Five Takeaways from Civil Rights Defender & Cornell in Washington Alum Joe Margulies
We sat down with Joe Marguiles, Professor of Law and Cornell in Washington alum (Spring ’82) to talk about his career, his experiences in DC, and the ever-growing importance of engagement. Here are the five key things we took away from the conversation:
1. If you feel isolated in Ithaca, you’re not the only one.
Professor Joe Margulies came to Cornell as an undergraduate from a suburb of Washington, D.C. He was, as he puts it, “yet another kid from the East Coast who went to Cornell.” He was a student of history and is sure he would major in it again if he had to make the choice 35 years later. But after trudging through three years of Cornell feeling isolated and irrelevant on the Ithaca campus, Margulies quit school as a junior and moved back to D.C. to find a job.
After spending some time away from campus, Margulies toyed with the idea of not returning to Cornell at all. His family urged him to complete his Cornell degree, and so he began researching ways to get Cornell credit without having to be on campus. That research drove him to the Cornell in Washington program. Margulies participated in the Cornell in Washington in the Fall of ’82 and graduated from Cornell in the Spring of 1982. Looking back on it, Margulies says that his time away from campus was one of the most transformative decisions he’s ever made.
2. You may not get the job you want when you’re starting out. But you’ll find a way to make things work.
During his time off-campus, Margulies looked for volunteer work near Washington, D.C. He wanted to work for a project that was collecting oral histories of individuals who lived in rural Appalachia during the Great Depression. Sounds cool, right? “Well, I didn't get that job,” Margulies said. His second choice was to work as an investigator in the Public Defender's Service for D.C. That job — the one that wasn’t technically the one he wanted the most — inspired him to graduate from Cornell, start a similar program at the Public Defender’s Office in Minneapolis, attend law school, and continue a career in criminal defense ever since.
3. You should seek out opportunities for myth-busting.
Margulies has a long history of representing individuals from vilified populations. Soon after graduating from Northwestern School of Law, Margulies moved down to Texas to represent men and women who were on death row. Years later after 9/11, he became a Guantanamo Bay challenger during his work as Counsel of Record in Rasul v. Bush (2004). Now, Margulies represents Abu Zubaydah, who was the first person subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques under the Bush Administration.
Margulies says this work is so challenging because the public often conflates what vilified populations have allegedly done with who they are as individuals. “People often say, ‘He’s a murderer … a demon, a monster, the other.’ Imprisonment enables us to create that separation.” Eventually, Margulies got so frustrated with siloed public narratives that he became disillusioned with the law. Now, he focuses on recognizing and affirming the humanity of his clients by hearing their stories. “It’s much more useful and viable a goal than anything I can do with this thing called the law.”
4. Engaged learning is the way to do that.
That desire to shatter the stereotypes of vilified populations inspired Margulies’s work with the new Crime, Prisons, Education, and Justice minor offered by the College of Arts & Sciences. Margulies noted a gradual willingness in today’s students to question assumptions about the criminal justice system in America. The minor brings students in for a concentrated period of study on the phenomenon of criminal justice and as part of it, students work as teaching assistants in nearby prisons through the Cornell Prison Education Program. The program brings students into prisons to work with inmates in order to break down tightly-held assumptions about the type of person who’s locked up in prison. Margulies says that students interact with men who are convicted of serious crimes but who are nonetheless decent, warm, compassionate, and genuine human beings. “The person who came in so many years ago simply doesn't exist anymore.” This eye-opening experience through engaged learning is exactly the kind of myth-busting exercise Margulies thinks college ought to be about.
