New year, same archaic traditions @ trin college

Why is there still so much stigma attached to U of T’s most elitist college?

New year, same archaic traditions @ trin college

In “The problem with high tables,” I mentioned the stigma associated with Trinity College: it’s “pretentious,” “snobby,” “elitist,” and so much more. And these are words that are often associated with the college. There are multiple issues worth exploring in connection to this stigma. Why does it exist? How much truth is there to it? Is it bad? If so, what can the college administration and student body do to combat it?

Why does the stigma exist?

Trinity College has a long, rich, and vastly interesting history. Founded by Bishop Strachan as an Anglican rival to the newly secularized University of Toronto, Trinity College has its roots in religious tradition: Wednesday Choral Evensongs, special services for holidays, and a mascot that is a literal pope. Trinity College’s religious influence, however, cannot be seen as a source of stigma, as the traditions are never mandatory. Instead, they are introduced to members of the college in an open-minded, respectful manner, and the college has taken special care to not allow religious intolerance on campus. The same cannot be said for traditions that find their roots in an aristocratic, blue-blooded, and haughty class.

For instance, I was surprised to find out just how few students at the college knew the actual origin of pouring-outs. In fact, I received many complaints about my previous article, claiming that I mischaracterized the tradition. ‘Pouring-outs’ involve — with consent — removing a student from Strachan Hall for doing something infamous. However, if you do a bit of research, you will find that pouring-outs used to be known as ‘pooring-outs.’ These pooring-outs involved physically — and without consent — removing a student from Strachan Hall for not wearing the required gown, which made them look ‘poor.’ Thus, what is now known as ‘pouring-out’ is actually a reformed tradition of an extremely classist, offensive tradition.

It is also worth giving special mention to Episkopon, the secret society founded in homophobia and racism that was banned from the college campus in 1992. It still lives on off-campus and members still participate in it.

Disconcertingly, there is an intimate connection between these ‘pouring-outs’ and Episkopon: academic standing and wealth. It is no secret that Trinity College stands out to those applying to U of T. Trin apparently requires the highest marks, and it mandates a special application to narrow down the number of applicants. So immediately, most students entering U of T will have the perception that Trinity College is, in some way, ‘special.’ And, in many ways, it is.

Trinity College has a remarkable academic record. Not only do half of its students graduate with distinction or high distinction, but it has consistently produced a Rhodes Scholar once every three years. But is this academic success intrinsic to the college? Do the students succeed because they are in Trinity College? Almost certainly not.

Most are aware that many of the students who are accepted into Trinity College come from wealthy, privileged backgrounds. And it is not unusual that those from privileged socioeconomic backgrounds also tend to have higher grades. So it is not just that the stigma comes from being academically successful and wealthy. It is also that the latter is perceived as driving the former. Many believe that Trinity College students essentially lucked out by being born into privileged families, gaining opportunities not available to many other students.

The fourth and final cause is the most potent: that members of the college recognize the stigma and embrace it. They recognize that Trinity is a wealthy college and often choose to apply to Trin because of this fact. Alternatively, some were forced to come by their parents, who are alumni of Trinity College. After talking to many students, I’ve also regularly heard that it is because of Trinity’s historical traditions. Some acknowledge where these traditions come from and wish to participate in them because the Trinity students see their culture in such traditions. This embrace simply perpetuates the effects by reinforcing and exemplifying the stigma.

How much truth is there to the stigma?

That these are some of the causes of the stigma, I have no doubt; however, it begs the question about how truthful it is. I want to suggest that, in essence, it’s true.

Firstly, it’s important to remark that such a stigma cannot be fairly applied to all members of the college. There are many who take efforts to avoid being associated with the stigma, and, therefore, should not be labelled as such. Rather, the stigma is applied to the vocal, popular, entrenched group at Trinity College who see the stigma and choose to do nothing about it. These are the individuals who often come from privileged backgrounds, fail to recognize the harm of participating in and reinforcing the negative traditions described, and who readily embrace the stigma associated with the college.

