Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Campaign for Community culminates in TrinColl2Action

Chris Bulfinch

News Editor

 

For the past weeks, the Trinity community has heard much about the Campaign for Community, an initiative developed by the Berger-Sweeney administration late last semester to address a variety of issues on Trinity’s campus. The program culminated with TrinColl2Action, a large forum hosted in Vernon Social during the afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 7. The event was largely built around the presentations of five working groups, each of which was tasked with engaging with different issues across campus; there were five working groups, addressing the issues of academic environment, rape and sexual assault, campus pride, social environment, and community involvement. The Campaign for Community’s goal was, in the words of Kate Dietrich-Manion, ’18, the Student Representative on the Administrative Working Group, “to provide a space for students to address issues related to diversity and inclusivity on campus. The Campaign was student-orientated from the beginning, as it the students who shape the community they wish to create.”

TrinColl2Action opened in Vernon social at 2 PM on Saturday afternoon. As soon as they walked I the door, attendees were issued nametags and shown the refreshments, as well as a sign-up sheet for the next stage of the campaign, involving the implementation of the student recommendations.

With guests settled, the program began. Maggie Elias, ‘17 and Edward Fox, ‘17, delivered introductory remarks, followed by an icebreaking activity geared towards fostering a sense of intimacy amongst attendees. The opening activities flowed into speeches from President Joanne Berger-Sweeney, Chaplain Allison Read, and Kate Dietrich-Manion, ’18. Each working group gave a presentation laying out the issues that they confronted and their prescriptions for administrative action to remedy the problems that they identified. Each student within the groups spoke to varying degrees of length about the work that they had done. The presentations opened with a short skit depicting a “typical” Trinity encounter that is symptomatic of the working group’s given issue. Each group proceeded to expound more explicitly on the problem that they tackled, and made specific policy-based recommendations as to how the problems could most effectively be addressed, and what role the student body and student organizations could play in these changes. The were also tables set up for each of the working groups so that any curious audience members could visit after the presentations to learn the recommendations of the working groups were as varied as the topics that the working groups covered. The Social Environment working group sought to address perceived and salient social divides on campus. “Our recommendations were threefold,” says Jake Rubin, a member of the Class of 2015 who has remained on campus to pursue a Masters in Neuroscience, “First, a student leader conference to unify the leaders of social/cultural organizations [in order to] foster more collaborations. Second, we recommended that the new NEST program for first-year students be used as a platform for integrating the incoming class with the rest of the students on campus.” Rubin continued: “Our third recommendation was that we make better use of the Collegiatelink website.” Their working group’s revamped Collegiatelink website consolidates information about clubs and campus events into a single location, allowing for greater awareness of happenings on campus.

The second group to present dealt with Trinity’s academic environment. According to Molly Thoms, ’17, “We identified that Trinity students often say that they “work hard, play hard” when in reality they work a little, play a lot. We’re hoping that dynamic can be shifted in favor of greater engagement with studies.” The working group’s plans to make this shift happen include three major suggestions. The first is the implementation the Northam Honors Society to provide high-achieving students with a network of similarly driven students. Secondly, the working group recommends members of the newly-created Northam Honors Society be given the latitude to create honors seminars, a program called the Collaborative Class Program (CCP). Under the auspices of the CCP and the faculty, five seminars would be chosen each semester and added to Trinity’s course catalog. Enrollment would be restricted to Northam Honors Society members, though other students could petition to join. The last of the Academic Environment working group’s suggestions entailed the creation of faculty-student diner parties. These events would be organized by students and faculty, as well as related academic offices. The student and faculty member would each invite five other students who they believe would be able to contribute meaningfully about a given topic of discussion around which the dinners would focus.

After the Academic Environment discussion came the Rape and Sexual Misconduct working group’s presentation. As their name implies, the Rape and Sexual Misconduct committee was confronting the tragically pervasive issues of sexually-based crimes on Trinity’s campus; in their own words “The Trinity College community needs improvement in the following areas: policy language, administrative transparency, sexual misconduct and rape culture education for the student body, trauma response training for the community at large, and a wider array of resources for students and faculty.” The Rape and Sexual Misconduct working group had the following ideas for the Trinity administration:

1. Change the ‘or’ in the definition of consent in the interim sexual misconduct policy to ‘and’;

2. A student-made informational video detailing statistics from the Summary Report;

3. Monthly campus safety emails reporting instances of alleged sexual misconduct and adjudication results;

4. Yearly bystander intervention/rape culture/trauma response training for students, faculty, and staff.  Students should complete this training four times over the course of their Trinity career as a graduation requirement.  Ideally, the training is to be completed by the first month of school.  Please note that this recommendation would need to include a separate budget to pay for trainers;

5. Increasing the budget for WGRAC and SECS campus-wide events that will impact the entire campus;

6. Continuing to offer the school-sponsored YWCA Counselor Advocate Training class for more than eight students at a time as a full one-credit class so they can use their training to be a volunteer peer educator on campus. (Great thanks to Arleigha Cook for the info)

The Rape and Sexual Misconduct working group had a petition at their station that advocated for their first suggested change. The petition seeks to change the policy, which reads, “Effective consent is informed, freely and actively given, mutually understandable words or actions that indicate a willingness to participate in mutually agreed upon activity.” The working group’s proposed change would amend the “or” in that sentence with an “and.” This seemingly small edit would have profound ramifications if adopted; sexual encounters would have to be enthusiastically agreed to not only physically (a realm where perceived ambiguities can have horrifying consequences) or verbally, but physically and verbally. By increasing the parameters of consent to include both physical and verbal dimensions, the rule is all the more clear and exacting in its definition of what constitutes proper sexual conduct. It could be argued that the petition, if successful, would be the first tangible change attributable to the working groups.