5. Now is the time to be in D.C.
Given Margulies’s background in Washington D.C., we asked him if he thought there were any myth-busting experiences to be found in D.C.. “It is an extraordinary opportunity for that, and I would say, an urgent one.” That’s how Margulies says students should view the election of Donald Trump: an opportunity. “It has unsettled that which we thought was firmly entrenched — political meaning, constitutional meaning, electoral meaning. And both parties are redefining themselves.” Because of this flux in structure, Margulies believes now is a pivotal time to be in D.C. if you want to help shape the future. “When an avalanche starts, the one thing you don't know is where it's going to stop and what the mountain is going to look like when we're done. When that's happening, you want to be there where it's being shaped.”
It’s not long before that snow settles again and change becomes increasingly harder to drive. “The fact is, the kids who come here 10 years from now are going to study what it looked like. The kids who are here now can shape it.”
Rachael Cusick '17
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
CIW Students Bubble Bursting Efforts
As a Cornell student, it can often feel like your days are consumed by hopping from one dense reading to the next. With prelims, lab reports, and never-ending papers, it’s hard to stay tuned into everything that’s happening in the news — especially when you’re tucked away on a campus in upstate New York. But now more than ever, we believe that it’s important for all students to be aware of current events that could shape their future. That’s why we started Bursting the Bubble.
Bursting the Bubble is a weekly newsletter that recaps the week in news so that you don’t have to spend hours sifting through articles. Each newsletter provides a concise, unbiased breakdown of key headlines in the news with links for further reading. Why does Bursting the Bubble stand out from other news briefings? Because it’s written by Cornell in Washington students who can’t help but be up close and personal to current events. Whether they’re on a morning commute to their internships or sitting in a class taught by a professor who was a Senior Adviser to the Obama Administration, they’re living and working in a city that’s at the center of these news stories. With Bursting the Bubble, Cornell in Washington students hope to use that front-row seat to connect with students back in Ithaca and share stories from the news that they believe are important. Subscribe!
See this week's newsletter
Olivia Bundschuh ‘18
Policy Analysis and Management
College of Human Ecology
A lot of my time at the office is spent glancing up at the television screen between constituent calls. We don’t have our own desks and the office of a junior congressman is small, so all the interns sit at a long table, elbows sometimes bumping as we jump to answer the eternally ringing phones. One of the staffers will turn the volume up on the TV and the gentle noises of C-SPAN will join the ambient office noises, and that’s the interns’ cue to tune one ear in as we log calls.
More people than I can count have asked me what it’s like to work on Capitol Hill right now, especially for a Democratic congressman. My knee-jerk response is to talk about the amazing opportunity to be in the middle of everything, to have the opportunity to stand up for my beliefs. It’s starting to feel somewhat clichéd and overused, but it really is how I feel.
What I usually don’t say if I’m trying to stay concise and upbeat is that, though exhilarating and exciting and educational, interning for a Democratic congressman right now sometimes just feels like getting a front-row seat to the rollback of every policy and law I’ve cheered for over the past eight years. And I can’t even close Facebook or ignore my phone for an hour when everything gets too outrageous or threatening-freedom-of-press-and-civil-liberties scary because it’s part of my job to know what new bill has been introduced to the House floor or what executive order was just signed when people from our district call with questions.
But while the past month and a half have been, to say the least, a rollercoaster, I know that I’ve never before been so well-informed and so involved in helping create change in which I believe. Anywhere else, I’m pretty sure I would be a conversational nightmare, because I’m almost exclusively interested in discussing the ramifications of this bill or parsing that part of Trump’s joint address. But between the interning on the Hill and living and learning at Cornell in Washington, I’m surrounded by other people in possession of the same sort of one-track minds.
I can’t say D.C. is the least stressful or most laidback city to live in right now, but I can say that I know I’m in the right place—I would be pacing and tearing my hair out in Ithaca right now. While Congress may seem partisan, standoffish, and directionless, I’m now reminded every day that there are a lot of good people out there creating good policies and helping people across partisan lines. And passing representatives in the hallway, after I get over the initial thrill, reminds me that they’re still people who take elevators and eat salads and are trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability, even if some fall short in my eyes.
