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Making a Difference: Selfless Human Rights Law Students Collaborate to Save Vulnerable Starbucks Franchise


Graphic by Sophie Trotto / The Daily Pennsylvanian; Photos by Kelsey Warren / The Daily Pennsylvanian, U.S. Embassy in Athens / CC0

When the Starbucks on 34th and Chestnut streets announced that it would close in early December, nearby Penn Law students were shaken to their core. But rather than standing idly by, students specializing in human rights law banded together and turned their outrage into action, pooling their skills, training, and resources to support the vulnerable franchise.

The group of 30 future human rights lawyers began by drafting up a petition to prevent the scheduled closure of the ailing business. They set up and staffed a 24/7 emergency helpline, started a GoFundMe to provide financial support, and are offering legal services free of charge.

"The cafe's closure would leave a gaping hole in the community, where only three other Starbucks locations exist within a two-block radius," noted second-year law student Joseph Cather, one of the organizers of the initiative. "As specialists in both ethics and civil law, we feel it is our moral duty to use our intellect and training to help out this vulnerable campus institution."

According to the petition's description, having "immediate access to Starbucks coffee is a human right, and we [Penn law students] intend to protect those rights to the best of our ability."

While some of the participating students noted that they got involved because the convenience of the 34th and Chestnut location benefits them personally, Cather insists that the main goal of preserving the franchise is altruistic at its core.

"We have this prestigious, Ivy-League legal education, this immense privilege," explained Cather. "It feels great to give back and do some pro-bono work before we really get out into the field doing human rights law. You know," he continued, "like representing our friends' parents and their right to commit white-collar crimes."