By Grace McFadden
US President Joe Biden spoke at UConn on Friday, October 15. This is the second time in UConn history a sitting president has visited campus.
Biden came to campus to speak at the rededication ceremony for the Dodd Center. Biden’s speech lasted around a half hour and focused on the importance of human rights, both nationally and internationally.
“Demonstrating our commitment to human rights begins at home is among the most powerful and persuasive tools in our foreign policy kit. As we defend human rights beyond our shores, we’re more effective when we work together, allies and partners in our shared values,“ Biden said.
The Dodd Center, formerly known as the Thomas J. Dodd Center, was renamed to honor both former US senator Thomas J. Dodd and his son Chris Dodd, also a former US senator.
In his speech, Biden discussed his friendship with Chris Dodd. Biden also emphasized the importance of education, particularly about human rights, in continuing human rights efforts into the next generation.
“So as we dedicate the Dodd Center for Human Rights to honor the legacies of both father and son, it’s also dedicated to the future generations. The students here in the audience today who will discover and defend human rights as the passion and purpose of our life. Let us dedicate it to expanding our shared understanding,” Biden said. “We can never fully realize the freedom we wish for ourselves without helping to ensure liberty and justice to everyone.”
Other speakers at the event included Governor Ned Lamont, University President Andrew Agwunobi, US Representative Rosa DeLauro, US Senator Chris Murphy, US Senator Richard Blumenthal, US Representative Joe Courtney, and Chris Dodd.
Dodd thanked the influential figures in his life, and spoke about his and his father’s work in Congress.
“There are no words I could ever use to thank the people of this state for giving both my father and I the honor to represent Connecticut in the halls of Congress. Together it was 52 years, his service and mine, to represent the state in that building,” Dodd said.
Andre Johnson, a fifth semester political science and human rights major, was one of the attendees of the event. Johnson said the event provided a unique opportunity for students.
“It was a great opportunity to be here with the president and listen to what he had to say. Honestly, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I’m glad I got to experience it,” Johnson said.
However, not all UConn community members received the president wholly positively. Registration for the event was located in the courtyard adjacent to the Dodd Center. UConn UNCHAIN, a student activism organization, protested Biden’s visit outside the Recreation Center.
Samantha Smith is a seventh semester environmental studies and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major. Smith was one of the attendants of the protest outside the Rec Center.
“I just felt so strongly infuriated by the idea that they have Joe Biden coming to talk about human rights when the United States is historically just terrible for human rights. Like, human rights for who? It’s just infuriating to me,” Smith said.
Nell Srinath is a third semester political science and journalism major and the president of UConn UNCHAIN. Srinath was one of the organizers of the protest.
“We decided to have it because we need to mobilize people to hold Biden to account not only to his past record of violating human rights, but to his broken campaign promises and the ways in which he is betraying the pursuit of human rights today,” Srinath said.
Srinath talked in particular about immigration, a cause for which multiple protesters were holding signs.
“The Biden administration talked really big about justice for migrants, and making sure there was an easy path to citizenship, and so forth. Nothing has been done thus far. Almost 100,000 family Green Card visas have expired because the Biden administration did not prioritize renewing them quickly enough,”
The only other sitting president to ever visit UConn was Bill Clinton, who came to campus for the initial dedication of the Dodd Center. Prior to visiting campus, Biden also visited a childcare center in Hartford.
In his speech, UConn President Andrew Agwunobi discussed the university’s commitment to human rights activism and education.
“By helping to ensure that human rights are protected, that human dignity is supported, and that our common humanity is recognized, we have fulfilled the highest aspirations of a world class university,” Agwunobi said.
“For 25 years, the Dodd Center has been essential in helping UConn to meet those ambitious ideals. And I look forward to what the next 25 years have in store.”