Notable History

BU’s History of Diversity

Boston University’s founding mission was built upon inclusion, regardless of gender, race, or religion. The University was the first in the nation to admit women to medical school, to produce a Native American physician, and to award a PhD to a woman. BU educated a future civil rights icon and the youngest woman to serve in Congress. Almost 200 years since that original mandate, the University is redoubling efforts to honor and fulfill its promise of inclusion and equity. Below is a look back at some significant milestones along the way.

  • 1848

    Divisions Open to Women

    The New England Female Medical College was founded, becoming the first institution in the U.S. to train women in medicine and graduated the first black female physician, Rebecca Lee Crumpler. In 1874, the New England Female Medical College became part of Boston University becoming what is now Boston University School of Medicine.

  • 1867

    New England Female Medical College Founded

    The New England Female Medical College becomes the first institution in the U.S. to train women in medicine and graduated the first black female physician, Rebecca Lee Crumpler. In 1874, the New England Female Medical College became part of Boston University becoming what is now Boston University School of Medicine.

  • 1873

    First Professor Exchange with Europe

    Boston University is the first American university to exchange professors with European counterparts.

    Women Admitted to School of Medicine

    Boston University is the first US university to admit women to a medical college.

  • 1874

    Disability and Innovation

    Alexander Graham Bell begins working at Boston University and uses his workspace to work on language and mechanical devices to aid the deaf and hard of hearing. While his device did not meet his goal, this was the beginning of work that would spawn the creation of telecommunications.

  • 1877

    Kikuchi TakeoFirst Japanese LAW Graduate

    Takeo Kikuchi is the first Japanese graduate of Boston University School of Law.

    First Black LAW Graduate

    Emanuel Hewlett is the first Black Boston University School of Law graduate and one of the first Black degree recipients of a major US law school.

    First PhD Awarded to a Woman

    Boston University is the first university to award a PhD to a woman, Helen Magill White.

  • 1881

    First Woman LAW Graduate

    Lelia Josephine Robinson becomes the first woman graduate of Boston University School of Law. In 1882, she becomes the first woman admitted to the Massachusetts bar.

  • 1891

    LAW Grad Is First Woman to Try Jury Case in Massachusetts

    Anna Christy Fall graduates from Boston University School of Law, later becoming the first woman to try a case before a jury in Massachusetts.

  • 1924

    First Dean of Women Named

    Lucy Jenkins Franklin is the first Dean of Women.

  • 1928

    HER House Founded

    The Harriet E. Richards Cooperative House is founded to provide women who otherwise would be unable to afford college a chance to attend BU by offering nominal room and board.

  • 1933

    First Woman Judge a University Trustee

    Alumna Emma Fall Schofield, Massachusetts’ first woman judge, becomes a University Trustee.

  • 1941

    Wonder Woman Makes Her Debut

    Elizabeth Holloway Marston (LAW 1918) is the inspiration for the character Wonder Woman, who makes her debut in All-Star Comics.

  • 1953

    Howard ThurmanFirst Black Dean Named

    Howard Thurman is named dean of Marsh Chapel, becoming the first Black dean in a predominantly white university.

    African Studies Center

    The African Studies Center, a program making major contributions to our national capacity to acquire and disseminate knowledge about Africa and its affairs, opens at Boston University.

  • 1955

    Martin Luther King, Jr., receiving a PhD from Boston UniversityMLK Jr. Receives PhD

    Martin Luther King, Jr., earns a PhD from Boston University. After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he presents his papers to BU’s Special Collections (now called the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center).

  • 1956

    BU Women’s Guild Established

    The Boston University Women’s Guild is established. The guild sponsors events to bring women of BU’s faculty and staff together and to raise money for the Guild Scholarship Fund, awarded to women graduate students over the age of 30.

  • 1971

    First Rhodes Scholar

    Richard Taylor (COM’71) becomes Boston University’s first Rhodes Scholar.