That these members of the college are ‘wealthy’ is true: we know that many members of the college come from highly privileged backgrounds. That these members of the college are ‘pompous’ is also likely true. I believe this because of the fact that they readily participate in a variety of traditions with offensive roots. It might be objected that the traditions now present at Trinity College are not classist and are not offensive, for they have been reformed and changed. To this I disagree; however, I shall address this point at the end of the article. But, that these members of the college are ‘academically elitist’ is likely not true, at least not in comparison to other students of the university. I see no evidence that members of the college are more snobby about their grades than other undergraduates at U of T. Rather, the elitism arises from the socioeconomic backgrounds and societies that these members grew up in.

Is the stigma bad?

I feel it is crucial to mention the reception to my previous article. I was a bit taken aback by the amount of openly negative comments I received. While I expected some, I didn’t anticipate so many to openly fail to recognize the prime issue I was attacking in the article: the professor-student hierarchy. Rather than address this point, many resorted to mocking me for not being ‘social enough’ in the college to have a fair opinion on these matters. Perhaps it never struck them that the reason I am not as social as I could be is because of the types of stigma associated with such members, and what their involvement reinforces.

Perhaps these points are too anecdotal — maybe I am making up or exaggerating my claims. If you believe this for whatever reason, then you need only look at the recent student experience survey at Trinity College. In an article published in The Varsity, it was revealed that the survey “included comments that alleged classism, racism, and election influencing by ‘Social Trin and Episkopon.’” If this is not evidence enough that there is a systemic problem at Trinity regarding the embraced stigma by those who are privileged, I don’t know what else could satisfy you.

Surely, the administration does not want to have this reputation. As time goes on and individuals become less and less tolerant of institutional classism and elitism, Trinity College could become the butt of a joke: all it shall be associated with is its stigma. People won’t see Trinity College for its long list of positive attributes: its rich religious history, advocacy of student democracy, energetic and enthusiastic student body, excellent clubs and groups to meet a diverse range of interests, and many more. Surely the administration at Trinity College wants to be seen as an active player in combatting the negative attitudes described in this article. Surely it wants to be ahead of the game. But how can we help?

What can be done?

I leave the bulk of the question unanswered — it is to be thoroughly investigated in a future article. I do wish to offer one solution to the problem: abandon the traditions with roots in classism and privilege. It has been suggested to me that we should keep certain privileged traditions because it reminds students that they have privilege. That we should keep pouring-outs, high tables, and the like, because it allows us to recognize how privileged we are to have them in the first place. I find this rather silly. Surely the fact that you come from a high-income bracket and are white is enough to recognize your privilege? I think such excuses are given to mask the fact that these traditions have assisted in forming the community of Trinity College and that their removal might begin to make these students feel less like they belong to a close-knit community on campus. I agree that this would certainly be the result if no traditions were designed to replace the old. But what is the issue in creating a new wave of traditions? Why can we not leave the traditions of the privileged, archaic elite behind and create a new set that represents the diverse, inclusive, and caring community that Trinity now has?

Results of Trinity student experience survey reveal systemic issues

Transparency, inclusivity, alcohol at centre of findings

Results of Trinity student experience survey reveal systemic issues

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.

The problem with high tables

@ Trin College 2k18

The problem with high tables

That Trinity College prides itself in its Oxbridge roots is well known. From its gown-required dinners on Wednesday — that cost $125 to purchase — to its chapel services that are affiliated with the Anglican Church of Canada, Trinity College remains deeply rooted in its 200-year-old traditions. Not all of these traditions are necessarily bad; however, I think that certain traditions are inherently iniquitous and produce negative consequences for the college as a whole, especially its weekly high table dinners.

High table dinners are hosted in Strachan Hall every Wednesday. Members of the Senior Common Room, otherwise known as professors and fellows, dine near the front of the hall, ‘elevated’ from the undergraduate students, whose seating is arranged by year. If you are lucky enough to be one of the first to email the provost, you may be invited to sit at the coveted high table with the professors.

