Malia and Tiffany: First Daughters on campus

Spotlight: They are the first presidential children to go to college in the social media age.

This week, Malia Obama and Tiffany Trump began their first years at Harvard and Georgetown Law. The press is often fascinated by presidential children — but don’t they deserve some privacy?

It is a familiar sight for twenty million young adults in the USA — proud parents moving boxes into first college dorm rooms. A campus full of nervous teenagers and cheery volunteers. Perhaps a meal out before an emotional goodbye.

But one of the 2,056 freshmen who moved to Harvard University campus this week attracted a little more attention than others: Malia Obama. Although her father is no longer president, her family is still very famous — and as they helped her settle in, photographs of them were soon appearing in tabloids and on social media.

That same day another young woman with a famous surname began her orientation at Georgetown University Law Center. Tiffany Trump will now be studying for her law degree just 1.5 miles from her father’s home at the White House.

Elite colleges in America are no strangers to famous faces, and their classmates often get used to seeing them after a while. “The [college] culture is pretty respectful of their privacy,” Jack Rakove, a Stanford University professor who taught Chelsea Clinton in the 1990s, told The Washington Post.

Journalists are another matter. Yesterday pictures of Malia going for a run were published by the Mail Online, and she has already refused at least one interview from a reporter at the Boston Globe.

This is no surprise — presidential children have long fascinated the press.

A particular favourite was Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter Alice. While her father was president from 1901 to 1909, the lively socialite was often seen gambling and smoking in public, and once appeared at a party wearing a live snake.

In the 1980s, Jimmy Carter’s daughter Amy made headlines when she was arrested four times for protesting against apartheid in South Africa and CIA recruitment at universities.

And George W. Bush’s twins, Jenna and Barbara, created a media frenzy when they were busted for underage drinking at Texas University in 2001.

All the president's kids

“Who cares?” ask some. These young women did not ask to be in the spotlight — it is their parents who we should be paying attention to. Journalists and the public should let Malia and Tiffany be free to experiment and make mistakes while they are at college. University is the time to find out who you are, and who you want to be. Don’t take that away from them.

“Presidential children are too important to ignore,” respond others. Whether they like it or not, they have the ears of powerful people. Tiffany’s older sister Ivanka has a very prominent place in their father’s White House. Snake-loving Alice Roosevelt even helped broker peace between Russia and Japan in 1905. Tiffany and Malia are adults now — the public have a right to know about their choices.

You Decide

  1. Would you enjoy being a member of a famous family?
  2. Is publication of the details of the lives of the children of powerful politicians in the public interest?


  1. Imagine you have a two-minute interview with Malia Obama, followed by one with Tiffany Trump. Write down five questions that you would ask each of them.
  2. Choose another child of a US president, and write a short biography of him or her. There are links under Become An Expert to help get you started.

Some People Say...

“Engaging in the political process is part of being a good person.”

Chelsea Clinton

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Malia Obama moved into her Harvard dormitory on Monday. Her classes will start on August 30th. Tiffany Trump also began orientation at Georgetown Law on Monday, and her classes will start on August 28th. Although the press historically have tried to give presidential children some privacy, they are inevitably in the public eye — and social media has made this even clearer.
What do we not know?
Anything about Malia Obama or Tiffany Trump’s political opinions. Although both are publicly supportive of their fathers, they have given few — if any — serious interviews to the press. Tiffany has kept a fairly low profile compared to her older siblings, who have a different mother and have been more directly involved in Donald Trump’s businesses and political career.

Word Watch

Twenty million
The number of students attending college in the USA in 2014, the last year for which there is government data.
Malia Obama
Barack Obama’s oldest daughter graduated from high school in 2016. She spent a gap year doing an internship in the film industry.
Chelsea Clinton
The only child of Bill and Hilary Clinton, the former president and 2016’s Democratic nominee respectively, now works for the Clinton Foundation. Her “invisible hand… shapes almost every significant decision her parents make,” according to sources close to the family.
Theodore Roosevelt
The president once told a friend: “I can be president of the USA, or I can attend to Alice. I cannot possibly do both!” He later won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping to achieve peace between Russia and Japan with Alice’s help.
A system in force between 1948 and 1991 of segregation between black and white people in South Africa. Amy Carter said she had her father’s permission to protest against it.
CIA recruitment
Hiring college students to work for intelligence agencies has often inspired US campus protests.

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