Category Archives: Features

In thesis, Mueller stressed rule of law

By Ngan Chiem

Pennsauken, NJ 

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been preparing for the Russia investigation for more than 50 years.

Mueller is currently investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, including possible collusion by President Donald Trump’s campaign, but 52 years ago, when Mueller was an undergraduate at Princeton, he was fixated on another question.

The future FBI director, then 22, was thinking about Africa.    

In 1966, the International Court of Justice, the judicial branch of the United Nations, ruled on a case deciding whether South Africa had the right to expand apartheid—a system of racial segregation—to nearby Southwest Africa, now known as Namibia. At the time, South Africa had authority over the area, which came with the condition that South Africa would govern humanely and promote peace. It was this promise that encouraged Ethiopia and Liberia to bring the case to the United Nations, claiming apartheid was unethical.

Mueller’s thesis focused on one question: Did the International Court of Justice—or, the World Court —even have the right to rule on the case? The majority opinion at the time was that the Court did.

Historically, the World Court was designed to be a place where sovereign states could request the legal opinion of the United Nations. But the dissent argued that South Africa was completely within its rights under an agreement signed after South Africa took the territory after World War I.

In his thesis, Mueller recognized the legal strength of the dissenting judges’ opinion that the Court had no right to interfere with South Africa. But he also argued that the Court’s ethical responsibility to intervene was written into its mandate. In the face of strong legal arguments on both sides, Mueller turned his attention to the moral issue at the heart of the case: apartheid.

“He’s really saying, when the law is ambiguous, you should do the ethnically right thing,” said Mueller’s thesis adviser Richard Falk, an emeritus professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “That’s an issue that many lawyers don’t understand. And he understood it and at a very early age.”

In the end, Mueller concluded that despite the strength of the argument denying the court’s authority to rule on the issue, it was outweighed by the court’s ethical obligation to preserve human rights. The Court’s decision to take South Africa’s case, he wrote, “was a positive contribution … to the ultimate goal of a world peace founded upon a rule of law.”

Now, more than 50 years later, Mueller stands on the precipice of a decision in the Russia investigation, which is how to handle any potential misconduct by the President of the United States and his campaign. To predict a man’s judgement based on his writing from decades ago can be precarious, especially considering the high stakes. But at least during his undergraduate days, Mueller saw flexibility in the law. “What he wrote as a Princeton senior,” Falk said, remains “quite interesting—and relevant.”

At Princeton, Mueller tackled rule of law issues in thesis

By Prettystar Lopez

Bronx, NY 

During his final year at Princeton University, in 1966, Robert Mueller wrote a senior thesis about the role of the law in a dramatic international crisis. Half a century later, as Special Counsel for the Russia investigation, Mueller finds himself at the center of another complex legal fight, fraught with political and ethical questions. It’s hard not to see parallels between the cases.

Mueller’s thesis concerned a narrow case with global implications. The World Court, or the International Court of Justice (ICJ), was called to rule on a legal complaint against South Africa’s extension of apartheid—the country’s brutal segregationist policy—to neighboring South West Africa (now Namibia). The Court was split on whether it even had the right to rule on the matter. Mueller, too, was conflicted. But he ultimately argued that the court’s job was not just to rule on narrow legal disputes, but large-scale moral questions, like apartheid.

Professor Richard Falk, an emeritus professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and Mueller’s thesis advisor at the time, thinks Mueller’s conclusion may shed light on his handling of the Russia investigation. “What he does is examine these legal arguments carefully and then he said, ‘This court is not just interested in legal analysis, it’s also a court set up to contribute to a more peaceful world, and to help with the promotion of human rights,’” Falk said. “The underlying question [of the Russia investigation] is, did [Trump] or did he not, do things that were subversive to the constitutional democracy? If [Mueller] was consistent with the way he handled his thesis, he would say, ‘We hold president Trump accountable for what he did because it’s very damaging to the quality of democracy.’”

