Alumni Spotlight: David Benoit ’23 MPA

David Benoit, a 2023 graduate of Watson's Master of Public Affairs program, has used the data analytical and policy evaluation skills he gained in the program, along with faculty mentoring and prior experience working for then Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, to earn a position as the racial justice advocate for the American Civil Liberties of Massachusetts.

David Benoit's path to Brown's Master of Public Affairs program was anything but typical, but it led him to his desired destination — a position as a racial justice community advocate with the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union. 

While he was working as the community relations coordinator and later deputy director of legislative affairs and community engagement for former Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Benoit frequently engaged with Providence-based stakeholders, including Brown University. Eager to re-engage with his lifelong passion for music, Benoit joined Brown's University Chorus. There he befriended some MPA students who inspired him to apply to the program himself.

"Given the legislative work I had been doing for Mayor Elorza, I knew that I desired a degree from a highly reputable and rigorous graduate program that would support my goal of making a lasting impact and drive my career forward," said Benoit. "I had been immersed in my professional life, but I recognized the privilege of meeting Watson MPA students and knowing that Brown was 'in my backyard.'" 

"Entering the MPA program with an understanding of how public policy affected people personally, rather than from an academic perspective, was quite helpful," said Benoit. "The relationship-building and public speaking skills I had acquired allowed me to effectively explain in academic settings how policy decisions directly impact people's lives."

Given the legislative work I had been doing for Mayor Elorza, I knew that I desired a degree from a highly reputable and rigorous graduate program that would support my goal of making a lasting impact and drive my career forward.

David Benoit MPA class of 2023 (Photo Credit: William Bannister)
David Benoit ’23 MPA

Benoit's Policy-In-Action project was with the Emerson Collective — an organization focused on education, immigration reform, the environment, journalism and health care — where he analyzed xenophobia in Chile. "We evaluated the supposed correlation of increased crime to migration patterns throughout the entire Latin American region, with a focus on Chile," said Benoit, who worked on this project with a few other students from his MPA cohort. 

"We found that undocumented and migrant individuals were being targeted heavily by the police, although there was little evidence that these populations were committing the alleged crimes," said Benoit. "In short, these communities were overpoliced. They are more often the victims of crime than they are the perpetrators." Benoit appreciated the data analytical skills he gained through coursework and his Policy-In-Action project. 

Benoit also worked with Professors Susan Moffitt and Jonathan Collins on their Rights to Education research initiative. In this project, Moffitt and Collins' team evaluated the extent to which factors such as race, ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic status affect parents' ability to give meaningful input to school boards as they make decisions that impact their children. 

As a research assistant, Benoit remotely observed dozens of school board meetings in Broward County, Florida, where there were widespread efforts to ban books and drastically limit race education in schools. He continues to contribute to this initiative while working full-time as the racial justice community advocate at the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union, an affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 

Benoit said he feels blessed to have received guidance and mentorship from both Moffitt and Collins as well as other Watson faculty. "I've had a long-standing relationship with Watson Senior Fellow Alice Plane, who continues to champion my post-grad ventures," said Benoit. "She frequently checks in to hold me accountable and makes sure I'm doing everything in the best interests of my career." 

Benoit noted that others at Watson have helped advance his career as well, "In his elective, Diplomacy, An Art That Isn't Lost, Senior Fellow Brian Atwood shared his experiences working in senior positions for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the National Democratic Institute." "After meeting individually with Brian and sharing my aspirations with him, he introduced me to his network, which I didn't expect, but deeply appreciate," he said.

"The Watson MPA program introduced me to new ways of looking at policy that complimented my experience working with the City of Providence," Benoit said, "and how to advocate effectively to different populations, from individuals in academia to community organizers." 

With pride, as a queer Black man of Haitian descent, Benoit is eager to infuse his identity and life experiences and education into his current and future endeavors. "I'm seeing many of the injustices that Black and Brown folks in Massachusetts experience. I want to serve communities like Brockton, where I grew up."