The fact of the matter is that I often feel overwhelmed and bug-eyed when I leave the House office buildings. But every time I walk by the Capitol at dusk on my commute home and see the white dome shining against the purple-blue sky, a lot of my cynicism and exhaustion drain away, and Congress, for a few minutes, doesn’t remind me of a bunch of intelligent and ambitious interns with no desks of their own bumping elbows and trying to sample public opinion with a few hundred constituent calls. My faith in the inherent goodness and fortitude of our democracy is restored for the time it takes me to walk across the courtyard. Plus, it makes for some great Instagram posts.
Congressman Seth Moulton
Meet Claudia Morales FA16
Major & Graduation Year:
Government, Class of 2018
The Office of Congressman Lloyd
I chose my internship because…
I was interested in working in Congress, and getting to experience the inner workings of a representative's hectic office has been an incredible learning experience with barely any "typical intern" work. I have gotten the opportunity to go to the White House, Library of Congress, the Capitol, and the new National African American History and Culture Museum
My research paper focuses on…
The emigration from Venezuela and the main reasons why people decide to leave the country. I'm conducting some interviews, gathering real live data on the personal factors of emigration, and how they tie into a perception of a better economic prospect in the US.
Something that surprised me when I got to D.C. was…
D.C. is such a happening place; I've been to karaoke bars, New Wave parties, a Kraftwerk concert, a Glass Animals concert, and an EDM show that left us all deaf for a few days.
One of the best things I've done in the dorm is actually the potluck dinners. It's so great to have a lot of people cook different things and sharing food together. I love cooking, so it gives me an excuse to cook or bake more than I would on a regular day, and the community here is so great that it makes it such a fun experience.
Trader Joes is a 10-minute walk from the Cornell Wolpe Center and is the lifeblood of many a CIW student – my favorite snack at Trader Joes is…
I gotta say my favorite things to get at Trader Joe's are Island Salsa and their Masala sauce, not to mention their fresh produce and reasonably priced mocha ice cream.
CIW's Rao and Silbey on "The Edge of Risk"
From SARS to MERS to Ebola and now Zika, the globe has dealt with numerous outbreaks and learned a number of lessons. In some areas, we have adapted and improved our capabilities, and in others, there remains much work to do. Read more...
Cathy's Internship in D.C.
Current CIW student Cathy Yang is interning at the Brookings Institution this semester, and briefly shares with us her experience interning in D.C.
" I chose this internship mainly because it combines my two top interests: China and Asian Pacific studies, and International Economics. I cannot think of a better chance to explore my interests than doing research in China and other emerging markets' Economics Policy here at one of the most prestigious think tanks in the U.S. (I'm now also try to connect with other departments, especially the foreign policy department at Brookings to see if I can get a chance to do another summer internship with them for Summer). By far, frankly speaking, it's the best internship that I have ever taken. They have very organized intern programs for each department, so all the interns here know each other pretty well and become really good friends. We have intern meetings that gather all of us together and the department always invite some senior fellows here to talk with us, and offer us opportunities to have personal interactions with them. Another advantage of interning here is that there are lots of events happening here every day, and I have never thought that I can be so on top of everything that is happening in the world every day. Personally I go to Brookings events twice or three times weekly, and learn so many things throughout. Also we have speakers series, and lunch talks that happening pretty often. I cannot say how much I'm grateful to this internship, and how eager I want to come back for next summer if I'm going to get the chance."
Andrea's internship in D.C.
"I chose this internship because, first and foremost, it's paid and I'm largely supporting myself this semester. It's also an awesome opportunity to gain practical experience in a field I may eventually pursue as a career, and given its political connections, this is an internship that someone could only find in Washington, DC. My favorite thing about the internship so far has been throwing debate parties for each debate and meeting TONS of new people (political staffers, journalists, etc) through these events!"
Anna's internship in D.C.
