Celebrating Kamala Harris’ historic victory

The U.S. flag flying against the Philadelphia skyline.

In 2020 Kamala Harris made history as the first woman, first African American, first Asian American and first daughter of immigrants to become vice-president elect of the United States. 

We asked students, faculty and staff to share their feelings on her achievement—a mixture of excitement, optimism, hopes for accountability and pride.

Valerie Dudley, director of multicultural education and training at Temple’s Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership  (IDEAL)

I’m extremely ecstatic and excited. She’s the first woman of color to be able to rise to this level in U.S. politics. She’s a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority so my sorors and I, all of us, were ecstatic to see her even getting the nomination. To see her win was just awesome. 

She represents for African Americans and other people of color a sense of Black excellence. She went to an HBCU [historically Black colleges and universities] and I’m also a graduate of another HBCU. In the work that I’ve done in higher education, sometimes in predominantly white institutions I’d be working with faculty and they would say, “Oh, this person went to an HBCU” and would act as though having a degree from a historically Black college was lesser than. I think in her role she embodies a lot of significance. 

Right after the election, on social media, they had a picture that really resonated for me. There was a picture of her as the vice president and then all the other vice presidents that preceded her. And all you see is a sea of white men. Race being one thing but men on top of that as well. When I think about young kids, especially young girls, she is now a role model like Michelle Obama was a role model for young Black girls, who would see her and think, “I see someone that looks like me and she lives in the White House.”

The American dream is if you work hard, you can achieve. But for people of color the reality is that hasn’t always been true for us. We’ve always had to be better than or work twice as hard to be able to get to that level, and still not ever see someone that represents us. And now you can look to the White House and say, “Hey, here is Kamala Harris and she is a vice president and she represents us.” And so for young girls, they can say, “I really can be anything I want to be.”

Valerie Dudley

Photo by Joseph V. Labolito

Photo by Joseph V. Labolito

Robin Kolodny, professor of political science

Two other women [Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin] have been nominated to be vice president and one woman nominated to be president [Hillary Clinton] but they did not succeed on Election Day. So that’s the historic first: that Kamala Harris is the first woman to occupy an office that is one heartbeat away from the presidency. That’s a very significant thing. It wasn’t even an issue that you should consider not voting for Joe Biden because he put a woman on the ticket. None of the Biden supporters were deterred. If anything, Harris almost certainly increased some turnout among women of color in particular. 

I had a female friend of mine, a very accomplished professional, who said, “Well, why did he put himself in the box like that? He should pick the most qualified person. Now he’s excluded half the population.” I said to her, “You realize that women and people of color have been excluded for centuries? Why weren’t they in the choice set?” There are more women now, about 100 women in the House of Representatives. The problem is it’s 435 representatives and women are 51% of the population. So it really should be 218 or so, but OK. We’re not there yet. As women become more confident about running and men become less threatened about women going into the political realm and more comfortable with domestic roles, then you’ll see a difference.

We don’t entirely know what Harris’ win means for U.S. politics yet, but this is what I would predict. It means that you can put a woman of color on the ticket and it doesn’t damage the ticket. Already, that’s one of the taboos that’s gone. Even the state of Georgia, which wasn’t expected to go Democratic, goes Democratic and does not have a problem at all. She didn’t lose any votes. That’s number one. Number two, and much more important, is what portfolio Biden is going to give her. It’s clear from the way that he worked with Barack Obama and just his way in general, that she’s going to have something that’s just hers. She’ll head up a task force or commission or something. That will give her the opportunity to shine and to have a lot more people comfortable with her as a national executive figure. That’s really the key.

Robin Kolodny

Photo by Joseph V. Labolito

Photo by Joseph V. Labolito

Georgia Hight-Schickel

Photo by Joseph V. Labolito

Photo by Joseph V. Labolito

Georgia Hight-Schickel, Class of 2022

For so long the presidency and vice presidency have been male-dominated, specifically white male. And then we had Obama, which was the first step. Now, seeing Kamala Harris, so many people are going to be more motivated to take a turn. 

I actually got to see her when she was in Philly. She held a drive-in rally the day before Election Day. Listening to her speak really motivated me. In the past I haven’t been the type of person who is really keen to go into politics and I would still say that’s true. But seeing how many people were there and how many were affected by what she said and motivated to step up moved me. I have friends who feel she represents them. They knew it was possible to achieve things, but now she’s broken the glass ceiling they really feel they can follow her. 

Someone like Kamala Harris should just be the norm. It’s just opening up a space for all of that. 

Nah Dove, assistant professor of instruction, Africology and African American Studies

Kamala Harris possibly gave one of the best speeches in the whole of the political climate, pertaining to giving voice to the ongoing racial and social inequality, standing in her truth to do what she could. Is she credible? Why not?

The racist and patriarchal nature of U.S. politics is one where a Black woman might become the president and have to choose between showing her allegiance to the community that raised her or the laws that have undermined the life potential of Black people of African descent. She, like all of us, is being given a chance to change the terms of engagement. This is a time when it could happen.

In any case, we must act urgently, reflectively, hopefully with the exigencies of the moment in which there are possibilities to stop killing Black women, men and children on the grounds of being Black. 

Justin Procope, CLA ’20, KLN ’20

I was 10 years old when Obama was elected. It was similar in that the paradigms shifted and something we never thought would be possible was now possible and happening in front of our eyes. For me, being biracial, it’s very important and special to see. But aside from that, remove everything else and she is also just brilliant. It totally changes what we think is possible and I think that’s very important for our nation right now.

I hope, as we do with all politicians, that they deliver on the promises that they made in the campaign leading up to the election.

Justin Procope and Katelyn Barbour

Justin Procope and Katelyn Barbour during the post-election celebrations in Center City Philadelphia. (Photo by Michelle Gustafso)

Justin Procope and Katelyn Barbour during the post-election celebrations in Center City Philadelphia. (Photo by Michelle Gustafso)

Photo by Betsy Manning

Photo by Betsy Manning

Diane Turner, curator, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection

Kamala Harris is part of a long line of Black women involved in politics. For example, Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman to serve in Congress and in 1972, she was the first woman to seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.    

Harris’ win shines a light on the fact that Black Lives Matter. She has broken many barriers for women, especially Black women whose numerous contributions to the very fabric of our nation are too often neglected and ignored. Her win brings to the forefront a national conversation on race because she identifies herself as a Black woman, a heritage which her mother taught her to be proud of.  

After President Barack Obama was elected president, I knew that there would be greater opportunities for women, especially Black women who have earned (not been given based on privilege) seats at the table.

Katelyn Barbour, Class of 2021

Last election I was really upset that I couldn’t vote. This time, the stakes were so much higher that I was actually thrilled this was my first time getting to vote and getting to use my voice as a citizen. I’ll remember it forever.

I think it’s pretty clear, me being a woman, that I felt a lot of emotions when Kamala Harris won. In just the past couple of years, things have become more progressive and we see women in many different positions of power in different outlets and different career paths. But seeing her, seeing a woman in that position with that strength really reinforces it for any little girl. It changes your whole vision of what a woman can do and shows we are equal to men. 

When Joe Biden made the selection to have Kamala Harris as his running mate, I thought it made perfect sense. She now gets to prove herself as a woman and she’s in that position. She’s right next to the president. People will be forced to see what she does and how she succeeds. I really hope people can actually open their eyes a little bit to the idea of a woman being president, because they’re going to see Kamala as vice president.