The student body of Harvard University has elected the first Black person as its president in its nearly 400-year history.
Noah Harris, a junior from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, ran a virtual campaign via social media and texting. He noted that due to the coronavirus pandemic, he limited contact with his fellow students, declining to pass out flyers or knock on doors.
“It is something that we’ve never been through as a college; we’ve certainly never been through this as students,” Harris told CBSN Boston. “It’s been such a hard year, and this is such an unprecedented time for everyone at Harvard. We’ve never had a virtual election.”
The 20-year-old government major called his election “a major statement” by the Harvard student body, especially given the year 2020 has been in racial reckoning and unrest across the nation.
“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,” Harris said.
Like two other Black students at Harvard, Harris has served as head of the campus’ Undergraduate Council, but he is the first Black elected president by its student community at large.
He noted that his election tells 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.”
Before his election, Harris co-chaired the Undergraduate Council’s Black Caucus and served as its treasurer.
Brandon Terry, Ph.D., an assistant professor of African and African American studies and social studies at Harvard, told the Hattiesburg American that Harris is “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.”
Harris has previously been a guest columnist for his hometown newspaper. In July of this year, he wrote an essay titled “Thank you, John Lewis: We are the next generation of good troublemakers who will carry on,” a tribute to the civil rights leader and iconic congressman, following his death from pancreatic cancer.