Current CIW student Anna Kook is interning at Voice of America this semester, and briefly shares with us her experience interning in D.C.
"I chose this internship because I am considering going into media after graduation, and this was the only way to see if it was fit for me.
Favorite thing about my internship is making VOA60 (one minute) news videos and writing brief headlines on them every morning. It's really cool to see it get broadcasted!"
Interview with Hannah McKinney
Hannah McKinney (CIW Spring 2013) graduated this May and we thought we’d find out what the future held. Hannah did a project at CIW on the crack cocaine trade in DC in the 1980s and 1990s and most recently won the John F. Kennedy Award (founded by the class of 1964) for a graduating senior who is planning on a career of public service. We caught up with her in New Orleans, where she was on a family trip.
First off, congratulations on graduating. You’re now officially an adult! What are your plans?
I have no plans right now. I am trying to apply for and interview with companies in Boston. I am probably going to head to grad school in a few years for public policy/ human rights/ maybe law, but for right now, I am job hunting. Next week, I am interviewing with a software company... So we will see! In theory I would also love to be a research assistant at the Kennedy School or something like that.
Why does public service fit into your future?
I have always been idealistic, and while everyone says the real world will give me a reality check, I haven't had one yet! What I'm trying to say is that while many people, especially at Cornell, believe that capitalism rules all and everything else is a waste of time, I am still at it. For me, public service makes sense--if I am going to live in this world, I want to improve it. It doesn't make sense to keep building, keep expanding, and keep destroying without fixing the problems that we already have.
How did your Cornell experience shape your vision of your future?
Cornell had allowed me to pursue my interests rather than a prescribed career path, for which I am very grateful. My professors are so supportive because they understand the plight of the liberal arts student! The sheer variety and amount of unbelievable experiences that I have had through Cornell (Cornell in Washington, a summer in Spain, volunteering in a prison) have undeniably shaped who I am and who I will be. I don't think that every school offers this diverse array of opportunities. That said, Cornell has also given me perspective and the ability to make practical decisions about my future.
We hear that you’re heading to Europe for part of the summer?
I am going with Max Schechter (CIW Spring 2013), actually, and a couple of other friends. We are doing a whirlwind tour, starting in Copenhagen, flying to Amsterdam, taking a train to Brussels/Bruges, and ending in Lisbon before flying home! It's only 2 weeks, so we are going to pack in a lot.
You can read more about Hannah and the John F Kennedy Award over at The Cornell Chronicle.
My Time in CIW and Oman
My first few weeks in DC have made me realize that I made the right decision by participating in the CIW Program. My classes are challenging, but fun, and my internship at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism has been amazing at best. I mean, who wouldn’t want to spend their day reading and learning about terrorists? As enjoyable as my experiences have been thus far, perhaps one of my more memorable experiences has been my week in Muscat, Oman.
Other students in the Global Health Security and Diplomacy class and I traveled to Muscat, Oman during the first week of March to participate in the Health Security Partners Fellowship. Upon our arrival we were split into four teams (infectious disease, chronic disease, dual-use, and bioterrorism) and were paired with students from Kurdistan and Pakistan. We were tasked with proposing solutions for complex global health issues based on the group that we were placed in. My partners and I, for example, were a part of the bioterrorism team and proposed the creation of a mobile application that would be used in refugee camps to track symptoms associated with waterborne illness, thereby alerting health officials of a potential outbreak or bioterrorist attack. At the end of the week, each pair (or trio) gave a quick presentation about their idea. It still astonishes me that given the very short time frame each group was able to come up with such remarkable solutions!
In addition to working on our presentations, we were also given the opportunity to attend sessions at the 7th International Conference on Health Issues in Arab Communities that was also being held in Muscat that week. One of my favorite talks was on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which gave a detailed description of the disease and its current impact in the Middle East. It also highlighted other health concerns in the Arab world. Did you know, for example, that the Arab world has some of the highest rates of diabetes in the world? I didn’t! Some of the more fun aspects of the trip included cultural excursions to a traditional souk, or market, a museum, restaurants, and a mosque.