But what do these tables represent? We are told that they represent the educational attainment of each class of people. At the back are the first years, or those with the least schooling, while those at the front, the professors and fellows, have the most.

The more pressing question is, then, why we are divided in Strachan Hall by academic year. It certainly is not the case that these groups of people are, by nature, more likely to want to interact with each other. Instead, in a system that is eerily feudal, you are given the honour of sitting at a slightly elevated platform for completing a certain amount of schooling.

Other events at Trinity College are not usually arranged in such a manner, so why are the high tables?

Trinity entertains the fiction that these tables represent isolated and distinct classes of people, when, in actuality, these groups should and do interact with each other in a friendly manner. Students and professors should not be told who they can eat with.

The professor-student dynamic is a scary one, with the apprehension of saying the wrong thing and potentially ruining future research opportunities underlining many interactions. This relationship should not be terrifying; professors should be seen as approachable people, because that is what they are.

The only real difference between a student and a professor is the professor’s increased knowledge in a given area, and this isn’t an uncommon view among many professors. Many of my professors have requested that we students call them by their first name to put our relationship on equal ground. The high table tradition does the opposite: it reinforces the uncomfortable power relation. It infantilizes students, despite the fact that the vast majority of individuals in Strachan Hall are adults and should be treated as such. In fact, I know of a few professors who don’t go to the high table events for this very reason.

So how should we structure these events? Who should sit at each table? I believe that there ought not be a hierarchy at all. Allow people to sit with whom they would like to sit with. Allow professors to sit with and meet a variety of undergraduates from different academic backgrounds. Give undergraduates the opportunity to meet with a variety of different professors each week, rather than giving the privilege to just a few undergraduate students who luck out. The high table dinners are, in themselves, deeply troubling for what they continue to reinforce. Yet this tradition is even more troubling for the consequences it produces.

Trinity College has a reputation for being snobby, pretentious, and arrogant. Some insist that people don’t really care what college you go to; however, a quick glance through the U of T subreddit reveals that this is not the case. Students often call Trinity “Slytherin,” because of the perceived snobbiness of members of the college. People are quick to jump to words like ‘elitist,’ ‘pretentious,’ and ‘pompous,’ when asked to describe Trinity.

At the start of orientation last year, members of other colleges chanted, “Trin Trin, your parents got you in!” Was it all in good fun? Probably, but the mockery reveals the perceived haughty nature of Trinity, and I think the existence of the coveted high table dinners are part of the reason. If Trinity College is attempting to reduce its alienation and stigma, having weekly dinners where people have to dress up in gowns is certainly not helping.

Traditions are certainly important — they create a sense of community for those who participate in them. But traditions that are alienating and perceived as pretentious and elitist are less than desirable. One of the reasons that this tradition is viewed so negatively is because of where it comes from; it is the product of an aristocratic society. Trinity College has already been weathered by other discriminatory and offensive traditions, such as Episkopon and the ‘pourings-outs.’ Why then have we chosen to keep a tradition that was once used to appear holier-than-thou? Surely a sense of community can be retained even if we remove such an archaic tradition rooted in the privileged elite.

I cannot pretend to speak for a majority of the students at Trinity College, however, I hope that students there, and at other colleges, think about the nature of high table dinners, as well as traditions like it. It is important to recognize where they come from as well as the sorts of systems that they reinforce.

As a final note, I do not mean to suggest that anyone in particular is ‘pretentious.’ My only intent is to analyze the tradition and remark upon its validity in light of the stigma that it produces and the relations that it promotes.

Alcohol at Trinity events can no longer be paid for with student fees

Large events like Saints, Conversat to be moved off campus

Alcohol at Trinity events can no longer be paid for with student fees

Starting this coming school year, Trinity College student fees can no longer be used to purchase alcohol, and large events — including the Saints and Conversat formals — will be held off-campus at permanently licensed venues.

