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Professors’ Haynes Foundation Grants Add Potential for Student Research on L.A. Social Justice Issues

Headshots of Professors Heidi Nichols Haddad and Stephen Marks superimposed on L.A. skyline

As social justice issues rose to the forefront in the past year, Pomona College professors Heidi Nichols Haddad and Stephen Marks have earned prestigious 2021 Faculty Fellowship Awards from the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation.

The Haynes Foundation supports social science research that can break new ground on economic, social and political problems, particularly projects with the potential to influence policy and action in the Los Angeles region. Faculty from throughout Southern California, home to a number of major research universities, are eligible for the $12,000 grants, with six projects chosen this year. The selection of Haddad, a politics professor, and Marks, an economics professor, marks the first time two Pomona faculty members have earned the awards in the same year. Their projects each align with courses they teach and create potential for impactful student research on current issues.

Making U.N. Sustainability Goals Local

Haddad’s project, “Global Sustainability to Local Equality,” connects with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s efforts to localize the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Known as SDGs, the goals address 17 wide-ranging areas including poverty, education, clean water and energy, work and climate change. Though the SDGs were designed for countries, a small but growing number of cities around the globe are voluntarily adopting them.

Haddad, an expert in international relations, is pivoting to study local implementation. Her politics class on Cities, Rights, and Sustainable Development is an experiential learning course focused on L.A.’s efforts on SDG 5, gender equality. The challenge is to translate ways of measuring progress on gender equality goals—covering such issues as violence against women, health and economic opportunity—that were originally intended for countries to a city level.

“The Sustainable Development Goals gave no blueprint for cities, and cities were in this new place, thinking ‘What does localization actually look like?’” Haddad says. “So that's what our class is doing. We're developing somewhere between 20 and 30 metrics for cities on gender equity.” Her Pomona students recently presented their work in progress to city officials as they refine the metrics. “These will be used for city reporting as well as admission criteria for new cities to join the global CHANGE city network,” Haddad says.

As part of Pomona’s partnership with the City of Los Angeles on the issue, two students interned with L.A.’s SDG project team last summer: Janie Marcus ’23 worked on homelessness issues, and Virginia Paschal ’21, whose career interests include environmental policy, researched indoor air quality and decarbonization initiatives within the city.

This summer, Haddad plans to combine research, analysis and interviews to produce a report for the city as well as a public opinion piece for a news outlet.

Studying the Impact of a State Law on Crime

Marks’ project, “California Public Safety Realignment and Crime Rates: An Empirical Analysis of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area,” will analyze the impacts of a 2011 California law, Assembly Bill (AB) 109, on crime rates in Los Angeles using what is called a difference-in-differences approach.

AB 109, a response to a U.S. Supreme Court mandate to reduce state prison overcrowding, shifted responsibility for monitoring and incarcerating those convicted of “non-serious, non-violent, non-sex” offenses from the state to county governments. Marks’ study will examine the impact of the policy change by evaluating changes in crime rates in California cities before and after the law compared with changes in cities around the country, and will focus on Los Angeles County as a case study of how the policy has influenced criminal justice procedures in practice.

Marks’ expertise is in international economics, but his study of criminal justice reform grew out of a course he taught, Economics of Crime. A student in the class, Seth Pope ’23, was interested in the issue of private prisons, leading to work with Marks on econometric analysis of the fluctuations in the stock values of two private prison companies, CoreCivic and the GEO Group, particularly in relation to such events as the police killing of George Floyd and the 2020 presidential election.

“It was really an incredible exercise in econometrics,” Marks says. “The complexities of the statistical studies are quite something.”

The number of other factors in studying the effects of AB 109 adds challenges to the research, Marks says, noting it will be necessary to control for such things as unemployment rates, the size of police forces and even necessary to find a way to set aside the influence of other criminal justice reform measures.

Yet another factor is the pandemic, which has seen an uptick in murder rates while other types of crimes fell during a period so unprecedented Marks says he is likely to not include it in the study. The sands never stop shifting, he notes, including Los Angeles County voters’ approval of Measure J in November, which redirects more funding to social services and jail diversion programs.

“I think that there could be many opportunities to keep this research on criminal justice going,” he says. “One of the beauties of it is that there are frequent policy experiments.”