Yaroslavsky on the Hammer Museum as a ‘Living Organism’

A New York Times article on the $90 million renovation of UCLA’s Hammer Museum cited Zev Yaroslavsky, the longtime civil servant and patron of the arts who now directs the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin. “For a museum to really have longer-term impact on the community, it has to be a living organism,” said Yaroslavsky, who served on the L.A. City Council in the 1980s when the museum project was approved. “Annie and UCLA have ensured that this is a 21st-century space, not just a 1980s space,” he added, referring to Ann Philbin, who commissioned the renovation soon after she arrived in 1999 to assume the role of museum director. The New York Times said the renovation is part of a building boom that is transforming the vibrant Los Angeles museum world and caps the Hammer’s emergence as one of the more influential museums in the country.


A Closer Look at UCLA’s Own ‘Justice League’

They come from everywhere — unapologetic revolutionaries and leading voices in causes across the spectrum of social justice. They seek resources and space to recharge, regroup and, often, to plan the next stage of their struggle — all while planting seeds to grow the next generation of activists. Recently profiled in UCLA Magazine, they are part of the university’s Activist-in-Residence program, launched in 2016 by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D). The program has hosted 11 activists, including four this year, with areas of expertise that include tenants’ rights, food insecurity, climate change, support for incarcerated people, ethnic storytelling and protection for the unhoused. “Their presence transforms our classrooms and our research centers,” said Ananya Roy, founding director of II&D and a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. “It’s this shared terrain of scholarship across universities and movements that we see to be very fertile ground for making change.” Other campus hosts include the Asian American Studies Center and cityLAB-UCLA. The magazine piece includes mini-profiles of five of UCLA’s Activists-in Residence.

Read the full story


Leap on Need for Fair, Accurate Depictions of Mental Illness

A Los Angeles Times story on the arrest of a man accused of two stabbings, including a fatal attack on a high school student, cited Jorja Leap, adjunct social welfare professor and expert on criminal justice. The suspect’s motives were unclear. City Councilman Kevin de León, whose district includes the site of the attacks, suggested that he suffered from mental illness and referred to the streets of Los Angeles as “the largest psychiatric ward in the United States.” Leap countered that it was “inaccurate and irresponsible” to paint Los Angeles with such a broad brush depicting mental illness. Law enforcement agencies do not track crimes committed by mentally ill people, she said, adding, “So many [people with mental health issues] cannot even care for themselves, let alone think about taking the life of another human being.”


AAPI Summit Draws Leaders in Search of Policy Solutions

UCLA scholars and students gathered with leaders from the government, community, corporate and entertainment worlds at a Feb. 10 summit aimed at creating a future that is inclusive of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. The AAPI Policy Summit at UCLA’s Luskin Conference Center shed light on issues including health and mental health inequities, anti-Asian hate, immigrant protections, mobilization of voters, diversity in corporate suites and fair representation in Hollywood. California Attorney General Rob Bonta delivered the keynote address at the daylong summit. “You can’t fix the problem until you face the problem,” he said. “I believe that the folks on the ground who are doing the work —community leaders, researchers, nonprofit leaders — that the folks who are closest to the problems and the challenges are also the closest to the solutions.” Touching on his experiences growing up in a family of Filipino immigrants who fought for civil rights, Bonta urged members of the audience to recognize their own capacity to stand up against injustice. “We are not bystanders to what is happening in our state and in our nation. … We can make a difference,” he said. “The road is long but we are bending that arc of history towards justice, and it’s going to need the fingerprints and the hands of all of you bending it together to get us where we need to go.” The AAPI Policy Summit was sponsored by UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center and Luskin School of Public Affairs in partnership with the California Asian American & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus.

View photos from the summit on Flickr.

