The Harvard Crimson just appointed this student as its editor — here's why it's a big deal

Harvard University junior Kristine E. Guillaume will be the next president and editor of the Harvard Crimson, making her the first black woman to head the organization. 
 Boston Globe / Contributor

For the first time in The Harvard Crimson's 145-year history, a black female editor will lead the esteemed student paper. As former editors have gone on to become the CEO of top companies and even president of the United States, the move could mark an important shift in the opportunities available to a new generation of leaders.

Come 2019, 20-year-old Kristine Guillaume will take the helm of Harvard's student-run newspaper. Guillaume will also be the third black president to lead the organization since its founding in 1873.

To be sure, Harvard is one of the top colleges in the country. But The Crimson is its own leadership proving ground. Past editors and writers include former presidents John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt, former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer and CNN president Jeff Zucker.

Guillaume was appointed to this role after promising to guide the paper, which has struggled with diversity, "toward a more diverse, digital future," the New York Times reports.

"If my being elected to The Crimson presidency as the first black woman affirms anyone's sense of belonging at Harvard," she says, "then that will continue to affirm the work that I'm doing."

Born to immigrant, physician parents of Haitian and Chinese descent, Guillaume says that she developed an interest in journalism while growing up in Queens. On Sundays, Guillaume's father would take her and her younger sister to a diner and ask them to read Times' columns by David Brooks and Paul Krugman.

"Both of my parents have a strong emphasis on education and knowing what's going on in the world around us," says Guillaume, a junior majoring in literature, history and African-American studies.

Citing social and political journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates as a role model, she plans to pursue a doctorate in African-American studies and a career in academia, while writing on the side. At Harvard, Guillaume has covered topics like immigration, diversity and leadership at the ivy league institution.

While The Crimson has historically been predominantly white and male, minority underrepresentation is a widespread issue throughout the news sector. People of color made up just 22.2 percent of employees of daily newspapers in 2018, according to a recent American Society of Newspaper Editors survey. Of all newsroom managers, 19 percent were minorities. This lack of representation carries major repercussions for media outlets, as they struggle to regain trust among the people that they cover.

Across all industries, people of color comprise a small percentage of leadership positions, particularly in the C-suite. Indra Nooyi's October departure as PepsiCo CEO left just a handful of minority women running Fortune 500 companies and there are currently zero African American women at the top.

Nearly 40 of Guillaume's colleagues voted on who they'd elect to The Crimson's most senior leadership position earlier this year, during a months-long process known as the "Turkey Shoot."

When Guillaume received the call that she had been selected to lead the paper, she recalls screaming into the phone. "It was a very, very shrill scream," she says.