Closing The Gap

Harvard University will be led by a person of color for the first time in its nearly 400-year history

Claudine Gay, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, speaks during the 368th Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 30, 2019.
Brian Snyder | Reuters

History has been made at Harvard University, as Claudine Gay becomes the first person of color — and second woman — to be named president of the school.

The university reports that for the last 16 years, Gay, 52, has taught government and African and African American Studies. Since August 2018, she has served as the Edgerley Family Dean of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Before that, she was Dean of Social Science from 2015 to 2018.

According to The Harvard Gazette, Gay was elected to the presidency on December 15 by the Harvard Corporation, the University's principal governing board, with the consent of the University's Board of Overseers. She's set to step into the new role on July 1, 2023.

In a new video, Gay expressed her excitement and gratitude for being elected president.

"For me, this role is about harnessing the power of ideas and supporting the people who pursue them," Gay says. "Few things give me more joy, more energy, than talking to a colleague working in a field that's new to me or hearing the questions that are on the mind of a new generation of students. These conversations let me see the world with fresh eyes." 

Born to Haitian immigrants, Gay reminisced on the path her parents paved that led her to pursue a career in academics. 

"They came to the U.S. with very little and put themselves through college while raising our family. They believe that education makes everything possible. Being an academic opened up my world, and helped me achieve a dream I could never imagine."

Gay obtained her B.A. in economics from Stanford University with honors and distinctions before earning her PhD at Harvard in 1998.

Her appointment further upholds the university's commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB). According to the Harvard University website, 15.2% of the admitted class of 2026 identify as African American — an increase from just 12.7% in 2020 — 27.9% identify as Asian American and 12.6% identify as Hispanic or Latino.  

Gay says that as a woman of color and daughter of immigrants, "if my presence in this role affirms someone's sense of belonging at Harvard, that is a great honor."

"And for those who are beyond our gates, if this prompts them to look anew at Harvard, to consider new possibilities for themselves and their futures, then my appointment will have meaning for me that goes beyond words."

Looking back on the accomplishments of the university, from strides in artificial intelligence to climate and sustainability, Gay expressed her commitment to continue carrying on the "powerful legacies" of the leaders who came before her.

"Our community is a large and diverse team and we are united by a shared commitment to academic excellence and leadership and all the values that ensure it. Embracing those values, especially academic freedom and wide open inquiry, is not only the path to excellence but it's how we harness our breadth and diversity to build the legacy that our institution deserves."

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