She Made History By Becoming The 1st Black Female President Of The Harvard Law Review

Representation matters. Always. Especially when there are still many barriers for women and minorities to break even in 2017. Which is why they appointment of ImeIme A. Umana as Harvard Law Review’s first black female president is no small feat.

The Harrisburg, PA, native officially becomes the 131st leader of the prestigious organization, which is a student-run organization whose primary purpose is to publish a journal of legal scholarship. Yeah you read that right, it only took the HLR 131 years to break this barrier!

And if you are thinking the Review is a familiar place for barrier-breakers who then go on to even bigger breakthroughs, you’d be right. A mere 27 years ago, Barack Obama became the first black man to hold the title of president, and of course went on to become THE president years later. So clearly ImeIme is on a great trajectory, and the school can no doubt expect amazing things from her.

Quick side note, the first woman to be appointed HLR president was Susan Estrich, 41 years ago.

ImeIme is an undergraduate at Harvard, where she double-majored in government and African-American studies. The 24 year-old is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, who was chosen by the Review’s 92 student editors in what is “widely considered the highest-ranked position that a student can have at the cut-throat law school”, according to CNN.

They looked through her work and portfolio to determine her eligibility, and ended up beating out 12 other candidates for the position, 8 of whom were women, and 8 people of color. As part of her role, ImeIme will oversee the 90+ student editors and staff members, as well as communicate with writers and senior faculty members.

The outgoing president, Michael L. Zuckerman, spoke to the Harvard Crimson about ImeIme’s appointment, and had nothing but praise for the new appointee, and recognized the importance of her being part of the organization’s leadership.

“ImeIme is one of the most brilliant, thoughtful, and caring people I’ve ever met, and the Law Review is in phenomenally good hands…[her] election as the Law Review’s first female black president is historic. For a field in which women and people of color have for too much of our past been marginalized or underrepresented, her election is an important and encouraging step toward a richer and more inclusive legal conversation,” he said.

In 2013, the Review expanded its affirmative action policy to ensure gender was a factor when looking at admissions. But when it comes to the representation of black women at high leadership levels in the academic world, the data show it should be a no-brainer.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, black women earned 68% of all associate degrees awarded to all black students between 2009 and 2010. The Root’s Angela Bronner Helm, in an article from 2016 titled ‘Black Women Now the Most Educated Group in US‘ also shared how black women were the recipients of 66% of bachelor’s degrees, 71% of master’s degrees and 65% of all doctorates.

The report from the NCES says the number of black students has increased from 10-15% between 1976 to 2012, compared with the decline of white students, which fell from 84-60% in the same time period.

“By both race and gender, a higher percentage of black women (9.7 percent) are enrolled in college than any other group, topping Asian women (8.7 percent), white women (7.1 percent) and white men (6.1 percent). Unfortunately, while black women may be the most highly educated, a recent study found that black women make up just 8 percent of private sector jobs and less than 2 percent of leadership roles,” writes Angela in her piece.

And it’s not just the academic world where black women are succeeding in much higher rates. With an overall business growth rate of 322% since 1997, black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States. However it isn’t all great news. Black women fare worse than white women when it comes to the wage gap, and they are more likely to live in poverty than any other female demographic across the US.

What does all this have to do with the historic appointment of ImeIme Umana as Harvard Law Review’s first black female president? It gives some much needed context to the importance of her being in this position. She will no doubt be a role model to many women of color and other minorities when it comes to achieving success and leadership.

And with her particular areas of passion lying in social and racial justice, we look forward to seeing how she will use her new platform to ensure more of the Review’s staff and students understand the importance of their influence in government. In an interview with The Crimson in 2013, she talked about voting for Obama during his re-election bid in 2012 (little did she knew a few years later she’d be walking in his very shoes!) as well as her own education learning about the particular struggles of the black community.

“It’s very easy to presume that you know a lot about urban communities and the troubles they face. I read ‘The New Jim Crow,’ and I read ‘Sister Citizen,’ and I read ‘Killing the Black Body,’ and I’ve watched all of these documentaries, and I’ve written all these papers, but the internship, really, in just a few days, showed me how little I actually did know about the realities of the situation and urban America,” she said.

With ambitions to be a public defender and having spent time interning at the Bronx Defenders last summer, ImeIme has a firm grasp on the need to have black voices in government, shaping policy.

“I didn’t realize [civics] could be so personal and so alive for a lot of the students. It taught me sensitivity in teaching but it also taught me, like the public defender’s service, to not assume certain backgrounds, certain reactions, certain lived experiences…I’m definitely angry about the criminal justice system and angry about the racial components of voter ID laws. I’m angry about these things, but I’m also hopeful that with enough angry people and enough committed people we’ll start to address these issues in an honest and productive way,” she said.

We have no qualms with saying we may be looking at another future President of the United States in this amazing woman!

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