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Prior to this year, Harvard College had only had two LGBTQ+ couples lead undergraduate Houses: Dorothy A. Austin and Diana L. Eck — who led Lowell House from 1998 to 2018 — and current Currier House Faculty Deans Sylvia I. Barrett and Latanya A. Sweeney — the first LGBTQ+ couple of color to hold the role.
Now, newly appointed Pforzheimer House Faculty Deans Erica Chenoweth and Zoe Marks will become the third LGBTQ+ couple at the helm of a House. Chenoweth will be the first openly nonbinary faculty dean.
Atlas Sanogo ’24, co-president of the Queer Students Association, praised Chenoweth and Marks’s appointment for “breaking down the heterosexual family model that is so entrenched in all of us.”
“At the end of the day, that’s what makes Harvard a beautiful place is being able to connect on similarities, but also on differences,” they said.
Eck, a professor of comparative religion and Indian studies at Harvard Divinity School, remembered being approached multiple times by then-Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 to interview for a faculty dean role.
Eventually, she and Austin gave in.
“It was a wonderful, life-changing decision on our part,” Eck said.
Eck and Austin assumed the Lowell faculty deanship in fall 1998, becoming Harvard’s first LGBTQ+ faculty dean couple — though same-sex marriage was not yet legal in Massachusetts.
“It was a landmark to be sure,” Eck said. “But it was a landmark whose time had come by that time.”
Lowell House is named the Lowell family — including most prominently, former University President Abbott Lawrence Lowell, Class of 1877, who perpetuated discriminatory policies during his presidency, including leading a purge of gay students known as “The Secret Court of 1920.”
Former Lowell House Committee Co-Chair Sal R. DeFrancesco ’19 said he believes Eck and Austin’s appointment was “a statement from the University that things were going to be different.”
“These are deans who are themselves LGBTQ+, and they’re taking part in a House whose name and history is at least in some part, based on the history of someone who contributed to actively rooting them out of the University decades prior,” DeFranseco said.
Though Eck and Austin’s deanship marked an important milestone in College history, Eck did not remember any big reactions from the Harvard community about their appointment, except for from a few parents.
“We just were normally ourselves,” Eck said.
In their new public-facing position, Eck said she and Austin no longer had to keep coming out.
“Once we were positioned in this way in the Harvard community, we didn’t have to constantly figure out how to tell our students in our classes and whatnot,” Eck said.
On May 17, 2004, same-sex marriage finally became legal in Massachusetts, following the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s 2003 ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.
Less than two months later, on July 4, 2004, Eck and Austin celebrated the decision by getting married in Memorial Church. Their marriage was widely attended, with more than 800 attendees at the ceremony and 400 at the reception at Lowell.
To the students, Eck and Austin became known as “D&D” and were at the center of house life.
“From the top down the culture of the House was set — it began with them and ended with them — and they wanted Lowell to be an inclusive, safe place for anyone to come,” DeFrancesco said.
LGBTQ+ alumni felt welcome at the House, too.
“We held our annual Commencement dinners at Lowell House for several years, and alumni felt so at home there because of that, whether they lived in Lowell House or not,” said Joseph J. Barretto ’97, president of the Harvard Gender and Sexuality Caucus, a group for LGBTQ+ Harvard affiliates.
After 21 years in Lowell, Eck and Austin stepped down. Their tenure saw major moments in Lowell history, including the building’s renovation and the return of the original Lowell House bells to Russia.
Eck said she is “most proud of creating a community” that welcomed students, faculty, and staff at Lowell and across the College.
“I would say that that was something that people felt, that students felt, and that students remember, and that members of the faculty who were engaged with the House in the Senior Common Room actually participated in,” Eck said.
“Latanya and Sylvia are just at the forefront of it all,” said Chibuikem C. Uche ’24, Currier House Committee co-chair.
Sylvia I. Barrett and Latanya A. Sweeney moved into Currier in 2016 with their son Leonard, becoming the second LGBTQ+ faculty dean couple and the first LGBTQ+ couple of color to be faculty deans.
Eck said that Barrett and Sweeney have been “groundbreakers.”
