LA Social Science interviewed Dr. Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education in the Graduate School of Education and Information Students and Founder of the Center for the Transformation of Schools at UCLA. Dr. Noguera discusses the center’s work on shining a spotlight on students experiencing homelessness in California. To learn more about this important issue, check out his center’s interactive map “We See You: Shining a Spotlight on Students Experiencing Homelessness in California” HERE.

 

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Photo Credit: Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States – Closed Due to Health Crisis, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88247255

By Eli R. Wilson, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of New Mexico

It is impossible to locate a part of our society that has not been profoundly affected by the current pandemic, as we lurch from health crisis to economic crisis to labor crisis to community crisis—and back again.

The U.S. service sector remains at the epicenter of the crisis. The California Restaurant Association recently issued a dire warning that 30% of restaurants in the state will close without dramatic government intervention. In a letter to the governor, the group argues that the recent federal aid package is a Band-Aid that will not prevent permanent closures. Hundreds of thousands of restaurant workers have already filed for unemployment, and anticipated job losses in the industry are running as high as 7 million. The Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC), a worker advocacy group, is one of several organizations that have set up an emergency relief fund to help the most desperate families.

The effects of the pandemic on the restaurant industry has been uneven, with a much larger impact on small businesses and vulnerable workers. On the business side, many of the immediate closures are mom-and-pop restaurants, which are disproportionately owned by immigrants and people of color. Restaurants operate on razor-thin 5–10% profit margins even in good times, so many smaller restaurants make just enough money to stay afloat month to month. The $2 trillion federal aid package will supposedly reach these types of businesses, but accounting for inevitable processing delays and the continuation of government-mandated closures across the country, it may be too little, too late.

Among restaurant employees, undocumented workers find themselves in particularly dire straits. Without proper work authorization, these individuals cannot seek federal assistance, including funds from the federal aid package, despite being laid off and having paid into the taxes that are funding that aid. Prior to the pandemic, the industry’s millions of undocumented workers were already a largely invisible group employed mainly in physically taxing back-of-the-house jobs with low wages and few benefits. Reduced work hours and widespread layoffs will push many to grapple with the inability to meet their family’s basic needs and nowhere to turn for help but friends and relatives in equally precarious situations.

At the same time, the most dramatic relative impacts on restaurant workers are on front-of-the-house workers, who tend to be young, white, and middle-class. Socially speaking, this is not an at-risk group. Yet because of the structure of their jobs, the pandemic is nothing short of an employment Armageddon for the nation’s nearly 4 million servers, bartenders, baristas, hosts, and cashiers. Front-of-the-house employees’ work schedules are directly related to customer traffic; fewer customers mean fewer hours of work in the dining room. Also, front-of-the-house workers rely heavily on tips for their income. Normally, these workers expect that a steady stream of diners will pad their low hourly wages, and servers and bartenders at higher-end restaurants can make $15-30 per hour in tips on top of their base wages. So even if some restaurants are able to maintain employee payroll during this period, without customers or tips, these workers will find themselves among the lowest-paid in the country.

A few restaurants are staying busy through a mixture of the right business model (quick-serve, takeout) and the resources to adjust to the months-long closure of dining room service. But neither describes the majority of sit-down restaurants, especially small ones. At best, this is the end of a golden age for restaurants in terms of growth and profits (one that weathered the 2007–2009 Great Recession relatively well). At worst, this crisis has laid bare a broken industry paradigm with no safety net for millions of workers and left small restaurants fighting for their survival.

We need to push for federal and state-level aid crafted by policy makers in collaboration with restaurant industry leaders to ensure that aid is distributed both efficiently and equitably. A significant portion of this money should be flagged for small businesses trying to meet operating expenses and employee payroll. Temporary policy changes can help too, such as recent city-level decisions to allow restaurants to sell groceries and to-go alcohol (with the appropriate liquor license). On an individual level, every consumer who is financially able should do their part to support their local restaurants as much as possible. Buy takeout regularly from these establishments, tip delivery people well, purchase gift cards. We want to ensure that when the effects of this pandemic subside, our neighborhood gathering places and those who work in them are able to rebound as quickly as possible.

 

Eli Revelle Yano Wilson is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico. He received his PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles, and is a former research affiliate with the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Dr. Wilson studies labor dynamics within the U.S. restaurant and the craft beer industries. His first book, Front of the House, Back of the House: Race and Inequality in the Lives of Restaurant Workers, will be released this fall through NYU Press.