So to sum up, how was my experience in Oman? Unforgettable. I gained so much knowledge throughout the week, and formed lasting friendships with people who I would have never gotten the chance
–Thea John, Spring 2015 CIW Student
Cornell (Footprints) in Washington!
In the 150 years since its founding, Cornell University has left its mark on Washington, D.C., the site of the Sesquicentennial celebration in November. Here’s a small sampling of Big Red footprints—past and present—around the nation’s capital. Read more!
The CIW Experience Continues Even After Your Semester in DC.
Long after I left Washington D.C. and my favorite semester at Cornell, my participation in the Cornell in Washington program continued to pay dividends for me. I returned to campus, here on “the hill,” with a new group of friends that I did not have when I left for Washington. Over a year later and I still talk with many of them on a weekly- or daily-basis. Additionally, I took 16 credits towards my major while in Washington. This provided me much greater flexibility with my class schedule upon returning to campus. As a student with multiple majors and multiple minors, I cannot overstate how much of a luxury this was for me. But the most important residual benefit from participating in the Cornell in Washington program is a newfound sense of direction for what I want to do after Cornell. While I was a student in the Cornell in Washington program, I interned in the United States Senate with my senator, Senator Dianne Feinstein. As an intern, I was not relegated to doing the “intern work.” I actually got to work on substantive, meaningful projects. I got hands-on experience with both the Assault Weapons Ban bill that she introduced and the Comprehensive Immigration bill proposed by the “Gang of Eight.” Additionally, I was able to not only attend Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, but I also got to sit behind the senators with all the aides and advisors. After completing my internship, I came to the realization that politics is the path for me. Currently, I intern on the local congressional campaign here in Ithaca, which is in New York’s 23rd congressional district. I also hope to go work in Washington after I graduate in May. So while I may have eventually ended up at this realization, participating in the Cornell in Washington program was an invaluable help.
Congratulations Cheryl Strauss Einhorn and David Einhorn, CIW Alumni fall’89
University launches ‘Engaged Cornell’ with $50 million gift . Read more about their new initiative in the Cornell Chronicle and Forbes magazine.
So What Have I Been Up to in D.C.? (The Picture Edition)
As the semester’s slowly winding down (wow…this term really has gone faster than all the rest), I realized I haven’t shared too many pictures from my experiences in the Cornell in Washington program! So, without further ado, let me take you on a sporadic tour of random events that I’ve attended throughout the semester.
Let’s start off with what was arguably the coolest event: meeting Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg! Every semester, students in the Cornell in Washington (CIW) program get to meet with her at the Supreme Court, first listening to her speak then asking her questions. It was really awe-inspiring to be sitting in a majestic building, hearing from one of the brightest, and most highly-regarded legal minds in the Western democracy–not to mention, a Cornell alum.
Read the rest of David’s post, along with more of his blog here:
Candid at Cornell – So What Have I Been Up to in D.C.? (The Picture Edition)
–David Schatz, Fall 2013 CIW Student
When I decided to participate in the Cornell in Washington program, I knew that there were some inherent unknowns in a semester away from Ithaca–how the D.C. weather would be, what my classmates/co-residents would be like, and how I’d enjoy the program and my internship overall.
I gotta say, though, one thing that I did not question once before coming was the operating status of the federal government–I kinda just assumed, you know, that it would stay open and my internship at the Treasury wouldn’t be shut down until further notice.
Yet, that’s exactly what happened!
Read the rest of David’s post, along with the more of his blog here:
Candid at Cornell – Being Furloughed!
–David Schatz, Fall 2013 CIW Student
So, what have I been up to in D.C.?
- A major part of the Cornell in Washington program is writing a substantial research paper–so that’s why I’m immersing myself in business-government relations research as I’m sitting in this Dupont Circle Panera Bread on a Saturday morning.