  • 1972

    Elizabeth Barker being interviewed about the first credit-bearing college courses at MCI/Norfolk prisonPrison Education Program

    The Boston University Prison Education Program, founded by labor organizer, tenant activist, and poet Elizabeth Barker, offers its first credit-bearing college courses at MCI-Norfolk prison. It is the oldest Prison Education Program in the country.

  • 1974

    Boston Center for Independent Living Opens

    Disability history was made in the School of Theology building when the Boston Center for Independent Living opened it doors and helped provide housing and care in accessible spaces for physically disabled students in the Boston area.

  • 1978

    LAW Grad Launches GLAD

    A 1976 graduate of BU’s School of Law, John Ward becomes Boston’s first openly gay male attorney in 1977. The next year, he founds GLAD—Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (now known as GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders)—after a police sting operation entrapped gay patrons of the Boston Public Library. In 1995, Ward becomes the first openly gay male lawyer to argue in front of the United States Supreme Court.

  • 1986

    Elie WieselNobel Laureate Elie Wiesel

    Elie Wiesel, Boston University professor of humanities, wins the Nobel Peace Prize. A political activist and Holocaust survivor, Wiesel is author of Night, a renowned memoir that describes his experiences during his imprisonment in several concentration camps.

    Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground

    Boston University’s cultural center, the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground, is founded, based on the “common ground” philosophy of Howard Thurman. The center hosts cultural programs, activities, and services designed to build community through self-exploration and shared experiences.

  • 1988

    Chelsea School Project

    At the request of officials of then-beleaguered Chelsea, Mass., Boston University agrees to manage the city’s failing schools for 10 years, an unprecedented—and as yet unduplicated—move by a private university. The Boston University/Chelsea Partnership was renewed through 2008.

  • 1990

    Louis W. Sullivan delivering keynote at Boston University CommencementNational Health Advocate Delivers Keynote Address

    Louis W. Sullivan, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, founding dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine, and BU School of Medicine alumnus, addresses the graduates at Commencement.

  • 1992

    Derek WalcottNobel Laureate Derek Walcott

    Derek Walcott, professor of English, wins the Nobel Prize in Literature.

  • 1993

    Pastor and Housing Advocate Addresses Graduates

    The Reverend Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood, a senior pastor at St. Paul Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., delivers the main Commencement address to more than 15,000 guests. In addition to his ministry work, Youngblood played a leading role in developing the Nehemiah Housing Project, an innovative program that resulted in the construction of some 2,300 single-family homes in Brooklyn and later served as a model for a federal affordable-housing program.

  • 2000

    Center for International Health & Development

    The Center for International Health & Development (now the Department of Global Health at the School of Public Health) is an applied research institution committed to changing society through research that treats health as a medical, social, and economic issue.

  • 2001

    First Woman Governor of Puerto Rico Delivers Keynote

    Sila Calderón, the first woman governor of Puerto Rico, speaks at Commencement. Prior to serving as governor, Calderón held various positions in the government of Puerto Rico, serving as the 12th Secretary of State of Puerto Rico from 1988 to 1989, Chief of Staff to Governor Rafael Hernández Colón, and Mayor of San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, from 1997 to 2001.

  • 2002

    Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic StudiesElie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies

    The Center for Judaic Studies (later renamed the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies) coordinates with and supports all academic programs relating to Jewish studies and sponsors lectures, conferences, publications, and cultural programs featuring the films, theater, and music of Jewish studies.

  • 2005

    Women’s Health Interdisciplinary Research Center

    The Women’s Health Interdisciplinary Research Center promotes interdisciplinary research on women’s health at the Medical Campus by bringing bench scientists, clinical investigators, and public health researchers together to determine collaborative research directions and obtain funds.

    Dr. Karen AntmanNew MED Provost and Dean

    Dr. Karen Antman, recognized internationally as an expert on breast cancer and other malignancies, comes to BU from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

  • 2007

    Virginia SapiroCollege of Arts & Sciences Has First Woman Dean

    Virginia Sapiro, a political scientist and women’s studies scholar, is named dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. She is the first woman dean in the college’s 134-year history.


