Claudine Gay Announces Racial-Justice Initiatives

Changes include a new dean, added faculty.

Claudine Gay
Claudine Gay, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Photograph courtesy of Harvard Public Affairs and Communications

As protests about racial equity continue across the country, Claudine Gay, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), announced a series of initiatives to address racial and ethnic equality—including faculty appointments and the addition of an associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and belonging. 

“This moment offers a profound opportunity for institutional change that should not and cannot be squandered,” Gay wrote in an email to the campus community. “It is up to us to ensure that the pain expressed, problems identified, and solutions suggested set us on a path for long-term change.”

On the academic side, Gay announced a reactivation of the “cluster hire” in ethnicity, indigeneity, and migration that originally launched in October 2019—part of FAS’s response to intense student interest in, and pressure for, teaching and learning in ethnic studies. The goal, she said, is to make four new faculty appointments in the area. The commitment stands out, given the decision, announced last April, to suspend searches wherever possible, “with only a small number near completion allowed to continue, and new searches…not authorized.” In cases of intense academic or curricular need, a small number of searches may be proceeding, but this exception to FAS’s self-imposed constraints in response to the pandemic and its financial consequences is out of the ordinary.

Gay also announced the establishment of the Harvard College visiting professorship in ethnicity, indigeneity, and migration, a new program meant to “recruit leading scholars of race and ethnicity to spend a year at Harvard engaged in teaching our undergraduates.” It will start in the 2021-2022 academic year, with FAS appointing two new scholars each year. Gay added that the Inequality in America postdoctoral fellowship program will be expanded from two fellows to four.

The appointment of the inaugural associate dean, Gay said, will occur soon. The appointee will “work closely with the FAS senior leadership team to develop concrete goals and identify personal, departmental, divisional, and school-level actions for building an effective and active culture of anti-racism in the FAS.” The position parallels the recently announced University-level chief diversity and inclusion officer.

Today’s announcements do not exhaust FAS’s new commitments, Gay said. She also announced a “study of the hiring, professional development, and promotion practices that may contribute to the low representation of minority staff in managerial and executive roles.” The study will be led by the incoming associate dean and will “identify concrete steps we can take to increase racial diversity of senior staff and recommend near- and long-term hiring goals.” 

The visual culture on campus—a subject of debate at Lowell House and elsewhere in recent years—will also undergo review. Gay announced the fall launch of the Task Force on Visual Culture and Signage, led by dean of arts and humanities Robin Kelsey. Gay said the task force will convene faculty, staff, and students “to conduct a comprehensive study of our visual culture and articulate principles and informed guidelines for evolving the culture and imagery of the FAS.”

(Updated August 20, 5:00 p.m.: Shortly after the FAS initiatives were announced, Harvard Athletics announced the formation of its own diversity, inclusion, and belonging task force—“committed to advancing an anti-racist culture within Crimson Athletics and the greater Harvard community.” The group will make regular recommendations to Nichols director of athletics Erin McDermott.)

“These initiatives are just a starting place,” Gay said. “The work of racial justice is not a one-time project. We must be relentless, constructively critical, and action-oriented in our pursuit to build the thriving, more equitable FAS we all deserve.”

Read more articles by: Jacob Sweet
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