For the first time in Harvard University’s 382-year history, a Black student has been elected to serve as the prestigious educational institution’s student body president. The newly elected president, 20-year-old Noah Harris, is set to be sworn in on December 6 to commence his 2021 term.
Speaking with CBS Boston in an interview, the Mississippi native and junior shared his excitement on his historic milestone, saying it couldn’t have come at a more crucial time considering the recent happenings in the country.
“Me being a Black man from Mississippi is not something that I run from,” Harris, who is majoring in government studies, said. “It was a historic election and for it to come in a year of so many racial injustices with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and people who were taken from our communities, it makes it that much more of a statement on the part of Harvard and the student body.”
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He added: “It’s a message to the university that we really have to be conscious about the decisions that we’re making and how we’re standing with all of our students of color and making sure that their college experience and just their livelihoods are as good as possible when a university like Harvard has so many resources.”
Though two other Black students have served as presidents of the school’s Undergraduate Council, Harris is the first Black person to be elected by the student body, according to Hattiesburg American. During his campaign, Harris, together with his vice president, Jenny Gan, centered on areas including diversity and inclusion, improving student welfare as well as mental and physical health. Harris told the news outlet they’re also aiming at better improving and fostering unity among the school’s very diverse communities.
“Harvard’s community specifically, it’s very diverse but it’s kind of diverse in that it has its own separate communities,” he said. “A lot of what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to bring communities together.”
An assistant professor of African and African American studies and social studies at Harvard, Brandon Terry, Ph.D., described Harris as “somebody who has made sure that the relatively privileged student body that we have at Harvard is exposed to and attuned to broader issues of fairness in the larger society.”
“That’s rare as a student body leader,” Terry added. “You can imagine a lot of student body leadership is pretty narrowly inward-focused and you can’t get far by just doing the status quo. He’s somebody who has really broken with that. He seems responsive to a higher calling.”
Terry also stressed how Harris’ historic election reflects the current stance of the school’s student body when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
“I think it reflects a growing interest among the broader student body in taking these questions of diversity and inclusion seriously, not just as an abstract or intellectual puzzle, but as a set of values to be lived in the decisions that they make in their most intimate community,” he said.
“For him, it’s not just that he’s African American. It’s more so that those are the principles he put forward and the substance of his campaign. And to have those principles ratified by the broader student body I think is an important statement, especially in a university that’s often been known for favoring the wealthy.”