  • 2008

    Hardin L. K. ColemanWheelock Names New Dean

    Hardin L. K. Coleman, a leading University of Wisconsin–Madison educator and psychologist who specializes in preparing school counselors for culturally diverse settings, is named dean of the School of Education, now Wheelock College of Education & Human Development.

    Mary Elizabeth MooreSchool of Theology Appoints New Dean

    Mary Elizabeth Moore is appointed dean of BU’s oldest school, the School of Theology. Moore’s research focuses on ecofeminist theology and spirituality, sacramental teaching, and reconciliation theory and practice, and she is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church.

    Osamu ShimomuraBU Prof Wins Nobel Prize

    Osamu Shimomura, a School of Medicine adjunct professor of physiology and a senior scientist emeritus at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., is one of three winners of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. His research on jellyfish has revolutionized the world of biology.

    A Program for BU’s First-Generation Students

    Through the University Service Center, BU hosted the first welcome reception for First Gen Connect, a program for students who are first in their family to attend college. The initiative serves as a resource for students to ensure a smooth and successful transition from high school to college life and beyond.

  • 2010

    Eric Holder speaking at CommencementFirst African American Attorney General Exhorts Class of 2010

    Eric H. Holder, Jr., attorney general of the United States, delivers the University’s 137th Commencement address. The nation’s top cop saluted the progress the country has made in areas such as race relations as he received an honorary Doctor of Laws, invoking both his status as the nation’s first African American attorney general and the fact that the country and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have Black chief executives.

    Benjamín E. JuárezCFA Names New Dean

    Benjamín Juárez considers himself a conductor first, and with good reason: he’s led orchestras in venues from Shanghai to the Champs-Élysées. Now, he’ll take a new podium as dean of the College of Fine Arts.

  • 2011

    Jean MorrisonNew Provost Named

    Jean Morrison is appointed University provost and chief academic officer. Morrison was previously executive vice provost for academic affairs and graduate programs at the University of Southern California before coming to BU, and she has been a professor of Earth sciences and director of the Women in Science and Engineering program at USC since 1988.

    Man using a foot bath on campus to clean his feetFootbaths for BU’s Growing Muslim Population

    With the number of Middle Eastern students at BU’s Center for English Language & Orientation Programs—many of them Muslim—growing at a rapid rate, the center’s public bathrooms are renovated to include footbaths. Muslims are required to perform ablution—the washing of hands, face, and feet—before prayer.

    Med students at Boston's Pride ParadeMED School First to March in Pride Parade

    Students, faculty, and staff at Boston University School of Medicine take part in Boston’s annual Pride Parade, the first medical school in the country to march under its school flag.

    BUMC Starts Pride Group

    BUMC Pride is founded to provide a safe, supportive environment for LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, and staff, and to showcase their diversity on the Medical Campus. To break down prejudices and misconceptions that can undermine patient care and personal growth, the group also seeks to educate future and current health professionals on the social issues and health concerns of the LGBTQIA+ community.

    Rajen Kilachand$25 Million Gift Largest in BU History

    Rajen Kilachand (Questrom’74, Hon.’14), a Dubai-based global entrepreneur, pledged $25 million to support the Honors College, whose full name will become the Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Honors College in memory of his parents.

  • 2013

    Lu Lingzi Memorial Scholarship Honors Slain Student

    Just days after the Boston Marathon bombing, BU Trustee Kenneth Feld (Questrom’70), chair of the Campaign for BU, proposes establishing the Lu Lingzi Memorial Scholarship Fund. Thanks to support from more than 1,300 individuals across the globe, the scholarship fund named for Lu reaches its $1 million goal in record time.

    Brittany LongsdorfBU Appoints First Chaplain for International Students

    Brittany Longsdorf starts in June as the University’s first chaplain for international students, embodying what she calls “a true spirit of hospitality that I think is theologically backed.”