But what if American democracy has bigger problems than Russia? While meddling in the 2016 election is antithetical to the democratic process, it is of little relevance to those who find themselves entangled with problems in their own communities. America isn’t an apartheid state, like South Africa was. Nor is it as racially segregated as when Mueller attended Princeton. But the rise of Donald Trump—with or without Russian help —has inflamed racial divisions that persist from that era.

Mueller built his thesis on the idea that legal bodies have moral responsibilities. And he may well apply those principles in his investigation. Yet, as a nation we face internal dilemmas around race and poverty that have barely been mitigated with the passing of time. To argue that our democracy is suddenly at stake, and that Mueller can save it, our country would have had to be doing well before. And it certainly wasn’t. Whatever Mueller concludes in the Russia investigation, there are broader societal problems he is unlikely to solve.

Princeton a more inclusive place under Lempert

By Jennifer Garcia

Los Angeles, CA

As a Latina, walking down the street anywhere that isn’t home can be frightening and dissociative, with the feeling of not blending in with those around around me. Today, there’s a special layer of sensitivity among the community, which often clouds our mindset and distorts how we navigate the world. 

In Princeton, the narrow, busy streets are filled with small local shops. The cleanliness of the atmosphere makes clear that its residents have money. The people I see walking down the street are mostly white. A person of color, especially one with brown skin and dark hair like me, does not blend in. But the woman who greets me with a smile at the door makes me feel comfortable. She offers information with empathy in her soft voice, treating everyone as equals in her office. 

The woman is Princeton’s mayor, Liz Lempert. Under her leadership, Princeton does not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in immigration cases. Lempert advocates against the detention and deportation of immigrants in Princeton—or anywhere. 

The mayor’s office itself is a representation of her values. Behind Lempert’s desk are compartments decorated with books and family photos. Letters, one of which appeared to be written by a very young child, said “Dear Mayor Lempert” in crayon, with a rainbow and happy face in each corner. 

When discussing the current presidential administration, frustration and disbelief appear on Lempert’s face before she even speaks. When asked about her favorite publications and podcasts, the happiness and lighthearted nature of her persona returns and radiates the room. Lempert’s eyes glimmer as she recalls her childhood in California. Her parents and grandparents were Jewish immigrant, and Lempert still remembers her family’s struggle to assimilate in the United States. Though Lempert is short and slim, she draws attention toward her. Her voice is both quiet and confident, gentle but firm.

Despite the upheaval surrounding immigration across the country, the mayor is proud of her town. She recalls the numerous rallies held in front of the town’s library on June 30, the start of a municipal ID program for immigrants, and ceremonies held for the citizenship for immigrants. While Princeton residents have been supportive, the mayor receives letters filled with hatred sent from elsewhere.

Lempert emphasizes the protection of children and the need to keep immigrants as well as their family and friends informed of their rights and options for protection. “If you’re the victim of a crime,” Lempert explains, “we don’t care what your immigration status is.”

Walking back from her office, I saw the clean streets differently, the white people differently. I didn’t feel so out of place anymore. 

Lempert seeks more welcoming atmosphere

By Julieta Soto

San Diego, CA

Immigrants help make Princeton a better place to live. That’s the message second-term Mayor Liz Lempert emphasized recently in a sit-down interview in her office. 

Lempert, who began her second four-year term as mayor in January 2017, said she aims to create a more welcoming atmosphere for immigrants in the town of nearly 32,000. She enlists the help of organizations who hold events to reach out to minority groups to inform them about resources and their rights. 

That welcoming attitude isn’t only good for the community, but also benefits public safety, Lempert said. Immigrants in Princeton aren’t the source of a lot of crime, but do tend to be victims of crime because assailants assume that undocumented citizens will be too scared to report, she said. To make immigrants feel safer, Lempert said, the town’s police officers are specially trained to build relationships and trust so witnesses feel comfortable talking to law enforcement. 

“If you’re the victim of a crime, we don’t care what your immigration status is,” she said.

Lempert said Princeton is technically not a sanctuary city, because there is no jail in town and thus law enforcement does not face a choice about whether to send detainees to the Immigration and Custom Enforcement. Instead, Princeton is a sanctuary city in spirit, and Lempert aims to make it a place that feels safe and welcoming to immigrants, many of whom have been living in the town for generations.

