Dr. Claudine Gay, First Black Appointed to Lead Harvard University (Harvard University)




Harvard University announced Claudine Gay, Ph.D., as its 30th president and the first Black person poised to lead the nation’s oldest educational institution. Gay, 52, was elected to the presidency by the governing board of the Harvard Corporation and will take office on July 1, succeeding retiring president Lawrence S. Bacow. Gay is the second Black woman to lead an Ivy League school, after former Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons. 

Of her appointment, Bacow said, “Claudine is a person of bedrock integrity. She will provide Harvard with the strong moral compass necessary to lead this great University. Under Claudine Gay’s leadership, Harvard’s future is very bright.” 

Gay, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, received her bachelor’s degree in 1992 from Stanford University in Economics. In a recent speech, Gay talked of her parent’s belief in education and the three options they gave her as she began her pursuit of academics; “She could become an engineer, a doctor, or a lawyer,” they said. Gay admits that her goal of academia was not what “my parents had in mind. It was a leap of faith for all of us.”  

Colleagues and students lauded the appointment of Dr. Claudine Gay. (Harvard University)

 While a student at Stanford, Gay was awarded the Anna Laura Myers Prize for best undergraduate thesis, a feat she would repeat during her doctoral studies at Harvard. Gay received her Ph.D. in government from Harvard in 1998 and the Toppan Prize for best dissertation in political science, according to the Harvard Gazette.  

 Gay’s professional career began at Stanford, where she served as an assistant professor and tenured associate professor. She joined the Harvard faculty in 2006 as a professor of government, and in 2007, she served as a professor of African and African American Studies in 2007.  

Gay currently serves as the Edgerley Family Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. She is a leading scholar of political behavior. The moment in time of her appointment is not lost on Gay:  “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,” she said. 

Gay’s colleagues and students have applauded her appointment. Penny Pritzker, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation and chair of the presidential search committee, said, “She will be a great Harvard president in no small part because she is such a good person.” Most impressive are the many comments lauding Gay’s integrity and compassion. 

Harvard Black Student Association President Rothsaida Sylvaince, class of 2024, said, “I hope that with her appointment, it helps to inspire the rest of us and the rest of Harvard as an institution to continue taking more steps towards creating more diversity and inclusion.”  

Gay’s appointment comes at a time when the University is defending its policy of using race as a consideration for admissions and the April release of the University’s Legacy of Slavery report. The report detailed how slavery shaped Harvard and the profits the school derived from the slave trade. 

Gay affirmed Harvard’s commitment to admitting diverse students regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the pending case. “The idea of the ivory tower — that’s the past, not the future of academia,” she said. “We don’t exist alongside society, but as part of it and at Harvard, we have that duty to lean in and engage and to be of service to the world.” 

Gay is married to Christoper Afendulis, Ph.D., a lecturer, and research analyst, and they have one son.