


 

UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Alumnae Elevated to Public Office

Caroline Menjivar and Nikki Perez, two members of UCLA Luskin’s Master of Social Welfare Class of 2018, have turned their background in social work into successful bids for public office. Menjivar has been elected to the California State Senate, and Perez will join the Burbank City Council, results from the Nov. 8 election confirmed. The two alumnae will bring a broad range of perspectives into the halls of government. Menjivar, a Marine Corps veteran and the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, will be the first out LGBTQ legislator to represent the San Fernando Valley. She told CalMatters that she plans to use her personal experiences and background as a social worker to advocate for mental health services and housing solutions. While at UCLA Luskin, Menjivar worked in the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as a David Bohnett Fellow. Perez was the top vote-getter in the Burbank council race. She told the Burbank Leader, “As the first Indigenous and openly LGBTQ woman elected to council, it’s a tremendous honor to bring a unique perspective and representation to our city government.” A lifelong Burbank resident and graduate of its public schools, Perez said she will be a voice for the city’s underrepresented populations, including renters, working-class families, union members and the Latino community. Since graduating from UCLA Luskin, Perez has worked as a nonprofit program manager and staff member with the California Legislature.


 

Abrams and Boston University Dean Call for Social Workers to Use Knowledge for Change Scholars must wrestle with the root causes of social inequality and strive toward bettering people's lives, they write

Professor Laura Abrams, chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, and Dean Jorge Delva of Boston University’s School of Social Work (BUSSW) are co-authors of a newly published journal article looking at the opportunities and obligations of social work research.

Published by the Journal of the Society for Social Work & Research, “Social Work Researchers: From Scientific Technicians to Changemakers” is a call to action for social work scholars to direct their efforts toward high-impact research that produces findings that can be applied in a timely manner to influence programs, policies or movements that improve the lives of the most marginalized and oppressed populations.

Abrams and Delva note that amid recent social tumult, global challenges and increased attention to racism and anti-Blackness, there has been an increase in demand for research that is both scientific and attentive to social, racial, economic and environmental justice.

They say, however, that an empirical push in social work research has resulted in “a focus on quantity over impact; undue emphasis on publishing in journals, often in non-social-work journals that have high impact factors but are separated from our practice community; engagement in ‘traditional’ modes of scholarship that do not necessarily challenge the status quo; and pursuit of NIH funding as an end in itself.”

The authors acknowledge the value of National Institutes of Health funding but write that the “narrow focus on NIH as an arbiter of a successful scholar … has also reinforced the top-down, parachuting type of research whereby researchers drop into a community, conduct their research and depart with little to no involvement by and impact on the community.”

Pushing toward evidence without a solid anchor to communities is a phenomenon that the authors attribute to pressures within academia to attain ever-greater funding, power and prestige — pressures fed by incomplete measures of success such as the U.S. News & World Report rankings.

Delva and Abrams point to a paradigm shift, saying the next generation of social work scholars is ready for change. New momentum exists for the belief that current research practices function as tools of white supremacy, patriarchy and oppression, which is an idea advanced as early as 1968, when the National Association of Black Social Workers urged the National Conference on Social Welfare to publicly repudiate the welfare system.

Delva and Abrams say that social work must reach beyond the goal of implementing health research into practice and also wrestle with the root causes of social inequalities. In the same way that science alone could not have improved women’s lives without women’s rights movements, social science can only make an impact with communal support and momentum, the co-authors write.

Abrams, whose research centers on improving the well-being of youth and adults with histories of incarceration, joins Delva, the Paul Farmer professor and director of the Center for Innovation in Social Work & Health at BUSSW, in imploring academic leaders to make a more concerted effort to elevate and reward work based on public impact, community participatory research and social movements.

