Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s decision to select Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate was historic not only in that she became the first Black woman to be nominated for vice president by a major political party, but that she’s also the first graduate of a historically Black college or university (HBCU) on a major party’s presidential ticket.
Harris graduated from Washington, D.C.-based Howard University in 1986. In her memoir, Harris says that the university “was a place where you didn’t have to be confined to the box of another person’s choosing. At Howard, you could come as you were and leave as the person you aspired to be.”
Firsthand experience and a history of support
Advocates for HBCUs, which have long been underfunded and overlooked, see this moment as an opportunity to shine a light on their crucial role in educating Black students. “It’s an exciting time for HBCUs,” Jameia Tennie, director of undergraduate admissions at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, told Bloomberg. “It’s important that our students continue to see great examples of opportunity for HBCU graduates.”
Having an alumna of an HBCU in the second-highest office in the nation also could bring attention to the challenges these schools face and the support they need to fulfill their mission. As a senator, Harris has introduced legislation to direct funds to HBCUs and help maintain the historic buildings on their campuses. “As a proud Howard alum, Senator Harris knows firsthand the richness and impact of an HBCU education,” Jamal Brown, national press secretary for Biden’s campaign, said in a statement provided to Bloomberg. “Vice President Biden is proud to work with her in advancing historic investments in these institutions.”
While former President Barack Obama’s election was obviously historic, Harris’s nomination is special for HBCU students and alumni, Rick Gallot, president of Louisiana’s Grambling State University, explained. “He was an Ivy League grad,” he told Inside Higher Ed. Obama attended Columbia and Harvard universities. “There was a sense that you can be Black but you have to be an Ivy League grad to make it at that level.”