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Ali Watts

Assistant Professor / Career-Line | Higher Education


Dr. Watts studies organizational learning and change toward racial equity in higher education, particularly by interrogating ways that Whiteness and settler colonialism serve to distract, dilute, and disrupt change efforts. As an action researcher, much of Dr. Watts’s work involves partnering with practitioners (e.g., graduate students, faculty, student and academic affairs administrators) to engage in date-informed inquiry into taken-for-granted policies, practices, and behavioral norms.. Recently, this work has focused on the relationship between foundation philanthropies and educational researchers—unpacking the historical legacies of this complex relationship and exploring strategies for building coalitions of stakeholders committed to developing just and equitable strategies for resource distribution.

Additionally, Dr. Watts is deeply committed to studying and responding to concerns about graduate student mental health, wellbeing, and success, particularly for minoritized and structurally excluded student communities. Prior to her doctoral program, Dr. Watts worked for a decade in student and academic affairs roles, including admissions and financial aid, leadership development, student affairs programming, and residential education.

Courses Taught

  • ELP 6500/7500 Sociocultural Foundations of U.S. Higher Education
  • ELP 6650/7650 Contemporary Issues in Diversity in Higher Education
  • ELP 6711 MEd Internship Seminar
  • ELP 6960 Critical Legal Issues in US Higher Education
  •  ELP 7670 EdD Practicum Seminar

Areas of Expertise

Leadership / Policy


  • Watts, A. (2022). Beyond ‘Woke Play’: Strategies for Challenging Performative Allyship. In Student Affairs ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’ Programming. In Johnson, R.M., Anya, U. & Garces, L.M. (Eds.) Racial Equity on College Campuses: Connecting Research and Practice. SUNY Press.
  • Watts, A., and Dowd, A. C. (2023). Access and Equity in Higher Education. In Research Handbook on the Transformation of Higher Education. Leisyte, L., Dee, J., and van der Meulen, B. (Eds). Edward Elgar.
  • Watts, A. (April, 2022). Notes Toward a Scyborg Philanthropy: Educational Grant-Making and the Pursuit of Spatial Justice. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association Annual Conference, San Diego, CA.
  • Watts, A., Elmore, B. D., and Dowd, A. C. (April, 2022). Politics of Performance: Neoliberalism and the Logics of Racial Disposability in Performing Arts Programming. Poster presented at the American Educational Research Association Annual Conference, San Diego, CA.