For the first time in Harvard’s 382-year history, four of the university’s academic departments will be led by African-American women. Professor Claudine Gay, the latest appointee, will become the first woman and the first African-American to lead the university’s prestigious Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
The Crimson Harvard reports that on August 15, Professor Claudine Gay will be occupying the post as the dean of Harvard’s flagship faculty, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. She is hoping it would inspire other women and people of color just like how she was inspired when former University President Drew G. Faust became Harvard’s first female president.
“If my presence in this role affirms someone’s sense of belonging and ownership, the same way Drew’s appointment affirmed my own sense of belonging, then I think that’s great,” Gay said.
Gay will be joining three other Black women who are currently seated as department heads. In 2016, Michelle A. Williams became the first black women to lead the Longwood-based School of Public Health. Tomiko Brown-Nagin and Bridget Terry-Long were also the first Black women who became deans of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the Graduate School of Education in April and May, respectively.
Many are saying these appointments sparked a significant turning point at the University that only has underrepresented minorities make up only about 8 percent of its faculty.
“To now be moving into a phase of Harvard’s life where people who don’t meet that profile are now empowered to advance Harvard, it just signals that Harvard is getting ready for a new future for itself and for the country and for the world,” said John S. Wilson, a known advocate for the university’s diversity.
Meanwhile, University President Lawrence S. Bacow said, “Each of these exceptional individuals was selected because they enjoy reputations as distinguished scholars and educators, and because they are widely admired by their colleagues as extremely effective academic leaders”
He continued, “They were selected not because of their race or gender but because they each rose to the top of a rigorous search process.”