For Lempert, immigration is personal. Her grandparents were Polish immigrants who experienced culture shock when they arrived in America as teenagers, then managed to build a successful life in America. 

Growing up in San Francisco also showed Lempert the value of a diverse population. “I grew up in a place that was multicultural and that just seemed normal and you see the advantages of that,” she said. 

She has found those same benefits in Princeton, where she said residents speak nearly 50 different languages at home. She loves that her children are able to interact with people from diverse backgrounds. “You can’t learn things like that in a book,” she said. “It’s like there’s something different about having a relationship with somebody, being able to talk to them about their experiences and I think it helps you see where you live in a broader context.”

Teach for America alums recall ‘trial by fire’ of first days in class

By Zahrea Smith 

Dudley, NC

For the first few weeks that Luke Goodwin was teaching for Teach for America, he felt unprepared. 

Goodwin, 32, a Princeton alumnus, said the only teaching experience he had was a “bootcamp” given by the national program. 

 “The first weeks were trial by fire,” he said of teaching history at Felisa Rincon De Gautier Institute for Law and Public Policy in Bronx, New York. “The students were skeptical. I had just graduated and was teaching a couple of 21-year-olds.”

Despite recent controversies surrounding the Teach for America program, such as claims that it’s a resume builder and allegations that TFA teachers are replacing current staff at the schools they serve, two recent participants, including Goodwin, said the program was a positive experience. 

Teach for America is a national teaching organization founded in 1989 by Princeton University graduate Wendy Kopp. Frequently dubbed TFA, it’s a program in which students of select colleges or universities can be deployed to underserved and underemployed schools to teach for two years. As a result of the program, Goodwin said he was even inspired to get a Master’s degree in education. 

Another participant, Dylan Ackerman, 26, worked at a high school called Mariana Bracetti Academy in Philadelphia, Pa. teaching environmental sciences. Ackerman also coached a sports team at the academy. 

Ackerman applied for the program early in his junior year at Princeton and was able to prepare for teaching the next summer. Like most TFA teachers, he completed a five-week training course to prepare for the school year. 

“People in TFA being underprepared is neither right or wrong,” he said. “You’re not prepared until you’re in the classroom. We’re as good if not better than other teachers. No teacher is completely ready.” 

TFA has more resources, and they make sure their teachers understand the community they’re going to be teaching in beforehand, Ackerman said. “You can’t serve your students adequately if you have no knowledge about underserved kids,” Dylan added. 

Another controversial issue surrounding TFA is that there’s sometimes friction between teachers with four-year degrees and TFA teachers. Ackerman said that there are misconceptions surrounding the program, namely that TFA makes it so teachers with four-year degrees get replaced. 

“Those who were laid off weren’t replaced by TFA teachers,” Ackerman said. “Once people actually learn something about the program that’s truthful, they think it’s a good program.” 

Goodwin, a history major, learned about the program through a TFA recruiter his senior year of college. He said his first semester teaching was “rocky.” 

“I feel bad for my first semester students, I was so inexperienced,” he said. 

After the first few months, he said he gained a significant amount of confidence which helped his teaching. 

Goodwin said that TFA is an organization with the goal of promoting social justice. He said his colleagues at school weren’t dismissive of him, but rather “warm.” 

“I wish I could’ve partnered with some of them,” he said. 

When asked about the controversies surrounding the program, Goodwin said he felt too disconnected to give accurate feedback. 

Instead, Goodwin complimented the program and said that TFA makes sure that grades say something meaningful.

Small World forges community around coffee

By Ronell Austin Jr.

Detroit, MI

On the outside of Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Street in Princeton, mint green paint creates a safe haven for customers. Inside, between walls of red brick and shiny wood, calming music plays while patrons sip coffee, eat cookies, and type away on their computers. Despite its status as one of Princeton’s most popular coffee shops, Small World feels like less of a business and more like a community. 

