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Trinity College task force releases final report on anti-Black racism, inclusion, eight months after announcement

Recommendations include reviewing admissions practices, collecting race-based data
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REBECA MOYA/THE VARSITY
REBECA MOYA/THE VARSITY

On February 5, the Trinity College Task Force on Anti-Black Racism and Inclusion released its final report to the college community. The report outlines 44 recommendations that prioritize issues of inclusivity and accessibility for students across the college’s governance structure, faculty training, student culture, and physical environment.

Trinity College Provost Mayo Moran announced the task force’s formation last June amid protests against anti-Black racism after the death of George Floyd. During that time, Black students came forward with criticism about the college’s exclusionary culture toward its racialized members and called for the administration to address anti-Black racism — as expressed in a Varsity op-ed by Martha Taylor, Lydia Angarso, and Shantel Watson.

Taylor, Angarso, and Watson, who sat on the task force, had also formed the Trinity Anti-Racism Collective that summer and penned an open letter signed by fellow students and alumni calling on the college to take action. 

Structure of the task force

The task force’s investigation ran from October until December and identified four priority issues regarding the college’s admissions process, student culture, recruitment practices, diversity and equity training, and culture at college events and its physical environment.

Co-chaired by Associate Director Community Wellness Ramata Tarawally and Assistant Provost Jonathan Steels, the task force was made up of 22 students, alumni, faculty, and staff from the Faculty of Arts & Science and the Faculty of Divinity. 

The task force was further divided into four working groups to prioritize issues raised in the Anti-Racism Collective’s open letter, and conducted four hour-long student focus groups prioritizing the voices of self-identifying Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) students at three out of its four meetings in November, with one meeting for all Trinity students.

The task force and its associated working groups are meant to generate a set of core recommendations to be implemented at the college, but are not responsible for implementing these changes.

Report findings

For the college as a whole, the report recommends that Trinity College “collect and purposefully use race-based data,” and invest in and create recruitment and mentorship programs that directly target Black and racialized students in tandem with increased financial support and eliminating barriers to residence readmittance. 

The report also noted a “lack of racial diversity in staff, faculty, governance, and leadership groups, which negatively impacts the sense of belonging experienced by Black and BIPOC constituents of the College.” It recommended that efforts be made to diversify the governance structures at the college. 

The report recommended reviewing the application process, creating a “diversity and inclusion statement,” and creating a mentorship program directed toward BIPOC students. Finally, it also made recommendations geared toward student life and government, identifying a “longstanding code of silence” within student life under which “anti-Black racism and forms of discrimination have thrived under the existing systems of student governance.” 

Namely, the report highlighted the influence of Episkopon on the college’s culture. Episkopon is a quasi-secret society long criticized for its problematic and elitist culture, particularly against racialized and LGBTQ+ students at the college, although the women’s branch disbanded in the summer of 2020. 

Episkopon is also connected to ‘Social Trin,’ the name for a group of popular students who held influence over different facets of college life. The report concludes that “Episkopon and ‘Social Trin’ were identified as deeply problematic elements of student culture, which propagate anti-Black racism, discrimination, and exclusion.”

Student responses, calls for accountability

One of the students who sat on the task force, Divinity Co-Head Yohan Dumpala, wrote to The Varsity that while participating in the focus groups, he was “shocked beyond words as [he] listened to cases upon cases of racism which have occurred at Trinity to date.” He wrote that the focus groups highlighted the depth of the problem, but they also encouraged the task force to continue with its work. He added that participating in the focus groups also made him realize that he had experienced racism at Trinity as well. 

“Being on the task force has made me proud of being at a College that is willing to admit its flaws and work to fix them, and I look forward to seeing how it all comes to fruition,” Dumpala concluded. 

In response to the task force report, Mariam Mahboob, Equity Committee Member at Large and task force student group participant, wrote to The Varsity, “Hearing these voices and sentiments be reiterated by the administration was important because, in the past, these topics had been very taboo to discuss – whether it was amongst higher-up positions or in the student body.”

However, students also expressed concerns that the report was heavily focused on student governance, with not enough attention paid to the college administration. “There is no [mention] of a Diversity Officer or Equity person who can externally investigate equity concerns related to the administration,” wrote Mahboob. “In fact, any form of regulation or ‘checks and balances’ system on the administration is significantly lacking in this document.”

“While the Task Force’s report calls for greater student change, many of us believe that student governance has demonstrated its ability to deliver on that change, while the college itself has been much slower,” added Equity Committee Deputy Chair Tourang Movahedi. 

This past year, Trinity’s student governance body, the Trinity College Meeting (TCM), has approved motions to degender the overall heads positions and year heads positions. It has also implemented a First-Year Committee to encourage a diverse body of students to participate in student government and amended the position of equity committee chair from appointed to elected.

“The power and influence they have over the affairs of Trinity College are insurmountable compared to that of any student collective, yet they are quick to shirk responsibility in the face of iniquity,” wrote Chair of the Equity Committee Dylan Alfi to The Varsity. “Members of College expressed a wish for more administrative accountability in addition to the student governance accountability which was so heavily emphasized in the Task Force’s report.”

Reflecting on the work behind the task force, Alfi added that “the Equity Committee implores that we all honor the work Black women at Trinity College have done in paving the way for positive change.”

 Next steps

According to the report, progress on the implementation of these recommendations will be regularly reported to the Trinity community and its regulatory bodies.

Following the release of the report, the college announced that it has hired an independent expert to review next practices for its student government, which will take place over the course of the winter semester. Moran expressed that she is “eager to implement the recommendations as quickly as possible” and that an implementation plan is in the works.

Assistant Provost Jonathan Steels was quoted in an article on Trinity College’s website, “We want to find out what is working and what the challenges are, so that moving forward, we can better support students and the student governance process to empower all student voices.”

The task force webpage also notes that the college has “undertaken a comprehensive [diversity and equity] training program for staff and faculty.” It has also adjusted its admissions processes and student support networks, and created a special bursary and dedicated mentorship program for racialized students. A working group of college faculty is also currently examining “how to strengthen the inclusiveness of Trinity College’s academic programs, among other actions.”

TCM Head of Non-Resident Affairs Cindy Lui wrote to The Varsity that the heads are soliciting feedback from students on the report through surveys, and that the upcoming meeting will also be a good avenue for student feedback. 

Trinity College did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment. The Varsity was unable to acquire comment from task force members Mailey Jean Michel and Shantel Watson at the time of publication.

Editor’s note (February 16): This article has been updated to include comment from Dumpala.