 

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The Luskin Center for History and Policy has created an exciting, new podcast titled “Then & Now” that brings a historical perspective to contemporary issues of relevance. The podcast provides conversations with policymakers, historians, and thought leaders to gain perspective and insight on pressing issues of the day. The show is divided into two sections: a “Then” section that explores a past episode of significance, followed by a “Now” section that discusses latter-day implications.

The first two episodes present important, timely themes and feature Luskin Center fellows:

  • Episode #1: “Of Supervisors and Sheriffs: Who is Running the County’s Emergency Operations?” (an in-depth conversation with former County Supervisor and LCHP Senior Fellow Zev Yaroslavksy)
  • Episode #2: “Pandemics Past and Present: 100 Years of California History” (This episode, to be released next week, coincides with the launch of a new Luskin Center report written by Kirsten Moore-Sheeley, Jessica Richards, and Talla Khelghati).

Subscribe TODAY to “Then & Now” on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

 

Photo Credit: CNN.com

Professor Vinay Lal, UCLA Professor of History and Asian American Studies, has an informative blog titled, “Lal Salaam: A Blog by Vinay Lal.” Recently, he has written “a series of articles on the implications of the coronavirus for our times, for human history, and for the fate of the earth.”

Last week we presented his first three essays, the following is a full reprinting of his fourth essay, “The Coronavirus and the Humbling of America,” (April 7, 2020), in the series:

One of the most striking aspects of the novel coronavirus pandemic which has created an upheaval all over the world has to be the astonishing sight of the world’s richest society brought to its knees and appearing as a suppliant before the very country, China, that it holds responsible for the virus.  No doubt everyone serving the sitting President will take deep offense at this suggestion, and certainly the United States has made every effort to show to the world that, if anything, it intends to capitalize on this opportunity to further punish its enemies and show that it remains the world’s predominant power.  “While coronavirus ravages Iran,” noted the Washington Post in a headline two weeks ago, “U.S. sanctions squeeze it.”  The United States has not only ignored calls to suspend sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, but has rather ramped up the pressure against what it terms “rogue states”.  The Department Justice a few days ago unveiled charges of drug trafficking and money-laundering against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and over a dozen other high-ranking officials.  One can readily believe that the Ayatollahs in Iran and Maduro and his ilk in Venezuela have done little for their own people, but they do not go around peddling themselves as God’s gift to the world.  Evidently, if the United States is the example before us, nations do not become imperial powers by practicing humanity, much less chivalry.

As I write these lines, the United States has 387,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, nearly five times the number of cases in China where the outbreak first occurred.  China accounted, until well into mid-February, for the preponderant portion of the coronavirus cases around the world, and even as late as March 15th it accounted for more than half of the 5,833 deaths attributed to COVID-19. It is a different world today, three weeks later: nearly 12,300 Americans have been felled by COVID-19, and the United States accounts for more than a quarter of coronavirus cases globally. To take only one illustration of the desperate situation into which the country has been flung, at his daily press conference on April 4th, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo noted that he expected that his state required 17,000 ventilators, but that the nation’s entire stockpile of ventilators amounted to 10,000.

We have lived in an enumerative world since the early 19th century, one in which we acquired, so to speak, an unquenchable taste (as Mary Poovey has described it) for “the fact” and, in the words of UCLA historian Ted Porter, a “trust in numbers”.  COVID-19 occupies many worlds and imaginaries, and the statistics in its wake have an obsessive and troubling quality of their own. One wakes up in the morning and turns to the Johns Hopkins corona global map, or to worldometers.info, to get the most accurate and updated figures charting the menacing spread of COVID-19.  But, apart from cases and fatalities, there are the constant references to many millions of masks, gloves, and test kits, tens of thousands of ventilators and ICU beds, a $2.2 trillion relief package over which the Republican wolves in the White House and present administration desired no oversight but their own, ten million unemployed in the United States in virtually an instant, and more:  the numbers come as an onslaught.

What astonishes the most, however, is the daily news items and vivid stories about the acute shortages of masks, ventilators, personal protective equipment, and hospital beds.  Until two weeks ago, most cities and municipalities in the US barely even had any test kits.  Doctors and health care workers throughout the country have described their desperation and their mounting fear that patients will simply have to be left to die. The stories of these shortages are now legion; the fear that medical workers, and those who work in grocery stores or in other “essential” services, experience is palpable.  Moreover, since the Trump regime has essentially left states to fend for themselves, the states have been forced into a bidding war among themselves for ventilators and medical equipment.  Lately, as Trump has come under attack for doing too little too late to tackle the pandemic, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has even outbid the states.  Apparently, even as the pandemic rages on, the principles of the free economy must not be abandoned and vulturous capitalists must be rewarded.