The fourth working group addressed community involvement, under the title “Trintersectionality.” The working group sought to bridge the gap that exists between the Trinity community and the city of Hartford. The problem, in the words of Nico Nagle, ’17,  is that there is “a strong student opinion that the integrity of the campus [is] threatened by “locals,” a truly derogatory term for Hartford residents.” As far as a solution is concerned, Nagle stated: “Being students at the institution, our group found that the long-term goal of establishing good relations with Hartford would be to change this ideology, and to thus encourage behaviors that put more students in Hartford at large.” The Trintersectionality working group had four basic measures in mind for the administration to take, as far as connecting with Hartford and encouraging diversity was concerned. The first is to create a Sophomore Seminar, which similar to some of the First-Year seminars in that it would engage with the Hartford community. Secondly, the working group suggested a “36 for 36” community service requirement for graduation. To graduate, every Trinity student needs a minimum of 36 credits – Trintersectionality’s idea is that every student should be required to participate in 36 hours’ worth of community service, in a field related to their studies. Trintersectionality’s third idea involves the implementation of a “World College Day,” a celebration of college students from around the world that would take place in the spring, in a manner akin to Homecoming. The final suggestion that Trintersectionality had involves the creation of “People’s Scholars,” students who, in the words of Nagle, “[have] shown exceptional commitment to Hartford, and to positively influencing their community using their skills and knowledge.”

The final working group dealt with Campus Pride. The basic idea is, in the worlds of Sarah Beckmann, ’18, “improving a sense of school pride on campus,” helping to increase boost the morale that Trinity students feel in calling themselves Bantams. President Berger-Sweeney participated in this working group’s opening skit, wherein she played herself addressing a crowd of new Trinity students in the not-too-distant future at a bonfire proposed by the Campus Pride working group. A bonfire for new students was only one of the ideas that the working group developed. They also suggested showing Jaws on the quad (the film contains an oblique reference to Trinity in its first few minutes, making it apropos to Bantam culture beyond being a classic film), as well as introducing a community service day similar to Do-It Day.

The commendable efforts that Trinity students put forth serving with their working groups, did not take place entirely in a vacuum. A number of administrators and faculty members served alongside the students, and they “did a great job” and were very helpful, according to Sarah Beckmann. In addition to faculty and staff assistance, the college also brought a consulting firm on board to help with the Campaign.

President Berger-Sweeney, in her final address to TrinCall2Action, made two bold statements. In the first, she told the audience that she only cries on two occasions, the first being dramatic sporting events, and the other being when the students that she is responsible for make her proud. She thanked the Campaign for Community participant for bringing a tear to her eye. She then pledged presidential support for the Campaign for Community in the amount of $25,000.

This revelation clearly has significant implications for the Campaign for Community, and in a larger sense, student life at Trinity. The ideas put forth by the various student working groups are all the more feasible with the stronger financial backing offered by president Berger-Sweeney. In the words of Arleigha Cook, “such a substantial donation speaks to the commitment the administration has promised to make.” Jake Rubin agrees: [President Berger-Sweeney’s announcement] tells me that she’s committed to listening to what we’ve come up with in our SWGs [Student Working Groups], taking into account the student feedback on our recommendations and creating the programming/structure needed to accomplish our community goals.” In reflecting on the possibility of the Berger-Sweeney administration adopting the Campaign for Community’s proposed changes, Nico Nagle had this to say: “I do not only believe they will, but I believe they have to. If not an original pitch, some iteration of these programs is absolutely necessary. When a community features a lack of respect, and a palpable amount of ill will, you have entered a social crisis, and a movement becomes necessary.”

For all of that, it is still unclear what form, if any, the recommendations and prescriptions that the Campaign for Community will take as far as college policy is concerned. The administration has declined to comment on what action, if any, has been or will be taken with the tremendous volume of informed student input that it has received. Some may question the wisdom of making Trinity’s self-reinvention so beholden to student perspective, but the Berger-Sweeney administration has doubled down on the strategy, and it has paid dividends in a sense; the administration is now aware of how many students feel. Whether the president’s $25,000 generosity is a genuine endorsement of the Campaign for Community’s initiative or simply an experiment with a high price tag is not entirely clear. What is clear is that many students worked very hard to offer tangible, feasible ideas to address many of the issues facing the Trinity community. TrinColl2Action was a powerful statement of student intent and will. What the administration will do with it remains to be seen. Whether the creativity of Trinity’s students is enough to confront the difficulties that the community faces remains to be seen. But all Trinity students should be watching intently to see the outcome, if for no other reason than that it will tell them much of the future.

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