The Effect of Student Activism on Trinity College Policy

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Trinity College in 2012

Whether performed on a small undergraduate campus or demonstrated on the streets in a global context, student activism is prominent in all realms of the world. Private liberal arts colleges, such as Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, have the opportunities and extensive networking outreach to assemble in an intimate setting in which students are valued and given the prospect of bright futures. This kind of environment provides the student population with an ample amount of social engagement and the opportunity to express concern and opposition to existing policies. Trinity College has undergone a significant amount of amendments to its jurisdiction since it’s founding in 1823, and within the last few decades, the acknowledgement of student involvement has led to effectual change in policy. This leads to the question: how have changes in Trinity policy been influenced by student activism since the 1960s?

Specifically race, alcohol, and fraternities have largely been the subjects of dispute on undergraduate campuses. Each of these controversial topics has been assessed periodically throughout the course of Trinity history due to the ever-changing standards of society and generational growth. The relationship between the administration and the student body contains a mutual respect for one another. Trinity’s mission statement represents their overall view on the students’ role:

“Our students take increasing responsibility for shaping their education as they progress through the curriculum, and recognize that becoming liberally educated is a lifelong process of learning and discovery, An attractive, secure, and supportive campus community that provides students with myriad opportunities for interaction with their peers as well as with the faculty” (Trinity College, 2012).

Thus it seems that students are given the responsibility to motivate the wanted change necessary for communal satisfaction. Although faculty and trustees possess the administrative power, the immediate and rapid response time that the college administration delivered over policy changes is due solely to the influence of student activism and protest. There are a variety of factors that produced each effectual change in policy at Trinity, and the most outstanding contributor has been student activism, involvement, and influence, particularly concerning controversial policy change about race, alcohol, and fraternities, since the 1960s.

Historical Background

Trinity migrated from a local all men’s collegiate establishment to a regional coeducational institution broadened by global access due to the implementation of study abroad programs. This transformation exemplifies the multitude of periodical changes that have been made over the course of Trinity’s historical background. Among the variety of demonstrations, protests, and activist movements that took place, students were dedicated to protecting their community and in effect became the forefront initiators of the policy changes that occurred. Undergraduate students have been agents of social change since the beginning of the 20th century. The 1960s in particular sparked a significant increase in student involvement wherein students became politically substantial activists. Dr. Theodore Lockwood was appointed as the fifteenth president of Trinity College in 1968, which began the progressive decade that student activism peaked. In his inaugural speech, he communicated that the duty of the college was to permit and tolerate student expression:

“If the independent college is to serve society effectively, it must retain its privilege…to examine society, and freely to question its assumptions and practices…[In addition,] a college must play an active role in helping to resolve, not simply to identify, issues off campus” (Knapp, 2000).

Lockwood’s promotion of social engagement established a new-found standard for student involvement in the community. With President Lockwood’s encouragement and the lack of control that students felt because of the turmoil in the world around them, students were motivated to make a difference in their internal and external communities. Student immersion and involvement in national and global controversies provoked campus discourse and opposition to authority. Occurrences such as the Bay of Pigs, the bombing of North Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the death of Malcolm X, became prominent societal turbulence particularly affecting those graduating into the reality of adulthood. Peter and Anne Knapp (2000) identified this increase in activism in Trinity College in the Twentieth Century:

“The 1960s were a time of extremes in the country, and energized by intellectual vitality and moral fervor, college students nationwide sought to counter the pervasive forces of gloom and devastation that were present on the national and international front, and whose manifestations were being reported daily in the press as well as on radio and television. Trinity students looked beyond the campus to engage in a host of local activities” (Knapp, 2000).

By experiencing the world in crisis, students began to formulate a democracy within their community and the intimate nature of Trinity’s small enrollment allowed this to occur. The Trinity College chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) alliance was founded in 1966, which advocated for “the establishment of social democracy in the United States, and a humanist view of the rest of the world” (Knapp, 2000). The national SDS evolved from the Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS) that was founded in 1905, which promoted world peace with a concentration on civil policies and rights. It became the foremost organization for student expression throughout undergraduate college campuses.

