Laverne Cox to Speak at Inaugural Harvard Gender Equity Summit


Q&A With Laverne Cox
Laverne Cox, pictured here at a 2014 event, will speak at Harvard's inaugural gender equity summit.

Emmy-nominated actress and advocate Laverne Cox will speak at Harvard’s inaugural gender equity summit, the event’s organizers announced Wednesday.

Cox will take part in the summit's cornerstore evening panel, which will be held in Memorial Church on April 2 and feature other celebrity panelists. She is best known for her role as Sophia Burset on the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” and is the first transgender woman of color to star on a mainstream scripted television show. Cox is also the first openly transgender person to be on the cover of Cosmopolitan and Time magazines, and the first to have a wax figure in Madame Tussauds.

In addition to her work in television and film, Cox is a prominent equal rights and BGLTQ advocate who "continues to drive positive change on a global scale," according to a press release for the summit.

The panel Cox will join is part of the University’s summit entitled “Harvard Hears You: The 2019 Summit for Gender Equity,” which was jointly planned by the University Title IX Office and Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. The full-day event, which will include panels, question-and-answer sessions, and TED-style talks, is intended to spark conversations on campus about gender equity both in education and in the world.


University Title IX Officer Nicole M. Merhill said Cox’s name was on the office’s mind even before planning for the summit officially began.

“We all agreed that Laverne Cox is such a prominent equal rights advocate that she needed to be part of the conversation,” Merhill said.

Merhill said she hopes having someone of Cox’s eminence at the event will also help bring attention to one of the summit’s central focuses — raising student awareness of how gender affects students’ daily lives.

As part of this awareness effort, the summit has been timed to coincide with the opening of the Association of American Universities’ survey on campus sexual conduct climate, which will be made available to all degree-seeking Harvard students.

Cox and the other panelists will discuss how gender affects employment, fashion, and consumerism, according to Merhill.

“Those are key topics that are often left on the sidelines, but are important in every person’s daily life,” Merhill said.

“I don’t think that there’s anyone better positioned to address fashion and the industry than this panel of speakers that we’ve pulled together to speak to our students,” she added.

Correction: March 3, 2019

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the University's summit as the "Harvard Hears You: The 2019 Summit for Gender Equality." In fact, the name of the summit is "Harvard Hears You: The 2019 Summit for Gender Equity."

—Staff writer Simone C. Chu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @simonechu_.

—Staff writer Iris M. Lewis can be reached at