On Friday afternoon, President Joseph Biden spoke at the University of Connecticut Dodd Center for Human Rights rededication ceremony, formerly the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.
This marked only the second time a sitting U.S. president has visited UConn, the first being former President Bill Clinton at the Dodd Center’s opening in 1995.
The ceremony was limited to those affiliated with the Dodd Center, or students and faculty focused on human rights academics at the university. Other notable figures in attendance included UConn President Andrew Agwunobi, Board of Trustees Chairman Dan Toscano, Gov. Ned Lamont, Congresswoman Rosa Delauro, former Senator Christopher J. Dodd and Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.
Speakers at the event paid tribute to the human rights advocacy legacy that Chris Dodd and his father, Thomas Dodd, provided throughout the course of their careers in public office.
“When the Dodd Center was founded in 1995, it was with the ambition to place UConn at the forefront of human rights, scholarship and activism, both here in the United States and around the world,” Agwunobi said, referencing the legacy of the Dodds and the Dodd Center. “Today we are proud to say that dedication has been rewarded by research, teaching and outreach that have made the Dodd Center synonymous with the cause for human rights.”
Lamont highlighted the legacy of Thomas Dodd in facilitating the Nuremberg Trials and ensuring a fair trial for Nazi leaders at the end of World War II, the documentation of which is archived in the Dodd Center.
“America is superb because of the power of our ideals,” Lamont said. “And we’re [going to] stay true to our ideals. True to the rule of law. True to the fact that these people are [going to] be tried in a courtroom setting, and the evidence is going to be laid out in front of people around the world, and they will get their just deserts. And that’s just what happened — young attorney, 38 year-old Thomas Dodd led the way.”
Chairwoman Rosa Delauro emphasized that Biden would work to continue to honor the values that the Dodd Center holds.
“He honors the values and remarkable history and the work of the Dodd family, in making this a better nation,” Delauro said. “He is poised in the coming weeks to transform this nation in the fashion of Franklin Roosevelt, and yet he is here putting the spotlight on our nation’s enduring obligations made concrete at this university.”
Chris Dodd, before introducing Biden to the stage, also highlighted how critical the Nuremberg Trials, which his father presided over, were, and how big of a role Biden has played on the global stage in terms of continuing the fight for human rights.
“I know of no other Senate colleague with whom I’ve served, who cared more or fought harder, for the fundamental human rights of people at home or around the globe,” Dodd said.
Biden arrived on stage shortly following Dodd, and talked about some of his successes in reinstating human rights policies throughout his short time in office, such as rejoining the UN Human Rights Council and ending the muslim ban that former President Donald Trump had instated.
Biden also called for action on human rights overseas and at home, vowing to “lead by example.”
“Today, we know our efforts to defend human rights around the world are stronger, because we recognize our own historic challenges as part of that same fight,” Biden said. “Leading by example means taking action at home, to renew and defend our own democracy, to advance equity, to promote justice, to defend the sacred right to vote in free, fair and secure elections.”
Biden said in December the U.S. will host a virtual summit, bringing together global leaders to push back against worldwide authoritarianism. He emphasized that “silence is complicity” in the face of authoritarianism and mass genocide.
To conclude, Biden talked to the undergraduate students in the audience, letting them know that, “You can be anything you set your mind to, if you work at it.”
He ended on a note of determination, stating, “It’s never been a good bet to bet against the American people.”
Student-led protests occurred before and during the ceremony, including a sit-in led by UConn UNCHAIN and UConn Collaborative Organizing located at the university Recreation center, where attendees of the ceremony gathered prior to entering.
The organizers cited Biden’s lack of consideration for human rights in some of his policies as their main motivation for the sit-in.
UNCHAIN released a statement on Instagram, which said that the university demonstrated “extreme hypocrisy” by hosting President Biden at an event for human rights.
Flyers at the protest highlighted overseas bombings and interventions supported by Biden, including the 1982 bombing of Lebanon, the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the 2011 bombing of Libya.