History at Harvard: Four Black Women Head Colleges - Higher Education
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History at Harvard: Four Black Women Head Colleges

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When Harvard University students arrive for classes Aug. 15, they will return to history in the making: for the first time in the Ivy League school’s history, four of its colleges will be headed simultaneously by African-American women.

Dr. Claudine Gay’s appointment in July as the first African-American and the first woman dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences followed Dr. Bridget Terry-Long’s appointment in May as the first Black woman dean of the Graduate School of Education. They join Dr. Tomiko Brown-Nagin, the first Black woman dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and Dr. Michelle A. Williams, an epidemiologist and professor at the School of Public Health, who became the first Black person to head a faculty at Harvard and the first female dean of that school, according to a story in The Harvard Crimson.

Less than three years ago, not one of Harvard’s 14 schools was headed by a Black woman, according to the Crimson.

In an interview with the college newspaper, Gay said: “If my presence in this role affirms someone’s sense of belonging and ownership, the same way [former president Dr. Drew G. Faust’s] appointment affirmed my own sense of belonging, then I think that’s great. 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.”

The advances in diversifying the ranks of administrators have elicited praise on campus. They signal “that Harvard is getting ready for a new future for itself and for the country and for the world,” said John S. Wilson, a key leader in the university’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Dr. Danielle S. Allen – a government professor who spearheaded a Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging that issued a final report in March calling for more faculty diversity – said it’s “great to see such wonderful, talented individuals in leadership posts and to see the university diversifying its leadership ranks.”

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