laudine Gay, Harvard University’s first Black president, has resigned after only six months in the position. Initially, she was able to survive her response to the Israel-Hamas War and her congressional testimony last month. However, it was alleged evidence of plagiarism in her earlier academic work that proved to be what ultimately ousted the Black woman from her esteemed perch.
Gay is the third president of a top U.S. university to resign in less than a year; the other two include Elizabeth Magill of University of Pennsylvania and Marc Tessier-Lavigne of Stanford. Being a Black woman, though, added an extra layer of hatred to the attacks on Gay, proving that being a Black first will always come with a hell of a battle.
However, responses like these are hardly anything new when it comes to Black folks breaking glass ceilings. We saw it when David Dinkins became the first Black mayor of New York City in 1989, when Barack Obama became this country’s first Black president in 2008, and when Kamala Harris became our first Black woman vice president in 2020.
Regardless of their politics, the targets painted on their backs is a direct result of a society steeped in racism. Though Gay remained optimistic in her letter (“When my brief presidency is remembered, I hope it will be seen as a moment of reawakening to the importance of striving to find our common humanity”), anti-Blackness is so far embedded in this nation’s fabric that a hopeful attitude won’t have much effect on it.
The next president of Harvard should be a Black woman. However, they shouldn’t have to endure all of the vitriol Gay was exposed to.