UCLA Social Welfare Marks 75 Years of Distinguished Research

UCLA Social Welfare scholars from around the country returned to campus this week to recognize milestones in teaching and research over the past 75 years, as well as the work still ahead to advance justice in both academia and the broader society. The gathering of Social Welfare PhD students, doctoral alumni, faculty and staff, held at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center on the evening of Nov. 14, kicked off a yearlong commemoration of the Social Welfare program’s diamond anniversary. Professor Emeritus Rosina Becerra shared insights from her three decades in leadership positions at the university, including as dean of the School of Social Welfare in the 1980s and ’90s and later as vice provost of faculty diversity and development. Guests also heard from Karina L. Walters PhD ’95 MSW ’90 BA ’87, a professor of social work at the University of Washington and member of the Choctaw Nation, and Darcey H. Merritt PhD ’06 MSW ’03, associate professor at New York University and co-editor-in-chief of the research journal Children and Youth Services Review. Merritt will soon join the University of Chicago faculty as a full professor. Becerra, Walters and Merritt are distinguished scholars and also women of color, and they spoke of progress yet to be made to achieve full equity in the academy. The celebration of UCLA Social Welfare’s 75th anniversary will continue throughout the academic year, culminating on Saturday, May 6, with an alumni reunion and the annual presentation of the Joseph A. Nunn Alumnus of the Year award.

View photos from the event on Flickr.

Social Welfare Research At UCLA: Past, Present, Future


Holloway on HIV Prevention Among People Who Inject Drugs

Ian Holloway, professor of social welfare, spoke to TheBodyPro about a cross-sectional survey of over 1,000 participants aimed at determining whether people who inject drugs would take an injectable medication to prevent HIV infection. The medication, known as LA-PrEP, or long-acting pre-exposure prophylaxis, is given by injection at three-month intervals. While the medication is very effective at preventing HIV infection, less than 2% of people who inject drugs have received a prescription. Holloway’s study showed that over 25% of participants did not have access to health insurance or other government benefits, further restricting their access to PrEP. The survey was conducted right before the COVID-19 pandemic, and Holloway recommended that more research be done to understand the effects of the pandemic on HIV prevention. “We think it will be important to assess what attitudes, perceptions and behaviors have remained unchanged,” as well as identify interventions that promote use of effective treatments among high-risk populations, he said. 


 

‘Social Workers Who Drive Social Change’ Students from around the world gather at UCLA to reimagine their chosen field through a justice-first lens

By Mary Braswell

The aspiring social workers from around the world gathered on a shaded lawn at UCLA to process what they had seen that morning.

Their visit to an agency on Skid Row, epicenter of Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis, came after several days immersed in conversation about how to engage communities on society’s margins, and the group’s reflections pointed to one overriding question:

How can individual social workers move away from managing misery and toward a transformation of their entire field, upending systems that perpetuate inequity in order to truly change lives?

That aspiration guided this year’s International Summer University in Social Work, hosted by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare over two weeks in July.

More than 20 scholars and graduate students from universities in Australia, Canada, China, India, Israel and Switzerland joined a large UCLA contingent during the collective multinational inquiry.

“We are seeking common practices that promote justice, and we learn from one another,” said Amy Ritterbusch, the assistant professor of social welfare who developed the curriculum with Professor Emerita Rosina Becerra.

‘We are seeking common practices that promote justice, and we learn from one another.’ — Amy Ritterbusch, assistant professor of social welfare

The summer university has convened around the world for more than a decade, governed by a consortium of universities to bring a global lens to core social work theories and practices.

This is the first year that UCLA has hosted, and finding a place on a full agenda were topics such as racism, the wealth gap, gender bias, housing and health inequities, children’s rights and elder abuse.

Faculty members from each participating university shared their scholarship on community engagement, as did the keynote speaker, University of Washington Professor Karina Walters, a triple Bruin who earned her doctorate in social welfare in 1995. Walters drew from her Choctaw heritage and research, using the elements of water, land, air, wind and fire to frame the dialogue.

Off-campus elements of the program revealed the extremes of L.A. society: the structural poverty and exclusion seen on Skid Row and at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and the spaces of privilege glimpsed during cultural outings to the Hollywood Bowl and Pantages Theater.

Also built into each day’s schedule was space for group dialogue to share the unique cultural perspectives and social work practices each participant brought to the summer university.

Vanessa Warri, a UCLA doctoral student studying social welfare and a leader in the summer university, said the program challenged students to broaden their thinking about their chosen profession.

“There’s a history of social workers showing up as ‘saviors’ — at best providing resources to an underserved community and at worst managing the suffering of a population, but not necessarily helping to alleviate it,” she said. “So how can we engage and advocate in the spaces we are in and build more sustainable communities?”

Before and after the trip to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Cardinal Manning Center on Skid Row, the group grappled with the enormity of the homelessness crisis, the limits of social work, and the concern that taking a tour of life on the streets would be more voyeuristic than educational. The shelter staff invited them to take note of the sights, smells and sounds, then ponder how policies are addressing or not addressing what they observed.

