Ashley Judd, 48, is getting a PhD at UC Berkely, she announced on Monday in a Facebook Live video. She spoke live from The Frothy Monkey in Franklin, Tennessee. Her video announcement can be viewed on her Facebook page. She’s enrolled in the university’s public policy doctoral program. UC Berkeley is one of the top public policy schools in the nation — in fact, they only accept two or three PhD doctoral candidates per year. Far from being just another Hollywood actress accepting an honorary degree, Judd has earned her way. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, her mother’s native state. She then earned a master’s degree from Harvard in public administration with a focus on gender equality. She considers it an honor that Berkeley has accepted her for this unique PhD program.
“I have decided to take the next step in my academic journey. Sometimes I’m really excited, sometimes I’m like, ‘What have I gotten myself into?!’ I’m very esteemed and honored that they accepted me.”
Ashley Judd plans to study gender equality and how it factors into human trafficking, a cause that’s been close to her heart. Her list of causes that are personal to her is as long as her academic resume. She has been active in using her name and her fame to increase awareness in the concerns for what women and girls face around the world regarding their sexuality.
“Within human trafficking adheres all of the injustices of gender equality. You can look at the whole of our striving toward gender equality within the dynamic of ending human trafficking. So it’s the big and the little picture all at once at the top of my list. I intend to make the very best of my time at Berkeley. And do some good thinking, some rigorous research and fill it with my typical heart and soul, intend to do and see how I can continue to do my part to make the world a better place.”
It’s certainly not unusual for universities to bestow honorary degrees on celebrities, but that usually only happens for musicians who have years of creative works behind them, according to NY Mag. Rarely, however, do we hear of a well-known actress committing herself to years in a PhD program. This is certainly not a sudden decision for Ms. Judd. Her academic career at Harvard began in 2009, so we know she has steadily pursued her higher education even in the midst of starring in multiple films.
Ashley Judd was born in California, but when she was only about 4-years-old, her parents divorced and she moved with her mother to Kentucky. Her mother’s family goes back at least ten generations in Kentucky. Her family history is a proud and colorful one. According to her bio on her official website, she’s a direct descendant of Pilgrim mother and father William and Mary Brewster, who helped organize and then sailed to America on the Mayflower.
Judd’s mother is famous country singer Naomi Judd, and her sister, Wynona Judd, is equally well-known for her country music career. Judd shares her time between Tennessee and Kentucky while in the states, and also visits Scotland when possible. Her acting career has been quite successful, as she’s starred in 20 films. Most women would be more than satisfied with that, but Judd is an activist at heart. She travels extensively around the world focusing on programs surrounding concerns about poverty, public health, human rights and social justice. She’s a very popular public speaker because people respond so well to her sincere burden of concern for those in vulnerable positions. The people who are victims of such social injustices poverty, and issues common to women seem to trust Ashley Judd easily. Fans often laud her on social media for her passion for their causes.
@AshleyJudd (1/2) just finished your book. Powerful read. thx 4 sharing your story. Your activist work is so very important...eye opening...— Laura Hull, LMFT (@LauraHullLMFT) August 6, 2016
She has her share of detractors as well, and often responds to their criticism on her Twitter page. She speaks freely in political circles, even having run for office. There are people who call out what they perceive as hypocrisy. Her political views tend to run far left, and her outspokenness has cause some friction.
One of the most controversial issues surrounding Ashley Judd is her stance on female reproductive rights At the Democratic National Convention this year, she spoke openly about her choice to have an abortion after she was raped. The rape occurred in a state where the rapist could have had parental rights, had she chosen to carry to term. She’s been heavily criticized by pro-life and more conservative members of the public, but it hasn’t stopped her from speaking out. She actively supports a number of organizations. She’s served on the Clinton Global Initiative, the International AIDS conference, and many others. Her educational goals, she says, are consistent with her activism and her many causes surrounding gender inequality. Ashley Judd’s PhD in gender equality will be no surprise to those who have followed her throughout her career.
[Photo by Jamal Countess/Getty Images]