Administration addresses racial climate at Trinity

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On Friday, Feb. 5, Dean of Students Christopher Card sent members of the Trinity College community an email regarding an event that had taken place the day prior. In the email, Card explained that a Trinity staff member discovered a poster in Mather Hall that had been vandalized. The poster, which advertised an event related to Black History Month, had a racial slur written across it in pencil.

The staff member who noticed the defaced flier notified student leaders who then brought it to the attention of the administration. Security cameras in the area did not capture any images of the vandal.

In an interview with Tripod staff, Deans Card, DiChristina,and Spurlock-Evans as well as Chaplain Read spoke about the incident in more detail. “The College’s regulation number one talks about conduct that is unbecoming of a Trinity College student,” said Dean of Campus Life and Vice President of Student Affairs Joe DiChristina, referencing the student handbook.

Regulation one of the College Regulations: Social Codes section of the handbook describes the following as prohibited offenses: “Conduct that is unbecoming of a Trinity College student. This includes, but is not limited to, disturbance of the peace; disorderly or indecent conduct; physical or verbal abuse or assault; threats; intimidation; coercion; any conduct that threatens, instills fear, or infringes upon the rights, dignity, and integrity of any person; any conduct likely to violence or harassment”

As of yet, no one has come forward with new information regarding the incident. However, the administration plans to investigate further.  “We all have a responsibility in terms of following up with an investigation and communicating to the community,” said Read.

In response, the administration reached out to students who were directly affected by the incident.  “One of the things we have found serves our students well, is to work with those who were affected directly,” said Read. “We want to discover what it is that they would like to see as a response. When I spoke with students on Friday, they were eager to see the kind of email that everyone eventually received. Another thing that students have expressed consistently is a desire for some understanding of the position that this puts individuals of the targeted group in.”

Chaplain Read elaborated on how the affair may affect the student body.  “Acts like these erode trust,” said Read. “Its hurtful and violates policy, but more importantly it leaves members of our community feeling fear, feeling unsafe, and feeling alienated.”

Some Trinity students have also spoken out on the issue.  “As a mixed student, half-African American and half-white, I think this incident is an act of immaturity and insensitivity,” one student said. “I was attracted to Trinity for a variety of reasons, but specifically because of the accepting and welcoming community. When incidents like this arise, I believe it poorly reflects on the college’s community and shows prevailing ignorance.”

Administrators explained that students belonging to a targeted group can grow to feel isolated and unwelcome on campus.  “It plays out as, ‘do I belong here?’,” DiChristina said. “‘Am I wanted here and do I belong here?’ It brings that sense of doubt to an individual.”

Speaking candidly, Chaplain Read addressed the extent to which racism exists at Trinity. “Racism pervades our culture and our society and does so at Trinity as well,” she said.  “Racism does exist in the environment I have been in.”  In concurrence, President Berger-Sweeny stated “If you ask me if these issues exist on our campus, I would say I am sure that they do.”

The president expanded on her statement and explained how she also views homophobia, sexism and anti-semitism as major concerns for the Trinity community. In her statement, Berger-Sweeny referenced an email she sent to the student body which cited a survey indicating that students were not happy with the social climate regarding these issues.

While college leadership recognizes their role in addressing discrimination, they also believe that the student body has a responsibility to combat it. “The entire community needs to look at this,” Card said.  “What does it suggest if you see something like that and you don’t react to it?

With discrimination on college campuses dominating national headlines in recent months, this incident parallels similar events at schools like Yale University and the University of Missouri.  There has been considerable student activism at Trinity, including a demonstration of solidarity during the homecoming football game on Nov. 14 and participation in the #WakeUpWorld movement on Nov. 16

The administration supports student demonstration of this kind and would like to see more student involvement. “How can students establish new partnerships?” Read asked. “Maybe working together so that collaboration is something that students identify as desirable, and we’ve seen it appreciated not only in the fall but over the years as a way to lead going forward.”

The administration feels however, that certain forms of activism are less productive than others. “When people turn to something anonymous or fail to take up the challenge of starting a dialogue, that’s when activism is unproductive,” DiChristina explained.

While college authorities are aware that this incident may affect Trinity’s public perception, they are focused primarily on addressing it within the Trinity community. “Clearly it could have an impact on who’s interested in coming here, working here, and being a part of this community,” DiChristina said. “But our initial reaction is to care for students on campus.”

Berger-Sweeney is hopeful that this event will not harm Trinity’s reputation. She would like people to recognize more positive events on campus instead. “I hope that one isolated example is not going to influence all of the other positive things that are happening on our campus, she said. “Like all the positive things happening through the Bantam Network, on our athletic fields and in the Campaign for Community.”

The administration has asked anybody who has information regarding the incident to come forward as the continue to work with students, faculty and staff members to address the broader issues of discrimination.

“We have to be vigilent to create a different kind of community because there’s so much pressure outside of our own, pushing us in still racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-semitic direction,” President Berger-Sweeny said with passion.  “We have to choose what we want to be, and stand up to each other and with each other.”

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