Op-ed: Dear Trinity College, do better — address anti-Black racism now

Black students on facing persistent exclusion, aggression at Trinity College
According to three Black students, Trinity College is complicit in perpetuating anti-Black racism. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY
According to three Black students, Trinity College is complicit in perpetuating anti-Black racism. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

As three Black women at Trinity College, the anti-Black environment at Trinity has robbed us of a positive university experience. We have faced years of silence and isolation, and have witnessed a gross lack of action. It’s finally time to change, Trinity College. The voices and experiences of Black students will not go unheard anymore.

Let us start with orientation. For many U of T students, orientation is considered to be among the best weeks in one’s undergraduate experience. However, for many Black students like ourselves, it is the opposite. We have heard of orientation leaders yelling at and humiliating Black first-year students. 

It is rare to find Black first years at Trinity orientation events. Orientation is often catered to the students living in residence — which is unfortunate as we’ve found that many Black first-years at Trinity are commuters. In addition, Black students face a chronic lack of welcome when we do choose to participate in events, as other students avoid socializing with us. From the start, we were all aware of how pervasive anti-Blackness was and is at Trinity College.

We have had non-Black students question our place at Trinity — arguing that the college prides itself on having a low acceptance rate and attracting only the ‘brightest’ students. This is racist. 

Students have made comments about our Black features, suggesting that our natural hair must be “unwashed.” This is also racist. 

We have been followed around the Trinity College campus by our own peers for supposedly trespassing. This is definitely racist.

There are Trinity students who use the n-word with the hard ‘r’ as an ostensible joke, looking for a reaction from their peers. This is very racist. 

We have found Strachan Hall, our main dining space, to be an anti-Black environment. We have experienced denial while using meal services and have been accused of not being Trinity College students. The staff have even falsified restrictions in an attempt to get Black students to leave. This, too, is racist.

Our years at Trinity have been tiring and a source of continual stress. It is not an exaggeration to say that our mental health has been affected by the anti-Blackness at Trinity. When sharing our experiences with non-Black friends, their first and only response is shock. It is evident that students are unaware of the magnitude and prevalence of anti-Blackness at Trinity.

The Trinity administration is complicit in upholding anti-Black racism. Going to the administration for support means expecting empty consolations, free chocolates, and being silently stared at as we cry. 

Confiding in the administration that your skin colour is hindering your efforts to make friends means hearing the wellness director say something along the lines of “You should give them a chance. For so many of them, it is their first time being around diversity.” Seeking help from the administration means pouring your heart out to them but seeing no changes being made to challenge anti-Black racism. 

While the administration may hear what we have to say, it does not care enough to realize its actions and inactions uphold an anti-Black environment. The Trinity administration has continually failed Black students over the years, and it truly makes one wonder what it ever did with all the reports they have undoubtedly received over the years. 

Our club, the Trinity College Multicultural Society (TCMS), posted a statement on June 1 standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and condemning anti-Black racism. We noticed that the student heads and other Trinity groups were silent. 

Given that we founded this club to promote diversity and inclusion at a predominantly white college, we knew it was necessary to make a statement and raise awareness. Being met with silence from the student heads who are meant to represent us and the fellow Trinity groups around us was frustrating, to say the least.

What happened to George Floyd is not only relevant to Black people but to every single individual. It is not the responsibility of Black students to start this conversation; had we not posted our statement, no group or representative at Trinity College would have addressed this worldwide transformative moment.

Immediately, Trinity students engaged with our posts. We were grateful to see our friends show their love and support, as it took a lot for us to share our experiences. However, our student leaders failed to acknowledge us. The student heads organized a town hall without consulting us. In doing so, they failed to recognize that town halls have been fruitless in the past. 

Our community needs action, not endless consultation. We have voiced our concerns at town halls in the past, only to be met with a few personal messages of support from previous student heads and no real action. 

Nonetheless, countless students have reached out to us since our statement, committing to doing better and engaging in self-reflection. Some students have even denounced their role in groups that are rooted in hate and further the exclusion of Black students at Trinity. Our hope is that these students follow through with their statements and continue to practice accountability. 

And yet, many still choose to remain silent. Others have even been defensive. Some of the main culprits of these incidents of anti-Black racism are avoiding apologies by claiming they would be seen as “performative.” 

We believe, after experiencing this culture at Trinity College for years, that people are choosing to protect their own images rather than acknowledging their faults. These are individuals who vehemently upheld groups associated with anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, homophobia, classism, and more. Without their voices in this effort to dismantle the racist structure of Trinity College, we fear that this conversation will soon be forgotten. 

Unfortunately, these students have failed to see things from our perspective. This disappointingly shows that many students are unaware of the extent of institutional racism, and their positionality prevents them from trying to understand the complexities of race relations and discrimination.

Your positive experiences do not invalidate our negative experiences. How can we progress when students are not willing to acknowledge that Trinity has serious issues regarding anti-Black racism?

We have reached out to the Student Services team and the Provost’s Office regarding various issues, most notably the significant lack of support for Black Trinity students. Their response was disappointing, but not surprising. 

Members of the administration have sent us the same empty replies while focusing their efforts on addressing concerns with non-Black student leaders. Moreover, the provost released a public statement before responding to our emails, without asking about our well-being, and without acknowledging what was going on in the community. 

How can Trinity College promote diversity and inclusion when the administration cannot acknowledge the very anti-Black racism rampant in the dining hall, the quad, and on the front steps of their own offices?

Given the current context worldwide, now is the time to address anti-Blackness in our institutions. From our understanding, this is the first time Black students have collectively voiced their experiences with racism at Trinity College on a public platform. Moving forward, the administration at our college must prioritize addressing this issue. 

Implementing anti-racism and anti-oppression training for paid staff and student leaders is long overdue — yet it remains a crucial step in making Trinity both equitable and inclusive. As a start, these workshops must address the unique challenges that impact Black and non-Black students of racialized groups. They must also be largely designed and delivered by racialized professionals. 

These workshops must target the persistent prejudice and biases still held by Trinity College staff members and representatives. This is especially important for those who come into regular contact with students, such as dining hall staff, employees at the Student Services Centre, and student leaders. Our interactions with them help shape our experience at Trinity as a whole. 

For Trinity to begin to address these concerns, we ask that you truly listen to your Black students. There’s no justification now to silence our voices. Trinity College must step up and finally take these issues of anti-Black racism seriously.

Lydia Angarso is a fourth-year physiology, global health, and immunology student at Trinity College. She was an executive for the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) during the 2019–2020 school year, and is a co-founder and president of the TCMS. The TCMS aims to create a space celebrating diverse cultures at Trinity and in the broader Toronto community.

Martha Taylor is a third-year health studies, Portuguese, and German student at Trinity College. She is currently an executive for the ASSU and is a co-founder of the TCMS.

Shantel Watson is a third-year international relations, German, and French student at Trinity College. She served on the Trinity College Board of Stewards in 2019. 

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