Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the current debate surrounding the Los Angeles Police Department’s use of CalGang, a secretive statewide database with information about suspected gang members, including their family members, nicknames and tattoos. Since only approved law enforcement has access to the database, it has been nearly impossible for those outside of law enforcement to gauge the integrity of the process or check the accuracy of its records. At least 20 LAPD officers are suspected of falsifying information used to identify gang members, putting additional pressure on the state Department of Justice to reform the system to prevent law enforcement from unfairly targeting people by race and economic status. Leap said the LAPD investigation “is the booster rocket to say this has got to be reformed and it’s got to be reformed not in a superficial way but in a meaningful way.”
Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams’ book on the complex lives of youth who transition out of Los Angeles’ juvenile justice system and into adulthood has received the 2020 Society for Social Work and Research Book Award.
“Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood Among Formerly Incarcerated Youth” was recognized for its outstanding contributions to the advancement of knowledge and resolution of social problems.
Abrams and her co-author, triple Bruin Diane Terry BA ’02 MSW ’04 PhD ’12, received the prestigious award Jan. 18 during the annual conference of the Society for Social Work and Research in Washington, D.C.
This year’s conference highlighted several achievements by UCLA Luskin Social Welfare:
- MSW students and faculty conducted a roundtable on their experiences providing legal assistance to migrants detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. After a week interviewing women and children held at a detention center in Dilley, Texas, the team created a set of tools for other advocates who are trying to help migrants who have faced trauma.
- Abrams was formally inducted into the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, a national honor society recognizing excellence in the field. Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, a member of the academy since 2017, delivered the induction address.
- Maggie Thomas, who will join the Social Welfare faculty as an assistant professor in the fall, received the 2020 Doctoral Fellows Award for her dissertation, “Material Hardship, Public Assistance and Child Wellbeing: A Panel Data Study.”
- Research by eight faculty, 12 Ph.D. students and four MSW students or recent graduates was presented during the five-day conference’s symposia, workshops, roundtables, and paper and poster presentations.
By Mary Braswell
In a landmark year for UCLA, the celebration may be loudest in the northwest corner of campus, home to the Luskin School of Public Affairs.
This year marks both the university’s centennial and the Luskin School’s silver anniversary — a quarter-century dedicated to advancing the public good through teaching, research, advocacy and innovation.
It’s clearly a time to party, and a record 620 students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends answered the call in September, gathering at the annual Block Party to raise a toast to UCLA Luskin. But it’s also a time to reflect on lessons from an initially rocky union and, most importantly, to create a roadmap for the future.
As 2020 dawns, Dean Gary Segura is confident that a collaborative spirit among the three pillars of planning, policymaking and social welfare will invigorate UCLA Luskin and extend its reach into the community, nation and world.
“What ties us together as a School is our focus on human well-being, broadly conceived,” Segura said. “The Luskin faculty have received Ph.D.s from 14 different fields of study. Our disciplines may encourage us to focus on well-being at the individual, family, community, metropolitan, polity or even global levels of analysis. But what we share in common is the conviction that social fabrics and social institutions are best when they facilitate human security, dignity and opportunity.”
In the three years since Segura’s arrival, the School has seen remarkable growth. A signature achievement is the creation of an undergraduate major in public affairs, which melds critical thinking, experiential learning, research methodology and a public service ethos. More than 250 students have already come on board.
The undergraduate curriculum draws in faculty from every UCLA Luskin program, all with the common goal of providing a holistic, transdisciplinary public affairs education. As part of that effort, explorations are underway for an additional degree: the executive master’s in public affairs, designed to equip professionals and public servants to step into leadership positions.
Expanding knowledge is at the core, fueled by the scholarship of faculty and a wide range of research centers. In just over two years, UCLA Luskin has launched several new ventures:
• Latino Policy and Politics Initiative combines policy analysis with civic engagement, and recently received $2.5 million in support from the California Legislature.
• International Development and Policy Outreach focuses on research aimed at empowering women and children around the world.
• Latin American Cities Initiative, commonly known as Ciudades, builds ties among planners and policymakers across the Americas.
This year, they will be joined by the Hub for Health Innovation, Policy and Practice, which conducts research to improve community health, particularly among the LGBTQ population and other marginalized groups. In addition, the School expects to launch a global policy initiative to foster safe and welcoming schools and communities to demonstrate that good science can be used to better the lives of students around the world.
The schools initiative will be directed by Professor Ron Avi Astor, an internationally recognized expert on school safety and violence, who joined the faculty in Social Welfare this academic year. His appointment is part of an effort by Segura to broaden the faculty’s expertise and diversity. Of the 19 faculty appointments Segura has made, 14 are women and 12 are people of color.
