Over the last week, I’ve been to some discussions and events that helped me process and understand the results of the election, but I was struck by one thing. The discussions took place in what felt like a vacuum; around campus, there is a stillness and silence, a tension of forced normalcy, the feeling that the air has been forced out by a weight that feels like grief.
Unqualified as I am to discuss the election on a national level, I believe there is rich editorial earth to till in considering its effects on Trinity. Trinity represents, in my mind, a political anomaly in 2016. It is well known as a haven of old-world WASPiness and traditional New England “values,” which places it in an awkward position vis-à-vis Trump. Trinity’s particular brand of conservatism (at least relative to other college campuses) often enshrines, whether consciously or not, many forms of elitist bigotry. As Trinity attempts reform in many ways, this election serves as a poignant foil for the progressive values that have been permeating campus.
President Berger-Sweeney’s sensitive and diplomatic letter sent to the college on Nov. 9 underscores this tension. Trinity’s administration has taken a public stance of sensitivity, progressivism, and inclusivity, which is, in my opinion, fundamentally the right course. Whatever its mistakes, the administration has been trying to break down the imagery of Trinity as a training ground for the children of upper-middle and upper class elites, who have been overwhelmingly white New Englanders. The oft-uttered phrase, “I’m from just outside of Boston,” gives an observer a sense of the demographic pattern I refer to.
To the College’s credit, it has made efforts to bring Trinity life, particularly its social culture, into the 21st century. One of my closest friends attends Purdue, a massive state school in central Indiana, where Trump supporters are the vocal majority. Trinity is comparatively liberal, at least on its face. This is not to suggest that there is not a significant degree of quiet (and less-than-quiet) bigotry on our campus; there irrefutably is. The question becomes what effect, if any, the political topography outside the College will have on campus culture.
I doubt that the deluge of horrific and contemptible displays of overt bigotry that have been making headlines and monopolizing Facebook feeds in the days since the election will hit Trinity in full force. I can’t imagine swastikas being spray-painted on walls or racial epithets on cars. Assaults, verbal or physical, on the Long Walk seem unlikely. However, I have often been wrong before. There are enough “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and Trump banners in some corners of campus that nothing is truly outside the realm of possibility.
None of this is to discount the traumatic role of microaggressions and other forms of privileged insensitivity and reflexive prejudice; those will, I am sure, continue and likely worsen. Trinity’s campus begins, however unlikely for an “elite” institution, to look much like the country — groups of people separated by barriers transcending class, barriers as elemental as basic world view.
Trump’s election asks of Trinity a powerful teleological question: are its progressive elements and stated goals of inclusivity and diversity genuine attempts at reform away from its role as a training ground for the New England aristocracy? Or an exercise in maintaining a veneer of liberalism to assuage the sensibilities of elites, rooted in nothing more than a need for a sense of propriety? Before last Tuesday, colleges like Trinity could punt on the question by instituting certain initiatives or making certain hires. Trump has now forced the question. When and if the silence around Trinity’s campus is broken, we will learn much not only about the culture of the institution, but the culture that produced the College itself. We’ll get to see how liberal New Englanders really are.
-Chris Bulfinch ’18