Trinity College is a place apart. We wear gowns, have a not-so-secret society, and burn Guy Fawkes in effigy. Mostly, our traditions are good. Tradition builds camaraderie and community; tradition allows us to honour those who came before us and, often, enjoy ourselves in the process.
However, once in a while, something happens to remind us that holding on to ideals that made sense at the college’s founding 163 years ago can be quite problematic.
Or, as in the case of what happened recently, can simply promote bigotry.
At the Trinity College Meeting (TCM), the Trinity student body rejected two proposals. The first would have replaced the term “men and women of college” in the constitution with “members of college.” The second would have instituted a single, gender-neutral TCM, instead of holding separate gender-segregated TCMs at the end of each year. These were amendments that would have made the college a more inclusive space for students who don’t identify within the gender-binary model. However, neither passed. And since neither amendment passed, it’s important to take a minute to acknowledge why that happened.
A lot of people claim to know why the amendments failed. I’ve spoken to University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) directors who conflate the failure of these amendments with proof that all ideas coming out of Trinity are fundamentally misguided.
I’ve spoken to Trinity students who feel this proves the college as a whole is deeply bigoted. An op-ed in The Strand summed up the general opinion amongst those who have been following the issue: “I am ashamed to attend the same university as those TCM members.”
These sentiments are understandable. It’s easy to see what you expect to see. It’s harder to see what’s actually there.
So, let’s talk specifics. Seventy-six students voted for the “members” amendment, with 44 against and four abstaining. That’s five votes off from the two-thirds majority needed for approval. Forty-six students voted in favour of the amendment to end the gender-segregated TCMs, with 63 opposed. The notion that there is no support at Trinity for these proposals is simply not true.
To be clear, some arguments in opposition were bigoted. I understand the desire to mock young men — in the bastion of white privilege that is Trinity College — bemoaning the feeling of no longer being a man if the word “members” replaces the phrase “men and women.” But ridicule doesn’t result in change. Instead, it has a deeply chilling effect. It drives the opposition underground. Those who may be open to persuasion will never admit they supported the amendments.
The only way to change someone’s mind is to talk with them. Not at them, not to them, but with them. We must reach out, engage, and persuade. This article is for everyone who voted for the amendments.
I know how absurd it is to put the onus on rights-claiming groups to convince the majority. In a perfect world, they shouldn’t have to. They’re right. But if they want people to recognize that rightness, they need to convince them. Practically, those who oppose these amendments are best served by doing nothing. Therefore, those who support these amendments must take action to shift the debate.
There were two arguments put forward in opposition to the amendments: tradition and masculinity.
The tradition argument goes a little something like this: “we should separate students based on gender because it is what we have always done.” For this to be true the proponents would need to prove both that separation by gender was correct when first introduced, and that those reasons are still valid today.
While there was very little understanding of gender theory in 1884 when women were first admitted to Trinity College, viewing gender as binary has always been a social construct. Indeed, just as there was never any sound reason to deny women equal access, there is no reason to deny full participation to those who do not self-identify as male or female. In this respect, the Trinity College policy has always been exclusionary.
In any event, whatever might have been legitimate in 1884, the world has changed.
Ironically, opponents purported to rely on the significantly better treatment of women today by pointing out, for example, that they are not relegated to a separate building. But that is exactly the point — societal understandings of human rights have progressed. Indeed, we are no longer a college that exclusively educates privileged, white, male Anglicans.
The masculinity argument is the one that particularly bothers so many people, and rightly so. But it also has an appeal to some men at Trinity College that they find hard to articulate. It usually goes something like this: “I am proud to be a man, and I will feel like less of a man if the word ‘man’ is removed from the college’s constitution.”
There are three problems in this kind of statement. First, the phrase “men and women of college” is intended to divide upper years from first years — not men from women. Second, men are included under the phrase “members of college,” so it is not as if men will cease to be represented under the new system. Members can include anyone: men, women, you name it. Third, the idea that Trinity doesn’t have places that permit men to congregate is silly. Trinity College features gender-segregated floors, intramural sports, bathrooms, even common rooms — all of which are premised on the flawed binary system.
To reiterate, those who want these changes shouldn’t have to ask. But the reality is that they do. And as difficult as it will be, there is reason to hope. After all, universities are incubators for social progress. Changes here can affect the country, even the world.
In 1969, Jearld Moldenhauer took out an ad in The Varsity to solicit members for the first “homophile association” on a Canadian university campus. The group’s first president, Charlie Hill, said something about why he wanted to join the group that is eerily applicable today: “We were an invisible minority and as long as we were invisible, people could create their own theories about us.”
Hill and Moldenhauer helped foster dozens of similar groups across the country, and were part of a generation of activists that changed gay rights in Canada for the better. Transgender rights have a long way to go, and what’s happening at Trinity College is only a small part, but it will help make a difference.
At their core, these amendments would make Trinity College, and this university, a more inclusive space. They should have passed at the TCM and I believe that, eventually, they will. Indeed, there are many positive signs: a motion asking everyone to use the term “members” as opposed to “men and women” has passed, while all of the Heads and nearly all of the student leaders were doing so even before that.
The Dean of Students and the provost are working behind the scenes to try and make Trinity more inclusive. Eventually, though, the amendments will have to come back to the TCM, and it is vitally important that they pass. For that to happen, though, those who support the amendments need to directly engage with those who oppose them.
Zane Schwartz is a fourth-year student at Trinity College. He was The Varsity’s news editor last year.