“We did it. We did it, Joe. You’re going to be the next President of the United States.”
Those were Vice President Kamala Harris’ first words to President Joe Biden after being told the pair had defeated the Republican competition, Donald Trump and Mike Pence, in the 2020 Presidential Election.
The Biden-Harris win was monumental. According to cfr.org, the 2020 election had the highest voter turnout since the 1900 presidential election; at least 159 million Americans voted in 2020, the largest turnout in voter history, and Biden-Harris accrued over 81 million votes.
Trump-Pence received over 74 million, the second highest to Biden-Harris of the number of votes any presidential candidate has ever received.
But just how did Harris find herself in a position of such power, prestige, and honor? After all, Harris is not only the United States’ first female vice president, but also the first Black woman and Indian American woman to hold that type of office.
Before her new found glory as Vice President, what was Harris’ role in politics, and how did she go from an average American citizen to the Vice President of one of the most powerful countries in the world?
Harris was born in Oakland, CA. She graduated from Howard University and went on to continue her studies at University of California Hastings College of the Law, earning herself a law degree and graduating in 1989.
From there, Harris began her professional career as a deputy district attorney from 1990 to 1998, building a reputation for herself of being a resolute lawmaker and prosecuting those involved with gang violence, drug trafficking and sexual abuse.
Harris was promoted to district attorney in 2004 and narrowly won the election for attorney general in 2010. From there, Harris worked to shape her political profile and in 2012, she gave an impressive speech at the Democratic National Convention which helped her gain recognition nationally.
As Harris climbed the rungs higher and higher in the political world, former senator Barbara Boxer recruited Harris for her own seat in the Senate. After declaring her candidacy in 2015, Harris went on to win the Senate seat in the landslide 2016 election by touting campaign promises, such as minimum-wage increases and the protection of women’s reproductive rights.
When Harris took office in 2017, she became the first Indian American person and only the second Black woman in the Senate. Among other assignments, Harris began serving on the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Judiciary Committee.
She was regarded for her tough prosecutorial line of questioning she used for witnesses, and was further distinguished after her questioning of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions had been under testament before the Select Committee on Intelligence in regards to his affiliations with the 2016 Presidential Election Russian interference.
In the beginning of 2019, Harris announced her intentions to run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination for 2020. Because of her race, ethnicity and gender, Harris was a standout candidate from the start.
She became well-known across the nation for her popular social change reformations and attention to social justice issues; during one of the primary debates, Harris even debated with Joe Biden on his controversial stance towards school busing in the 1970’s and 1980’s that went against his other promotions of social justice.
However, by September of 2019, Harris dropped out of the running for the 2020 presidential race. Biden won the Democratic presidential nomination and, especially given the Black Lives Matter movement had exploded into a full-force fight for world change, was pressured to choose a Black candidate for his Vice President.
Biden chose Harris, and she became the first female, Black and Indian American person to have their name on the ballot for Vice President. Despite former president Donald Trump, his administration, and supporters loudly and incorrectly denouncing results, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris officially won the 2020 race.
It is expected that Harris will hold an outsized role as Vice President compared to past Vice Presidents; the citizens of America will be holding her to different standards in their own minds, purely based on their personal opinions on her gender, race, and ethnicity.
Only 27 percent of the current seats in both the House and Senate are held by women; according to research done by Georgetown University, the percentage of men and women who believe women are not emotionally suited to take office has dropped from 50 percent in 1975 to 13 percent as of 2019.
It is almost certain, however, that the 13 percent is not present at Springfield College. Female students and faculty alike have expressed their excitement for Harris, and strongly believe that her inauguration will set new precedents for women in politics.
Laura Dubowski, Professor of Communications, felt empowered, especially because of her extensive past experience as a journalist with a multitude of different political elections.
“My visceral reactions, one of tears, joy and hope, surprised me. I did not think I would be as moved as I was. In my career in broadcast news, I’ve covered primaries, conventions, elections and inaugurations. I have now lived through 13 Presidents, all male. But this inauguration brought out emotions that eclipsed the impartiality of my journalistic roots – and they came when Kamala Harris raised her right hand to take the oath of office of the Vice President of the United States.”
