History = HERstory = OURstory

History = HERstory = OURstory

(screenshot from NBC News)

“Madam Speaker. Madam Vice President… No president has ever said those words from this podium; no president has ever said those words. And it’s about time.”

The President of the United States got it exactly right.  It’s about time!  When President Joe Biden began his address to the joint session of Congress last night by recognizing the historic significance of the two women sharing the dais with him, he acknowledged another important step on the slow but inevitable path forward in our national struggle for gender and racial equality.  Vice President Kamala Harris is the first woman, first person of African American and Asian identity to be the vice president of the United States.  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is the first and still only woman to be elected Speaker of the House (and elected four times at that!).  Vice President Harris and Speaker Pelosi are now first and second in the line of presidential succession, something we hope is never necessary but an important fact nonetheless.

We have never before seen two women of power sitting behind the president during a joint session of Congress.  For almost all of U.S. history — except for the prior years when Speaker Pelosi also sat there — the faces behind the president were always white men.  We saw history before our very eyes last night, and could truly say with a great deal of satisfaction that history is also HERstory — and OUR story, too!  The fact that Speaker Pelosi is a Trinity alumna, Class of 1962, is a well known fact that gives us immense pride in the way she reflects our long institutional commitment to advancing women in leadership and public service.  Vice President Harris is a graduate of Howard University, our neighbors in D.C., and, like Trinity, a special mission institution.  Howard as the nation’s leading HBCU, and Trinity as a women’s college, share the commitment to advancing education and leadership for persons who have been historically marginalized in the hallways and podiums of power.

A comment on Twitter noted that the two most powerful women in the country graduated from great universities in a city that continues to be treated like a colony — so true!  The District of Columbia universities have educated these and other outstanding leaders for our nation, and yet, our city continues to be denied the most fundamental rights to representation in Congress and full self-determination of our own local laws and policies  The presence of Howard and Trinity alumnae on the dais last night must also reinforce the urgent demand for statehood for the District of Columbia!

Trinity students were very excited to see our Trinity sister Speaker Pelosi on the dais.  Mercy Ogutu and Michelle Vasquez both spoke of their respect for the Speaker and Vice President:

Michele Vasquez:  “As a first-generation college student, I am thrilled by the opportunity to see two great women leaders representing our country. I am inspired by their courage and ability to persist despite the circumstances that we may face. They are only a reminder of how much women’s leadership is needed!”

Mercy Ogutu:  “I am inspired by both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris’ effort to work hard towards inclusion for minorities and women’s rights. Learning about their progression of work, has demonstrated their effort to make sure all people know that there is a seat at the table. I believe leadership is a choice, not a position. Both Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Harris, continue to work and create inclusive change for community development, inspiring young leaders to be the change today and tomorrow.”

Some comments on Twitter and elsewhere last night suggested that the presence of Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Harris behind President Biden was really no big deal, that it was still a man giving the big speech and women appearing in subordinate roles.  Well, yes, that is one interpretation, and we certainly agree that the presence of the two women in positions of power does not mean we have arrived at our final destination.  But social change is hard, it takes a very long time, and it’s never quite done.

OUR story will not be finished in our lifetimes, and perhaps never.  We celebrate the successes along the way, and we need to recognize the moments of achievement as incentive to keep pressing onward.  Even when the glorious day comes when a woman is standing at the lectern giving the big speech, we will not be done.  True gender, racial and social equality for all persons is a continuous challenge, a process across generations that must keep lifting people in places we have yet to touch.  We women who have made it to positions of influence, authority power must never forget the millions of women who still suffer discrimination, poverty, violence and marginalization, unable to realize their full potential because of ingrained prejudices and both official and unofficial policies that repress and discourage opportunities.  That’s why we persist at Trinity as a university still devoted to advancing women’s education and leadership.  And from that original mission we have come to a deep understanding and commitment to racial equity and justice as well, because the conditions that limit and oppress women are even more egregious and harmful for persons of different races and ethnicities

We congratulate our sisters on the dais for making progress!  We look forward to writing the next chapters in OUR story!