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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Institute for the Study of Societal Issues (ISSI) at the University of California, Berkeley is a research center dedicated to understanding the processes of social change and contributing to the transformation of conditions of inequality. ISSI researchers use a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches to undertake empirical investigations into critical social issues facing the nation, with a particular focus on California communities. ISSI also provides training and professional development to graduate and undergraduate students.

The Institute for the Study of Societal Issues (ISSI) is an Organized Research Unit of the University of California at Berkeley. The views expressed in ISSI working papers are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the ISSI or the Regents of the University of California.

Cover page of Predicting Suicidal Ideation among Native American High Schoolers in California

Predicting Suicidal Ideation among Native American High Schoolers in California


Suicide is the leading cause of non-accidental death for Native American young people ages 15-24 years old. Concerningly, suicide rates have continued to rise over the past decade despite a myriad of prevention efforts. This shortcoming has urged some scholars to (re)examine key theoretical constructs to better direct suicide prevention efforts in tribal communities. Using Indigenous Wholistic Theory, an algorithmic approach was employed to identify a broader set of factors that may influence suicidal ideation among Native American high schoolers in California (n = 2,609). Lasso penalized regression was used to select the most accurate predictors of suicidal ideation. Ten out of the 17 input predictors were significant including: depressive symptoms; school-based victimization; sexual and gender minority status; lifetime use of alcohol, vapes, and cannabis; breakfast consumption; access to alcohol and other drugs; and parent education level. The study found that a combination of factors across individual, emotional-social, mental-political, and physical-economic domains could be used to predict the individualized risk of experiencing suicidal ideation. I argue that this multi-level wholistic model is more appropriate and useful, especially for Native American youth. The study highlights the need for a more comprehensive understanding of suicide-related behavior among Native American youth and points to new directions in suicide screening.

Cover page of Trapped in Our Origin Stories: Interrogating the Ideologies of ESL Citizenship Classrooms

Trapped in Our Origin Stories: Interrogating the Ideologies of ESL Citizenship Classrooms


This paper examines the ideological conceptions of language and literacy practices in an adult, English as a Second Language (ESL) citizenship class for naturalization. Naturalization refers to the process for obtaining U.S citizenship undergone by lawful permanent residents after meeting extensive federal requirements. I situate neoliberalism within settler-colonial, anti-Black logics, and I define neoliberal citizens through language and economic ideologies. By privileging ESL citizenship students’ perspectives, this paper shows how the ESL citizenship classroom, like others, continues to embrace reductive notions of functionality through English-only instruction. I trace how students take up these neoliberal ideologies through performative belonging and performative othering as well as the ways students deviate from these values and the possibilities therein.

Cover page of Neighborhood Institutions and Well-being: Youth Perspectives from East Oakland

Neighborhood Institutions and Well-being: Youth Perspectives from East Oakland


A growing body of literature suggests that the neighborhoods that young people live in have a substantial influence on their lives. As part of this work, researchers have begun to investigate the relationship between young people and local neighborhood institutions such as schools, libraries, grocery stores and youth centers. Engagement with these local institutions has been observed to strengthen youth well-being. Often, this area of research relies on the perspectives of adults and neglects youth experience. This is problematic, given that young people have a great deal of choice and autonomy when selecting neighborhood institutions to engage. Thus, this phenomenological qualitative pilot study highlights youth voice and lived experiences to explore which neighborhood institutions are important to young people and begins to unpack the ways institutional engagement influences well-being. I conducted semi-structured interviews with ten young people between the ages of 14 and 20 who live in East Oakland, California. The findings from this project provide: (1) a descriptive understanding of the different neighborhood institutions that are important to young people, and (2) youth perspectives on why they choose to engage neighborhood institutions. I find that youth-serving organizations, in addition to schools and churches, provide important opportunities for young people to develop both community and individual well-being. Young people say that these institutions strengthen their connectedness to strong social networks, increase positive future outlooks, and provide safe spaces that support a wide variety of interests - including college and career preparation, sports, and arts and crafts. These findings will help practitioners and researchers develop a deeper understanding of the vital role space, place, and institutions play in the lives of youth.

Age-friendly as Tranquilo Ambiente: How Socio-Cultural Perspectives Shape the Lived Environment of Latinx Older Adults


Background and Objectives

Researchers have increasingly considered the importance of age-friendly communities to improve the health and well-being of older adults. Studies have primarily focused on the built environment, such as community infrastructure, older adult behavior, and environmental expectations. Less is known about the role of cultural characteristics in shaping perceptions of age-friendly environments, especially among racial and ethnic minorities.

