Jonathan Steels referenced previous student surveys on alcohol use in the October 15 meeting. ANDY TAKAGI/THE VARSITY

Tensions ran high in a meeting held by the Trinity College senate on October 15 to present the results of the 2018 student experience study, a survey of students at the college conducted every four years.

The meet was held in the George Ignatieff Theatre and conducted by Trinity College Assistant Provost Jonathan Steels and University College official Naeem Ordóñez.

The survey was the source of controversy after college administration announced in July that Trinity student fees could no longer be used to purchase alcohol, and that major events such as the Saints and Conversat Balls would be held off-campus at permanently-licensed venues.

Citing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Steels and Ordóñez declined to present any information that would reveal the demographics of the respondents, which included the removal of axis labels on all graphs that they showed.

Students in the audience heavily criticized this decision and tensions between the presenters and students in attendance remained high for the rest of the event.

Compiling the responses of 450 respondents and 70 focus groups, the study consistently found that students cared about issues around alcohol use, the transparency of the student government as well as the administration, and inclusivity. In addition, they placed high value on student leadership.

Alcohol use

On issues of alcohol consumption, Steels first presented alcohol surveys from 2012 and 2015 that found that three in four respondents were drinkers, and a high number reported binge drinking, hospitalization due to alcohol consumption, reports of altercations, and vandalism of Trinity property.

Steels also referenced the 2018 Quad Party at Trinity, showing pictures of damaged restrooms and a torn-down Trinity College sign, which he said caused $15,000 in damages to property.

Ordóñez, who presented the findings of the 2018 study, found that while some students consider alcohol to be “part of the culture” of Trinity, others felt frustration over the consumption of alcohol at events. The study also found that a majority of students surveyed were unaware that student funds were being used to purchase alcohol for events.

Transparency and inclusion

While some comments lauded the community at Trinity, others felt “disillusioned” and saw the student government as representative of only a certain population.

Responses also included comments that alleged classism, racism, and election influencing by “Social Trin and Episkopon.”

When Ordóñez was asked by an audience member about ethnic demographics in relation to activeness and engagement at Trinity, he responded that he could not give any explicit information. However, he did mention that in the 2015 Student Experience Survey, “you can see higher levels of engagement around traditional populations at Trinity than [from] modern populations at Trinity.”

One anonymous survey response from a student of colour this year criticized Trinity’s culture and lack of diversity: “The culture here is one of rich, privileged, private school-educated kids who are white… I’ve also come across some really questionable behaviour and attitudes toward my race.”

In response

The Varsity followed up with Trinity student and former Chair of the Trinity College Equity Committee Lisa Klekovkina, who criticized the way that information was presented and accused the administration of attempting to influence public opinion using data.

Klekovkina’s concerns centred around the omission of issues discussed during the focus groups, and the presentation of negative quotes and data that focused on dissatisfaction with Trinity’s student governance.

In addition, Klekovkina referred to another student who had raised concerns about mental health issues and sexual violence at Trinity to criticize the administration’s limited focus on alcohol as the sole cause for problems presented in the data.

“To me, it is obvious that liability is still more important to the administration than student suffering,” said Klekovkina.

Trinity student Lorraina Roth, who was also in attendance at the meeting, wanted to see “a deeper and more mutual understanding between the perspective of the students and the perspective of the administration.” Roth also added that the administration must listen to the attitudes and feelings of students if it wants to see positive change.

In a statement to The Varsity, Steels said, “We recognize that change is difficult. However, based on the work done last year, it was clear that action was needed to ensure that Trinity’s student social community is welcoming, inclusive, supportive, and safe for all of our 1,900 students.”

“We are working together with members of the community to reimagine aspects of the student experience in ways that ensure more inclusive practices that benefit the entire community.”

The Varsity has reached out to the Trinity Heads of College for comment.

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