Rutgers-Newark students had a chance to greet Vice-President Kamala Harris yesterday when she landed at Newark Airport enroute to an event in Paramus.
They were among about 100 people, including Newark residents and other locals, invited to meet briefly with Harris on the tarmac after she descended from Air Force Two, said a White House communications official. Harris was in New Jersey for a Democratic National Committee event and afterward taped a spot on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" in New York City.
The day before Harris landed, the vice-president’s staff contacted Rutgers-Newark, asking if a group of students, staff and faculty could be at the airport to meet her when she arrived.
“She looks for opportunities whenever possible to engage with residents and community groups, and this was one of those opportunities,’’ said the White House official. “We were thrilled the Rutgers-Newark students were able to join her.’’
About 20 students were able to attend, along with a handful of Rutgers-Newark staff and leadership. “The fact that she reached out to Rutgers is very powerful,’’ said Shante Palmer, Rutgers-Newark Vice Chancellor for External and Governmental Relations.
“We were asked to assemble a group of students, particularly if we had any Greek organizations that were part of the Divine Nine,’’ explained Palmer, referring to historically Black fraternities and sororities, which Harris has often touted.
Some of the RU-N students who greeted Harris were members of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), the Black sorority she pledged in 1986 while attending Howard University.
For AKA member Sophia Kondilas, meeting Harris was an unforgettable moment. “I feel like I’m part of history now,’’ said Kondilas, a fourth-year student and criminal justice major.
As Harris made her way through the crowd gathered to welcome her–pausing and shaking hands along the way–Kondilas mentioned that her AKA mentor, Inez Brown of Bloomfield, was Harris’s “line sister.’’ Together, they pledged at Howard 37 years ago yesterday.
“She was very excited and said she still has a close relationship with all of her line sisters,’’ said Kondilas.
AKA member Tiffani Bennett believes that Harris has always shined a light on Black Greek organizations because of the tremendous odds they overcame to establish themselves in 1937, when the The National Pan-Hellenic Council was founded. The groups provided solidarity at a time when African-American students, especially women, were denied rights on college campuses.
“We were able to stand there when others were telling us to leave,’’ explained Bennett, a Rutgers Business School student who will graduate this year.
Harris’s historic win to become vice-president, and the backlash she has survived, is symbolic in the same way. “My grandparents would never have thought that a Black woman, a South Asian woman, could break those barriers,’’ said Bennett.
Nuralhoda Elsaid, RU-N’s student body president and Global Issue Committee Chair, told Harris how much it meant to see a woman of color holding one of the most powerful positions in the world.
“She mentioned how in order for her to get to do her job, I need to do my job and how this is a ‘two sided relationship,’” said Elsaid, who is majoring in English and Urban Education at the School of Arts and Sciences-Newark.
Joshnelly Orbe, who will graduate in May from the School of Public Affairs and Administration, also received words of encouragement from Harris. She told the vice president about Dominican Talks, the organization Orbe founded at Rutgers-Newark to foster a sense of community through conversations about Dominican culture and its intersection with racial identity.
“She said ‘that’s awesome’ and to continue spreading the word and creating change,’’ Orbe said.
Orbe and other students at the event were impressed that Harris made an effort to warmly acknowledge each person there to greet her. “She learned their names, made eye contact,’’ said Orbe. “She was very intentional.’’
Additional student groups that were there to meet Harris included the Student Government Association, Black Organization of Students, Inter Fraternity and Sorority Council, and RU Dreamers.