Montclair State University welcomed Vice President Kamala Harris to its campus on Friday, Oct. 8, where she spoke to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill and a roundtable of women on the issue of accessible and affordable childcare, which is part of President Joe Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion spending bill.
The day was unlike any other at the university with a Clove Road closure, police staked out at every corner and the clear abundance of Secret Service wherever one turned. The children at Ben Samuels Children’s Center, where the discussion took place, continued to play as everyone else around them prepared for the vice president’s arrival.
Harris began the roundtable discussion by thanking Murphy and Sherrill for their continued efforts to champion many issues on the administration’s agenda.
“In these days of so many crises, the true leaders have just been revealed, in terms of having the ability to take on some of the most difficult issues and do it with courage, do it with determination and conviction,” Harris said.
She praised Murphy’s use of the American Rescue resources, including putting $100 million of the resources toward childcare in the state of New Jersey, going on to say that our country is strongest when everyone is able to participate.
“We should support, as a society that says that every person should have a meaningful opportunity to work, that [working parents] should have a meaningful opportunity to parent their children, and to participate not only in their community, but in our economy to pursue whatever may be their passions and their dreams,” Harris said.
According to Harris, each state has areas where childcare is not accessible, called childcare deserts, and nearly half of New Jersey lives in a childcare desert. In New Jersey, 15% of the average family’s income is spent on childcare, which both Harris and Biden believe no one should have to spend more than five to seven percent of their income on.
Harris highlighted the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on women’s unemployment in correlation with childcare.
“Two million women left the workforce. And the main reason that many of them did is the unavailability of childcare,” Harris said. “And let’s be very clear: a working person cannot go to work if they have children if there’s no one to take care of their children. It is that basic.”
Harris concluded her opening statement by highlighting that the focus on childcare is long overdue and that she has faith in the leaders at the table to bring it to fruition.
“In the larger context, this is also about where we stand in the world,” Harris said. “And we are falling behind as a nation, and we need to catch up, and we need to do better.”
Shante Palmer, vice chancellor of external government relations for Rutgers University in Newark, was one of the community leaders at the roundtable who had the chance to speak to Harris. Palmer, who was a Montclair State graduate, said she was there to elevate the talking point of students who work full time in need of childcare assistance.
“Firstly, I was terrified to be in the presence of such powerful and amazing women, as well as the governor,” Palmer said. “But talking about childcare and aftercare, before care and the care of our children is of utmost importance.”
Outside of the conference room was Tanya Miller, the assistant director of the early intervention program and acting associate director of Ben Samuels Children’s Center. She gave her opinion of the Biden administration’s efforts to make childcare more accessible.
“I think early childhood education and care is very important for families, particularly with families who have children with developmental disabilities or delays,” Miller said. “They need a place where they can have affordable educational resources for their children, as well as therapeutic resources for their children with knowledgeable, caring and nurturing therapists, [a] support team and teachers who are well educated and suited to be in the classroom to meet the needs in an inclusion setting.”
Sherrill spoke highly of Harris’ visit as she left the event.
“It was great to have the vice president here,” Sherrill said. “She reminded us that she has [New] Jersey connections, her husband is from around here. So it was great to have her back to talk about critical issues to New Jersey.”
Across the street, students waited for a glimpse of the vice president as she departed. Claudia Guglielmo, a senior family science and human development major, was happy Harris came to Montclair State.
“I’m excited for her to come to campus, I know [Biden] came here a couple years ago,” Guglielmo said. “I know it’s a cool thing for the students.”
Members and supporters of the Make the Road New Jersey organization were there to remind Harris of the Biden administration’s immigration promises. Lyla Salyani, a freshman chemistry major, was one of the demonstrators.
“We want to welcome Kamala Harris to New Jersey, but we also want to give her a reminder as to why she is in office in the first place,” Salyani said. “In her campaign, Biden and Harris both promised that they wanted to give citizenship for all, however, in their time in office, we have yet to see anything pass their desk.”
After the event, a motorcade escorted Harris off the premises as she waved to spectating students from her car window, ending a historic day for Montclair State.