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One Month Later, Black Harvard Affiliates Reflect on Gay’s Resignation

Black Harvard affiliates had mixed reactions to former President Claudine Gay's resignation on Jan. 2.
Black Harvard affiliates had mixed reactions to former President Claudine Gay's resignation on Jan. 2. By Julian J. Giordano
By Summer Z. Sun and Samantha D. Wu, Crimson Staff Writers

Nearly one month after the resignation of former President Claudine Gay, Black Harvard affiliates said they were disappointed but not surprised at her decision to step down on Jan. 2.

Gay, who was the first person of color to lead Harvard, departed the University’s top post amid fierce criticism of her response to antisemitism on campus and allegations of plagiarism in her academic work.

In her resignation letter, Gay wrote that she was “subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus” by critics during her last three months in office. She elaborated on the attacks and threats in a New York Times op-ed one day later, writing that she had been “called the N-word more times than I care to count.”

Hable G. Fitsum ’27 said she believed criticisms against Gay’s credibility as both a leader and academic were racially targeted.

“I definitely feel like she was being held to higher standards or being put under more of a spotlight because she’s a Black woman,” Fitsum said.

Gay wrote in the New York Times op-ed that her critics “trafficked in lies and ad hominem insults, not reasoned argument.”

“They recycled tired racial stereotypes about Black talent and temperament,” Gay wrote. “They pushed a false narrative of indifference and incompetence.”

While Fitsum called Gay’s resignation “unfortunate,” she also expressed displeasure with Gay’s response to campus tensions during her tenure, pointing to a lack of support for Muslim students on campus.

“The only emails that she sent were about combating antisemitism,” Fitsum said. “The people who needed protection were the Muslim students.”

Ian M. Toyota ’27 said stepping down “wasn’t the right thing to do,” adding that he “didn’t see such a big reason” for Gay to resign.

“I feel like she had a lot of potential,” he said.

Clyve Lawrence ’25, a member of the African and African American Resistance Organization and a Crimson Editorial editor, called what he considered a lack of support for Palestinian students on Harvard’s campus a “failure of leadership” on Gay’s part.

Lawrence specifically pointed to a lack of support for students doxxed following the release of a controversial Harvard student group statement which held Israel “entirely responsible” for the attacks.

“I think her leadership was not incredibly strong when it came to the response to October 7 and the very strong doxxing that students faced, including myself,” he said.

Harvard established a task force to support doxxed students following the doxxing attacks, but many were left underwhelmed by its efficacy.

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton did not comment on criticisms of Harvard’s support for students, instead pointing to an article in the Harvard Gazette, a University-run publication, in which interim President Alan M. Garber ’76 affirmed a “commitment to inclusion and belonging.”

“Over the last several years, we have sought to embrace diversity in every dimension,” Garber. “As part of that effort, we have worked to create a welcoming environment, ensuring that every student, employee, faculty member, and visitor knows they belong here.”

Aaron R. Thompson ’27 compared calls for Gay’s resignation to a “witch hunt.”

“I felt like it was another instance of lack of due process when it comes to protecting Black people,” he said.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, noted the difficulty some Black students at Harvard have faced in the aftermath of Gay’s resignation.

“I can say that some of the Black community that I’m part of at Harvard, some of them are devastated by what’s happened to Claudine Gay,” he said. “I know that many of my students are frustrated, fearful, confused, in disbelief.”

Looking forward, Thompson said he hopes the next president will prioritize supporting students.

“I just feel like a lot more focus needs to be centered around students’ health rather than the reputation of Harvard,” he said.

Lawrence wants a president focused on implementing lasting change.

“Over the next decade or so I’m hoping that the president will be more than a symbolic pick that will be able to actually provide solutions to structural issues on campus,” he said.

Correction: February 1, 2024

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that interim President Alan M. Garber affirmed a “commitment to inclusion and belonging” in a press release. In fact, Garber’s remarks were made in an interview with the Harvard Gazette, a University-run publication.

—Staff writer Summer Z. Sun can be reached at summer.sun@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @summerzsun.

—Staff writer Samantha D. Wu can be reached at samantha.wu@thecrimson.com.

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