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Fact check: Obama’s university years have been documented

Correction Dec. 9, 2020: Correcting descripton of Feast magazine from “library” to “literary” magazine in paragraph 4

US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (C) is seen posing with his maternal grandparents Stanley and Madelyn Dunham in an undated family snapshot released by his presidential campaign, February 4, 2008. Obama will leave the campaign trail to go to Hawaii this week to visit the ailing grandmother who helped raise him, an aide said on October 20. REUTERS/Obama For America/Handout (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA). FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.

Shared over 22,000 times, a Facebook post alleges there are no records of former president Barack Obama’s university years. This longstanding claim is unfounded and has been debunked in the past.

The lengthy post made on 2013 and still being shared is visible here bit.ly/3mVkWYG . It includes questions like “Has anyone talked to the professors? Isn't it odd that no one is bragging that they knew him or taught him or lived with him?” and “When did he meet Michelle and how? Are there photos?”

Similar versions of this claim that intend to perpetrate the falsehood that Obama, the 44th President of the United States, did not attend Columbia University have been circulating for over a decade. Other fact-checkers have debunked it since (for example here , here ). As reported by factcheck.org, this claim recycles “some attacks that were raised in the heat of the 2008 presidential campaign.”

OCCIDENTAL COLLEGE

Barack Hussein Obama II started his higher education in 1979 in Los Angeles at the Occidental College, also known as Oxy ( here ). As recalled by writer Margot Mifflin in a New Yorker piece here , Obama’s years in L.A. were documented by photographer and friend Tom Grauman. Mifflin, who was also a student at Oxy at that time, met Obama during a poetry seminar. Two of his poems were published in the schools’ literary magazine “Feast” (see here ).

A late Oxy professor, Roger Boesche, who Obama said “sparked my general interest in politics” ( here ) also recalled an exchange with young Obama as an student here . Photographs of Obama as an Oxy student are visible here bit.ly/33TEkg5 .

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

In 1981, Obama transferred to Columbia University in search of a closer connection to the African American community, according to his memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance ( bit.ly/3mZBZsK , see page 115). Columbia lists Obama as an alumni here . He graduated in 1983 with a major in political science ( here ).

Obama has recalled his time in Columbia as a quieter period. In an interview with Columbia College Today published in Jan. 2005, he said “mostly, my years at Columbia were an intense period of study,” adding, “I spent a lot of time in the library. I didn’t socialize that much. I was like a monk.’” ( here )

Obama’s former roommates and friends from his time at Columbia Phillip Boerner and Sohale Siddiqi recalled their experiences together here and here .

As a senior at Columbia University, Obama wrote an article for the student publication the Sundial, titled “Breaking the War Mentality.” The piece, published on the March 10, 1983 issue is visible here .

Two years after graduating Columbia University, Obama moved to Chicago to work as a community organizer with the Developing Communities Project. Gerald Kellman, who hired Obama in 1985, and fellow organizers spoke to the New York Times about Obama’s community organizing years here . At the time, Obama wrote about his experiences here in an edition of the Illinois Issues, a publication of the University of Illinois.

HARVARD

In the fall of 1988, Obama enrolled at Harvard Law School. At the end of his first year, he was selected to be part of the Harvard Law Review. He later became the first Black president of the prestigious publication in the spring of 1990 ( here , here ).

While at Harvard, Obama was a research assistant for Professor Laurence Tribe, who has called him “the most impressive student I had ever taught” ( bit.ly/3jfSleo ). Fellow classmates recalled Obama as a law student here .

He graduated magna cum laude in 1991 ( here ). Photos of Obama during his Harvard years are visible here bit.ly/368NXKE .

More than 20 of his classmates from Harvard Law were part of the Obama transition team, after he won the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 4, 2008 ( here ).

MICHELLE OBAMA

The posts also claim there are no early photos or records of Barack Obama’s relationship with his future wife, Michelle.

Barack Obama met Michelle Robinson in 1989, at the law firm Sidley & Austin in Chicago, where she was appointed to be Obama’s mentor ( here , bit.ly/36f5O2k ). Newton Minow ( here ) , a senior partner at the law firm at the time, recalled running into them on one of their first dates in Liza Mundy’s “Michelle: A biography” (see page 106 bit.ly/2EyXU8L )

Old photos of the couple, posted by the Obamas themselves on their social media accounts, are visible here , here and here .

PAST RELATIONSHIPS

The posts also question Obama’s past relationships, alleging that “no one who ever dated him” has ever gone public. Some of the posts, however, feature a photograph of a former girlfriend Genevieve Cook, who Obama met in 1983 (here).

In a biography by David Maraniss, “Barack Obama: The Story,” Cook and another former girlfriend, Alex McNear, shared testimonies and letters from their years knowing the future President ( here , here ).

VERDICT

False. There are publicly available photographs and reporting from Obama’s university years and personal relationships.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here   .      

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