Claudine Gay, a scholar of politics, gender and race, officially became the first Black woman to lead Harvard University on Friday.
Gay, the child of Haitian immigrants, was formerly the dean of Harvard’s faculty of arts and sciences. She is also the second woman in the role of president in the university’s more than 300-year history.
“I stand before you on this stage, with the weight and the honor of being a first, able to say I am Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard University,” she said at her inaugural ceremony. “Our resolve against all odds, to question the world as it is and imagine and make a better one. It is what Harvard was made to do.”
Gay also faces a couple of unprecedented challenges as the school’s newest president.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down Harvard University’s race-conscious admissions policy, ending the use of affirmative action.
Gay has already been on the job for months, and said in a video message after the ruling that it had “strengthened our resolve to continue opening doors.”
She will also have to steer the university through a renewed push to end legacy admissions. In July, the U.S. Department of Education launched a civil rights inquiry into the school’s practice citing reports of discrimination.
In her speech during her inaugural ceremony, Gay paid tribute to four enslaved African Americans that were owned by the school’s first president.
“Bilhah, Titus, Venus and Juba lived and worked in Wadsworth House as the personal property of the president of Harvard University,” she said. “My story is not their story. But our stories and the stories of the many trailblazers between us are linked by this institution's long history of exclusion, and the long journey of resistance and resilience to overcome it.”
Gay joined Harvard as a professor of government in 2006 and became a professor of African American studies in 2007. Gay also served as the dean of social sciences from 2015 to 2018.
Gay graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University where she studied economics. She then earned her doctorate from Harvard University in 1998.
As president, Gay will also lead Harvard’s multibillion-dollar campus expansion into Boston.