“Our School is now one of the most diverse and interdisciplinary units in the University of California system,” Segura said. “We are growing in a way that reflects the state’s diverse and dynamic population, and this makes us profoundly well-positioned to engage, educate and contribute to the world around us.”
That commitment to reach beyond the campus was underscored in April 2019 at the first Luskin Summit, a cross-sector conference bringing public officials, civic leaders, philanthropists and other advocates together with UCLA Luskin’s faculty — all in pursuit of a “Livable L.A.”
The summit, which officially launched the School’s 25th anniversary celebration, will return to campus April 22 under the unifying theme “A Call to Action.” Participants will search for solutions to problems centering on housing, immigration, health, education and — fittingly, as the summit will take place on Earth Day — sustainability.
The legacy of doing good reaches far past the quarter-century mark, of course. Social Welfare’s graduate program dates to 1947. Urban planning at UCLA launched in 1969 in conjunction with architecture. A newly created public policy program was added in 1994, in what many viewed at the time as a shotgun marriage.
The new School of Public Policy and Social Research emerged in an era of reckoning triggered by post-recession budget cutbacks. Among other belt-tightening measures to contend with a loss of tens of millions of dollars in state support, UCLA decided to reconfigure all of its professional schools.
The early years were unsettled, as three disparate entities forged their identity under one roof. Many people believed the merger damaged the stature of respected programs and UCLA overall. Some questioned the motives of university leadership, and others were determined to preserve their departments as singular entities rather than seeking a cohesive whole.
“It wasn’t a happy transition,” said Allan Heskin, an urban planning professor at the time. “They didn’t take a vote and ask us.”
Longtime staff member Marsha Brown B.A. ’70 said that the late professor John Friedmann was the urban planning department chair at the time. He asked Brown to take a walk with him. “And he said, ‘They are going to be splitting urban planning and architecture and forming a new school.’ It was shocking.”
The move was very controversial. “People were really very upset about it and writing letters of protest,” she said.
“Quite frankly, a lot of us were really fairly strongly alienated by the decision,” alumnus Jeffry Carpenter recalled. “There was a superficial presumption on the part of university administration that there was some sort of linkage or relationship there that they imagined should exist. It is not so much of a relationship because the actual practice tends to be very, very different.”
Gerry Laviña, director of social welfare field education at UCLA Luskin, also had a front-row seat for the School’s difficult birth.
“There was a lot of anger among both faculty and students,” recalled Laviña, who earned his master’s in social welfare in 1988, then joined the field faculty in 1993. “What would this mean for our MSW? Would we be seen as lesser than?”
But he added, “What started out as a forced venture became a beautiful outcome.”
Over the years, resentments have faded, faculty from different disciplines have increasingly sought to learn from one another, and students have benefited from a wider array of cross-departmental resources.
“We know relationships, organizations, people need time to grow and come together as one,” Laviña said. “I don’t know if we’re fully there yet, but we’re so much better than we were even five years ago. I look forward to the next five years and beyond.”
Throughout the early years, there was one consensus: Very few cared for the new school’s name or awkward acronym, SPPSR. They lived with it until being rechristened in September 2004 as the UCLA School of Public Affairs. In 2011, the current name — the Meyer and Renee Luskin School of Public Affairs — came along with a transformative gift of $50 million that brought the resources and ambition to launch a period of expansion and innovation.
At the Block Party, benefactor Renee Luskin reflected on the journey.
“I want to express how much it means to Meyer and myself to be connected to such an outstanding school here at UCLA,” she said, thanking the faculty, staff, students and advisors for their unflagging passion and dedication. “As they say,” she concluded, “we’ve come a long way, baby.”
By Stan Paul
Three new faculty members in social welfare and one in urban planning joined UCLA Luskin as of the fall quarter.
They bring to 19 the total number of new faculty added during the tenure of Dean Gary Segura to UCLA Luskin’s three professional programs and its undergraduate major.
Joining social welfare: Professor Ron Avi Astor, an expert on bullying and school violence; Assistant Professor Cindy Sangalang, who examines how race, migration and culture intersect to shape health and well-being in immigrant and refugee communities; and Assistant Professor Lee Ann Wang, whose current work looks at the intersection of immigration law and criminalization through gender and sexual violence.
New to urban planning is Assistant Professor Veronica Herrera, who studies the politics of development in Global South cities, with a focus on Latin America. Her research emphasizes environmental policymaking, sustainability and water policy.
Astor holds a joint appointment as professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Sangalang and Wang have joint appointments as assistant professors in Asian American Studies.
