Pearson to Lead Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Sanford

 December 2, 2022

Jay Pearson, the H.M. Foundation Associate Professor of Public Policy, has been named the inaugural Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Sanford School of Public Policy and will begin his term on January 1, 2023, Dean Judith Kelley announced.

Jay Pearson smiling
Jay Pearson

As associate dean, Pearson will lead Sanford’s work as a community that embraces all its members and educates leaders prepared to engage policy problems with a keen understanding of systemic racism and other manifestations of structural inequality.

Pearson’s research, teaching and advocacy address how policy-sponsored, structurally rooted social inequality influences health inequities. A native of Hertford County, North Carolina, Pearson’s early experiences in the rural agricultural south shaped and informed his professional interests. Pearson began his public health career as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras, where he worked as a child survival health specialist training and evaluating midwives and local health workers.

Upon returning to the United States, Pearson worked as a health educator with the East Coast Migrant Health Project, later designing and implementing health and safety training for Spanish-speaking factory workers, pesticide safety training with a multi-ethnic farm worker population, and lead poisoning prevention in an impoverished urban community. Pearson served as assistant project director of an NIH-funded research study in which he was responsible for primary data collection in an ethnically diverse Detroit community.

Pearson is also a faculty research scholar in the Duke Population Research Center and the Duke Global Health Institute. He has co-led a Bass Connections project that examined the Guatemalan deportation crisis from the perspective of both recent deportees and North Carolina’s Guatemalan community.

Pearson received his undergraduate degree from North Carolina Central University, his master’s degree from the University of North Carolina and his doctoral degree from the University of Michigan.

The dean said the new leadership comes at an important time in Sanford’s growth.

“I am thrilled that Jay Pearson will be at the helm for the next stage of Sanford’s growth in diversity, equity and inclusion. This role is important for our school and our entire community to continue to grow together. Our Sanford community has invested itself greatly in diversity, equity and inclusion, but the work is ongoing. Jay’s has been part of our efforts going back more than eight years, and his expertise and leadership are vital for our continued growth in equity and excellence,” Kelley said.

In 2013, Sanford founded the (formerly named) Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) with Pearson and Professor Kate Whetten as founding co-chairs. The committee was comprised of faculty and staff of the school who connect with the wider Sanford community to advance diversity, equity and inclusion. The committee laid the foundation for today’s efforts with its first set of recommendations in 2014.

In 2020, Sanford developed a collective action plan to fight social bias, discrimination and racism. The collective action plan organizes school-wide efforts and commitments and lays out metrics and timelines for implementation and transparent reporting for each commitment to fight social bias, discrimination and racism. 

As Associate Dean, Pearson will join the school’s Senior Leadership Group. The school is also hiring a director to support the work of the Sanford DEI office. The office will continue to work with graduate assistants who provide valuable additional DEI support.

Sanford also has a reengaged Committee for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, currently co-chaired by staff member Jon Abels and faculty member Mallory SoRelle. In addition, Sanford recently hired a student wellness and engagement coordinator Mackenzie Phillips. Recently, Sanford has worked with graduate assistants to collaborate with students on DEI matters, greatly diversified the student body, recruited diverse faculty, created a Safe Space, hosted inclusive professional development for faculty and staff, recognized diverse observances in our community and more.

Learn more about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Sanford.