AAPI Policy Summit 2023

Mukhija on the Complex Challenges of Easing the Housing Crunch

“Can subdividing the American dream fix the problem of unaffordability?” That question is posed in a New Republic review of the latest book by urban planning professor Vinit Mukhija, which focuses on the informal, un-permitted units that have proliferated on single-family home lots, providing needed shelter amid an intractable affordable housing crisis. Los Angeles alone has about 50,000 of these un-permitted second units, Mukhija estimates in “Remaking the American Dream: The Informal and Formal Transformation of Single-Family Housing Cities.” Unless more housing is built, we will see more un-permitted units, some of them unsafe, the book argues. It also emphasizes that we must invest in and upgrade existing informal housing units, which play a vital role in expanding affordable options for shelter. As the review notes, “A quiet housing revolution is taking place. But if policymakers don’t adapt to the new construction, the changing market is likely to reproduce the same instability and abuse that poor tenants currently suffer.”


Anheier on Challenge Ahead for Germany’s Leaders

Helmut Anheier, adjunct professor of social welfare and public policy, wrote a Project Syndicate article on the debate in Germany about the nation’s place in a changing geopolitical landscape. The decision to furnish Ukraine with powerful tanks in its war with Russia is part of a broader national reorientation that would make Germany one of Europe’s largest military powers — yet German society remains basically pacifist. Many citizens are grappling with how to uphold the values they hold dear while becoming more assertive on the international stage. Some good can come from a divided society if a country’s leaders can provide pragmatic fresh thinking, Anheier writes. “Some tensions are good for society, because they can provide the impetus for innovation and progress. But for that to happen, political leaders need to understand the nature of the problem and offer a clear and coherent vision for ameliorating it.”


Phillips on Benefits of Taking 12th-Grade Math

Meredith Phillips, director of the Los Angeles Education Research Institute at UCLA Luskin, spoke to EdSource about a study she co-authored on the benefits of taking math in the senior year of high school. Researchers who followed the educational journey of Los Angeles Unified School District students over several years found that those who took 12th-grade math were better positioned to enroll and stay in college than those who didn’t. “Some may be approaching senior year math as ‘I don’t enjoy math and I will take other things in my senior year.’ I can relate to that,” Phillips said. “But what the research suggests is that it probably makes sense to take that math class in senior year because it will be helpful in opening doors.” LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told EdSource that the district plans to “explode the information” on social media and look closely at where to expand and diversify math courses among high schools.


$3 Million Grant Will Help Expand Social Welfare Workforce Award will enable UCLA Luskin to grow its master of social welfare program to help meet statewide needs for behavioral health care

A $3 million state grant will fund the expansion of social welfare education at UCLA, part of a broader effort to better serve Californians with behavioral health needs.

illustration of diamond with textThe grant from the California Department of Health Care Access and Information will allow the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs to add 25 additional students to its master of social welfare program each year, beginning in the fall of 2024.

Total enrollment in the program will eventually reach 250, and the funds will be used to provide stipends to students and hire faculty, lecturers and staff to accommodate the growing numbers, according to Laura Abrams, chair of Social Welfare.

“This grant will surely strengthen our program and, more importantly, our ability to better serve our communities,” Abrams said.

UCLA is one of 23 California campuses to receive an award through the $59.4 million program, which was launched to grow the ranks of social workers who play a crucial role in the emotional well-being of the state’s residents.

The program aims to increase access to services for mental health, substance abuse and other behavioral health concerns. Training social welfare students to serve children and youth is a priority, according to a statement from the Health Care Access and Information Department.

“Thanks to this new grant program, we are able to help grow this vitally important sector in the health workforce and get children, youth and adults the care they need, when they need it,” said department director Elizabeth Landsberg.

In Reparations Debate, UCLA Students Help Amplify Black Californians’ Voices Public policy graduate students use tools of research to help shape history

By Mary Braswell

A small team of UCLA graduate students traveled the state, heard from more than 900 residents, surveyed over 4,400 more and analyzed 1,000-plus pages of transcripts over the past year, all to give ordinary Californians a voice in the conversation about how the government should atone for the devastating legacy of slavery.

The students’ work documented the range of harms that have been suffered by Black Americans over generations and captured viewpoints on what just compensation should look like. In the fall, the team reported its findings at a public meeting of the California Reparations Task Force, which is conducting closely watched deliberations on the best path forward.

The group also just delivered an 80-page report to the state Department of Justice, the culmination of an extraordinary opportunity to use the tools of research to help shape momentous policy decisions in real time.

Through it all, the young Black scholars were deeply affected by the stories they heard and the responsibility they carried.

