Kamala Harris made history this election as the first woman and the first woman of color to be elected as Vice President in the United States.
Business administration sophomore Advaitha Bhavanasi and animal science senior Tulika Mohanti are members of the Indian Students Association (ISA) at Cal Poly. Harris’ mother was an Indian immigrant, so they said to see someone that shares their background in higher office was exciting for them.
“There’s such a lack of diversity in terms of race and gender in the White House, so it was really exciting that there’s finally some representation that girls can look up to and see that we can finally be a part of politics,” Mohanti said.
Due to Harris taking over the intimidating task of being the first woman elected into the vice presidency, Bhavanasi said it will now be easier for others to follow in her footsteps.
She said growing up, her mother always told her she could be the first Indian woman to achieve various accomplishments, but that being the first person to achieve something always felt daunting to her.
“It’s really great to see representation and to know that it’s not impossible, and to know that I could run for government because now it’s been done,” Bhavanasi said.
Bhavanasi said she worries people will project the potential mistakes Harris could make in office onto the marginalized groups she is representing.
“I feel like there’s so much weight and pressure on her, because she’s having to not only represent women, but also Indians, and also Black people,” Bhavanasi said. “I always have this worry anytime a marginalized group runs for office and they’re the first ones that people will see any mistakes they make and generalize the entire population.”
Mohanti said that it’s important that Americans don’t idolize Harris to an unrealistic degree.
“Just because she’s the first person to do something and just because she is a woman of color doesn’t mean that everything’s going to be perfect,” Mohanti said. “It’s so important that she’s opened this door for more people to follow in her footsteps, but we can’t say that just because she is a woman of color, all future women or all future women of color will have the same perspectives and opportunities.”
Political science junior and Cal Poly Democrats member Chloe Comstock said that America has been falling behind other nations when it comes to having women in positions of power.
“You look at all these developed nations that have had women as presidents or prime ministers, and we’re so far behind every other nation. You look at places like Chile, South Korea, Finland — all these places have had women in power, and we didn’t even give women the right to vote until 100 years ago,” Comstock said.
Comstock said because historically women have not had power in the U.S. that Americans tend to think that it’s not possible for women to win elections.
“I heard a lot of people say that they liked Elizabeth Warren the best, but they didn’t vote for her in the primaries, because they didn’t see a woman being able to win in the election,” Comstock said. “So I think by Kamala Harris being picked and by her being the first woman of color to win the vice presidency that just shows us that women can be in these positions of power, and they can win it.”
Higher Education, Counseling and Student Affairs graduate Christina Sholars is a member of the Black Student Union (BSU) at Cal Poly. Sholars has a young daughter, and she spoke about what it meant to her for her daughter to be able to see someone who looks like her as a leader.
“Michelle Obama was a special person, but my daughter didn’t get to see that. She will get to see and remember who Kamala Harris is. I think that’s the real beauty in it, watching her and being able to tell her ‘little one, that can be you one day’,” Sholars said.
Sholars said she is looking forward to having someone in office who can understand her experience as a biracial woman.
“As a person who’s biracial, because I am as well, we sometimes float into two different worlds,” Sholars said. “Sometimes it feels like a gray area, but overall with her being a person of color, she’s going to understand some of those situations that we are going through as individuals.”
In regards to Harris’ controversial history as a prosecutor, Sholars said she wants to wait to see how she does in office before she judges her too harshly.
“I wouldn’t be able to hold it against her until she’s actually in office and to see where she goes from there. If she starts totally reforming programs, or helping people in similar situations to those she’s harmed in the past, I think that’s where I would start to really judge her,” Sholars said.
Shelley Hurt is a Professor in the Political Science Department at Cal Poly. In a Zoom interview with Mustang News, she said that while we can and should criticize America and work to improve it, we shouldn’t take this achievement lightly.
“We don’t want to take for granted the fact that something so amazing and inspiring can happen here, because that is something we can all be so proud of,” Hurt said.
Hurt said that Harris, like former President Obama, will have to overcome challenges when it comes to the attitudes of her peers towards her race.
“It’s so sad, that both President Obama, and probably Vice President-Elect Harris, recognize that they have to warm themselves up to the American electorate. Because at least half, as we know from the election turnout, I would argue, have either explicit or latent, racist feelings,” Hurt said.
According to women and gender studies professor Christina Lefevre Latner, the reason it’s taken us so long to elect a woman into higher office stems from the fact that in the past, women weren’t allowed to hold positions that would award them the same credentials and experience as men, and that the effects of that contribute to the way we view women today.
“There’s still a lot of gender bias in the US and in our institutions, not just in politics. It’s difficult for women to get to this place, and to rise to this level as a VP pick. Opportunities for women have changed definitely dramatically over time, but it takes a lot to get to the level that Harris did,” Lefevre Latner said.
Lefevre Latner said that she thinks Harris serving as the vice president will help to correct some of the myths American’s hold about women in government.
“There are a lot of ideas and fears about women being in office and how they’ll govern,” Lefevre Latner said. “Research doesn’t back any of those things up, it actually shows that women are very good in leadership positions and, and do very well and that they bring different views and experiences to the table.”
Lefevre Latner said that Harris will inspire young girls to be able to see themselves as leaders.
“Now young women and girls of all races can really imagine themselves as a vice president, or even possibly as president much more easily. They’ll be able to imagine themselves in other leadership positions too, whether it be mayor, CEO or principal,” Lefevre Latner said. “That’s not something that’s going to be out of the ordinary for them, they’re gonna see Kamala Harris up there and it’s just going to become very normal for them.”
Hurt said that the impacts of Harris’ win will reach far beyond what we can imagine now.
“The impact this is going to have is beyond our wildest dreams right now. We can’t even imagine how profound the impact will be,” Hurt said. “So that’s what I’m excited to see, we just have to have an open mind and wish them all well.”