Astor holds the Marjorie Crump Chair in Social Welfare. His work examines the role of the physical, social-organizational and cultural contexts in schools related to different kinds of bullying and school violence. Examples include sexual harassment, cyber bullying, discrimination, hate acts, school fights, emotional abuse, weapon use and teacher/child violence. His most recent co-authored book on the subject, “Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving Contexts: Culture, Organization, and Time,” was published last January.
“Bullying is such a big term that it gives us a lot of room,” said Astor, whose first studies related to bullying and school violence tied to vulnerable groups such as homeless and foster children. “So being in these literatures you realize that some of the research has been more generic, so it does matter if it’s LGBTQ or if it’s military kids, or homeless or foster kids … because the dynamics are a little bit different.”
His research is cross-cultural and makes comparisons between the United States and other places, including such countries as Israel, China, Cameroon and Kosovo.
“Professor Astor is one of the foremost experts in the world on how to cultivate safe and nurturing schools for children around the globe,” said Professor Laura Abrams, chair of social welfare. “This research is critical to social work as schools play a major role in shaping key child outcomes.”
Astor is a Southern California native who came to UCLA after a long research and teaching appointment at the University of Michigan and, more recently, at USC.
By Zoe Day
Professor Laura S. Abrams, chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, has been named a fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW), a prestigious national society honoring excellence in the research and practice of social work.
Abrams will be the first woman from UCLA to be inducted into the academy, which currently recognizes 140 fellows.
“Entering my 20th year as a professor, I am honored to be included as a member of the AASWSW,” said Abrams, whose research broadly focuses on improving the well-being of youth and young adults with histories of incarceration.
“I hope to work with AASWSW to advance social work’s unique lens in addressing social inequities and injustices,” she said.
Established in 2010, the academy’s mission is to recognize and encourage premier scholars, practitioners and outstanding leaders in the social welfare field whose work contributes to a sustainable and equitable future.
The academy is the sponsoring organization for the Social Work Grand Challenges, an initiative to use science to champion social progress, and aims to influence policy by serving as a source of information for the social work profession.
Abrams joins UCLA Luskin Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor, an internationally recognized expert on school safety, who was inducted into the academy in 2017.
“Being a member of the academy is the highest honor the profession can bestow on a scholar,” Astor said. “This is a great honor that is very well-earned.”
Election of fellows into the academy is by confidential nomination and confirmation by a supermajority of academy members. Abrams will be inducted at the Society for Social Work and Research conference in Washington, D.C., in January. Astor will give the induction speech at the conference.
Other fellows from UCLA Luskin Social Welfare include Distinguished Professor Emeritus Stuart A. Kirk (2010), Professor Emeritus James Lubben (2011), Professor Emeritus Robert Schilling (2011) and Professor Emeritus Yeheskel “Zeke” Hasenfeld (2013).
In addition to numerous peer-reviewed articles, Abrams is the co-author of two ethnographic books, including: “Compassionate Confinement: A Year in the Life of Unit C” and “Everyday Desistance: The Transition to Adulthood Among Formerly Incarcerated Youth.”
Abrams has contributed to the larger social work profession by serving on the editorial boards of Social Service Review, Qualitative Social Work and the International Journal of Social Welfare. She is former vice-chair of the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work and former board-member-at-large for the Society for Social Work and Research.
Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, received UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award — the university’s highest honor for teaching — at an Oct. 15 ceremony at the Chancellor’s Residence.
Leap joined eight other faculty members and five teaching assistants who were recognized for their impact on students, innovative teaching methods and involvement in the community.
“Jorja was recognized for her engaging teaching which motivates students to social engagement and social consciousness,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said. “We are deeply proud of her efforts.”
Leap, who joined the UCLA faculty in 1992, was nominated by her social welfare colleagues, who invited former students and community partners to offer letters of support. “The response was tremendous,” said Laura Abrams, chair of social welfare.
In a video tribute aired at the ceremony, Leap said her teaching philosophy revolves around this principle: To those whom much is given much is required.
Leap said she reminds students that, whatever path led them to UCLA, they now have access to world-class resources, teaching and often financial support. They must pay that forward by making their work relevant in the communities surrounding them, she said.
“In my research methodology course, I will take my doctoral students out in the community … to observe the way people live. And then we talk about how does their research inform policy, how does it move the needle? How does their research inform practice, how does it change the way people treat each other, how does it change our laws, how does it change our healthcare, how does it change economics?” she said.
She counsels her students, “Don’t do the easy thing; do the hard thing. Don’t do what’s natural; do what feels scary.”