That’s exactly what founders Brant Cosaboom and Jessica Durrie intended when they started the cafe, which has two locations in Princeton, general manager Vincent Jule said. On a bulletin board inside the shop, employees post photos of people wearing Small World Coffee merchandise at places around the world, like the Eiffel Tower. 

That sense of community is cultivated by Small World’s employees. Jule, 39, started working at Small World in early 2001 when his friends helped him get a job. He has worked at the coffee shop because he feels welcome, and he likes how the business runs. Jule, who even met his wife at Small World, appreciates how Princeton embraces its local coffee shop. “The pride of feeling like you’re a part of something is something that has been a part of Small World from the beginning,” he said. 

Another employee, 34-year-old Alexis Lucena, feels a sense of belonging at Small World. “[It’s] really fun because it’s fast-paced,” she said. “It’s about team and family, and being a part of tradition.”

Though there is a Starbucks nearby, Jule believes people choose his cafe because of the community’s support for smaller businesses. “There’s a loyalty there,” he said. “They’re welcomed and appreciated.”  

Even the ordering process at Small World is done in a more traditional way. At big chain coffee shops, employees often type orders into a computer. But at Small World, employees still talk directly to each other. When customers order at the register, the cashier calls it out to a barista nearby. 

But Small World also stands out for its signature product: coffee. The cafe uses Arabica and Robusta beans sourced from all over the world. Small World also offers a variety of food options, including sandwiches, vegan cookies, and gluten-free desserts. Management tries to avoid copying the competition. “We don’t necessarily respond to trends because the philosophy of the coffee is what’s important,” Jule said. “It’s better to perfect what works instead of expanding on new trends.”

Customers appreciate the sense of connectedness they feel at Small World. Rick Flagg, 56, from Princeton, said the cafe offers a “great environment.” The shop’s charm also draws customers from beyond Princeton. Visiting from Washington, D.C., Patrick Caldwell, 32, chose to have his coffee at Small World over other options. The atmosphere at a place like Starbucks, he believes, is generic—especially compared to the “positive energy” of a safe haven like Small World.

“People are mirrors,” Jule said. “What you put out to people are what you are going to get back.” 

The intimacy of Small World

By Adilene Sandoval 

Mattawa, WA

The story begins with two people living in different parts of the world, who shared a desire to create a small place that brought their community together. Jessica Durrie grew up in Rome, Sao Paulo, and Melbourne. Brant Cossaboom spent his youth in Spain and Korea. After meeting while working at an espresso shop in Ann Arbor, Mich., the two strangers fell in love and moved to Princeton. There, they opened their very own cafe near campus, which they named Small World.

People often say “it’s a small world” when describing an unexpected encounter, or when they find something that connects them to other people. Small World Coffee has both. Inside the cafe on Witherspoon Street, conversations blend in with the calm soothing music, while orders are taken. On one wall, the phrase “Small World Around The World” is encircled by photos from people wearing cafe T-shirts in various exotic destinations. When a customer walked in on a Monday afternoon, general manager Vincent Jule greeted her by saying, “Hey, it’s you again.” 

The cafe is well known for its philosophy, which spreads in a simple, genuine form—through its own customers—attracting people from all over the world. “Making people feel good, that’s advertising for us,’’ Jule said, in reference to the shop’s advertising tactics. “It’s a welcoming environment for everyone.” People enter to pause their busy lives and enjoy one of life’s simple things—coffee. 

The look of the cafe has changed since it was founded in 1993, but Jule said Small World’s philosophy has stayed the same: First, provide people with a cup of coffee. Then, influence their lives. He encourages his employees to be genuine with customers, project positive vibes, and remember the regulars’ names—and their orders. According Alexis Lucena, who has worked at Small World for the past four years, the job is all about starting peoples’ days off right. “We have more in common than we think,” Lucena said.

“It makes me the happiest when people who have moved away come back,” Jule said. He explained that people are drawn back not only by coffee, but also because Small World remembers them, and people like being remembered. Today, Small World stands as a reminder that it is indeed a small world after all.