With a solidified outlet for social movement, students were entitled to release their frustrations, objections, and beliefs while gaining the ability to challenge the authority that they resided under. However the 1969 separation of the national SDS diminished the allure of such an organization to Trinity students by means of deterring the interest of urgent matters to much broader concerns students knew could not be confronted. Demonstrations and protests across the board also became increasingly violent and the efforts of students failed to provide any sufficient outcomes. The SDS chapter was eliminated in 1970. Thus student expression peaked around 1970 and significantly decreased thereafter.

While global dysfunction continued to encumber the lives of students, Trinity’s internal community encountered its own share of acute political conflicts. Controversial topics such as attacks of racism, alcohol restrictions, and fraternity reign, were notorious and continue to subsist amid the student population. It is important to note that in the social movements discussed, the response of the Trinity administration and further change in policy reflects the impact of student activism.


Racial discrimination in particular drove students to perform an unprecedented act of social change. The topic of racism is generally excluded from the discourse due to its sensitivity and subjectivity, however The Civil Rights Movement that occurred in the early 1960s “heightened undergraduate awareness of race relations and the status of blacks in America, and promoted many Trinity students to ask why more blacks were not being admitted to the College” (Knapp, 2000). This immense battle for racial equality aggravated the Trinity community and led to the infamous “lock-in” in 1968 in which “168 students occupied the Downes and Williams administration buildings in an effort to force the trustees to consider the Senate’s proposal concerning scholarships for black students” (Knapp, 2000).

Trinity College "Lock-in" Hartford Times, 1968

The incident lasted for approximately thirty-two hours, and the trustees were held captive in their meeting room as students surrounded the proximate areas. A petition was signed by almost 14 percent of the entire student body in order to prevent disciplinary action against the original six that spearheaded the protest. The president at the time, Albert C. Jacobs, claimed that the “lock-in” resulted in a lack of victory on both sides, however the college administration immediately responded consequently leading to the promise of a $30,000 scholarship fund for Negro students as well as momentum to enroll disadvantaged students in the future. Unfortunately, the issue of racism in the Trinity community has remained prevalent. In April 2011, racist remarks and acts of discriminatory vandalism were reported across the campus and a “No Tolerance” or “Zero Tolerance” policy was demanded by the student body in a protest that took place in front of Mather Hall. An unspecified professor took a stand, “we demand to live in a culture that is civilized” (Provost, 2011).

"No Tolerance" Policy Demanded by Students, Mather Hall 2011

Approximately three weeks after this demonstration occurred, and thirty or so students conducted a sit-in at the Dean of Students office, the Trinity administration delivered a sufficient response to the student activism:

“The Dean of Students Office and the SGA have agreed to work through the Campus Climate Committee to create a new policy on bias-related harassment that is more explicit in conveying that the College community does not tolerate such acts and that individuals who are found by the College judicial process to have committed targeted acts of harassment based on race, sexual identity, gender, or other forms of bias will face serious consequences up to and including expulsion from the College” (Provost, 2011).

This addition to Trinity policy transpired because of the resilient student activism and because of “a response they felt was appropriate given what they perceived to be a trend of racism and homophobia on campus. Conversely, others argued that the incident was an isolated event, and not symptomatic of a larger intolerant campus climate” (College Archives, 2011). Regardless of subjective remarks, the attacks of racism provoked the student body to contest the lack of policy on discriminatory behavior resulting in the administration’s acknowledgement of its consequences and an implementation of a policy to prevent it in the future.

Alcohol and Fraternities

In addition to the persistent issues regarding racial discrimination, alcohol and fraternity reign have been considered widely renowned subjects of controversy in terms of student protest to policies and regulations. In October of 1964, President Albert C. Jacobs announced, “no alcoholic beverages will be permitted at any function of the college, including functions at the several fraternities, attended by any undergraduate regardless of age” (New York Times, 1964) that instigated a student demonstration of about 300 participants to storm out in front of his home only two hours later. Students chanted the black freedom song “We Shall Overcome” and marched to the State Capitol later that evening. One day later, President Jacobs remarked, “if students submitted reasonable, responsible, and workable plans, those over 21 years old would be permitted beverages in their quarters” (New York Times, 1964), consequently revoking his original statement and enabling the student body to disregard his authority.

