Harvard University’s first Black woman president Claudine Gay resigned this week, less than a month after testifying in front of Congress regarding antisemitism on the university campus and allegations of plagiarism in her scholarly work.

“After those hearings, where they felt like she didn’t sufficiently condemn genocide and where she didn’t sufficiently talk about keeping college campuses safe for Jewish students, a war began,” Marc Lamont Hill, professor of urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City, said in an interview with URL Media partner WURD Radio’s Solomon Jones. “And the moment she stepped away from that microphone, you started hearing, ‘She’s a DEI hire. She’s an affirmative action hire.’”

Lamont Hill said Gay was being attacked from two sides: those who believed her answers in front of Congress to be antisemitic and those who felt she was unqualified to be president of Harvard University.

“It has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor — two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am — and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus,” she wrote in her public letter of resignation, URL Media partner The Haitian Times reported.

At the center of the push to force Gay out of her position was conservative activist Christopher Rufo, who told Politico that her resignation was “the result of a coordinated and highly organized conservative campaign.”

According to Rufo, that campaign included narrative, financial, and political pressure led by people such as conservative writer Christopher Brunet, Aaron Sibarium, billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY).

“You had too many powerful people with too many powerful agendas and who are well-resourced and well-microphoned who could make her seem like an incompetent unworthy Black woman who was in a position that she didn’t deserve, which is the furthest thing from the truth,” Lamont Hill said.

But, Rufo said, the effort to remove Gay was about much more than her resigning as Harvard’s president.

“My primary objective is to eliminate the [diversity, equity, and inclusion] bureaucracy in every institution in America,” he told Politico, “and to restore truth rather than racialist ideology as the guiding principle of America.”

While the plagiarism allegations levied against Gay are being reviewed by the university, many in the academic world said her resignation sent a clear message.

“As Black women, the rules are different,” Cécile Accilien, a French and Francophone Studies professor at the University of Maryland and president of the Haitian Studies Association, told The Haitian Times. “We have to be cautious, we have to watch our back.”   

Though Gay will no longer hold the title of president, she will remain at Harvard, “return[ing] to the faculty, and to the scholarship and teaching that are the lifeblood of what we do.” — Alicia Ramirez

Uplift. Respect. Love.

Alicia Ramirez authors URL Media's Friday newsletter and pens our Saturday newsletter, The Intersection. She is also founder of The Riverside Record, a community-first, nonprofit digital newsroom serving people living and working in Riverside County, California.