Let us not even speak of the fact that, as has happened so often in the past, many Americans still think of “big government” with utter disdain and that the mere taint of “socialism” is enough to discredit a person such as Bernie Sanders in the eyes of a substantial portion of the electorate, but that no one appears to be objecting at this juncture to all but the wealthiest Americans receiving hand-outs from the federal government.  The questions that are coming to the minds of outsiders to the country are these: How has it come to pass that the United States, with a little less than one-fifth of China’s population, now accounts for a quarter of the world’s cases?  What can be more pathetic and disgraceful than the sight of the world’s wealthiest country having such disregard for its own people? What kind of spectacle does the United States, which is chockablock with Nobel Laureates in medicine and the sciences, and which prides itself on the most advanced medical care that can be found anywhere, present to the world when doctors, nurses, and health care workers repeatedly have to plead for supplies and when their lives have been put at risk?

The commonplace answers may be all too evident to many and yet, as I would suggest, are inadequate. The Boston Globe some days ago opined that Trump has “blood on his hands”, and that the megalomaniac President of the United States has made a spectacle of himself is transparent to everyone. It is on record that for days and weeks he even denied that there was any problem to begin with, confidently predicting on February 26th, when the US had 57 confirmed cases, that COVID-19 cases in America would be “down close to zero”.  His claim in the last few days that he can be viewed as having done “a very good job” if the death toll can be kept to 100,000, or even 200,000 people, speaks only to his insufferable arrogance and criminal insensitivity.  Trump’s argument that no one could predict the pandemic says nothing at all, and not only because neither could other countries: political leaders get tested not when everything is hunky-dory, but rather when a situation demands a response that is not written down in the existing playbook.  What is also germane is the substantial public discussion that has brought to light many other features of the political landscape, some shaped largely by the present government and others more characteristically a part of the American political imaginary:  these include, among others, the recent downgrading of government offices designed to address epidemics, the decline of public funding for virus-related scientific research, and the highly fragmented response to the pandemic, particularly in view of the colossal failure of the White House to understand the gravity of the problem, across local, city, and state agencies.

There are other many familiar parts to the narrative that Trump, his political acolytes in Congress, and Fox News, which is to the Trump regime what Goebbels’ propaganda ministry was to the Nazi regime, have put forward:  all point to the fact that that the present political regime has a callous disregard for the lives of ordinary Americans, just as this narrative obscures the most important considerations which might help explain why the most powerful and wealthy country in the world has been humbled.  It will suffice to bring only two considerations to the fore. First, though overall health care expenditures in the United States outstrip by far spending in any other country, the proportion spent on public health is far less than in other advanced industrialized nations. The British newspaper the Guardian, which often has better reporting on the United States than any American newspaper, put forward the argument graphically with this headline in one article:  “Hookworm, a disease of extreme poverty, is thriving in the US South.  Why?” American medicine is resolutely focused on surgical interventions, on helping Americans deflect the moment of death and prolonging the lives of the affluent, and on what may be called the pharmaceutical industrial complex.  This is only a small catalog of its many ills. There is little or no money to be made in public health; moreover, public health is often dismissed as inconsequential since, on the view of political and medical elites, the lives of the poor, the working-class, and the most disadvantaged minorities are worth little and are even expendable.  Everything in the extraordinarily belated, bumbling, even chaotic American response to the coronavirus pandemic points to the deep and pervasive inequalities in the United States and the criminal neglect of the American state towards its own poor, especially African Americans and native Americans.

