College, Politics

[Senior Thesis] Just Housing: An Examination of Inequality in John Rawls’ Theory of Justice as Fairness

Date of Submission: April 2015

Readers: Alex Rajczi, Andrew Schroeder

Department: Philosophy and Public Affairs


How would a housing system work in a just society? How do we account for differences in opportunity according to one’s birthplace? These two questions, both a result of our recent housing crisis, can be addressed through inquiries into policy, economics, history, or other forms of social sciences. In this paper I attempt to address these questions instead through a philosophical lens by examining the principles that guide the distribution of goods in our society. It is from such a theory that we can construct the fairest government or economic policies.

Theories of distributive justice try to account for the fairest distribution of goods in a society. I take one such theory, John Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness, and apply it to the distribution of housing. I begin by deconstructing the core principles of Rawls’ theory and analyzing how each applies to housing. Then I make an argument about the fairness of these outcomes. My conclusion is, in fact, Rawls theory does not adequately account for the importance of housing in our society. In doing so, I hope to demonstrate the inequalities that face families throughout our society by illustrating the profound impact of housing on one’s well-being as well as one’s opportunity to succeed.


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Entrepreneurship & the Liberal Arts

There is an ongoing tension that exists between the tenets of higher education and the key principles of entrepreneurship. Our role at CIE, as a research institute, is not to fight those tenants, but instead to supplement them. This means we must be honest with ourselves about the challenges entrepreneurs face as students of a rigorous liberal arts college and we seek to understand the best role we can play in the lives of student entrepreneurs-just exactly what our role is can be complicated.

Peter Thiel, Co-founder of PayPal and The Founders Fund, and the Rand Paul of Silicon Valley, offers the best insight into this dichotomy. Thiel, in a famed course at Stanford University, presents the idea of vertical and horizontal innovation. He claims that vertical innovation is when an organization goes from “0-1 (e.g. the invention of the light bulb). Horizontal innovation on the other hand is from “1-n” (e.g. the newest iteration of the iPhone). Thiel makes broader claims about how horizontal innovation is moving at record speed while vertical innovation is rare in today’s economy (Clayton Christiansen makes a similar claim in the most recent edition of the Harvard Business Review,) but what he says about higher education is more relevant to our work. Thiel goes on to say that education, in its most basic form, is the epitome of the “1-N” approach. The structure of higher education involves the recitation of previous researchers, writers, etc. with the best students hopefully adding their own interpretation of that work. This work is undeniably important and innovative but doesn’t seem to be the kind of innovation that drives the greatest ventures of our time. I believe this dichotomy demonstrates our primary challenge at the CIE. That is, how we advance this type of “0-1” thinking within an institution built on the “1-N” approach.

So far I have three theories: 1) ventures that seek to solve “0-1” issues are those started by people who are incredibly curious and passionate, 2) funders of those ventures are deeply connected with the mission of their venture, and 3) for those people, the most useful thing CIE can do is just to make their lives easier.

Of the first two points I think the latter is more important because it often brings out the former. Of the most successful ventures started at CMC in last few years, many (if not most) have included some aspect of “social good.” While I think this represents a generational movement towards businesses that do good for the world, I also think it indicates how much easier it can be to start a venture in college when you are truly invested in the cause you are working towards. What I have observed is that student entrepreneurs who are successful in college need to be deeply motivated by whatever there are working on in order to reconcile the massive sacrifices they are making. At an undergraduate level, students can more easily find their passion through important social issues rather than areas of deep expertise such as BioTech or HR Software. Of the most successful for-profit ventures I have observed, each has been lead by founders who find an equally compelling connection to their product- whether it be software or Clean technology. Students who are deeply connected to their work are not only more likely to make the sacrifices needed to succeed, they seem to perform better, and mentors, funders, and co-workers notice. This, to me, seems to embody the liberal arts doctrine.

