Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

The Hilltop


Harvard’s Dr. Claudine Gay Resignation Sparks Workplace Underrepresentation Dialogue

The lack of Black women in positions of power in universities across America has been revealed post-Dr.Claudine Gay’s resignation at Harvard University.

Claudine Gay was inaugurated as the 30th president of Harvard University on Sept. 29, 2023, becoming the first Black and second female president in the school’s history. (Photo courtesy of Flickr) 

Dr. Claudine Gay, the former president of Harvard University, resigned early this month, sparking a national debate about the prevalence of antisemitism at Ivy League universities and the underrepresentation of women, specifically Black women, in positions of power in universities and workplaces across America. 

Gay announced her departure in a letter to the Harvard community following allegations of plagiarism in her dissertation work and public outrage about her ambiguous comment at a congressional hearing on Dec 5. Her choice to resign raises concerns about the treatment of Black women in administrative positions in higher education. 

“I was not surprised because from the start it seemed like she had a target on her head since she first stepped into office. Overall, I am disappointed in her resignation because it felt great to see a Black woman win –  to put it into perspective,” Deashia Wilson, a junior computer science major at Harvard College, said.

The Hilltop reached out to Dr. Claudine Gay and Harvard University officials for comment but did not receive a response before the publication of this article. 

Gay was the first Black woman president at Harvard and yet had the shortest tenure of six months as leader of the university’s administration. Liz Magil, the former president of the University of Pennsylvania, also resigned following criticism of her response to the handling of antisemitism on campus. 

Dr. Cassandra Veney, the executive director at Howard’s Center for Women Gender and Global Leadership, discussed the importance of connecting with your support system while in predominantly white spaces, at the Center’s Black Women and the Burden of Leadership in Higher Education event on Jan. 26 held in Founders Library.  

“In my first teaching position, I was the only Black teacher and I had another Black male coworker. From the beginning, he made it clear that he would support me,” Veney said.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

“I would suggest keeping those ties and if you find yourself away from home, go talk to your family and friends. Find your community where you are,” Veney continued.  

According to a 2020 report by Lean In, an organization dedicated to helping women achieve their ambitions and working to create an equal world, the absence of Black women in dominant spaces is due to the lack of support, unfair penalizations and a wide range of microaggression experiences in the workplace.

Black women presidents at four-year universities in America. (Tiasia Saunders/The Hilltop)

“The lack of women in power simply speaks to our sad reality [and] that racial and gender equity have not fully been achieved.  Sexist and racist ideologies have permanent roots in our society and institutions, which greatly affects the way people think, interact and live,” Courtney Igbinosa, a sophomore political science major from Massachusetts, said. 

Following Gay’s resignation, there aren’t any presidents at Ivy League universities who are Black women. Adjacently, Black women represent less than 1 percent of four-year college institution presidents in America, according to the University of Arkansas’ Journal of Research on the College President.

Her resignation prompted people such as award-winning journalist and Howard University professor Nikole Hannah-Jones to claim that Gay’s departure was due to racially motivated conservative political agendas. 

“This is an extension of what happened to me at UNC, and it is a glimpse into the future to come. Academic freedom is under attack. Racial justice programs are under attack. Black women will be made to pay. Our so-called allies too often lack any real courage,” Hannah-Jones said via her account on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

“I agree with professor Hannah-Jones’ sentiments. People have been looking for an excuse to bring her down as she is a woman of color in a high position at a prestigious predominantly white institution,” Igbinosa said. 

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Black women also continue to face obstacles and barriers when it comes to the workplace ladder in America. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, in 2023 the labor force participation rate for Black women and men 20 and older fell from 63.9 percent to 62.6 percent for Black women, and from 70.5 percent to 68.6 percent for Black men. 

“As Black women, our roles in America are evolving. We are becoming the most educated group of people in America, but that still does not solve the issue of why we have to work harder than everybody else,” Shelita Hall, a doctoral student at the College of William & Mary who is a pathways engineer trainee for the Human Research Program at NASA said. 

Harvard University was founded in 1636 and initially served to educate clergy members and eventually the institution became world-renowned and well-respected by academic professionals. Despite this, the university excluded the acceptance of Black American males until 1847 and women until 1920. 

While limiting the number of students of African descent via its admissions processes, Harvard also has a history of limiting the number of Jewish students on campus. A recent Harvard Crimson article outlines how the university created admission policies in the 1920s to prohibit Jewish students.

“I do think that it is very apparent that this still exists and I believe this is why there is a lack of diversity and representation at such institutions like Harvard,” Wilson said. 

Last summer, Harvard faced a civil rights complaint from Lawyers for Civil Rights over the university’s practice of favoring children of alumni in their admission decisions, which led to the U.S. Department of Education announcing an open investigation into the institution’s legacy admissions. 

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

In a statement released by the university, Harvard accepted Gay’s resignation and reiterated their support for her during a difficult time, “At a time when strife and division are so prevalent in our nation and our world, embracing and advancing that mission – in a spirit of common purpose — has never been more important. 

“We live in difficult and troubling times, and formidable challenges lie ahead,” said Harvard in its statement. 

“One thing that has helped me, is mentoring and helping the students.  It makes me feel good,  proud and like I am fulfilling a purpose.  Meeting [with] students, faculty or staff is enough to sustain me,” Veney said. 

Gay remains a faculty member at the university and has not announced her new position. As of now, Alan Garber, the provost and chief academic officer, serves as Harvard’s interim president. 

“It just goes back to systematic racism that people say is getting better, but is it? I just try to do the best I can do for myself, to be an example for other Black girls and women who look up to me. Unfortunately, I do feel like I have to do more,”  Hall said. 

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

You May Also Like