The 1964 ban on alcohol in fraternities was never erased from Trinity policy yet it wasn’t until January of 2012, almost fifty years later, that an enforcement and alteration in the policy was mandated. This so-called ‘new’ Social Policy was announced by means of email to the student body over their winter vacation, preventing student protest and outrage from occurring on the campus: “[the policy was] implemented by the Dean of Students to curb excessive party culture and self-destructive alcohol consumption at Trinity” (Laws, 2012). Regardless, the student community was not enthused about the new list of regulations that prevented their previous habits of free reign from continuing and when second semester commenced, student opposition was ignited. The momentous uproar that this new policy caused was like wildfire across the community, heard by faculty, trustees, and even the caterers at the dining halls. A four-hour forum was hosted by the administration at the Vernon Social Center, to allow student input and expression in which approximately 500 to 1000 students attended. The overwhelming response led to an email from the Dean of Students: only one weekend after the event took place. The email entailed a request for a Student Task Force “to produce recommendations for changes to the social policy” (Laws, 2012). In the few weeks that followed, the Student Government Association (SGA) hosted a forum for students to address their concerns and complaints that gave the newly installed Student Task Force a foundation of recommendations to negotiate policy review with the administration. The tremendous hostility towards this new policy created bad blood between the student body and the administration, and students became defensive: “Several students emphasized that the school wide uproar is not simply an effort to fight for the ‘right to party,’ as it has often be stated, but it is a call to change many of the existing problems at Trinity” (Mehraban, 2012). In an interview with President James F. Jones, he encouraged students to understand the balance of academia and social engagement that the new policy attempted to uphold by stating, “what do you think your diploma stands for?” (Ragosta, 2012) In the end, the SGA Task Force and the administration negotiated to create a new draft of the policy: “This new draft reflects the voices of the student body and addresses the abrupt and exclusive nature of the previous policy, and features various compromises that the Task Force has reached with members of the administration” (Kim, 2012). Furthermore, the administration promised to “provide at least two weeks notice to the student body before making any policy changes, unless a legal mandate or clear and present danger compels immediate action by the College” (Kim, 2012). Conclusively, the reformed social host policy was a direct result of the student opposition and activism and was implemented only a few weeks after the opposition began.


The outcomes associated with student social movements over time have been acknowledged and reflect successful persuasion. Accordingly, the responsibility of the student body is to motivate change in Trinity policy. Key policies were changed immediately or shortly after student protests, thus it is student activism and influence on the college administration that has lead Trinity progressively forward. If student activism had not been prevalent, Trinity College would not have reached the tremendous growth and achievement that it represents today. According to Trinity student Bryan Farb ‘14, “if we can cultivate a sense of unity, that’s going to go a long way towards battling some of the existing social ills” (Mehraban, 2012). The speedy response time that the college administration has delivered over opposition to policies is because of the vast influence of student activism and protest. Trinity Action Films produced a video on YouTube that explicated student expressions on the social policy as well as prompt conversation between students for future controversies: “We hope that all students will watch the video, and we hope to stimulate much needed conversation on campus, not only about the Social Policy, but about the full spectrum of interconnected issues we’re facing this year as a College community” (YouTube, 2012). The new Social Policy has provoked a new era of student activism, which will hopefully be maintained by all aspects of the community for generations to come.


About the Author: Louise Balsmeyer is a sophomore educational studies and child psychology major at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.


Works Cited

Kim, Bomina. (2012). Policy Changes Attained by Task Force. The Trinity Tripod.

Knapp, Peter J., and Anne H. Knapp. (2000). Trinity College in the Twentieth Century. Hartford: n.p.

Laws, Joesph. (2012). Social Policy Combats Discrimination at Trinity. The Trinity Tripod.

Matesky, Edwin. (1968). Trinity Fund Pledge Ends Sit-in. Hartford Times.

Mehraban, Alexa. (2012). Task Force Selected to Attack Policy. The Trinity Tripod.

Mission Statement. (n.d.). Trinity College. Retrieved May 3, 2012, from

(2011). Protesting Hate at Trinity College, April 2011. College Archives.

Provost, Kerri. (2011). Trinity Students Protest Hate on Campus. From>

Ragosta, Peter. (2012). An Interview with President Jones on Academics and the New Social Policy. The Trinity Tripod.

Special to The New York Times. (1964). Trinity college ban on liquor arouses a student protest. New York Times, pp. 49-49.

Trinity College Social Policy Review. (2012). YouTube. Retrieved May 3, 2012, from