Michelle Obama thesis was on racial divide
"My experiences at Princeton have made me far more aware of my 'blackness' than ever before," the future Mrs. Obama wrote in her thesis introduction. "I have found that at Princeton, no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my white professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don't belong. Regardless of the circumstances underwhich I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second."
During a presidential contest in which the term "transparency" has been frequently bandied about, candidates have buried a number of potentially revealing documents and papers. In Hillary Rodham Clinton's case, there's been a clamoring for tax records, White House memos and other material the candidate's team has chosen to keep from release. The 96-page Princeton thesis, restricted from release by the school's Mudd Library, has also been the subject of recent scrutiny.
Earlier this week, commentator Jonah Goldberg remarked on National Review Online, "A reader in the know informs me that Michelle Obama's thesis ... is unavailable until Nov. 5, 2008, at the Princeton library. I wonder why."
"Why a restricted thesis?" asked blogger-pastor Louis Lapides on his site Thinking Outside the Blog. "Is the concern based on what's in the thesis? Will Michelle Obama appear to be too black for white America or not black enough for black America?"
Attempts to retrieve the document through Princeton proved unsuccessful, with school librarians having been pestered so much for access to the thesis that they have resorted to reading from a script when callers inquire about it. Media officers at the prestigious university were similarly unhelpful, claiming it is "not unusual" for a thesis to be restricted and refusing to discuss "the academic work of alumni."
The 1985 thesis provides a trove of Michelle Obama's thoughts as a young woman, with many of the paper's statements describing the student's world as seen through a race-based prism.
Perhaps one of the most germane subjects approached in the thesis is a section in which she conveyed views about political relations between black and white communities. She quotes the work of sociologists James Conyers and Walter Wallace, who discussed "integration of black official(s) into various aspects of politics" and notes "problems which face these black officials who must persuade the white community that they are above issues of race and that they are representing all people and not just black people," as opposed to creating "two separate social structures."
To research her thesis, the future Mrs. Obama sent an 18-question survey to a sampling of 400 black Princeton graduates, requesting the respondents define the amount of time and "comfort" level spent interacting with blacks and whites before they attended the school, as well as during and after their University years. Other questions dealt with their individual religious beliefs, living arrangements, careers, role models, economic status, and thoughts about lower class blacks. In addition, those surveyed were asked to choose whether they were more in line with a "separationist and/or pluralist" viewpoint or an "integrationist and/or assimilationist" ideology.
Just under 90 alums responded to the questionnaires (for a response rate of approximately 22 percent) and the conclusions were not what she expected. "I hoped that these findings would help me conclude that despite the high degree of identification with whites as a result of the educational and occupational path that black Princeton alumni follow, the alumni would still maintain a certain level of identification with the black community. However, these findings do not support this possibility."