An email to students signed by college administration and student leaders stated that the move “will give student leaders the opportunity to focus resources on programming that is accessible to both drinkers and non-drinkers.” Additionally, moving larger events off-campus will allow for larger capacity.

“Student leaders will receive training and support while work will be done to ensure student government independence is balanced with the requirement for financial accountability and transparency,” reads the email.

Previously, Trinity regularly hosted events where alcohol was sold to students of age, which required a special permit from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. The events also needed to be approved by the dean’s office.

These actions come after Trinity conducted a 10-month survey of students, asking them about their experience at the college. This was followed by focus groups and an “expert external review of alcohol culture at Trinity and best practices at post-secondary institutions.”

Student leaders immediately expressed their grievances against the changes.

Within the email itself, the Heads of College —  some of the highest elected student representatives at Trinity — “expressed great disappointment with some aspects of the Action Plan.”

In a statement released on Facebook, the Heads wrote that they had concerns about “student safety in moving events off-residence,” and that the plan changes how the college’s governance and levy systems operate.

“We have invested huge amounts of time and energy into these negotiations,” reads the Heads’ statement. “Unfortunately, due to the nature of the data and the Board’s inability to ignore the information now that it has been collected, the administration chose to implement the policy changes in their entirety.”

According to the email from the administration and student leaders, the college will continue consultations throughout the summer and fall, which it encourages students to attend.

Other changes mentioned in the email include developing a separate Residence Code of Conduct, having residence common rooms overseen jointly by Academic Dons and Heads, and moving the Welch residence common room to second Macklem.

This story is developing. More to come.

Playing favourites with finances apparently not a concern at the TCM

Voting down a motion to preserve impartiality in clubs funding was a disappointing move

Playing favourites with finances apparently not a concern at the TCM

The prospect of favouritism in clubs funding has become a topic of particular interest at Trinity College. At the year-end Trinity College Meeting (TCM) on December 4, an amendment to the constitution of Trinity’s student government was brought forward seeking to remedy the disproportionate allocation of funding by the Finance Committee (FC) to clubs whose past or current executives are sitting members of the FC.

The underlying principle of the motion appeared quite reasonable. It was a preventative measure, intended to preserve impartiality for those handling finances. Should it have passed, FC members would no longer have been allowed to vote on matters pertaining to the budgets of levied or non-levied clubs of which they are current or previous executive members or signing officers. “Furthermore,” it read, “no member of the FC shall be present during any in camera discussion of the budgets of levied or non-levied clubs of which they are current or previous executive members or signing officers.” Yet, counterintuitively, the motion failed.

There were a number of reasons cited by Jessica Rapson, who brought forward the motion, for the failure from the TCM: voter turnout was low, the reliability of the data that led to the suspicions of favouritism was questioned, and much of the debate was preoccupied by seemingly minute details. The TCM also requires two consecutive two-thirds majority votes in order to pass an amendment, significantly raising the bar for motions such as Rapson’s.

The decision of the TCM is both disappointing and perplexing. It seems only obvious that measures should be put in place to avoid favouritism in the allocation of student funds. Such an act of favouritism contradicts the democratic ideals of impartial representation of constituents, and it is, by its very definition, a conflict of interest.

When it comes to student government, money matters. The sums allocated to student groups for funding are not solicited by free donation but by student levy — a process in which students consent to be taxed with the expectation that their money will be returned to them in the form of events or services. It is expected that the allocation of this money will be determined fairly, without bias, and with the primary interests of the society’s constituents in mind.

The consequences of ignoring such a mandate are no clearer than at the St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU), which, less than a year to the current date, was discovered to have spent sizeable quantities of its collected levy on activities that can only be described as frivolous.

The example is different, of course, but no more concerning. The notion that money students willingly give to their unions may be spent in ways that serve to unduly benefit those who administer it is, quite frankly, unsettling.