Bobby Benny, a student from the Rajagiri College of Social Science in India, was struck by the dozens of shelters and service providers within a few blocks but wondered how they could possibly meet the needs of the 6,500 unhoused people in downtown Los Angeles, much less the tens of thousands countywide.

“How is that building with 100 beds a solution? How is any of it a solution?” Benny asked as the students gathered back at UCLA. “I’ve seen this in India, but something is different here.”

On the institute’s final day, Benny shared a poem juxtaposing the Los Angeles he had dreamed of and the one he woke up in, where “those skyscrapers were acting as a source of shade for the people who were forgotten in the City of Angels.”

Group presentations allowed all the students to synthesize their experiences and reflect on how they could apply what they learned in their home cultures. And they expressed a desire to stay connected even over long distances.

Said Ritterbusch, “We hope to leave here with a collective commitment to become social workers who drive social change.”

View lectures and photos from this year’s International Summer University in Social Work.

International Summer University in Social Work

Social Welfare Alumni Come Together to Support Students

A group of MSW alumni who have sustained a close bond developed during their time at UCLA Luskin turned their camaraderie into a commitment to support current students. Nine members of the class of 2011 launched the Together Crecemos Scholarship Fund to provide financial assistance to a first-year Social Welfare student who is committed to promoting equity, championing social justice and contributing to the community. The inspiration for the fund, whose name means “Together We Grow,” came during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the group met virtually each week for support and encouragement. They inaugurated the scholarship program in 2021, and the first award was in the amount of $2,011, a nod to their graduation year. The award winner is Julia Cocilion, who impressed the alumni with her moving personal story and vision to engage in equitable social work practices, said Bridgette Amador, one of the alumni organizers. “It was a joy to learn more about the first-year students from their applications and to see the high caliber of students in the UCLA MSW program,” Amador said. “We hope to continue to grow the scholarship fund for years to come.” Pictured are members of the Together Crecemos alumni group: top, from left, Refugio Valle, Christy Perez, Malena Traverso French, Bridgette Amador and Carlos Amador; bottom, from left, Susana Ochoa-Valle, Jacqueline Perez Robledo, Jessica Tovar and Natalie Bibriesca-Mercado.


 

Nancy Pelosi and George Takei Deliver Calls to Action to Class of 2022 The House speaker and the actor-activist appear at UCLA Luskin's dual commencement ceremonies

UCLA Luskin celebrated its Class of 2022 with two commencement ceremonies on June 10, one for public policy, social welfare and urban planning scholars earning advanced degrees and a second honoring students awarded the bachelor’s in public affairs.

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spoke to undergraduates on the patio of UCLA’s Kerckhoff Hall, and actor and social justice activist George Takei addressed students earning master’s and Ph.D. degrees in UCLA’s Royce Hall.

Each of the speakers issued a call to action to graduates who are entering a troubled world. They shared a message of empowerment, encouraging students to look within themselves, identify their unique gifts and use them to make a difference.

“Recognize who you are, what your strengths are, because our nation needs you, you, you, you,” Pelosi said, pointing to individual graduates.

Takei, too, called on his audience to tap into the primal urges that move them to action.

“Let us seek out our own human essence,” he said. ‘You are all infinite in diversity, working together in infinite combinations. And yet you are one, all aligned to contribute to making this a better society.”

The speakers were introduced by UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura, who had his own charge to the Class of 2022.

“We are in a critical moment in the history of this nation and of this society,” Segura said. “We’re deciding who we are as a people, what values matter to us as Americans, what is our role in human history. …

“So beyond merely congratulating you, I want to thank you, perhaps prematurely, for all that we expect you to do with what you have learned.”

Segura acknowledged that the graduates’ time at UCLA was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, a theme echoed in speeches from students selected to represent their programs: Anahi Cruz of Public Policy, Vanessa Rochelle Warri of Social Welfare, Paola Tirado Escareño of Urban Planning and  Samantha Danielle Schwartz of the undergraduate Public Affairs program.

Following each ceremony, graduates and guests gathered at outdoor receptions to take photos and offer congratulations before entering the ranks of UCLA Luskin alumni.

The two Class of 2022 commencement speakers are known for blazing trails in their fields.

