Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Major Social Changes Coming to Trinity

Peter Ragosta ’15

Contributing Writer

Trustees Approve and Amend Charter Committee’s Plans to Create a New, Intellectually-Focused Social Life

Big Changes Coming to Greek Life

Following a weekend of closed meetings, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to approve a 50-page plan that will upend longstanding elements of Trinity’s social life and add new social options centered on creating a more intellectual focus on campus. The plan is an amended version of a set of proposals presented to the trustees by the charter committee, which was established in October 2011.

The decision comes a year after President Jones released his White Paper, calling for the abolition of Greek organizations on campus. While the trustees’ plan does not necessitate this, it does change the Greek system by placing heavy regulations on the fraternities and sororities through a new “Social Code.”

Likely the most pronounced of these regulations is a co-education mandate that will take effect next semester, requiring all fraternities to admit women and sororities to admit men. Independent of the Charter Committee, the trustees additionally stipulated that the Greek organizations eliminate the pledging process and that students have a 3.0 GPA to attend rush events. By the Fall of 2014, the plan will force all fraternities and sororities to have a collective 3.2 GPA. The plan also states that students will not be allowed to start new chapters of single-sex, traditional Greek organizations on campus.

With these rules in place, the College will deem organizations failing to meet the aforementioned demands as “prohibited.” According to the plan, prohibited privately owned organizations will be purchased by the College, at a “fair sale price” determined by the College and alumni owners, and be reassigned for another purpose “for the betterment of the College.” Most notably, the plan states that any student who associates with prohibited organizations “will be subject to separation from the College.”

The plan also calls for the establishment of a house system. Upon matriculation, students will be assigned to one of six houses that, according to the plan, will act as a “residential, intellectual, and social center” for students. The goal of the house system is to foster a shared sense of identity within the student body. Each house will contain 375 students. The College is also planning to expand funding that will help to reinforce the new social initiatives.  Some of these funds will go towards the renovation of Vernon Social Center, which will be changed from its current purpose as a venue for events into a student union. Another primary use for the funding will be to renovate existing structures on campus to be used for the house system.

It is made clear in the report that the marked increase in T-CERTs, and Trinity’s reputation as a party school served as motivating factors in the making of the new social plan. The College’s goal is to shift social life away from the Greek houses while providing appealing alternatives. Through the initiatives outlined in the plan, a predominantly Trinity-sponsored, academically inspired social life would become the norm for students.

In moving toward a College-based social system, Trinity is falling in line with its NESCAC peers. Most of the other NESCAC schools, such as Bowdoin and Middlebury, have eliminated Greek life and implemented systems resembling what Trinity is going forward with. Though fraternities and sororities will be permitted to exist, it remains to be seen how these organizations will stay alive in light of the mandates being brought upon them. A revised first year program will be adopted, along with a program for sophomores. Keeping an academic focus will be paramount in the first year orientation, and the plan details that the development of intellectually-centered habits are important to the shifting of the ethos of the social scene. This means that little or no partying will occur, and upper class students would be separated from first year students during orientation, by moving it a week earlier, to cement in productive academic practices. The new program will be a significant change for first year students. In past years, new students have attended parties hosted by fraternities and private off-campus houses during the first nights of orientation.

Diversity is a theme that is present in many sections of the document. The College clearly would like to facilitate an increased sense of diversity on campus, and this desire is reflected in the house system proposal and in the changes to the Greek system. Greater involvement in the Hartford community is another underlying theme found in the document. Exemplifying this is the emphasis on “urban living” and “community involvement” in the new first year program.

So far, the administration has held two open forums for students to inquire about the coming changes. Tripod reporters at these meetings noted that the new policies are being met with steep criticism from students, particularly regarding the changes to Greek life. One student complained that the students “don’t want Trinity to be like the other schools [that the committee studied in the process of crafting the social plan].”

As of Monday morning, a forum on Facebook showed noteworthy alumni resistance to the new policies, although this is in no way a conclusive representation of how the majority of alumni feel. According to the forum, a website is being set up by some alumni to facilitate a better discussion of the coming changes. The site is located at http://www.savetrinity.com.

When speaking to President Jones about the coming changes, he told the Tripod:

“Last October, a Charter Committee was named by the Chair of the Board, Paul E. Raether, and me to review the social fabric of our College.  The Committee was comprised of five trustees (Cornelia Parsons Thornburgh, ’80, and Dr. Philip Khoury, ’71, co-chairs, Sophie Bell Ayres, ’72, Luke Terry, ’67, Timothy Walsh, ’85, P’15), three faculty (Dr. David Ahlgren, who is an alumnus and who holds the Hallden Chair of Engineering, Dr. Diana Evans, from Political Science, and Dan Lloyd, who holds the Brownell Chair of Philosophy), two staff members (Dr. Fred Alford, Dean of Students, and Chaplain Allison Read), and three students (Paige Greene, Shaun Stuer, and Jesse Hunt, all seniors).  The Committee worked tirelessly for months: holding listening tours on campus, investigating social life at a number of colleges and universities similar to Trinity, reviewing a considerable amount of empirical evidence from a number of sources, and reading the literature presently available on social life at American institutions of higher learning.  The Committee did yeoman’s service to our College and made available to the trustees a compendium of well-thought-out recommendations, six in number, that would over time improve our students’ social experiences to link those experiences more tightly with the academic mission of the College.  The trustees voted unanimously at their October retreat to endorse the recommendations and charged the administration of the College with implementing the recommendations on a fast timeline.  We have started constituting a number of sub-committees of the Implementation Committee, which I chair, with faculty, staff, and student representation.

While the Implementation Committee starts its work, Trinity is moving forward on two very significant building projects that will influence the social life of our College in many ways: the new residential townhouses on Crescent Street and a complete renovation of the present Vernon Social Center to make that centrally located space a multi-faceted center for our students, open from 8 AM until 2 AM, staffed and offering different gathering spaces, a coffee shop, a convenience store, and expansion of food and beverages for use by the entire campus community.

I am exceedingly grateful to the Charter Committee for the vast amount of effort that went into their recommendations and look forward to implementing these important changes to improve our College community for all its members, and particularly for those for whom the College exists: our present and future students.”


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