Diaspora

Harvard announces Claudine Gay will be its next president – GBH News

Updated Dec. 15 at 4:51 p.m.
Harvard has named its next president: Claudine Gay will be the first person of color to hold the university’s top job.
Gay, a social scientist who studies democracy and political participation, is the university’s current Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
The daughter of Haitian immigrants, she will be the first Black person to lead the country’s oldest college.
Speaking to faculty and administrators on campus in Cambridge, Gay choked up when she was announced. She told the room that the role of president is all about harnessing the power of ideas and then supporting the people who pursue them.
“The idea of the ‘ivory tower’ — that is the past, not the future, of academia,” she said. “We don’t exist outside of society but as part of it, and that means that Harvard has a duty to lean in and engage and be of service to the world.”
In a statement, presidential search committee chair Penny Pritzker said Gay “is a remarkable leader who is profoundly devoted to sustaining and enhancing Harvard’s academic excellence, to championing both the value and the values of higher education and research, to expanding opportunity, and to strengthening Harvard as a fount of ideas and a force for good in the world.”
Gay’s parents met in New York City, where they had moved to study at the City University of New York. Her mother worked as a registered nurse, her father as a civil engineer.
“My parents believed that education opens every door,” Gay said Thursday afternoon. “But, of course, that gave me three options. I can become an engineer, a doctor or a lawyer — which I’m sure that other kids of immigrant parents can relate to. So let’s just say that becoming an academic was not what my parents had in mind.”
Members of the local Haitian community were thrilled to learn of Harvard’s decision.
Haitian American business leader and former state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry told GBH News Gay’s appointment will inspire Haitians everwhere.
“Not just here in Massachusetts, but really the whole country and the world because of what Harvard stands for,” she said. “And being an American of Haitian descent, I’m even more proud that we have this incredible person that has been chosen to lead this magnificent institution.”
Dorcena Forry added that she was surprised it took Harvard nearly four centuries to name a leader of color.
”It’s a journey for everyone,” she said, laughing. “But to have this Black woman who has been excellent academically and to promote her and make her president, it’s a wonderful new chapter — especially with her focus on government.”
Thursday’s announcement ends a six-month search. Gay, 52, will succeed Harvard President Larry Bacow, who announced in June that he would be stepping down after five years in the role.
Gay will take over as Harvard’s 30th president in July.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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Kirk is the Managing Editor and Correspondent for higher education at GBH News. He takes the time to capture the distinct voices of students and faculty, administrators and thought leaders.

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