Following in the footsteps of Shirley Chisolm, the first black major-party candidate for president, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris ran a campaign that was newsworthy in itself as the seat of the presidency is not one that has even come close to being occupied by a black woman. However, Harris withdrew from the race on Tuesday, citing a shortage of funds.
Though many had seen her candidacy as a potential trailblazing step for the black community, others were uneasy with the idea of Harris as president — even at her alma mater, Howard University.
Founded shortly after the demise of slavery in 1867, Howard University has historically been an incubator for change. Students always have something to say, whether it is supporting the pioneering Brown vs. Board of Education case, demonstrating during the Civil Rights Movement or staging the Spring 2018 Administration Building sit-in to protest their housing crisis.
Among these generations of Howard students was Kamala Harris, a double major in political science and economics who would go on to join the debate team, demonstrate against apartheid (in typical Howard fashion) and join Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She graduated in 1986 and went on to earn a law degree. After her academic career, she made history as the first woman to be elected as Attorney General in California. Additionally, she became California’s third female senator and the first of either Indian or Jamaican ancestry.
On Jan. 21, 2019, which happened to fall on Martin Luther King Day, Harris announced that she would be seeking the Democratic nomination for the 2020 presidential election. On the same day, she visited Howard University to address students and build momentum.
Until the suspension of her campaign, Harris had been campaigning throughout the country and participating at the Democratic debates. The next 2020 Democratic Party presidential debate on Thursday, Dec. 19, at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles will be the first one without her.
Sophomore history major Nasir Bakare thinks that both Howard students and Americans in general should have given Harris a chance.
“I think she has the interest of black people at heart now, but she does have a controversial past,” Bakare said. “However, I don’t think that should take away from her accomplishments and what she’s currently trying to do now.”
Chances are, if you ask a Howard University student about Harris, comments will range from praise to accusations that she was a cop. Student opinion on Harris is far from unified, though many praise the historical candidacy and the fact that a Howard alum was running for president.
However, being a Bison wasn’t enough for Bakare.
“You shouldn’t develop an opinion about anybody because they went to the same school as you,” Bakare said just before Harris’ announcement. “Howard graduates do stuff; this isn’t anything new, so I’m not just going to vote for her because she went to Howard. Don’t do that; that’s not smart.”
On the other hand, many were concerned with her past work as Attorney General in California. Throughout her career and campaign, she has been criticized for her actions and stances pertaining to criminal justice reform and has been accused of keeping potentially innocent people in prison.
“Based on her actions as the Attorney General, I can’t say that I’m upset that she dropped the race,” Zoe Crooks, a junior architecture major, said. “I didn’t believe that she could win. We’re still in a time where people would not vote for a black woman.”
Now that Harris has resigned, Bakare has a different opinion. “This situation shows the problems of the black community, because we don’t support each other as we should,” Bakare said, citing Harris’ shortage of campaign donations.
“What she did was powerful and necessary,” he said. “It was important seeing a black woman run for president.”
It has been the honor of my life to be your candidate. We will keep up the fight. pic.twitter.com/RpZhx3PENl
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) December 3, 2019