Secondly, COVID-19’s course in the United States suggests that the narrative of American exceptionalism continues to reign supreme.  The most insistent and insidious aspect of this narrative, barring the tiresome rehearsal of the view that the United States is the glorious gift of some special divine dispensation, is the supposition that the United States generally has nothing to learn from other nations.  Germany, for instance, has a large number of cases, but a much lower fatality rate than Spain, Italy, France, and some other EU nations:  it would seem to have had considerable success in containing the virus by early, rigorous, and sustained testing.  Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea have been exemplary in deploying a series of measures that have had the effect of containing and then mitigating the spread of the virus, even as South Korea, in particular, seemed that it would become the next major “hotspot” of the virus after China—a country which on April 6th, for the first time in four months, has declared no new case of COVID-19.  American officials and some public commentators have, quite naturally, been trying rather assiduously to discredit the Chinese communist party’s account of the spread and eventual containment of the coronavirus disease in China, and the claim that China deliberately under-stated the number of infections is being heard with ever greater vigor.  No one doubts that the Chinese are adept at obfuscating the truth; but we should also not doubt that America has, time after time, shown that it is singularly unwilling to learn from other nations. There is much to fear from the coronavirus pandemic; but I fear, too, that the United States will be insufficiently, perhaps barely, chastened by this experience. It takes some gift to learn humility.

 

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Dr. Victor Agadjanian, UCLA professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Sociology and the UCLA International Institute, has focused his distinguished career focused on HIV risk and prevention; issues of marriage, fertility, religion, and ethnicity; and the health, family, socioeconomic, and psychosocial impacts of labor migration. With a gift for languages and a drive to understand the constraints affecting people’s health care and livelihood choices, his scholarship has taken this social demographer all over the world.

Recently, Professor Agadjanian was interviewed by UCLA’s International Institute about his journey to become the scholar he is today. To read the story, click HERE.

Top row (left to right): Chad Dunn, Sonja Diaz, Registrar Neal Kelley
Bottom row (left to right): Professor Pamela Karlan, Dr. Matt Barreto, Secretary Alex Padilla

By Eliza Moreno, Communications Manager, Latino Policy & Politics Initiative

On April 2nd, the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) and its marquee advocacy project, the UCLA Voting Rights Project, hosted a webinar that focused on the importance of vote-by-mail programs in upcoming primaries and the November general election amid the coronavirus pandemic. The webinar brought together the following voting rights experts: California Secretary of State Alex Padilla; Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley; Stanford Law School Professor Pamela Karlan; Chad Dunn, director of litigation at the Voting Rights Project; Matt Barreto, LPPI and Voting Rights Project co-founder; and Sonja Diaz, LPPI’s founding executive director. The webinar provided a space for leading voting rights experts to discuss the importance of protecting our democracy during this pandemic, the need to ensure communities of color are able to cast a meaningful ballot, and how other state government officials should try to transition to vote-by-mail.

The webinar discussed the importance of protecting our democracy by immediately implementing a nationwide vote-by mail system that enables full participation in the voting process, most especially during this health crisis. Professor Karlan stated, “This is not the first time Americans have voted during a crisis.” Professor Karlan referenced the Civil War as an example where a change in voting practices took place due to hardship. During the Civil War, various states changed their laws in order to allow Civil War soldiers to vote by absentee ballot. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla emphasized how although “we are living in unprecedented times as it pertains to public health and public health risks,” this nation has witnessed the resiliency of our democracy. In both times of peace and war, including prior flu pandemics, people have voted. It is critical that during these times all jurisdictions make vote-by-mail available in order to take the burden off of in-person voting.

There are various states with vote-by-mail accessible, such as Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and California, however, in other states vote-by-mail is nonexistent. Secretary Padilla said that although it may prove difficult, it is possible that all states adopt vote-by-mail, but “first comes the willingness, the vision, and leadership that is central in a pandemic.” It remains critical that we do not wait until October to take action. The time is now. Orange County Registrar of Voters, Neal Kelley, oversaw the transition to sending every registered voter a vote-by-mail ballot. Beginning in 2020, every voter in Orange County, regardless of how they registered, received a vote-by-mail ballot. A few years ago, under Secretary Padilla’s leadership, Orange County ended up with a bill that became law that mailed every voter a ballot, provided eleven days of in-person voting in any location in the county, and equipped voters with the capability to return their ballot in a variety of ways. Registrar Kelley shares that the percentage of vote-by-mail usage in Orange County’s jurisdiction was 60% when the transition first began, however, the usage rose to 82% in March’s primary, the highest in Orange County since 2000. Registrar Kelley assures others that “voters will adapt and are looking for opportunity for expanded access.”

