by Jim H. Smith 

Kristin Duquette ’13 doesn’t swim competitively anymore. Though she’s only 23, the five-time American Paralympic record holder, three-time Junior National record holder, and captain of the U.S. team at the Greek Open in 2010 has too much else on her plate to put in the necessary training time. 

These days the East Hartford resident–who, in collaboration with Tortora Sillcox Family Scholar Bryan “Charley” Wedeen ’12 and Sean Snyder ’13, a recipient of several scholarships, coordinated 2012’s high-profile A Day in a Wheelchair event on campus–is busy establishing a career. Last year Duquette, a Susanna and Solon Lawrence Scholar, served as a congressional intern through the American Association of People with Disabilities’ Summer Internship Program and, later, worked for EIN SOF Communications, a Los Angeles-based strategic marketing, public relations, accessible events, and employment consultation firm. Currently she is working with the Connecticut General Assembly’s Education Committee. Since last June, she has been a regular contributor on disability issues to The Huffington Post.   

Farmington resident Anna Gordon ’12, after graduating from Trinity, completed three internships in the nation’s capital with organizations involved in fundraising and international development. Like any good networker, she built lasting relationships with each of her short-term employers. The work she did for GlobalGiving, which helps grassroots organizations worldwide develop more effective fundraising strategies, led to a more permanent job. In January she moved to Thailand to work with We women, a foundation devoted to empowering women in Burma to assume roles of power locally and nationally.  

Duquette and Gordon are only two of the many alumni of Trinity’s novel Human Rights Program. Alumni have spread across the planet, sowing the seeds of equality and hope worldwide through their work with organizations addressing issues such as health care, AIDS/HIV services, disabilities, and gender equality.  

Trinity’s Human Rights Program was the first such program at a U.S. liberal arts college. Introduced in 1998, it offered students an opportunity to design their own curriculum, with a strong emphasis on courses related to human rights. Participating students also may take part in summer fellowships to put their newfound knowledge to work in the world. Currently there are 17 students in the program, says Associate Professor of Philosophy Donna-Dale Marcano, who became the head of the program in the fall of 2013. 

“We look for students for whom human rights is a primary research focus, and we work hard to make sure the program is not merely theoretical,’” says Marcano. “We do a good job of making sure that human rights is not just an issue that happens ‘over there.’ It’s important for our students to have opportunities to travel whenever possible, not just for classes, but for real, experiential opportunities on the ground.”  

Last year, students served summer fellowships–which, since the program’s inception, have been funded by alumnus Peter Blum ’72, P’12–with several prestigious organizations, including the Clinton Global Initiative, a program launched by former President Bill Clinton to convene global leaders to help solve the world’s most pressing challenges; the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, which seeks to eliminate discrimination through law enforcement and to promote equal opportunity and justice through education and advocacy; the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), which partners with communities to promote economic and social rights; Amnesty International, which is dedicated to promoting human rights; the International Rescue Committee, which provides assistance to refugees forced to flee by war or disaster; and WITNESS, an international nonprofit that employs video storytelling to focus public attention on human rights abuses. 

“The Human Rights Program is terrific,” says Maggie Lawrence ’14, a Class of 1963 Scholar from South Carolina who completed a fellowship with NESRI. “The classes are both interesting and challenging, and students have real opportunities to work with human rights organizations. NESRI focuses on human rights to education, health, housing, and work with dignity. During my 10-week fellowship, I had opportunities to work across programs on taxation, state budgeting, and equitable systems. It was a great learning experience.” 

It is experience that Lawrence hopes will come in handy when, after graduating, she looks for work with an international nonprofit. She’ll also have the advantage of a built-in network, 15 years of Trinity alumni who’ve graduated from the Human Rights Program and gone on to rewarding careers.