- It’s so much easier to get around here, compared to Ithaca! The metro, while not as comprehensive as the NYC subway system, is convenient, and everything you could ever need is a metro ride away. Traveling from here is a breeze too, with a couple of airports nearby and proximity to an Amtrak station.
Read the rest of David’s post, along with more of his blog here:
Candid at Cornell – D.C. Update
–David Schatz, Fall 2013 CIW Student
You’re Studying ‘Abroad’….Where?
It’s come to my attention, based on puzzled looks that I’ve gotten when I say I’m doing a semester in D.C., that many people haven’t heard of this Cornell program. I find it semi-surprising, because it’s recently gotten some media attention (here and here). Let me give a brief overview of the program and how my experience has been, even though it hasn’t even been two weeks into the semester!
Read the rest of David’s post, along with more of his blog here:
Candid at Cornell – You’re Studying ‘Abroad’…Where?
–David Schatz, Fall 2013 CIW Student
Running, DC Style
Now that we’ve been in D.C. for a few weeks, my favorite part of the city is the running. Far different from unending cows and hills of Ithaca, D.C. is a great place to run because of the interesting shops to pass, people to dodge, cross walk signs to ignore, and most importantly, giant monuments to run under. There are even student and professional running groups to join, if you don’t want to run alone. But I find running behind the Capitol passing senators and congressmen outside on a Thursday or running in the front the White House on a Saturday morning to be the most exhilarating part of my workout. And with this in mind, my favorite run here has become a short and sweet jog down to the mall, along the reflecting pool, and up the stairs to the Lincoln Memorial. And of course once you reach the top of the stairs under Lincoln you have to throw up your arms in total victory, then start the journey back.
–Gretchen Stillings, Spring 2013 CIW Student
A Glimpse of City Life
My first few weeks here in DC have made me so happy that I decided to participate in the CIW program. Working at C-SPAN for just a few days so far has already given me a new perspective on the communication industry, and the classes I am taking are bringing me up to date on exciting current events and political decisions that are happening right here in the nation’s capital. Having the opportunity to meet Justice Ginsburg has definitely been a highlight of my time here. It was incredible to see, first hand, how influential a Cornellian woman can be. I can tell that this semester will be a growing experience as I build new relationships and gain a better understanding of a post-graduation lifestyle as I live and work in a major US city.
–Jaimee Pavia, Spring 2013 CIW Student
A Sweet Challenge
My roommate and I have decided to challenge ourselves by trying out as many cupcake stores as we can while we are in Washington DC. On one of the first nights of the program we hit the infamous Georgetown Cupcake. Unfortunately, this was also Inauguration Weekend, so there was a line not only out the door, but wrapped around the block. Dejected, we decided to try again on a less popular day. When we arrived at a completely average time, like Tuesday at eleven, (presumably uncupcakey), we hopped right in and sunk our teeth into some of the most delicious cupcakes of our generation. (The Mocha was particularly delectable). Next, we decided to stick a little closer to home and visited Hello Cupcake in Dupont Circle. The selection was disappointing and the basic flavors were nothing too special. BUT, the specialty flavors like Gianduja (a hazelnut delicacy) and Peanut Butter Blossom packed a punch. We put it as a 6 on the “1 to Georgetown” scale…they are conveniently located, after all. Finally, this weekend, we ventured to Larry’s Ice Cream. From the shabby appearance to the frightfully vulgar Larry himself, I must say we had the best time. And for that matter, I had the best Cookie Dough ice cream—I mean, in my whole life, nothing has been quite as good. True, it’s expensive, but when a scoop of ice cream caresses three cookies worth of dough, it is completely worth it. Needless to say, we will be going back to Larry’s many times while in this wonderfully sweet and cupcake filled city. Next on our list is Red Velvet!
–Hannah McKinney, Spring 2013 CIW Student