Pelosi, a member of Congress for more than three decades, made history in 2007 as the first woman elected to serve as speaker of the House. She has championed legislation that has helped to lower health care costs, increase workers’ pay and promote the nation’s economic growth. In 2013, Pelosi was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Seneca Falls, New York, the birthplace of the American women’s rights movement. 

Takei is best known for his role as Lt. Hikaru Sulu in “Star Trek,” the groundbreaking sci-fi series that featured a multiethnic cast and a plot centered on peace among all peoples. He is also a bestselling author with an immense social media following, which he has used as platform to advocate for the LGBTQ and Asian American communities and educate his audience about U.S. internment camps for Japanese Americans, where he and his family were held during World War II.

Both speakers described the tumultuous era awaiting the Class of 2022, one of political division, racial hatred, gun violence, housing injustice, a climate emergency and a battle to defend democracy at home and abroad.

“When people ask me, ‘What gives you hope for the future?’ I always say the same thing: young people,” Pelosi said.

Since the nation’s founding, “It has been young people who have refused to remain silent, led the civil rights movement, taking to the streets, casting ballots, making change happen. …

“So right now, you and your peers, you’ve seized the torch in so many ways, marching for our lives, your lives, sounding the alarm on climate, demanding justice, justice, justice for all.”

Pelosi had a special message for the women in the audience: “I want you to know your power. … And I want you to be ready.

“You don’t know what’s around the next corner, and that applies to all of you but especially to the women. Because nothing is more wholesome to the politics and the government and any other subject you can name than the increased participation of women.”

To those considering entering public office, she advised. “You have to be able to take a punch, and you have to be able to throw a punch. For the children, always for the children.”

Takei called on the graduates to use 21st Century tools to “create a new version of our future.

“You today live in an incredibly complicated universe, empowered by technology that can extend to the outer reaches of space as well as penetrate down to the very core of this planet,” he said. “Perhaps, just perhaps, might we have developed an overabundance of tools and know-how?”

He recalled the unexpected silver lining of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic: the blue sky, crystal-clear air and restoration of nature as cars, trucks, trains and planes were stilled.

“Our planet was new again. And this was not virtual, it was breathtakingly real,” Takei said.

“Can we reprioritize our goals to reclaim our planet? We look to you, the high-tech generation, the urban planners, the policymakers, those who work to better the welfare of our society, to seize this moment.”

A double Bruin who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UCLA in the 1960s, Takei reminded his audience of the long line of dignitaries from science, politics and the arts who had taken the Royce Hall stage: Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Ralph Bunche, Marian Anderson, George Gershwin and many more.

“All these notables made history,” Takei said. “They transformed their times. They confronted the world they found and made it better with their brilliance, their vision, their talent and their humanity. …

“You, the graduating class of 2022 of the Luskin School of Public Affairs, are the heirs to their legacy. Take their accomplishments as your inspiration.”

View a video of the UCLA Luskin undergraduate commencement ceremony featuring House speaker Nancy Pelosi.

View pictures from the UCLA Luskin undergraduate commencement celebration.

View pictures from the UCLA Luskin graduate commencement celebration.

 

UCLA Luskin Faculty Win Public Impact Research Awards The Office of Research & Creative Activities honors scholars for work that connects the campus to local and global communities

By Manon Snyder

Laura Abrams, chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, was among six professors to receive the inaugural Public Impact Research Awards from the UCLA Office of Research & Creative Activities.

Established in collaboration with the UCLA Centennial Celebration but put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the awards recognize work that has clear and immediate benefits to local and international communities.

Honorees with a UCLA Luskin connection included Abrams; Dana Cuff, professor of architecture, urban design and urban planning; and Kelly Lytle Hernández, professor of history, African American studies and urban planning. Public Impact Research Award recipients receive $10,000 prizes.

During an award ceremony on June 1, Abrams recounted the story of how she and her co-author Elizabeth Barnert of the Geffen School of Medicine came to do the research that led to the award.

“We heard a story of a 5-year old child who was prosecuted for a curfew violation, and we set our sights on preventing this from happening again,” Abrams told an audience that included UCLA Luskin benefactor Renee Luskin. “As a social worker and a pediatrician, we were shocked to note that in California, like nearly half of all U.S. states, the law did not shield young children from being brought into the justice system.”