  • 2014

    Deval Patrick at CommencementFirst African American Mass. Governor Urges Grads to Be Present for Others

    At the University’s 141st Commencement at Nickerson Field, Deval Patrick advises graduates that life’s journey is often more important than getting the answers and that real human connection requires intimacy. The governor, who was the first African American elected to the office, concluded his Commencement address by asking a promise of his listeners: “Sometime today, put your tablet or smartphone aside, look your Mom and Dad in the eye, and tell them that you love them. Hold your roommate’s hand and tell them you appreciate them for helping get you through to today. . . . Thank one of your teachers in person. Be present—and see what a difference it makes in your lives and the world.”

    Adil NajamPardee School of Global Studies Names Adil Najam Dean

    The new Pardee School of Global Studies, dedicated to improving the human condition around the world, names its new leader. Inaugural Dean Adil Najam is a professor of international relations and an expert in international diplomacy.

    Dr. Sandro GaleaSandro Galea Is New Dean of School of Public Health

    Internationally respected physician and epidemiologist Dr. Sandro Galea will lead BU’s School of Public Health starting January 1, 2015. Galea is known for his research linking health to issues like poverty and lack of education and was named one of Time’s epidemiology innovators in 2006.

    Natalie McKnightNew Dean Chosen for College of General Studies

    Natalie McKnight, who for the past year had served as interim dean of BU’s College of General Studies, is named dean by President Robert A. Brown and University Provost Jean Morrison. As dean, McKnight will oversee the second-largest undergraduate college at BU, with approximately 1,150 students.

    University Crafts Official Statement on Diversity

    The University creates a diversity statement, approved by the Board of Trustees, spelling out BU’s mission to build and sustain an equitable and inclusive environment where all members of the community can contribute and thrive.

  • 2015

    Ann CuddAnn Cudd Appointed Dean of College of Arts & Sciences

    Vice Provost of the University of Kansas Ann Cudd takes over as dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences on August 1. Cudd, a philosopher who studies oppression, adamantly opposes the idea of downplaying the liberal arts for more professionally oriented fields like business and technology.

    Diversity & Inclusion Task Force Created

    The Task Force on Faculty Diversity & Inclusion is charged with facilitating a set of University-wide discussions about how the University can become the diverse, inclusive community of faculty it envisions, and with developing recommendations that will help achieve this goal. The Task Force submitted its final report to the president and provost in 2016.

  • 2016

    Tanya ZlatevaTanya Zlateva Appointed Dean of Metropolitan College

    With more than 25 years of experience as a faculty member and administrative leader at MET, Dr. Zlateva, the interim dean since 2013, was seen as having the knowledge, capability, and vision to shape MET’s future as an innovator at the forefront of continuing education within an increasingly competitive environment.

    Cultural & Racial Conversations taking place at the Howard Thurman CanterThurman Center Turns Up Volume on Cultural, Racial Conversations

    After meeting with numerous students, including leaders of groups representing communities of color and LGBTQIA+ students, President Brown establishes a task force to raise the profile of the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground and make it even more impactful when it comes to cultural and racial discussions.

    Jonathan WoodsonSurgeon and Former US Health Official to Lead New Health Innovation Institute

    Jonathan Woodson, a vascular surgeon and former assistant secretary for health affairs for the US Department of Defense, is tapped to lead the University’s new Institute for Health System Innovation & Policy, based in the Questrom School of Business.

    Nina TasslerLongest-Serving Female Broadcast Leader Tells Graduates How to Survive Career Anxiety

    Former CBS Entertainment Chair and BU Trustee Nina Tassler (CFA’79, Hon.’16) addresses the Class of 2016, along with thousands of friends and family, at Commencement. Tassler, the longest-serving woman leader in broadcast history, focuses her talk on her lifelong career anxiety, crediting BU with teaching her the skills to reinvent herself and survive in a tough business.

    Carrie PrestonAward-Winning Professor Takes Over at Kilachand Honors College

    Carrie Preston, an associate professor of English and director of the Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program at the College of Arts & Sciences, takes the helm of Kilachand Honors College.

