Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Students rally for safety, receive feedback from administration




Hundreds of Trinity College students, professors, administrators, and alumni congregated on the quad during common hour on Thursday, March 8 in support of, in the words of Arthur Chou ’14, “a friend, classmate, and fellow Trinitarian” who was the victim of a merciless assault that occurred the previous weekend. The “Rally For Kenny” was formed in response to the severe incident occurring on March 4, at around 3 a.m. Chris Kenny ’14, who while walking near the north end of campus with a friend, Timothy Suspenski ’14, was hospitalized after being viciously attacked by six assailants. The mission statement of the rally, written by Matt Tesone ’13 and Ben Green ’14, clarified that its’ intentions were “two-fold.”  Green revealed the event was created as a “showing of support for Chris Kenny and his family” but also insisted the purpose of the demonstration was to be “a student-run forum” meant to “give a voice to the student body in improving our safety and security.” The rally was organized by Chris’s closest friends, Chris’s St. Anthony Hall brothers, and other concerned students over the course of a few days to promptly address the student body’s interest in ensuring a safe campus.

The well-run, well-attended rally was an effective platform for students to articulate their overwhelming sentiment of anger and frustration regarding current campus security measures in place. A majority of students agree that a “near-death incident” should not have been the “tipping-point.” Students, dressed in royal blue “Rally For Kenny” t-shirts, some holding signs that read, “We have the right to feel safe” and “3/4/12 Not just another email,” met to exchange ideas about how to proceed, how to make Chris feel safe when he returns, and how to make the entire student body feel reasonably safe and secure.  

Several students took the podium, addressing an emotionally charged audience before the Bishop Brownell statue. Maria Young ’14, a recent victim of an attack on campus before the Kenny assault, gave a heartfelt account of her robbery at knifepoint, and how it has deeply affected her time here.  She discussed her disappointment with campus safety’s insufficient response, insinuating that the school is not meeting expectations to make students feel safe.  Young feels that “the administration is more concerned with the image of the College than with actually protecting and listening to students.”  Other students reflected on the administration’s unacceptable handling of Kenny’s attack and how poorly it was communicated to the Trinity College community. Gus Dangremond ’14, speaking on behalf of a student who wished to remain anonymous, said that the initial email sent out hours after the assault lacked key detail and was  “essentially a four-line insult to Chris, his family, his friends and the rest of the student body.”  Another student, Stephen Smith ’13, reiterated how sad the tragedy was, found it deplorable that Chris’ parents were only informed about their son at 10 a.m. the next day when Chris himself called his mother before going into surgery for several hours, and questioned why a meeting was not held on Sunday to quickly address the “severity” of the incident.

At the rally, many students offered several ideas for how to improve safety on campus.  Better lighting, additional cameras, and an improved shuttle system were proposed by Chanel Palacios ’14 who also urged that students should never be refused rides or escorts across campus. Additionally, students asserted that demands for additional safety were not an attack on the Hartford community or to be interpreted as “racist” or “elitist.” Chou said, “We do not blame Hartford as a whole but we castigate the few who do inflict acts of violence upon us.” Similarly, Alberto Martinez ’12 refuted issues that he depicted as undermining the necessity of a campus safety reevaluation.  He contended that the argument there are more crimes committed by Trinity students was unrelated to the greater issue of safety, especially in the wake of Kenny’s unwarranted beating. Martinez received a great amount of applause after he emphatically denounced the racial and ethnic argument that has “framed” the discussion stating that the student body is only concerned about the fact that students are being attacked and not about the race of the attacker.

Other students raised the controversial notion of further isolating the college campus. Trey Zenker ’15, offered a dramatic and detailed plan, proposing, “Trinity College abandon the overly idealistic open campus policy” and administer a “secured campus policy” as a solution to the “security nightmare.” Members of the Hartford community would not be refused entrance to campus but would be accounted for, just as they are upon entrance into the school’s library.

Board of Trustees Chairman Paul Raether ’68 whose three daughters graduated from Trinity, spoke after the students. He ensured that the students’ demand to provide increased security measures was  “completely acceptable.” He stated that the Board of Trustees, who held a meeting on Saturday, are open to all suggestions but that it is imperative for everyone to be thoughtful and to maintain and improve the reputation of the school. He also said that it is essential to work together, not against each other, to help solve security issues.

President James F. Jones Jr. sent an email informing the Trinity College community of Chris Kenny’s assault Tuesday afternoon. Jones outlined the steps that the college will take to improve safety on campus. Such measures include hiring ten more “law enforcement professionals” in addition to the five Campus Safety officers recently hired. The administration is also reviewing an “audit by a panel of external campus safety professionals” that made several suggestions, most notably, that a “senior professional” be hired who will have the role of leading in maintaining a safer campus.  In addition, the school has sent a request to external consultants to aid in crime prevention through “environmental design” which consists of “barriers, lighting, cameras, landscaping and monitoring access.” Jones understands how important it is to listen to all the members of the Trinity Community who have voiced concerns and possible solutions, but he has said that the “first priority” of the school is implementing the initiatives he described. 

The “Rally For Kenny” pushed for a prompt reform to campus safety so that the college’s policies no longer reflect what many students feel have been retroactive responses in the past. Trinity is located in Hartford, reportedly the 19th most dangerous city in the United States, with crime rates well above the national average. Over recent years Hartford resident-against-Trinity student crime has seemingly increased both in frequency and in violence. While short-term solutions to campus safety and security must be found, long term solutions should also be considered. The rally was the first step to a discussion that must be had, not an argument won.

How will the institution improve relations with its’ surrounding Hartford community? Can students attempt to extend an olive branch to Hartford residents and what form would that take? Should more student-run initiatives be organized that integrates them into the Hartford community, not just the Trinity community? Students understand most Hartford residents are not resentful of them and encourage their presence, which could promote business and economic growth in the city. For those who do begrudge Trinity and what they represent, how will Trinity College constructively change their perception to make those Hartford residents feel recognized by the College and students feel recognized by the Hartford community? Chris Kenny’s wounds will heal, but Trinity students, parents, faculty, administrators, and alums all hope the college’s relationship with Hartford has not been permanently scarred.

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