Leap is executive director of the UCLA Social Justice Research Partnership and co-founder of the Watts Leadership Institute.
Her research examines gangs, high-risk youth, prison culture and the reentry of the formerly incarcerated into mainstream society. She also serves as an expert witness on gangs and trauma for death penalty cases and other court proceedings.
By Stan Paul
Four new faculty members – three in Social Welfare and one in Urban Planning – have joined the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, expanding teaching and deepening research expertise in some of the School’s top-rated programs.
They add to the recent faculty expansion of six new hires in 2016 and nine last year, spread across UCLA Luskin’s three professional programs and its new undergraduate major.
Joining Social Welfare: Ron Avi Astor, an expert on bullying and school violence whose appointment was previously reported; Cindy Sangalang, who examines how race, migration, and culture intersect to shape health and well-being in immigrant and refugee communities; and Lee Ann Wang, whose current work looks at the intersection of immigration law and criminalization through gender and sexual violence.
Astor holds a joint appointment as professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Sangalang and Wang have joint appointments as assistant professors in Asian American Studies.
New to Urban Planning is Assistant Professor Veronica Herrera, who studies the politics of development in global south cities, with a focus on Latin America. Her research emphasizes environmental policymaking, sustainability and water policy.
“Veronica is a big addition to our work on global cities and environmental issues in urban centers,” said Dean Gary Segura, highlighting Herrera’s work on Latin America in his announcement to the school.
Herrera, author of the award-winning 2017 book “Water and Politics: Clientelism and Reform in Urban Mexico,” said she will offer an undergraduate course on the politics of water and a graduate course on urban politics, both concentrating on the global south.
The new assistant professor previously taught in the political science department at the University of Connecticut and earned her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, where she said she fell in love with California.
“It’s wonderful to be back. I am looking forward to working with folks at UCLA who are interested in sustainability, urban political change and development,” she said. Citing issues including water stress and trash crises, Herrera said she is looking forward to connecting topics she is studying in Latin American cities to “how they are unfolding in L.A.”
“We are spoiled in L.A. with amazing food, weather and beaches, but from an environmental standpoint there is a lot of work to be done,” Herrera said.
Astor holds the Marjorie Crump Chair in Social Welfare. His work examines the role of the physical, social-organizational and cultural contexts in schools related to different kinds of bullying and school violence. Examples include sexual harassment, cyber bullying, discrimination, hate acts, school fights, emotional abuse, weapon use, and teacher/child violence, which are addressed in his most recent co-authored book, “Bullying, School Violence, and Climate in Evolving Contexts: Culture, Organization, and Time,” published in January 2019.
“Bullying is such a big term that it gives us a lot of room,” said Astor, who, along with his colleagues, launched the first studies related to bullying and school violence tied to vulnerable groups such as homeless and foster children. “So being in these literatures you realize that some of the research has been more generic, so it does matter if it’s LGBTQ or if it’s military kids, or homeless or foster kids … because the dynamics are a little bit different.”
“And, because we do cross-cultural work, there’s a lot of interesting cultural comparisons within the United States but also between the United States and other places,” said Astor, whose work abroad has included Israel, China, Cameroon and Kosovo.
“Professor Astor is one of the foremost experts in the world on how to cultivate safe and nurturing schools for children around the globe,” said Professor Laura Abrams, chair of Social Welfare at UCLA Luskin. “This research is critical to social work as schools play a major role in shaping key child outcomes.”
For Cindy Sangalang, Southern California is home. Born and raised in Long Beach, she earned her MSW degree, in 2006, and Ph.D. in Social Welfare, in 2012, at UCLA Luskin. She returns to UCLA following faculty positions in the schools of social work at Arizona State University and California State University, Los Angeles.
Sangalang’s work “fills a critical need in our work on mental health and family function, particularly in East Asian and Southeast Asian communities in the United States,” Abrams noted.
“I look at factors tied to race, migration and culture — how those factors intersect and interplay to shape different health outcomes among immigrant populations. That work really derives from years working alongside Southeast Asian communities here in Southern California,” Sangalang said. And, she explained, “When I say Southeast Asian, primarily communities that migrated from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos that were forced to migrate to the United States as a result of U.S. war in Southeast Asia.”
When students ask about her own professional “origin story,” Sangalang said she starts with her family.
“My parents immigrated from the Philippines many, many years ago, and I think coming from an immigrant family with humble beginnings really set a seed in me to be able to connect with others who are tied to that immigrant experience,” said Sangalang, who is teaching courses offered by Social Welfare and Asian American Studies in the fall quarter.