  • 2017

    Bonnie Hammer speaking at Commencement“Most Powerful Woman in Entertainment” Delivers Keynote

    Commencement keynote speaker Bonnie Hammer offers BU grads a storyteller’s advice for post-college life. “When you leave today, you’ll begin to write the most powerful, most meaningful, and most entertaining story of your life,” says Hammer (CGS’69, COM’71, Wheelock’75, Hon.’17), chair of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group. The Hollywood Reporter once proclaimed her the “Most Powerful Woman in Entertainment.

    Trustee Rajen Kilachand Makes Historic Gift

    Alumnus and Trustee Rajen Kilachand (Questrom’74, Hon.’14) becomes the largest donor in Boston University history with a $115M gift to support research.

    Woman completing course work on the lawnBU Doubles Number of Posse Scholars

    The University marks its 10th year of partnership with the Posse Foundation, which sends groups of students to college together, tuition-free for four years, with the idea that a supportive unit is key to future success. With the addition of a California cohort to the University’s longtime relationship with the Atlanta Posse program, BU doubles the number of scholarship recipients from the foundation.

    BU Announces First Associate Provost for Diversity & Inclusion

    BU names award-winning poet Crystal Ann Williams to the newly created position of associate provost for diversity & inclusion, reporting to the University’s Provost. In addition to her focus on diversifying the BU workforce, Williams is charged with developing structures, practices, and policies that advance the University’s overall commitment to become a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive institution.

  • 2018

    Jorge DelvaJorge Delva Is New Dean of School of Social Work

    A prolific author and researcher and a nationally recognized expert on the economically disadvantaged, Jorge Delva joins BU as the new dean of the School of Social Work.

    Harvey YoungNew CFA Dean Is Arts Historian and Advocate

    BU names Harvey Young as the new dean of the College of Fine Arts. Young, a prominent theater historian and arts advocate and author of the award-winning book Embodying Black Experience, champions transformative experiences of the arts and plans to promote and expand BU’s reputation in the arts.

    Charisse McGhee-LazarouNew BU LA Programs Head

    Charisse McGhee-Lazarou, former vice president of NBC’s primetime programs, becomes head of BU’s Los Angeles Programs, which provide internship-based experiences in the entertainment industry for BU students.

    Congressman John Lewis giving BU's 2018 Commencement speechUS Rep. John Lewis to 2018 Grads: Be Bold and Courageous

    Congressman John Lewis (Hon.’18) (D.-Ga.), BU’s 2018 Commencement speaker, urges BU graduates to “get out there and vote like you’ve never voted before.” Lewis, a legendary civil rights leader and one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, draws a standing ovation, saying, “Be optimistic, don’t get lost in a sea of despair, but be bold, be courageous, and all will work out.”

    David ChardFormer College President to Lead School of Education

    A member of the LGBTQIA+ community, David Chard, becomes dean ad interim of Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development on June 1, 2018. He was previously president of Wheelock College before its merger with Boston University in 2018.

    Angela Onwuachi-WilligNoted Scholar of Inequality Becomes the Dean of the School of Law

    Angela Onwuachi-Willig, renowned legal scholar and expert in racial and gender inequality as well as civil rights law, is named dean of the School of Law. A prolific writer and authority on employment discrimination and law as it relates to social injustice, she comes to BU from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.

    K. Matthew Dames Appointed New University Librarian

    A nationally recognized scholar in copyright law and innovator in library sciences, new University Librarian K. Matthew Dames’ priorities include increasing access to scholarship and strengthening ties to Boston.

    Susan FournierFirst in Her Family to Graduate College and First Woman to Take Helm at Business School

    The first in her family to attend college, Susan Fournier, a leading international expert on brand marketing, also becomes the first woman to lead the Questrom School of Business. A marketing and management professor at BU for 13 years, Dean Fournier says she will work to increase interdisciplinary programming, ensure Questrom’s financial security, and offer coursework aligned with both students’ and employers’ needs.

    Xin ZhangFirst Woman Named BU’s Innovator of the Year

    ENG’s Xin Zhang wins the faculty award for “world-class research into inventions and innovations that benefit humankind”—for her work with metamaterials: small-scale structures that react to electromagnetic or acoustic stimulation.

