Daniel Nesbitt ’22
Although the Commencement for the Class of 2020, originally scheduled for May 17, was postponed until after the 2020-2021 academic year, President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney and the administration were able to interact with and celebrate approximately 50 graduating seniors that remained on campus or returned to campus over the course of the pandemic.
Berger-Sweeney and Dean of Campus Life and Vice President for Student Affairs Joseph DiChristina delivered “goodie bags” containing a cookie, flower, and congratulatory note to the seniors on campus as well as seniors staying in apartments on Allen Place. “These were students who were unable to return home for a variety of reasons,” Chief of Staff to the President Jason Rojas explained to the Tripod, “and our intent was to acknowledge their accomplishments knowing they couldn’t celebrate commencement weekend with their families or others from the Trinity community.”
During the course of these goodie bag deliveries, Berger-Sweeney and DiChristina were invited to take pictures with some of the students, “which they felt obliged to do,” Rojas indicated. Rojas added that the administration received feedback and concerns from various members of the community, noting that the administration does “acknowledge the concerns of some individuals who shared that the pictures shared on social media left them with a sense of loss that they could not be on campus. We regret if the photos created that feeling for any students and their families.”
The administration also received more positive feedback, Rojas noted, “from other students and parents who appreciated the small gifts for students and the visit by the President and Dean of Student Life.”
There were also concerns raised about groups of students and social distancing during the deliveries. DiChristina, in an email to students on May 12, asked that seniors do not return to campus for celebrations and that any seniors present should follow the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and the State of Connecticut. The guidelines provide that “when social distancing cannot be maintained,” individuals should “avoid gatherings that exceed five people.” In addition, DiChristina’s email stated that students could be asked to leave campus if Campus Safety finds that they are “gathering in ways that do not support our efforts to meet the Governor’s Executive Orders.”
As noted above, Berger-Sweeney and DiChristina did take photos with students in the process of delivering gifts, which the President’s Office confirmed, but did so while following the guidelines. However, there were some photos in which the students were clearly violating the social distancing guidelines. For example, one such photo with Berger-Sweeney was posted to Instagram featuring twenty-three female students, most of whom appear to be holding a goodie bag, all without masks and in close proximity to each other.
Rojas maintained that the President was “asked to pose for a photo and did so as a courtesy maintaining her social distance while wearing a mask.” When asked why Trinity declined to take action against those students who violated social distancing, Rojas noted that “students generally stayed in small groups and were respectful of the space and to the officers when staff interacted with them.”
“Our priority,” Rojas added, “was for Campus Safety to monitor behavior on the quad given some students were already socializing as a group.” Ultimately, he indicated, the “focus was to prevent larger groups from gathering.”