Trinity College has announced the formation of a task force that will create an anti-racism plan of action in response to multiple students coming forward about their experiences of anti-Black racism at the institution. The task force will address student demands to make the college more equitable for Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) students.
Student leaders and groups at the college have also promised action in response to the accounts of racism of their Black peers. Three of the six student heads have resigned from their positions, in part with the intention “to make space for new voices” to take on leadership roles and effect change at the college.
Conversations surrounding the lived experiences of BIPOC students at Trinity College took place in the context of the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto among others, which have led to continent-wide protests against police brutality and anti-Black racism.
Black students at Trinity College come forward
On June 1, the Trinity College Multicultural Society (TCMS) published a statement on police brutality and anti-Black racism which included calls for donations and was subsequently shared to the college’s class of 2023 and 2024 Facebook groups.
The TCMS was formed in 2018 to celebrate diverse cultures at the college, which has otherwise historically been associated with “exclusivity,” “pomposity,” and “excruciating whiteness,” according to the Toronto Star.
In the 2023 Facebook group, Black TCMS leaders followed up with the shared statement and came forward about their experiences of anti-Black treatment and those of fellow students at the college, such as being excluded at the college’s dining hall and hearing other students use racist slurs. TCMS leaders also criticized Trinity student leadership for their silence on the issue of anti-Black racism.
Two TCMS leaders, Lydia Angarso and Martha Taylor, along with Shantel Watson, later wrote an op-ed in The Varsity summarizing their experiences and criticizing both the student body and the administration for generating an unwelcoming environment for Black students. They also called for anti-racism and anti-oppression training for staff and student leaders.
In the 2023 Facebook group, these voices propelled other Black and racialized students to come forward and sparked widespread discussions about accountability in relation to the treatment of BIPOC students at the college.
Student groups respond
Following the TCMS’ statement, the college’s student heads came out with a statement of solidarity and apologized for not making one earlier. The leaders of the Trinity Literary Institute, the college’s prominent satirical debating society, also responded, apologizing for past behaviour and expressing a desire to better include racialized students.
The Trinity College Environmental Society and the Saints Ball executive were also among early groups to express support, stressing the importance of donating to groups supporting racial justice.
One specific conversation revolved around Episkopon, the college’s longstanding secret society, which has historically been accused of racism and homophobia. Trinity College officially cut ties with Episkopon in 1992, although there has been criticism over the fact that it still allows society members to hold student government positions.
Students in the 2023 Facebook group discussed how the society marginalizes racialized students at the college, while one in the 2024 Facebook group discouraged incoming students from joining the society. One member of the women’s branch subsequently announced that the group had disbanded. No similar update has been announced for the men’s branch at this time, although there have been calls for its dissolution.
On June 14, the executives of the Trinity College Meeting (TCM), the college’s student government, released a preliminary action plan, noting that it “seeks to institute changes that would make our meetings more just, representative, and inclusive to all BIPOC students,” and will continue to develop the plan in consultation with affected students.
The plan lists seven points, which include commitments to mandating racial bias training for students and staff, eliminating the funding cap for racialized student groups, and implementing a punitive anti-discrimination policy at TCM meetings.
The TCM also called on other student groups “to evaluate their own exclusionary barriers and to take actionable steps towards change.” Subsequently, the Trinity College Drama Society, the Trinity College Outdoors Society, and Trinity College Athletics all released statements with commitments to diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism.
Backlash toward the administration
On June 2, Trinity College published an expression of anti-racism solidarity on social media that drew immediate backlash as students criticized the college for its own complicity with racism. One student, Amy Cao, was prominent in directly criticizing the college on social media, noting that the statement “seems very inappropriate given the long history of anti-Blackness at the college and its lack of actual actionable change to improve the way BIPOC students are treated at Trinity.”
Cao called on readers to put pressure on Trinity College to take action. “I want them to become accountable for anti-Blackness, anti-POC, classist behaviour and rhetoric that’s been rampant there for YEARS and swept under the rug.”
Cao has long advocated against racism at the college, particularly through a now-disbanded student group, [email protected] In an interview with The Varsity, she recounted experiencing marginalization both as a racialized student and as someone who brought up issues of racism at the college — especially from Episkopon members. She discontinued her advocacy efforts when Episkopon members were permitted entry to student governance in 2018.
Now, two years later, Cao felt motivated to speak out about racism when she heard about the ongoing experiences of Black women at the college. On top of her initial criticism, Cao went on to share Black students’ stories of racism through social media and called on the college to make financial commitments to the movement, open an inquiry into the history of anti-Blackness at the college, and issue an apology to Black and other racialized students.
