JUSTIN MARTIN ’18
“Developing a vision of community for a complex academic organization is not an endpoint but rather an evolution and an ongoing process,” President Joanne Berger-Sweeney wrote last year in an open letter to the Trinity College community. In that letter, the President both praised the Trinity community for the many fruits of its collaboration and addressed some downsides of it, derived from statistical information taken that year. Downsides like these included “reports among the highest rates of white students witnessing and nonwhite students experiencing insensitivity, harassment, or discrimination,” “low satisfaction with the climate for LGBT students,” reports of “unwanted sexual contact during [students’] time on campus,” and reports from “more than half of self-identified Jewish students on 38 college campuses (including Trinity) that they have witnessed or been the target of anti-Semitism within the last six months.” In this, the first semester of Trinity’s 2015-2016 academic year, the student-administration collaborative Campaign for Community is trying to build a response to the President’s concern.
“The President brought to the attention of the Trinity community that she wanted to help create a more diverse and inclusive atmosphere at Trinity,” said Kate Deitrich-Manion, a Trinity Sophomore who plays the role of student representative to the Campaign’s administrative end. When a fellow representative of the SGA, where she is Student Life Chair, brought up the opportunity to work with the Campaign, Kate jumped at the chance “Not because it’s a huge problem,but because it’s just something you wanna strive for.”
The Campaign for Community as it stands is an organization of an administrative working group, a group of faculty mentors who work more directly with students, and students who break off into five separate working groups centered around individual issues. Groups of between eight to nine students explore and investigate the campus climate in respect to a variety of issues. Occurences of rape and sexual assault, school pride, social environment, creating an academic environment, and building global and local presence are all issues being discussed by the Campaign.
“We left it very much up to the students to determine what these issues are, how they can best be solved,” Dietrich-Manion said. “They conducted all the research, we just create a loose structure for them to do that in.”
“The issues addressed by the Student Working Groups are not new issues, and Trinity is certainly not unique in its need to address them,” Erin Valentino wrote in an email regarding her job as part of the Campaign’s administrative working group. “Campus climate is an issue that many colleges and universities grapple with. For Trinity, right here and right now, it is work that we can’t ever give up on. We must continue to strive for the Trinity College that we see in our hearts as well as in our minds.”
Students working in one of the Campaign’s five groups comprise nearly the entirety of the organization’s workforce at this moment, and while meetings typically take one hour out of every week, they do a substantial amount of work between meetings conducting interviews and researching ways to construct a more comprehensive sense of the college’s community that will inform future ideas.
At the end of this semester, the hard work of the student groups will culminate in a conference with administrators and faculty where they will present their data, conclusions, and ideas. Ms Deitrich-Manion sighed and called it “an intense process.”
“I continue to be impressed by student involvement in the Campaign, especially in terms of the extent to which they are willing to make a commitment to moving Trinity forward on issues that may be difficult for some people,” wrote Erin; “I have seen students bring a spirit of open engagement to this process, and I am really excited to see their visions of what community at Trinity can be like.”
Although the Campaign webpage on the school’s website still contains a link to an application, Dietrich-Manion told the Tripod, “Unfortunately, at this point, we’re not going to accept any new students who would be directly involved in the working groups themselves. It would be hard to add a student now because of the training.” Dietrich Manion urged students who feel like they have an important or unique perspective on the campus climate to reach out to students working for the Campaign, who are currently “out networking.”
This early in the collection of data, it is hard to say what the ultimate product of the Campaign’s hard work will be. President Joanne Berger-Sweeney’s letter of last year may guide their minds, however: “Through student organizing, faculty engagement, staff support, and administrative leadership, we can further enhance diversity, cultivate tolerance, and realize the full inclusion of all members of the Trinity community. Our Campaign for Community at Trinity places these efforts at the forefront of our life together.”