On October 20, 2014, The Varsity published an article entitled “Tradition prevails at Trinity College Meeting,” which summarized a contentious debate and the failure of amendments attempting to change identity language in our constitution.
The amendments were intended to make our college “accommodate people of all gender identities and expressions, reflecting the fact that not all students fit into the binary of ‘male’ and ‘female.’” Since then, this publication, and by extension this campus, have been audience to the delicate equilibrium Trinity seeks to establish — a community that celebrates our history and traditions and yet is inclusive, safe, and accessible to all.
While The Varsity has covered distinct steps in the movement for a more equitable college, some steps have been omitted from the publication’s coverage. We believe that the events that unfolded this year must be considered in their entirety and, as a result, we write this piece to provide an update on the progress the college has made over the course of this year.
Despite seeing unprecedented progress and social change this year, we recognize that our community has a long way to go. This is due in part to the tension between our traditions and the demands of our increasingly diverse community, which is present in most facets of college life. For example, we have a hierarchical seating structure in our dining hall, we wear gowns, and our residences were gender-segregated until 2004. Trinity students certainly recognize that our unique dynamic is not perfect and not always equitable.
The difference now is that, for the first time ever, students are beginning to act on this realization, considering equity implications in every decision made by the Trinity community. They are taking time to understand their peers’ concerns, populating our dining hall and other Trinity spaces with conversations surrounding equity. Despite the failure of the constitutional amendments in October, students almost immediately began employing the ‘Members of College’ terminology, refusing to address each other using the antiquated ‘Men and Women of College.’ Furthermore, the Heads of College, upon consultation with the rest of the Heads team, recently refused to call the “gender-segregated Trinity College Meeting (TCM)” so as to not exclude anyone based on their gender. Instead, a desegregated event that served the same purpose was held and met with widespread approval.
Although we have made great progress, there are still many steps to be taken to further eliminate barriers to participation at our college. Many of the changes this year have focused on gender, sexuality, and equity more broadly. Commuter accessibility issues and more systemic intersectional barriers, such as socioeconomic barriers, remain a challenge, but the initiative shown by our community this year gives us reason to be optimistic for the future.
Despite the fact the cultural shift was initiated by a few students, we are confident that our community as a whole has become significantly more active in, aware of, and passionate about addressing equity concerns at Trinity. On March 9, for example, 194 Trinity students crowded into the George Ignatieff Theatre to discuss equity issues as they related to the TCM’s constitution.
Attendance such as this at the TCM is unprecedented; meetings rarely see more than 80 students and the college has often had trouble reaching the quorum of 30 in recent years. Subsequently, on March 23, the TCM worked its way through a 14-page agenda in four hours, passing numerous constitutional amendments mandating equitable practices nearly unanimously. These included implementing an Equity Checklist to be completed by each club and major event executive and passing the gender amendments that failed in October 2014. In addition, the TCM passed several motions requiring the Heads team to consult with the dean of students on specific changes that members of our community feel would foster a more equitable and inclusive environment. The TCM agreeing nearly unanimously on anything is extremely unusual; to see it happen on issues which were originally so controversial indicates a broader, fundamental culture change.
These are not the only milestones that have been reached this year. On October 27, the TCM moved to strike the college’s first ever Student Equity Committee. Its membership was composed of a broad cross-section of Trinity students, including some who had not previously been very involved in student governance at the college. The committee was tasked with assessing student life practices, events, and traditions in an attempt to develop solutions that foster inclusiveness and diverse representation. Following the committee’s discussions, several motions to make the college more equitable and inclusive were brought to the TCM, and these were among the motions that passed on March 23. Although these are positive developments, we recognize that change cannot happen all at once and that there is still more we need to do in order to make the college as inclusive as we desire it to be.
As the Equity Committee reflected on student life practices and policies, the Student Heads recognized the need for data in order to accurately understand and respond to the community’s priorities. It is for this reason that we spent months working in conjunction with all levels of the Trinity administration to craft the first Student Experience Survey.
The survey was a means by which students could communicate their thoughts on existing practices and their vision for the college moving forward, and some 500 responses were collected from 1,800 registered Trinity students. Students were then invited to participate in the Equity Town Hall, which offered them a safe space in which they could openly express their ideas for potential changes. The responses will be analyzed thoroughly this summer, providing important information that will allow Trinity to shape policy for years to come.
Looking back at our initial expectations for the year, we had no idea that the topic of equity would sweep the college and become the greatest focus of our terms. While these issues initially created significant divisiveness in our community, the initial setbacks ultimately sparked great transformation. In less than seven months, we have gone from being ignorant of equity issues to discussing them openly and eventually throwing near unanimous support behind changes that even our most vocal advocates would not have thought possible.
Perhaps changes to student life, events, and traditions will never meet the demands of all students. Yet, we must pursue change, put our students first, and always commit to being better. Our college, university, and community succeed when individuals raise issues; the community recognizes and responds to them; students come together to create impactful policy; and our governance processes are given time to implement meaningful changes. As Trinity’s story reveals, our communities are at their best when they operate in this manner. We look forward to seeing how next year’s Members of College take advantage of the momentum that has been created to further accommodate equity concerns and make our traditions richer than ever.
Tina Saban, Connor Anear, Aditya Rau, Victoria Reedman, Ondiek Oduor, and Kalyna Onufryk are, collectively, the outgoing Heads of Trinity College.