Our befuddlement toward this decision is further stoked by the nature in which those involved in this decision avoided explanation. TCM Chair Leila Martin, FC Chair Amanda Cutinha, Co-Head of College Bardia Monavari, and Co-Head of Arts Lukas Weese all declined to speak to The Varsity on the motion and its outcome. Co-Head of Arts Julianne de Gara, Co-Head of Non-Resident Affairs Katrina Li, and Co-Head of College Victoria Lin did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment either.

Transparency from student representatives is most necessary in instances like this. A simple acknowledgment of their commitment to accountability or a comment on the findings and potential for conflict of interest would have at least served to meet the bare minimum of a response to students. It’s disappointing and notably suspect, then, that so many student representatives refused to comment on the outcome.

More than anything else, incidents like these, and like those at SMCSU, bring to mind the necessity of proper accountability mechanisms, issued specifically by those whose money is collected by these institutions. The motion presented at the TCM, were it ratified, would have served as a safety mechanism to ensure the prevention of improper action — something that student governance and its members should collectively and agreeably work to avoid.

U of T’s biggest stories of 2017

The Varsity looks back at the defining headlines of last year

U of T’s biggest stories of 2017


Toronto and U of T organized against Trump after his inauguration

Following Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States, protests broke out in Toronto and around the world in opposition.

Trump’s actions have had a direct effect on members of the U of T community. One of his first major acts was an executive order on immigration, which limited the country’s intake of refugees, as well as visitors and immigrants from certain majority-Muslim countries.

Joudy Sarraj, last year’s Trinity College Female Head of Non-Resident Affairs, told The Varsity that she would have been impacted had she not had dual Canadian-Syrian citizenship. In the wake of this executive order, a protest took place on University Avenue in front of the US Consulate, attended by a number of U of T students.

Eliminating staff positions at the UTSU was a promise the Demand Better slate ran on. TOM YUN/THE VARSITY

UTSU: Demand Better dominated, two staff members laid off, Hudson lawsuit settled

The Demand Better slate, led by Mathias Memmel, won the majority of executive positions and board seats in the March 2017 UTSU elections. The slate ran on a platform focused on fixing the union after years of mismanagement. Within the fall 2017 semester, two executives, Vice-President University Affairs Carina Zhang and Vice-President Campus Life Stuart Norton, resigned for personal reasons, and they have since been replaced.

Demand Better executives also fulfilled their campaign promise of cutting back salary expenses, laying off two full-time staff members who oversaw clubs and health plans. This stirred controversy in the student body; opponents claimed that clubs and student services would be negatively affected, though the UTSU argued that they would not be.

The UTSU also settled a two-year lawsuit with Sandra Hudson, the union’s former Executive Director, who they alleged committed civil fraud. The UTSU was seeking $277,726.40, which was initially given to Hudson as part of a compensation package when her contract was terminated, and an additional $200,000 in damages.

Details of the settlement are undisclosed but have drawn the ire of several board members and Vice-President External Anne Boucher.

Trinity students have clashed with their college administration over two alleged assaults and a ban on alcohol-licensed events. STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

Trinity student alleged assault, TCM vote of no confidence against administrators

In September, Trinity College student Bardia Monavari, Co-Head of College, alleged that he was verbally and physically assaulted by Campus Police following a residence party. Monavari placed the blame on college administrators Adam Hogan and Christine Cerullo, who he said refused to intervene when they saw the alleged assault.

Soon after, the Trinity College Meeting, Trinity’s direct democracy student government, passed a near-unanimous vote of no confidence in the Office of the Dean of Students. The motion signalled the disappointment of students in Trinity’s response to Monavari’s alleged assault, as well as the alleged mishandling of Tamsyn Riddle’s sexual assault case. Riddle filed a human rights application against both Trinity College and U of T. Since the vote, Provost Mayo Moran has banned alcohol at college events, and the Office of the Dean of Students and the college heads have been using an external facilitator in mediation meetings.

