A group of select Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) students had the unique and rare opportunity to speak with a powerhouse official overseeing trade for the United States as part of the Biden-Harris Administration.  Katherine Tai, the very first Asian American US trade representative, paid a visit to the JCSU campus. The government trade lawyer is also the first woman of color period to hold her position. While at the North Carolina university, she prioritized addressing issues like the Biden-Harris Administration’s Build Back Better Agenda and trade policy, as well as racial equity and the state of HBCUs. Her visit is part of a series of stops where she’ll connect with key groups in the North Carolina region.

The honor to have Tai on campus was not only shared with JCSU students, but its administration as well. “We are delighted to host Ambassador Tai on campus today,” shared Johnson C. Smith University President Clarence D. Armbrister J.D.  He emphasized just how important discussions on trade are in the United States today. “As the nation’s second largest financial hub and the headquarters of Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies, trade is important to Charlotte because of the impact it has on the economic vitality of the region,” shared Armbrister. He continued, “We are very fortunate to have the nation’s top trade official share her knowledge and insight with our students because many of them are planning for careers in the region’s companies that have international scope. The ambassador’s visit has afforded our students the unique opportunity to meet a skilled negotiator and talented advisor at the top of her field. It speaks volumes that Ambassador Tai understands the value of acknowledging the wealth of talent and bright minds at JCSU – Charlotte’s historically Black university. I know our students will remember this experience of interacting with her, and I hope it opens their minds to the possibilities of careers in economic diplomacy and trade enforcement.

Tai met with about 20 JCSU students, including the JCSU SGA President and campus royalty: Mister and Miss JCSU. “I appreciate this wonderful opportunity to discuss trade with the nation’s top trade official, Ambassador Tai,” said JCSU freshman Justin Nixon. “Her visit to Johnson C. Smith University is important because it shows that people in positions of authority and influence recognize the need to interact with students at historically Black colleges and universities. JCSU and other HBCUs educate students who are as intellectually curious, knowledgeable, talented and ambitious as students at other universities…”

HBCU Buzz was able to sit down with Tai to ask a few questions about how the Biden-Harris Administration will support HBCU students and others in our country. 

With Tai’s focus on trade as the lead US representative, we asked how the Worker-Centered Trade Policy can improve the job market for new college graduates. The policy is part of the Build Back Better campaign, and was created stimulate the economy in a way that empowers American workers and boosts wage growth. “What’s really important,” she explained, “is that we also make sure that our trade policies are designed to reinforce our other domestic investment policies. So whether it’s the infrastructure build or the transformative investments in our people that this administration is working on, these policies are going to work together to create more opportunities, more jobs and more prosperity for our students when they come out of school.”

Tai was asked about the importance of students being able to access factual information on the Biden Administration’s initiatives on trade and racial equity. Her response emphasized the value of her visit and of transparency at the highest levels. “America is a great country and I mean that in terms of the size but also in terms of the talent that we have and the potential that we have,” she began. “So my coming to an HBCU and getting the chance to sit down with the students here to talk about trade policy to hear what their questions are and to let them know that on behalf of the US trade representative’s office that I care about what they think about what they know in terms of what we’re doing. We are going to work in every way that we can. We’re going to think outside the box, we’re going to stretch ourselves to make policies that are inclusive and that create opportunities for the students here. We want to make sure that the economy that we  put America on track to have is one that is going to be strong and vibrant for all of them to contribute to and to lead in.”

When asked how a presidential administration can ensure racial equity for HBCU students and others around the country, Tai expressed that it’s a top priority for our current president.  “There are actually a number of executive orders that the president’s put out requiring each of the agencies and components of the government to really think hard and to work on initiatives in each of our disciplines to promote diversity inside the agency,” she shared.

 “It’s just the spirit of this administration to be inclusive and to understand that a strong economy is built on tapping the potential of all Americans.” Thank you for your visit, Ambassador Tai. We cherish this type of thought leadership and grassroot communication.