Open Letter From @trinsurvivors; President Acknowledges Admin “Committed to Working Harder”

Liz Foster ’22

Managing Editor

President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney, in response to the attention amassed by the Instagram account @trinsurvivors, issued a statement earlier this month acknowledging the account, its list of demands, and referenced ongoing Title IX compliance efforts by a College committee. 

Berger-Sweeney did not accede to or grant any particular demands in her July 8 letter, in contrast to her actions in response to another Instagram account, @blackattrin, which had previously sought relief for issues of purported racial injustice on Trinity’s campus. 

In response, @trinsurvivors issued an open letter to the administration on July 28 indicating that the lack of “an update on the College’s plans to address our concerns/demands” reflected a “lack of understanding of our message and our work.” The letter criticized the administration for the absence of enforcement in its policies and its encouragement to use the “same resources that have repeatedly failed and retraumatized [sic] us.”  

Concerns regarding the Faculty Manual were also expressed and the account asserted that Trinity “has failed to address the fact that one of their tenured professors faces nine different reports of harassment and/or assault.”

The account also indicated that it “will do whatever it takes for our concerns and our demands to be taken seriously” and “will do everything in our power to ensure that survivors are protected at Trinity.”

@trinsurvivors, which first posted on June 19, has garnered approximately 2,300 followers with 249 posts as of Thursday, July 12. Neither Trinity College nor President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney had directly spoken to @trinsurvivors and no statement had been released prior to the July 8 announcement. However, Berger-Sweeney did allude to a “recent outpouring on Instagram by students, alumni, and others about incidents of racism or sexual assault experienced at Trinity” in a separate statement on June 21

The account has called for withholding alumni donations to the College in an effort to support solidarity with survivors of sexual violence on campus. It was not immediately clear if there had been any appreciable impact on donor giving relative to the petition. 

Berger-Sweeney, writing for the senior administration, wrote that the account’s stories “collectively speak of persistent cultures and attitudes that make sex discrimination possible on campus” and that the College would commit to investigating all allegations “to the fullest extent possible.” Recent allegations of offenses have included harassment, drugging, and gang rape, and have sought to implicate Greek life organizations, sports teams, and members of the College’s faculty and staff. @trinsurvivors has indicated that it has received 250 submissions with 71 perpetrators, 15 of whom are alleged “repeat offenders.” 

The senior administrators also acknowledged the list of demands put forth by @trinsurvivors and promised a more detailed response with “planned action items in the coming weeks.” It is not immediately clear whether certain demands are legal or if ascension to certain demands would put Trinity out of compliance with extant Title IX regulations. 

Chief of Staff to the President Jason Rojas, speaking to the Tripod on behalf of Berger-Sweeney, addressed concerns @trinsurvivors expressed relative to Trinity’s Title IX Office, noting that the College is “aware of complaints about the college’s Title IX office” and is “reviewing what we must do to improve the student experience with that office.” Rojas also indicated that a permanent, full-time Title IX coordinator is slated to be hired in the fall 2020 semester. 

Future action items, Berger-Sweeney asserted, will address all elements of campus life, “including the classroom, Greek life, athletics, and student social life in general, and the need to build trust in [the College’s] Title IX process.”

Following the shift in Federal Title IX policies under the Trump administration in May, the College assembled a “working group of students, staff, faculty, and administrators” to revise Trinity’s current Title IX policies in advance of an Aug. 14 compliance deadline. Berger-Sweeney noted that the College will use the demands from @trinsurvivors to “inform its discussions and recommendation.” The Tripod has sought further details and an interview with members of the task force in advance of the conclusion of their work in early August. 

@trinsurvivors also indicated previous correspondence regarding their concerns, specifically about faculty and institutional policies, with the Title IX working group.

The administration roundly condemned all instances and acts of sexual misconduct and affirmed its commitment to “doing the work necessary to provide our students a campus climate that is free of sexual misconduct” in the email. Rojas echoed this, noting that the College’s senior administration “is committed to working harder to prevent sexual misconduct at Trinity” and acknowledged that this “includes continually assessing and improving our response and support mechanisms for students involved in the college’s sexual misconduct grievance process.” 

 The email cited the recent inception of the Task Force on the Status of Women, created to “examine progress made during the last 50 years since the beginning of coeducation at Trinity College,” and subsequent work toward achieving goals of equity, safety, and inclusivity on campus as evidence of some positive change. 

The Tripod reached out for comment from representatives of the @trinsurvivors account who indicated that they remain skeptical of the College’s statement, pointing to an “overwhelming amount of evidence” alleging misdeeds by administrators and Title IX officials in their posts. Berger-Sweeney, in her message, encouraged survivors on campus to report assailants to Trinity’s Title IX coordinator with the promise of being “treated with respect and dignity, and afforded a process that is fair and unbiased.” 

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