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The University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy recently launched a new Center for Racial Justice, which will be beginning its work this semester. 

The center intends to create a diverse community focused on addressing societal inequities and will organize events, host visiting fellows and draft policy proposals. 

Dr. Celeste Watkins-Hayes, associate dean for academic affairs at the Ford School and a professor in the Ford School and the Sociology Department, is the founding director of the center. Watkins-Hayes said the center is a combination of many topics in hopes of being inclusive. 

“When we talk about the Center for Racial Justice, there’s a decidedly intersectional lens,” Watkins-Hayes said. “We are thinking about social justice more broadly. We’re thinking about gender and sexuality and religion and class and immigration status because we know that none of us are one thing, and systems don’t operate on just one dimension of inequity.” 

Watkins-Hayes said the center’s first priorities are its events and visiting fellows program, which will offer awards to activists, scholars, artists and advocates to produce “catalyst projects.” According to the Ford School’s website, these are projects with the ability to inform public debate, the development of policy and scholarly research and analysis. 

Fellows will also work with the center’s community and engage in various aspects of programming. 

“We really wanted to try to get this visiting program off the ground because we think that it’s going to be one of the big innovations of the center, what it’s going to be nationally known for, that other policy schools are not offering,” Watkins-Hayes said. 

Public Policy senior Tuhin Chakraborty recently heard about the center and said he is eager to learn more about its planned work.

“I’m excited by that cross-disciplinary approach,” Chakraborty said. “I think (it) is a real refreshing thing to see.”

Chakraborty said he believes policy solutions like those the center will develop are important in  combating racial injustices. 

“I could be biased because I’m a Ford student, but I think that (policy is) the most important way to address (racial inequities),” Chakraborty said. “Because at the end of the day, creating policy and law is what drives this country’s legal system, and that can create the most concrete change.” 

Public Policy senior Michaela Minnis, vice chair of Students of Color in Public Policy, participated in a focus group led by Dr. Watkins-Hayes to gather thoughts about the center over the summer. Though she said she did not know the details of the center until it was publicly announced, she said she was happy to see the Ford School focusing on race, a subject she feels is underrepresented in the school’s course offerings. 

“I’m excited,” Minnis said. “I think it’s long overdue.”

Minnis said she thinks the center’s focus on public policy can help address deeply rooted inequities in the United States but said she also would like to see their work extend beyond America’s borders.

“My hope is that we will also talk about how we have racialized different groups of folks that live in different countries and the roles that race and racism have played in the pain and violence and death of folks who don’t live in the United States,” Minnis said.

Minnis said she is also looking forward to the events and discussions run by the center, and she said she wants to see the center host speakers who will challenge the status quo. 

“I’m hoping that we can bring in voices — particularly Black, radical thinkers — to help us picture a better world,” Minnis said. 

Minnis will graduate in May, so she will only be able to experience the first year of the center’s operations, but she offered one last hope for it. 

“I hope that folks take advantage of the center,” Minnis said. “It’s an amazing project.”

Daily News Editor Emma Ruberg contributed reporting.Daily Staff Reporter Eli Friedman can be reached at elisf@umich.edu.