If this theory is true than CIE’s role should be threefold: to help students identify problems that inspire them, to foster the creativity and intrepidity to face those problems head-on, and lastly, and most importantly, to do whatever we can to make their lives as student-entrepreneurs easier. This last claim is not mine originally- Miles Bird, former ASCMC Vice President, and current Director of Business Development at Kairos helped all of us understand this when we started the CIE. Working on a venture in college is really difficult. We are all full-time students, most likely working jobs to pay for school and outings, and overwhelmed everyday by a multitude of events and extracurricular activities. The idea of starting a company in the middle of all of this is pretty insane. So the people who take the leap have to contain serious passion for what their doing or else they will burn out or worse, finish college with no idea of what interests them or drives them as both students or individuals.

So what can we do to make entrepreneurs’ lives easier? Well we are still figuring that out. Our physical space is a start. We try and provide a space for entrepreneurs to feel inspired and creative and to meet like-minded students. We started our summer fellowship so that students could continue working with fellow students over the summer with a stipend and access to various resources. We provide access to CIE’s vast alumni network and try to identify resources at CMC, across the 5C’s, and within Southern California so motivated students may take advantage of them. All of these are a start but ultimately, they’re just that. The biggest accomplishment we have made so far is that we exist and now we must focus on existing in the future.

In the next year all of CIE’s original founders will graduate. Not only do I hope that CIE continues to grow beyond all of our own expectations, but that the entrepreneurial community as a whole grows too. Both have grown beyond my wildest dreams in the last three years. As the next leadership team introduces new initiatives and moves in new directions, I suspect CIE’s role on campus will stay the same: to enable inspired students to solve the problems they feel passionate about. Only then will we capture the true meaning of “innovation.”


Summer 2014

The weekly flights can be exhausting. The delays, the sitting, the need to remove my shoes. Sometimes when I sit down on my flight I pass out within a couple minutes. Sometimes I continue the work I never really stopped thinking about. The one thing that seems to break up the seeming monotony are the people. Most people I’m sitting next to have a more interesting story than I do- they’re making a reunion or returning from an adventure. Of the people I met this summer, here are some of the most notable:

“Tennessee” was a 26-year-old woman. She was tall and muscular- a basketball player in high school who still played with her girls. She was from Nashville and carried an accent that made me jealous.  She was a waitress, living at home with her mom but really wanted to be a nurse. She described the same mother/daughter my twin sister experiences at home. We spoke about growing up in Nashville, about her boyfriend who was a vet current capitalizing on the marijuana market in Colorado. We mostly spoke about what it was like the be young and restless. To be frustrated yet happy. Excited yet scared. After 90 minutes or so of talking we let the natural silence do its job and she return to studying for the MCAT while I read the Economist. Upon approach I showed her the various LA freeways I could recognize and she did her best country mouse impression.  We wished each other the best as I called my Uber,

It’s always a good day when someone looks more rushed and disheveled than I do on the 7am flight out of Burbank.  When the flight attendant came around to make sure everyone was wearing a seat belt, “Louisiana” ordered a coffee and two baileys. Louisiana was her in 50’s I think-. She was a big woman with a deep, deep Louisiana accent. I’m not sure how we started speaking but she sure warmed up as she drank her coffee. She was on her way from Louisiana to Alaska to see her daughter. Her daughter had bought some property outside of Juneau a few years before and she went up as often as should could. She showed me pictures of the Alaska property, and then of her daughter, and then of her extended family. We spoke about Louisiana and I told her was from Northern California. She told she had lived in Chico for many years. When she was 5 she had been playing in the front yard and a drink driver drove almost clear into their house, killing her little brother in the process. Within a week her mother had moved them all to Chico, selling the old house immediately. She eventually moved back to Louisiana to start a family but we never spoke about anyone except her daughter. We talked about all sorts of memories- where she was living when this or that happened. I wasn’t even an idea when most of these stories happened but he kept saying, “but of course you know that honey.” I fought off sleepiness for a while out of politeness but the mother in her knew and she offered her pillow to me in the way mothers do when declining isn’t an option. When I woke up she was asleep too and we were descending into Washington- time to start another workweek!

