Trinity College students, staff, and faculty members recently attended the Connecticut Forum’s discussion with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The conversation on November 15, 2022, was moderated by author and journalist Soledad O’Brien, who appeared on stage at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, while Sotomayor joined the live event remotely.
Trinity is an education partner of the Connecticut Forum, which supports open dialogue, lifelong learning, and the free and active exchange of ideas. Members of the Trinity community and other education partners have the opportunity to attend conversations about important issues with global leaders, in addition to taking part in behind-the-scenes events and visits with panelists.
“Connecticut Forum events hosted at the Bushnell are perfect examples of the many ways in which Trinity students can connect with Hartford,” said Carlos Espinosa ’96, M’98, director of Trinity’s Office of Community Relations and Trinfo.Café. “Trinity helps students recognize they aren’t visitors of Hartford for four years, but rather Hartford residents during their time here. That critical shift in perspective drives our academic and co-curricular engagement work, and cultural events like those hosted by the Connecticut Forum encourage our students to further embrace the city.”
The recent discussion gave the audience insight into Sotomayor’s life outside of being a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Sotomayor, who is the first Latina to sit on the court, was appointed in 2009 by former President Barack Obama. She currently is one of four women on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The conversation was not centered around Sotomayor’s current or future cases, but instead focused on her contributions to creating a better country. Sotomayor began by speaking about the importance of civic engagement and participation in communities. “Think about the power of individual voices and the power of civic change,” she encouraged the audience. “Civics is participating in rules that make us a community. It is being involved in making the rules, or laws, that help us interact with one another.”
Sotomayor also addressed the importance of civic education in public schools, starting with elementary school children. By teaching students at a young age about civic engagement, they are less likely to be bystanders to their beliefs within their communities, she said. Students who learn about civic education tend to stay in school, do better in their classrooms, and go to college. She emphasized teaching students to talk and listen to each other, despite not always agreeing. Sotomayor said, “Outreach and promoting civic education to children is critical for the survival of our country.”
Trinity student and prospective public policy and law major Jorge Espinoza ’26 said, “Trinity’s emphasis on diversity and collaboration pushes me towards a greater degree of empathy that cannot be compared. The forum only made it clear that not everyone is being taught these morals, and it is really moving that Trinity goes out of its way to teach us basic human ethics.”
Sotomayor is the author of four books, including two children’s books. Her book, Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You, refers to her struggle growing up with diabetes and brings awareness to children with disabilities. Trinity public policy and law major and formal organizations minor Kelly Thomas ’24 said, “The children’s book follows the theme that everyone is different and unique. Despite everyone’s differences, Sotomayor says that we are like a garden. We need many different types of flowers, just as we need many different types of people in order to grow and be beautiful.”
In the course of the evening, Sotomayor also discussed her relationship with the other justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. She emphasized how they may see cases differently in the court, but they see the best in each other and have strong relationships. She said, “Each justice fundamentally loves the court. Sometimes I disagree with my colleagues, but I always see them as human beings. We don’t always get along in the court, but we are the first call when a family member dies.”
Keeping an open mind in every case is one of the biggest principles in law that Sotomayor said she follows. She explained how she uses different tools in each individual case to interpret the Constitution, and each justice’s interpretation is different. She said, “People rely on the stability of the law, and the judicial system is not prone to politics in a bipartisan sense.”
The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg influenced Sotomayor with her uplifting nature and fight for the equality of women, Sotomayor said. She concluded by emphasizing the increased quality of talking and listening from the justices when more women are present on the court. Sotomayor said, “Watching it evolve is quite lovely.”
The Connecticut Forum will host Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Ronan Farrow, along with other panelists to be announced, for a conversation called “Misinformation and Finding the Truth: Reckoning with Today’s Media Landscape” on March 23, 2023. For more information, click here.