To many of the approximately 2,000 people who filed into the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday evening, the event was all about former President Bill Clinton. To hear and see a former president of the United States speak – especially one whose wife is currently campaigning for the position – was the only draw they needed to submit their names for a ticket.
“I was so excited when I got the announcement on the email, he’s just awesome,” Anu Dwarki, a fifth-semester physiology and neurobiology major who attended the event, said. “I mean he’s Bill Clinton, he’s a president.”
Dwarki’s friend and many other students were simply excited to hear what a presidential candidate’s “other half” had to say.
But the 7th presentation ceremony of the Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights – the reason for Clinton’s trip to Storrs – was meant to highlight and honor his achievements for human rights around the world.
“The litany of nations and people whose lives would not be the same today if it were not for the Clinton foundation is incredible,” Christopher Dodd said in his introduction of Clinton. “My friend, your life’s work honors my father, this university and the work of the Dodd Center.”
In his speech, Dodd went on to explain how “the entirety of President Clinton’s life” has been dedicated to the principles behind protecting human rights.”
Not all UConn students, however, are so convinced.
“We have a little bit of trouble with the fact that he is getting a human rights award today,” fifth-semester sociology major and treasurer for Students for Sustainable Drug Policy, Jack Burke, said. “We want people who are going in to the ceremony to get a more full picture before they are just told that this person deserves a human rights award.”
With the goal of spreading awareness about the other side of Clinton, Burke and a couple of his peers circulated through the crowd outside Jorgensen handing out green flyers with examples of Clinton’s “punitive domestic policies in office,” until they were asked to step further off the building patio by event services staff.
Some of the policies the flyer mentioned included the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 which established the three strikes and you’re out policy and made 60 new offenses punishable by death.
“When we honor someone for a human rights award, we should really look at the totality of what they’ve done as a political figure, not only in our country but abroad as well,” Burke said. “The point of this event (for Burke and his fellow protestors) is to get people to question on their own whether Clinton deserves this award or not.”
Burke was not the only one handing things out to those entering Jorgensen, as the president of students for Hillary, third-semester Megan Handau, was giving out stickers in support of the Clintons. Handau, although not bothered by the protestors, definitely did not share their point of view.
“I think he did the best he could while in office dealing with things in real time,” Handau said. “With the thing like the war on drugs, and the hundreds of thousands of people who were incarcerated, it was put into effect while he was in office, but at the same time it’s been 15 to 20 years and nothing’s been done about it.”
Despite Burke’s points, most seemed convinced that the amount of good Clinton has done in the name of human rights over the course of his life makes him truly deserving of the Dodd award.
“You can see pros and cons about him (Clinton),” Dwarki said. “Everyone is saying ‘oh my gosh he’s such a great leader’ but he also is a human being.”