Attendees of the webinar were concerned that lower-economic communities and communities of color would have a lower propensity in practicing their right to vote and utilizing vote-by-mail. Secretary Padilla clarified that the in-person option will be maintained for those who need assistance, however, vote-by-mail must still be made available for all. Outreach to communities of color are fundamental in encouraging them to practice their right to vote. Dr. Matt Barreto discusses how the Latino and Asian American community have record numbers of first time voters, therefore “let’s celebrate and engage them” on their right to vote and inform them on the methods of voting. Registrar Kelley believes in the importance of targeting messages to each community and addressing the issues that matter most to them. Additionally, voting materials must be made available in different languages, as required by the Voting Rights Act, however public education and voter education campaigns and materials remain vital to ensure that all voters are encouraged to practice their right to vote. Secretary Padilla emphasizes how “voting by mail is smart from a voting rights standpoint, public health standpoint, but it’s only as effective as we educate the public.”

As for the distrust of vote-by-mail and in response to cyber security and threats: you can‘t hack a paper ballot. There are methods in place to ensure the validating of a mail-in ballot, such as signature verification and matching. However, scholarship referenced in the Voting Rights Project report discusses how there is a higher percentage of ballots rejected by Latino and African American voters, therefore there is work to be done to prevent voter disenfranchisement, such as detailed and proper training for the operators who look at the ballots. Professor Karlan believes it is possible to instill a confidence that votes will be counted and counted fairly, it is a “technical problem that can be solved.”

When thinking of the upcoming November election, “it is not a matter of if, or a matter of when, the question is how do we provide the opportunity for people to vote because we must and we will,” as Secretary Padilla said. In order to protect our democracy amidst the pandemic, it is critical that there is a move towards universal vote-by-mail, while ensuring that all can practice their right to vote in a safe and healthy manner. Matt Barreto reminds us that “we have an opportunity to protect [our democracy] during this pandemic, but this is something that all states should be doing to encourage voter participation and engagement.” As of March 23, the UCLA Voting Rights Project had released one report, “Protecting Democracy: Implementing Equal and Safe Access to the Ballot Box During a Global Pandemic,” and two memos, “Improving the March 23, 2020 House Bill on Expanded Vote-by-Mail” and “Voting and Infection Prevention of COVID-19.” The publications raise an early call to action and address the safe and equitable implementation of a vote-by-mail program to encourage voter participation. As Chad Dunn, director of litigation at the Voting Rights Project, said at the close of the webinar, “It’s on all of us to double our commitment to democracy and find a way to make this work in all 50 states and territories.”

 

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As an economist and director of the California Policy Lab, Till von Wachter is continually spearheading research projects and policy recommendations related to labor and employment as well as homelessness, education and crime.

As the U.S. economy further slows because of how the COVID-19 pandemic has forced so many businesses to close, UCLA Newsroom asked von Wachter, who is also the associate dean of research for the division of social sciences in the UCLA College, to help parse through current employment statistics, why the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package called the CARES Act — which was signed into law March 27 — is so critical and what its immediate and far-reaching effects might be for U.S. workers and the economy.

Continue reading the UCLA Newsroom Q&A HERE.

 

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Professors Chandra L. Ford (UCLA), Bita Amani (Charles Drew University), Keith Norris (UCLA), Kia Skrine Jeffers (UCLA), and Randall Akee (UCLA), wrote the following open letter that outlines eight recommendations to prioritize equity in policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

An Open Letter to Policy Makers and Public Health Officials on

The Need to Prioritize Equity in Policy Responses to the COVID-19 Epidemic

 April 1, 2020

Aggressive actions are necessary to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the U.S. and the world. Some of these actions have resulted in policies of shelter-in-place, monitoring the movement and activities of the population, increased testing of the population and the closure of schools and other public assemblies. As experts in health disparities, however, we are concerned by a critical oversight that is likely to exacerbate the epidemic in the long run: the inadequate attention to health equity. Former president of the American Public Health Association (APHA), Dr. Camara Jones, defines health equity as “assurance of the conditions for optimal health for all people.” There is a crucial need to incorporate aspects of health equity into all public policies enacted to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

In the past, when health emergencies have occurred, failure to acknowledge and address health equity generated persistent and preventable damage to populations that often worsened over time. For example, scholars have documented such experiences in Venezuela (1992-1993) and Haiti (2010) with cholera epidemics. Short term thinking focused only on the immediate disease agent (i.e., bacterium or virus) and did little to eliminate the societal inequities which fostered the environment for the pandemic in the first place. Those inequities shape the nature and impact of its spread.

