The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy is launching a new Center for Racial Justice designed to expand knowledge about the complex intersections between race and public policy and create a community of leaders, scholars and students engaged in social justice work focused on racial equity.

The center will be led by sociologist Celeste Watkins-Hayes, the Ford School’s associate dean for academic affairs.

“At the Center for Racial Justice, we believe in the power of public policy to help address the societal challenges that we all face,” said Watkins-Hayes, who also is a University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor, the Jean E. Fairfax Collegiate Professor of Public Policy and professor of public policy at the Ford School, and professor of sociology in LSA.

“As we examine the fraught histories and consequences of some of our policies and the transformative power of others, we learn a valuable lesson: Effective and just public policy can only be achieved if we bring diverse perspectives to the table.”

This fall, the center will feature a cadre of scholars to deliver virtual presentations on the roots and currents of race in economic, housing, criminal justice, education and immigration policy. Speakers include Trevon Logan, The Ohio State University; Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, Brown University; William “Sandy” Darity, Duke University; Rucker Johnson, University of California, Berkeley; and Jennifer Lee, Columbia University.

The event series is open to the public but designed in particular for Ford School students, faculty and staff.

Through an accompanying course, undergraduate and graduate students will explore the formal and informal racial structures in which policy is formed, implemented and experienced. There will be opportunities for Ford School faculty and staff to discuss material from the event series and integrate new knowledge into teaching and services.

The new center also will host a virtual Masterclass in Activism on Oct. 6 featuring Johnnetta Betsch Cole. Additional learning opportunities will be added in the fall and winter terms, including workshops and financial support for student-led racial justice initiatives.

“The Center for Racial Justice builds on the Ford School’s longstanding strength in social policy and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Ford School Dean Michael Barr. “The center will play a key role in our work to advance the vitally important cause of bringing racial justice to our policy structures.”

Dominique Adams-Santos will serve as associate director of the center. Adams-Santos is a qualitative researcher who seeks to understand how individuals navigate the racial, gender and sexual politics of digital and urban landscapes in their search for intimacy and community. She will also serve as one of the first Anti-Racism Collaborative Postdoctoral Fellows at U-M’s National Center for Institutional Diversity.

Also joining the center as its first student engagement coordinator is Sharanya Pai, a 2021 graduate of the Ford School.

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