Trinity College Administrations: Embracing its Urban Identity

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When I mention to people that I’m writing an essay about Trinity College’s relationship with the City of Hartford in recent decades, many quickly reply that “Trinity has done nothing.” But the truth is that Trinity College has played a large role in transforming the future of some of its residents through collaboration via community service projects and internships at a multitude of Hartford organizations. However, the relationship between Trinity College and the Hartford community struggles. The college community differs greatly from the city of Hartford and at times seem like two completely different worlds. In its founding, Trinity College was in constant collaboration with the city but over the years, with Hartford’s changing character, the connection between both communities grew wider and wider. After “white flight” in the 1970s Hartford struggled economically as Trinity managed to repel the issues that came with residing in the city. Hartford’s ills, did not go unnoticed by some in the college community. How did Trinity College view its relationship with Hartford in the 1980s and 1990s, and how have different presidents expressed changing strategies during this time?

Over a 20 year period beginning in 1981, the Trinity College administration has made efforts to improve community relationships in Hartford. Despite these efforts, the interactions with the Hartford community have remained strained. Although community service and service learning projects make efforts to improve Hartford appear superficial from the outside, there has been a direct attempt that has been deeply embedded into several administrations that had a mission to help improve the surrounding Hartford community and its relationship with them. Trinity College has not only executed vanity projects in the Hartford community. Instead, the efforts made by administrations over time have aimed for systemic change within surrounding neighborhoods. Though different administrations have had a different perspective on what aspects relating to the college and the Hartford community should be prioritized, there was a commonality of recognizing that Hartford was home to Trinity and that the college’s urban setting was something that should be embraced instead of erased. James Fairfield English, Jr, Tom Gerety, and Evan S. Dobelle each made changes during their administration and had varying effects.

Trinity College, founded in 1823, is a liberal arts college located in an urban environment. In its founding Hartford, looked a lot different than it does today. Founded by religious leaders and wealthy investors from Hartford, the student body greatly reflected the city in the nineteenth and early twentieth century making it easier for the college to feel like a part of the city. As American industrialization, widespread immigration, and the Great Migration of African Americans changed Hartford demographics, Trinity’s remained unchanged. Before the 1960s, its student body, mostly male and white, lacked diversity. Demands from black students and student leaders pushed the college to become co-ed and admit a larger number of African American students through scholarships. Today the city of Hartford, Connecticut’s capital, is a majority-minority city with more than half of it’s residents coming from an African American or Latino background. Although Hartford is only 17 square miles, it is densely populated and plagued with poverty. The average income in the city in a little over $16,000. (U.S Census 2010) while the cost of tuition at Trinity College is $65,000.

On July 1, 1981 James English, Jr. took over as president of Trinity College. Formerly the chairman of Connecticut’s Bank and Trust Fund, English had a background in finance and planning and grow up in Hartford. He recognized Trinity as being “on the periphery of the city” when recognizing its need to have a stronger relationship with it (Knapp, p. 483). As President English stepped in, the College’s Board of Trustees was recognizing the colleges increasing struggle with student enrollment and money problems. English’s background in business was the ideal fit. As he emphasized Trinity’s urban location he took on a political approach to the way that he saw Trinity should be managed going forward. “You have to balance some fairly diverse constituencies,” he once stated at the beginning of his term (New York Times, 1981). In the following years displayed that his intentions were to do just that.

President English realized that in order to strengthen ties with the Hartford community, some of Trinity’s resources would have to be utilized and, in turn, prioritized fundraising. In 1985 the college launched the Campaign for Trinity to increase its capital. English’s background proved useful after the administration raised over $50,000,000. During his administration, English took several steps to grow the college’s capacity. He approved the consortium for Wesleyan and Connecticut College in an effort to improve the college’s academic experience and expand the college’s use of technology. In 1989, years ahead of the country’s widespread use of computing technology, the administration designated $6,000,000 to computing and engineering. (Knapp, p. 471) In 1982, the English administration used Trinity’s Individualized Degree Program as a way to strengthen ties with Hartford by actively recruiting students. As a result, students in the program would commonly dwell in the Greater Hartford area.  (Knapp, p. 410) Hartford was seen as an asset to the administration to enrich the Trinity College student experience. President James English, during his term initiated a theme of change and community collaboration within the Trinity College community. He efforts recognizing the urban community and seeking to invest in it through the college’s endowment funds set an expectation for future presidents.