Barrett is a business lawyer and Sweeney is a professor of the practice in government and technology at Harvard Kennedy School and in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Sweeney was the first Black woman to receive a Ph.D. in computer science from MIT.
On the House’s website, Sweeney writes that she envisions Currier as “a learning community, where each person has opportunities to explore new frontiers, to try new things, to have meaningful experiences and to make and grow from mistakes.”
Uche said that the deans “give students so much empowerment to do things that they think is best,” adding that they “always, always, always” ask residents how they can improve Currier.
“They’re everywhere,” Uche said. “Any big event that we’re having, they’re there.”
Avery J. Fulmer ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, wrote in an email that he “could not simply imagine house life without” Barrett and Sweeney.
“They are truly wonderful faculty deans and I don’t think anyone could ever replace them or do as well of a job as they have,” Fulmer wrote.
Uche believes that Barrett and Sweeney will go down in Harvard history for their contributions to Currier House life.
“To be honest, I truly think they’re gonna go down as one of the best deans, some of the best deans that Harvard has ever seen,” Uche said.
In less than a week, Erica Chenoweth and Zoe Marks will officially become the third LGBTQ+ couple to serve as faculty deans, and Chenoweth will become the first openly nonbinary faculty dean.
Chenoweth and Marks said they are humbled by the appointment.
“There was a time not too long ago, when being an out nonbinary person would mean you could not advance professionally, right?” Chenoweth said. “So the fact that we’re not there anymore is kind of a really important thing to note.”
“I have a lot of humility about claiming the first of anything, but I also am so grateful for everyone that went before — whether they were living out or otherwise,” they added.
Marks agreed, saying, “It’s so thrilling that we’re not the first of very many things.”
Eck, the former Lowell faculty dean, said she was excited about Chenoweth and Marks’s appointment.
“I am happy about it as well, in part because their work lends itself so much to the enrichment of House life,” Eck said.
Marks is a lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School who studies conflict and peacebuilding, gender and intersectional inequality, and African politics.
Chenoweth is a professor at the Kennedy School and Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Their work focuses on political violence and its alternatives.
Pfoho House Committee Co-Chair Jane J. Oh ’24, who took part in the Pfoho faculty dean search committee, said, “I felt like I could trust them to be very honest with us.”
Oh added that she appreciated how the deans are both willing to take time to learn about the community.
“I’m also really excited to see the new kind of energies and traditions that they’re willing to implement,” Oh said.
Chenoweth and Marks said they are excited to bring their love of farming and local food to Pfoho.
“I think we’re hoping to bring a little bit of our enthusiasm for farming in Western Massachusetts to the House and share some fun kind of farm-to-table type experiences,” Chenoweth said.
Chenoweth and Marks’s daughter Vera, who’s less than a year old, will also join the House.
Marks felt good about the College making House leadership more representative of the student population, crediting students for the change.
“We’re currently in an exciting time where the University is responding to the students that it’s trying to train,” Marks said.
Chenoweth said that while in college, “if I had been able to see people like me in positions of leadership, or positions of service around the university, it would have given me a much clearer sense of what might be possible for me.”
Given the record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced to state legislatures across the country this year, making Pfoho an inclusive space for all is at the forefront of the new deans’ minds.
“We’re faculty deans for everyone, everyone at the House, no matter what they look like, who they love, how they want to dress, where they come from, what they believe in, what they don’t believe in,” Chenoweth said “Everybody is part of the community, everybody needs to feel like they belong and that they're respected.”
Raina D. Hofstede ’24, treasurer of QSA, said that seeing Chenoweth and Marks’s appointment “brings a level of comfort” to her as a transgender person. Watching Chenoweth, a nonbinary person, rise to a faculty deanship “is very helpful for the broader community at large,” Hofstede added.
Corrections: June 26, 2023
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Lowell House is named for former University President Abbott Lawrence Lowell, Class of 1877. In fact, the House is named for the Lowell family.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Dorothy A. Austin and Diana L. Eck served as Lowell faculty deans for 20 years. In fact, they held the role for 21 years.
This piece is part of The Crimson’s 2023 Pride Month special issue.
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