Thousands of college students in Ontario were out of school during the five-week faculty strike. PHOTO BY CONNOR MALBEUF, COURTESY OF THE GAZETTE

College strike affected U of T’s partner schools, campus unions secured strike mandates

Faculty at colleges in Ontario went on strike for close to a month, following failed negotiations with the College Employer Council over job security and academic freedom in classrooms. This affected UTSC and UTM students enrolled in joint programs with Centennial College and Sheridan College, respectively. After faculty rejected a tentative agreement, the strike ended when the provincial government enacted back-to-work legislation. This forced faculty to return and for any other unresolved issues to be decided in binding arbitration.

Meanwhile, labour unions at U of T began preparing for negotiations as their tentative agreements with the university expire. Sessional lecturers, under CUPE Local 3902 Unit 3, voted 91 per cent in favour of a strike mandate. The main topics included wage increases and improvements in benefits, but talks stalled on the issue of job security. The union reached an agreement shortly after, which was later ratified. Unit 1, which represents teaching assistants, also voted overwhelmingly for a strike mandate. Their main point is increasing wage rates, but no statements have been released yet about the ongoing status of negotiations.


Jordan Peterson remained a source of controversy

U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson gained international attention in September 2016 after publishing his YouTube series criticizing political correctness. The news gave way to many rallies, both in support and in opposition of the controversial professor and the right to free speech.

Throughout 2017, Peterson remained a source of controversy. In February, a right-leaning conference where Peterson and Ezra Levant, founder of The Rebel Media, were scheduled to speak was interrupted by protesters and resulted in crowd control police taking to the campus.

Later in the year, Peterson had his funding request denied for the first time by a federal agency, proposed creating an online university to counter traditional institutions, and doxxed two student activists.

In November, Peterson proposed creating a website targeting “postmodern, neo-Marxist” professors, which he eventually abandoned. Later in the same month, hundreds of individuals and organizations across Canada signed an open letter to U of T calling for Peterson’s termination.

Clubs funding motion concerning favouritism voted down at TCM

College leadership mostly silent on motion, outcome

Clubs funding motion concerning favouritism voted down at TCM

An amendment to the constitution of Trinity College’s student government seeking to reduce favouritism in clubs funding failed to garner enough votes to move past the first stage of consideration.

The motion went before the Trinity College Meeting (TCM) on December 4, but it did not meet the two-thirds majority required to bring it to a second round of voting in January.

The proposed amendment, motioned by Trinity student Jessica Rapson, addressed the disproportionate allocation of funding by the Finance Committee (FC) to clubs whose past or current executives are also sitting members of the FC.

Mitch Nader, Trinity’s Co-Head of Non-Resident Affairs, was the only elected student official to provide comment to The Varsity on the failed amendment, but only to say that “a lot of work was put into it and it was well presented.”

TCM Chair Leila Martin, FC Chair Amanda Cutinha, Co-Head of College Bardia Monavari, and Co-Head of Arts Lukas Weese all declined to speak to The Varsity on the motion and its outcome.

Julianne de Gara, Katrina Li, and Victoria Lin, the three other Student Heads at Trinity, did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment either.

Rapson’s findings and the failed motion

According to Rapson’s calculations, clubs whose past or current executive were members of the FC received, on average, three times more funding than clubs with no ties to the FC.

Rapson’s proposed amendment aimed to stop this favouritism by ensuring FC members could not partake in discussions or vote on club funding for clubs of which they were past or present executives or signing officers.

Under the TCM Constitution, an amendment requires a two thirds majority vote at two consecutive meetings in order to pass. Trinity students voted 62 per cent in favour of the amendment, with around 50–60 members of the college in attendance.

Rapson put the failure of the amendment down to low overall turnout. Rapson also cited the influence of prominent members of college and a digression from the purpose of the motion as other reasons for its failure to pass.

“The discussion was not about removing conflicts of interest, it was about if there was causation or whether the statistics were 100 percent reliable,” wrote Rapson. “And a lot of the discussion was just on minutia and it lost the sentiment of what the amendment was supposed to do.”

