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Archived: Four Black Women Just Made History at Harvard University

Two years ago, there wasn’t a single Black woman heading any of the 14 schools at Harvard University. And now, in 2018, a total of four Black women will be leading faculty departments as Deans for the first time in the 382-year history of the institution.

According to the Harvard Crimson, on Aug. 15, Professor Claudine Gay will become one of four women on campus in a leadership role that’s typically given to older white men. The “one-type-fits-all” is something that can be proven by the portraits sweeping through the hallways of the school, and, fortunately, seems to be a way of the past.

“If my presence in this role affirms someone’s sense of belonging and ownership, then I think that’s great,” said Professor Claudine Gay, who was selected as the school’s newest Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, a first for a Black professor at the institution.

Despite underrepresented minorities only making up 8 percent of the university’s faculty, there are three other women currently seated as department heads. They include Bridget Terry-Long, who serves as dean of the university’s Graduate School of Education, Michelle A. Williams, an epidemiologist and professor at the School of Public Health, and Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

“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,” John S. Wilson, who is a noted advocate for the university’s new push to diversify, told Harvard’s publication.

The university’s 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 further added, “They were selected not because of their race or gender but because they each rose to the top of a rigorous search process.”

But, DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti challenges Bacow to look at the deeper message he’s unconsciously sending when emphasizing the qualifications of the women in order to justify the decision, and by stating the decision wasn’t race or gender based.

“I’m confident no Ivy League president has ever said something about qualifications when making four white male appointments,” Visconti said. “Those women have been painted into a corner. Knowing academic politics, their peers and most of the faculty will probably shun them, instigated by people who perceive they were passed over. I’ll bet all four are somewhere else in a few years.”

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