Tom Gerety was appointed president of Trinity College in 1989 after the retirement of President English. President Gerety  was previously dean of University of Cincinnati College of Law before making the move to Hartford. Continuing with former President English mission of having a commitment to Hartford. While President English primarily collaborated with Hartford organizations While Gerety approved a continuation he also sought to invest in the the surrounding neighborhoods. Stating that Hartford provided a vibrant setting for Trinity college students and faculty. Months into his appointment, Gerety spoke out against racial injustices and quickly took a stance on his views on equality. One of his early initiatives was to promote diversity inside the college. President Gerety formed a committee and appointed four non-white individuals to combat racial tension on campus. Soon his initiatives would go beyond Trinity’s boundaries and spill directly into the streets of Hartford with a new yet familiar face.

In President Gerety’s plan to move efforts into Hartford he started by seeking out one of Hartford’s biggest assets. It was in 1989 that President Gerety appointed Eddie Perez, a community advocate and student of the college’s Individualized Degree Program, “when Trinity’s trustees were in a panic over the deteriorating neighborhood” (Hartford Courant, 2001). This move was a predecessor of future things to come. Perez was brought on to strengthen ties with the the city and college. President Gerety’s strategic plan focused on increasing the College’s academic programs,increasing rigor, and increasing student activities and involvement in on campus activities.

Student and community interaction increased dramatically during this period. For example, one on-campus “Community Outreach” organization composed of Trinity students helped mentor children in the immediate Broad street neighborhood and strengthen ties within the community with Neighborhood Posse initiative. One Trinity Tripod article stated that the Trinity community had negative stereotypes about black and Latino males in Hartford. (Trinity Tripod, 1990)  President’s Gerety and his commitment to diversity worked to dissolve some of the negativity. Another example of the changing climate on campus during President Gerety’s administration comes from another Trinity Tripod article recapping a community conversation held to alleviate the homeless problem in Hartford. Trinity College was becoming an institute of change.

President Gerety’s abrupt departure left a hole in the Trinity College community. While an acting president stepped in to take his place the college’s board of trustees sought a new president. When Evan Dobelle stepped in as president of Trinity College in 1994 he was credited for his knowledge of urban settings and capacity to fundraiser. According to the Trinity College tripod, Dobelle has experience with creating solutions in “grim situations.” (Trinity Tripod, December 1994). Though faculty and the board of trustees were optimistic about his appointment, others were skeptical. Gang violence, absentee landlords, and drug related issues were at an all-time high. And as students and administration in the Trinity community stood safe on the hill the issues of Hartford bled into the college’s reputation. As the turbulence in Hartford increased the student yield rate, the rate in which students choose to go to Trinity, decreased dramatically and was at an all time low. The College administration realized that if action was not taken to alleviate some of the community’s issues, Trinity would not be able to uphold its reputation as an intellectual and competitive institution. During his term, Dobelle made many changes, not only inside the college, but outside as well. He focused heavily on revitalizing the surrounding Hartford community by building a learning environment around the college in collaboration with Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance or SINA, a partnership between Trinity College, Hartford Hospital, and the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.  During his administration, Dobelle strengthened community learning initiatives with infrastructure that would visually improve the outside of Trinity’s campus.

