The Senate confirmed former Stanford Law professor Beth Van Schaack ’91 as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice this past March.
In Washington, Van Schaack will advise the Secretary of State on “issues related to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide,” according to the Office of Global Criminal Justice’s website. Van Schaack was previously the Office’s Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues under President Barack Obama.
A renowned member of the Stanford community, Van Schaack leaves behind a legacy of community-building and dedicated pedagogy in Palo Alto. Penelope Van Tuyl, Associate Director of the Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Stanford, was a first-year law student at the University of California, Berkeley when she met Van Schaack. Then a law professor at Santa Clara University, Van Schaack helped connect Van Tuyl to a summer internship in Cambodia.
“She was so warm and welcoming, and she was all the things that I’ve continued to see that she is,” Van Tuyl said. “She was not like, ‘Who are you? You’re not at my law school.’ She was just like, ‘Great. You’re interested. Let’s talk.’”
Years later, the two ran into each other again at Stanford — Van Tuyl as Associate Director of the Center for Human Rights and Van Schaack as a visiting professor in Human Rights at Stanford Law.
“It was just this sort of serendipity that we both ended up arriving at Stanford around the same time and getting to work together as colleagues,” Van Tuyl said.
Having collaborated with the future ambassador at the Center for Human Rights for years, Van Tuyl describes Van Schaack as “a phenomenal teacher who delivers rigorous education, but is incredibly inclusive and inviting.” To her, Van Schaack is the kind of professor who “helps students grow, while also building community and a sense of belonging.”
Van Tuyl is not the only one who reconnected with Van Schaack at Stanford after meeting years earlier. Jessie Brunner M.A. ’14, Deputy Director of Strategy and Program Development and Director of Human Trafficking Research at the Center for Human Rights, first met Van Schaack at the State Department during the latter’s term as Deputy to the Ambassador. At the time, Brunner was working in the Bureau on Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and was introduced to Van Schaack by Dean of Stanford Law Jenny Martinez.
“If I had three words to describe Beth, it would be dedicated, generous and bright,” Brunner said. “And when I say bright, I mean that both in the sense of her intellect, but also her personality. With Beth, you want to work with her, not only because of the sharp mind she brings and her unmatched reliability, but you’re guaranteed to enjoy the work even though it’s hard and difficult.”
For Van Tuyl, too, Van Schaack is a “quintessential collaborator.” Having worked together on projects like the Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health program, Van Tuyl described Van Schaack as “a bridge builder … I’ve seen amazing, creative projects grow out of that kind of leading — not with one’s ego, but with a true sort of curiosity about what we could do if we did this together,” she said.
Though sad to see her leave Stanford, Brunner said that Van Schaack’s confirmation to Ambassador-at-Large was “well overdue.”
“I definitely couldn’t think of someone more qualified,” she said, emphasizing Van Schaack’s commitment to grassroots movements as particularly important. “It can be easy in a role like this to be at this elevated level where you forget how to connect to the everyday person, but Beth will never forget to do that.”
For Martinez, the timing of Van Schaack’s confirmation also couldn’t be better.
“Her deep expertise on international criminal justice is of urgent importance as the U.S. and the world grapple with evidence of war crimes in Ukraine,” Martinez wrote to The Daily.
Aside from the crisis in Ukraine, Van Tuyl also noted that since much of Van Schaack’s scholarship has focused on “atrocities prevention,” her work as Ambassador-at-Large may also push countries to build the “institutional structures” necessary to “do atrocities prevention work, rather than just response to atrocities.”
Though it is unclear where Van Schaak will go after her term ends, the Stanford community hopes she will consider returning to campus. As a role model with a strong pedigree in both teaching and policymaking, Van Schaak could make a significant impact on future leaders, just as she has to so many before, Brunner said.
“Having her back on campus would be ideal, and if not at Stanford, somewhere else,” she added, joking, “but I would be really jealous if she ended up anywhere else.”
Van Schaack could not be reached by The Daily for an interview.