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Black women breaking barriers at Harvard

BLACK GIRL MAGIC: Claudine Gay, Michelle A. Williams, Bridget Terry-Long and Tomiko Brown-Nagin

FOR THE first time in history, four of Harvard’s prestigious schools will be led by black women in a move to diversify academic institutions.

The announcement has been praised for its slow but welcomed steps of progress, which sees Professor Claudine Gay appointed as Harvard’s Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Speaking about the turning point, Gay said: “If my presence in this role affirms someone's sense of belonging and ownership, the same way Drew's appointment affirmed my own sense of belonging, then I think that's great.”

She added: “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.” Acting as a double milestone, Gay is the first African American and woman to take on the role.

The three other trailblazing women who hold leadership positions at the university include Michelle A. Williams, an epidemiologist and professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health, Bridget Terry-Long serves as dean of the university’s Graduate School of Education, and Tomiko Brown-Nagin is leading the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

The historic appointment has left Brown-Nagin feeling “thrilled.” In an emailed statement, she detailed her joy “whenever any organization recognises talent in women and people of colour, just the same of other groups.”

Negotiating these “elite spaces”, Brown-Nagin said, “in all those contexts, I have managed to avoid being reduced to my ascribed race or gender.

That said, I’ve been gratified by the congratulations that I’ve received from people from all walks of life, men and women, seasoned professionals and students.”

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