Daniel Nesbitt ’22
President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney announced in July that the senior administration of Trinity has committed to a number of action steps to address issues of inclusion and equity at Trinity. The message served primarily as a response to a statement and list of demands issued by the Umoja Coalition, though the President’s message clarified that it is only “a list of initial commitments of actions that [the administration] can take as soon as practicable.”
Among the efforts committed to by the administration was to “Support the faculty Education Policy Committee (EPC) in creating six Special Opportunity Hires (preferably at the senior/tenured level) each year for the next three years to increase faculty diversity.” Notably, within their list of demands, the Umoja coalition stipulated that the Special Opportunity Hires “should be used to increase the number of Black faculty, especially in STEM.” After seeking clarification about these “Special Opportunity Hires,” Berger-Sweeney told the Tripod that “the academic departments for these positions are still being considered at this time.” Additionally, she clarified that the positions “will be reserved to increase our faculty diversity.”
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty Sonia Cardenas told the Tripod in early July that the positions “will be for diverse faculty members, including members of underrepresented groups.” The Administration declined to provide any additional clarification as to what criteria constitutes a Special Opportunity Hire, if those positions would be filled exclusively by individuals who are members of minority groups, or when those positions will be filled. “It’s important to remember,” Chief of Staff and Assistant Vice President for External Affairs Jason Rojas added, “that the action items shared by President Berger-Sweeney in her July 1 message to the community are steps we have committed to taking and that will require some time and consultation with other stakeholders from our college community. The EPC continues to meet throughout the summer and will share more details when available.”
Berger-Sweeney also stressed that “all campus members, all trustees, and all key volunteers” will be required “to complete anti-racist, unconscious bias, equity education” in fall 2020. When asked about the specifics of this training, including cost and evaluation of its efficacy, Berger-Sweeney told the Tripod that “It’s important to remember that the action items we have shared with the community came together over the past few weeks and we’re committed to working with college stakeholders to develop common goals for many of the decisions we will make. We will have details in the weeks ahead as we are still developing specifics.” Similarly, another action step provides for the development of an “anti-racist summit…to improve the campus climate beginning in the fall.”
In its separate commitment, Berger-Sweeney agreed to “Change the names of Seabury and Wheaton Halls immediately” due to the namesake individuals support for slavery, and “appoint a multi-constituent committee this fall to determine new names.” Berger-Sweeney emphasized the importance of “Community members [helping] us figure out whose names and stories could or should be celebrated and what names should adorn our campus buildings and spaces.” She also indicated that the renaming of these two buildings “will be an important part of Trinity’s commemoration of our bicentennial in 2023.” In a similar action step, the administration committed to “Honor the contributions of people of color in the celebration of the college’s bicentennial in 2023, and develop a comprehensive history that includes an honest telling of any institutional ties to slavery.”
It was not immediately clear when these changes would go into effect or when the committee to oversee renaming of campus buildings would be convened.
There were also numerous action steps that included significant financial commitments. The administration committed to provide funding of $100,000 annually for the International Hip Hop Festival and Samba Fest ($50,000 for each program) for the next three years. Additionally, the administration committed to “Make plans to renovate the Umoja House, the Asian-American Student Association (AASA) House, and La Eracra-La Voz Latina House.” Berger-Sweeney told the Tripod that “the pecuniary cost to renovate is under consideration depending on the scope of work that would be needed. We would consider a variety [sic] resources to meet the commitment for renovations.” Despite the uncertainty around renovation costs, the Board of Trustees announced in an email several days later that Trustees had personally “committed new gifts totaling $400,000 to renovate Umoja House and to fund a number of new initiatives of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion aimed at combating systemic racism at the college.” These financial commitments came soon after the College laid off eleven employees, instituted a hiring freeze for 26 unfilled positions, and furloughed 136 staff members without pay.