Author Archives: pusjp

Physicist Prioritizes Climate Change in Third Campaign

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State Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker has made global warming one of his key issues. Photo Credit: Brian Rokus

By Emily Barrera Cedeno 

Miami Lakes, FLA.

President Trump may be the first person who comes to mind as a politician with zero political background, but the phenomenon started earlier than his campaign.

Until 2014, the thought of getting involved in politics had never crossed Andrew Zwicker’s mind. But one day, the physicist’s boss at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab suggested he should run for Congress. It was a casual comment, but as more people in Zwicker’s life brought up the idea, he began to entertain becoming a politician.

Zwicker gained the courage to enter the political world with few connections and even less advertising. Zwicker, a first-time candidate with a small reach, expected to get a whopping one percent of the vote. But when Election Day came, he amassed eight percent of the vote. Though he exceeded his expectations, he still lost the congressional race.

The loss did not discourage him. The next year, he began the process of running for the New Jersey Assembly in the 16th district. This time, he built a team, spread his message, visited the communities in his district, and built a platform. He honed in on a specific focus: he would help create jobs, preserve the environment, and protect democracy.

On election night, Zwicker won by a margin of only 78 votes. He was not only the first physicist elected assemblyman of the district, he was also the first Democrat to win there. Zwicker says that he won because of independent voters, and that his victory was a shining example of how important every citizen’s voice is.

His scientific experience gives him a different perspective than the candidates who have a typical political background. Through his work as a scientist, he’s an expert in climate change. He’s written legislation to create a more environmentally friendly New Jersey, such as his bill to make sure that the state follows the Paris climate agreement, which became law in 2018.

Zwicker concedes that, at times, he can be out of his depth. He often recognizes his inexperience and with a smile says, “I am not qualified.” He mentions that with each year, he grows a little wiser. But it has been slow-going. He good-naturedly jokes that it was “harder for [him] to become a quote-unquote politician than to get a Ph.D.”

Now, he’s campaign- ing for his third term. He’s sure that he can only do better in helping the people of New Jersey as time goes on, especially now that he’s more experienced as a politician.

There’s a lot of hesitance to trust people with no political background or experience who insert themselves into political spaces and brand themselves as politicians. While these concerns are not unfounded, Zwicker is an example that inexperience is not something to fear in candidates, whether they’re in local or federal government. Zwicker shows that a member of government—just like in most occupations—can learn on the job.

A Lab Report On Princeton’s Ph.D. Assemblyman

By Kesia Oliveros

Doral, Fla.

OBJECTIVE:
To find the results of the election of a representative with a doctorate degree in physics and a career as a physicist to the highly energetic environment of the state legislature as well as to determine the effectiveness of experimentation in this environment.

THEORY:
If one elects a scientist to office then his proposed bills will be evidence-based, effective and conscious of long-term solutions.

PROCEDURE:
1. Inspire a lifelong advocate for science and education to run for elected office to champion unlimited clean energy, deterring global warming, and curing cancer.
2. Win the first election by a margin of 78 votes with bipartisan support.
3. Support declared goals of job growth and environmental protection with bills that:
• Require Rutgers University to study gun violence.
• Incentivize veterans to attend college and demand that they receive credit for their service.
• Provide grants for new farmers to implement sustainable agricultural practices as well as providing tax incentives to those who lease land to new farmers.
• Require New Jersey to uphold the Paris climate agreement.
• Add student representatives to the board of Rutgers University.
• Encourage planning for the location of electric car chargers.
• Provide a loan forgiveness plan for STEM professionals.
• Make the bog turtle the state reptile of New Jersey.

CONCLUSIONS:
The election of a pragmatist with a solution-based mindset that aims to improve the community’s future welfare is what the people wanted when they elected Andrew Zwicker in 2015. Charming and charismatic, Zwicker is down to earth and willing to admit that like the rest of his voters he’s “making it up as I go,” at least when it comes to his new life in politics.

It is a different type of trust that he gains from his supporters. Maybe every policy won’t be successful, but by experimenting in the legislature, he’s aiming to improve his district.

FUTURE EXPERIMENTS INCLUDE:
Engineers for Secretaries of Defense, data scientists for governors and chemists for senators.

Program Builds Racial Literacy

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Priya Vulchi (left) and Winona Guo co-founded CHOOSE, which aims to build racial literacy among students. Photo credit: Brenna Kennedy-Moore

By Nellie Ghosheh and Yelena Serrato 

Burbank, ILL. and Floydada, Texas

While walking laps around their high school’s track during gym class, Winona Guo and Priya Vulchi began a conversation that exposed a deep interest in racial literacy. This connection arose from their shared experiences as children of immigrants and women of color.

These conversations led them to co-found CHOOSE in 2014 when they were both sophomores at Princeton High School. The nonprofit aims to drive meaningful conversations about race among grade-school students by creating a curriculum based on racial literacy.

“We had a personal responsibility to do something,” Guo said.