They were told that it would be difficult to change a law that had been on the books since the early days of the child welfare codes. Other researchers dismissed the topic as not particularly important.

“Yet we persisted,” Abrams said.

They conducted a mixed-methods study that showed setting a minimum age at which a child can be prosecuted in the juvenile justice system is not only better for children, but also politically viable. Their research also showed that, starting at younger ages, racial inequities were already problematic, particularly for Black children.

Their once “impossible policy goal” became a reality when then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 439 into law in 2018, ensuring that no child under age 12 in the state of California can be legally prosecuted, even in the juvenile justice system, except in very rare circumstances.

View photos from the event:

UCLA Research Impact Awards

Abrams is a professor of social welfare at UCLA Luskin, and Barnert is an associate professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

“I consider this project and the social policy impact to be the most important achievement in my career,” Abrams said. “I hope to inspire future scholars to conduct research that they are passionate about and that makes a difference.”

Advocates have since partnered with Abrams and Barnert to lead other states to pass or consider similar legislation. Thanks to their research, professional groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, now endorse a minimum age of 12 for juvenile court jurisdiction; their research was also used to draft a congressional bill that would set the minimum age for prosecuting youth in the federal criminal legal system at 12.

“I believe in a healthy and just society where all children have the support they need to thrive,” Barnert said.

OTHER AWARDEES CONNECTED TO UCLA LUSKIN

Cuff, based at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, is founding director of cityLAB, an award-winning research center that studies how urbanism and architecture can contribute to a more just built environment. Based on cityLAB studies, Cuff and her team created the BIHOME — a full-scale demonstration of a compact dwelling unit designed to be located in backyards to meet rising housing demands — and BruinHub, a “home away from home” at the John Wooden Center for commuter and housing-insecure students. Cuff co-authored a 2016 bill to advance the implementation of backyard homes in suburbs, and is working on design and legislation for affordable housing to be co-located with public schools.

“At one of the finest public universities in the world, cityLAB-UCLA and our students at architecture and urban design have the privileged platform to demonstrate how to build a socially just, sustainable future,” Cuff said. “I am committed to design research that brings those new possibilities to the public.”

Lytle Hernández is the Thomas E. Lifka Endowed Chair in History and faculty director of Million Dollar Hoods, a big-data initiative that uses police and jail records to examine incarceration disparities in Los Angeles neighborhoods. Launched in 2016, the initiative’s research is being used for advocacy and legislative change, such as a report on the Los Angeles School Police Department that helped stop the arrest of children ages 14 and under in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Another report was critical for the passage of California legislation that ended money bail for nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors. Beyond using data to support new policies, Million Dollar Hoods uncovers and preserves stories from Los Angeles residents who have dealt with the policing system.

OTHER UCLA HONOREES

Two UCLA faculty members without a UCLA Luskin association were also honored with Public Impact Research Awards:

  • Alex Hall is a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the UCLA College, whose research is focused on producing high-resolution projections for climate modeling, particularly in California. Hall extends his expertise beyond campus, working with Los Angeles water management agencies to help ensure the sustainability of water resources for the region. Hall is also working to understand the future of wildfires in the state. He co-founded the Climate and Wildfire Institute to champion collaboration between scientists, stakeholders and policymakers in the use of quantitative data on wildfires to shape management efforts in the western United States.

“We are in the midst of a sustainability crisis, and everyone must do their part to address it,” Hall said. “Nothing makes me happier than marshaling scientific resources to address some of the deepest sustainability challenges in California.”

  • Thomas Smith is a distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and founder of the UCLA Congo Basin Institute. As UCLA’s first foreign affiliate branch, the Congo Basin Institute works with organizations and the local government and communities to find solutions to environmental and developmental problems facing Central Africa. Continuing his commitment to conservation efforts in Africa, Smith is the founding president of the Conservation Action Research Network, which has provided more than $500,000 in grants to young African scholars. Smith is also the founding director of UCLA’s Center for Tropical Research, which has conducted research in 45 countries to understand biodiversity in the tropics. He also co-founded the Bird Genoscape Project, which uses genomics to map declining bird populations’ migration patterns and how they can inform where to prioritize conservation efforts.

“With accelerating climate change and loss of biodiversity we are rapidly approaching tipping points for many of the world’s ecosystems,” Smith said. “Our team is making a difference by focusing on science-based solutions to mitigate threats to help save the planet.

‘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