As the quality of life in Hartford was declining, the neighborhood deteriorated and its reputation affected the college. In response to the low yield rate, the administration also sought to attract students internationally and further across the country. Trinity was marketed aggressively as an institution for change, as it was in the midst of improving the community. President Dobelle’s messaging was directed at embracing the urbanity of the college campus not only locally but globally (Knapp, p. 505). One program during the Dobelle administration was the Trinity’s Center for Neighborhoods or TCN partnered students with nonprofits in the community and assisted with research efforts to gather data for the organizations to work with. Community Learning Initiatives like that of TCN continued throughout President DoBelle’s administration and were centralized to becoming a direct efforts from the College instead of from separate on-campus organizations and faculty. The arrival of The Learning Corridor which connects Trinity College to Hartford Hospital was the catalyst in transforming the community around the college campus.

Trinity College and Hartford are not as distant as they might appear to some and many of the Trinity College’s efforts have not been realized. When issues like those in Hartford exist, twenty years ago and today, it is important that efforts like Trinity Center for Neighborhoods and the Learning Corridor are realizes so these collaborative efforts may continue. As continue Hartford struggles with the same issues, many of the programs launched by Presidents English, Gerety, and Dobelle are still in existence. Some of the names have changed, and so have the faces but Trinity’s College’s commitment to being an urban liberal arts college allow for the possibility of change.



Knapp, Peter J., and Anne H. Knapp. Trinity College in the Twentieth Century: A History. Hartford, CT: Trinity College, 2000. Print.
“Cincinnati Law Dean to Lead Trinity College.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 Apr. 1989. Web. 06 May 2016.
“A Political Perez Learns About Being A Politician.” Tribunedigital-thecourant. N.p., 09 Sept. 2001. Web. 06 May 2016.
“John Parkyn, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.” Reformation Studies (n.d.): n. pag. Web.


Waiting for Superman Video Analysis

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Waiting for Superman is a documentary by Davis Guggenheim about the failing education system in the United States that is comprised of interviews, animation, and historical footage. Guggenheim covers topics such as school choice, tracking, alternatives to traditional schools, and issues surrounding teachers unions and student achievement.

The film focuses on different families, all with unique circumstances and how each utilizes the choice system. One parent, Nakia Whitfield, chose to pay tuition at a parochial school, just across the street from their home. Her income is limited she struggles to pay the $500 cost of tuition, every month, in order to giver her a daughter a quality education, knowing that her chances in the public school system are low. When Whitfield falls behind on payment because her hours are cut, the school does not allow Bianca to participate in her graduation ceremony. Whitfield later seeks other school options for Bianca.  Each family in the film is faced with a set of challenges and all play a different role of parent involvement in the child’s education. Each parent is conflicted with keeping their child in the traditional school and seeks options which ensure their child will make a better transition to higher education. Another student, Daisy, wishes to have a career in the medical field but is destined to for her district’s high school which holds a mere 47% graduation rate.(Guggenheim 21:26) Her parents choose to enroll her in a KIPP magnet school knowing her fate if she does not receive a better education, her father is currently unemployed and her mother works cleaning hospital that Francesca desperately hopes to practice in.  

Another family, who lives in an affluent neighborhood a few miles away from San Francisco told a different story. The high school in student Emily’s district, located in Silicon Valley, tracked students. For Emily, whose test scores were lower than average, this meant that she would not be receiving the best education that her neighborhood could afford. The option for Emily was to enroll into Summit Prep Charter School where tracking students is not practiced. (Guggenheim, 1:00) Summit Prep, like the other traditional school alternatives featured in the film, has a lottery. Emily will be competing for one of only 110 spaces out of 455 (Guggenheim 1:06). Students Daisy, Francisco, Anthony, and Bianca apply to get into charter schools but only one, Anthony, gets in. The scene is emotional and leaves us with little hope for the students future.


Guggenheim, at times, seems anti-union and blames strict contracts that teachers are under for the inability for schools that are under performing to fire “bad teachers”, while also highlighting the nation’s largest teachers union with their strong political ties with presidential candidates. It seems that the message being delivered is that teachers are undeserving of tenure and that unions hinder a school’s ability to have good educators. What Guggenheim fails to cover is there is some need for unions in charter schools, as it is noted that only 1 in 5 charter schools are high performing. Though unions can be problematic in certain districts, they have the ability to improve a school’s culture and achievement rate. (Kahlenberg, Potter pg. 34)


Guggenheim, Davis. Waiting for “Superman.” 2010. Film.

