March 2009 Issue • Volume 37 • Issue 3

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The First Lady and
Princeton Sociology

by Howard Taylor, Princeton University

I want to expand on the "Did You Know?" column in the February 2009 Footnotes about Michelle Robinson Obama as a sociology major at Princeton University. At Princeton, I was one of her advisers, along with fellow sociologist Walter Wallace. Her thesis, Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community, won a Senior Thesis Prize in the African American Studies Program at Princeton in 1985. As the Director of the Program in African American Studies, now expanded as the Center for African American Studies, I formally presented the award. The thesis was a clever and inventive research design wherein she interviewed African American graduates of Princeton and made comparisons between alumni and then-current African American students. The thesis was first-of-a-kind and now has great historic value. Not surprisingly, she found that Black alums had some mixed feelings about their Princeton experiences, but as a whole felt that their training at Princeton prepared them to return to and contribute to their home communities. These conclusions stand in stark contrast to certain pre-election press accounts, which erroneously made the thesis out to be about the ills of an elitist Princeton education. The thesis was nothing of the kind, but instead a call to Princeton alums to contribute to the betterment of racial-ethnic minorities. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she returned to her home community of South Side Chicago, and this is precisely what she did! There she met now-President Obama while his mentor at a Chicago law firm. The rest is history! logo_small


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