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    Laverne Cox takes the stage at Harvard gender equity summit

    Cambridge MA 4/2/19 Christian Siriano, left listens to Laverne Cox during a roundtable discussion called, "#HARVARDHEARSYOU The 2019 Summit for Gender Equity at Harvard's Memorial Church. (photo by Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff) topic: reporter:
    Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff
    Christian Siriano, left, listens to Laverne Cox during a roundtable discussion at the 2019 Summit for Gender Equity at Harvard's Memorial Church on Tuesday, April 2, 2019.

    Emmy-nominated actress and transgender activist Laverne Cox, designer Christian Siriano, and LGBTQ and plus-size advocate Nicolette Mason joined moderator Jess Weiner at Harvard’s 2019 Summit for Gender Equity Tuesday evening.

    Listeners packed the university’s Memorial Church for the panel discussion, which covered topics from gender diversity to sexuality to representation.

    Cox, one of the stars of “Orange Is the New Black,” said she began booking roles once she stopped looking at being a transgender woman as a hindrance and instead embraced it.


    “My career changed when I embraced fully being trans,” she told the crowd.

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    As a plus-size, openly gay woman, Mason said she fights exclusion “by being political, by being active, by being visible, promoting visibility, promoting conversation and dialogue in spaces that weren’t inviting us to the table.”

    The roundtable was part of a day-long discussion at the university, “Harvard Hears You: The 2019 Summit for Gender Equity,” which served as a kickoff to the school’s new survey on sexual assault and misconduct.

    The day included panels on legal perspectives regarding gender, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and ending gender inequality.

    Najya Williams, a 21-year-old Harvard undergrad interested in pediatric and neonatal medicine, was one of the student speakers earlier in the day who asked Cox about how to deal with newfound privilege. In Williams’s case, privilege comes with “being in Harvard’s space,” she said.


    Cox responded that she dealt with similar sentiments after “making it” and being cast in “Orange Is The New Black.” There was almost a “survivors’ guilt,” she admitted.

    “I think it was an important conversation to have and certainly one that was important for this campus to hear,” Williams told the Globe after the Summit. “Speaking as a student who has been a part of trying to make Harvard a more inclusive space in all facets of the word, I think it was just really refreshing to see the set of panelists here talking about inclusivity, diversity, equity.”

    Lillian Brown can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lilliangbrown.