Faculty Portrait

Contact Information

Name: Vajra M. Watson

Title: Ed.D. Faculty Director | Associate Professor

Office Location: Eureka Hall 318

Email: v.watson@csus.edu

Office Phone: 916.278.7337

Mailing Address: 6000 J street

Office Hours: TBD

About Dr. Vajra Watson

Vajra M. Watson is a scholar-activist, faculty director, and professor of educational leadership and racial justice in the College of Education at Sacramento State University, Sacramento. Watson has over twenty years of experience as a teacher, community organizer and researcher. She is the founder of Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS), an award-winning program that pairs community-based poet-mentor educators and teachers together to develop grassroots pedagogies that reclaim and reimagine schooling. She is the solo-author of two books, Learning to Liberate: Community-Based Solutions to the Crisis in Urban Education (2012) and Transformative Schooling: Towards Racial Equity in Education (2018), and has published dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters.

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

Dr. Watson is 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 California Educational Research Association’s Annual Award, the Congressional Woman of the Year Award, the NBA Sacramento King’s Woman of the Year Award, and the American Educational Research Association’s Social Impact Award as well as AERA’s Social Justice Leadership Award. 

Watson is originally from Berkeley, CA and was deeply impacted by the courses she took in the Black and Xicanx Studies Departments at Berkeley High School in the mid-1990s. In 10th grade her final exam question was: “What are you doing to stop and/or curtail the spread of white supremacy in yourself, community, and this world?” This question still shapes her path and purpose. 

Dr. Watson obtained her B.A. from UC Berkeley and holds two Master’s Degrees from Harvard University in International Education and Teaching and Learning. She received her Doctorate in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy from the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. 

Watson identifies as a white, cisgender female.


UC Davis Director of Research & Policy for Equity


Built university-wide center for educational equity. Without consistent base budget resources, Dr. Watson raised over $7 million dollars in research grants and extramural funding. This has allowed her to hire staff, incubate innovations in the field, and replicate models across multiple systems. https://equity.ucdavis.edu

Founder of Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS)


SAYS is a social justice movement to transform education. We engage elementary, middle, and high school students to become the authors of their own lives and agents of change. Since its inception in 2008, SAYS has worked with over 10,000 students and teachers in the Sacramento region. Students in SAYS have shown a 48% increase in attendance and a 17% decrease in suspensions, expulsions, and detentions. 81% of participants will be the first in their families to attend college and 12% will be the first in their families to graduate from high school. Notwithstanding these generational barriers, the longitudinal data is promising: 90% of SAYS students who make it into college are graduating in five years or less. https://www.says.ucdavis.edu

Board Member, (SAYS)




Harvard University, Graduate School of Education
Doctorate in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy with a focus on Communities and Schools

Harvard University, Graduate School of Education
Master’s Degree in Learning and Teaching

Harvard University, Graduate School of Education
Master’s Degree in International Education

University of California, Berkeley | College of Letters and Science
Political Science/International Relations and Education —Dean's Honor List, Summa cum laude

Courses Taught (Graduate/Undergraduate)

Transformative Leadership

Mic Check: Race, Place, and Power within and Beyond the Ivory Tower

Scholar Activism: the more you know, the more you owe

Decolonizing Methodologies: the art, science, and soul of portraiture

Foundations of Teaching as a Profession

Evaluation and Assessment

Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice

Sociology of Education