Kahlenberg, Richard D., and Halley Potter. A Smarter Charter: Finding WhatWorks for Charter Schools and Public Education. Teachers College Press.  2014.



Community Comes Together at Hartford Board of Education Meeting

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We arrived at M.D. Fox Elementary at 4:45 PM and headed to the auditorium where this month’s Hartford Board of Education meeting was being held.  A crowd was already gathering at its closed double-doors. A safety officer guarding the door informed us that they would not be opened until 5:00 pm. At 4:50 the doors were opened. Everyone shuffled in with papers in hand, filled with speeches, data, and open letters. Dozens of members from the Hartford Federation of Teachers, a chapter of American Federation of Teachers, packed in. Each of them sported a white t-shirt adorned with the HFT logo emphasizing their presence. One hung a handwritten sign over her neck that read, “HARTFORD COMMUNITY SHOUT: HARTFORD PUBLIC SCHOOLS DISTRICT IS CUTTING ART OUT.” Attendees lined up at a small folding table accommodating two microphones to sign up to speak. The opportunity to sign up was eliminated once the meeting was called to order by vice chair Beth Taylor, an usual move according to regular attendees noting that meetings typically run for hours. 

Typically, these meetings consist of one or two dozen people. This one filled nearly every seat in the auditorium. The meeting came at the brink of proposed layoffs due to budget cuts and the consolidation of the upper and lower schools at Bulkeley High School’s located on Hartford’s South End. Jobs in the school’s lower school could be eliminated. Luis Delgado, a staff member at Bulkeley was the first to speak at the meeting and set the tone of displeasure, frustration, and confusion of succeeding speakers by declaring that there was a “Trump-like attempt to build a wall to divide us,” referring the school community and the district. Jane Russell, School Governance Council co-chair and a parent of three children who each attended Bulkeley High School expressed concerns over what she felt was a lack of transparency between the board and the council. “Make decisions with us, not to us,” was her request. According to her, budget changes were not voted on by the governance council.IMG_20160315_183003 (1)

Levey Kardulis, the head custodian at Bulkeley pointed out nonessential expenses by the school district. One example he made was the location of the school district’s administrative offices, “paying rent at the G. Fox building,” located in Downtown Hartford where the cost of rent is notoriously high. Operating in a building downtown instead of in one of the vacant properties owned by the district was money that could be going elsewhere. A statement that resonated with many teachers who claimed that their schools lacked necessary implements such as computer labs and library printers.
Another school represented by meeting attendees and speakers was Martin Luther King Elementary located in the city’s North End neighborhood. The building has been in Hartford’s North End since the 1920s. It was Thomas Snell Weaver High before its renaming in the 1970s and members of the community have built ties there. Closure for renovations will require the students to be relocated to a temporary location at the newly renovated West Middle Elementary School in the city’s Asylum Hill neighborhood, a move many have welcomed. However, many in the community fear that instead of a makeover, the school may close for good. One parent stressed the school’s dilapidating physical structure and pointed out the lack of transparency between the school’s community and the school district, a theme that was widespread throughout the evening. As she pleaded for a meeting between the superintendent and parents, twenty community members marched to the front of the auditorium to stand in front of the board wearing green ribbons, in solidarity with the parent speaking. “Yes or no?” She asked again. The answer was yes.

Tenaya’s Learning Goal

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I would like to learn about past education practices and how they apply to today’s school system. For example, in what ways does lack of education, in today’s standard, effect the communities that receive inadequate education due to lack of resources and funding. Are the arguments that were being made by figures such as Horace Mann still effective when it comes to strengthening our workforce and maintaining a nation of skilled workers?


Twitter users show an example of what a lack of resources can lead to