Celeste Watkins-Hayes receives dual recognition from U-M Regents

September 17, 2020

Today the University of Michigan Regents approved the appointment of professor Celeste Watkins-Hayes as the Jean E. Fairfax Collegiate Professor of Public Policy for a five-year renewable term.

The Fairfax Collegiate Professorship was established at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy in July 2020. Watkins-Hayes chose the name of the professorship to honor Jean E. Fairfax, a 1941 graduate of the University of Michigan who devoted her career to social justice. 

The Regents also approved the five-year appointment of Watkins-Hayes as a University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor, in recognition of her exceptional contributions to enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion through her scholarship, teaching, and service. 

Professor Watkins-Hayes is an internationally-recognized scholar and expert on HIV/AIDS; urban poverty; social policy; and racial, class, and gender inequality. Her work illuminates the impact of the HIV epidemic on women and safety-net organizations to scholars, communities, and policymakers. 

Michael S. Barr commented on the dual recognition from the Regents. “I am so thrilled that the Ford School can honor Celeste’s work with the Jean E. Fairfax Chair. Fairfax’s pathbreaking work made a huge difference to advancing equity and inclusion in our society, and Watkins-Hayes has devoted her scholarly career to that goal. I am also thrilled that she has been appointed as a University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor. Watkins-Hayes is a leading scholar, and a wonderful mentor to our students”

 Jean E. Fairfax graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Michigan in 1941. Throughout her life, Ms. Fairfax made important contributions to the civil rights movement, including as founding Director of Community Services for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund for two decades. She fought for historically black colleges, helped overhaul the National School Lunch Program to serve poor children more fairly, and was committed to fundamental fairness and simple justice.

“Her brilliance was unmistakable, her courage remarkable, her passion for justice inspiring, and her love of community deep and generous,” said Watkins-Hayes. “Ms. Fairfax dedicated her entire life to advocating for equal opportunity for all. She had incredible fortitude to seize the opportunity despite the racism and sexism that must have confronted her regularly.” 

Watkins-Hayes joins the second cohort of University Diversity and Social Transformation Professors. The professorship recognizes senior faculty who have shown a commitment to the university’s ideals of diversity, equity, and inclusion through their scholarship, teaching, or service and engagement. 

“My intellectual commitments are motivated by a desire to offer analyses and prescriptions, based on empirically and conceptually rich research, that address the real-world issues that limit human potential,” said Watkins-Hayes. “I'm thrilled to join a community of such interdisciplinary breadth with scholars who share those same goals and see the work as critical to do both within and outside of the academy.”

Celeste Watkins-Hayes is a professor of public policy and sociology at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and Department of Sociology. She is an author and educator widely credited for her research at the intersection of inequality, public policy, and institutions, with a special focus on urban poverty and race, class, and gender studies. Dr. Watkins-Hayes has published two books, numerous articles in journals and edited volumes, and pieces in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Chicago Magazine. She has been widely quoted in the popular press as a national expert on social inequality and HIV/AIDS. The release of Remaking a Life: How Women Living with HIV/AIDS Confront Inequality (2019, University of California Press) has been covered by The Chicago Tribune, Ms. Magazine, EBONY, Chicago Public Radio, New York Public Radio, Detroit Public Radio, POZ Magazine, PBS Newshour, Chicago Tonight, and several other outlets across the country. The book is the 2020 winner of the Eliot Freidson Outstanding Publication Award bestowed by the American Sociological Association Medical Sociology Section and the Co-Winner of the Distinguished Book Award Section from the ASA Section on Sex and Gender.

Her first book, The New Welfare Bureaucrats: Entanglements of Race, Class, and Policy Reform, was a Finalist for the 2009 C. Wright Mills Book Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems and the 2011 Max Weber Book Award from the American Sociological Association. Dr. Watkins-Hayes holds a PhD and MA in sociology from Harvard University and a BA from Spelman College, where she graduated summa cum laude. She served on the board of trustees of Spelman College for over a decade in various leadership roles, leading the search process for the college’s 10th president. She currently serves on the board of directors of the Detroit Institute of Arts. 

Read more about Watkins-Hayes.