Numerous studies document that racism, anti-immigrant sentiment and racial scapegoating facilitate the dismissal of the health concerns and perspectives of undocumented immigrants, racial/ethnic minorities, incarcerated persons, people living on reservations, people living in poor communities and other vulnerable communities. Often, the concerns and particular needs of these individuals are overlooked or dismissed in the creation of public health policies in times of need and crises.

Assumptions about the availability of and access to resources often do not reflect the reality for many of these distressed and overlooked communities. For instance, in recommending frequent handwashing, one must also ask whether this is feasible for residents of neighborhoods with unsafe (or unavailable) tap water to regularly wash their hands with warm water and soap? Or, is it realistic for people detained in the prisons to maintain social distances of at least six feet? If the answer to any such question is no, then we have a professional responsibility to develop appropriate alternatives. Failure to extend recommendations, testing and treatment to such populations in a timely and appropriate manner is tantamount to designing an intervention that ignores over them completely.

Drawing on more than 500 studies published over the last twenty years on how social injustices produce health inequities, we urge serious consideration of eight recommendations to prioritize equity in policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

1.     Prioritize the needs of diverse vulnerable populations at each stage of the response. These include, but are not limited to, immigrant communities, including the Chinese and Asian American communities that have already been the subject of online and in-person abuse and harassment, racial and ethnic minority communities, homeless persons, incarcerated persons, and people living in poor as well as rural communities.

2.     Challenge narratives of the epidemic that scapegoat Chinese people or other Asians. Stereotyping in this way leads to fear, rude or discriminatory treatment, delayed testing or care, and ultimately further spread of the virus.

3.     Ensure members of these populations have a seat at the leadership table in planning and carrying out the responses. That allows them to share directly the insights needed to develop effective, sustainable strategies for their communities.

4.     Develop multiple prevention and intervention strategies, some that address the needs of the overall population and others that address the unique needs of marginalized groups. Recognize that the circumstances affecting vulnerable populations are multilayered. Accordingly, the solutions needed in these populations warrant greater initial investments than do the solutions needed in more advantaged communities.

5.     Find out what the needs and wishes of these marginalized populations are. Many of the needs are shaped by longstanding structural inequalities, such as living in racially segregated neighborhoods, and related constraints affecting transportation, employment, education and healthcare access.

6.     Consider the obstacles to implementing any potential policy or strategy that may already exist in diverse populations and situations. For instance, some communities may have barriers to handwashing due to unsafe or unavailable water sources; they may also lack access to personal protective equipment (latex gloves, masks) or to healthcare providers.

7.     Allocate sufficient resources in the budget to implement the prevention and intervention strategies in the most marginalized communities. The budget must ensure the plan can be fully implemented.

8.     Acknowledge that all communities have and draw on resilience. Noted global health educator, Collins Airhihenbuwa, emphasizes that every community, no matter how marginalized, has sources of resilience. These sources of resilience enables communities to sustain themselves and persevere even after the public health professionals have left.

The evidence from history is clear. Movement toward equity has always required health equity champions to fight from inside while community members organized in the streets. Unless our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic challenge its racial framing and prioritize the needs of racial/ethnic minorities, immigrants, poor and other vulnerable groups, COVID-19 is likely to persist in these pockets of our society. As long as it does, COVID-19 will remain a threat to the health of all. It has been suggested that a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable members. This is our chance to show how great and equitable a nation we can be.

Sincerely,

Chandra L. Ford, PhD, MPH, MLIS

Bita Amani, PhD, MHS

Keith Norris, MD, PhD

Kia Skrine Jeffers, PhD, RN, PHN, SAG-AFTRA

Randall Akee, PhD

UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

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By Bryanna Ruiz and Amado Castillo, Latino Policy & Politics Initiative (LPPI) Public Policy Fellows

The UCLA Center for the Study of Women held its 30th Annual Graduate Student Thinking Gender Conference in early March, in order to honor Women’s History Month. The annual conference was co-sponsored by various research centers and organizations, including the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI). The conference focused on feminist, queer, trans, identities and anti-carceral, transnational, and intersectional approaches to sexual violence. In light of the #MeToo movement and other movements aiming to combat sexual violence, this conference proved necessary in order to discuss approaches to justice and restoration that center the needs of communities of color.