Guo and Vulchi define racial literacy as improving the world by sharing stories about race and identity. They want people to feel proud of their own background while also taking the time to listen to other people’s stories, no matter who they are. To them, racial literacy is not something that can just come to you, you need to aspire to search for it.

Racial literacy, they said, has two different barriers: a heart gap and a mind gap. The heart gap is an inability to understand other people’s experiences, while the mind gap is the inability to understand the systematic racism of many different countries, especially the United States.

Both have given two TED talks and published a book, “Tell Me Who You Are,” which features interviews with more than 150 Americans across the country about race and forms the backbone of the organization.

In order to pursue their understanding of racial literacy, Vulchi and Guo decided to take a gap year before they started college.

Vulchi and Guo are now sophomores at Princeton and Harvard, respectively. By going their separate ways, they were able to reach a wider audience, they said, and spread their message to even more people. “We thought splitting up would be the smarter thing to do,” Vulchi said.

Vulchi and Guo are hoping to expand their knowledge of racial literacy into law enforcement and business, and they are planning to visit Puerto Rico as they vow to immerse themselves in a wide variety of lives.

“This has been a tough challenge for us,” Guo said. “We really love learning.”

Vulchi and Guo said that other students shouldn’t be afraid to start something similar in their own community.

“Do not wait,” Guo said, “until you are out of school to do what you want to do.”

Princeton Eviction Lab Chronicles National Challenge

By Natalee Litchfield

Molalla, Ore.

On his first day as an intern for a legal aid office in Cincinnati, Ohio, Scott Overbey was feeling hopeful. His boss had invited him to witness an average day in court, where he thought he’d see the law making a difference in people’s lives.

But on this day, a grandmother was being sued by her landlord. Her apartment had become mold-infested and her granddaughter had asthma, which made the home a danger zone. The grandmother had been holding her rent in an escrow fund while waiting to get the mold removed from her apartment. But the landlord refused to remove it, and sued her for the money. While the judge was examining her nails and fiddling with her watch, the grandmother gave her testimony. Overbey was aghast at what he saw. He wanted to do something to help people like the woman in court. That’s why he joined sociologist Matthew Desmond’s Eviction Lab at Princeton.

This story is not an extraordinary one, as eviction is a widespread epidemic in the United States. Researchers at Princeton’s Eviction Lab are studying the problem, and trying to figure out precisely how to fix it.

Desmond, who founded the lab in 2017, began his work on eviction in 2008 by living alongside poor tenants in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Through studying the relationship between tenants and their landlords in poor communities, he became the first to recognize the need for a comprehensive set of data in order to analyze the crisis. In his acclaimed book, “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” he coined the idea that “eviction functions as a cause, not just a condition of poverty.”

“Between 2000 and 2016, the number [of evictions] we estimate is 84 million,” said Joe Fish, a newly hired research assistant at the Eviction Lab. That number accounts only for the cases filed in court, meaning the actual total is likely higher.

While there isn’t a singular cause for the eviction crisis, much of it can be attributed to a tremendous imbalance of power between tenants and landlords.

“Landlords definitely know what the rules [are] and what the laws are, but the tenants don’t always,” said Mary- Ann Placheril, an intern at the lab. Although there are restrictions to prevent landlords from discriminating against their tenants, the laws vary from one state to the next. In leases, landlords often use trivial fine print restrictions that are easily violated such as “no pets” or “no loud noises” in order to kick people out of their homes.

Fish and Overbey both hope that the work of the Eviction Lab will spur policy that changes the balance of power between landlord and tenant. In identifying the top 10 cities with the highest eviction rates, the lab was able to prompt community- based legislation that extends tenant rights throughout the United States.

“We have found that cities, when finding out they have high eviction rates, enact legislation,” Fish said. The fact is that the numbers the Eviction Lab are finding matter immensely. It is up to judges, legislators, home developers and landlords to fix the crisis. It means the difference between living and hardly surviving—for grandmothers like the one in Ohio, children, parents, and everyone else too.

For One Reporter’s Family, Eviction Experience Is Personal

By Aminata Touray

East Orange, N.J.

I woke up to banging on my door. I thought it was the kids my mom babysits. Instead, it was my landlord. He barged into our apartment in East Orange, N.J., where my family had lived for 17 years.

“You guys have to leave. Now,” he said.

I will never forget the look in my mom’s eyes: anger and embarrassment.

“You’re gonna do this in front of my kids?” she said. The landlord ushered us out. I was still in my pajamas.

Between 2000 and 2016, more than 84 million evictions happened in America—and that’s almost certainly an undercount. Communities of color, like mine, have been the hardest hit.

These statistics come from the Eviction Lab at Princeton. More than a dozen researchers there are gathering data about evictions to raise awareness and change public policy. Professor Matthew Desmond created the lab after the publication of his book, “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” which vaulted the eviction crisis into the national conversation. Joe Fish, a research assistant at the lab, said, “If you don’t have a home, then kind of nothing else matters.”