Sangalang said her appointment at UCLA “marries my passions and my interests in a really wonderful way. This is something that I really would not have even thought would be a possibility, so it is really like this dream job where I get to come back to my alma mater where I earned my MSW and my Ph.D.”
In addition to her appointment with the Department of Asian American Studies in the UCLA College, she will be affiliated with the Asian American Studies Research Center.
Lee Ann Wang comes to UCLA most recently from the University of Washington, Bothell, where she held appointments in law and public policy; women, gender and sexuality studies; and ethnic studies. She also has held visiting posts at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and is an expert on legal narratives addressing the intersection of gender, immigration and violence in Asian American communities.
A key aspect of that work is the relationship between protection and punishment.
“Primarily what I look at is a series of pieces of federal legislation that were designed to ‘rescue and save’ immigrant women from gender and sexual violence, but in doing so they expanded terms of punishment that actually reinforce punishment in immigrant communities,” Wang said.
The immersive techniques of ethnographic studies are an important aspect of Wang’s research. For example, she has studied the law through the eyes of legal advocates. She also has engaged with legal service providers who not only played a role in distributing the terms of a law but were also involved in its writing. By conducting ethnographic studies in her work, Wang said her approach to the law involves looking at legal practice through legal advocates as well as service providers who were not only part of distributing the law’s terms but also a part of its own writing. “I’m arguing in part that we actually can’t understand the relationship between immigration law and criminalization without taking gender and sexuality seriously.”
Like her new colleagues, Wang has connections with Los Angeles and Southern California. She spent a number of years in L.A. working for nonprofit agencies before attending graduate school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she earned her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in American culture. Her nonprofit work, also in the San Francisco Bay area and Detroit, included anti-violence, reentry, youth advocacy, mass transit and voting rights. As a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow, she was a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Law and Society at UC Berkeley’s School of Law.
Wang is teaching a Social Welfare graduate course and an undergraduate course in Asian American Studies this year.
A team of faculty, students and friends of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare took to the streets over the weekend to raise funds for the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center. The team joined the Alive & Running 5K, which took runners and walkers on a course near LAX on a cool Sunday morning. Social Welfare field faculty member Laura Alongi Brinderson, who specializes in mental health issues among children, adolescents and their families, organized the team. The race marked Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, established as a time to share resources and start conversations about the taboo topic. In addition to providing services to people across the nation who have thought about, attempted or lost someone to suicide, the Didi Hirsch Center trains more than 20,000 people each year — including LAPD SWAT teams, the FBI, firefighters and other emergency responders — how to recognize and respond to warning signs.
Social Welfare Professor David Cohen provided context and history in a CNN report assessing the veracity of President Trump’s comments linking gun violence to the closure of mental health facilities. “They closed so many — like 92% — of the mental institutions around this country over the years, for budgetary reasons,” Trump said. Cohen clarified that, since the mid-1950s, about half of the nation’s psychiatric facilities have closed and the number of residents in state mental hospitals has fallen from about 550,000 to about 100,000 today. The facilities closed in an effort to “deinstitutionalize” the mentally ill by placing them in less restrictive environments — not because of budget cutbacks, he added. But many patients were left with nowhere to go. “Society after World War II discovered a new passion to solve social problems and include the excluded, and all sorts of institutions — including orphanages, institutions for mentally retarded persons, homes for unwed mothers, youth detention centers, etc. — were phased out, with their residents often in effect kicked out from where they had lived for years,” Cohen said.
Professor Laura Abrams, chair of Social Welfare, recently co-authored an article in Academic Pediatrics investigating the relationship between child incarceration and subsequent adult health outcomes. The United States is the world leader in youth incarceration, and research by Abrams and co-principal investigator Elizabeth Barnert, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, aimed to bridge the data gap on repercussions from child incarceration. The study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to compare adult health outcomes in individuals grouped by age of first incarceration. The study compared individuals first incarcerated before age 14 with those first incarcerated at 15-17 years old, 18-20 years old and 21-24 years old. Among the adult health outcomes analyzed were physical health, such as mobility limitations, and mental health, including depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts. After controlling for sociodemographic and ecological factors, the study found that “child incarceration independently predicted adult mobility limitations, adult depression and adult suicidal thoughts,” confirming the link between younger age at first incarceration and worse adult health. The research also identified sociodemographic disparities in child incarceration, finding that “individuals first incarcerated as children were disproportionately of color, more likely to be from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and more likely to have been raised in a single-parent household.” The findings will likely have repercussions in the health arena. The report concluded, “Child incarceration displays even wider sociodemographic disparities than incarceration generally and is associated with even worse adult physical and mental health outcomes.”