“I understood the significance of what I was working on,” said Elliot Woods, a second-year master of public policy student at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “And all I could think about was that I don’t want to disappoint our ancestors.”

‘The way it is now, it seems like we’re being pushed out. … We’ve lost family homes. We’ve lost generational homes that have been in our families for years.’

— A Black California resident speaking at a community listening session organized by UCLA’s Black Policy Project

The nine-member Reparations Task Force, commissioned by the California Legislature and seated in 2021, quickly determined that community input was vital to its work. So it turned to the UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, where public policy and urban planning professor Michael Stoll directs the Black Policy Project.

The task was immense and the deadline tight. Within months, the panel required a comprehensive and data-backed accounting of public opinion from across the California spectrum: from rural and urban communities, from every economic rung and every walk of life.

Stoll proposed that his group also systematically document stories of racial discrimination and record residents’ viewpoints on how the state should respond. And he enlisted three master’s students he knew he could count on: Jendalyn Coulter, who analyzed conversations from 17 online and in-person community listening sessions across the state; Chinyere Nwonye, who studied recorded testimonies, photos, videos and other submissions before developing full oral histories of seven Californians, ages 38 to 88; and Woods, who supervised two surveys to gauge support for cash and non-cash reparations and to capture opinions on who should be eligible.

“When you see people who are curious, excited, capable and committed, and who have the passion, it was an easy call about how to assemble the team. And the research they conducted was spectacular,” Stoll said. The project was the type of work that doctoral students might normally do, he added, and it was completed in a fraction of the time such a large project would typically require.

‘I felt like, growing up, we were made to be ashamed of who we are as Black Americans. … I feel like a lot of Black Americans, they don’t have a sense of purpose because they don’t value their legacy. They don’t value what their families went through.’

A Hollywood professional interviewed for an oral history

After several weeks of intensive transcribing, coding and analyzing the trove of data they collected, Coulter, Nwonye and Woods worked with Stoll to develop conclusions that will guide the work of the Reparations Task Force. Among them:

  • Black Californians concurred that racial bias in education, policing, housing and the workplace has diminished the quality of their lives, at times leading to emotional trauma and physical ailments.
  • An overwhelming majority of survey respondents from all races expressed support for reparations: 77% favored non-cash financial support such as housing assistance, debt forgiveness, land grants and community investment; 73% supported non-monetary remedies such as reforming the education and criminal justice systems; and 64% favored direct cash payments.
  • Those who were surveyed disagreed somewhat on who should be eligible for reparations: all Black Californians (supported by 30% of respondents); those who can establish that they are the direct descendants of slaves (29%); or those who can demonstrate that they have experienced race-based discrimination (24%).

With the community listening sessions complete, the state task force has asked a team of economists for recommendations on implementing an equitable program of reparations; a final report is due this summer. California lawmakers will then consider how to proceed.

Meanwhile at UCLA, the Black Policy Project has launched a study group to further analyze the findings. Stoll said the results of that new work will not only contribute to the ongoing policy conversation but also give more of the public a chance to parse the findings in different ways.

‘I really do believe if you fix the descendants of slavery in America … it actually allows the U.S. to say and show we were actually willing to clean up our own messes. We were willing to be the country we said that we were when we said liberty and justice for all.’

— An Oakland, California, resident interviewed for an oral history

After the group had delivered its report, Woods reflected on the opportunity to play a part in shaping history.

“We are in this unique and very, very privileged position to work on this as students at UCLA,” he said. “It feels like a lot of weight to carry because we know we have a lot of the nation paying attention to what we’re doing.”

For Nwonye, the experience prompted self-examination about researchers’ role when the subject is personal.

“You always want to maintain that level of professionalism that comes from a sense of objectivity. And there were days when I had to step away from it,” Nwonye said.

“But at the same time, I don’t know that we would have found the things that we found if we were not a Black research team. I don’t know that people would have been as open about telling their stories.”

Coulter, who earned dual master’s degrees in public policy and social welfare in 2022, recalled the anguish she found in the pages of transcripts from months of community listening sessions.

“I can’t even begin to fathom the collective trauma and the stress and just the pain that has been inflicted on the community for so long,” she said. “And it was heartbreaking, as a Black person, to hear the distrust and the hesitancy around the purpose of this. Is this massive effort truly going to resonate with the government? Or will it again fall on deaf ears?”