Fish began working at the lab this summer. He decided to study evictions after seeing a close friend in his hometown of San Francisco kicked out of his place. He was surprised to discover that eviction wasn’t just a symptom of poverty—it was a cause.

There’s an imbalance of power between landlords and tenants, Fish said. Some landlords turn away renters with kids; others reject renters with housing vouchers. Even if you get the apartment, your lease is often larded with clauses that allow a landlord to easily break it if, for example, you have a pet or make too much noise. Because renters are often not aware of their rights, they can fall for discriminatory tactics. Then, once they’ve been evicted, it’s harder to rent a new apartment.

The Eviction Lab researchers hope their findings lead to new laws and more stability for renters. “Housing should basically be a right,” Fish said. People who’ve been evicted aren’t lazy or con artists; in many cases, he said, they’re working people struggling to navigate a system that’s rigged against them.

As for my family, we soon found a new apartment. But within a year, we were threatened with eviction again.

Residents Confront Gentrification

By Sabrin Sultana

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Shirley Satterfield’s family has been living in Princeton for six generations. She was born in Philadelphia but was raised in Princeton’s Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. After college, she moved away, and when she came back in 1981, everything had changed.

Satterfield said she felt like “African Americans were not recognized in the community” for their hard work, and she worried that Princeton was “losing its history.” Outsiders started coming to this neighborhood, which forced African Americans to leave Witherspoon- Jackson for areas they could afford to live in.

Satterfield has created a tour for the Historical Society of Princeton to memorialize the neighborhood and the town’s extensive African American history. During the Great Migration, African Americans moved from the Deep South looking for jobs. They settled near the University, but much of that neighborhood was later demolished to make way for Palmer Square, a collection of high-end restaurants and shops.

African American Princetonians then moved to the Witherspoon- Jackson neighborhood. Witherspoon-Jackson included Princeton’s first integrated lower school, the “Colored Cemetery” where prominent African Americans are buried, and Miss Vann’s Ice Cream Parlor, one of many businesses run out of private homes.

Eventually, however, prices in the neighborhood began to rise. Now many properties cost as much as $1 million — far beyond what many families can afford.

Satterfield said she “wants the town’s history to stay forever.” But historical houses are either being renovated or knocked down in favor of more modern structures. In the meantime, the high prices are forcing people out.

Sharon “Nini” Campbell’s family has lived in Princeton since the 1930s. “People who grew up here can’t afford it,” she said. Campbell, 70, lives in a one-bedroom affordable housing unit in the Waxwood building, which used to be Princeton’s first integrated lower school.

Witherspoon-Jackson was too expensive for Debora Lapointe, who spoke to a reporter at a park in the neighborhood. So was every other area near the University. The 44-year-old had little choice but to live in Griggs Farm, a low-income community in Princeton.

Area Programs Aim To Address Child-Care Crisis

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A teacher reads to children at the Princeton Nursery School. Photo courtesy of Princeton Nursery School

By Amoni Hinton

Essex, Md.

On Leigh Avenue, in between the aging homes, housing construction sites, and un-level sidewalks, you stumble upon a two-story home that has more to it than meets the eye. As you walk up the faded yellow wooden steps, you enter into a land of opportunity for the next generation. Located in the John Witherspoon community—once the heart of the African American population in Princeton—is the Princeton Nursery School.

The school, which recently celebrated its 90th anniversary, is a resource for low-income families in need of daycare. From 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, children between the ages of 2 and a half to 5 years old are fed breakfast, lunch, and a snack.

Executive director Rosanda Wong has been leading the school for two years. During that time, she saved the nursery from possibly closing down, started a program that provides each child with hygiene necessities called Bubbles and Brushes, and began a program that allows students to take home meals for the weekends called Send Hunger Packing.

Wong continues to raise money to renovate the roof and playground and for any other possible needs for the children and the school. Wong said that even though all of the staff at the nursery are underpaid, they love their jobs. Their mission is to provide an exceptional preschool education and childcare for low-income families.

Not far from the Princeton Nursery School is another building that houses opportunities for young children. Head east on Leigh Avenue to Clay Street, and you’ll find the Henry Pannell Learning Center, which is supported and run by the YMCA’s Princeton Young Achievers Program.

The center provides after-school homework assistance, tutoring, and literacy support for children from kindergarten to 5th grade. Pannell prepares students for the next day in the classroom and gives them skills to expand their resources.

“All of the parents are thankful from the beginning,” said Leigh Zink, who has been working with the YMCA for 12 years and has tremendous experience dealing with children in low-income neighborhoods.

Running non-profit organizations like these are not for the faint of heart. They have to fight and go above and beyond in ways they never imagined. Even for families receiving assistance, parents need to work long hours, and children walk around in tattered clothing. The kids can suffer from depression and bullying.

“The more you can give them,” said Zink, “the more successful they can be.”