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Sara Bleich named vice provost for special projects

Sara N. Bleich, a professor of public health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School, renowned expert on nutrition security, and advocate for health equity, has been named the University’s inaugural vice provost for special projects.

In her new role, Bleich will report to the provost and lead ongoing work related to the recommendations from the Presidential Committee on Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery. She will be advised by the initiative’s implementation committee. Working closely with faculty, deans, and leadership from across the University, she will also engage with students, staff, researchers, alumni, descendants, and the public about Harvard’s progress and serve as a spokesperson on reparative efforts.

“The creation of the role of vice provost for special projects is a critical next step in ensuring the University and Schools make needed progress in addressing Harvard’s ties to slavery and remedying the many aspects of its persistent aftermath,” Provost Alan M. Garber said in an email announcing Bleich’s appointment. “Sara’s work at the intersection of public health and social justice, in addition to her expertise in helping build a collaborative culture of intellectual exchange across academic disciplines and sectors, makes her uniquely suited for this work.”

“I am humbled and excited to take on this role,” Bleich said. “I have no doubt that it will be challenging, but it could not be more important. I look forward to working in and outside of Harvard to implement the Legacy of Slavery work and helping to transform the University.”

Martha Minow, Harvard Law School’s 300th Anniversary University Professor and chair of the Legacy of Slavery implementation committee, cited Bleich’s appointment as an important step in establishing support for both near- and long-term progress by the University on the recommendations.

“Perhaps the most important recommendation of the Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery report is to institutionalize the work — to make it real and perpetual,” she said. “The appointment of Sara Bleich should give us all confidence in expanding and deepening the work underway to increase educational opportunities and memorialize and honor those who were enslaved and the legacies of slavery. Sara brings enormous talents and a vital solution-focused perspective, honed in her scholarship and public service tackling systemic inequalities and bridging theory and practice. We are so fortunate to have her leadership, and I am excited about all that is to come.”

Bleich, whose research centers on diet-related diseases, food insecurity, and racial injustice within the social safety net, is currently on leave from Harvard while serving as the director of nutrition security and health equity for the Food and Nutrition Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At Harvard, she is a professor of public health policy at the Chan School, the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, and a faculty member at the Harvard Kennedy School. As a former faculty director of social sciences at Radcliffe, Bleich promoted intellectual exchange in the social sciences and shaped the Institute’s programming. She also created collaborations throughout the University and beyond. She is a member of the interfaculty Standing Committee on Health Policy, which is responsible for administering GSAS’ related Ph.D. program. She co-leads the program’s political analysis track.

A committed public servant, Bleich’s position with the Food and Nutrition Service was created in January and tasked with ensuring that all Americans have consistent access to nutritious and affordable food. Prior to this, she served as senior adviser for COVID-19 in the Office of the Secretary of the USDA. From 2015 to 2016, she served as a White House fellow working as a senior policy adviser in the USDA’s Office of the Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services and for former first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Initiative to promote children’s health and nutrition.

Bleich was born and raised in Baltimore with her twin sister and older brother. Her parents were public school teachers. Her family benefited from several of the federal nutrition assistance programs that she currently works on at USDA. This experience, along with observing the day-to-day challenges of growing up in her neighborhood, instilled in her a strong desire to give back and to equalize opportunity. “My parents always taught me to work toward solutions that meaningfully improve people’s lives. That is my North Star and the core motivation that I bring to this work.”

Bleich has authored and co-authored more than 180 peer-reviewed publications and articles published in top public health and medicine journals. She has been a recipient of numerous honors and awards for her work, including the Frank Prize for excellence in public interest communications. She has held a variety of elected positions, including spokesperson for the Obesity Society and chair for the Policy Committee of the Obesity Society. She served on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.

Bleich received a B.A. in psychology from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in health policy from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard.

Bleich starts in her role as vice provost for special projects on Jan. 23.

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