As the summer winded to an end it was time for one more flight, this time from Oakland to Ontario for my return to school. As I sat on the bus, deliriously tired, a delicate woman, “Yale, about my mother’s age, quietly sat down next to me. As I teetered in and out of sleep she smiled at me and asked where I was travelling. Not to be rude, I sat up and responded. Before long we were swapping stories about Mexico and the characters we met there. We talked about her husband and her childhood on the East coast. Before long she told me about her current work with Music Therapy. After an all too short 20 minutes she had left and I was purchasing her book on Amazon. An amazing woman with an amazing story- a perfect way to wrap up the summer and the conversations I shared.

Sometimes I’m wary of the travel that will await me when I join the workforce fulltime. There is an undeniable exhaustion that accompanies the constant lines, delays, and hours of immobility. I’m not naïve enough to think I won’t be too tired or too tired to share these moments but I hope I’m never too jaded or distanced to see why they’re important or how much they mean to me. Maybe the point of writing this down is so I can look back at it and remember how cool these people were.

So ends summer 2014.

Articles, College

The Case for ASCMC Senate Committees

(This post appeared in the CMC Forum on February 24, 2014)

Last night’s debate in Executive Board about student fees raised numerous questions regarding the way in which ASCMC is run. The clearest issue was that conversations on issues such as tuition increases are surprisingly absent in ASCMC, especially in Senate. While Senate is great medium for students voices to be heard, there is a noticeable lack of meaningful discourse and decision-making. I do not fault anyone within Senate for this issue, nor are the previous Vice Presidents to blame. Rather, I think this is due in large part to the lack of responsibility that Senate holds, the lack of opportunities for one to apply his or her specific passions, and a general lack of innovation in the structure of the body. This is a huge loss. Senate needs to be reformed so that we can carry out more substantive debate, better engage campus leaders, and play a larger role in advocating on behalf of the student body.

There need to be Senate Committees that address issues facing our student body. At this time, there are currently only four Senate committees:  Administrative Affairs and Budgetary, Campus Improvement, Technology, and Academic Affairs. Although all are essential, they fall far short of representing the full spectrum of student interests and addressing social issues. Instead, there should be committees in areas students are passionate about and engage club leaders across campus to spearhead them. They can get students from a variety of backgrounds involved in addressing these topics. A few examples of these committees could be: a committee on Sexual Assault Culture, on Wellness, on Community Engagement, and on Diversity. These groups can then create initiatives, plan events, and inform the student body on matters that impact our entire college. This will not only make Senate more engaging and fulfilling, but it will also make our campus better off.

The recent debate over the rising cost of tuition only shows how little we have done to initiate this conversation and to express our deep concern to the Board of Trustees. Senate is uniquely capable of advocating on students’ behalf because it contains such a diversity of members. Two years ago, Senate passed a resolution to pressure the administration to implement gender-neutral housing. This past week, Eric Vos spoke at Senate regarding housing policies that will go into effect next year. This process highlights the potential of Senate to advocate for certain policy changes and for those opinions to be heard. These resolutions can be initiated by Senate committees, or even just individual students who are passionate about timely issues and specific administrative policies. Senate can do a better job of advocating for are: mental health resources, funding for underfunded academic departments, certain DOS policies, greater resources for LGBTQ students, and the aforementioned rising tuition costs. These matters are all extremely important to the student body; Senate is in a great position to not only address them collectively, but also to lobby the administration on the student body’s behalf.

These changes require leadership by members of Senate, members of the Executive Board, and students around CMC who care passionate about social change. If we can create a culture of advocacy and student engagement, we can use the initiative and passion of CMC students to really address campus issues and play a larger part in campus policy. Senate has the potential to accomplish these goals, but it will take structural reform to get there. The result will be a more active Senate along with solutions to the issues we care about most. In turn, ASCMC will cease to exist solely as an event planning organization, and it will emerge as a responsive, representative entity to enact positive social change.