Peggy McIntosh

On May 26, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) awarded the Centennial Medal to WCW Senior Research Scientist Peggy McIntosh, Ph.D. The Centennial Medal recognizes outstanding GSAS alumni whose contributions to knowledge, to their disciplines, to their colleagues, and to society have made a fundamental and lasting impact.

“For Peggy McIntosh’s unflinching commitment to naming white privilege and confronting systemic forces of oppression, and for her powerful conviction that open conversation, grounded in personal experience, can help us work toward a more equitable and just society,” said Emma Dench, dean of GSAS, “we are proud to award her the 2021 Centennial Medal.”

A member of the Radcliffe College Class of 1956, McIntosh earned her Ph.D. in English at Harvard in 1967. After a successful career as a professor of English, American studies, and women’s studies, with appointments at Trinity College in Washington, D.C., the University of Denver, and Wellesley College, she made the choice to focus her attention on equity and justice work.

In 1987, she founded the National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity), which partners with communities, institutions, and schools to develop leaders who guide their peers in conversational communities to drive personal, institutional, and societal change toward social justice.

In 1989, she wrote her canonical essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” which remains among the most widely cited sources on the topic of white privilege. She has been at the Wellesley Centers for Women for more than four decades, and continues to advocate for equity and social justice through speaking engagements around the world.

“It was Professor Reuben Brower of the English department who taught us this method of close reading of literature, to the point of reading between the lines,” said McIntosh in accepting the Centennial Medal. “It was in reading between the lines of my life that I came to study white privilege and power in me and around me...Thank you to my beloved colleagues, and thank you, GSAS, for encouraging, with your Centennial Medals, complex understandings of truth—veritas—and encouraging us to be and become better experts at reading between the lines of our own lives, and of our times.”

Read more about McIntosh and the other Centennial Medal recipients.

May 26, 2021

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