Cao also posed nine questions to the administration, asking how the college will financially support Black students, and echoing concerns that the college does not release diversity statistics for Trinity faculty and staff.
Cao primarily credits Black students and alumni for generating these ideas.
On why the demands she shared revolved exclusively around the administration, Cao noted that “these are things that student groups can’t change,” and suggested that the college should use its large endowment fund for the cause.
Administration invites feedback
On June 4, Provost and Vice-Chancellor Mayo Moran followed up with a longer solidarity statement that acknowledged the college’s shortcomings and invited feedback from students on enacting change. “We also know that these are deep issues that manifest themselves in many different ways in our own lives, communities and institutions, including Trinity College,” she wrote.
This statement received further student backlash on social media for not committing to any concrete action. “Your silence reads clear as complicity. I’m ashamed to be an [alum] today,” wrote Nish Chankar, a former student head of college. Chankar urged the college to financially commit to its sentiments, including by subsidizing residence for racialized students, and also echoed demands like releasing employment statistics on diversity.
The Varsity asked Moran to elaborate on the statement, particularly about the ways in which Trinity College has acknowledged and addressed these concerns prior to recent events. “Over the past several years, students particularly but not only people of colour, have drawn our attention to a number of ways that our culture is not inclusive,” Moran responded.
She noted that the college has worked on improvement in many areas, including “making orientation more inclusive,” but acknowledged that more needed to be done. In the weeks following the beginning of June, Moran noted that the administration consulted students, staff, and alumni, particularly those who are BIPOC, for feedback on how to go about change.
Three Trinity heads resign
On June 14, Cory Benson, Male Head of Non-Resident Affairs, announced his resignation. He attributed the decision to an acknowledgement that “the role needs to adjust to the needs of the community, and requires someone who can devote themselves to listening and being present,” on top of personal challenges owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On June 22, David Ingalls, Male Head of College, and Carley Moore, Female Head of College, followed Benson with their own resignations. “Part of being a good leader is recognizing when you need to step aside and allow for other voices to be heard,” they wrote in a joint statement.
“As white and privileged leaders, we are the very people who have benefited from these institutions. We wholeheartedly believe that these structures need to be taken down, and we believe that we need to give space to people who have relevant life experiences to speak to.”
The heads of college also cited personal circumstances that were compounded by COVID-19 for resigning — Ingalls for financial challenges, and Carley for mental health challenges.
In an email to The Varsity, in which they were asked why they chose to resign instead of remaining in power to enact change themselves, they wrote that a “lack of representation in leadership” informed the decision. “We believe that stepping down for other voices sends a message to the administration, boards, and students that we interact with [that] we do not condone or stand by the status quo.”
When asked if they would engage with anti-racism efforts after their resignation, they responded that they would be “petition signing, donating when possible, and educating ourselves through reading, watching multi-media, attending anti-oppression workshops,” along with voting on equity measures at the TCM.
Cindy Lui, Female Head of Non-Resident Affairs, wrote to The Varsity that while the six original heads had completed an anti-racism action plan, they have decided to delay its release in order to re-evaluate their circumstances following the three resignations.
According to Lui, the heads are also speaking with the administration about potentially reforming student elections and governance. Elections to fill the three vacant positions are expected to take place in the fall.
Anti-racism collective releases demands
After the Varsity op-ed on anti-Black racism at Trinity College gained considerable public attention, the three authors were contacted by Trinity alumni who wanted to help make change at the college. Together, they formed the Trinity Anti-Racism Collective and wrote an open letter to Moran on June 22.
The letter expands on the op-ed’s call for anti-racism training for staff and student leaders with demands for an equitable admissions process, financial aid for Black students, more inclusive physical and social spaces, and mechanisms that will hold the administration accountable to these calls to action. Over 1,000 students and alumni have signed onto the open letter since its release.
Later that same day, Moran released a new statement in light of the consultation that the college had been conducting. In the statement, the college committed to improving its anti-racism and diversity training for staff and student leaders, and acknowledged many of the public demands that were posed by the anti-racism collective and other students.
To engage with the demands, Moran announced a task force to address anti-racism and inclusion, with calls for feedback about the force’s membership and consultation process.
On the level of student leadership, the college’s heads have also expressed support for the open letter and are committed to work with the administration to realize the demands of BIPOC students.
While the statement was well-received by the Trinity Anti-Racism Collective, it wrote to The Varsity that “the task force needs to have voices from Black, Indigenous, and other POC communities,” and that the collective intends “to talk [to] and pressure admin to actually act on these demands, rather than publicly announce these ideas.”