Alex Dahlem ’20
The start of a new school year, especially in college, is an exciting time. However, given the state of campus relations at the end of last semester, there is also a feeling of dread in the air. Although many different groups within the student and alumni bodies are anxious and maybe even angry, the discomfort resonating throughout the Trinity community is a good sign. It is a sign that we are starting to acknowledge each other’s unique stories and backgrounds and how, when we bring ourselves together, we can start to address institutional issues that have plagued Trinity since its inception.
The Churchill Club debacle was a revelatory moment for Trinity as an institution. It exposed the willingness of professors from all different parts of campus to use politically active students and proxy issues as weaponry in decades long intra and interdepartmental feuds. It exposed our administration as donation-hunting elites who seem perpetually afraid of picking sides on issues that matter deeply to students. However, most importantly and unfortunately most painfully, it exposed the fundamental racial and socio-economic differences between us, the student body. The pain and emotion that so many on our campus wore proudly and openly during last semester made us understand our own personal journeys on a very unique level.
Although many in the Trinity community continue to feel unfulfilled by the outcomes of last semester, we have to recognize that tackling our campus issues can be the start of a larger movement that addresses similar racial and socio-economic issues in the Greater Hartford community. We should not stop with Trinity. Instead, we should take our voices for justice out into the community and use our dynamic perspectives to help the greater surroundings.
As we all know on some level, Trinity is an economically and racially polarized community. In addition to having a significant number of students from “the 1%,” Trinity also gives millions of dollars in financial aid money every single year. Racial divides (which unfortunately often mimic economic divides in America) are also prevalent at Trinity. The near-racial homogeneity of different fraternity houses, sorority houses, and cultural houses on Vernon Street is a solemn reminder that even though we may all take classes together, our student body and alumni groups are still extremely divided. These divisions undoubtedly contributed to tensions surrounding the approval of the Churchill Club, a controversy that is striking at the core of our history and future as a college.
Many students spend four years in Hartford without recognizing the deep inequality that shapes the economic and social landscape of the region. And, to be fair, Trinity was never in a position to assume a proactive role in embracing Hartford. Historically it has been a place and a city where students come in order to get somewhere else. If Churchill tensions have taught us anything, it is that Trinity’s most recent reckoning could be a blessing in disguise for the college’s future role in the region. Everyone on campus, no matter race or economic situation, should feel either pressured or inspired to try and understand why different groups of students are so angry.
Instead of thinking about the Churchill Club controversy in a vacuum, Trinity should use that energy to do something that it has not done on a large scale: be a regional leader for positive change. If we as students can start to realize that the issues and representations of inequality on campus that were so prevalent this past semester are the exact same issues plaguing the Hartford metropolitan area, then we can begin to produce students who are much more aware of their potential to be social change makers in the region.
A data study by the CT Mirror found that metropolitan regions in Connecticut are among the most racially and economically segregated in the country. 27 percent of top-earning households in Connecticut live in neighborhoods that are predominantly white and wealthy. The nationwide average is 10 percent. Additionally, poor residents in the greater Hartford region are just as likely to live in poor and predominantly minority neighborhoods as those in Detroit and Philadelphia. In short, the Hartford region, like Trinity, is geographically small and painfully split by race and economic background. Taking action on campus to tackle stark divisions could be a useful experience for fixing much more widespread and ingrained regional inequalities. This would be the perfect time for Trinity students to make that transition.
Yes, while I hope that our campus community can rid itself of inequality amongst the student body, we must strive to learn a valuable lesson about how some of those same issues are effecting the Hartford region, the country, and even the world, and then feel inspired to be a part of a solution. Trinity is a small place, but a humble perspective can lead to big change.