Harris sees sexism in the Senate as a 'very real issue'
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris told university leaders Thursday that female senators are treated differently than men — including during Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's rocky confirmation process. "Gender is still a very real issue, including in what is supposed to be the most deliberative body in the world, the United States Senate," the California Democrat said at a "fireside chat" with the heads of historically black colleges and universities, a group with which she has strong ties as the only HBCU graduate among the top-tier presidential contenders. "It comes up in a variety of ways. In the Senate in particular, around the Kavanaugh hearings," she said. "The women would talk about how reporters would keep coming up to them to talk about this issue of sexual assault, while they would look to the male senators and ask questions about the tax bill or about foreign policy ... As if the women don’t have or don’t want to be registered as having opinions on those other issues." "There’s still a lot of work to be done," she said. "There is that — the assumption that your gender will dictate your priorities." In June 2017, Harris was cut off by male Republican colleagues twice in a week when she was aggressively posing questions at a Senate intelligence hearing, prompting accusations from some observers about sexism though also elevating the former prosecutor's profile. On Thursday, Harris took questions from a room of about two dozen HBCU leaders who are in Washington, D.C., this week to advocate for greater support for their schools. Harris is a Howard University graduate and a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the oldest Greek-letter organization established by African-American college-educated women, and she's incorporated those credentials into her presidential campaign. The senator urged HBCU students to get involved in politics — to join existing campaigns and "get on that path toward running for office." "If we are not in the room and at the table where the decisions are being made, our voices will not be heard, our priorities will not be met. That is just reality," Harris said. "It is a representative democracy by design. It is not always a representative democracy in the way that it plays out." Harris also stressed an urgent need to get more HBCU graduates into technology fields, "because there is a dearth." "Talk about one industry in particular, among the many, that is way behind in terms of diversity," she said. She pointed to artificial intelligence as one example "beyond the obvious reasons" that diversity is needed in the field, warning that racial bias is unintentionally being built into AI. "AI is a function of what the machine is taught," Harris said. "As we know as educators, who is doing the teaching may have something to do with what is taught." "The thing about AI now is, it is then inbred into decisions that are made by machines," she said. "And unlike if you are stopped on the road by somebody or in a department, store and you can figure out if bias informed that interaction, you can’t do that — it will be almost beyond detection." "We have got to be at the forefront of talking about and requiring that there be methods of teaching and detection around bias in ways that are forming AI," she told the HBCU leaders. "This thing is already out of the bag. It is present it is already informing so many decisions ... We’re on the cusp of almost being too late to enter this conversation." Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine