Social Impact

Students explore how journalism can drive policy change on social issues

USC symposium offers research on homelessness, child welfare and immigration for faculty and local officials

May 12, 2016 Matthew Kredell

Graduate students from the USC Price School of Public Policy’s Media for Policy Change course held a symposium presenting their semester-long research on how journalism and media can drive social change around homelessness, child welfare and immigration.

The students presented May 3 in front of an audience of faculty, local officials and practitioners, including Los Angeles Times editorial writer Robert Greene.

Professor Gary Painter, director of social policy at the Sol Price Center for Social Innovation, explained that he helped create the class, bringing in journalist Daniel Heimpel to serve as adjunct professor, as another facet to exploring social justice.

“It’s not enough to have the theories, the quantitative methods and produce policy analysis,” said Painter during his opening remarks. “You need to be able to communicate [change] effectively in this ever-changing world that we live in.”

It has been “extremely gratifying” to see the evolution of his class, which covered three key issues facing Los Angeles County and metropolitan areas throughout the country.

Urgent issues

The students chose two among them to present for each area. Master of Social Work student Omar Avila and Master of Public Administration student Victoria Rocha spoke on child welfare.

Rocha explained that more than 180 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, many of them children, have been killed by family members or caretakers in the past five years, according to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

“What my op-ed is saying, as a solution, is that we need better acknowledgment and media portrayal understanding that people with disabilities are people first,” Rocha said.

Elizabeth Green and Maddie Keating, both of whom are Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management students, tackled homelessness.

Green reported that the foundation for implementing strategies to address homelessness starts with accurate data. She spent time with some of the 6,000 volunteers who undertook the 2016 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, observing new strategies to regionalize the effort to take advantage of community knowledge and relationships, as well as to pre-identify hotspots that required law enforcement or more specially trained individuals to make sure every homeless person was counted.

Keating went on a ride-along with two Los Angeles Police Department officers whose sole focus is to serve as liaisons to the homeless community in the Olympic division of Koreatown through the department’s Homeless Outreach and Partnership Endeavor (HOPE) program.

“They try to build trust through points of contact, through seeing them once every week and creating recognizable faces these people know and will trust to open up with,” Keating said.

MPA student Gabby Cartwright and MSW student Zoraida San Roman addressed immigration. Cartwright presented on the San Diego-based organization Border Angels, which works with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to allow divided families to reunite at the border.

Amplifying voices for change

While most of the students are already or planning to work in the fields of policy, public administration, nonprofit leadership or social work, practicing solution-based journalism provides them the skills to move the needle forward on these issues.

“I think what it brings to the Price School is it allows students who are trying to impel change, who have limited opportunity to broadly communicate the ideas that they encase in all of the jargon and all of the regressions that are so common in policy writing, that they can take this and make it move policy much faster than they could if they just wrote a report and let it sit there,” Heimpel said.

Heimpel offered students the opportunity to publish their stories on the Chronicle of Social Change website.

After watching each of the student presentations, Greene encouraged the students to submit their papers as op-ed pieces for The Times.

“I was blown away by what I just saw and heard,” Greene said. “It was very impressive work and raised a lot of interesting ideas. There was a string of thought through each presentation that reminded me that what I do is related to what all of you do.”