Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s selection of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris to be his running mate will not only further energize young voters, but also renew interest in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
That’s what political analysts at Tennessee State University have to say after Biden made the announcement this week. If he wins in November, Harris would become the nation’s first female vice president, first Black vice president.
Geraldine Ferraro was the first female vice-presidential candidate on a major party ticket, in 1984. In 2008, Alaska’s then-governor, Sarah Palin, was Republican John McCain’s running mate.
TSU President Glenda Glover said Biden’s announcement was a great moment for our country, African Americans, and for women.
“Sen. Harris’ selection is a full circle moment for HBCUs and African American Greek organizations that worked tirelessly to give the Black community a voice from the turn of the century, through Jim Crow and the civil rights movement, to present day,” President Glover said.
“As the president of Tennessee State University, a premiere HBCU, and as international president of AKA, in which Sen. Harris is a member, I am doubly proud of this selection. I also commend Vice President Joe Biden for his insight to bring someone of Sen. Harris’ stature to the ticket. She is intelligent, experienced, charismatic and above all qualified for the job.
“African American women have been the backbone of this country, and now an African American woman has the opportunity to ascend to the second highest office in the nation with the opportunity to create policies that will impact us for generations to come.”
Dr. Samantha Morgan-Curtis, a Women’s Studies faculty member and dean of the College of Liberal Arts at TSU, said Harris is “historic on several levels.”
Morgan-Curtis said Harris’ selection is a continuation of the “wave of activism” during the 2018 midterm elections in which there were historic firsts for women of color. To name a few, Democrats Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib became the first Muslim women elected to Congress, and Democrats Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids became the first Native American women elected to Congress.
TSU junior Tiara Thomas said it is inspiring to see someone who looks like her get a step closer to being the second most powerful person in the United States.
“I think what Kamala Harris is doing for Black women is what (former President) Barack Obama did for Black men in America,” said Thomas, a political science major from Olive Branch, Mississippi, and the creator of TSU Votes, a social media platform. “It gives us another crack in the glass ceiling.”
In 1972, Shirley Chisholm became the first Black American and the first woman to seek the Democratic presidential nomination. Now, said Thomas, Harris is standing on her shoulders.
“It’s cool to see history kind of reinvent itself,” said Thomas. “To see a Black woman actually be put on the (presidential) ballot is amazing.”
In the four hours after Biden announced Harris as his running mate, ActBlue, the Democrats’ main fundraising platform, reported more than $10.8 million in donations. TSU political analysts predict Harris will have a similar effect on voters.
They say her selection will not only galvanize female voters, but all voters, particularly young ones, disgruntled over continued social injustice, like the deaths of George Floyd and other Black men and women due to police brutality.
“I’m always impressed with how worked up our students can get, and how they focus that on things,” said Erik Schmeller, a history professor and director of the Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement at TSU.
“National organizations are also pushing the message that this is your opportunity to get engaged and make a difference.”
TSU Political Science Professor Brian Russell predicts Harris, an alumna of Howard University and a member of the prominent Black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, will cause more young people to consider attending HBCUs, especially if Biden is elected president.
“It’s going to energize a lot of younger African American students to look in the HBCU direction,” said Russell. “That’s going to be exciting.”