Gillian M. Reinhard ’20
Maybe one of the last remnants of Jimmy Jones’ presidency, “Alumni for a Better Trinity” exists as one of the College’s most controversial and active forums. According to Bob Babcock ’90, a former moderator of the Facebook group, as well as Douglas Kim ’87, vice president of his class, a former National Alumni Association member, and one of the three current moderators of the Facebook group, “Alumni for a Better Trinity” was first formed in 2012 by Robert Bibow, a graduate of the late 80s, in response to President Jones’ co-ed Greek mandate. This mandate, no longer within the immediate memory of Trinity’s undergraduates, required that each Greek Life organization accept both male and female students. This proposal, pulled off successfully by peer school Wesleyan, was met with widespread backlash from alumni at Trinity.
Kim explained that the Facebook group is well known for its active debate, adding that “‘Alumni for a Better Trinity’ is unique in its size, consistent activity, and diversity of opinion. It is believed to be the largest group of its kind on Facebook among NESCAC schools.” He also added that the creation of “Alumni for a Better Trinity” was not added entirely due to dissatisfaction with Jones’ co-ed mandate. The Facebook group was also created out of alumni frustration regarding rankings and a perceived decline of the College.
“I think it’s probably safe to say the members of the group are on the younger side. I may be on the older end,” commented Bill Yelenak ’75, a participant in the forum. “I think it’s a great mix of alumni,” he added. Though the group boasts about 2,000 members (both current students and alumni), it is typically a much smaller group of alumni that carry conversation. Hundreds of group members rarely like posts or comment at all.
Of a relatively small pool of participants, debate and discussion run rampant. After a very non-scholarly analysis (and input from Babcock), the topics most likely to incite 100+ comments (both for and against) on a post include:
(1) Greek Life
(2) President Berger-Sweeney and Vice President Angel Perez
(3) Professor of Sociology Johnny Williams
(4) Tuition Increases
(5) Trinity alumnus Tucker Carlson
(6) “The Rankings”
“(Some members) advocate for Western Civilization and mock minority and identity groups that protest,” continued Babcock. Out of perceived frustrations with the group, Babcock and a group of members of the Trinity community created a second forum, titled “Trinity Alumni, Faculty, Students, and Friends.” Its purpose, as Babcock explained, is to “provide a place where people didn’t need to see Trinity as an extension of Tucker Carlson’s America.” The group hosts about 450 members and sees somewhat less frequent postings and discussion as a result.
Erin Poskocil ’84 agreed with the comments of Babcock, explaining that she began to pull away from the “Alumni for a Better Trinity” Facebook group after vigorous debate surrounding the Charlottesville/Unite the Right rally protests of 2017. “One of the things about Trinity is that even people who criticize the school criticize because they are passionate about Trinity…There are a lot of alumni who care a great deal,” she explained.
Last spring, “Alumni for a Better Trinity” reached the attention of both the Trinity administration and The Hartford Courant, which reported on campus controversy within the framework of conservative-leaning Professor of Political Science Greg Smith and liberal-leaning Professor of Sociology Johnny Williams. “Alumni for a Better Trinity” featured prominently in the Courant’s reporting on outrage surrounding the incidents. In a special to the Courant, President Berger-Sweeney pointed out that the Facebook group was a “small number of alumni” as well and was not representative of the “diverse opinions of (Trinity’s) 27,000 alumni.”
Despite this, “Alumni for a Better Trinity” and other Facebook groups remain an active and at least somewhat relevant forum for alumni and other members of the community. “I do like the Trinity Facebook group for staying abreast of some of the serious issues affecting the school…more recently, though, alums are posting more fun things about Trinity,” said Yelenak, “It’s also a good way to keep up with Trinity sports,” he added.
Discussion on the forum seemed to have reached its zenith in spring 2019, when the SGA debated the merits of acknowledging the controversial Churchill Club. Since that time, however, Yelenak’s depiction of the forum seems accurate. Recent posts have centered around squash and Cinestudio, generating mostly positive content. The Tripod’s recent article on the two-semester suspension of Alpha Delta Phi (AD) and the one-semester censure of St. Anthony Hall, however, garnered nearly 100 comments, almost all condemning the recent actions of the Greek Life organizations, a surprising reaction given the Facebook group’s origins.
A common thread amongst alumni involved in the Facebook groups, particularly “Alumni for a Better Trinity,” is a dissatisfaction of opportunities for alumni to stay engaged in Trinity. As Poskocil explained, there are relatively few alumni employed by Trinity’s administration in comparison to her time as an undergraduate. Poskocil believed that the College may not maintain a close connection to the Facebook group “Alumni for a Better Trinity” due to its negativity against the school.
“We have a Class of 1984 Facebook group,” she explained, “it’s all positive, but it’s not as active (as “Alumni for a Better Trinity”).” Poskocil continued, “If we (members of “Alumni for a Better Trinity”) were all sitting down together… There’s no way people would act like that.”
Kim stated that the Facebook group’s aim, “has always been to create a forum where members of the community could air their feelings—positive and negative—about any issue facing Trinity. It’s an esay, more transparent way to stay engaged that goes beyond the traditional public relations stories.”
As Poskocil pointed out, Trinity is a small community, and just being an alum of the school can instill a certain sense of comradery amongst graduates “As much as Trinity has changed, the basics seem to still be there.”