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Two visions of higher education illuminate the chasm between Harris and Pence

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In her speech at the Democratic Convention, Harris made sure that the audience knew she had attended Howard University, a historically Black college and university (HBCU) and was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., which was founded at Howard in 1908. Harris has talked extensively about the school’s impact on her life: who she is as a person, a Black and Asian woman and leader. It was her alma mater that shaped many of her political views.

Pence, on the other side, attended Hanover College. Publicly, however, his closest link during his vice presidency has been to Liberty University. Pence has done everything he can to highlight that connection. He delivered a commencement speech at Liberty in 2019, asking the audience to consider him more than just a politician courting their support; he urged them to think of him as a “brother in Christ” and a champion of their values. The vice president also took pains to showcase his close, friendly relationship with former Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr., posing for smiling photos together.

Why have Harris and Pence made such public moves to associate themselves with Howard and Liberty? Especially since the GI Bill following World War II, there has not been one system of higher education in the United States, but many. Like the rest of American society, higher education has splintered and divided, as colleges and universities promote themselves as embodying different visions of what higher education should be, with unique experiences and cultures.

Ties to Howard and Liberty then — a HBCU and a conservative, religious institution — send clear messages to voters about what values each campaign represents and to whom the candidates are appealing.

Howard University, founded in 1867, is an example of possibility and opportunity. Since its beginnings, the institution has