Dr. Vajra Watson
UC Davis Director of Research & Policy for Equity and Founder of Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS)

Dr. Vajra M. Watson is the UC Davis Director of Research and Policy for Equity. She seeks innovative ways to align people and systems that advance social justice. As a scholar-activist, Dr. Watson examines both the perils and promises of education and the potential of innovative community-university-school partnerships. Much of her research focuses on holistic reform efforts for chronically under-performing schools in rural, suburban, and urban communities. In these settings, she specializes in supporting the success of so-called at-risk and high-risk youth alongside transformative culturally relevant professional development for teachers and leadership training for administrators. Watson has found that larger system changes must be teacher-driven, but that learning must always be student-centered.

In 2008, Watson founded Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS), a social justice movement that breaks the barriers of underachievement by elevating the voices of students as the authors of their own lives and agents of change. In this capacity, she designed an award-winning training program that pairs community-based poet-mentor educators and teachers together to develop grassroots pedagogies that reclaim and reimagine schooling: www.says.ucdavis.edu.

In addition, Watson serves on a number of Board of Directors, including United Playaz in San Francisco (Board President), the National Urban Education Justice Project, Kingmakers of Oakland, the National Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning, and Fathers and Families of San Joaquin in Stockton, CA.

Watson is the author of two books, Learning to Liberate: Community-Based Solutions to the Crisis in Urban Education (Routledge, 2012) and Transformative Schooling: Towards Racial Equity in Education (Routledge, 2018), and has published dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. She is the recipient of the UC Davis Early Career Award, Sacramento’s 40 Under 40 Leadership Award, the Chancellor’s Soaring to New Heights Individual Achievement Award for Diversity, the Sacramento Kings NBA “Women of Inspiration” Award, and the American Educational Research Association’s Social Impact Award as well as AERA’s Social Justice Leadership Award.

Watson received her B.A. from UC Berkeley and her Doctorate from the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University.