Research Design and Methods

Using an ethnographic methodological approach, including participant observation in a Latinx community near New York City and 72 semi-structured interviews, this study examines how older Latinxs characterize age-friendly communities.


Latinx older adults described their community as age-friendly by way of the concept Tranquilo Ambiente, translated as calm or peaceful environment. More specifically, TA includes: 1) a sense of perceived personal safety, 2) ethnic and social connectedness, and 3) spatial and cultural accessibility.

Discussion and Implications

This study extends prior research that has largely considered structural or economic components to show how culture may also influence the well-being of older Latinxs, even if living in an under-resourced area. The concept of Tranquilo Ambiente demonstrates that both structural and cultural environmental factors influence older Latinxs understandings of age-friendly communities. By utilizing a socio-cultural lens, this research highlights how Latinx older adults benefit from an environment that supports their physical (e.g., well-lit and newly paved streets), social (e.g., city hall senior center), and cultural (e.g., events and programs that promote cultural heritage) needs.

Cover page of The Paradox of Colorblind: Private Nonprofit Hospital Community Benefit Investments and the Social Determinants of Health

The Paradox of Colorblind: Private Nonprofit Hospital Community Benefit Investments and the Social Determinants of Health


Nonprofit hospitals are required to provide “community benefits,” although this term and the associated levels of spending are not clearly defined. Over 75% of private nonprofit hospital community benefits are allocated to providing medical services for those who cannot afford care, and fewer investments are made to address structural and social determinants of health (SDOH). In particular, this spending is rarely used to redress racial inequities that shape health. In addition to spending on charity care and medical services, some private nonprofit hospitals invest in non-medical strategies to improve health outcomes. In California, private nonprofit hospitals report $12 billion in annual community benefits that include spending on non-medical strategies intended to improve health promoting conditions for vulnerable populations. This comparative case study analyzes data from organizational documents, interviews, and media communications to examine how hospital community investments in housing and workforce development are rationalized and deployed to address SDOH in Los Angeles County. Findings indicate that community-based resources are essential to align hospital investments with community need and to avoid “colorblind” decisions that emphasize socioeconomic need yet do not adequately address racialized barriers to health. Policy and practices that promote targeted capital investments and prioritize the disproportionate needs of communities of color are needed instead of colorblind hospital community investments that perpetuate racial inequities in health.

Cover page of Envisioning “Loving Care” in Impermanent Healing Spaces: Sacred and Political Organizing Towards Decolonial Health/Care in Oakland, California

Envisioning “Loving Care” in Impermanent Healing Spaces: Sacred and Political Organizing Towards Decolonial Health/Care in Oakland, California


This paper explores a self-determined space of health and healing centering ancestral, traditional, and Indigenous medicine and spiritual practices. While ancestral, traditional, and Indigenous (ATI) medicine overlaps with what is conventionally recognized as “alternative” medicine, what sets ATI apart in this work is the political orientation of the Oakland-based Healing Clinic Collective (HCC) and its network of ATI practitioners. Their political orientation and motivation for community organizing begins from practicing and promoting ATI healing modalities to address the impact of interrelated generational experiences shaped by institutional legacies of colonization vis a vis racial capitalism, eurocentrism, and white supremacy.  I use a transdisciplinary and decolonial framework to analyze the HCC’s “ceremonial organizing” model and show how the HCC clinic space offers expansive conceptions of what counts as health, healing, and care at the level of community health. I also show how the HCC is situated in a Bay Area radical community organizing continuum for community survival and self-determination.

A transdisciplinary decolonial framework allows me to think alongside two concepts, therapeutic landscapes and third space, to discuss what it means to organize and hold a healing clinic without replicating a “clinical” experience. Based on ethnographic research, this paper is guided by the following questions:   How does the politicized space created by the HCC clinics interrogate and re-define what counts as health, healing, medicine, and health/care knowledge? How does this sacred-political healing landscape shape a different approach to and experience of community organizing and social movement as a practice of community health/care?

