Nikole Hannah-Jones Blasts Attacks On Harvard's Claudine Gay As Racist

Conservatives wanted Harvard’s first Black president fired because they oppose diversity and inclusion, says the ‘1619 Project’ founder.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist whose groundbreaking “1619 Project” brought new historical focus on the enslavement of Black people, pushed back against conservative attacks on Claudine Gay, the first Black president of Harvard University.

Hannah-Jones appeared Tuesday night (Dec. 12) on “CNN NewsNight” with Abby Phillip to discuss far-right arguments that Gay is an unqualified diversity hire who kept her job only because she’s Black.

Earlier that day, the Harvard Corporation, Harvard’s top governing board, voted unanimously to retain the embattled president amid calls for Gay’s ouster over her congressional testimony on campus antisemitism. 

At the hearing, Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, demanded an unequivocal answer on whether school policies banned calling for the genocide of Jews. But none of the college presidents gave a clear answer.

University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill, one of three elite university presidents who testified at the hearing, resigned Saturday (Dec. 9) under pressure to step down. Magill and Massachusetts Institute of Technology president Sally Kornbluth are white. 

Claudine Gay To Remain Harvard President After Support From Harvard Corporation

Phillip asked Hannah-Jones if conservative opposition to diversity and inclusion was the real reason behind their calls for Harvard to fire Gay.

“So they’re using the guise of pretending that this is about concern over antisemitism, which is, of course, something that all of us should be concerned about. It’s really just furthering their propaganda campaign against racial equity,” Hannah-Jones responded.

Hannah-Jones noted that Harvard had an “explicit racial quota” for more than 300 years of hiring only white men as president.  “It’s laughable to think that the first ever Black woman following that unbroken line of white racial quotas is the one who’s unqualified,” she added.

She is no stranger to being scrutinized in a similar way. In 2022 Hannah-Jones wound up reaching a settlement with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after being denied tenure the prior year. She was later offered tenure, but rejected it in favor of taking tenured position at Howard University’s Cathy Hughes School of Communications.

Phillip also asked Hannah-Jones what she made of the criticism that Gay survived as president only because of her race.

“Well, it’s racist. …No one has produced a shred of evidence that shows that the sole qualification that President Gay had was that she is a Black woman. That’s insulting. It defies logic,” Hannah-Jones said.

“And the fact that, of those presidents, who all came under intense scrutiny, that only one has been called out as a so-called diversity or affirmative action hire just speaks to what Black women in this country have gone through historically and continue to go through every day.”

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones Reaches Settlement With University of North Carolina

Phillip noted that many of the far-right critics attacking Gay are the same people who also attacked Hannah-Jones’ “1619 Project,” claiming that it’s part of a “woke agenda” from progressives.

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