Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Social Policy Combats Discrimination at Trinity

By: Joesph Laws ’12

Last week, the SGA President sent two global emails to the student body concerning the new social policy, implemented by the Dean of Students to curb excessive party culture and self-destructive alcohol consumption at Trinity.

The first email called for a “Student Task Force” to “produce recommendations for changes to the social policy.” The policy had only been in place for one weekend at this point. The SGA President felt obligated to act because of the overwhelming student response during a forum hosted by the Dean of Students the week before. According to rumors, between 500 to 1000 students attend the four-hour event. I try to imagine what kind of place Trinity would be if all those people got into a room and asked themselves the question: “How can we tackle the world’s biggest problems?” Wouldn’t that be interesting?

In the second email, the SGA president complained that “the student body was not a part of the decision making process” for the new social policy. It lambasted the Dean of Students because it “prioritize[d] the social scene over important issues such as campus safety and acts of discrimination on campus.” The SGA President wasn’t the first to make this claim.

But the claim that the new social policy is somehow a distraction from dealing with issues of campus safety and discrimination completely misinterprets the aim of it. The point of the policy is to curb the excessive party culture and self-destructive alcohol consumption at Trinity. (See Dean Alford’s email dated January 12, which introduced the policy. He lays out his intent in the first paragraph).

I think a discussion of transforming Trinity social culture, the aim of the new social policy, really begins with the Greek system. (Notice how the new social policy is exactly in line with President Jones’s White Paper recommendations of last fall). Greeks are now mandated to meet certain expectations for each party with alcohol and outside guests that they hold.

Although many Greek affiliated students will vehemently deny this, I honestly think that the Greek system (as a whole) fosters prejudicial and discriminatory behavior. I don’t have much to substantiate this claim in regards to race and sexuality. But it definitely applies to issues of gender and class. The Greek system at Trinity is male dominated. Have you ever walked up to a Greek house during late night and seen female students selectively letting in people to a party? The one exception of this is Cleo— I think they deserve credit for being gender neutral compared to their peers. But for the rest, the whole idea of fraternities either being co-ed or affiliated with sororities for gender balance is bunk.

Greek organizations are also haunted by the same tendencies to discriminate based on their most basic nature. Being in a Greek organization isn’t cheep. It is usually at least over $1,000 in dues alone (and more depending on whether you live in the house or not). Some people may brush that off. But I think that is a lot of money. This explains why there is a disproportionate number of Trinity’s wealthiest students participating in Greek organizations. They are, by their nature, discriminatory and elitist. By weakening their social power and appeal, the new social policy would actually address the issue of discrimination.

As relates to issues of campus safety, more inaccuracies apply. Hands down the biggest threat to the safety of Trinity student is… well, Trinity students. This is directly due to the party culture and excessive drinking (fostered by Greek life) that the social policy is addressing. Last week, the SGA President sent two global emails to the student body concerning the new social policy, implemented by the Dean of Students to curb excessive party culture and self-destructive alcohol consumption at Trinity.

Every school year, Trinity students report 5 sexual assaults where the perpetrator is a Trinity student. The best estimates say that only 5-10 percent of victims report sexual assaults at all. If you’re doing the math in your head, you can easily make the conservative argument that at least 50 Trinity students are being sexually assaulted by other Trinity students every year. Too bad we don’t get campus safety emails about that. And during my three and a half year here, I have never heard of a Trinity student being sexually assaulted by a member of the local community.

Now, factor in T-CERTS, other injuries related to alcohol, and attacks against Trinity students that occur going to or from Greek organizations during obnoxious late-night hours. It is the late-night party culture and excessive alcohol consumption that is posing the campus safety threat. But there is a misconception, as implied by the SGA President’s email, that the safety threat rests outside of the community.

What explains the disparity between the real and perceived threat to the safety of Trinity? I think there are racial and elitist tendencies that contribute to this departure from reality. The majority of Trinity students are wealthy Caucasians— the majority of the local community are impoverished African Americans and Latinos. Some have even stupidly proposed to build an enormous fence around campus to keep out all members of the local community (I could easily expand on Trinity’s general apathy for the community and town-gown relations, but that would require more space than I am afforded). If this new social policy is able to tame the late-night party culture, then I think we would see a difference in the number of Trinity students that are hurt.

I also think that the new social policy would lead to other benefits. Less drinking could lead to an overall cleaner campus. Less would get destroyed, thereby saving the college money. More smarter, brighter, harder-working students would be enticed to come to Trinity. We could actually retain those smart, bright, hard-working students that transfer every semester because they are turned off by the excessive party culture. The educational experience could improve, and even become prioritized. Trinity students my feel more enticed to experience Hartford’s relatively rich cultural opportunities. The surrounding community would no longer (or at least to a lesser degree) perceive Trinity as a narcissistic, elitist group of rich white kids, who come to spend of all their parents’ money, get drunk, and keep the local community in a state of economic oppression. And, it could actually teach Trinity students a sense of responsibility, to finally fulfill the lofty mission the College has.  The possible benefits of the social transformation far outweigh the status quo.

I was very disappointed the SGA President decided to build on the misguided student angst about the new social policy. I think she is a fine person, but it is regrettable that she is so short sighted concerning this matter. She could have easily proposed a social policy of her own during the first four months of her term instead of just criticizing those who actually are trying to make a change. I don’t have any solutions of my own for what the social policy should be. But I don’t pretend to either. I think we should try out the new social policy, because it is the first sensible, and most practical option that we have had regarding the improvement of social life on this campus for quite a long time. If anyone has a better idea, let’s hear it.

I honestly care about Trinity. It has given a lot to me. And, I want to make sure it can reach its full potential. To do so, Trinity has to break its addiction to an out of control party culture, which promotes excessive drinking, discrimination, and campus safety.

Note: Joseph Laws ’12 is an active member of Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA), which meets Mondays @ 7:00pm in the WGRAC Lounge (2nd floor Mather). He encourages ALL members of the Trinity community to take a stand against sexual assault.For more information about SASA, please email Laura.Lockwood@trincoll.edu.

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