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Harvard’s next president will be Haitian American Claudine Gay 


Overview:

Harvard University has appointed Claudine Gay as president of the the world-renowned institution. She is a leader, a scholar and the daughter of Haitian immigrants.

Claudine Gay will become the first Black and second woman president of Harvard University on July 1, 2023, the institution announced Dec. 15. The daughter of Haitian immigrants is known for her leadership and scholarly writings on democracy and political participation. 

“As a woman of color, as a daughter of immigrants, if my presence in this role affirms someone’s sense of belonging at Harvard, that is a great honor,” Gay said in a video released to the public after her election to the position. 

“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,” Gay said.

The 52-year-old will become the 30th president of the Ivy-League school. Hers is the second high profile university appointment of a Haitian American, following the announcement of engineer Reginald DesRoches as president of Rice University a year ago in November.

Gay follows the first woman, Drew Gilpin Faust, appointed Harvard president in 2007. She has led Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), the university’s largest and most academically diverse faculty, since 2018. She founded Harvard’s Inequality in America Initiative, an effort to advance study into the effects of child poverty and deprivation on educational opportunity, inequities in STEM education and how American inequality functions in a global context.

“Over the last five years, Claudine and I have worked very closely together,” said Larry Bacow, Harvard’s current president, in an official statement. “She is a terrific academic leader with a keen mind, great leadership and communication skills, excellent judgment, and a basic decency and kindness that will serve Harvard well.” 

Gay’s appointment immediately drew praise for both her professional and personal qualities, especially among Haitian American and Black communities, at in-person interactions and on social media.

“I could not be prouder of my cousin Claudine, the next president of @harvard,” tweeted author Roxanne Gay. 

The Haitian Ladies Network posted the announcement on Instagram with segments from Gay’s bio. It   received 744 likes within just a few hours. 

Other congratulations came from The Haitian Roundtable, Marc Alain Boucicault, founder of Banj and a graduate student at Harvard in Public Administration and BET.

Leading in a dream ‘never imagined’

In her video message, Gay shared a few bits about her background and path to the apex of academia.

“My parents are Haitian immigrants,” she said. “They came to the U.S. with very little and put themselves through college while raising our family. They believe that education made everything possible.”

“Being an academic opened up my world and helped me achieve a dream I could never have imagined,” she added.

Gay’s parents met as students in New York City. Gay was born and initially raised in The Bronx. Later, she lived in Saudi Arabia, when her father worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to Wikiwand. Her mother was a registered nurse. 

Gay studied economics at Stanford University, receiving the Anna Laura Myers Prize for best undergraduate thesis in economics, and graduated in 1992. She then earned her Ph.D. in government from Harvard in 1998, winning the university’s annual Toppan Prize for best political science dissertation.

Gay is married to Dr. Christopher Afendulis, an expert in health care policy at Stanford University. 

In a rare glimpse into Gay’s personal life, Harvard Magazine shared her response to what makes suitable, meaningful gifts. Gay said her best gift was a surprise to her husband after graduate school. 

At the time, the couple rarely saw one another given their difficult work schedules. She gave her husband, a third-generation Greek-American, a trip he’d dreamed of — visiting his grandparents’ homeland in Greece. She presented him with a bag, in which she’d placed a copy of “The Odyssey,” a phrasebook to supplement his school-level Greek vocabulary and airplane tickets.

In the public video, Gay said the world is in a moment of rapid and accelerating changes during which many aspects of life are being reset. With the strength of Harvard behind her and her colleagues, her focus will be on finding moments that call for deeper collaboration among faculty and students as well as pioneers into new areas of research and fresh thinking.  

“The idea of the ivory tower — that’s the past, not the future of academia,” Gay said. “We don’t exist alongside society, but as part of it. And at Harvard, we have a duty to lean in and engage and to be of service to the world.”



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