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Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Creative Commons , Isabel Liang

In early May 2016, Tiffany Trump — a senior in the College at the time — was juggling campaigning with her father, preparing for law school at Georgetown University, and completing her Sociology thesis. 

Her thesis, titled “Incarceration in the U.S. and The International Bill of Human Rights," concluded that U.S. law failed to protect human rights, showcasing progressive themes that sharply contrast with the political rhetoric of her father, 1968 Wharton graduate and current president Donald Trump. 

Sociology professor Hocine Fetni served as Tiffany’s thesis adviser for the project. Fetni told The Daily Pennsylvanian that Tiffany’s thesis looked at how race and class demonstrate the civil rights violations within the U.S. incarceration system.

“[Tiffany] found that yes, the U.S. has a great system and all that, but if you are a minority or are really economically disadvantaged, then you're really going to have less of a chance of really having your rights respected just as a human being and as a U.S. citizen,” Fetni said.

Fetni said Tiffany took a number of classes with him over her four years at Penn including SOCI 460: The U.S. and Human Rights: Policies and Practices, where students study the International Bill of Human Rights and to what extent is it upheld within the United States.

Fetni said that in his time as Tiffany’s thesis adviser, he found she was very passionate about protecting human rights and the rule of law. Her father, however, has shown time and time again he does not respect either, Fetni said.

“Tiffany is her own person. Every one of us is our own person and we cannot connect our thoughts to a parent or sibling. We love our parents and we care about them, but when it comes to how we approach things, we think differently,” he said. “Some people, though, do follow in their parents’ footsteps even ideologically, but I did not see that from Tiffany.” 

Tiffany Trump has cultivated a reputation as a Trump child out of the fray. Far less visible than Ivanka, Don Jr., or even Barron, speculation has long swirled that Tiffany is more liberal than her father and disagrees with him. She's even posted support for Black Lives Matter while the president has decried it, referring to a BLM mural as “a symbol of hate.”

But on Aug. 25, 2020 Tiffany made a public statement of support for her father at the Republican National Convention. In her approximately seven minute long speech, Tiffany touched on a wide variety of subjects and honed in on criminal justice reform.

“If you believe in criminal justice reform, there is only one president that passed The First Step Act, giving people a second chance, a chance at a life once again,” she said at the RNC.

The First Step Act, which passed with overwhelming and bipartisan support in December 2018, works to allow thousands of people in federal prisons to be released early from their sentences and could reduce prison sentences in the future.

Researchers say it will not, however, make much of a difference in larger reform of the criminal justice system as  only about 226,000 of the over 2.3 million incarcerated people are held in federal prisons.

A poster board of Tiffany Trump's 2016 thesis research. (Photo from Chikezie Wood)

Since Tiffany Trump's father has been in office, Fetni said his classes have changed dramatically.

“The question we need to ask now and over the last four years is ‘What is this administration’s position vis a vis the rule of law?'” Fetni said. “The answer to that is rather obvious: This president does not think much of the rule of law.”

Fetni cited Trump’s handling of the impeachment trials within the Justice Department — in which he attempted to block the inquiry multiple times by guarding his tax records and attempting to bar key witnesses from delivering testimony  — as one of many times the president has attempted to circumvent the laws of the United States for his own gain. He also mentioned Trump’s use of executive orders for major legislative endeavors as a way to circumvent the process of checks and balances between branches of government.

Fetni also said President Trump’s continued attacks against the Affordable Care Act through the Supreme Court form an attempt to deny all citizens access to healthcare, which Fetni says must be considered as a basic human right.

“I do not think that human rights are a priority of this administration. The only thing that differentiates our country from others is our respect for human rights and liberties. But if you have an administration that believes these issues are secondary, then you really have to be concerned,” Fetni said. 

Of Tiffany Trump, Fetni said she was a passionate and committed student who worked hard in class and, most of all, she was a “very kind person.”

Fellow 2016 College graduate and Sociology major, Chikezie Wood, was among the students in Fetni’s SOCI 460 class. He also described Tiffany Trump as kind and “a slightly above average student.”

Wood said he and Tiffany were in a number of classes together over the course of their four years at Penn and while they were not close friends, they knew each other fairly well. He said that while they had been in class together multiple times, the one thing that stood out to him above all else was her thesis presentation in the spring of 2016. 

Wood said he presented directly after Tiffany and as he watched her presentation, he was shocked by the topic of the thesis, given who her father was. 

“I remember sitting there and thinking, 'Has her father ever read this?’" Wood said. "But no, of course he hasn’t."

Staff reporters Chase Sutton and Celia Kreth and Photography Editor Sukhmani Kaur contributed reporting.

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