Gülin Ustabas does not shy away from a challenge. As a junior, she took on international criminal law in her Ethics in Society Honors thesis and proposed a new, more ideal framework of global criminal justice. While at the Farm, she served as the co-director of international student advocacy for the ASSU. In addition, she became a Hope House tutor, teaching formerly incarcerated women about the importance of the humanities. Ustabas is the recipient of the Stanford Alumni Association’s Award of Excellence. The accolade honors seniors who have demonstrated a sincere commitment to the university through involvement, leadership, and extraordinary Stanford spirit. Before she graduates with bachelor's degrees in both philosophy and political science, we asked her to elaborate on her experience in our program.
1. Why did you decide to participate in the Honors Program in Ethics in Society?
In high school, I had a philosophy class that influenced me deeply. I came to Stanford knowing that I wanted to devote myself to moral and political philosophy. I also knew that I wanted to write an honors thesis in that field. I chose the Ethics in Society program because it allowed me to write about moral and political philosophy and also a real-world issue that I care deeply about. I was able to bridge my interest in international crime and moral and political philosophy.
2. In a few sentences, give us a sense of what your honors thesis research was about.
My thesis is about people's right to have a meaningful say in how international criminal law should protect their lives. I developed a concept central to my thesis called existential domination. It's a condition in which individuals are under threat of being arbitrarily interfered with by other individuals, other governments, or other collective individuals in a way that threatens their survival. For example, a country that has nuclear weapons places other individuals in countries that don't have nuclear weapons under existential domination. My thesis uses republican theory to analyze this problem in an international context. I argue that international criminal law should protect individuals from others' potential to interfere with their survival.
3. What was the single most rewarding aspect of writing your honors thesis?
The most rewarding part was seeing how my perspective evolved throughout the process. It changed in terms of how I viewed the topic, how I engaged with other scholars, and how I thought about how the theory could be applied to real life issues. My current view approaches the issue in a way that is different than the existing literature. It was a very satisfying thing to have done as an undergraduate. Overall, the length and the depth of the project allowed me to connect with the topic and deeply examine certain questions.
4. Beyond your thesis, what are some of the most memorable moments of your Stanford undergraduate experience?
There are so many. I enjoyed spontaneous conversations with classmates or my dormmates about philosophy or random things. I think those spontaneous connections on campus were really important to me. Other memorable moments were engaging in seminars and discussions; I'll miss my professors who have mentored me. During my undergrad experience, I served as the co-director of international student advocacy for the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU). There, I was working on issues that concerned international students especially undergraduates. I was also a Hope House tutor, which was really meaningful for me. It's a great program that takes philosophy out of the Stanford classroom and helps a diverse group of women get back on their feet. Another memorable moment was my time in Berlin during my sophomore year.
5. What opportunities would you like to pursue within the next five years?
This year I’ll be in my home country, Turkey, working in public service. Right now, I'm considering several options that are all related to politics, specifically related to democratic and civic engagement. Later, I hope to pursue graduate school in political philosophy and along the way, obtain a law degree as well. I also see myself possibly working in centers and clinics or doing grassroots or clinical work involving international criminal issues. My main goal is to be an academic – a political philosopher.