A New Day in Washington: Kamala Harris Blazes a Trail for Women in Politics
January 21, 2021, will forever be remembered as a historic day in our nation’s history. It was on this day that the first female, first black person, and first South Asian person was inaugurated as Vice President of the United States. Additionally, Kamala Harris is the first graduate of a historically Black college or university, or member of a black sorority to hold this position. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first woman of color to serve on the court, administered Harris’s oath.
Kamala Harris did not simply stumble into the Vice Presidency, she worked her way up in a system that was not built for people like her to succeed in. Having served as the attorney general of California, Harris became the first Indian American in the Senate and just the second Black woman. Harris was initially a candidate in the 2020 presidential election but dropped out of the race early on. When Joe Biden then received the Democratic nomination, many called on him to select a woman of color as his running mate.
But why was it so important that a woman, or woman of color, serve alongside Joe Biden? In the words of Juliana Chiaramonte’ 22, “I think regardless of your race or your age, for young girls it's very inspiring to see a woman, first of all, or maybe even a woman that looks like them… for girls our age it makes a big difference to see a woman in office… when there have been centuries of white men.”
Ms. Davis, Director of Institutional Equity and Diversity said “I think it means that hopefully, people are looking at people who look like Kamala and me differently… I think it means progress.”
In this polarizing age of political unrest, many voters cared less about how much they agreed with their candidate’s politics, but more about their holistic character. In Kamala Harris’s case, this meant many voters being more drawn to her by the diversity she would bring to the table rather than how much they agreed with her politics. This held true for Juliana, who said, “honestly, the reason I respect her so much and like her so much is because she is a woman in office regardless of her political beliefs, and they mostly line up with mine so that is an added benefit, but I think that just in general it’s very inspiring to finally see a woman as the vice president.”
Harris’s candidacy also shed a light on the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). HBCUs have long been colleges that produce some of the best and brightest in the black community. As they originated because black people were kept out of white institutions, they were the golden standard for the higher education of black people. In recent history, HBCUs have seen an uptick in applicants and interest due to the increase in racial tensions across the nations. This interest is bound to increase as a result of Harris’s Vice Presidency.
Kamala Harris attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., an institution that is viewed as one of the nation’s top HBCUs. It was here that Harris became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, which is the first black sorority ever founded. Harris’s election will have a profound impact on all members of black sororities in the divine nine, as well as HBCU students and graduates. Ms. Davis, a proud graduate of Spelman College, when asked about the significance of Kamala’s attendance at Howard said, “It's huge, I think black folks and folks of color are underestimated a lot in our abilities and what we do, HBCUs proudly graduate extraordinary people… I think historically thought (with the exception of a few) that it was a second choice, or if you couldn't get into a better school you would go to an HBCU, and I think that having someone like Kamala Harris and lots of other folks who have graduated from HBCUs- the new Senator from Georgia, Raphael Warnock, who was actually in my class at Morehouse, what it says is for HBCUs is that we told you. We told you that there are all these extraordinary people.”
Another major factor in Harris’s inauguration is the historical precedent it has set for future generations of women and people of color in America and is an embodiment of how far we have come as a nation. It will teach young people to reach for the stars because their dreams are attainable. We spoke to Ny’rique Butler’ 22, who said: “It means a lot for the future generations especially knowing you've had a black president/multiracial president and now knowing you've had a multiracial vice president does a lot for the people of color and the youth.”
Juliana added, “what you learn in history growing up is a long line of white men in positions of power and [her election] shows girls that you don't have to be a white man to get in a position of power. And the fact that she receives criticism just because she is a woman and a woman of color shows girls that regardless of the criticism that you get that she carried on and made it to the vice president position and i think that is very inspiring for women of all ages.”