Person on the Case

By Charlotte Bruce Harvey '78 / January / February 2004
June 8th, 2007
When Jennifer Hustwitt ’07 stood before Canada’s House of Commons this fall to accept the Governor’s Award for public service, she was shocked to receive a standing ovation. Even more surprising was the point-blank question—“Why are you attending college in the United States?”—and the admonishment to “make sure you return to Canada!” She had to revise her acceptance speech on the spot.

The annual award commemorates the Person’s Case, in which five early-twentieth-century activists successfully fought to change the interpretation of the word persons in Canada’s constitution to include women. Each year the award is given to one woman under age twenty-four and five over fifty.

A native of Waterloo, Ontario, Hustwitt was nominated by teachers in her high school, who had witnessed her tenacity in a number of projects. She raised $35,000 to start a school in Nicaragua. Then she negotiated with Waterloo education officials to guarantee decent working conditions in the factories where the school’s clothing was manufactured, a project that she says thrust her between idealistic students and administrators frustrated by the difficulty of change. “I learned a lot about negotiation and compromise,” Hustwitt says, noting that the experience also familiarized her with the politics of education, a hot topic in Canada right now.

Hustwitt’s decision to come to Brown resulted in part from a change in education politics. During her senior year, Ontario schools compressed two graduating classes into one, as the system switched from a five-year high school model to a four-year program. Public universities, already large, were being stretched even further to absorb this bubble. Wanting a smaller school with a strong program in international relations, Hustwitt found Brown on the Internet and was drawn by the freedom the curriculum promised. She says it seemed the kind of place that welcomed inventiveness and independence—qualities she has in spades.

Hustwitt’s interest in international relations blossomed after Hustwitt traveled to Nicaragua one summer to work on the school she was helping to found. What greeted her there—poverty, generosity, and, especially, the limits placed on girls’ lives—struck her profoundly. While the boys played outside, she says, the girls remained inside, helping their mothers or just standing and watching.

By contrast, Hustwitt says, as child she danced and rode horses. At Brown, she has taken up rugby. “I keep getting dirtier and dirtier,” she says with a laugh. That’s the kind of opportunity she wants to help obtain for other girls.

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January / February 2004