The History of Human Rights at UConn
The Thomas J. Dodd Research Center was dedicated by President William J. Clinton and Senator Christopher J. Dodd to honor Thomas Dodd’s service as Executive Trial Counsel in the International Military Tribunal, the first of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. In the year that followed, known as the “Dodd Human Rights Year,” the university hosted an international conference examining the events surrounding the Holocaust and Nuremberg Trials; programming dedicated to human rights violations in Latin America, Tibet, and Cambodia; rights of the disabled in North America; the internment of Japanese- Americans during the Second World War; and the plight of African Americans involved in the Tuskegee Study. The Dodd Year began with an address from Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and concluded with a speech from former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev.
Alumnus Gary Gladstein endowed the Marsha Lilien Gladstein Visiting Professorship in Human Rights and, the same year, the Dodd Center inaugurated a distinguished lecture series in human rights. In 2000, the inaugural Gladstein Visiting Professorship was held by the late Professor Wiktor Osiatyński, constitutional scholar and longtime board member of the Open Society Foundations. Since then HRI has hosted 19 Gladstein Visiting Professors. Both programs have brought human rights leaders to campus, including former UN Ambassador Samantha Power, Nuremberg Prosecutor Ben Ferencz, South African poet and playwright Zakes Mda, and historians Carol Anderson and Samuel Moyn.
The University of Connecticut designated human rights as a university priority. That year, UConn established a human rights minor, which quickly became one of the most popular interdisciplinary minors in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, drawing students from across the campus. In addition, the University’s accomplishments in furthering human rights scholarship were recognized by the awarding of North America’s first UNESCO Chair in Comparative Human Rights by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The University appointed the first Gladstein Chair of Human Rights, Richard A. Wilson, who founded the Human Rights Institute, to coordinate human rights academics across the University’s schools and campuses. Since then, HRI has served as the intellectual hub of UConn’s human rights program, with dozens of joint and affiliated scholars pursuing human rights research and teaching in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, as well as the fields of business, education, engineering, health, law, and social work. Also in 2003, the University awarded the first Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights, established under the leadership of Christopher J. Dodd and with a generous endowment gift from John Kluge. Among the recipients of the prize are Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and human rights defender Bryan Stevenson, and the organizations Physicians for Human Rights and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
HRI’s academic programs have continued to expand. In 2008, HRI established a Graduate Certificate as an option for graduate students enrolled in MA and PhD programs. In 2012, HRI created an innovative undergraduate Major in Human Rights. UConn is the first public university in the United States to offer a major in human rights and now has one of the largest undergraduate programs in the country. The major has more than 130 students earning a degree in human rights, while also participating in internships throughout the world with leading human rights organizations. In 2021, HRI established an MA in Human Rights, providing advanced training in human rights research and practice through courses taught by expert faculty from across UConn’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the School of Law, the Neag School of Education, the School of Social Work, and the School of Business.
On the 25th anniversary of the Dodd Center’s dedication, the University launched Dodd Human Rights Impact, bringing together the outreach and engagement work of the Center with the academic programs of the Human Rights Institute. As part of HRI, Dodd Impact’s programs in human rights education, business and human rights, democracy and dialogues, and human rights film and digital media, as well as the Dodd Prize, continue to foster a culture of human rights at UConn and around the world.