When Stoll and the students appeared at Los Angeles’ California Science Center in September to preview their findings, audio of some of the interviews they conducted was played for the Reparations Task Force and members of the public. The audience included people who had participated in the project, and they thanked the students for telling their stories.

“Even if nothing else happens,” Nwonye said, “we’ve already done something that is really important: allowing people to have their voices be heard.”

Read “Harm and Repair,” the research team’s report to the California Reparations Task Force.

‘I Love the School’ As interim dean at UCLA Luskin, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris is giving back to a university that has been ‘extremely good to me’ for 33 years

By Les Dunseith

On Jan. 1, Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris became interim dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, filling a role that is expected to continue for at least two-and-a-half years until a permanent dean is named.

Loukaitou-Sideris, a distinguished professor of urban planning, had previously served as associate dean. A widely published scholar who joined the UCLA faculty in 1990, Loukaitou-Sideris helped lead a strategic planning effort to redefine the future of the School in the wake of the naming gift from Meyer and Renee Luskin in 2004. She drew on that experience a decade later to lead a campuswide effort that created a strategic plan for UCLA.

In a Q&A conducted during her second week as interim dean, Loukaitou-Sideris talked about taking on new responsibilities, how she is approaching the challenge and what she sees as the Luskin School’s immediate priorities.

What was your reaction when you found out you would be the interim dean?

Loukaitou-Sideris: Well, it was a mixture of excitement — because I love the School — and a little bit of being overwhelmed. I’ve had a very good life, heading all kinds of research-related activities, as well as being an associate dean for 12 years. This role brings with it a whole new area of work that is much more intensive, but also exciting.

At the same time, I know the School inside and out, and I have served the university in different capacities. I know the deans. I know the vice chancellors. There is an element of familiarity. And I feel that I’m giving something back to a School that has been extremely good to me all these years. 

Have you witnessed a lot of change in your time as a UCLA Luskin professor?

Loukaitou-Sideris: Absolutely. I pre-date the formation of this School in 1994. I was in the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, and at the time everybody in that program was very much opposed to moving urban planning to this new entity. In retrospect, we were wrong, as the new school opened up new and exciting opportunities.

The common thread is social justice and a desire to make cities and society better — to improve things. What is unique from the early days is the recognition that by bringing together our individual disciplines and finding common initiatives, we can attract more people who are interested in tackling complex issues and do so in a much more comprehensive way.

The Luskin School added an undergraduate degree program and new academic research centers in recent years. Growth is generally a good thing, but it also can be challenging. What needs to happen next?

Loukaitou-Sideris: We have reached a level of stability now. I anticipate leading new initiatives relating to global public affairs, real estate development and e-governance and the introduction of digital technology tools  — and we have been assured by the provost that such efforts will be supported — but compared to the last few years, growth is going to be more moderate.

What are your top priorities as interim dean?

Loukaitou-Sideris: It is very crucial to reassure people that the School is not only doing well but is going forward.

We’ve faced what I call a “triple whammy.” We had COVID. We had the UC strike. And we had the unexpected resignation of a dean. One of the very first things I’m doing is meeting with people and reassuring them. I have spoken with the Board of Advisors, the department chairs and many individuals, including the Luskins. I plan to meet with our students. I am holding a town hall for faculty and staff.

Both groups at once?

Loukaitou-Sideris: Yes, I insisted on that. I don’t believe in treating the two groups differently. We all work for the good of the School, and we all have a very important role to play. We don’t have first-class and second-class citizens here.

Morale is very important, as you know, in an organization. My door is open, and it will remain open.

Another priority is to tackle the economic realities brought about by the pandemic and the strike settlement agreement, which will increase labor costs, without diminishing pedagogic excellence. It is not the best thing for a new dean, you know, to start during an environment where you have to cut budgets. But I think that people understand.

And I have to say that people have been so far very responsive and very understanding.

As you know, research is a great love of mine. So yet another priority is that I want to see the School continue to increase our grants and ensure that tighter budgets do not reduce opportunities for research. I will be working closely with the research centers on that.