    Creative Writing Program Instructor Sigrid Nunez Wins National Book Award

    Writer-in-Residence Sigrid Nunez wins the National Book Award for Fiction for The Friend, a New York Times best seller. Nunez has taught MFA students in the Creative Writing Program since 2011.

    Alexandria Ocasio-CortezYoungest Woman in US Congress

    Alumna Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (CAS’11) becomes the nation’s youngest woman to serve in the US Congress, at age 29.

  • 2019

    Kenneth ElmoreKenneth Elmore Named a Pillar of Higher Education

    Associate Provost and Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (Wheelock’87) is among 17 professors and administrators nationwide who are named Pillars of the Profession by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, a Washington, D.C., student affairs organization.

    First Female Head of Scientific American Takes Helm at College of Communication

    The first woman to lead Scientific American, a globally respected publication since its founding in 1845, Mariette DiChristina (COM’86) was also the executive vice president of its parent company, Springer Nature, overseeing Nature and related journals.

    Task Force on LGBTQIA+ Faculty and Staff Launched

    The University forms the Task Force on LGBTQIA+ Faculty and Staff and charges the group with developing ways to improve the workplace experience of our LGBTQIA+ faculty and staff. The Provost’s office approves the recommendation for a professionally staffed LGBTQIA+ center. Tentatively called the Q-BU Center, the center will have dedicated physical space adjacent to the Howard Thurman Center in 808 Commonwealth Ave.

    Danielle CitronLAW’s Danielle Citron Named a MacArthur Fellow

    Danielle Citron, whose pioneering and policy-shaping work in countering hate crimes, revenge porn, and other cyberspace abuses has made her one of the nation’s leading privacy and constitutional law scholars, is named a 2019 MacArthur Fellow, an award often referred to as a “genius grant.”

    Muhammad ZamanENG’s Muhammad Zaman Addresses the Global Refugee Crisis in 2019 University Lecture

    Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor Muhammad Zaman and his lab collaborate with partners at BU and institutions around the world to develop cheap, easy-to-use computational tools and experimental methods to improve education, medicine, and overall quality of life in under-resourced nations and communities of people who have been displaced.

    Margaret Low Named General Manager and CEO of WBUR

    With the completion of the CitySpace venue, BU builds on its reputation as a cultural destination with live-events programming. Low brings expertise as a leader of live-events strategy at The Atlantic, senior vice president for news at NPR, and senior producer for All Things Considered.

    Stan SclaroffStan Sclaroff Takes Over at Arts & Sciences

    Stan Sclaroff is named dean of BU’s liberal arts citadel, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, following a nationwide search. Sclaroff, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of computer science and member of the LGBTQIA+ community, had been serving as dean ad interim.

    Azer BestavrosAzer Bestavros to Lead BU’s Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences

    A William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor who gained international prominence as the founding director of BU’s Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering, Azer Bestavros is named associate provost for computing and data sciences.

  • 2020

    Howard Thurman Center for Common GroundExpanded Thurman Center Gets a New Look on Campus

    The relocated and expanded Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground (HTC) opens at 808 Commonwealth Ave., the latest addition to a culture and arts city block that includes CitySpace, the Joan & Edgar Booth Theatre, and CFA’s Production Center.

    Ibram X. KendiIbram X. Kendi, Leading Scholar of Racism, to Join BU and Launch BU Center for Antiracist Research

    On July 1, the University announced the launch of the BU Center for Antiracist Research, and the hiring of it’s founder, Ibram X. Kendi. “My hope is that it becomes a premier research center for researchers and for practitioners to really solve these intractable racial problems of our time,” Kendi said. “Not only will the center seek to make that level of impact, but also work to transform how racial research is done.”

    Saida Grundy talks during the opening plenaryA Day of Collective Engagement:Racism and Antiracism, Our Realities and Our Roles

    As a university dedicated to knowledge and truth, we feel it is the responsibility of our entire community to learn, think, and act in pursuit of social justice. In that spirit, Boston University held a day of collective learning and reflection on race, racism, and their impact on our society and communities.