Jason Patrick, who seconded the motion, also attested to the influence that “two very prominent members of the Trinity community who command a lot of respect” had on the outcome of the vote.

Alex Forgay, First Year Representative on the FC, voted for Rapson’s motion “despite the motion’s flaws, and the fact that it may not solve the entirety of the problem.”

“Any movement toward greater transparency in the Trin financial community is a step in the right direction,” said Forgay. “While I understand why people voed against it, it is always troubling and disappointing to see an attempt at increased accountability fail.”

Rapson plans on collaborating with Monavari and Cutinha to craft an amendment satisfactory to all stakeholders. She hopes to move forward with the altered rendition next year, which leaves the winter session of club funding unchanged.

TCM constitutional amendment addresses clubs funding

Clubs with ties to Finance Committee receive up to three times more than those without

TCM constitutional amendment addresses clubs funding

Trinity College’s direct democracy student government will address potential conflicts of interest affecting club funding at their meeting on December 4.

A constitutional amendment is on its way to the floor of the Trinity College Meeting (TCM) regarding the correlation between the Trinity College Finance Committee’s (FC) allocation of club funding and its members’ affiliations with those clubs.

Trinity student Jessica Rapson proposed the amendment after calculating that, this fall, Trinity clubs with previous or current executives on the FC received on average over three times the amount of funding as clubs without executives on the FC.

The motion would amend the Conflict of Interest clause of the TCM’s constitution regarding procedures of the FC.

The altered clause would read: “No member of the FC shall vote on matters pertaining to the budgets of levied or non-levied clubs of which they are current or previous executive members or signing officers. Furthermore, no member of the FC shall be present during any in camera discussion of the budgets of levied or non-levied clubs of which they are current or previous executive members or signing officers.”

Rapson commenced her investigation after hearing that several well-established clubs, including two of which she is Treasurer, received “very little from the FC.” She used the publicly shared FC budget proposals to calculate the results.

Fellow Trinity student Luis Lopez ran a statistical regression on Rapson’s calculations through the system Stata and determined the relationship to be statistically significant with a 99 per cent confidence level. In his published report, Lopez cautioned against assuming a causal relationship.

“As I state in my research, the simple fact that the evidence seems to confirm a relationship could be problematic, since it could signal to Trinity students that there is preferential treatment in the FC — even if that is not the case,” wrote Lopez to The Varsity. “Perceptions in politics matter.”

While FC members must abstain from voting on their club’s received budget, Rapson believes this is inadequate in mitigating possible impartiality.

Rapson suggested that club executives sitting on the FC wield influence over budget allocation through their presence in the room. Their presence, said Rapson, pressures fellow committee members during voting. They are also able to answer questions about their clubs during discussion.

Rapson does not believe there is malicious intent on the part of the FC, or that members are actively misallocating funds to disproportionately benefit their clubs. However, she does think her numbers illuminate an issue that must be addressed.

“I think [the amendment] gives a better chance to people who are not really involved in student governance but who still want to have a Trinity club and make an impact on Trinity life,” said Rapson. “And it will also just level the playing field for everyone.”

TCM Chair Leila Martin confirmed that she received the amendment “about a month ago.” However, both Martin and the FC Chair Amanda Cutinha told The Varsity that Rapson had not presented her calculations to them prior to The Varsity’s request for comment. On November 26, Rapson posted her findings to a private Facebook event for fellow Trinity students. Martin was invited to the group. On November 30, Rapson also publicly posted her data to the TCM’s Facebook event, for all members of the college to review.

According to Cutinha and Martin, as of this academic year, no FC discussions occur in camera, so minutes are taken and available to the membership.

Both chairs believe Rapson is generating important discussion for Trinity’s direct democracy. However, both also told The Varsity that they will investigate the calculations further to see if other factors are at play before assuming a causal relationship between FC members’ involvement with clubs and the funding those clubs receive.

In order for the constitutional amendment to pass, there must be a two-thirds vote in favour of the motion both on the December 4 meeting as well as the subsequent meeting in January.