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Harvard’s “First Woman of Color”

Politico reports an update on the Elizabeth Warren ancestry story that just won’t die:

Elizabeth Warren has pushed back hard on questions about a Harvard Crimson piece in 1996 that described her as Native American, saying she had no idea the school where she taught law was billing her that way and saying it never came up during her hiring a year earlier, which others have backed up.

But a 1997 Fordham Law Review piece described her as Harvard Law School’s “first woman of color,” based, according to the notes at the bottom of the story, on a “telephone interview with Michael Chmura, News Director, Harvard Law (Aug. 6, 1996).”

The mention was in the middle of a lengthy and heavily-annotated Fordham piece on diversity and affirmative action and women. The title of the piece, by Laura Padilla, was “Intersectionality and positionality: Situating women of color in the affirmative action dialogue.”

I’m not sure who this looks worse for: Harvard Law or Elizabeth Warren. Does Warren still hold the law school’s distinction as its “first woman of color”? Apparently not. That label has since been granted to Lani Guinier, President Clinton’s controversial assistant attorney general nominee, who was tapped for a tenured Harvard Law position in 1998.

So what happened between the years of 1996 and 1998? Why did the school decide it no longer considered Warren its first “woman of color”? Was it because, as the New England Historical Genealogical Society announced this week, there appears to be no proof of Warren’s claims she is 1/32 Cherokee?

Sen. Scott Brown has continued to call on Harvard to release Warren’s hiring records. Based on the Fordham article, it seems the law school has some responsibility to clear up – for history’s sake – the confusion over who it hired as its first “woman of color.”



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