The Luskin School of Public Affairs will launch an interdisciplinary institute Thursday that aims to address social inequality issues by promoting social justice and democratic ideas.
The Institute on Inequality and Democracy will invite social justice researchers and activists to discuss connections between international and local inequality issues, said Ananya Roy, the inaugural director of the institute.
Roy, an urban planning and social welfare professor, said she hopes the institute can help address racial inequality issues at the university by inviting activists to suggest improvements. She added she wants the institute to serve as a platform for students who have participated in recent campus protests to communicate their ideas.
A part of the $50 million donation from Meyer and Renee Luskin in 2011 will fund the institute.
The school will host a series of inaugural events Thursday and Friday at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Scholars, activists and organizers will discuss human rights and social justice.
“Inequality is such an important and urgent issue, worldwide and in the United States,” Roy said. “The pairing of inequality and democracy was really hopeful because it allows us to think about inequality in a broader way – not only financially or racially, but also in political participation.”
The institute will consist of an advisory board made up of a few urban planning graduate students and faculty members, said Carolyn Vera, a graduate student in urban planning who is on the board.
She added advisers will help students develop research opportunities in inequality and democracy, and the institute plans to offer undergraduate internships in local nonprofit organizations.
Roy said she plans to include undergraduate students within the institute in the future. This quarter, Roy is teaching an undergraduate course in inequality and democracy as part of the institute, to involve undergraduate students in a dialogue about social justice.
Hannah Appel, a member of the institute’s faculty advisory group and anthropology assistant professor, said she thinks the institute is unique because it will collaborate with local and international activists.
“(These activists) have already been addressing issues on inequality and social justice through campaigns and other studies,” Appel said. “We can learn a lot from them.”
At the launch events Thursday and Friday, Appel will discuss radical actions against financial inequalities that followed the 2008 recession. The events will also feature talks from activist organizations such as Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign and Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, South Africa.
“We want to show there are similar movements in different parts of the world,” Roy said. “Thinking about those places might help us think differently about Los Angeles and what those connections might be.”
Roy said she doesn’t expect her job as director of the institute to be easy.
“The institute provides a unique opportunity to speak to the urgent issues of our times,” Roy said. “It is a great challenge at this point in my life.”