Black women are continuing to break barriers in higher education. For the first time in Harvard University’s history, four of the institution’s schools will be led by African-American women, the Harvard Crimson reported.
Claudine Gay was recently appointed to become Harvard’s Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; becoming the first African-American and woman to take on the position, the news outlet writes. Gay’s appointment is a step forward for the university—which is the oldest higher education institution in the United States—as it looks to diversify their faculty leadership. The other African-American women who hold leadership positions at the university include Michelle A. Williams who leads Harvard’s School of Public Health, Bridget Terry-Long who serves as the dean of the university’s Graduate School of Education, and Tomiko Brown-Nagin who is at the helm of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Prior to their appointments, there weren’t any Black faculty leads at the school.
Gay is humbled to take on the role and hopes that her journey in academia inspires others to challenge the status quo and fight for a seat at the table. “If my presence in this role affirms someone’s sense of belonging and ownership, then I think that’s great,” Gay said in a statement, according to the news outlet. “And for people who are sort of beyond our gates, if this prompts them to look again and look anew at Harvard and imagine new possibilities for themselves, I think that’s great as well.”
John S. Wilson—the person who is responsible for leading Harvard’s diversity and inclusion efforts—believes Gay’s appointment and the fact that there are more Black women in leadership roles at the school is a step in the right direction. “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,” he said. “It just signals that Harvard is getting ready for a new future for itself and for the country and for the world.”
Diversity amongst faculty and students at Ivy League schools remains an issue. According to a 2017 study released by College Vine, African-Americans only made up 13.7 percent of the student body at Harvard.