Some women at Springfield College can’t believe they are lucky enough to be in existence during this part of history; Junior Class President Arianna Susi stated: “I’ve always been extremely passionate about powerful women and some of my biggest role models are female leaders. So, to see the first female Vice President of the United States is so surreal. It’s definitely something I’m happy happened during my lifetime and this early on as well, I hope I also get to see the day there is a female President of the United States and I genuinely believe this is a huge step in the right direction.”
Dr. Alice Eaton, a Professor of English at Springfield, shared similar sentiments. “I teach both Women and Literature and African American Literature, so seeing a woman of color holding the second highest office in the land is amazing. Also, Vice President Harris is an inspiring figure because of her experience and competence. As a Senator, she did great work holding powerful men accountable for their behavior, as in her questioning of Brett Kavanaugh in his confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court. She is smart, fearless, and a great role model for young girls.”
As mothers themselves, some professors feel that Kamala Harris will give normalization to seeing a woman in high political offices for their daughters to experience and grow up with. Dr. Justine Dymond shared this anecdote from watching the inauguration at home:
“I had the joy of watching the inauguration ceremony with my daughter who is 16 and will vote for the first time in the next election cycle. Watching my daughter watch the first woman vice president be sworn into office was enormously uplifting and brings me hope that we will reach a day when we are no longer applauding the exceptions to the rule. ‘Madame Vice President’ is still an unusual utterance and it should not be. But we also have to recognize that Vice President Harris’s election to the White House left the Senate with no Black women senators. That is a sacrifice we do not want to have to keep making in order to see individuals from historically underrepresented groups hold the highest offices in our government.”
Other members of the Springfield College community felt Vice President Harris’ election will help advance and encourage women in leadership roles; Junior Pamela Marino recalled past instances where women were not treated as equals in the political realm, and stated that she hoped for better in the future.
“Towards the end of 2020, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was famously referred to as ‘a f**king b**ch,’ by a male member of congress. This is just one of countless examples of women in politics, or women in any workplace, being harassed or mistreated. With the rise of women’s voices in politics, I hope that we can see a rise in respect for women across the globe.”
Dr. Melinda Fowler, Assistant Professor of Biology, had similar thoughts to Marino.
“I think it is so important for the country to see successful women of color in these positions, for several reasons. Listening to and acknowledging their important and valuable input will benefit our society,” Fowler stated.
“Additionally, it’s important to start to dismantle the bias that is so ingrained in our society, as well as to inspire and empower the women coming after them. I hope soon we will look back and be baffled that it was ever controversial. But, that’s why these precedents are so important – to set a new standard. Without the first one breaking through those barriers, the stereotypes stay in place and the status quo remains.”
Professor Dubowski was in agreement with Marino and Dr. Fowler, too.
“This historic moment will always be remembered. But, I hope in the future a woman Vice President and a Vice President of color, becomes commonplace, that it will not become newsworthy in itself. And the same holds true for the Presidency. I remember when Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed as the first woman Supreme Court justice in 1981. That was huge news and a huge milestone. Since then, there have been four more women appointed to the court, three currently serving. It is becoming more common. The unusual event must become usual.”
The moment of Harris’ official inauguration will forever hold a special place in the hearts of many women at Springfield College. Junior Nora Fitzgerald said that it was even emotional for her and her family members.
“Seeing her actually get inaugurated was such a happy moment for me, especially seeing Justice Sonia Sotomayor swear her in. In that moment I was just thinking about how many times in history women have been denied power and brushed aside. My dad actually texted me right after and said ‘Girl power!!’. So, that was a cute moment.”
Dr. Fowler was also impassioned by the pure elation of a female vice president. Fowler stated, “Honestly, I just get choked up thinking about it. It is such a big deal when I think about the girls and women looking up to Vice President Harris and seeing themselves and knowing that they do have a role in our government. And thinking about the women who have gone before her, who worked on breaking barriers that made a moment like this possible, it makes me pretty emotional.”
The United States of America has always been branded as a melting pot of diverse individuals who come together to form a beautiful country, full of “possibilities” and “freedom.” Kamala Harris’ inauguration has brought that sentiment one step closer to being true, another step in the country’s marathon towards true freedom.
Photo: The New York Times