Kamala Harris, former Senator from California, was sworn in as the 49th vice president of the United States Wednesday afternoon, breaking barriers as the first woman, the first Black American and the first South Asian American to serve in the position. The swearing-in ceremony was conducted by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and Latina woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Two bibles were used for the ceremony, at Harris’s request. The first belonged to Regina Shelton, a family friend Harris viewed as a second mother, and the second belonged to the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black member of the Supreme Court.  

LSA junior Jasmine Williams, a member of the University of Michigan’s chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha — a Black sorority of which Harris was a member at Howard University— said she is doubly inspired by Harris’s milestone. Williams is also a member of the executive board of the Black Student Union, which helped make food boxes for those voting on campus back in November.

“Yes, we have had our first African American president, but to see a Black woman be the second most powerful person in the world, most people would say, it is almost surreal sometimes,” Williams said. “That representation and just (thinking) you could be there one day if you work hard and set those goals (is possible), because you now have that example of someone who is there.” 

Public Health junior Subarna Bhattacharya, a member of the Indian dance group Michigan Sahana, said this year’s election stuck with her and her family because they could relate  to Harris.

“I definitely saw more engagement from my parents because there was someone similar to our identity on the ticket, so it was exciting to see my mom talk about what she read on the news,” Bhattacharya said. 

Bhattacharya said even though she disagreed with some choices Harris made as senator, she believes her appointment sets an important precedent and gives her hope for more women of color holding office in the future. 

“Even though I may not agree with a lot of the things Kamala Harris has done in her past political career, I do think that it is still a step forward (for Indian Americans) to see someone whose parents had similar immigrant experiences as ours and who was able to reach a platform this high,” Bhattacharya said. “I think she definitely has created a very strong name for herself and hearing her say ‘I may be the first but I won’t be the last’ is very momentous for me, because in the future when I have children and they mention Kamala Harris, by that time hopefully it will be a normal thing to see women of color in office.”

Bhattacharya’s hope that more women of color will enter political office was echoed in remarks made by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., at Wednesday’s inauguration. In her speech, Klobuchar noted the significance of Harris’s role as the nation’s second in command.

“When she takes the oath of office, little girls and boys across the world will know that anything and everything is possible,” Klobuchar said.  

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer attended the inauguration with her two daughters. In an interview after the event, she said despite the restrictions placed on the event by the COVID-19 pandemic and recent security concerns, she “will never forget” seeing Harris sworn-in. 

“To see (Vice President) Harris take her oath of office and to be sitting with my two daughters as that happened is a moment that I will never forget,” Whitmer said.

Williams said she hopes the Biden administration will put more fuel into funding and supporting historically Black colleges and universities, something Biden has previously promised to do.

“It would be really awesome to see more of an initiative to fund HBCUs and get them onto the same level as universities like the University of Michigan when it comes to funding and resources,” Williams said. “It is something (Harris) could use her platform to do.” 

Daily Staff Reporter Celene Philip can be reached at celenep@umich.edu. 

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