Cover page of Beyond the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Social Death and the Relationship Between School and Incarceration

Beyond the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Social Death and the Relationship Between School and Incarceration


The school-to-prison pipeline is perhaps the most well-known current framework for understanding the relationships between school and incarceration, but the prolific use of this pipeline metaphor is problematic. It tends to omit or obfuscate more complex understandings of the hows and whys adolescents end up incarcerated. Challenging the school-to-prison pipeline narrative is an important precursor to examining the complex factors that lead to and perpetuate youth incarceration, as well as developing solutions for addressing it. This paper first critiques the school-to-prison pipeline narrative. It then offers a way to reimagine how we can think of adolescent criminalization in terms of another metaphor, that of social death, which refers to the systematic criminalization and dehumanization of entire groups of people. Based on an interview study with twenty-nine adults who were first incarcerated as adolescents, this paper uses case studies of three Black and three Latino male participants to demonstrate how social death manifested in zero tolerance, wrongful accusations, and proactive surveillance in and out of the classroom.

Cover page of “Made for Your Benefit”: Prohibition, Protection, and Refusal on Tohono O’odham, 1912-1933

“Made for Your Benefit”: Prohibition, Protection, and Refusal on Tohono O’odham, 1912-1933


In this paper I examine the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ campaign to suppress liquor-use in Tohono O’odham, a federally recognized tribe whose homelands include southern Arizona, in the early 20th century. Finding purchase in scholarship on Indian-citizenship and governmental power, I adumbrate the BIA’s liquor suppression program as it invoked the language of protection while actively seeking to police, punish, and incarcerate Native people. I argue that “protection” and criminalization were not only interrelated and coordinated, but also part and parcel of the BIA’s project to incorporate Native people as would-be citizens and political agents.


Based on archival research and organized chronologically, this paper touches upon Arizona state prohibition (1915) and national prohibition (1920). It reveals the racialized and paternalistic logics of the BIA that led to the late creation of the Papago reservation (1916), and it examines the ways that the BIA’s prohibition program clashed with the Tohono O’odham Nawait I’i ceremony. Alcohol was after all not a colonial import for Tohono O’odham people but an indigenous and ceremonial substance.

Cover page of Enclosure-Occupations: Contested Productions of Green Space & the Paradoxes within Oakland, California’s Green City

Enclosure-Occupations: Contested Productions of Green Space & the Paradoxes within Oakland, California’s Green City


Burger Boogaloo is an annual rock concert that has taken place in Mosswood Park since 2013. Every year a portion of the park is gated and closed off to the general public. Events like Burger Boogaloo are representative of a growing entertainment industry using public parks to cater to a new influx of wealthy residents in Oakland and beyond. At the same time, Mosswood Park has struggled with homeless encampments which impact park use; it is emblematic of a city and state experiencing an increase in unsheltered (homeless) residents as a result of a housing crisis. Based on observations, interviews, public meetings, and municipal documents, this work examines how residents are negotiating the realities and the pitfalls of Oakland’s transition to becoming a green city and its implementation of an urban environmental/sustainable agenda during an accompanying volatile gentrification process. This study focuses on a small but highly used green space that is crucial to the local community in which tensions between park use, the commodification of park space, and lack of public park funding are made visible on the landscape. This paper looks at two types of enclosure-occupations: one from above, government sanctioned events which allow for the temporary enclosure of park space for private events, and the other from below, informal extralegal encampments of unsheltered residents. While those who participate in these enclosure-occupations have vastly different economic, political, and social power, both enclosure-occupations simultaneously create openings for some while constricting public park access for others.

Cover page of Pediatric Cancer, Racial Formation, and the Existential Weight of Anti-Blackness

Pediatric Cancer, Racial Formation, and the Existential Weight of Anti-Blackness


This paper is based on an ethnographic case study drawn from 16 months of fieldwork with families and young people going through cancer diagnosis and treatment in Oakland, California. The paper explores the intersection of cancer patienthood and racial formation, emphasizing the entanglement of biogenetic and sociogenetic processes. The paper shows how, as cancer-inflicted bodies move through the world, they are subjected to sociohistorically produced racial classifications that can be deployed in destructive, humiliating, and stress-inducing ways. Yet racialization can also occur in a more affirming, supportive, and resistant register—for example, through participation in community-based cancer advocacy efforts. The paper emphasizes three points of intersection between cancer patienthood and racial formation: 1) the racialization of oncologically transformed bodies; 2) the racialization of attempts to raise cancer awareness; and 3) the racialization of the expression of negative emotions in healthcare interactions. In doing so, the paper shows that racialization is a fundamental sociogenetic process that is entangled with the biogenetic processes that cancer scientists describe as “oncogenesis.” Entangled biogenetic and sociogenetic processes constitute the existential trajectories that cancer patients and their families inhabit.