The conference, “Thinking Gender: Sexual Violence as Structural Violence Feminist Visions of Transformative Justice,” centered on the work of graduate students who studied sexual abuse cases in different contexts, including within communities in Uganda and Latinx communities. One of the first panels to open up the conference was “Extractive Economies and Sexual Violence,” moderated by LPPI faculty expert Dr. Leisy Abrego, who offered critical insight into the research papers presented by asking more on the application of the theory towards the subjects that were studied.

The conference diverged from the traditional interpretation of justice. Rather, the conference created a space for discourse that advocates for a transformative and restorative interpretation of justice that acknowledges the different identities that are most vulnerable to sexual violence. This radical perspective works to center survivors and questions forms of justice that perpetuate existing inequalities among different communities – an important point of reflection to carry past this year’s Women’s History Month.

Laura Lievano-Karim, a UCLA graduate student from the department of Social Welfare, presented her paper which was co-written with LPPI faculty expert Dr. Amy Ritterbusch entitled, “On Street Survival, Autonomous Bodies and Structures of Oppression: The Messiness of Naming and Framing Violence Against Street-Connected Girls in Uganda.” The project was led by researchers who had previously lived in Uganda and came from similar backgrounds as the test subjects. The researchers had autonomy over many of the variables involved in the project and utilized their insight and experience in order to enhance the research Lievano-Karim’s paper focused on what, patterns could be observed from girls involved in the sex industry in Uganda by studying their lived-in experiences through interviews. Lievano-Karim invited the audience to think beyond the two categories of sex work and sex exploitation when listening to the narratives of the girls from Uganda. Lievano-Karim said, “We identified three discursive patterns and each pattern followed a trend in the ways that sexual violence is discussed by the participants. This category should not be understood as isolated or ecstatic, they overlap one with the other. This highlights the complexities found in the lived experiences of these girls”.

Another graduate student from UCLA, Magally Miranda from the Chicana/o Studies department, focused on finding alternative ways to tackle sexual abuse among communities of color, specifically within the Latinx community. Miranda presented her paper titled, “Illegal Aliens” | Latina Feminists: Structural Vulnerability and the Battle Against Workplace Sexual Violence at Koch Poultry in Mississippi.” Miranda began her presentation by displaying a picture of two Latinas who witnessed many family members, friends, and coworkers being detained by ICE at Koch Poultry in Mississippi. The image depicted the fear and emotion among the Latinx community after Koch Poultry, which predominantly employed Latinxs, was raided by ICE agents. This became the largest known workplace raid by ICE in modern U.S. history and was a form of retaliatory violence and structural sexual violence, in that it was initiated by the state due to continuous workplace violation lawsuits made by female employees.

“As of the time that this paper was written, factory owners had received no more than a slap on the wrist for their involvement in hiring undocumented workers. Instead…workers were the ones who wore the brunt of the attacks and were systematically demonized, apprehended, and inflicted with trauma,” said Miranda as she opened up her presentation. Miranda went on to discuss the work abuse suffered by many of the workers who were forced to perform the same task hundreds of times during the day. The analysis of the testimonies conducted showed that many women employed by the factory, particularly Latinas, suffered sexual abuse during their shifts. One worker, who identified as Latina, admitted that she was groped during her shift and that when her husband, who also worked for the company, attempted to intervene, he was beaten by his employers. Latinxs, in particular, were the workers that suffered physical and emotional abuse by their employers at the factory. Miranda noted that the large scale ICE raid occurred after a Mississippi judge ruled that the company owed immigrant Latina women 3.7 million dollars in damages.

The Thinking Gender Conference created an interdisciplinary discourse surrounding structural sexual violence. The conference put researchers from around the world in conversation, which allowed them to share the diversity of thought embedded within their research. Although their research varied depending on their community of focus and their own lived experiences, they all shared the same goal in utilizing their research to address the different ways that structural violence projects itself in our world.

Now that this year’s Women’s History Month has ended, we are asked to continue reflecting, beyond the month of March, on how to tackle structural violence and approach justice in ways that acknowledge communities of color and those most vulnerable.

Illo: iStock

March 21, 2020

In an opinion piece that was published today on CNN.com, UCLA sociology professors, Dr. Cecilia Menjívar, Dr. Jacob G. Foster, and Dr. Jennie E. Brand, recommend using the more accurate term “physical distancing” rather than the misleading term “social distancing” during the COVID-19 pandemic. They write: “In fact, when we practice physical distancing, we need social connectivity and social responsibility more than ever.” To read this informative piece titled, “Don’t Call It ‘Social Distancing,'” click HERE.