September 4, 2015
Dear Members of the Trinity College Community,
When I joined Trinity last year, I promised to do everything possible to ensure the long-term success of this institution and to serve the best interests of the entire community. In that spirit, I have spent the last 15 months doing a great deal of listening to students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and our neighbors about their concerns for the future of student social life on campus and the role of selective social organizations, including sororities and fraternities.
I talked openly and honestly to everyone about their views in general and in particular about the coeducational mandate. I researched, studied, and assessed our peers’ actions related to Greek life. I had multiple conversations with leaders who took part in past initiatives and with those who spoke out along the way. I spent many hours on campus speaking with students and traveling around the country to meet with alumni and parents. I solicited input on an ongoing basis from faculty members and, of course, from the trustees. I also sought out those who may not have been heard over the years. Clearly, I needed to understand all sides of the debate and to get a sense of the Trinity experience that predated my arrival on campus.
Based on all the feedback and information I collected over the past 15 months, I have concluded that the coed mandate is unlikely to achieve its intended goal of gender equity. Furthermore, I do not believe that requiring coed membership is the best way to address gender discrimination or to promote inclusiveness. In fact, community-wide dialogue concerning this issue has been divisive and counterproductive.
Gender equity is, and remains, an ongoing priority for Trinity College. Requiring coed membership, however, carries a number of consequences. For example, after conversations with Greek-letter national organizations, it became clear that at least 50 percent of the local chapters would lose their national charters since their national organizations require that they be single sex. With only two sororities at Trinity – the largest of which is nationally affiliated – our female students would bear a disproportionately adverse impact. We also found that campus-wide efforts to encourage opposite- gender membership of GLOs have not been successful. Thus, instead of advancing gender parity, the outcome would have been a step backward.
In addition, students who support the goal of assuring gender equity also want the option of joining single-sex Greek organizations. I support this.
The ultimate goal of the Charter Committee for Building Social Community was to build a more intellectually robust, inclusive, and respectful campus environment. Beyond the coed mandate, there were many other recommendations related to selective social organizations that have been successfully implemented and will continue as we move forward. These include maintaining GPA standards, reinvigorating good governance, and implementing a faculty advising structure. All of these are essential as we continue to build and maintain a strong sense of community.
As recommended by the Charter Committee, we are building that important kind of community at Trinity. We have launched the Bantam Network, our new mentoring program, to respond to the desired objectives of a house system. We increased student life programming at the totally redesigned Vernon Social and in and around Hartford. Also, we created the role of Associate Director of Student Services for Social Houses. We have substantially improved campus safety, helped establish a new Hartford Police Department location at Crescent Street, and formed the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Misconduct to ensure we are complying with federal and state laws designed to promote gender equity and prevent sexual misconduct. Importantly, we have strengthened the orientation and first-year experience for students and added training for our student leaders.
In addition, we have created the new position of Dean of Campus Life and Vice President for Student Affairs to provide coordination and to weave together different initiatives essential for a healthy campus climate. Moreover, we have officially launched a campus-wide, student-led initiative, the Campaign for Community, to promote a respectful and inclusive community. We should all take great pride in these accomplishments that support a safe and dynamic community of learners at Trinity.
Having successfully implemented these recommendations and looking toward the future, I have asked the Board of Trustees to endorse the elimination of the coed mandate for all selective social organizations, including fraternities and sororities.
Students should have a wide range of opportunities for social interaction on our campus. Those activities should foster a feeling of pride and belonging. We should extend to other parts of campus social life the same sense of pride and belonging that sororities and fraternities offer their members. As members of the Trinity community, each of us has a responsibility for making everyone feel included.
We hold all of our students to high academic and social standards. Sorority and fraternity members should take a leadership role in promoting inclusivity, demonstrating respect for their peers, and making measurable contributions to the community.
I ask you – all members of the Trinity College community – to provide your input on our new strategies. Visit our website at (http://commons.trincoll.edu/comment/announcement)* to contribute your ideas for supporting a robust intellectual environment and creating an inclusive and respectful community. Please submit your comments within one week of today. We have also posted a short video announcing this decision here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zMWQZRe-do. Before the end of the semester, I will report back to the community on the feedback we have received – both here and as part of the Campaign for Community – and your recommendations for additional pathways forward. I don’t believe our work on shared community values is an end product. We will continue to work together to create a campus where all of our members are intellectually engaged and socially involved, feel a sense of inclusion, and are free from any form of discrimination. I invite your participation.
Trinity College offers a transformative experience for students, as it has for almost 200 years, and I am exceptionally proud to be its president. Please join me in supporting and advancing this great institution as we move into the future.
President and Trinity College
Professor of Neuroscience
* The comments page was available for a week and was closed on September 12, 2015.