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Harvard students reacted with joy and optimism to Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay’s selection as the next University president Thursday.
Gay will be the first person of color and only the second woman to assume the University’s top post. She will succeed University President Lawrence S. Bacow on July 1.
Some students said they hoped for a strong relationship between students and Harvard’s administration under Gay’s leadership.
Harvard Undergraduate Association Co-President Travis Allen Johnson ’24 said he was “overjoyed” by the news and “can’t wait to see the great things she’s going to do for the University.”
“Dean Gay has been a tremendous thought partner and supporter of the HUA and other student-led initiatives,” he said.
“I also think it’s really beneficial that she’s a known face around campus,” he added. “I think it’ll lessen her learning curve, but also provide her with the ability to leverage those relationships she currently has with faculty members, students, and other College and University stakeholders.”
Amen H. Gashaw ’24, student president of Harvard’s Institute of Politics, said she was optimistic about Gay’s willingness to collaborate with students.
“I know that a lot of students do have issues with administration,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity for continued collaboration and interfacing with students when you have someone who’s at the highest position in the University whose previous work was really student-facing.”
Some students also said they hope Gay’s experience as FAS dean will be beneficial for her tenure as Harvard’s 30th president.
“Her administrative experience, notable heart for students, and clear knowledge of the current political and social climate make her the perfect president to lead Harvard in its next era,” Eunice S. “Euny” Chon ’25 wrote.
Kody Christiansen, Harvard Extension Student Association president and special student to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, said he was “rooting” for Gay and is “very optimistic” about her appointment.
“I think because she has been so ingrained in FAS and in Harvard for so long, that she really knows what we need as a school,” he added.
Still, he hopes that Gay will spread her attention across all of Harvard’s schools.
“As the president of Harvard, she needs to make sure she connects with all the schools at Harvard, especially ones like Harvard Extension, who might not get as much attention as some of the other schools,” he said.
Fernando A. Bizzarro Neto, a seventh-year Ph.D. student in the Government department, called Gay an “extraordinary scholar” and “outstanding person.”
“She is a role model for me and a role model for other people at the University and outside of the University who will look up to the Harvard president,” he added.
Alexis G. Williams ’26 said she celebrated Gay’s appointment for promoting greater diversity in Harvard’s leadership.
“It seems like she’s a really good representation of the groups on campus that haven’t been represented in administration before — at least that high up,” she said. “I think she’ll be really well-connected with those students, as well as other students, with her being so involved already on campus and her being a social scientist.”
HUA Co-President LyLena D. Estabine ’24 said she is looking forward to the role the new president will have in implementing the findings from Harvard’s Legacy of Slavery report, which Gay helped produce.
Still, Estabine noted “some unknowns” to Gay’s appointment.
“I think that myself as well as other students on campus are looking for someone who’s willing to take a stronger stance in defense of free speech on campus,” she said. “We need a leader who’s committed to giving students the breathing room necessary to encounter views that they might disagree with, or that they might not have encountered in the past.”
Estabine added Gay should not be held to a “different standard because of what she looks like or how she identifies.”
“While I am happy to see more diversity in this position, I want to look at President Gay’s performance as a president — not as a Black president, not as a Black female president,” she said. “I think that’s the respect that she deserves, and I think that's the capabilities that she has.”
—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu contributed reporting.
—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.
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