Bernice O. López, a first-generation Latina graduate student and Los Angeles native, is currently a second year student in the Master of Social Welfare program at UCLA with an area of concentration in social and economic justice. As a student in the MSW program, Bernice is acquiring a scholarly foundation to examine structural and institutional systems of oppression and fieldwork experience. Bernice’s previous internship with LA County Department of Mental Health at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center-where she worked with community members living with severe mental illness- exposed her to the interconnectedness between mass incarceration and the necessity to advocate for more equitable and accessible public mental health services. Bernice has witnessed the effects of the revolving door syndrome as community members living with a severe mental illness experience frequent psychiatric hospitalizations, incarceration, and are faced with additional challenges such as houselessness and/ or substance use. Ultimately, Bernice aspires to devise and implement evidence-based interventions into our criminal legal system to inform equitable policies to reduce recidivism rates, end mass incarceration, and eradicate houselessness in her native community of Los Ángeles.
Bernice has remained passionate about empowering marginalized communities by gaining a solid understanding of the structural systems at play and has created pathways to obtain equitable opportunities; whether it be as a teacher, a community outreach advocate connecting people to services, or volunteering with incarcerated youth in a detention center. Bernice taught high school Spanish in Watts and Huntington Park, where she developed a student-led organization to teach humane education, foster compassion, and provide community engagement opportunities for students who volunteered at local animal care centers as well as fundraised for non-profit animal welfare organizations. Bernice was later recruited by the ASPCA to develop and implement a community engagement program in collaboration with the County of Los Angeles Department of Animal Care and Control to provide direct services to pet owners facing relinquishment due to financial constraints and lack of access to veterinary services. While Bernice was recovering from a major surgery, she was recruited to serve as the Volunteer Program Lead for a restorative justice program at a youth detention center in collaboration with Los Angeles County Department of Probation. Bernice taught the youth participants to temporarily care for houseless kittens by teaching compassion, teamwork, and responsibility, while the kittens provided emotional support for the youth.
Bernice’s professional experiences and passion to empower others, led her to the iACT team as an intern, where she hopes to utilize her skills in education and human services to support iACTs’ mission. Additionally, Bernice is particularly interested in international social work and is committed to developing new skills, gain knowledge of the field, and broaden her understanding of international work.
I ACT because…Compassion, love, and community are the essence of humanity. I hope that together we can foster social justice, build bridges to create access for the oppressed, and extend our empathy to those most in need to heal the world.